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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 50-1 (2022)

In honor of the fiftieth volume of Yad Vashem Studies, the Editorial Board solicited submissions for a special issue of the journal on the topic of the experiences and fate of the Jewish elderly before, during, and after the period of Nazi persecution. For the most part the experience of the elderly during the Holocaust has only been mentioned in passing in historical research, most obviously because very few of them survived the war.  

Yad Vashem Studies Volume 50:1 opens with a memorial tribute in honor of Dr. Yitzhak Arad, who was a member of a unique generation that witnessed and survived the destruction of European Jewry, fought for the establishment of the State of Israel, and became an important public figure in Israeli society. He was a preeminent scholar of the Holocaust, Chairman of the Directorate of Yad Vashem (1972-1993), vice-chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, and a long-standing member of the Editorial Board of Yad Vashem Studies.

The first article in this volume was written by Dr. Arad himself and addresses the question as to whether the Nazis promoted a deliberate policy toward the Jewish elderly. The second article, “‘Cast us not off in Days of Old Age’: Elderly Jews in Nazi Germany,” was written by Prof. Michael A. Meyer. It is a detailed historical, statistical, and personal overview of German Jewry’s elderly population under Nazism from the rise of Hitler to power until their deportation. The third article is by an emerging scholar, Ms. Emmanuelle Moscovitz, titled: “Caring for the Elderly: The Efforts of the General Chaplaincy of the Jews of France on Behalf of the Elderly Jews Detained in Southern France, 1940-1944.” It is a fascinating study on which examines the work of the General Chaplaincy’s rabbis on behalf of the elderly Jews detained in France’s southern zone. The last article, written by Dr. Beth B. Cohen, “Honor the Face of the Older Person: Reception of Elderly Holocaust Survivors in the United States,” takes us to the postwar period. In her article, she examines how older survivors were treated by the agencies in the United States whose purpose was to aid the refugees in resettlement and integration into American society.

The four book reviews included in this issue cover a range of topics and were written by Eli Lederhendler, Markus Roth, Johannes Dieter-Steinert and Moshe Zimmermann.

Order Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 50:1 online >>>


German policy toward the Jewish public at large, as well as the growing need for Jewish labor as the war continued, sealed the fate of the older population. Deemed “unfit for labor,” they suffered the highest death rates and often bore the brunt of the persecution. While the German occupation regime did not adopt a deliberate policy toward the elderly, Germany’s general policy toward the Jews had a definitive impact on their fate. This article explores the impact of the Nazis’ Jewish policy on the elderly Jewish population in the German-occupied Soviet and Polish territories. The author outlines the development of Nazi policy and integrates personal perspectives gleaned from testimonies and reflections on the fate of the elderly. 


The initial Nazi policy of cleansing Germany of its Jews by means of emigration had resulted in a dominantly younger and more mobile sector of the Jewish population finding refuge abroad.  The older generation, intimately tied to Germany, more afraid of the unknown, and with fewer prospects of support in a new land, largely remained behind, and were cared for by the diminished resources of the Jewish community. In the end they were removed by force, whether initially to the Theresienstadt ghetto or directly to a death camp.  For these elderly Jews, for the most part so deeply rooted in Germany, mounting deprivation and ultimate deportation struck deep, not only physically but also at their long cherished identities as Germans within the country of their birth where they had enjoyed a sense of home for so many years.


The elderly Jews were among the first and the last to be detained in French internment camps and hospices throughout France’s southern zone. The subject of elderly Jews in France warrants a particular focus. Among the first to provide aid to the detained elderly Jews were the Chaplain Rabbis of the General Chaplaincy of the Jews of France (Aumônerie Générale des israélites de France), and these rabbis continued to assist the aging Jews until the very end of the war.  Drawing on the archival records of the General Chaplaincy, this article highlights the experience of the elderly Jews in the southern zone by focusing on three distinct periods: the first detainment of elderly Jews in French camps in 1940-1942; the deportations from France’s unoccupied zone in the summer of 1942; and, finally, the situation of the elderly Jews who were excluded from the deportation measures and remained in the French camps from 1942 to 1944.


In the aftermath of the Holocaust, some 140,000 survivors immigrated to the United States. Only 13.4 percent fell in the 50+ demographic, a stark reminder that few elderly European Jews had survived. This article explores the experience of elderly survivors who settled in the United States.  While Jewish communal agencies that aided survivors claimed tremendous success in facilitating their adjustment, particularly through employment, there were serious obstacles facing the elderly in attempting to achieve this end. With the use of archival materials from Jewish communal agencies, in this article the author analyzes the challenges that age presented, how Jewish agencies sought to address them, how survivors viewed these efforts, and their own perceptions of starting over later in life in a country so very different than their origins.


Review of Nancy Sinkoff, From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History


This review appreciatively considers Nancy Sinkoff’s astute intervention, as she restores Lucy Dawidowicz to prominence in our understanding of the postwar Jewish world, reminds us of Dawidowicz’s pioneering work as a Holocaust historian, and introduces nuance in the way we understand American Jewish public affairs. Sinkoff sharpens our understanding of the rifts that occurred between Jewish public intellectuals as they faced the crisis of postwar liberalism and tried to navigate the muddy waters of politics, gender, and Jewish identity.

Review of Dominique Schröder, “Niemand ist fähig, das alles in Worten auszudrücken”: Tagebuchschreiben in nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern 1939-1945


Dominique Schröder’s book on diaries written in concentration camps explores the authors and their motivation to write as well as central issues such as space, time, and language in these testimonies. Schröder shows the importance of writing for building and defending the writer’s identities based on a close look at linguistic mechanisms, the regard to age, gender, descriptions of violence, and the role of dreams. Based on a broad variety of diaries of Jewish and non-Jewish writers, Schröder broadens the perspective with a sensitive linguistic and literary interpretation while considering the historical context of each diary and entry.

Review of Heinz Wewer, Spuren des Terrors: Postalische Zeugnisse zum System der deutschen Konzentrationslager


This publication on postal testimonies opens a door to often neglected sources. It sheds light on the German concentration-camp system and the lives of the prisoners. The documents originate from thirty-eight archives, libraries, and collections across nine countries, including several private collections. Ninety percent of these documents have never before been published. The reader learns about the possibilities that prisoners had to receive and to write letters and postcards, as well as about the strict internal German censorship. Wherever possible, biographical information has been added about the fate of particular prisoners and the circumstances of their deaths.

Review of Jörg Osterloh, “Ausschaltung der Juden und des jüdischen Geistes”: Nationalsozialistische Kulturpolitik 1920-1945


This book deals with Nazi Germany’s exclusion of Jews from cultural life. The author has conducted an extensive survey of how the main Reich Chamber of Culture treated Jews, on the one hand, and how the Jewish Cultural Association conducted itself in a sort of cultural ghetto, on the other hand. Goebbels and Hinkel feature as the dominant figures pursuing the elimination of “Jewish influence on culture,” and enjoying the cooperation of the German collective. When discussing the final stage of Jewish existence in Germany—namely, the war—Osterloh recounts the obliteration of the Jewish Cultural Association and the fate of famous cultural icons. The book’s insights span topics from the Nazi polycracy to the Reich’s relationship with Zionism. The author’s narrow definition of the concept of culture and mass culture leads to an excessive focus on the theater, and while he has sought to expand the scope and create a new synthesis, the actual purview is even wider than what he proposes in this book.