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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 45:2 (2017)

This issue includes articles by Ian Kershaw and Otto Dov Kulka on the late Eberhard Jäckel’s contribution to Holocaust scholarship, as well as five research articles and five reviews. Four articles address the Holocaust in Poland: Frank Grelka on German civilian-run forced-labor camps in the Chełm region; Idit Gil on Jewish forced-labor in the Radom District; Daniel Uziel on early wartime German media reporting about Jews; and Rachel Feldhay Brenner on the antisemitic beliefs and vigorous rescue efforts of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. Boaz Cohen looks at the research infrastructure created by Holocaust survivor historians after the war.

We should be full of praise for the life achievement of Eberhard Jäckel in illuminating central aspects of the darkest episode in German history and Hitler’s world of ideas. Jäckel was among the first historians to spotlight the centrality and consistency of Hitler’s antisemitism. Through his precise analysis of Mein Kampf, Jäckel was able, as never before, to clearly work out and establish Hitler’s antisemitic blueprint, which had been sketched out in advance. Today this approach is largely accepted, but this was not always the case. In this respect Jäckel’s fundamental study of Hitler’s intentionalist worldview both changed the research on Hitler and left a lasting impact upon it.

Eberhard Jäckel will be remembered as a great historian and a devoted friend. Jäckel, a major exponent of German historiography, took part in several international conferences sponsored by Yad Vashem and Israeli universities, which included meetings and discussions between German and Israeli historians. His clear, carefully formulated words, his firm stand on the principles in which he believed, and, of course, his numerous original, sometimes quite bold, contributions left an indelible mark on the thinking of all who were fortunate to hear him on these occasions. The lapidary description, “Eberhard Jäckel — The Hitler Historian,” as the headline of the online death notice, appeared natural and sufficient due in large part to Jäckel’s groundbreaking 1969 book, Hitlers Weltanschauung. One can say without hesitation that Jäckel’s work constituted a genuine watershed in the historiography on Nazi Germany and the “Final Solution.”

Abstract

This study attempts to shed light on the interrelationship of various sites of persecution in the General Government by examining non-industrial forced-labor camps for Jews as a spatial aspect of Hans Frank’s administration’s early pursual of a policy of genocide. The research puts Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian eyewitness accounts in the center of an analysis of the purpose of sixteen ZAL camps run by the Water Management Inspection (Wasserwirtschaftsinspektion) in the Chełm region. Highlighting living conditions in the ZAL Luta and ZAL Krychów, resulting in extremely high mortality, this study presents three clear findings: (1) From June 1940, so-called labor camps were a key element of a highly provisional German ghettoization policy aiming unsystematically at the diminishing of the Jews in the General Government; (2) Dismantling the official German discourse on “Jewish Labor,” Polish and Jewish accounts report various functions of agricultural ZAL camps, resembling both death and concentration camps; and (3) The  perspective of Jewish institutions toward forced labor and testimonies of corruption and self-preservation as the dynamics of a self-running economy in the ZAL. This article is the first thorough study of a complex of civil ZAL camps that became part of the extermination industries in Sobibór from late 1941.

Abstract

The article explores the exploitation of Jewish labor in the Radom District during the first three-and-a-half months of the war, and discusses the unique characteristics of the intricate relationship between economic needs and racial views during this period. It argues that even without an official labor policy, the Germans exploited Jewish labor in order to fulfill their economic needs related to the conquest of Poland; they used Jewish workers for setting up and maintaining authorities’ headquarters. The forced labor was accompanied by the terror of impressment, brutal abuse, the desecration of cemeteries, and a divide-and-rule policy. Although humiliation was a collateral effect, it was not the main goal in exploiting Jewish labor. The article also shows that not all forced labor was ad hoc. The Germans used the temporary Jewish committees to recruit workers and employ craftsmen, and occasionally used workers for recurrent assignments. Jews responded in several ways to the persecution: they changed jobs, cooperated with the Poles, and initiated enterprises so as to work for the Germans.

Abstract

The German invasion of Poland marked not only the onset of World War II but also a new stage in the Third Reich’s antisemitic propaganda. Although the Germans invaded Poland without an explicit program for the country’s Jewish population, as the persecution of this population escalated, they exploited the widely held attitude toward Polish Jewry and the ghettos that were established in the occupied territories in order to upgrade their antisemitic propaganda. First, they portrayed the Jews as members of the constellation of Germany’s international enemies. Upon the imposition of the “new order” in occupied Poland, they depicted the Jews as a multidimensional threat to the new regime: its economy, sanitation, political integrity, and security. Similarly, in the Germans’ efforts to present this “new order” in a favorable light, their propaganda underscored the Jews’ forced induction for various kinds of labor.

Notwithstanding the central management of propaganda in the Third Reich, several organizations and media contributed to it, including the Wehrmacht propaganda division, the newsreel companies, and the illustrated press, among others.

The article examines the underlying objectives, strategies, methods, and tools of the propaganda. It also explores the propaganda in the broad context of German policy in occupied Poland and of the world war in the relevant period.

Abstract

Zofia Kossak (1889-1968), a right-wing Polish Catholic novelist and publicist who was posthumously awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal, was an inveterate antisemite. Nonetheless, at the time of the 1942 deportations, Kossak, a prominent member of the underground, published a leaflet entitled “Protest!” and appealed to the Polish population to protest the mass murder of the Jews. Furthermore, while personally engaged in rescue operations, Kossak co-founded Żegota, which, under her leadership, saved hundreds of Jews. While critics appraise Kossak as either an “antisemite” or a “saint,” the author argues that her altruistic behavior indicates a theological transformation. The project of the extermination of the Jews revealed the dangers of the theology of contempt. Polish mainstream approval and even collaboration with the German mass murder of Jews brought forth the necessity to reconsider the antisemitic tradition, which postulated the persecution of the “crucifiers of Christ.” The “Final Solution,” which declared the Jews subhuman, required that the commandment of “love of your neighbor” be extended to the Jewish victims. Even though she never relinquished her xenophobic views, Kossak’s realization of the murderous aspect of racism made her affirm, in writing and in action, the sanctity of Jewish life created in God’s image, and assert the Christian responsibility to protect this image.

Abstract

This article shows how Holocaust survivor historians, in the immediate post-Holocaust years, created infrastructure for future research of that period by compiling survivor testimonies. They drew on the pre-war East European Jewish tradition of the widespread participation of the public in social research and collection of materials for the use of historians. However, this apparent continuity should not blind us to the new theoretical and methodological problems that challenged the survivor historians nor to the innovative nature of the testimony project.

Since the abundance of German documents available to historians set the path for Holocaust research—one that looked at the Holocaust through the eyes of the perpetrators—survivor historians had no choice but to turn to testimonies in order tell the story of the persecution and murder of their people from a Jewish perspective. Nonetheless, they were aware of the inherent problems. They debated such issues as the authenticity and veracity of testimonies, developed new historical methods for collecting testimonies, and argued over the concept of testimonies as a national endeavor. Understanding their sensibilities and concerns enhances our understanding of the testimonies they collected and those that were collected later on.

Reviews

Review of Shannon L. Fogg, Stealing Home: Looting, Restitution, and Reconstructing Jewish Lives in France, 1942-1947

Abstract

Fogg is concerned with the ways in which Jewish individuals who experienced the traumatic war years in France tried to rebuild their lives after the war, and how they were conflicted about expressing their loss (personal and material) and sense of dislocation from France and its citizens. The time frame of 1942-1947 enables her to treat both the actual process of despoliation of the Jews, both by the Nazis and the French state and society, and the processes of restitution after the war. Fogg is duly aware of how the renegotiation with France and its bureaucracy weighed heavily on Jews after the war. Her work is an important addition to the literature on the Vichy period.

Review of Simon Geissbühler, ed., Romania and the Holocaust: Events, Contexts, Aftermath

Abstract

The idea for this multi-authored volume came from a one-day symposium, “The Holocaust in Romania – Revisiting Research and Public Discourse,” held on October 29, 2015, at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. While the topics discussed were an acknowledgment of the progress that has been made in recent years in investigating the subject, especially by young historians both inside and outside Romania, the symposium itself revealed that, in Geissbühler’s words, “much work is still to be done.” This collection of studies offers a significant contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Romanian treatment of the Jews during World War II and signals areas for future study of the Holocaust in Romania and in Romanian-controlled territories during that period.

Review of Meron Medzini, Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun: Japan and the Jews during the Holocaust Era

Abstract

The modern history of Jews in East Asia and the reasons for their survival during World War II are unknown to most scholars of Japan, Jews, or the Holocaust. Meron Medzini’s book fills this gap by connecting the three topics in a readable, concise volume. It shows that there were far too few Jews in Japan for the Japanese to form an opinion about them or their government to devise a “Jewish policy.” Rather than being viewed as a race or religion, Jews were approached as individuals, and the treatment they received depended on their nationality and the personality of Japanese diplomats and officers.

Review of Anton Weiss-Wendt, On the Margins: Essays on the History of Jews in Estonia

Abstract

On the Margins: Essays on the History of Jews in Estonia is a set of nine essays written by Anton Weiss-Wendt over his career to date, tracing the relationship between the Jewish minority in Estonia and the majority population. While each piece is interesting and valuable in its own right, taken together they argue for the necessity of an Estonian reassessment of this relationship. Weiss-Wendt defends his position that the failure to integrate Jews into mainstream Estonian society and value them as equal citizens had lethal implications during the Nazi Holocaust, and that Estonia today remains resistant to grappling with this reality. On the contrary, he shows that, if anything, a new breed of antisemitism, born of competitive victimization stemming from the Soviet occupation after World War II, continues to exercise a pernicious hold on Estonian imaginations. Weiss-Wendt beseeches Estonian civil society to commit itself to breaking this hold.

Review of Mehnaz M. Afridi, Shoah through Muslim Eyes

Abstract

Shoah through Muslim Eyes documents the personal journey of a Pakistani researcher who teaches at Manhattan College in the United States. It promotes a universal message that we must be sensitive and open to the “other” in the broad sense of the concept. The author’s womanhood, life experience, and interpretation of the Koran’s outlook on the “other” are the bases for her motivation. Moslem sensitivity to the “other,” she says, should also be manifested in sensitivity to the Holocaust. The book urges Moslems not to indulge in Holocaust denial and to discuss the Holocaust and the suffering of the individuals and the people that were part of it. The author describes the circumstances that prompted her to contemplate the Holocaust: a trip to Dachau, a visit to Jerusalem, and interviews that she held with Holocaust survivors in the United States. She discusses teaching the Holocaust and genocide to her students. Invoking her familiarity with the Holocaust, she also speaks about the suffering of Moslems in northern Africa during the war.

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