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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 44:1 (2016)

Dr. David Silberklang

This issue includes five research articles that examine a variety of subjects addressing both wartime and postwar issues. Two articles analyze the thinking of important rabbis during and after the Holocaust – the Esh Kodesh, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (Daniel Reiser), and Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Vogelmann (Isaac Hershkowitz). Other topics include: the 1944 performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Theresienstadt examined through Josef Bor’s novelized version of the event (Zvi Semel and Naphtali Wagner); the postwar attempt to provide Holocaust survivors from Poland refuge in Finland (Simo Muir); and Holocaust memorials in Lithuania since independence (Ekaterina Makhotina). Five review articles address ten recent books: six books on Jewish responses to persecution and on Hungary (Ferenc Láczo on books produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum); Jews in concentration camps before World War II (Guy Miron on Kim Wünschmann); an interpretation of the origins and background of the Holocaust (Dieter Pohl on Timothy Snyder); Jewish responses to economic persecution in Romania (Raphael Vago on Ştefan Ionescu); and antisemitism in Weimar Germany (Thomas Kuehne on Susanne Wein). The issue is dedicated to the memory of David Cesarani, Hans Mommsen, and Alfred Gottwaldt, with articles by Robert Rozett, Moshe Zimmermann, and Yaron Pasher and Joel Zisenwine on their respective contributions to the field.

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Philological study of the manuscript version of the sermons that the Rebbe of Piaseczno, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira (1889–1943), produced during the Holocaust in the Warsaw ghetto and later published as Esh Kodesh, yields new insights hitherto unknown to research and even gives existing research  a jolt. To the author’s knowledge, all researchers who have dealt with this book, without exception, have based themselves exclusively on its published editions and did not study the manuscript. Perusal of the manuscript, however, shows that the printed editions cannot be trusted to decipher the handwriting correctly, demarcate the beginnings and ends of the sermons, present them in the correct order, and take account of textual insertions and deletions. The thorniest issue that this perusal brings to light is that Esh Kodesh is constructed layer upon layer and that the dating of the sermons in the published editions cannot be trusted. This matter has important if not crucial implications for understanding the Rebbe’s theory of suffering and calls for new and more nuanced research.

Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Vogelmann, rabbi of Katowice before World War II and afterwards of Kiryat Motzkin in Israel, was an important halakhic decisor and rabbinical scholar in the Religious Zionist world. The article investigates his singular philosophy of the Holocaust. In Vogelmann’s thought, the Holocaust is not an event of independent ontological significance; instead, it should be seen in the context of a God Who urges man to be responsible for and involved in reality. For this reason, he has little to say about the purpose of the Holocaust, the reasons for its occurrence, and the moral lessons that should be learned from it, rather focusing on the doing of good, justice, and rectitude, and striving for the consolidation of Jewish independence and sovereignty in the Land of Israel. For all that, the absence of the beneficent and merciful God in Vogelmann’s writings, the God for Whom many thinkers in the rabbinical world yearned, cannot be ignored. The article argues that Vogelmann’s emphasis on practical human endeavor is an instrument meant to help believers to cope with the existential problems that the Holocaust foists on them as individuals and as believers.


Josef Bor’s book Requiem for Theresienstadt, recounting the production and performance of Verdi’s Requiem by Jews in Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto in 1943–1944 under the leadership and the conductor’s baton of Raphael Schächter, was published in Prague in 1965. Part 1 of the article treats the book as a testimony written through a literary prism. Part 2 contrasts the contents of the book with the testimonies of survivors of Theresienstadt in an attempt to distinguish historical truth from literary fiction. The article also explores the way the book was presented to its readers in different editions, in different languages, and at different times, as a testimonial document or as a historical novel. The musicological, literary, and historiosophic discussion revolves around a key question: What is the meaning of the artistic act described—did it have an element of subversion or protest?


Finland, in the far north-eastern corner of Europe, was an unlikely destination for Holocaust survivors. Besides its geographical location, Finland, a former Axis ally, had fallen under the Soviet sphere of interest, casting its future in the post-war political development in uncertainty. Yet, previously unused archival sources reveal well-developed plans to bring a small group of survivors to Finland and for the country to serve as a transit point for getting Jews out from Poland. The Jewish community in Finland, which had largely escaped the Holocaust, initiated two relief schemes for Jewish survivors from Poland; consequently, in October 1945, the Finnish government established a quota for Jewish children and, in September 1946, a transit quota for refugees of anti-Jewish pogroms. Nevertheless, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland opposed sending children to Finland and eventually the World Jewish Congress disapproved Finland serving as a transit point. This article explores these relief schemes and the reasons behind their failure.


This article discusses the history and the contemporary discussion concerning sites of Holocaust memory in Lithuania. In Soviet times, the Jewish identity of the victims of the German occupation in Lithuania was rather “invisible” and not a subject for museums and memorial sites. Post-Soviet Lithuanian society was confused as it was confronted with this subject and rejected the idea that there had been Lithuanian collaboration in the crimes. Furthermore, post-Soviet remembrance in Lithuania focused on the anti-Soviet resistance fighters and the nation’s “own” (Lithuanian) victims of Soviet terror, while the Jewish victims of the German occupation were largely marginalized. This article analyzes actors, the forms of muzealization, and the political context of the development of the most important Jewish memorial sites (Jewish Museum, Paneriai/Ponar, Kaunas Ninth Fort).



Review on:
Jürgen Matthäus and Mark Roseman, eds., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume I, 1933–1938. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2010, 508 pp.; Alexandra Garbarini with Emil Kerenji, Jan Lambertz, and Avinoam Patt, eds., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume II, 1938–1940. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2011, 612 pp.; Jürgen Matthäus with Emil Kerenji, Jan Lambertz, and Leah Wolfson, eds., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume III, 1941–1942. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2013, 551 pp.; Emil Kerenji, ed., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume IV, 1942–1943.Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 598 pp.; Leah Wolfson, ed., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume V, 1944–1946. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 590 pp.; Zoltán Vági, László Csősz, and Gábor Kádár, The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2013, 442 pp.


Jewish Responses to Persecution, the central component of the Documenting Life and Destruction: Holocaust Sources in Context series, presents a wealth of key sources and embeds them in explanatory narratives. Its five volumes make a major contribution to victim-centered historiography in English and will constitute a most valuable addition to university reading lists in particular. Such a wealth of primary sources makes the reader keenly aware of the intellectual and spiritual depth of Jewish responses as well as the largely unpredictable impact persecution exerted over time and across varied strata. However, despite its admirably high level of professional expertise, Jewish Responses to Persecution does not ambition to account for the factors behind the broad variety of Jewish responses. The series also opens fewer new perspectives on the East and Southeast of Europe than might have been hoped. The latter is partly compensated through the five further stand-alone volumes, among which the volume on the Holocaust in Hungary stands out with its richness and originality.

Review of Kim Wünschmann, Before Auschwitz: Jewish Prisoners in the Prewar Concentration Camps.


Kim Wünschmann’s book offers a new and integrated look at the history of Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps in Germany from the Nazi accession to the outbreak of World War II. It presents a detailed institutional history of the anti-Jewish policy in the camps and fits the discussion of the Jewish prisoners in the camps into a broader examination of the process leading to the expulsion of the Jews from German society and research on the social and political history of German Jewry in the 1930s. Wünschmann tackles this historical issue as a topic in itself and not only as a prologue to the history of the camps during the war and the Holocaust. Based on a vast range of sources, the book offers a probing historical contemplation of social processes and relations in the camps during the 1930s.

Review on Timothy Snyder, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning


This book brings forward a new but unconvincing interpretation of the origins and background of the Holocaust. He identifies Hitler's fear, that "World Jewry" might subdue global ecology and thus the resources of the "Aryan Race", as main motive for mass murder. But as major process enabling the genocide a certain kind of state destruction is considered, achieved by both Hitler and Stalin in East Central Europe, especially by their double occupation. This, and less antisemitism, is interpreted as major precondition for parts of the local society to unleash pogroms and cooperate in the German violence. Indeed, it was easier to resist the German onslaught were sovereign structures prevailed. But this is only one factor among many others. Even sovereign states participated in the Holocaust.

Review of Stefan Cristian Ionescu, Jewish Resistance to "Romanianization," 1940-44.


The book focuses on Romanian Jews’ use of mainly legal methods, especially in Bucharest which had the largest Jewish population in the “Old Kingdom” of Romania in the inter-war period, to resist the Antonescu regime’s brutal removal of Jews from the economic, social and cultural life of the country through the process of “Romanianization.” The “stunning feat of resistance,” as the author labels the Jewish opposition to these steps, was based on using the relatively available judicial means and an exploitation of the local rules of the game – corruption and nepotism – in order to minimize the damage done to Jews’ daily life under the shadow and daily danger of deportation and extermination.

 Review of Susanne Wein, Antisemitismus im Reichstag. Judenfeindliche Sprache in Politik und Gesellschaft der Weimarer Republik.


Susanne Wein’s Antisemitismus im Reichstag, is an in-depth study of the anti-Jewish rhetoric promulgated, contested or confirmed by the members of Weimar Germany’s national parliament. It reveals how the explicit and deliberate antisemitic language of the political right—the opponents of Weimar democracy—went hand in hand with a surprisingly consistent disinterest in countering this very discourse on the part of the democratic and pro-republican political left. Expanding on Shulamit Volkov’s famous argument about antisemitism as a “cultural code” but not much interested in conceptual issues, this book is yet welcome as an empirically rich, well documented contribution to the field.