Post-Holocaust religious education for German women / by Gabriele H. Mayer.
The twentieth century received its unique stamp through the Shoah, the attempt of German National Socialism to annihilate European Jewry. More than 50 years have passed, and now second and third generation Germans are left with that heritage. Public discourse in Germany regarding that heritage seems to be at an impasse. At the same time, research in various disciplines indicates increasing attention in private discourse. Discussion is also lacking in regard to women. For a long time, women were not at all recognized as actors during the Third Reich and later. The sexist implications of the Nazi ideology had a strong impact on women's situations and even on feminist perspectives. The purpose of this dissertation is to address the specific situations of second- and third-generation German women, who have been brought up in a culture that exposes them to victim experiences and perpetrator characteristics. How can they learn to face the perpetrator heritage and integrate it into their identity as women, as Christians and as Germans? The thesis of this dissertation is that Christian women in Germany with unique experiences as victims and victimizers need educational opportunities to relate to that burdensome past and develop an integrated identity; this process will have reconciling potentiality. Relating and responding to the German past is essential for reforming identity, for opening a constructive dialogue between the Jewish and Christian communities, and for developing an educational process that contributes to reconciliation. Besides an extensive literature review, this dissertation reports on three empirical field studies that shed light on the central research question. Field Study I was conducted with thirty women in Germany, focusing on how they relate to the Holocaust and how that affects their Christian, gender, and national identity. For Field Study II, I interviewed another group of thirty women before and after their visit to the memorial site Bergen-Belsen, a former concentration-camp in Niedersachsen, Germany. Field Study III was an analysis of published statements of young German women after a four-week exchange program with young American Jews. They confronted the Holocaust together. This analysis of their accounts focuses on moments of transformation for these young people of the third generation. Drawing from the literature review and these three empirical studies, the dissertation concludes with proposals for religious educational practices to provide direction for a journey toward integration. German women are encouraged to participate in movements that teach them how to become open and vulnerable, working through processes that allow them to relate to the Holocaust in a way that enables them to build bridges, despite a divisive past.
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