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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 49:2 (2021)

Volume 49:2 is a noteworthy issue in that it mourns the loss but also celebrates the contributions of two esteemed and long-standing members of the Yad Vashem Studies Editorial Board—Yitzhak Arad and Otto Dov Kulka. Their presence on the Editorial Board will be sorely missed.

This issue begins with three memorial pieces. Richard I. Cohen eulogizes Dov Kulka and highlights his meticulous work as a historian, particularly his contribution to The Jews in the Secret Nazi Reports on Popular Opinion in Germany, 1933–1945. Next, Christopher Browning commemorates Karl Schleunes, author of the groundbreaking book The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy toward German Jews, 1933–1939. Finally, Arkadi Zeltser pays tribute to David Shneer, recounting his contributions to the study of Soviet Jewish history and reviewing his last book, Grief: The Biography of a Holocaust Photograph.

This volume features articles spanning different geographical contexts and themes, yet also brings into focus the topic of comparative genocide and the role of local individuals and groups in the murder of the Jews. Yehuda Bauer’s lead article broaches the question of whether sadism and cruelty were central motivations for the perpetrators and whether Holocaust-era cruelty was exceptional. Prominent researchers Edward Westermann and Ben Kiernan each wrote a response to Bauer’s piece, citing examples from the Holocaust and other genocides, particularly in Cambodia.

Yuri Radchenko presents a meticulous study of the underresearched Melnyk faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, particularly its relationship with the Ustaša regime in the Independent State of Croatia. Allison Somogyi discusses various ways that young Hungarian Jewish women perceived the passage of time during the siege of Budapest, as described in their diaries. Katrin Stoll studies Nachman Blumental’s painstaking postwar investigation into the murder of his wife Maria and son Ariel in Poland during the Holocaust, noting social and cultural circumstances that ultimately precipitated the murder.

This volume also includes book reviews by Gur Alroey, David Engel, Monica Adamczyk-Garbowska, and Theodore Rosengarten. In conclusion, the English edition of Yad Vashem Studies is now available online from Volume 41 (2013) through EBSCO. We trust that this will be of great benefit to our research community and readers.

Order Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 49:2 online >>>


This article launches a discussion that broaches two key questions. First, were the cruel and sadistic actions of the perpetrators of the Holocaust a central component of the acts of murder and repression? Second, were cruelty and sadism a fundamental part of other cases of mass atrocities and genocides, and to what degree were these instances similar to what happened during the Holocaust? This article deals with these topics from an historical standpoint by addressing cases from antiquity, the Middle ages, and the modern era, and in global terms by presenting pertinent examples taken from various geographic areas.

The comparisons account both for similarities and differences between the cases in question, relying on diverse source material in several languages. The conclusions from the discussion allude to other key factors in the development of Holocaust-era murders and less to the impact of the urge to engage in cruelty and sadism. On the other hand, the discussion indicates that human evolution includes a propensity towards cruelty and sadism, which is part of the range of human instincts. However, it collides with the opposite propensity: the necessity of social life, hence the development of qualities that counter the instinct for cruelty and sadism.


Yehuda Bauer’s essay raises several important issues on the process and conduct of mass murder during the Shoah. His discussion of transgressive behavior involving cruelty and sadism and the comparative framework he employs provide insights into the mentality of the killers that extend beyond Holocaust historiography and into the broader field of genocide studies. In this response, I examine three specific aspects of Bauer’s argument. First, what is to be learned from analyzing acts of cruelty and sadism in the destruction of the European Jews, and what do these concepts disclose about perpetrator motivation? Second, what was the scope, scale, and role of sexual violence during the Holocaust, and what insights do acts of sexual humiliation and sexual assault offer for thinking about the actions of the perpetrators? Finally, what does the Nazi regime’s targeting of Jewish children reveal about the singular or unprecedented nature of the Holocaust? Ultimately, I argue that Bauer’s analysis linking murder and extermination with acts of cruelty and sadism must also embrace a discussion of the enjoyment and amusement taken by some perpetrators within a framework of “recreational violence,” a type of celebratory violence that exposes key aspects of the psychological mindset of the killers.


The long-term causes of genocide—such as war, poverty, economic dislocation, political instability—sometimes enable previously marginal groups harboring genocidal goals to recruit supporters, build armies, and eventually seize power. Yehuda Bauer persuasively suggests that to these long-term causes we might need to add some of the stresses or conflicts contingent on large-scale human migration. Nonetheless, the immediate causes of genocide are the deliberate decisions made by leaders to launch and implement their extermination campaigns. Such decisions are at least equally important and far more proximate causes of genocidal outcomes. They can also be characterized by extreme cruelty, including the issuing of orders for the widespread murder of children. Cruelty and sadism may occur at both the grass-roots and the command levels, but it is the command level that determines whether genocide occurs. In this sense, Bauer may be correct to state that the Holocaust was “unprecedented but not unique.”


This article explores activities by members of the Melnykite faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in the territory of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) in 1941-1945. The author uses unpublished sources from Ukrainian and ex-Yugoslav archives that show that the Melnykites operating in NDH territory received great privileges from the Ustaša authorities and nearly total freedom of action in working with the local Ukrainian population. This close examination describes how the authorities allowed the formation of the Ukrainian Legion, which was supposed to be deployed to the eastern front. The Melnykite Ukrainian Representative Office in the NDH repaid the Ustaša for this support, mainly by backing the regime of Ante Pavelić. In their publications, Melnykite activists praised the Ustaša, its leaders, and the policies of the NDH, including the persecution and murder of Jews. Melnykite propagandists in the NDH in 1941-1945 prepared and disseminated a considerable amount of antisemitic literature that portrayed Jews as the age-old enemies of both Ukrainians and Croats. This research shows that Melnykites took part in the acquisition, and possibly even in the confiscation, of Jewish-owned property in the NDH.


Keeping precise and innovative measurements of time anchored the young Jewish women featured in this article when they felt unmoored, conditioned the ways they kept track of the world around them, and informed their actions as their already-dire circumstances deteriorated in Budapest under Nazi occupation and Arrow Cross rule. In order to combat instability and fear during the Siege of Budapest, these women clung to the familiarity of communal celebrations and lifecycle rites of passage, particularly those anchored in the Gregorian calendar. They employed similar strategies to combat boredom and tedium by turning to distraction, intrigue, and the refuge of introspective daily writing. Above all, their sense of time revolved around liberation. By analyzing the time dimension of the Siege of Budapest through a close reading of these diaries, we gain a more nuanced understanding of coping mechanisms and survival tactics employed by Jewish women during the transition from Nazi occupation to liberation and Soviet occupation.


This article, based on Nachman Blumental’s handwritten notes in Polish, which the author discovered while working on Blumental’s archive, as well as the files of two criminal investigations, deals with the participation of Poles, both in uniform (the Blue Police) and civilians, in the Nazi extermination plan in Dębica County during the German occupation. The author analyzes the mechanism that triggered antisemitic violence as part of the Judenjagd; i.e., hunting of Jews, and demonstrates that the attitudes and behavior of the local non-Jewish population were decisive in the Nazi scheme to persecute and murder every Jew, without exception. The “neighbors” (Gross) and the Blue Policemen played their part as “druga instancja” (Elżbieta Janicka); i.e., those who had the final say regarding who was to be murdered. Reconstructing the crime committed against Ariel and Maria Blumental in June 1943, in Brzeziny, Mała, and Wielopole Skrzyńskie, and deconstructing the mystification on the part of the non-Jewish inhabitants demonstrates how the process of self-presentation as disengagement works. We can see how “participating observers” (Elżbieta Janicka) cover up their own involvement in the murder of Nachman Blumental’s family. The task is to interpret what is said and what is not said. The crime described in this article is emblematic in that it sheds light on the Holocaust’s social and cultural framework. It demonstrates the loneliness of those in hiding who were subsequently denounced and condemned to death by their neighbors.


Review of Marion Kaplan, Hitler’s Jewish Refugees


This book attempts to help the reader understand every aspect of the Jewish refugee experience in Portugal in the 1930s and 1940s. Marion Kaplan has made a twofold contribution to Holocaust historiography, recounting the little-known story of Jewish refugees in Portugal and employing an intelligent methodology based on letters and postcards. Letters are an unparalleled primary source, particularly for social historians like Kaplan, because they allow researchers to study their subjects from their own perspective. This sophisticated book can serve as a model for migration studies in general and Jewish migration in particular.

Review of Lukasz Krzyzanowski, Ghost Citizens: Jewish Return to a Postwar City


Lukasz Krzyzanowski's book on the handful of Holocaust survivors who assembled in the Polish city of Radom during the first years following the end of the German occupation is a welcome addition to the growing professional literature that sees Polish-Jewish relations after the Second World War as a continuation of themes originating during the occupation itself. The author contends that, among other things, the Nazi regime added depth to the feeling of superiority that the Polish community had felt toward Jews for many years. In his view, that feeling found expression in the difficulties that the survivors in Radom encountered as they tried to reestablish their community, to reacquire their stolen property, to open new businesses, and to obtain protection from the authorities against violent attack. The author bases his description upon a significant documentary find–the archive of the Radom Jewish District Committee. Nevertheless, his documentary corpus is limited to Polish-language sources. Had he considered materials in Yiddish and in Hebrew, he would have achieved a more complex picture of survivor experiences.

Review of Rachel Feldhay Brenner, Polish Literature and the Holocaust: Eyewitness Testimonies 1942-1947


In this review essay the author examines Rachel Feldhay Brenner’s last book, Polish Literature and the Holocaust: Eyewitness Testimonies 1942-1947, in the context of her earlier works on Polish Holocaust literature. She stresses the originality of the scholar’s approach and offers some critical comments.

Review of Steven T. Katz, The Holocaust and New World Slavery: A Comparative History


Whether you believe, as Steven Katz does, that the Holocaust is a unique event, or side with his critics who see the murder of Europe’s Jews as one of many genocides that have scarred human history, the question of its special nature resists a final conclusion. Likewise, the story of racial slavery, from its origins to its scope and consequences, must be re-framed for every generation. This review surveys the eminent historian’s massive effort to compare these two pillars of evil in the making of the modern world, and in the thinking of their interpreters. Locating. L. KatzL slavery and the Holocaust in traditions of profound racism and violence, encompassing vast parts of the globe and millions of people from all walks of life, Katz describes in vivid detail both shared patterns of oppression and systematic differences. The “overriding imperative” of Nazi German policy toward the Jews was death, wiping every last Jew out of existence. For slave owners in the New World, the imperative was securing the labor of the enslaved. Life, but only so much and for so long as it took to make money by growing staple crops for the masters. Still, slave births were encouraged, while in Nazi-occupied Europe murdering Jewish women of breeding age was paramount. Both cases, however, during the periods under study and their aftermath, demonstrate the power of ideology to disable individual moral strength and judgment. In the present global authoritarian campaign to capitalize on racial antipathies, Katz has produced a rampart against the revisionism that trivializes the Holocaust and paints racial slavery as a fairy tale.