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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 39:2 (2011)

Dr. David Silberklang

The research and review articles in Yad Vashem Studies 39:2 address questions of motivations and reactions of the various types of actors in the Shoah. Scholars from eight countries provide a wide variety of answers and insights to the questions of motivation, participation, reactions, and remembrance. From small forced-labor camps and local Germans, to Dutch Nazis and nationalists, to East European collaborators, to visions of “Greater Germany” and the death marches near the end of the war, the motivations of the perpetrators and their partners were many and complex. Similarly, the motivations behind the postwar relations between non-Jewish rescuers of Jews and their erstwhile charges were often complex. There has been much research on the reactions of Jews to Nazi persecution, yet here we present an article that portrays and analyzes heretofore-unknown German Jewish responses to the Nazi regime’s policies from a fresh and surprising perspective. These and more are among the issues addressed in the research and review articles in volume 39, number 2 of Yad Vashem Studies. The research articles are by: Wolf Gruner, Geraldien von Frijtag Drabbe Kunzel, Hermann Weiss, Mordechai Altshuler, and Joanna Michlic; while David Cesarani, Christoph Dieckmann, Erich Haberer, Konrad Kwiet, Jochen Böhler, and Yechiam Weitz contribute in-depth review articles on recent and important books that have generated extensive discussion.

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Past research on Jewish resistance against National Socialism has focused very much on the occupied East, and when historians have dealt with Germany proper they have mainly treated organized group efforts. Only a few historians have called for research into the individual opposition of German Jews. Thus, resistance during the Holocaust is still mostly understood as an exceptional organized or armed group activity, while the overwhelming majority of the Jews allowed themselves to suffer persecution in passivity. A closer look at the micro level of German society challenges the common image of unresisting victims. Using hitherto overlooked archival sources such as local police journals, this research demonstrates for the first time that many Jews performed individual acts of defiance and even protest, which began in 1933 and continued well into the war. However, because most of the activists ended up in jail or concentration camps, the memory of these courageous acts has hitherto vanished.

That Jews in Nazi Germany openly expressed their individual anger and frustration in public and protested explicitly against persecution, even into the 1940s; that Jews of every age found many ways to circumvent or disobey anti-Jewish measures, a few even managing to hold on to their personal firearms; that representatives of Jewish organizations manipulated and played off Nazi institutions; that thousands of people took the decision to escape Nazi deportations, whether by flight or committing suicide, dramatically changes the popular picture of the German Jews’ compliance. Instead, many German Jews and their representatives emerge herewith as courageous historical actors.


“Germanization” of occupied Soviet territories is usually seen as a German project, but this research shows that others also participated. Between the summer of 1941 and that of 1944, some 5,000 to 7,000 Dutchmen came to this region. By participating, the Dutch hoped to restore some of the lost Dutch colonial grandeur and to solve what was considered a structural agrarian crisis. Though having a separate agenda did complicate relations with the Germans, the colonists did not exclude racialist visions and practices. On the contrary, this research supports the argument that colonial projects and ethnic cleansing went hand in hand and that the Dutch were involved in both. A case study of Dutch settlers around Vilnius elaborates this argument and focuses on Dutch–Jewish relations. It challenges the current delineations in Holocaust research and reveals very dynamic shifts in perspectives and positions.


Almost none of the numerous smaller forced labor camps for Jews in pre-invasion Silesia, which existed outside of the concentration camp system, have been studied in detail. Brande in Upper Silesia, one of the most notorious camps among them, started out as aReichsautobahnlager (RAB camp) in 1940 and was taken over by Organisation Schmelt in 1942, initially functioning as a Durchgangslager and Krankenlager and, from January to its closure in August 1943, as a Krankenlager. This Holocaust site was selected for the present paper because of its complex history, its increasingly prominent position among the Silesian forced labor camps, and because of its notoriety. Because very few Nazi documents pertaining to Brande exist, many postwar records have been utilized. These include documents from Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), the International Tracing Service (Arolsen), as well as a large number of videotaped survivors’ testimonials. Numerous recent interviews with former German residents of the area demonstrate that this camp did not exist in isolation from the surrounding population. In 2008 the connections between them led to the identification of Kurt Pompe (1899–1961), the German official most responsible for the many atrocities committed at Brande and who managed to elude prosecution after the war. 


This article examines reporting on the Holocaust in the Russian-language mass media in the USSR. The article aims to dispel the common misconception that the Soviet regime forbade the mass media from referring to the extermination of the Jews. The general media deliberately did not stress the fact that the Jews were the only ethnic group in the occupied territories that was being subjected to annihilation, or that they faced a situation that was any different from the general population, because they were eager not to give the Nazi propaganda machine an opportunity to claim that the USSR was controlled by Jews. In reality, In terms of how the Holocaust was presented during the war, there was no real difference between the Soviet mass media and their counterparts in the West.


In spite of a growing number of publications over the last decade, the history of Christian Polish rescuers of Jews during World War II and the intricate relations between the rescuers and the rescued is still under-researched. The presentation and self-presentation of the rescuers, the perceptions of rescue activities by rescued Jews, the daily interactions between the various categories of rescuers and their Jewish charges both during the Holocaust and in the aftermath of the war, and the memory of these interactions, are topics that have not yet been fully investigated. This article aims to shed light on these challenging topics through the examination of important primary sources from the early postwar period when the memory of the war was still “raw.” It analyses the correspondence, addressed to the Joint, the Central Committee of Polish Jews, and the special Committee for Assistance to Poles, pertaining to rescue activities during the war and to individual requests for assistance and remuneration for these activities. The author’s main argument is that this correspondence illuminates certain aspects of rescue and Polish–Jewish relations that would otherwise remain beyond the reach of the historian.



Review of Daniel Blatman, The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide.Trans. Chaya Galai. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2011. 515 pp.


In the last three months of the Third Reich, about 250,000 inmates of concentration camps perished on death marches and in countless incidents of mass slaughter. Even in the bloody chronicles of the Nazi regime, this final deathblow was unique in character and scope. In The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide, Daniel Blatman attempts to answer the questions raised by this final murderous rampage, by drawing on the testimonies of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Using a wide range of archival material Blatman argues that the death marches and the attendant massacres were not the last phase of the Final Solution because the SS guards killed the camp inmates not out of genocidal rage, but for what they conceived of as practical reasons. However, Blatman concedes, that guiding the murderers’ decisions was a genocidal mentality which emerged from an antisemitic milieu. Blatman’s meticulous research forces recosideration of the last phase of the war – its characteristics and its linkage to earlier murderous stages. 

Review of Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin


In his review of Bloodlands, Christoph Dieckmann considers this study to be a major milestone in a much needed process for preserving the memory and writing the history of the mass crimes committed against 14,000,000 victims in Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. Snyder examines the various victim groups with equal empathy and is constantly aware of plural causalities. The reviewer would hope that such an approach might both facilitate mutual recognition between peoples in the region and help establish a new path for further research. While this reviewer expresses praise for many aspects in this study, he is skeptical about others: particularly the top-down approach, which Snyder applies to the influence of Stalin and Hitler, raises many questions. The reviewer also feels that throughout Snyder’s study, the author is more familiar with research on the Stalinist crimes than on those perpetrated by the National-Socialists.

Review of Anton Weiss-Wendt’s Murder Without Hatred: Estonians and the Holocaust


Victimized Estonians murder ‘Bolshevized Jews’” is a satirical play on the title of the bookMurder without Hatred,and by extension, of its thesis that Estonians generally did not harbor antisemitic hatreds motivating the killing of Jews. On the contrary, the Estonians themselves were the victims of circumstances that compelled them to murder their fellow Jewish citizens, but only after first exposing them as Communist sympathizers and saboteurs of Bolshevik Russia. Accordingly, antisemitism in whatever form is ruled out as either a necessary or sufficient cause of genocide. Instead, the Holocaust in Estonia is interpreted as a function of Estonian collaboration in general and, as critically noted in this review, merely considered a byproduct of integral Estonian nationalism under Nazi tutelage.

Review of Wolf Gruner and Jörg Osterloh’s (eds.) Das “Großdeutsche Reich” und die Juden: Nationalsozialistische Verfolgung in den “angegliederten” Gebieten


Intertwining history and historiography, this collection of twelve essays sheds light on the destruction of Jewish life in largely uncharted spaces of the Holocaust. These were the territories that were annexed by the Nazis and incorporated into the Grosdeutsche Reich, the “great German empire” and, as such, these regions became part of the GermanVolksgemeinschaft, the “people’s community.” The popular slogan and policy Heim ins Reich! (“Home to the Reich!”) implied the postulate and praxis Juden Rauβ! (“Out with the Jews!”).

Review of Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933–1945Deutsches Reich 1933–1937, vol. 1;Deutsches Reich 1938–August 1939, vol. 2; Polen September 1939–Juli 1941, vol. 4


The editors of this important source edition show that it was not Hitler’s obsession, or the radical hubris of his SS entourage, or the interests of German industry, or the German population’s widely shared antisemitism singularly that led to the destruction of millions of Jews. On the contrary, it was a fatal mixture of all these factors together. A variety of sources illustrates the deep involvement of German society as well as Jewish life and death under Nazi rule. The editors stress that although the Holocaust was a German project in all its stages, it was not conducted without help from outside.

Review of Tuvia Friling’s Who Are You, Léon Berger? The Story of a Kapo in Auschwitz — History, Memory, and Politics (Hebrew)


This review of the historian Prof. Tuvia Friling’s book Who are you, Leon Berger? summarizes the biography of Eliezer Gruenbaum, son of Yitzhak Gruenbaum, the prominent leader of the Zionist movement in Poland between the two World Wars and the first Interior Minister of Israel.  It covers three main topics: his life as a Kapo in concentration camps in Poland and Germany during the Holocaust; his trial in Paris as a collaborator after World War II; and his death as an Israeli army soldier near Jerusalem in May 1948, during the War of Independence. The reviewer concludes with his own question: “Does Tuvia Friling…answer the question… he asks in the title?” and draws his conclusions about the book’s unique place in Israeli biography and historiography. 

Reuven Geva
Letter to the Editor
Much Ado about (Practically) Nothing

Artur Szyndler replies