Gerda Lerner spent her 18th birthday in a Nazi prison, sharing a cell with two gentile women arrested for political work who shared their food with the Jewish teenager because jailers restricted rations for Jews.
Lerner would say years later that the women taught her during those six weeks how to survive and that the experience taught her how society can manipulate people. It was a lesson that the women’s history pioneer, who died Wednesday at age 92, said she saw reinforced in American academia by history professors who taught as though only the men were worth studying.
“When I was faced with noticing that half the population has no history and I was told that that’s normal, I was able to resist the pressure” to accept that conclusion, Lerner told the Wisconsin Academic Review in 2002.
The author was a founding member of the National Organization for Women and is credited with creating the nation’s first graduate program in women’s history, in the 1970s in New York.