Dr. David Silberklang
Yad Vashem Studies, volume 38:2 features five research articles and three review articles by an international array of scholars. Four research articles look at the interactions between the periphery and the center in addressing policy toward Jews during the Holocaust, whether among German or Allied authorities. These articles demonstrate the extent of the impact of local officials’ concerns and interests on their governments’ actions regarding Jews, and on many Jews’ fate. The very nature of how to approach this history in the larger context is the subject of the fifth research article as well as of the review articles to a great degree.
Two articles address the interplay among German economic interests, war aims, and ideology regarding Jews.Eliezer Schwartz reviews in depth the impact of IG Farben’s construction of the Buna industrial complex on the development and operation of Birkenau in its dual role as an extermination center for Jews and as a central reserve of Jewish labor for the Reich, while Stefan Lehnstädt examines German exploitation of Jewish labor in the provincial ghettos in the Warthegau region of occupied Poland. These articles show vast German opportunism on both the personal and industrial levels, operating within an ideological framework that had set the parameters for the destruction of the Jews. Albert Kaganovitch looks at the interplay, lack of coordination, and contradictions between national policies and local authorities in the USSR and how they affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, who suffered from hunger, illness, and high mortality. Jan Láníček looks at the interplay between center and periphery in the treatment of Jewish issues aired in wartime Czechoslovak government broadcasts to occupied Europe over the BBC. Although not devoid of humanitarian concern for the Jews, the broadcasts avoided highlighting Jewish issues out of concern for the possible negative reaction of the people at home. Using David Engel’s recent book Historians of the Jews and the Holocaust as a springboard for discussion, Guy Miron provides a penetrating analysis of Holocaust scholarship and general Jewish history, and the respective places of each in the other field of inquiry. This issue also features three book review articles: Yehuda Bauer on Bogdan Musial’s Sowjetische Partisanen: Mythos und Wirklichkeit; Ingo Loose on Martin Dean’s Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 1933–1945; and Andrew Apostolou on Katherine Fleming’s Greece: A Jewish History.
Eliezer Schwartz, The Role of IG Farben–Auschwitz in the Construction of the Birkenau Extermination Camp
In early 1941 IG Farben Industrie AG decided to establish a factory for the manufacture of synthetic rubber and fuel near the city of Oświęcim. Although the project was scheduled for completion by mid-1943, it remained unfinished when Soviet forces liberated the area in 1945, despite an enormous investment in money, equipment, and construction materials, and the death of some 30,000 prisoners who had been put to work in building the plant — most of them Jews.
This article discusses the reasons why the construction of this plant, planned to take no more than two years, stretched to four years and was never completed; IG Farben’s responsibility for the loss of so many slave-labor prisoners’ lives; and the company’s involvement in and responsibility for the establishment of the Birkenau extermination camp.
A painstaking review of the sequence of events in the construction of the plant confirms the conclusion that this construction project had been plagued from the outset by appalling engineering blunders in planning and performance. These failures significantly inflated the construction costs, delayed the completion of the project by years, and greatly increased the number of slave laborers that the Auschwitz I concentration camp had to provide the company. IG Farben’s managers, attempting to overcome the delays that their blunders had created, subjected the prisoners to brutal treatment, expended their strength, and quickly turned them into shattered remnants of human beings. Due to the seemingly limitless manpower available to replace prisoners whose strength gave out, the Auschwitz I camp had the resources to provide the company with some 41,000 prisoners during the years in which the plant was under construction.
But the eventual inability of the existing facilities at Auschwitz to furnish so many prisoners for the construction of IG Farben’s enterprise played a significant role in the expansion of this camp and the establishment of the nearby Birkenau camp. Once Birkenau was completed, the Reich leadership assigned it a dual role: to serve as a center for the extermination of Jews who would be brought there from all over Europe and, concurrently, to serve as a central labor pool of Jewish workers for the Reich war industry.
Wages for Jews were minimal, as official loans were subject to massive “taxes,” because the fiscal arrangements in the smaller ghettos of the Warthegau region depended at all times on developments in the Litzmannstadt (Łódź; Lodz) ghetto. Financial problems in Łódź hastened the exploitation of the other ghettos, but also accelerated their destruction. Wages for Jews were minimal, as official loans were subject to massive “deductions” for the coffers and pockets of the German administrators, tasked with covering the expenses for the ghettos. Thus, working conditions were harsh and even worse than in the Generalgouvernement; individual workers received little if any money. However, in principle, wages were not an issue; after the autumn of 1940 payment for work performed was provided even in the “labor battalions.” In combination with increased food rations for workers, this was enough incentive for Jews to volunteer. Hard physical and even some skilled labor often seemed the only chance for survival. The Germans welcomed wage payments, because these moneys led to their own personal enrichment and helped them to cut down their expenditures on provisions for the ghettos. Thus, in the first years of the war, the German administration proactively sought to solicit wages for Jewish workers.
During World War II, many hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees found themselves in the eastern areas of the USSR. They can be divided into three categories: Soviet citizens; new Soviet citizens from territories annexed by the USSR in 1939 and 1940; and foreign citizens who escaped into Soviet territory, mainly from the German-occupied parts of Poland between September 1939 and the summer of 1940. The Soviet authorities experienced great difficulties in their efforts to resettle these people in their new surroundings. Shortages of housing, suitable jobs, food, heating fuel, clothing, and medical services heavily increased the adversities in the refugees’ daily lives. They were beset by hunger, frequent illness, and increased mortality. While the central government tried to ensure that industry and resources would be supplied, the local authorities saw the refugees as a burden both because their duties and responsibilities had been subjected to many other wartime shortages and travails, and because they saw the refugees as aliens in their regions. The differences in the attitudes of the central and local administrations to refugees became especially apparent with regard to Jewish refugees. While the lower-ranking local officials were themselves the source of antisemitism, the central officials mostly struggled with its manifestations.
Láníček’s article analyses the wartime BBC Czechoslovak Service and its treatment of the Jewish issues when broadcasting to German-occupied Europe. The first, theoretical part inquires into the main factors that influenced the decision-making process about broadcasting to occupied Czechoslovakia. The analysis confirms that the broadcasts were a product of complex influences that resulted from the diplomatic position of the Czechoslovak exiles. The second part of the article focuses on an analysis of the broadcasts from a humanitarian and political point of view. From the latter perspective, it documents policy considerations that played a considerable role in number and shape of the broadcasts dealing with Jewish issues. The Czechoslovak government, although occasionally unable to resist humanitarian motives, still sought to fashion an overall message that put forth their political priorities and objectives. One of the main aims of the broadcasts was to maintain the image of a democratic nation not given to the persecution of minorities.
Guy Miron, Bridging the Abyss — Holocaust Research vs. Jewish Historical Research: Problems and Challenges
This article explores the uneasy relationship between research into modern Jewish history and research on the Jews during the Holocaust. As a point of departure for the discussion, the article presents certain aspects that arise from David Engel’s recent book Historians of the Jews and the Holocaust, which noted the detachment of Jewish historians from the historical perspective of the Holocaust era. The historiography presented here illuminates the issue mainly in the context of research taking place in North America and analyzes the inherent problematique of the matter from a theoretical perspective as well. The article then notes early efforts by European Jewish intellectuals and historians, as far back as the 1930s, to contemplate modern Jewish history in a new way, from the perspective of the ascent of Nazism and racial antisemitism.
The second part of the article sheds light on the issue from a converse point of view to that examined by Engel. It points to the problematic disconnect of the research discourse among Holocaust researchers, chiefly those who concern themselves with the history of Eastern European Jewry during the Holocaust, from the broader research discourse on Jewish history, chiefly the modern, and attempts to demonstrate the origins and implications of this disconnect. Towards a conclusion, the article suggests possible ways of solving the problem and building bridges between the two research disciplines, both via the evolving research into the she’erit hapletah (surviving remnant) after the Holocaust and from the more theoretical perspective that stems from the “cultural turn.”
Review of Bogdan Musial’s Sowjetische Partisanen: Mythos und Wirklichkeit
Bogdan Musial’s book about Soviet partisans is a most important contribution to the history of World War II generally. Dealing mainly with Belorussia (Belarus), Musial deconstructs the legends about Soviet partisans, showing who they were, how their units developed, how they exaggerated their exploits, how they suffered from internal strife and alcoholism, and how the Soviet authorities failed to supply them with the tools and arms necessary to conduct anti-German operations. Of special interest to the readers of this volume are extensive chapters on Jewish and Polish partisans in Belorussia.
Review of Katherine E. Fleming’s Greece: A Jewish History
Fleming’s book is a largely chronological account of the creation of a Greek Jewish identity. The argument is that foreigners largely created the Greek Jewish identity and that the Holocaust completed the formation of a Greek Jewish identity. The author’s argument is problematic, because it ignores the efforts of Greek Jews to gain acceptance by the Greek state, is unsystematic in its use of evidence, and suffers from important factual errors. Also notable is the author’s approach to rabbinic leadership in Greece and the attitude to Israel. Certain evidence demonstrates that the Jews became Greek in an earlier time than Fleming’s findings show and substantially through their own efforts. The coverage of the Holocaust lacks coherence and does not tackle the issue of Greek Christian collaboration. The claim that the Holocaust made the Jews more Greek is counter-intuitive.
Review of Martin Dean’s Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 1933–1945
For the Nazis, seizing Jewish-owned property was one of the most important objectives, first in Germany, after 1933. Later, the seizures continued systematically in the annexed or conquered and occupied territories, and even in countries that were under the influence or dominance of the Axis powers, but remained officially independent. The essay discusses and evaluates Martin Dean’s book Robbing the Jews, which may be called the first comprehensive account of the entire confiscation process the Nazis imposed on Jewish financial assets, businesses, and movable and immovable property. The book’s opening chapters cover the period beginning with the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 until the invasion on Poland in 1939, then the text ranges over the entire war and the Final Solution, and concludes with a detailed look at the parallels and peculiarities ofJudenpolitik in a variety of European countries.