Dr. David Silberklang
The subject matter in this issue of Yad Vashem Studies is varied and the geography far-flung, but questions of human relations during the Shoah — between Jews and their non-Jewish countrymen as well as among Jews — are a central theme and connecting thread. The articles address the destruction of the Salonika Jewish community and its ancient cemetery by local officials and Germans (Leon Saltiel); wartime Jewish accounts in Warsaw (Lea Prais); rabbinic response in Hungary (Judit Kónya); a camp in Italy (Liliana Picciotto). The contributors hail from six countries and provide insight from multiple perspectives, presenting both little known subjects and new documentation. The review articles address the Czechoslovak government (Anna Háková on Jan Láníček); prewar France (Maud Mandel on Emmanuel Debono); Holland, Belgium, and France (Bob Moore on Pim Griffioen and Ron Zeller); a Nazi administrator in Poland (Avihu Ronen on Mary Fullbrook); and a survivor’s diary and biography (Dalia Ofer on Avihu Ronen).
The destruction of the Jewish cemetery in Thessaloniki, then the largest in Europe, began in December 1942. This article is the first to deal with the actual destruction, a unique event in occupied Europe. It discusses the main actors behind this decision, the process of the destruction, as well as the subsequent use of the tombstones and the land. As such, this event is an ideal case study to describe the triangular relationship between the city’s Jews, the German occupation forces, and the local Greek elites, on the eve of the deportations. Using never before published documents from a wide variety of sources, the study clearly demonstrates that the local actors who had the power to protest or act against the deportations were the ones who initiated and benefitted from the destruction of the cemetery and subsequently turned a blind eye to the fate of their Jewish neighbors.
Lea Prais, "Jews from the World to Come": The First Testimonies of Escapees from Chełmno and Teblinka in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942-1943
The article analyzes two remarkable documents — the wartime accounts of Jakub Grojnowski (Szlamek) and Yaakov Krzepicki, escapees from the Chełmno and Treblinka extermination camps, respectively — as recorded for the "Oneg Shabbat" underground archive in 1942. Grojnowski’s was the first report on Chełmno, and Krzepicki’s is by far the most comprehensive and detailed testimony on Treblinka (323 handwritten pages). The article provides the most extensive discussion of Krzepicki’s critically important testimony to date, while the discussion of Grojnowski’s testimony goes well beyond earlier research. Indeed, Krzepicki’s full testimony is analyzed here for the first time, and the innumerable crossed-out words and lines, corrections and marginal additions make this analysis all the more challenging. The article’s multi-layered comparative analysis of the two testimonies highlights the authors’ different Jewish approaches: Whereas Szlamek’s account focuses on his fellow gravediggers in compassion and mourning, Krzepicki’s expresses outrage against the Jews’ surrender and helplessness on the way to the camp and within it. His comments are insightful, sometimes harsh, always searing.
Municipal decrees introduced in Hungary from 1938 compelled shopkeepers to open their shops on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, which caused a serious, disturbing conundrum for observant Jewish communities.
The article aims to show the importance of rabbinical responsa literature as a historical source. Orthodox rabbis living in Hungary focused on the economic motive of oppression and regarded anti-Jewish legislation as “anti-Jewish” but not “anti-religious,” and this differentiation influenced their decisions to a great extent. However, reports of the House of Representatives indicate that anti-Jewish legislation did involve the wish to meddle in the life of observant Jews.
The article elaborates on precedents found in earlier halakhic debates on partnerships with gentiles and cites the responsum of Rabbi Israel Landau (Edelény, Hungary). It emphasizes the importance of the motives of the local administration in the process of economic discrimination, which resulted in strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation between Jews and non-Jews.
As Germany was about to occupy the unliberated sections of Italy, the Italians began to arrest Jewish inhabitants, concentrate them in regional camps that had been set aside for this purpose, and transfer them to a central camp at the POW internment site in Fossoli, a village in the province of Modena. What the Italian authorities intended to do with the many Jews whom they were gathering at this location is not clear. The Germans, taking over the camp in early 1944, turned it into a transit camp as part of the “Final Solution.” Their first transport of Jews to Auschwitz set out on February 22, 1944; the last departed on August 1 of that year. The article exposes the Italians’ role in creating the infrastructure for the deportation to death of Italian Jewry and identifies the camp’s Jewish prisoners, their living conditions, their doings in the camp, and the social relations that they formed there.
Anna Hajkova, Murky Waters in London and Prague: The Jewish Politics of the Czechoslovak Government, 1938-1948
Review of Jan Láníček, Czechs, Slovaks and the Jews: Beyond Idealisation and Condemnation
Jan Láníček’s book contributes to the critical historiography of the democratic Czechoslovakia pre-1948 and, by extension, Czechoslovakia’s liberal treatment of its Jewish citizens. The monograph is at its strongest when examining how the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London made sense of and dealt with the Holocaust (the topic of the author’s dissertation on which this book is based). Unfortunately, the book is often descriptive, uses a top-down approach employing mostly state sources, and also paints a picture of Jewish protagonists as passive. Moreover, the author’s portrayal of Czech resistance as often antisemitic is inaccurate and under-researched.
Review of Emmanuel Debono, Aux Origines de l’Antiracisme: La LICA, 1927–1940. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2012, 502 pp.
This review of Emmnauel Debono’s Aux Origines de l’Antiracisme: La LICA, 1927–1940 presents an overview and critique of the book. The article provides a summary of the book’s twelve chapters, detailing the origins and history of the Ligue internationale contre l’antsémistisme (LICA) from its birth in the 1920s and throughout the upheaval of World War II. The review then unpacks the central tensions Debono ascribes to LICA’s early development, including the struggle between universalism and particularism; the commitment to political neutrality versus affinities with the French Left; and LICA’s message of tolerance versus its intransigence toward fascism in all of its forms. Mandel concludes by suggesting that a broader chronological scope would have shown the on-going legacy of many of these tensions in France’s century-long anti-racist struggle.
Bob Moore, Overcoming the “Stubborn Particularities”: Comparing the Persecution of the Jews in Western Europe
Review on Pim Griffioen and Ron Zeller, Jodenvervolging in Nederland, Frankrijk en België 1940–1945: Overeenkomsten, verschillen, oorzaken. Amsterdam, Boom, 2010. 1,045 pp. with English and Dutch summaries.
This review examines the historiographical background and the comparative approach used in this important new study on the persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands, France and Belgium. It also analyzes the authors’ conclusions about the specific factors that explain the relatively high mortality rate in the Netherlands, namely the independence of the German police, the marginalization of the Dutch authorities, the isolation of the indigenous Jewish community, and the relatively late development of civil resistance to Nazi rule.
Review of Mary Fulbrook, A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust.
Mary Fulbrook has produced a fascinating monograph centering on a Nazi bureaucrat, Udo Klause, who held the senior administrative post of Landrat (civilian governor) of Będzin, a small Jewish-Polish city, as the world of the Jews in that area crashed around them in the course of the war until they were deported to Auschwitz. Fulbrook’s main question is how this official, loyal to the Nazi governing system, could discharge his duties with hardly any reference to the ghastly catastrophe that visited the Jewish townspeople. On the basis of diaries and letters, Fulbrook reports the experiences of Klause and his family as a backdrop for the story of the Holocaust in Będzin, allowing the dramatic contrast of the two accounts to add to the mordancy of her question. Despite her vacillations, Fulbrook does not absolve Klause of responsibility for his activity within an immoral system. Thus, her book adds an important element to our understanding of the nature of “ordinary Nazis,” the people without whom the Final Solution would not have been possible.
Review of Avihu Ronen, Condemned to Life: The Diaries and Life of Chajka Klinger
This review article addresses Avihu Ronen’s eponymous book, which reacquaints us with the persona and personality of his mother, a key figure in the Będzin ghetto underground and the Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza’ir movement during the Holocaust. The author and the reader cement the acquaintance through the medium of Klinger’s information-packed diaries, the people whom she knew, and her lengthy journey from her place of birth via the ghetto, survival, and resettlement in Israel, to her death.