Dr. David Silberklang
This issuefeatures six research articles on a variety of subjects relating to Romania, Germany, Britain, Latvia, DP camps, and Israeli society, and four review articles of recent important books. The volume includes: Ion Popa’s analysis of the significant influence of Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Miron Cristea during his year as prime minister (1938-1939) on attitudes toward Jews and on the ultimate fate of Romanian Jewry; Christine Schoenmakers’ exposing the role of the German Gold Discount Bank, Dego, in expropriating Jewish assets and property in the Third Reich; Stephen Tyas’s examination of the little that British Intelligence did to obtain information about the mass murder in the USSR after capturing an Einsatzgruppe D perpetrator, Robert Barth, in October 1943; Richards Plavnieks’ revealing the story of the pursuit, prosecution, and punishment in West Germany of the infamous Latvian war criminal Viktors Arājs, who was involved in the murder of thousands of Jews and escaped justice for many years; Ela Florsheim’s discussion of the little-known, varied and vital Yiddish theater activity in the DP camps in Germany that played an important cultural role for the survivors as well as answering some of their emotional needs; and Yehiam Weitz’s examination of the Eichmann Trial’s central place in the development of Israeli society’s changing views on the Shoah – which began with the 1950s discussions surrounding the content and meaning of Yom Hashoah and continued well after the trial.
Review articles by Moshe Zimmermann, Alan Steinweis, Shlomo Shafir, and Simone Gigliotti round out this rich volume.
Ion Popa, Miron Cristea, the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch: His Political and Religious Influence in Deciding the Fate of the Romanian Jews (February 1938–March 1939)
Miron Cristea, the first Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church (1925–1939), became the Prime Minister of Romania in February 1938. During his time in office, circa 200,000 Jews (more than a quarter of the Jewish population of Romania) lost their Romanian citizenship; the Patriarch spoke openly about the deportation of Jews from Romania and made plans for the implementation of Romanianization policies. Research on the antisemitism of the Romanian Orthodox Church and that of Patriarch Miron Cristea during the interwar period has been conducted by various scholars; most of this research looks at Cristea’s and the Church’s attitude toward the Jews prior to 1938, without much analysis of the Patriarch’s political and religious career during his tenure as Prime Minister of Romania. The present article seeks to fill this gap and to examine Patriarch Cristea’s antisemitism while serving as premier from February 1938 until his death on March 6, 1939.
Christine Schoenmakers, The German Gold Discount Bank (Dego) and the Persecution of the Jews 1933–1945
Between 1933 and 1945, the Dego played a considerable role in the expropriation of Jewish capital. Originally founded to stimulate the Reich’s export policies, it served as the trade center for cash, stocks, and illiquid property (real estate, businesses, etc.), and arranging its registration, transfer, and utilization in favor of the Nazi economy. Jewish capital was mainly transferred (expropriated) under the guise of emigration and/or Aryanization.
By 1938 the German government had institutionalized the nationwide exploitation of the Jewish minority. The authorities’ aim was to prevent Jewish emigrants from transferring their property beyond the reach of the Reich’s exchequer. Hence, the Dego exchanged frozen emigrant assets (cash and stocks) into the convertible, free Reichsmarks, at great loss to the owners. Furthermore, in its role as export custodian, the Dego closely monitored those Jewish companies that were of importance for Germany’s foreign trade. Moreover, it largely controlled the flow of information between the involved state institutions and the company to be aryanized.
It appears as though no single institution profited directly from the Aryanization and liquidation of Jewish capital. Nevertheless, research shows that a highly effective network of different authorities administered key information related to ongoing Aryanization and greatly influenced relationships with local and trans-regional institutions.
Richards Plavnieks, The Pursuit, Prosecution, and Punishment of the Latvian War Criminal Viktors Arājs
Richards Plavnieks reveals the story of the pursuit, prosecution, and punishment in West Germany of the Latvian war criminal Viktors Arājs, who with the infamous Arājs Kommando unit that he commanded was involved in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Latvia and Belarus. Arājs escaped justice for decades, although West German investigators knew in the 1960s of his and his unit’s murderous activities. Arājs himself was finally arrested in 1975 and convicted in 1979. The German police ignored information from a Latvian regarding Arājs’s location and alias in the 1960s, and at the same time whereas the key individual ultimately responsible for his capture was a Latvian, other, similarly implicated Latvians attempted to defend Arājs during the court proceedings. This in-group Latvian solidarity was apparently accompanied by the sense among many Latvian émigrés that Arājs was an embarrassment best forgotten. Plavnieks argues that the Arājs case sheds light on both the successes and the shortcomings of West Germany’s legal efforts to come to grips with the Nazi past, as well as exposing the attitudes of Latvian émigrés in West Germany toward the Holocaust in their country and in which their countrymen took part.
The article “Yiddish Theater in the DP Camps” illuminates the rapid development and influence of the Yiddish theater of the she’erit hapleta. The theater was launched on the initiative of survivors in many DP camps in Germany within months if not weeks of the end of World War II. These performances became a dominant artistic and social phenomenon that attracted large audiences of camp inhabitants. The article examines the manifestations of this phenomenon and the content of the plays performed, some of which dealt at length with the grim Holocaust ordeals that the survivors had endured. Finally, in this context, the psychological and social contributions of the Yiddish theater to the DPs’ initial postwar revitalization are discussed.
Yechiam Weitz, Prelude to the Eichmann Trial: From the Enactment of the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day Law to the War Criminal Trail
The article discusses the main question about the historical place of the Eichmann Trial in relation to Holocaust commemoration in Israel. The trial was the event that changed the attitude of Israeli society toward the Holocaust; this dramatic occurrence connected the historical and political process that began in the early 1950s, and ended in 1959, two years before the proceedings against Eichmann began in 1961.
The bulk of this study deals with the long deliberations leading to the enactment of the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day Law, which mainly determines the day of its commemoration and its object — “communion with the memory of the Holocaust … [and] with the acts of heroism and uprising in those days.” Two trends are detected. The first was the expansion of the idea of heroism in the Holocaust. The second determined that a change of attitude toward the Holocaust in Israel — from a political vision to a national vision — had taken place. Both appeared in the Eichmann Trial and show that the trial was part of a process and not a one-time event.
Review article of Otto Dov Kulka and Eberhard Jäckel, eds., The Jews in the Secret Nazi Reports on Popular Opinion in Germany, 1933–1945, trans. William Templer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010
Yale University Press has published an English-language translation of an important collection of secret Nazi reports concerning German popular responses to the persecution and murder of the Jews. The product of a joint Israeli-German project, the complete collection of 3,744 documents is contained on a CD-ROM accompanying the volume. The 752 documents printed in the book address key aspects of Nazi policy toward the Jewish community, including economic boycotts, occupational purges, Aryanization, Kristallnacht, deportation, ghettoization, and the “Final Solution.” Like the original German edition, the work presents a model of documentary editing, and features a detailed chronology, a comprehensive glossary, and an extensive bibliography. It belongs in every serious Holocaust library.
Review article of Beate Meyer, Tödliche Gratwanderung: Die Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland zwischen Hoffnung, Zwang, Selbstbehauptung und Verstrickung (1939–1945). Göttingen: Wallstein, 2011
In her book, Tödliche Gratwanderung: Die Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland zwischen Hoffnung, Zwang, Selbstbehauptung und Verstrickung (1939–1945), Beate Meyer examines the role of leadership of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland in the fate of German Jewry during the second half of the Nazi era. Throughout the book, Meyer aims to refute the notion that Jews were accomplices in their own murder. Meyer uses a multilayered approach to conceptualize ethical dilemmas of the victims’ of the Holocaust, and concludes that the Reichsvereinigung was an instrument within the larger framework of Nazi domination and persecution. Thus, the question of the victims’ morality is, in principle, rendered superfluous. Meyer’s research in widely scattered sources meticulously reconstructs a complex story in which she invokes discussion of the relationship between victims and oppressors in the context of the plight that overtook the German Jewish community leaders.
Review article of Joachim Scholtyseck, Der Aufstieg der Quandts: Eine deutsche Unternehmerdynastie. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2011
Joachim Scholtyseck’s detailed and extensive monograph on the Quandt dynasty of German industrialists and entrepreneurs is an important contribution to the process of the Nazification of the German economy during the twelve years of the Nazi regime, especially because it deals with a lesser known firm than the famous names of Krupp, Thyssen, and Siemens. The main figure discussed in the book is Günter Quandt, who was born at the end of the nineteenth century in the Province of Brandenburg, Germany, where his forefathers emigrated from the Netherlands and who died at the age of seventy-three while visiting Cairo.
Quandt lived through five different periods: the late Wilhelmine Empire, which he honored in his memory; the Weimar Republic which he never liked; the Nazi period to which he quickly adjusted due to its authoritarian character even though he was not convinced by its ideology; and at the end of his life the Federal German Republic. This last phase provided him with the opportunity to restore a part of his family’s business, even as the Communist East German regime confiscated all of the Quandt family’s property there.
Quandt’s unlimited ambition to expand his assets was one of the main causes for his becoming an active player during the Nazi era. He began by expanding the profile of his electronic and arms-producing manufacturing divisions in response to Hitler’s preparation for war. Later he took advantage of the ongoing Aryanization of Jewish property in Germany and then in the occupied territories. Finally, Quandt exploited the slave labor of foreign workers, prisoners of war, and concentration camp inmates without concern for their basic needs. To some extent, his heirs have made restitution and expressed regrets.
Review of Alan Rosen, The Wonder of Their Voices: The 1946 Holocaust Interviews of David Boder. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.
The Wonder of Their Voices examines the interview project of David Boder, a Russian-born psychologist based in the United States who traveled to Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Europe in the summer of 1946. There he conducted 130 audio interviews with DPs in nine languages, the first project to record the voices of survivors of the war. Boder later transcribed the interviews and translating the text into English, self-published a selection of them and an accompanying interpretative inventory, entitled Topical Autobiographies of Displaced People. The reviewer concludes that Alan Rosen’s book on Boder’s interview project is a significant contribution to the history of early postwar Holocaust testimony.