Volume 48 (1&2) of Yad Vashem Studies was compiled in a period of flux, uncertainty, and fear for the health of the world’s population. The global pandemic Covid-19 has also impacted on our work. This year there will be only one volume of Yad Vashem Studies (Volume 48: 1&2), which is a shift from our publication policy.
Most of the articles in this volume examine the experience of Jews under Nazi rule in various geographical locations, including Hungary, Poland, Italy, and Germany, from the victims’ perspective. Barbara Engelking’s looks at Jewish helping behavior in Warsaw, Noam Corb’s article examines the responses of Jewish deportees to Zbąszyń in 1938 and Liliana Picciotto’s article relates to the deportation of the Jews of Rome in October 1943. This volume also includes: the post-war diary of Dr. Pál Deák and of Beinish Berkowicz, from the Nowogródek Ghetto 1942-1943).
The book reviews in this volume are also rich and varied in scope; they include review articles by Samuel D. Kassow, Mark Edele, Guy Miron and Jan Grabowski.
This volume also includes a sensitive in memoriam by Prof. Guy Miron, celebrating the work of one of the important Holocaust researchers of the period — Dr. Avraham Barkai.
Noam Corb, “From Tears Come Rivers, from Rivers Come Oceans, from Oceans — a Flood”: The Polenaktion, 1938–1939
The article recounts the deportation to Zbąszyń from its earliest stages in the autumn of 1938, to the dismantling of the refugee camp in the aftermath of the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. The main focus is the Jewish deportees’ point of view—their responses, feelings, daily routine, attempts to emigrate, and questions of identity. The gist of the analysis is based on deportees’ contemporary letters, the rich documentation in the Yiddish press (in Poland and the United States) and the Hebrew press (in Palestine), and memoirs written after the events. In this way the article broadens the descriptions that emerged from previous studies, which relied mainly on the British, American, and Polish press and on reports from various German and Polish authorities.
Focal points in the article include the way the deportees understood the response of their German neighbors to the deportation, the crisis of identity that the deportation forced them to confront, their adoption of markers of “Polish” identity pursuant to the deportation, and their attitude toward the Polish Jews whom they encountered as part of the ramified relief activities, among other settings.
Recently a diary written during the Holocaust in the Novogrodek ghetto in Western Belorussia has surfaced. It was written in eloquent Hebrew by a man named Beinish Berkovitch, between April 1942 and January 1943, two weeks before the liquidation of the ghetto and the death of the author. In fourteen entries Berkovitch shares his thoughts on the horrific events as they unfolded in polished prose, dotted with historical and philosophical inquires, deep melancholy, and bitter sarcasm. He was evidently a well-read intellectual and a well-versed Jew, although not a God-fearing one. This document offers a glimpse into the mind of a shtetl ghetto prisoner who was not a survivor, but rather a thinker, looking pessimistically at the past, present, and future. We follow his initial belief in humanity and the culture that was slowly falling apart, until it shatters with the author’s final words: "Do not compile a book of lamentations over our destruction, only a book of curses. More precisely—one great, fierce curse upon all of humanity and its culture."
The diary was smuggled from the ghetto by a non-Jewish friend of the author and made its way to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Over the years the original was lost, and only an error-ridden, barely legible copy survives. The text published here is based on a meticulous study of the document, with many of its errors and omissions corrected. The text is accompanied by historic, cultural, and linguistic annotations, as well as an introduction.
In this article the author presents a phenomenon not yet described: the mutual help of Jews in hiding. It discusses Jews who, at risk of death, helped other Jews hiding on the Aryan side in Warsaw during the German occupation. There are examples of over a dozen situations in which some Jews helped other people in hiding and thus shows that many of them were not merely the passive beneficiaries of Poles; they were causative, inventive, brave, full of initiative, and saved not only themselves, but also members of their families and other — sometimes quite strange — people.
Liliana Picciotto, The Decision-Making Process of the Roundup of the Jews of Rome (October 1943): A Historiographic Revisitation Based on OSS (Office of Strategic Services) Documents
Based on a group of OSS (Office of Strategic Studies) documents deposited at NARA (National Archives and Record Groups), the article traces the procedure of the decision and preparation of the raid on the Roman Jews on October 16, 1943.
In the last week of September, Herbert Kappler, head of the German police in Rome, received from Berlin the notice of forthcoming anti-Jewish actions. This had been entrusted to another officer, SS Captain Dannecker, who had been sent from Berlin. The notice referred to the raids on the Jews that should take place throughout the territory under German influence, including Rome. Before the raid, on September 26, 1943, Kappler demanded from the Jews a ransom of 50 kilos of gold, even though he was well aware that their arrest would take place shortly thereafter. This, therefore, was an act of extortion and not a diversionary action for their benefit as he claimed in his postwar statements.
The anti-Jewish actions were not supposed to start from Rome, but from Naples, which was at the time the southern border of the territory under German influence. This had been planned for October 1, 1943. However, it became impossible as a result of the withdrawal of the German army from southern Italy during those very days. The Gestapo's plan was to send Dannecker to Italy in order to carry out surprise raids in all the big cities and to organize deportations directly from those locations. After Rome, he raided Florence, Siena, Montecatini, Bologna, Genoa, the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente, Turin, and Milan. The author insists on this point because contemporary, and even subsequent, rumors credited an intervention on the part of the Vatican for obtaining a promise that other raids would no longer be conducted in Rome. The departure of Dannecker’s SS detachment from Rome North was the continuation of a pre-established program and not the effect of any external intervention. Preparations for the anti-Jewish action in Rome had been long and laborious. Kappler's men and Dannecker's men collaborated, but so did the Italian authorities, who provided the lists of Jews residing in Rome and their addresses.
The diary of Dr. Pál Deák (1909-1965), written between May and July 1945, is a unique and moving document of a desperate husband’s quest for his wife Éva Gutmann (1912-1945), who was deported from Budapest in November 1944, and perished a few months later in a Nazi camp.
Deák, unlike the overwhelming majority of survivors, did not wait passively at home for his wife’s return after the war, but “traveled” westward in order to search for her. The diary can be read as a long love-letter, a one-sided “dialogue” between a husband and the wife he so terribly missed. Deák’s diary is brutally honest; he writes it for himself and Éva, trying to convince himself that, by documenting his daily actions, he was doing everything possible to find her and take her home.
The sole consolation for Deák was that during his some 4,000-kms.-long “journey” through war-ravaged Eastern and Central Europe, he received information in Vienna, Prague, Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, and other places, from survivors who had met Éva in different camps. They related that for a long time she had courageously tried to live and survive while helping others who suffered along with her. It is questionable if Deák can be considered to have survived the Holocaust in the true meaning of the word. He never remarried, and, without doubt, suffered survivor guilt, blaming himself because he had remained alive while his wife had perished.
“I was left alone… Life goes on with tedious slowness… I linger helplessly, without a will, without a purpose.” He wrote these words in July 1945, and exactly twenty years later, he almost certainly committed suicide, although it cannot be proven for sure.
Mark Edele, Escaping the Holocaust: Restoring the Soviet Contribution to the Survival of Polish Jews During World War II
Review of Markus Nesselrodt, Dem Holocaust entkommen. Polnische Juden in der Sowjetunion, 1939-1946
Markus Nesselrodt’s revised version of his doctoral dissertation is a landmark study and will remain a beacon in the historiography. Well-written and conceptualized on a high level, it answers two questions: What was the experience of Polish Jews in the Soviet Union? How did the memory of this experience evolve over time? Nesselrodt’s study is path-breaking in many ways, but comprehensive it is not. A serious weakness is some of the statistics Nesselrodt uses, and scholars should be careful when applying his numbers. Despite this caveat, however, they are well advised to read this fine study. Indeed, it will be difficult for others who have worked parallel to Nesselrodt on this topic to better what he has provided. Future research as detailed in this review may build on Nesselrodt’s pioneering work.
Samuel D. Kassow, “Like Trees Marked for Cutting”: The Jewish Struggle for Survival in Nazi-Occupied Provincial Poland
Review of Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, eds., Dalej jest Noc: Losy Żydów w wybranych powiatach okupowanej Polski
Hundreds of articles and books have appeared on the subject of the Holocaust in Poland. However, few are as important, as methodologically innovative, or as emotionally compelling as this massive two-volume, 1700-page study, Dalej jest Noc: Losy Żydów w wybranych powiatach okupowanej Polski, edited by Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking and published by the Stowarzyszenie Centrum Badań nad Zagladą Żydów (Center for the Study of the Holocaust) in 2018. It stands as a stark challenge to a nation struggling to better understand its past.
A key feature of these volumes is the concentration on microhistory, which utilizes focused case studies on a micro level in order to gain wider historical insight; this is exceptionally well suited to the study of the Holocaust. Such methodology requires a wide range of sources, and in this respect the book does not disappoint. The two volumes of Dalej jest Noc are well produced and well edited. There are voluminous and helpful footnotes, statistical tables, rare photographs, and a very impressive bibliography. The reviewer is hopeful that Dalej jest Noc will be translated into other languages as soon as possible.
Review of Katarzyna Person, Policjanci. Wizerunek Żydowskiej Służby Porządkowej w getcie warszawskim (The Policemen. The Image of the Jewish Order Service in the Warsaw Ghetto)
Katarzyna Person has given us an interesting account that makes a noteworthy contribution to our knowledge of the Jewish Order Police (JOD). Giving voice not only to the accusers but also to the Jewish policemen, the book is more nuanced than many earlier studies and draws our attention to the horrible “choiceless choices” of the Jewish officers. From the methodological perspective, one has to commend the author for having made extensive use of postwar Jewish testimonies and of the “Oneg Shabbat” Archives. On the other hand, the nearly complete absence of postwar Polish and German court documentation is both troubling and disappointing. Furthermore, Person’s book is limited geographically to Warsaw alone, and this reviewer would like to stress that the JOD in Warsaw was a unique institution that can hardly offer insights into the activities in smaller ghettos. The story of the Jewish police forces in the provinces — where the majority of Polish Jews lived — is therefore still waiting for its historian.
Review of Alan Rosen, The Holocaust’s Jewish Calendars: Keeping Time Sacred, Making Time Holy
Alan Rosen’s The Holocaust’s Jewish Calendars: Keeping Time Sacred, Making Time Holy is an important and estimable addition to the investigation of Jewish time during the Holocaust as well as to the research on Orthodoxy under Nazi rule. Under the extreme conditions of the Holocaust era, cresting in the concentration camps and in the lives of Jews in hiding, the very act of continuing to track time generally, and following the Jewish calendar particularly, was nearly impossible. Jews coped with this threat in diverse ways, as Rosen documents comprehensively.
Rosen’s research appears to be powered by a clear worldview; repeatedly he strives to set the Jewish calendars within the broader setting of encouraging individual and collective observance of the commandments. While there is nothing wrong with a worldview that leads a researcher along, Rosen’s argumentation sometimes takes a tendentious turn. Rosen’s study on Jewish calendars in the Holocaust benefits most from his impressive and pioneering compilation and documentation work.