Through a close-reading of Ruth Klüger's Still Alive (2000), Edith Bruck's Lettera alla madre (1988) and Chi ti ama così (1959), and Sarah Kofman's Rue Ordener, rue Labat (1994), this dissertation explores the relationship between Jewish mothers and daughters as represented in these Shoah autobiographies.
In literary criticism as much as in psychoanalytic theory there is a gap on the subject of mother-daughter relationship: existing studies tend either to take on the perspective of the mother, or the subject-matter is subsumed under a more generic mother-child rubric. This work wants to contribute to a discussion that focuses exclusively on the mother-daughter bond and in particular within the Jewish personal and historical experience.
In order to deeply penetrate the intimacy of the domestic daily mother-daughter story, memories of the war period become a particularly fruitful source. Typically, the fate of young children during a war is always tightly knotted with that of their mothers. The war becomes the ideal observation point for this thesis on the specificity of Jewish women's autobiographies in relation to how the grown-up survivor deciphering her own past and personal history revisits her identity in-progress through the reconstruction of her relationship with her mother.
By retracing the representation of motherhood in Shoah survivors' literature, this dissertation analyzes some of the identity-formation processes and technologies of Jewish daughters, as well as their identification or disidentification with the mother figure (and/or with Judaism) despite or because of the most horrendous hour in recent Jewish history.
This study focuses on the way in which the complexity of the world surrounding each individual (the survivor today, and her younger self) is reflected in the mother-daughter microcosm—through the traumatized vision that the psychically fragmented I of the narration has of itself and of the mother.
Klüger, Bruck and Kofman share an ideological opposition to patriarchy, which creates a very strong connection among their otherwise very different texts, and a gender awareness that produces in all three cases a very interesting feminist critique of history, society, and for an original contribution to a new discourse on the Shoah.
The Jewish mothers and daughters of these autobiographies incarnate a compromise with a tradition that would rather ignore the historical woman and her experience, while celebrating and honoring her as sheer discursive symbol, and valuing her only in virtue of her reproductive indispensability. Jewish mothers like those of these survivors' texts, who strategize their own survival and the survival of their daughters/children, who fight for their rights in an inimical Jewish and non-Jewish world, daughters who become writers and speakers for themselves and their history are already an exception in—if not a threat to—the récit Jewish tradition has constructed of and about itself.