Dr. David Silberklang
The articles and reviews in this issue examine core subjects such as perpetrators and their motivations; Jewish dilemmas and responses; varied attempts, sometimes desperate, to rescue European Jews; reactions of the Western world and the Jews’ non-Jewish countrymen to the persecution and murder, and more.
The authors and their topics:
- Insa Meinen, on the work of Maxime Steinberg, who pioneered the study of the Holocaust in Belgium and to whose memory this issue is dedicated.
- Ingo Loose, Christoph Kreutzmüller, and Benno Nitzel on Jewish strategies for economic survival in Germany.
- Artur Szyndler on the attempt by Oświęcim Judenrat head Leon Schönker to arrange Jewish emigration from the Katowice district in the first months of the German occupation.
- Avihu Ronen, Hadas Agmon, and Asaf Danziger on the development of Israeli and survivor attitudes to Jewish officials under the Nazis during the Holocaust, through the prism of the 1963-1964 war crimes trials of Hirsch Barenblat.
- Kobi Kabalek on the development of the concept of honoring the “Righteous Among the Nations” in Israel.
- Ulrich Frisse on the reporting in the Toronto Daily Star during the Nazi period.
- Hava Eshkoli Wagman on attempts to organize Jewish refugee settlement in Alaska.
The review articles are by
- Pim Griffioen
- Christopher Browning
- Jan Tomasz Gross
- Yehuda Bauer
Maxime Steinberg, a pioneer in Holocaust research, passed away in Brussels on July 26, 2010. He wrote the history of the Shoah and the Resistance of the Jews in Belgium. His magnum opus, L’Étoile et le fusil (The [Yellow] Star and the Rifle), published between 1983 and 1987, is still today considered to be the standard work on the topic. Steinberg established a strong research platform on the subject of the deportation of Belgian Jewry, made significant contributions to the prosecution in the courts of the “crime of the century,” and also helped shape how the Holocaust came to be treated and taught in the schools, and presented in museums.
Christoph Kreutzmüller, Ingo Loose & Benno Nietzel, Nazi Persecution and Strategies for Survival Jewish Businesses in Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, and Breslau, 1933–1942
The big cities provided an important framework of possibilities for Jews to assert themselves and survive economically, despite the discrimination and chicanery of Nazi persecution. In the cities, the process of the destruction of Jewish commercial activity took significantly longer than was previously known. The lesser extent of persecution and the greater latitude for action in the Grossgemeinden led a substantial number of Jewish business people to relocate from the rural areas to the big cities. It was only by means of brutal violence and various laws that the Nazi regime was ultimately able to destroy the economic foundation of Jewish life in Germany in 1938. Nevertheless, even after the pogrom some Jewish firms remained in operation up to first deportations in autumn 1941.
Artur Szyndler, Leon Schönker and his plan of emigration of Jews from Katowice Regency at the end of 1939
In October 1939 Leon Schönker, the Head of the Council of Elders of the Jewish Religious Community in the town of Auschwitz (Oświęcim), created the Central Emigration Bureau, acting on the Nazi orders. The Bureau was called to life in order to organize mass emigration of Jews from the Katowice Regency. At the end of November, a delegation of the Jewish Councils of Elders from the regency traveled to Berlin headed by Leon Schönker to discuss the immigration and to present his detailed plans to the highest German authorities. Despite the fact that the mission to Berlin did not bear any success the project was continued. In the early February 1940, the Emigration Bureau was relocated from Oświęcim to Sosnowiec to become part of the Central Office of Jewish Council of Elders of Eastern Upper Silesia headed by Mojżesz Merin. Following its liquidation in late April plans for the immigration of Jews from this region were ultimately abandoned.
Avihu Ronen, Hadas Agmon & Asaf Danziger, Collaborator or Would-Be Rescuer? The Barenblat Trial and the Image of a Judenrat Member in 1960s Israel
Several trials conducted in Israel questioned the role of the Jewish leadership in the Holocaust and raised the problematic image of the Judenrat among the survivors. In the Barenblat trial (1963), the state prosecuted Hirsh Barenblat who had been the head of the Jewish militia in Będzin (Poland). Due to Barenblat’s high position and the attempt to impose comprehensive culpability on all Judenrat members, his trial became an important milestone in the development of Holocaust memory as it pertained to the Jewish leadership of the time. In Barenblat, the principle question raised throughout was the essence of the Judenrat and its members, and this may have been the only attempt to respond to it. This question split the survivors of Będzin: some witnessed against Barenblat and some witnessed for the defense. Although many of the witnesses condemned the Judenrat as an institute there was no consensus among them regarding the role of Barenblat. The rulings of both courts largely reflected the witnesses’ vacillations. The District Court convicted Barenblat and sentenced him to five years in prison. The Supreme Court exonerated him. Both instances believed that the rest of the job should be left to historians.
However, the absence of a resolution in the Barenblat trial symbolized the beginning of a process of change in the perception of the role of Jewish leadership and the Judenrat in the Holocaust — a perception that is neither accusatory nor apologetic and, instead, is mindful of the paradoxical complexity that envelops these institutions and individuals.
Kobi Kabalek, The Commemoration before the Commemoration: Yad Vashem and the Righteous Among the Nations, 1945–1963
The article examines the place of the “Righteous Among the Nations” (non-Jews who helped save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust) in the commemoration plans and activities of Yad Vashem from its early years to the establishment of the official mechanism for honoring these people. The article’s main argument is that, while the subject of the Righteous Among the Nations was not seen as a central facet of Yad Vashem’s purpose until the early 1960s, it was not completely neglected in the Remembrance Authority’s early years. In fact, in much of the debate about Yad Vashem, there were repeated appeals for recognition of “the Righteous,” but the Yad Vashem Executive had difficulty deciding on the appropriate way to express that recognition.Because of this and other problems, no official and organized decision was made on the subject during the 1950s. Yet while the executive delayed, the Holocaust survivors among the Yad Vashem employees took action themselves, paying homage to the acts of “the Righteous” in a series of publications. Furthermore, appeals from Israel and the world, in which the survivors played a major role, were an important factor in the creation of the commemoration mechanism for the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem as it exists until this day.
Ulrich Frisse, The “Bystanders’ Perspective”:The Toronto Daily Star and Its Coverage of the Persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust in Canada, 1933 – 1945
Based on a comprehensive examination of Canada’s largest daily newspaper, the Toronto Daily Star, for the years 1933 to 1945, the article reveals that although it was not always consistent in its coverage, the Toronto Daily Star exposed Canadians to a surprisingly high level of detailed information on the persecution and genocide of the Jews of Europe in real time. While the coverage varied in terms of depth, scope, level of detail, and position of placement of Holocaust-related news items in the paper, the persecution and subsequent annihilation of the Jews of Europe was a recurrent and overall continuous theme that allowed Canadians to understand the true nature of the destruction process.
The article examines the prevalent notion that blames the Jewish American leadership and in particular the Zionist leadership for the failure of the American plan to resettle Jewish refugees in Alaska at the beginning of the Second World War. New documents that have now come to light reveal that Jewish initiatives played a far greater part in the emergence of the Alaska plan than was henceforth known and that its failure was mainly due to internal American and Alaskan considerations. Finally, even had the project been realized, it could have had no more than a token effect on rescue efforts due to governmental restrictions. Moreover, any settlement project in undeveloped territory would have required years of development before dense population settlement could be attempted.
Review on Insa Meinen, Die Shoah in Belgien.Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2009, 254 pages.
In view of the already existing research literature on the persecution in Belgium, it seems as if all aspects of this subject have already been sufficiently cleared up. Insa Meinen’s book shows however that more meticulous research yields new insights on how precisely most Jews, who were deported from Belgium, came into German hands. It also provides information on the various ways Jews tried to evade deportation. The study is based on German documentation regarding the arresting of Jews who tried to hide or to escape abroad. The book is innovative in its description and insights.
Review of Das Amt und die Vergangenheit. Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik, by Eckart Conze, Norbert Frei, Peter Hayes, and Moshe Zimmermann. München: Karl Blessing Verlag, 2010, 880 pp.
This article critically analyzes Das Amt und die Vergangenheit: Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik – an independent commission’s report which investigated the role that German diplomats played in Hitler’s apparatus of the Final Solution. Das Amt effectively dismantles the myth, long propagated by the Foreign Office, that the Office was a center of anti-Nazi opposition, and was untainted by the crimes of the Third Reich. The report illustrates that the Foreign Office of the Nazi regime was not an apolitical bureaucracy, exercising resistance whenever possible. Acts of resistance were recounted to show that resistance was possible, but was the exception. This article both praises the historical implications of Das Amt’s premise while also critically commenting on the report’s shortcomings.
Review of Barbara Engelking and Dariusz Libionka, Żydzi w powstańczej Warszawie. Warsaw: Polish Center for Holocaust Research Association, 2009, 360 pp. + photos
Żydzi w powstańczej Warszawie by Barbara Engelking and Dariusz Libionka provides a brilliant overview of what it was like to be a Jew during and after the 1944 Warsaw uprising. Engelking and Libionka’s research in widely scattered sources meticulously reconstructs a story by presenting a collective biography of a few hundred Jews who were in Warsaw at the time of the 1944 uprising and afterwards, and whose life stories were documented. This pioneering work offers unprecedented examination of the clandestine Jewish civilian population during the uprising.