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The International School for Holocaust Studies

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Prewar Jewish Life – Course Syllabus

“At the Edge of the Abyss – The Holocaust of European Jewry"

The tragedy of the Holocaust can be fully appreciated only by understanding what was lost. This course examines the vibrant mosaic of Jewish life throughout Europe leading up to the Second World War. We will situate the Holocaust within Jewish Studies by covering representative communities from eastern and western Europe, and learning about the key trends - Zionism, modern antisemitism, and assimilation, among others - that characterized early 20th-century Jewry.

As with all our Online Courses, assignments may be submitted at your own pace. Participation is open for a period of 6 months from the moment of approval onto the course system. We recommend reading the material and submitting the assignments at a rate of one lesson or more every two weeks.

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This online course is one of 5 courses comprising “At the Edge of the Abyss – The Holocaust of European Jewry".

Lesson one:
The Jews of Paris – Representing the History of Jews in France
This lesson examines French Jewry beginning with the French Revolution and concluding during the interwar period.
Yehoshua Mathias, Doron Niederland, Shifra Kolat, The Jewish Existence in the Diaspora in the 20th Century (Heb.), Board of Education, Ma'alot Publishing, 1994, pp. 31-38.
Further reading:
Arthur Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews: The Origins of Anti-Semitism, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990, pp. 1-11.

Lesson two:
The Jews of Berlin – Representing the History of Jews in Germany
This lesson focuses on Jewish life in Berlin between 1812 and 1930, marked by changes in Germany’s political climate, and influenced by major Jewish political thinkers.
Excerpts from interviews with Professors David Bankier, Saul Friedlaender, and Shulamit Volkov.
Further reading:

  1. Amos Elon, “Introduction,” The Pity of it All, a History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933. New York: Picador, 2002, pp. 1-12.
  2. Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol.1. Harper Collins, New York 1997, Chapter 3.

Lesson three:
Salonika and Corfu: Two Communities in the Balkans
This lesson focuses on Greek Jewry, comprised of the Romaniotes, the Ashkenazi Jews, and the Sephardi Jews.
Extracts from: Bracha Rivlin, “The Life Cycle and Yearly Cycle of the Greek Jews”, Mesogeios 20-21, 2003.
Further Reading:
Michael Matsas, The Illusion of Safety: The Story of the Greek Jews During World War II, Pella Publishing Company, New York, 1997, Chapter 2, 29-127.

Lesson four:
The Jews of Italy
This lesson looks at the Jewish community in Italy, one of the oldest communities in Europe.

Lesson five:
Vilna and Odessa
This lesson discusses the vibrant and influential Jewish communities of Vilna and Odessa, located on either side of the Pale of Settlement.
Entries in the Encyclopedia Judaica:

  1. Benzion Dinur, Odessa, Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol 12, Jerusalem 1971, pp. 1319-1325.
  2. Israel Klausner, Vilna, Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol 16, Jerusalem 1971, pp. 138-147.

Further Reading:

  1. Bartal, Israel. ‘Urbanism and Scholarship: Vilna in the Gaon’s Era’, Rachel Schnold (ed.), The Gaon of Vilna, Tel-Aviv 1998.
  2. Kahan, Arcadius. ‘Vilna; The Sociocultural Anatomy of a Jewish Community in Interwar Poland’, Essays in Jewish Social and Economic History, Chicago 1986.
  3. Zipperstein, Steven Jeffrey. “Assimilation,” Haskalah and Odessa Jewry, in Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt (eds.) The Great Transition, Totowa 1985, p. 91-98.
  4. Zipperstein, Steven Jeffrey. “How Things Were Done in Odessa”, in Rachel Arbel (Ed.), Homage to Odessa, Tel-Aviv 2002, p. 69-82.

Lesson six:
The Jews of Budapest and Munkacs
In this lesson, we learn about the Jewish community of Budapest, which dates to the Ottoman Empire, and the Jewish community of Munkacs, which first planted its first in the 17th century.

  1. Victor Karady, “The Jewish Bourgeoisie of Budapest,” Anna Szalai (ed.), In The Land of Hagar, Beth Hatefutsoth, Ministry of Defence Publishing House, Tel Aviv, pp. 145-154.
  2. Extracts from: Raphael Vago, “Jews of the Hungarian Provinces until 1918,” Anna Szalai (ed.), In the Land of Hagar, Beth Hatefutsoth, Ministry of Defence Publishing House, Tel Aviv, pp. 173-184.

Further Reading:
Anna Szalai (Ed.), In the Land of Hagar, Beth Hatefutsoth, Ministry of Defense Publishing House, Tel Aviv.

Lesson seven:
Poland Part I – Jewish Cultural and Communal Life
This lesson looks at the rich cultural Jewish life before the Second World War, focusing on several central trends and movements in European Jewry.

Lesson eight:
Jewish Politics in Poland Between the Wars
This lesson looks at the political life of Jews in Poland from the 16th century until the eve of World War II.
Ezra Mendelsohn, “Jewish Politics in Interwar Poland: An Overview,” in Yisrael Gutman, Ezra Mendelsohn, Jehuda Reinharz, Chone Shemruk (Eds.), The Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars, University Press of New England, Hanover, 1989, pp. 9-19.
Further Reading:
Ezra Mendelsohn, “The Jewish Response: Jewish Politics in Poland in the 1920’s”, The Jews of East Central Europe Between the Two World Wars, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1983, pp. 43-63.

Lesson nine:
The Evolution of Modern Antisemitism, 1870-1933
This lesson focuses on the history of antisemitism, paying particular attention to how it is manifested in modern times.
Jacob Katz, “Was The Holocaust Predictable?” Michael R. Marrus (ed), The Nazi Holocaust (Vol. 1). Westport & London, 1989, pp. 118-137.
Further Reading:
Shmuel Etinger, “The Origins of Modern Antisemitism,” The Catastrophe of European Jewry, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1976, pp. 3-39.

Lesson ten:
Jewish Immigration
The first of three parts, this lesson focuses on the migration of Jews from various countries to their new homes, including Spain, Russia and the Ukraine, Great Britain, Argentina, and the United States.
Jonathan Frankel, Prophecy and Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981, pp. 67-74.
Further Reading:

  1. Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers, Touchstone and Simon and Schuster, New York, 1976, pp. Chapter 1, pp. 5-25.
  2. Isaac Metzker (Ed.), A Bintel Brief – Sixty Years of Letters to the Editor from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Forward, Schoken Books, NY, 1971.

Lesson eleven:
Aspirations for Social Revolution: An Equal and a Hate-Free World
This lesson discusses Socialism and Jews in Russia, paying special attention to Leon Trotsky, Simon Dubnow, and the movements they helped create.
Moshe Mishkinsky, “The Jewish Labor Movement and European Socialism,” Journal of World History, 11 (1968) pp. 284-296.
Further Reading:
Mario Kessler, “Leon Trotsky's Position on antisemitism, Zionism and the Perspectives of the Jewish Question”, in

Lesson twelve:
Zionism – The Jewish National Movement
In the final lesson of this unit, we focus on individuals such as Theodor Herzl, Leon Pinsker, Dov Ber Borochov, and Ahad Ha'am, and examine their differing opinions on Zionism and modern Jewry.
Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1960, pp. 22-32.
Additional Reading:

  1. Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1997, pp. 178-198 (Pinsker); 248-277 (Ahad Ha-am); 206-231 (Herzl); and 352-367 (Borochov).
  2. Hannah Arendt, “Herzl and Lazare,” The Jew as Pariah, Grove Press, New York, 1978, pp. 125-131.

With the generous support of:
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany
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