Gender and War in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe. Eds. Nancy M. Wingfield and Maria Bucur. Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies, eds. Alexander Rabinowitch and William G. Rosenberg. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. vii, 251 pp. Select Bibliography. Contributors. Index. Paper.
This collection of articles examines the variety of gendered experiences during the first and second world wars in Eastern Europe. The essays cover a wide spectrum of experiences and effects of war, exploring both military and civilian aspects (with emphasis on the latter). They seek to reevaluate traditional war narratives that focus heavily on men, particularly combatant men, and thus, “gender the front” (1). The book is divided into thematic sections: “challenging gender/resorting order,” “gendered collaborating and resisting,” and “remembering war: gendered bodies, gendered stories.”
Alon Rachamimov’s “’Female Generals’ and ‘Siberian Angels’: Aristocratic Nurses and the Austro-Hungarian POW Relief” demonstrates that women administrative nurses did not enjoy the positive reception of nurses who served in purely medical capacities. These women were not in auxiliary medical positions subordinate to male personnel, but rather in positions of authority assigned with the task of reporting on the conditions of the POWs within the camps and ensuring their loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian government. Rachamimov reveals the considerable gendered tension between male POWs and female administrative nurses. The men often found it difficult to accept women in positions of power over them and reacted to their presence with indifference, sullenness, and even hostility. This stands in stark contrast to the views male POWs had of women serving in purely nursing capacities, who were seen as a source of solace and comfort in their more traditional roles of caregivers and nurturers, and who held little to no authority over male personnel.