French women and Nazi concentration camps: A study of the testimonies of French female survivors
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis is a study of the experiences of French women deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War Two, conducted with reference to an extensive corpus of published and archival autobiographical testimonies written by French female camp survivors. The testimonies of French male survivors and non-French writers are also utilised to a lesser degree as supplementary and comparative sources. The thesis aims to contribute to concentration camp scholarship by configuring a hitherto unrealised comprehensive portrait of the French female body of writing, elucidating how French women depict their camp experience, their responses to the unique challenges of testimonial writing and the gender specificity of this literature. Focusing on those aspects which are most significant within the testimonies of French women, the study demonstrates how social and biological gender specificity shape and particularize the narratives of these women. It also encompasses the pivotal theme of inmate relations, revealing the simultaneous externalization and redefinition of the notion of prisoner privilege which occurs in these writers' portrayal of hierarchical prisoner interaction, as well as the marked emphasis which French female survivors place upon the concepts of solidarity, mutual aid and collective structures. The purely textual level is also examined, detailing both the variety of responses to the issues of testimonial writing manifested by these writers and the cross-narrative authorial conception of the testimony as ultimately problematic. These areas of inquiry combine to yield a portrait of a highly complex testimonial genre, characterized by often unresolved tensions which are reflective of the complex and consistently nuanced nature of the wider camp experience.