This is Gisella Perl, a a successful Jewish gynaecologist in Sighet, Romania in the 1930s and 40s. She was taken to Auschwitz in 1944, where she treated women with kindness and compassion. She was asked to report all pregnant women to Josef Mengele- better known as the Angel of Death. When she discovered what was done to them (medical experimentation and torture, ending with often being thrown alive into the crematoriums) she vowed that there would never again be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz. So she began the abortions.
In her time in Auschwitz, Dr. Perl performed over 3,000 abortions in spite of her professional and religious beliefs as a doctor and an observant Jew. Any babies born alive in Auschwitz were usually drowned, despite Mengele’s orders to allow them to starve to death. Because of Dr. Perl’s brave actions in performing these abortions, many women made it out of Aschwitz alive, able to go on and have families after the war.
Although she was vilified by many for her actions, there is no doubt that she is not the monster abortionists are made out to be. This woman, this doctor, this abortionist was a hero. Despite her personal beliefs, she understood what had to be done. If you click the photo, you can go to a more extensive biography of her- she was a true hero.
How it Feels to Be Forcibly Fed, New York World Magazine, September 6, 1914, Djuna Barnes Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. At the Elizabeth Sackler Center in the Brooklyn Museum through August 19, 2012.
There is a Djuna Barnes exhibit happening at the Brooklyn Museum, only through August and it’s amazing, and it’s called “Newspaper Fiction: The New York Journalism of Djuna Barnes, 1913-1919.”
The show is fiction and deeply weird, sometimes flippant investigative reporting, which moves in and out of fiction. The piece that I want to mention here is ”How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed,” in which Barnes submits herself to an artificial feeding. Doctors inserted rubber tubing down her throat and into her stomach, dripping liquid nutrients into her body, and she wrote about it. At a moment (1914) when imprisoned British suffragists on hunger strike were fed against their will, Barnes says:
I saw in my hysteria a vision of a hundred women in grim prison hospitals, bound and shrouded on tables just like this, held in the rough grip of callous warders while white-robed doctors thrust rubber tubing into the delicate interstices of their nostrils and forced into their helpless bodies the crude fuel to sustain the life they longed to sacrifice.
Science had, then, deprived us of the right to die.
Still the liquid trickled irresistibly down the tubing into my throat.
The writing charts the procedure—with the state of the suffrage movement leaning in and out of the backdrop—and Barnes’ emotional experience of it: anguished, horrified, and ironic/disassociative. The article’s intensity, I think, is owed to Barnes’ use of horror. By evoking fear, alienation, and disgust Barnes indexes the violence of the state pitting the political will against the body. In one passage, organs “lapse,” inanimate objects move, and the only parts of her body Barnes has awareness of are her extremities, and that locus of force where a doctor holds her prostrate by the hips.
The doctors, whom Barnes observes earlier walking “with that little confiding gait that horses must have returning from funerals,” approach her on the table, pre-tube:
All life’s problems had now been reduced to one simple act — to swallow or to choke. As I lay in passive revolt, a quizzical thought wandered across my beleaguered mind: This, at least, is one picture that will never go into the family album.
Because of the violent, gruesome intensity of the piece as a whole, I get really interested in these moments of ironic reflection. Barnes wades into these scenes which are completely harrowing from the inside, and then leaves for a second, measuring their inherent humor—not to mention seeing herself represented— from somewhere else. The doctors like horses; the largeness of the life in the mind brought down to the gag reflex; Barnes’ image of herself violated, strapped, and supine as a family photo, quickly rejected. These moments might function as comic relief but there’s also a surprising way the knowing, cutting wit, in its sudden absence from the scene, deepens the horror.
Jenny Hendrix, covering the exhibit for the Paris Review blog, says of the article: “A bit too cool for activism, Barnes focuses narrowly on subjective sensation.” This criticism seems like it’s missing something important (read: I think it’s obtuse and patriarchal). But it is useful to note because it sets up a key mechanism of the logic Barnes was either boring a hole through, or perhaps just bored by: the quarantining of subjective knowledge from their political implications.
In “How It Feels to Be Forcibly-Fed” I see Barnes as altering the scope of exposition to provoke an under-heard perspective of political life. She steps over pointless debates on militancy and efficacy by attending to the body. This work is weird journalism and maybe that’s because how often is performance art run in newspapers? Hers is a performance of bodily vulnerability, it is the details of power on the body’s level, and the article is the document.
IM ALL OVER THIS EXHIBEET
- Professor Cheryl Clarke , from “New Notes on Lesbianism” (via colorfuldiaspora)
by Sally Roesch Wagner
I had been haunted by a question to the past, a mystery of feminist history: How did the radical suffragists come to their vision, a vision not of Band-Aid reform but of a reconstituted world completely transformed?
For 20 years I had immersed myself…
Incidentally I wrote an essay on my old blog in 2009, largely inspired by Sally Roesch Wagner’s writings on Haudenosaunee women, entitled “Ongoing Echoes from the Women of the Long House” — which I reposted on this very tumblr. For whatever it’s worth, I argued that not only were Haudenosaunee women a galvanizing original source for early US (white) feminism (e.g. Bloomers), but also for the most well-known ideals of US democracy and liberty, as well as the League of Nations and the United Nations.
"I choose to study medicine because I realise only too well the moral impact one has as doctor on a…"
- Isala Van Diest (1842-1916), the first female physician in Belgium (via coolchicksfromhistory)
The Raincoats, London, 1979. Photo by Janette Beckman.
They played Olympia last night, I believe!
Today In History
‘Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, opened her historic campaign for President on this date January 25, 1972.’
(photo: Shirley Chisholm)
- CARTER Magazine
From the NYT:
Homai Vyarawalla, a photojournalist celebrated in India for chronicling the country’s march toward independence and capturing enduring images of world figures like Mohandas K. Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh and American presidents of the mid-20th century, died on Jan. 15 in Vadodara, in west India. She was 98.
Ms. Vyarawalla was hailed as the first Indian woman to work as a photojournalist and remembered as a familiar sight on the streets of New Delhi, the capital, riding a bicycle to assignments, her sari flapping behind her, her bulging equipment bags slung across her shoulders.
To many Indians she was known as Dalda 13, a coinage derived from her license plate number, DLD-13.
Ms. Vyarawalla called Nehru her “all-time favorite subject” and “extremely photogenic,” and when photographing him she would wait for an informal image to materialize — lighting a cigarette or releasing a pigeon.
“When Nehru died,” she told the newspaper The Indian Express, “I felt like a child losing its favorite toy, and I cried, hiding my face from other photographers.”
In the 1950s, Ms. Vyarawalla photographed Zhou Enlai, China’s first prime minister under Mao Zedong, as well as the North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and the Dalai Lama, just after he had escaped from Tibet. She recorded state visits by Queen Elizabeth II, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy and the first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy, often capturing them in lighter moments.
But it was her triumphant images of the country’s independence movement — of the departing Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, for example — that resonated most with Indians.
From an essay by her biographer Sabeena Gadihoke in The Hindu:
Homai was an adventurous woman. Stranded in Sikkim, she hitched a ride back on an army truck after taking images of a young Dalai Lama crossing the border in 1959. Once she came tumbling down while trying to shoot Mohammad Ali Jinnah, bringing to a halt the proceedings of his last press conference the day before he left for Pakistan in 1947. Homai’s fall brought a smile on Jinnah’s face.
She had also photographed the meeting of the Congress Working Committee that ratified the decision to Partition the country. Acharya Kripalani, who was chairing the meeting, was not happy to have photographers around so Homai had to keep ducking behind the benches. Her desire to discover new frontiers made her travel to the U.S. and the U.K. at the age of 95 in 2008. When she saw the statue of Gandhi at Tavistock Park, her only comment was that he was not wearing spectacles!
There’s a documentary about her that you can watch here.
Rosalynn Carter chairs mental health hearings, 01/17/1978
Phyllis Tucker on her early work in the movement providing rape crisis counseling and getting a sexual harassment law passed in Texas. It’s really sweet!!