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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 44:2 (2016)

The issue opens with an article by Steven Katz analyzing the late Elie Wiesel’s contribution to the field and follows with five research articles and three review articles focusing on Eastern Europe during the war and since. These articles look at Jewish, local, and German sources, as well as trends in current research in Poland and Holocaust remembrance in former Communist countries. Their subjects include: poems written by Herman Kruk in 1944 in forced labor camps in Estonia (Gudrun Schroeter); the theft of Jewish property and belongings in Eastern Galicia by both German and local people (Anna Wylegała); Competition among Romanians in taking over Jewish property in Bukovina (Ştefan Ionescu); analyzing recent Holocaust research trends in Poland (Katrin Stoll); the portrayal of perpetrators and victims in in memorial museums in post-Communist counties (Ljiljana Radonic); summer 1941 in Western Ukraine (Per Anders Rudling on Kai Struve); the Holocaust in Subcarpathian Rus’ (Robert Rozett on Raz Segal); and new research and documents on the Holocaust in Kishinev (Simon Geissbühler on Paul Shapiro). Three review articles address books taking broad perspectives on the Holocaust (Moshe Zimmermann on the new critical annotated edition of Mein Kampf; Christopher R. Browning on David Cesarani; and Otto Dov Kulka on Ian Kershaw).

Herman Kruk, the chronicler of the Vilna ghetto, continued to work on his chronicle in the concentration camp in Estonia. He composed documentary-literary texts and prose poems. This article utilizes Kruk’s own texts and the testimony of survivors in order to reconstruct his life and creative work in Estonia and to comment on it from a literary perspective. Three of his poetic images and several poem fragments are the central focus. Paramount in these poems are the human subject and the destructive effects of the extermination system on the human being. Over and beyond this, Kruk focuses on the struggle for human dignity within this reality. He develops a form of representation that the author characterizes as “concentrationary existentialism.” For Kruk the struggle for human existence is grounded in the fundamental tenets of Jewish ethics and his faith in a just socialist society. Within a landscape of terror, in which the dualism of life and death were replaced by that of death and hope, he created a poetry of resistance.

This article discusses the issue of the expropriation of Jewish property in Eastern Galicia (Distrikt Galizia) during the German occupation. The text is deliberately based exclusively on various types of the first-person documents, including diaries, memoirs, testimonies, and interviews. In the introduction the author describes the historical context of World War II in Galicia, including the influence of the prior Soviet occupation, and explains why the plunder of Jews in Eastern Galicia differed from other parts of the General Government. The next chapters deal with various aspects and means of the expropriation, including robbery by the Germans (those that were state organized, including contributions and confiscations, and individual thefts) and the “neighborly” thievery by the Poles and Ukrainians. It shows the connection between plunder and violence, especially in the case of pogroms and actions in the ghettos. Another subject discussed is how Jewish property was transferred to the local Christian population: voluntarily for safekeeping, in exchange for food, or by blackmail, extortion, and reward for collaboration in the mass killings. The article also describes the fate of Jewish property after Eastern Galicia became Judenrein and the survivors’ struggle to regain their goods after German rule ended. Final remarks emphasize the role one’s property played in his/her chances for survival and explain why the issue of expropriation is important not only for the economic history of the Third Reich.

In this article Ionescu examines the beneficiaries of the Antonescu regime’s Romanianization of Bukovina in general and of the city of Czernowitz in particular (described during that era as Romania’s “California”) between 1941 and 1943. Using Romanian archival documents and Gentile and Jewish testimonies, Ionescu finds that Romanianization triggered a sharp competition among would-be Gentile profiteers aiming to acquire Jewish assets, especially between local ethnic Romanians and incoming colonists brought from various parts of Romania. Aiming to get rich quickly and obtain exemptions from army mobilization (and thus avoid the eastern front), these ethnic Romanian beneficiaries acquired a reputation for greed, corruption, and ruthlessness. At the same time, some of these Romanianizers collaborated with local Jewish entrepreneurs and skilled workers to run their new businesses, which allowed the Jews to stay in their native city as indispensable specialists, thus increasing their chances of survival.

There is no overreaching, synthetic study of the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland. However, since the publication of Jan T. Gross’s book Neighbors (in 2000 in Polish, and in 2001 in English), new empirical studies have been produced by Polish historians that have shed light on the participation of Poles in the Holocaust. The focus has been on “the last phase of the Holocaust,” the so-called Judenjagd, the hunt for Jews; i.e., the persecution and murder of Jews in the Polish province after the end of the German mass extermination of Jews in the death camps of Aktion Reinhard. A second trend in contemporary Polish Holocaust discourse concerns attempts to revise the concept of “indifferent witness” or “bystander”—the third category in Raul Hilberg’s triad of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. Emphasizing that the problem was not indifference but in fact a lack thereof, Elżbieta Janicka has argued that the terms bystander/indifferent witness do not adequately describe the behavior and attitude of the Polish majority society toward the Jewish minority. What concept does she propose instead? What understanding of the Holocaust becomes apparent in her approach? The article demonstrates that one characteristic feature of Polish Holocaust historiography is the absence of antisemitism as an explanation.

Memorial museums that were opened in post-Communist countries after 1989, re-narrate history and display “new” aspects of World War II, which were marginalized or tabooed in the Socialist era, beginning with Holocaust and Communist crimes. This article focuses on visual elements in permanent exhibitions and asks to what degree recent museology trends (critically discussed here) can be found in post-Communist museums from the Baltics to former Yugoslavia. These include individualizing the victims by displaying private photographs; depicting photographs as historical documents and not as mere illustrations; and distinguishing between photographs taken by perpetrators and those by victims who were risking their lives in the process. The article argues that there is one specific post-Communist feature: the parallelization of the Red Star and the Swastika or of (portraits of) Hitler and Stalin. Yet this equalization on the visual level contradicts the narrative of the exhibitions, in which the Communist crimes are depicted as the greater evil.

 

Reviews

Review of Christian Hartmann, Othmar Plöckinger, Roman Töppel, and Thomas Vordermayer, eds., Hitler, Mein Kampf: Eine kritische Edition

Abstract

Seventy years after Hitler’s death, the printing of Mein Kampf in Germany became permissible under German law. The Institute of Contemporary History in Munich published Hitler’s two-volume book with an introduction and some 3,700 detailed footnotes that aim to provide background, spotlight falsehoods, deceptions, and inaccuracies, and, above all, provide sources for Hitler’s fallacious views. At face value the intention seems good and worthy. But the editors’ reading of Jewish history, even if strewn with bibliographic references, is fundamentally unprofessional. Furthermore, the editors of this edition, after making Hitler into a “thinker” “worthy of response” refrain most of the time from presenting counterarguments. A work that is more pretentious than professional in certain parts is a problematic enterprise when served up to uninitiated German readers—particularly when its object, the historical source, is Hitler’s magnum opus, and when the subject is the Jews and Jew-hatred. It is no hyperbole to state that this book would have been better off had it not been created.

Review on David Cesarani, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949. London: Macmillan, 2016, 1016 pp.

Abstract

David Cesarani’s monograph attempts to bridge the gap between “popular understanding of this history” and a “standardized version” and “current scholarship on this subject”, he sets out to challenge “widely-held preconceptions.” One of his claims which insists on is the chaotic and haphazard character of Nazi Jewish policy and downplays the impact of antisemitism. Whilst he claims that he is challenging a “standardized version”, his arguments suggest a reversion to an ultra-functionalist position. Cesarani’s discussion of the importance of the war on the fate of the Jews is the leitmotif of the book and the prime basis of its originality. However, his critique that this aspect has been neglected by historians in unfounded. One of the chief strengths of the book is that it foregrounds the narratives of the victims. An overall compelling, comprehensive and superbly well-organized book.

Review of Kai Struve, Deutsche Herrschaft, ukrainischer Nationalismus, antijüdische Gewalt: Der Sommer 1941 in der Westukraine

Abstract

Given its massive scope, clarity, and sober attention to detail, Kai Struve’s study on the summer of 1941 in Western Ukraine is likely to remain a standard work for some time to come. Over 739 densely typeset pages, Struve writes with meticulous detail and neatly summarizes his findings in individual chapter conclusions. Struve’s solid academic research should dispel any remaining doubts about the OUN-B (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) involvement in mass anti-Jewish violence, which by now cannot be regarded as anything other than a well-documented historical fact. Whether Ukrainian society is ready and willing to address the difficult aspects of the recent past is a political matter. If and when Ukrainians feel ready to begin this process, Struve’s fine study will prove indispensable.

On Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back, Europe 1914-1949,  London:  Allen Lane (Penguin Books), 2015, 593 pages

Abstract

The review of Ian Kershaw's comprehensive history of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century focuses on the history of the Jews within the context of his presentation of the abyssal depths of destruction that marks this period in European history. The uniqueness of the annihilation of Europe’s Jews – the "Final Solution" and its world historical meaning – has rarely, if ever been so clearly articulated. Kershaw's insights about the self-perception of the Jews as they faced their doom, marks a new dimension of understanding within his writings. He is as well sensitive to the presence of the Jewish aspect within Europe's history throughout the entire book.

On Raz Segal, Genocide in the Carpathians: War, Social Breakdown, and Mass Violence, 1914-1945. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016, 211 pp.

Abstract

Raz Segal examines a chapter in history that is little known beyond a few specialists, the Holocaust of the Jews of Subcarpathian Rus'.  He explores this history from a wide angle, which he posits will not only elucidate the persecution of the Jews, but in turn will elucidate the story of the region's other ethnic groups, mainly the Carpatho-Ruthenians and Roma.   Most significantly, Segal demonstrates that the previously good relations between the Jews and Carpatho-Ruthenians unraveled, primarily because of resentment Carpatho-Ruthenians felt toward their Jewish neighbors during the political and social changes that emerged after the Munich Agreement and during the Hungarian occupation.  Segal also highlights the role of the Hungarian vision for Greater Hungary as a wellspring for the destruction of the region's Jews, and for the concomitant persecution of the Carpatho-Ruthenians and Roma.  Segal asserts that the persecution of all three groups by the Hungarians was genocidal.  Although this assertion is thought-provoking, in the eyes of this reviewer, it remains unconvincing.

On Paul A. Shapiro, The Kishinev Ghetto 1941-1942. A Documentary History of the Holocaust in Romania’s Contested Borderlands. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press (published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), 2015, 262 pp.

Abstract

Paul A. Shapiro’s monograph consists of the author’s study of the Kishinev/Chișinău ghetto, which includes an impressive set of photographs; a chronology of the ghetto and of the Romanian occupation of Bessarabia; and a selection of forty-nine documents— many of which have never before been published—translated into English. It is a must-read for all those who, seventy-five years after the Holocaust was unleashed in the East, want to know more about the Holocaust perpetrated by Romanians and in Romanian-controlled areas. Shapiro’s book is a major addition to the scholarship on the subject. At the same time it is a reminder that much work remains to be done with regard to the history of Romania and the Holocaust.