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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 42:2 (2014)

Dr. David Silberklang

This issue of Yad Vashem Studies addresses diverse aspects of people’s attitudes and behavior toward Jews and the Shoah during and after the event. Most of those analyzed in the articles herein were not the major leaders of their societies – many were “ordinary” people – across a broad geographic and social spectrum. The research articles address Jewish calendars produced in Auschwitz-Birkenau (Alan Rosen); local Slovak attitudes toward Jews (Eduard Nižňanský); a German medieval scholar’s role in the Shoah (Cordelia Hess); a well-known rabbi’s theological thought in 1940 (Asaf Yedidya); and survivors’ national identity through Yiddish in Israel (Gali Drucker Bar-Am). The issue is rounded out by review articles on new research on the Hungarian Labor Battalions (Randolph Braham on Robert Rozett); the United States (Michael Marrus on Richard Breitman and alan Lichtman); France (Eliot Nidam Orvieto on Susan Zuccotti); addressing the Holocaust in postcommunist countries (Michael Shafir on John-Paul Himka and and Joanna Michlic); and Jewish visits to contemporary Poland (Jan Grabowski on Erica Lehrer); and letters by Jan Láníček and Florent Brayard.

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Previous research on the phenomenon of hand-drawn calendars in Auschwitz has overlooked the role (and even the existence) of the Jewish calendar. Yet the two examples of Jewish calendars to have emerged from Auschwitz display intense concern with the Jewish way of tracking time. After looking at the nature of the Jewish calendar and its role in prewar Europe, and summarizing what is known of concentration camp calendars in general, this article examines the biographies of the Auschwitz calendar authors, both of whom were women. It focuses on what in their past lives and wartime circumstances prepared them to compose calendars under such difficult conditions, and then turn to the calendars themselves, describing what the details of the artifact in each case reveal about the approach to Jewish time. In conclusion, the article considers the implications of these Jewish calendars for the study of Auschwitz in particular and the Holocaust in general, arguing that the calendars are symptomatic of the importance of Jewish religious and cultural life in Auschwitz. As a paradigmatic symbol of the wartime quest for continuity with the past and of envisioning a future, the Auschwitz Jewish calendars demonstrate that such continuity in the midst of the Holocaust demands acknowledgment, conceptualization and explanation.


Most research on the Holocaust in Slovakia focuses mainly on the Jewish community as a minority against which the Slovak majority perpetrated various types of antisemitic reprisals. These analyses follow Raul Hilberg’s analytical framework of victims (Jews), perpetrators (in the broader sense, the leading elite of the Hlinka Guard party and Hlinka Guard itself – HSĽS and HG), and the silent majority. In this article, the author attempts to focus on the relationships between the Slovak majority and Jewish minority in the social milieu of the Holocaust, as well as on local perpetrators – those that implemented antisemitic policies not only at the state level, but also at lower levels of executive power. Such an analysis requires a description of the changes in social stratification and upward mobility (including property ownership) of the majority population during the Holocaust, as a result of Aryanization and the deportation of the Jewish population. Elimination of the Jews as competition for the Slovak majority meant the formation of a Slovak middle class. This new middle class could attain its position only with the help of the national HSĽS Party, and was politically connected with the regime of the Slovak State and its antisemitic policies. The author illustrates the broad spectrum of positive and negative reactions exhibited by the Slovak majority toward the Jewish minority when Aryanization and deportations were being implemented.


Regarding the control of historical research and the registration of Jewish and Polish populations, the Prussian archival administration embraced Nazi ideology relatively early on. When the German-occupied territories of northern Poland were incorporated into the East Prussian administration, these principles were expanded towards the creation of a colonial administration consisting mainly of Germans and Volksdeutsche; the looting and use of the region’s cultural goods for the purposes of the colonialists; and the employment of the local non-German population as slave laborers. The archivists implementing these principles were often also active in Ostforschung (research of the East), thereby shaping the ideological framework for their own daily work. This article seeks access to this topic via a limited biographical study of one Königsberg archivist, Dr. Kurt Forstreuter. While Forstreuter was not responsible for any of the major archival policies in the East, he nevertheless loyally followed given instructions, and used his expertise to further reflect Nazi ideology in his archival work. His work itinerary sheds light upon the archives’ responsibility for the comprehensive looting of cultural goods, as well as the archivists’ participation in the administration of the Holocaust.


Rabbi Dr. Aaron Kaminka’s theological response to the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied countries and Germany’s extraordinary military success at the beginning of World War II operates on two planes. On the Jewish national plane, Rabbi Kaminka deals with “examining one’s actions” in view of the tribulations befalling the Jewish people. The general notion of “suffering induced by sin” is preserved, but the nature of the sin deviates from any previous traditional approach. The Jews, he contends, sinned not by transgressing a specific commandment in the Torah, but by failing to fulfill the Jewish people’s historical destiny— disseminating the Torah among the nations of the world—which he considers an all-embracing task that transcends the value of any personal commandment.

On the second, universal plane, Rabbi Kaminka deals primarily with the question of theodicy in the context of Nazi Germany’s victories. Ultimately, he pronounces Germany’s success temporary and, from the perspective of time, imaginary as well, since a fleeting success often leads to a more painful downfall. However, the Jews’ suffering is discussed on this plane as well and receives a universalistic Jewish explanation adapted from the private to the national plane. That is, for the righteous— in this context the righteous nation, with its mission of benefiting humankind— it is the spiritual aspect that counts, and from this perspective, we cannot speak of a bad reward for the righteous, because a good deed is its own reward.


The remembrance and institutionalization of the past via practices of memory is crucial in national identity, and the press is one of the main institutions through which this identity is formed. This article documents the singular patterns of remembrance and commemoration that the She’erit Hapleita who came to Israel developed in their vernacular, Yiddish, in the press they created. These patterns allow us to evaluate the unique national identity of this immigrant group. The identity revealed stands in contrast to the prevailing image— that the Yiddish speakers’ choice of continuing to pursue intellectual endeavors in their language attests to their opposition to the principles of Zionism and their estrangement from the national “place” or home. The patterns of Holocaust remembrance indicate that Yiddish actually helped its speakers form a national identity—a complex and sometimes conflicted identity, but an alternative Zionist identity nevertheless— that also took pride in its past and vigorously sustained its connection with the “exile,” its language, and its culture.



Review of Robert Rozett, Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front during the Second World War


Rich in both primary and secondary sources, Rozett’s work is an invaluable study on the background and evolution of Hungary’s wartime military-related labor service system. It demonstrates the fundamentally antisemitic nature of the system, identifying the structure and functions of the various types of labor service companies. Based on survivor testimonies and archival sources, it documents the variety of civilian and military-related projects for which the Jewish labor servicemen had been deployed within Hungary, in the Bor copper mines, and along the Ukrainian frontlines. The monograph accurately reveals the changing status of the Jewish labor servicemen during World War II, focusing on their horrific treatment following the crushing defeat of the Axis forces at Voronezh and Stalingrad in early 1943. It also provides an especially useful and succinct comparative evaluation of the wartime labor service systems that had been in existence in neighboring Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia.

Review of Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, FDR and the Jews


The role of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the prewar persecution of Jews and the Holocaust has been the subject of one of the longest-running controversies in Holocaust history, highly charged with themes reflecting strands of both the American Jewish past and Zionist politics. This review essay assesses a highly creditable, balanced effort to treat this issue in the context of Roosevelt's life, American politics and World War II itself.

Review of Susan Zuccotti, Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands during the Holocaust


The article presents a general overview of Susan Zuccotti’s book regarding the activities of Père Marie-Benoît (Pierre Péteul) to help save Jews in France and in Italy during the Holocaust. Nidam Orvieto posits that Zucotti’s study confirms the importance and need to conduct more micro-research on rescuers as a way to understand more fully how the rescue operations were conducted.

Review of John-Paul Himka and Joanna Beata Michlic, eds., Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe


Joanna Beata Michli and John-Paul Himka's edited volume on postcommunist Eastern Europe's attempt to face its "dark past" demonstrates that thus far, the region has been neither successful, nor unsuccessful, in this quest. “Underground memories” that erupted after the communist regimes’ demise created unexpected solidarities among those persecuted under communism, regardless of the ideological reason for that persecution. This, in part, explains the solidarity of members of the extreme Right with the Democratic center in demanding – and to a degree successfully promoting – the condemnation of the former regime’s crimes. This has led almost everywhere to what is now termed as “Holocaust obfuscation.”

Review of Erica Lehrer, Jewish Poland Revisited: Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places


Erica Lehrer, an ethnographer from Concordia University in Montreal, set out on a quest to understand and describe the politics of memory in the context of Jewish-Polish encounters. Lehrer chose to set up her lab in Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter of Kraków, and more recently a place of sui generis Jewish revival – if one can apply such a term to a location whose entire original Jewish population was either exterminated in the Holocaust or forced to emigrate during the postwar years. Unfortunately, the book is a disappointment, as the author fails to engage the rich Polish literature on the subject. Lehrer’s account tells us more about the author’s self-discovery and her coming to terms with own “post-Holocaust Jewish identity” than with the issues at hand.