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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 41:1 (2013)

Dr. David Silberklang

The articles in Yad Vashem Studies 41:1 address people’s decisions and actions during the Shoah. Yuri Radchenko (Ukrainian auxiliary police in Kharkiv) and Stefan Klemp (German police in Northern Italy) find that mundane interests motivated most of these policemen to willingly participate in genocide. Three articles examine local attitudes toward Jews: Joanna Tokarska-Bakir’s anthropological analysis of the July 4, 1946 Kielce pogrom; Samuel Kassow’s review of three books on rural Polish attitudes toward Jews; and Sanford Gutman’s review of two books on daily life in Vichy. 

Randolph Braham (comparative analysis of German-allied countries), Laurent Joly (critical review of Alain Michel’s book on Vichy), and Omer Bartov (analysis of Peter Longerich’s biography of Heinrich Himmler) analyze the motivations of governments and decision-makers in their policies toward Jews; Joel Zisenwine shows that the Allies’ late, limited knowledge of the gas chambers derived from factors that contributed to limiting their responses to the murder of the Jews; and Gershon Greenberg (review article of Esther Farbstein’s The Forgotten Memoirs) opens a window onto personal survivor accounts of ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

This issue is dedicated to the memory of the journal’s past editor (1968-1983), Livia Rothkirchen, who passed away as this issue was completed and opens with Gila Fatran’s article on her contribution to the field.

Order Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 41:1 online >>>



The article is an anthropological interpretation of the Kielce pogrom of July 4, 1946, combining two approaches: historical and that of Victor Turner’s performance studies. It is an attempt to recount, in detail, the Kielce pogrom, meticulously documented and verified by historians, into the four-phased concept of the social drama, that is, proceeding from breach of some relationship regarded as crucial in the social group, through a phase of rapidly mounting crisis in the direction of the group’s major dichotomous cleavage, to the application of legal means of redress, and to the final stage of the public and symbolic expression of reconciliation or else of irremediable schism. This analysis is instrumental in evolving the interpretation of the bloodiest event in the post-Holocaust history of European Jewry.


This article discusses the extent of the involvement of Ukrainian policemen from the Kharkiv Oblast (Generalbezirk Charkow) in acts of persecution, looting, and murder, the background of these policemen, and their collective social portrait. The author has analyzed the influence and infiltration of members of the OUN and the NTS-NP into the Ukrainian police in the territory of the Kharkiv Oblast. The article discusses the primary motives that led Ukrainian policemen to participate in anti-Jewish actions. The events that took place in Kharkiv and in the Oblast shed a new light on the “ordinary men” debate.


Concerning the direct involvement of German Police Battalions in the deportations, a “core question” is what the perpetrators knew about the Holocaust. The involvement of Orpo forces guarding deportation transports from Italy has not yet been investigated. In researching archives on the history of the police battalions, I discovered the records of interrogations of southern German policemen. In an exceptionally open manner, they reported how much they had learned during their deportation train journeys to Auschwitz. This article documents their descriptions in detail for the first time.

The statements contribute to answering the “core question” denied by state prosecutors’ offices as to how much these policemen actually knew about the fate of the Jews in Auschwitz. The Italian example proves that German Orpo members serving as guards on deportation transports witnessed how Jews were being murdered in the gas chambers. Many volunteered for such duty because afterward they were allowed a few days’ furlough at home despite the general freeze on leave. The lack of knowledge about the fate of the Jews repeatedly invoked by the West German judicial system was a falsehood.


This study provides an analytical overview of the anti-Jewish attitudes and policies of the German-allied states — Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia — during World War II. Its aim is to demonstrate that the reaction and responses of these countries’ leaders to the Nazis’ demands for the Final Solution of the Jewish question varied considerably. The article describes and analyzes the many reasons for these variations, including these countries’ historical background, traditions, domestic and foreign interests, the level of their dependence on the Third Reich, and the size and economic importance of their respective Jewish communities. In conclusion, on the basis of evidence provided by many published and archival sources, the most important determinant for these variations was these leaders’ changing perceptions of the military fortunes of the Third Reich during the war.


Mass murder by toxic gas is unquestionably a unique and unprecedented aspect of the Holocaust of European Jewry. The gas chambers are the preeminent embodiments of the impenetrable and unimaginable aspects of the Holocaust. Since the late 1990s, the national archives of the United Kingdom and the United States have declassified thousands of World War II intelligence documents. Some of these records reveal the degree of knowledge possessed by the British intelligence community regarding several aspects of the “Final Solution” in real time. This article examines the quality of information as well as the degree of comprehension by members of the British intelligence services regarding mass murder by gas. Some of the sources discussed here are familiar in historiography; others have come to light in recent years. Either way, given the broadening of the documentary base, a reappraisal is in order. This reappraisal is carried out with consideration of work methods applied by intelligence organizations, the wide variety of sources at intelligence officials’ disposal, and the professional echelon’s attitude to the topic.



Review of Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.


This article examines the recently published massive biography of Heinrich Himmler by German historian Peter Longerich. The essay focuses in particular on Longerich’s analysis of the peculiar notion of decency developed and employed by Himmler as justification for mass crimes and genocide. For Himmler, decency, or Anständigkeit, meant preserving German blood, values, and morality. Anything that might undermine the German race had to be destroyed; indeed, not doing so was indecent since it meant betrayal of one’s own blood. This notion of decency allowed the murderers to remain unsullied by the atrocity of their own making. By insulating themselves from the effects of the horror they were perpetrating, the SS could demonstrate their toughness. Thus, decency became a suit of armor that protected the perpetrators’ internal moral universe from the dreadful nature of their conduct. For this reason, too, what Himmler called “cases of human weakness,” such as excessive involvement, personal pleasure, and enrichment, threatened to stain the uniform of the SS in a manner much more abhorrent to him than the slaughter of women and children.

Review of Jan Grabowski, Judenjagd: Polowanie na Żydów 1942–1945. Studium Dziejów Pewnego Powiatu. Warsaw: Stowarzyszenie Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów, 2011; Barbara Engelking, Jest Taki Piękny Słoneczny Dzień: Losy Żydów Szukujących Ratunku na Wsi Polskiej 1942–1945. Warsaw: Stowarzyszenie Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów, 2011; Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, eds., Zarys Krajobrazu: Wieś Polska wobec Zagłady Żydów 1942–1945. Warsaw: Stowarzyszenie Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów, 2011.


This review article is a survey of important new scholarship on Polish-Jewish relations during World War II in the Polish countryside. Jan Grabowski, Barbara Engelking Alina Skibinska, Dariusz Libionka, and others offer important new insights into a relatively neglected topic. The focus is, as Engelking admits, on the negative. Why did so many Polish peasants actively participate in actions that resulted in the murder of many thousands of Jews who were attempting to escape the death camps by hiding in the countryside? These studies also offer new methodological insights. The article not only reviews these three books but also seeks to put them into the context of Polish scholarship on the Holocaust.

Review of Alain Michel, Vichy et la Shoah: Enquete sur le Paradoxe Français. Paris: Éditions CLD, 2012.


Alain Michel’s book, Vichy et la Shoah: Enquête sur le paradoxe français, argues the following thesis: despite Vichy’s collaboration with Nazi anti-Jewish policy, the logic of rescue was at the heart of the regime’s actions. Michel regrets that since the early 1970s and the appearance of Paxton’s Vichy France, the “doxa” of the “absolute negativity of Vichy” has become de rigueur. True, the context of the 1980s and 1990s, with their strong social demand and saturation media coverage of cases of crimes against humanity, influenced the writing of history. True, Vichy never intended to contribute to the deportation of Jews who had ancient roots in France. But Michel’s thesis does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, the Pétain-Laval government did precisely the same as that of the other states that collaborated in the genocidal policy: they all sacrificed the foreigners and protected their nationals to whatever extent was possible. The name of the game was definitely collaboration, not rescue.

Reviews of Julie Fette, Exclusions: Practicing Prejudice in Vichy France. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2012; and Shannon L. Fogg, The Politics of Everyday Life in Vichy France: Foreigners, Undesirables, and Strangers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.


This review essay examines books by Julia Fette, Exclusions: Practicing Prejudice in Vichy France, and Shannon Fogg, The Politics of Everyday Life in Vichy France, in the context of French public opinion in Vichy France. Both offer important, if different, contributions to this literature. Fette argues that the medical and legal professional bodies began their exclusions and antisemitic practices before World War II and increased them during that period. Fogg, from her research, maintains that at least in the rural region of Limousin personal, material interests were far more important in determining the actions of rural people than xenophobia or antisemitism.

Review of Esther Farbstein, The Forgotten Memoirs: Moving Personal Accounts from Rabbis Who Survived the Holocaust. Brooklyn: Sha’ar Press, 2011.


Esther Farbstein’s The Forgotten Memoirs provides English translations of fifteen chronicles of the Holocaust, which first appeared as prefaces to rabbinic works. They represent the mindset of leading figurers of the Haredi religious universe during the catastrophe. Culled carefully from this genre of literature, and fortified with informative annotations, the texts portray a defiant Judaism under the most daunting circumstances. Locked within the covenantal structure, their authors were obliged to act and think within it. They brought Halakhah (Jewish law) and meta-Halakhah to bear, thereby touching the divine presence; and they drew from the spiritual power of the divine, Netsah Yisrael (1 Samuel 15:29), thereby, in turn, contributing to Israel’s eternity. The book circumscribes and challenges the overall obliviousness among Western Holocaust scholars to the Jewish religious context of the Holocaust, which has inadvertently offered tacit intellectual support to Nazism’s effort to end Judaism.