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Rivke Horvits-Pinkusevits, "Mama, You Live On"

Pinkusevits, Rivke Horvits newspaper article The Jewish World 1946
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

During the Second World War, many Jewish women had been involved in political movements, participated in resistance efforts, or assumed greater responsibility for the needs of their families. Meanwhile, the traditional authority of Jewish men was undermined by Nazi violence. After liberation, however, the desire to return to prewar habits and traditions often consigned these same women to the domestic roles of wife and mother. Jewish women in Displaced Persons (DP) camps after the war did not often assume public roles within their communities. Given their significant population among Jewish DPs, the public invisibility of women apart from their domestic role is noteworthy and deserving of serious reflection.

Women DPs often carried a "double burden," assuming both the domestic responsibilities and the role of the family breadwinner. Although women survivors were often trained in fields like history, medicine, and social work, they rarely achieved leadership roles in DP camps. Although Ada Bimko (later Hadassah Rosensaft) and others became exceptions to this rule, the lack of women in public leadership roles in the DP camps was so noticeable that Dr. Haim Hoffman-Yahil (head of the Yishuv welfare mission) noted in 1946:

"Women's influence is sorely lacking among the She'erit Hapletah ["Surviving Remnant"]. I don't know why it is so but with the exception of the Bergen-Belsen committee there is not a single woman in any institution of the She'erit Hapletah. She does not appear in any central committee of liberated Jews, not in the Zionist center, not in the Zionist executive, not on local committees and not in camp committees, with the exception of Hachshara kibbutzim. We have not found a way to make women active."1

Written by Rivke Horvits-Pinkusevits, the piece featured here reveals that Hoffman-Yahil was overstating his point. Published in the DP newspaper, Dos Judische Wort ("The Jewish Word"), the article memorializes the death of Sarah Schenirer, founder of the Beys Yankev Orthodox women's educational movement. Schenirer is one of the few women noted by name in these newspapers. Honored as a maternal figure to her pupils and her movement, Schenirer's dual role as a leader and a "mother" reflect a common experience for many Jewish women DPs.2

There were, in fact, women who served in prominent roles in Zionist pioneer groups as well as the Orthodox women's education movement, Beys Yankev. These women, however, were relatively few. Baumel, "DPs, Mothers and Pioneers," 104.

Baumel, "DPs, mothers and pioneers," 104.

Atina Grossmann, "Victims, Villains, and Survivors: Gendered Perceptions and Self-Perceptions of Jewish Displaced Persons in Occupied Postwar Germany," Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.1 (2002), 312.

Grossmann, "Victims, villains, and Survivors," 315.

"Bnos" is the Ashkenazic Hebrew word for "daughters," this refers to religious youth organizations specifically for girls. 

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Dedicated to the eleventh anniversary of the death of Sarah Schenirer, may she rest in peace.

Mama, You Live On!

[By] Rivke Horvits Pinkusevits

Weeks have gone by, each peculiar, different; none like the other, none the same.

And when we observed the first anniversary of her death, and we took stock of the first year of being without our Mother, we felt lonely—the same terrible loneliness of orphaned children. We missed the tender watchfulness of our Mother, her serious, good-natured gaze, and often the moral compass and edification that she gave us.

How can we go on, we thought. It was a time when we had leaders such as our unforgettable Mr. Orlean, may he rest in peace, faithful and devoted leaders and teachers, such as Miss Boiminger, Hana Biegun, Mrs. Votsiazh, [...], etc.

We are lonely, we said. It was a time when a strong Jewish life pulsated in towns and villages, when our Beys Yankev schools accepted thousands of children and our religious youth blossomed in Bnos organizations.1 Our Beys Yankev teachers were like heroic soldiers on the front, battling for our Judaism. But above all we felt lonely, even though we had what was most essential—the Jewish home, with its charm and splendor.

And the further away we got, with every anniversary of her death that passed, the gravity [of the situation] grew: were we, God forbid, going off the path that our Mother had shown us? And the feeling of loneliness began to grow stronger, it began to tear deeper into our hearts. At celebrations our Mother was missed by one and by all—her blessing, her joyous face.

That was many years ago, and today?

Today, having survived the destruction of our people; today, having tread upon the graves of hundreds of unknown communities and children; today, when we stand as orphans, bereft of the homes we have lost! What do we have left to say today?

Our wound is deep and fresh. And so we feel like running around the whole world and shouting: We are here, and Mama, you live on!

Once upon a time your fire burned in thousands of children's eyes, thousands of young people carried you with them in their hearts—and today? There are no longer thousands of us: ten from a country, a few from a city, the remnant of a remnant, small in number, and yet—we live on! Your education was not for naught, Beys Yankev lives on! And since we live on, you live on with us, Mama!

You need not be ashamed, your children passed through the difficult years with dignity, they remained the same despite struggles and temptations. We mention their names with honor because they passed through the dregs of life with honor. Would they have been able to do it without your strength?

You instilled in them a Jewish woman's sense of honor, and that is why they were able to do it, to struggle through deadly danger. You bid them to love one another, risk their lives for each other. And so this is how they went through life, while others tread more lightly after the death of those close to them.

In the most difficult moment, facing the greatest temptation, your children clung to what you taught them, what you left them!

"Do not forsake the instruction of your mother" —these words hovered for your children over the labor and death camps. We saw the large letters continuously before us, never forgot them.

"For they are a wreath of grace for your head"—she regulated our thought process, our actions; "and a necklace for your neck"—your children even had a different manner of speaking [...] Our loneliness is much deeper today than once upon a time, and yet we have the strength to live, and the will to live, because all the temptations made us even stronger. They revealed the splendor of what you taught us to an even greater extent.

We want to live and invigorate what you lived for. We want to build generations such as yours, give them the strength that you instilled within us.

Our loneliness makes it easier to fight for your ideals. Your strength is within us, Mama!

And the steps we take? They demand much more seriousness and calculation than they did then, the first year after your death. We have to control them—are they placed where you would have liked?

Not all of us have reached the place that you wanted. Some take their first steps only now: they have been among strangers, lived with Gentiles in unfamiliar surroundings, they have become unaccustomed to Judaism. Others were dulled through trials and tribulations, were muddied by the dust of the camps, and so the path for them has not been as easy, and they must still continue. . .

And yet we know what your path leads to. It is a path we recognize, we know what you wanted. We will not go a shorter route, we will not seek to make it easier.

And while you live in us, all of your desires will also be alive. We will continue to live as you wished, all of us, even the weakest—because we belong to you!

And you, Mama, continue to be devoted to us, as you once were. Ask God for strength for your children: and purify our hearts to serve you in truth.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Date Created
April 2, 1946
Author / Creator
Horvits-Pinkusevits, Rivke
Publisher
Dos Judische Wort (The Jewish Word), no.3, April 2, 1946
Language(s)
Yiddish
Location
Feldafing, Germany
Document Type Newspaper Article
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