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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 37:2 (2009)

Dr. David Silberklang

This volume of Yad Vashem Studies is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Franklin Littell and opens with an article about him byYehuda Bauer. The volume includes five research articles on a variety of subjects and two review articles on recent important books. Three articles present and analyze three different types of documentation: Dan Michman and Sarit Shavit on the 1960s correspondence between Leni Yahil and Hannah Arendt revolving around the Eichmann trial, the Jewish People, and Israel; László Karsai on Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi’s wartime diary in 1943-44; and Claude Klein on a 1944 survivor testimony following a harrowing escape from France to Switzerland.Oula Silvennoinen’s article on Finland’s alliance with Nazi Germany pioneers an open examination of that country’s role in the war and the Holocaust, and Roni Stauber’s on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s internal debate regarding reparations and relations with Germany, together with review articles by Natan Sznaider on Dov Schidorsky’s Burning Scrolls and Flying Letters, and Yfaat Weiss on Moshe Zimmerman’s Deutsche gegen Deutsche round out this rich and varied volume.

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In 1963 the “Arendt Controversy” erupted in the wake of the publication of the articles and book (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil)on the Eichmann trial and its implications by the American-Jewish German-born philosopher Hannah Arendt. The repercussions are still felt today, and Arendt’s polemic has undoubtedly served as a catalyst for discussions on both historical and basic philosophical problems of the Holocaust. The controversy has also been researched from different angles.

The present article uncovers and analyzes a hitherto unknown correspondence between the Israeli German-born historian Leni Yahil and Arendt, following the friendship that developed between the two while Arendt was in Israel covering the trial in April 1961. Subsequently, their correspondence stretched from May 1961 till shortly after Yahil read Arendt’s articles in the spring of 1963. The correspondence alternates constantly between personal affairs and philosophical and political issues, and moves from a close relationship to a total crisis after the publication of Arendt’s articles. Yahil also sent a last (unanswered) letter to Arendt in 1971, in a vain attempt to reestablish contact. The fascinating correspondence, translated from the German and published in full with this article, adds a previously unknown facet to the controversy, a facet which turned out to be highly important because it impacted on the way Yahil composed her monumental, comprehensive study of the Holocaust — The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932–1945.

Yahil-Arendt Correspondence, 1961–1971


Though Finland fought on the side of the Axis in 1941–1944, Finns have so far enjoyed an unblemished reputation regarding Nazi war crimes and the Holocaust. A recurrent theme in the Finnish public discourse is that Finland fought her own war and had nothing to do with Nazi atrocities. In the current article, the author analyzes the background for the formation of such perceptions, closely tied to the postwar position of Finland as a neighbor sharing a border with the then Soviet Union. The article also presents an initial analysis of results obtained by recent scholarship and the challenge these pose to the traditional views of historians.


The recently (re)discovered personal Diary of Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi (1897–1946) throws a brilliant light into the dark cave of his thought. Szálasi, this impossible man, was nothing, if not consistently sincere. There is no contradiction between his public speeches, published writings, and the Diary, which he wrote in 1943–1944. He often declared at that time that Germany and his allies would win the war, despite the fact that he was a well-trained officer, a staff major in the Hungarian army, until his resignation in 1935. He hated the Jews, and his Diary revealed that he had firsthand information about the destruction of the European Jews. His political analyses are as unintelligent as a semi-illiterate high school student’s. After reading his anti-Jewish invectives, his complaints about Regent Horthy’s behavior, and his derision for Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church in this Diary, the most fundamental question remains unanswered: how was he able to organize in three years (1935–1938) the most powerful right-wing mass movement in the history of Hungary?


My mother’s letter, written in 1944, after our family had entered Switzerland illegally, forms the basis of the present article. The letter was discovered in 2004 in a Swiss archive. It was written in German (Hochdeutsch), is annotated, and presented with an explanatory introduction. In order to obtain financial help from a Swiss charitable association, my mother was asked to describe the events that had befallen her and her family from 1939 onward. The letter’s content may be considered as a representative summary of Jewish life during the war years: the story begins in Poland, continues in Western Europe, and ends with the war and the German occupation of France. The letter describes the prevailing conditions in the French “Free Zone” and climaxes with the extraordinary flight of our family through no-man’s land and across the border into neutral Switzerland.


This study discusses at length the vacillations of Israeli diplomats and mainly  Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett regarding political relations with West Germany in the years immediately following the reparations accord. It analyzes Sharett’s reasons for consistently opposing a rapid transition from the low-level reparations ties to full-scale diplomatic relations and explains why he changed his mind towards the end of 1955. While previous studies have emphasized the clash between Israeli public opinion and Foreign Ministry professionals, the present article comprises a different and more complex tableau of Israeli diplomats’ attitudes toward Germany between 1953 and 1955. Its focal argument is that the postponement of diplomatic relations with Germany was influenced not only by the possibility of negative Israeli public opinion but also by the Foreign Ministry assessment of Germany’s political standing. The discussions and the views expressed by the Israeli diplomats concerned included not only practical diplomatic questions but also Israel’s need never to forget the Holocaust and skepticism of the West German state’s motives and attitudes toward Jews, Israel, and the Arab states.



Review essay on: Moshe Zimmermann, Deutsche gegen Deutsche. Das Schicksal der Juden 1938–1945, Berlin: Aufbau, 2008, 315 pp.


 long line of historians, most of them German-born Jews, has devoted many years to studying the history of the Jews in Nazi Germany. However, almost without exception and irrespective of the generation to which they belonged, most of these historians chose to conclude their studies of Germany Jewry in 1938–1939. Moshe Zimmerman’s book addresses this deficiency. It proposes a systematic survey of the history of the Jews in Germany from the Kristallnacht pogrom to the destruction of German Jewry in the death camps in the East, analyzing numerous issues such as the anti-Jewish legislation, terror, the denouncing of innocent people, humiliation, expropriation, forced labor, deportations to the ghettoes in the East, and the extermination process. The writer sees the destruction of German Jewry, like that of European Jewry, as “the consistent outcome of the always extreme intention of getting rid of the Jews, an intention that was intertwined with the generation of actual possibilities for its realization.”

Review essay on: Dov Schidorsky, Burning Scrolls and Flying Letters: A History of Book Collection and Libraries in Mandatory Palestine and of Book Salvaging Efforts in Europe after the Holocaust.  Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2008 (Hebrew), 552 pages. 


This book deals with the formative role that libraries and books exerted in the shaping of Israel’s nationhood. In this historical work, libraries in cities, towns, and rural settlements and the books they contained become heroes in an almost epic saga of how an ancient culture re-created itself in its own land. It is the story of the public libraries and workers’ libraries that were established in Tel Aviv and Haifa in the 1920s and 1930s even before the founding of state. Schidorsky, emeritus director of the School of Library, Archives, and Information Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, links books to the land and libraries with the creation of the state. He meticulously researched the fate of Jewish books during the Holocaust, in their darkest hours of looting, confiscations, and arbitrary destruction. But the bulk of the book, however, is devoted to the reconstruction of the Jewish corpus, including the rivalry between North American Jewry and Israel for rights to unclaimed books, and the work of the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) in Jerusalem in reclaiming heirless and ownerless books after the war.