Rachel Feldhay Brenner

Position title: Senior Fellow (2008-2013)

Hebrew Studies, UW-Madison

Portrait image of Rachel F. Brenner in front of a bookcase

Polish Writers’ Diaries and Literary Writings from Warsaw 1939-1945: Moral Autonomy and Empathy in the Reality of German Occupation and Genocide

The German occupation confronted Polish writers with the evolving horror of the Holocaust, which they registered in diaries and in literary writings. This book-length project examines the wartime Polish writers responses towards the Jewish victims as reflections of their efforts to retain humanistic values, and especially the value of empathy. The study focuses on the diarists inner struggle for moral autonomy in time of terror. The contrast between the diaristic introspections and the literary representations highlights the complex messages of the diaries and demands a reexamination of the humanistic orientation in the literary responses to the atrocity of genocide.

Rachel Feldhay Brenner is Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature in the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies, and Max and Frieda Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies. Her research focuses on Jewish Diaspora Literature, Israeli literature, and on the representations of the Holocaust in literature and in autobiographical writings. She is the author of Assimilation and Assertion: The Response to the Holocaust in Mordecai Richler’s Writing (1989), and A.M. Klein, The Father of Canadian Jewish Literature: Essays in the Poetics of Humanistic Passion (1990), which won the prize of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto Literary Scholarship Award, Writing as Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust: Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, and Etty Hillesum (1997), which was translated into Spanish, Inextricably Bonded: Israeli Jewish and Arab Writers Re-Visioning Culture (2003), and The Freedom to Write: The Woman-Artist and the World in Ruth Almog’s Fiction (2008) [in Hebrew]. Brenner (Hebrew University (B.A), Tel Aviv University (M.A.) York University, Toronto (Ph.D)) has received Canada Research Fellowship (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada), Skirball Visiting Fellowship, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, NEH Fellowship, Research Award, Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women, Brandeis University, the George Mosse Faculty Exchange Award to Hebrew University, Sosland Family Fellowship, the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Museum.