Colloquium: Writing Jewish Women's Lives

Day Colloquium: Writing Jewish Women's Lives

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Tuesday 12 March 2024, 11am-7pm

Wolfson College, Oxford


Join us on Tuesday 12 March 2024 for a day colloquium to launch the Vera Fine-Grodzinski Programme for Writing Jewish Women's Lives. Speakers include a range of world-renowned authors and scholars presenting their views on Jewish women's life-writing and how this body of literature contributes to social and cultural history. The conference will conclude with a round table to bring together all the ideas discussed during the day.


Provisional Programme:




Welcome: Dr Vera Grodzinski / Dr Kate Kennedy / Professor Hermione Lee


Rebecca Abrams


5 mins comfort break


Dr Sarah Bernstein in conversation


Lunch (please bring your own unless you have booked for lunch in advance)



Kathy Henderson in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy


5-minute comfort break


Professor Andrea Hammel




Monica Bohm-Duchen: illustrated talk


5-minute comfort break


Round table discussion chaired by Dr Jaclyn Granick

Theme: Is Jewish women’s life-writing social and cultural history?


Drinks reception




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Rebecca Abrams

Rebecca will speak about her recent biography of the remarkable 13th century Jewish moneylender Licoricia of WInchester:  Power and Prejudice in medieval England,  described by historian Simon Sebag Montefiore as 'totally fascinating, tragic and unforgettable.'  How do we reconstruct the lives of Jewish women whose existence survives chiefly in dry legal and financial records?  How far is it possible to imaginatively inhabit Jewish experience set so far in the past? Post-Holocaust, how do we navigate the distance between modern antisemitism and anti-Jewish prejudice in the medieval world?


Dr Sarah Bernstein, in conversation

Sarah Bernstein is a novelist and academic. Her second novel, STUDY FOR OBEDIENCE, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won Canada's Giller Prize. She is also the author of a collection of poetry and a number of articles on literary difficulty and mid-century writing by women. She is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde.


Kathy Henderson in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy: "My Disappearing Uncle: How Stories Make Us"

Kathy will discuss her book My Disappearing Uncle. Europe War and the Stories of a Scattered Family. Described by Katya Adler as "Heavy with humanity as well as meticulous historical research, Henderson‘s account brings to life the sheer determination and thirst for life of extraordinary individuals over the ages, allowing us to step into our future with hope, however fragile", the book explores  " scattered family and two hundred years of European turmoil told through the tales passed down by its undaunted women". Today, Kathy will talk about the way women’s lives get passed down through oral stories rather than the official annals, often unexpectedly, piecemeal, by accident, and how much these stories influence us.


Professor Andrea Hammel: Fighting the ‘assassins of memory’: An exploration of Jewish women refugees’ life writing
Jewish women refugees’ lives are inevitably marked by fear, loss, ruptures, dislocations, and new beginnings. Both contemporary narratives such as diaries and letters and later memoirs can be read as an attempt to make sense of these experiences and assert the writers’ agency. Kindertransport
refugee Martha Blend who fled as a nine-year old Jewish girl from Vienna to the UK assesses this process in her memoir A Child Alone (1995). She acknowledges the complex nature of her childhood memories and the difficulty this poses for her writing and her life: ‘Despite the sparseness of the material available to me, I was attempting to become a person in my own right.’
Today we are fascinated by these stories that recover and piece together memories of the women’s lives before and after their flight. The popularity of such stories, however, also means that we are confronted with normative narratives and fixed expectation of such stories written by refugees from
National Socialism or Holocaust survivors. In this talk I am keen to explore those narratives that do not fit the mould and t give space to life writing which deviates - exploring gaps and discovering the unexpected.


Monica Bohm-Duchen: Charlotte Salomon (1917-43): A Life before and after Auschwitz

Charlotte Salomon was a hugely talented Berlin-born artist who was murdered at Auschwitz, five months pregnant, at the age of twenty-six. Her main body of work, a sequence of nearly 800 gouache images entitled Leben oder Theater? (Life or Theatre?), created while seeking refuge in the South of France, is an ambitious fictive autobiography which deploys both images and text, and a wide range of musical, literary and cinematic references. The narrative, informed by Salomon's experiences as a cultured and assimilated German Jewish woman, depicts a life lived in the shadow of Nazi persecution and a family history of suicide, but also reveals moments of intense happiness and hope. Challenging the artistic conventions of Salomon’s time, it remains almost impossible to categorise. This illustrated lecture by London-based art historian Monica Bohm-Duchen will explore the multiple aspects of this sophisticated, complex and haunting work and reflect on its relevance for our own time.


Round table discussion chaired by Dr Jaclyn Granick: Is Jewish women’s life-writing social and cultural history?

Join Jaclyn and all of today's speakers to discuss Jewish women's life-writing as social and cultural history.


Rebecca Abrams

Rebecca teaches on the Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University and is a writing mentor for the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing.   She is the author of seven works of fiction and non-fiction, including Licoricia of Winchester: Power and Prejudice in Medieval England (2022) and The Jewish Journey: 4000 years in 22 objects (2017), and is the co-editor of Jewish Treasures From Oxford Libraries (2020), which was long-listed for the 2021 Wingate Literary Prize.  Her historical novel, Touching Distance, was shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize for Literature and won the MJA Open Book Award for Medical Fiction. She is also the author of three plays, including All Of Us, which premiered in New Zealand in 2023.


Professor Andrea Hammel
Andrea Hammel (BA Essex, MA, MA, DPhil Sussex) is Professor of German in the Department of Modern Languages and the Director of the Centre for the Movement of People at Aberystwyth University. She is the author of Finding Refuge: Stories of the men, women and children who fled to
Wales to escape the Nazis (Honno, 2022) and The Kindertransport: What really happened (Polity, 2024).
Recently she has worked on impactful research and public engagement and was leading a project on Refugees from National Socialism in Wales: Learning from the Past for the Future. One of its outcomes was an exhibition co-curated by women refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Kuwait which showed at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, the Senedd in Cardiff, the Houses of Parliament and the Pontio Bangor. Andrea also co-wrote two reports commissioned by the ACEs Support Hub Public
Health Wales on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Child Refugees of the 1930s and learning from refugee history.
This year she has presented her work on the Kindertransport on several occasions including at an Association of Jewish Refugees Refugee Voices Testimony Archive event, at Jewish Book Week, to the Houses of Parliament Staff Network and at the German Parliament in Berlin.


Kathy Henderson

Kathy Henderson is an award-winning children’s writer, poet and illustrator with more than thirty published books. She has been the winner of, among other things, the Kurt Maschler Award and the Aesop Prize of the American Folklore Society and has been shortlisted for the Children’s Poetry Prize. With a background in literature, music and oral history she also compiled My Song Is My Own: 100 Women’s Songs, which has become an iconic book on the hidden voices of women. She has written for radio, visited hundreds of schools and libraries and been a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.


Monica Bohm-Duchen

Monica Bohm-Duchen is a London-based independent writer, lecturer and exhibition organizer. She curated a major international exhibition entitled After Auschwitz: Responses to the Holocaust in Contemporary Art, which toured the UK during 1995 and subsequently travelled to Potsdam. She was co-curator of Life? or Theatre? The Work of Charlotte Salomon, shown at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1998, and co-edited an anthology of critical essays entitled Charlotte Salomon: Gender, Trauma, Creativity, published by Cornell University Press in 2006. Her book, Art and the Second World War was published by Lund Humphries in association with Princeton University Press, in 2013/14. She has taught a course on Art and War: 1914 to the Present at Birkbeck, University of London and at New York University London, and contributed an essay on “The Two World Wars” to War and Art: A Visual History of Modern Conflict (Reaktion Books, 2017). She is the founding Director of Insiders/Outsiders [Insiders Outsiders Festival], an ongoing celebration of the contribution of refugees from Nazi Europe to British culture.


Dr Jaclyn Granick 

Jaclyn Granick is a senior lecturer in Modern Jewish History at Cardiff University. She won a National Jewish Book Award (US) and a British and Irish Association for Jewish Studies special mention for her monograph International Jewish Humanitarianism in the Age of the Great War (Cambridge University Press 2021). She also co-edited with Professor Abigail Green a special issue of the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies (2022), “Gendering Jewish Inter/Nationalism.” She completed her BA at Harvard University, undertook her postgraduate work at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford. She is now researching Jewish women’s international activism and a co-Investigator for an Arts and Humanities Research Council project on Jewish Country Houses.


Dr Vera Fine-Grodzinski

Vera Fine-Grodzinski completed her PhD at University College London. She is a social and cultural historian, an independent lecturer and writer with a particular interest  in the Jewish presence in  the world of art, film and literature. She attends conferences regularly, and her scholarly contributions have been widely published in academic journals. 

Amongst other art exhibitions, she instigated and co-curated  the London Barbican Exhibition, 'Rubies & Rebels: Female Jewish Identity in Contemporary Art' (catalogue by Lund Humphries). She has recently completed her memoir which is awaiting publication. 

In 2023 OCLW introduced a new programme of events at Wolfson College, focussed on Writing Jewish Women's Lives.

This full day Colloquium celebrates this exciting venture, which is the first at any academic institution in the UK, and possibly abroad. It is open to all -- academics and the general public alike.

The new programme also hosts regular 'Literary Seminars' during Michaelmas, Hilary, and Trinity terms, inviting speakers to explore and research Jewish women's voices as part of social and cultural history. The first seminars took place in Michaelmas 2023, on 7 and 21 November. This term's events are on 30th January and 13th February.