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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 49:1 (2021)

Current issue

As this volume was being compiled, we learned of the passing of two long-standing members of the Yad Vashem Studies Editorial Board—Prof. Otto Dov Kulka and Dr. Yitzhak Arad. Prof. Kulka and Dr. Arad, both survivors of the Holocaust, devoted their lives to historical research and documentation of the period. Their wisdom and experience will be sorely missed.

This volume includes a range of disciplinary approaches to research on the Holocaust and its aftermath. Three of the articles explore the experiences of individuals hailing from various European countries whose lives were irrevocably affected by the war. Edel Sheridan-Quantz’s piece provides us with an example of a painstaking search after the fate of one individual victim of the Holocaust, Hilde Koch (1896-1942). James Diamond’s article presents us with a challenging exploration of six of the sermons given by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira in the Warsaw ghetto. Zohar Segev’s biographical essay centers on the life and activities of Jacob Robinson (1889-1977), a lawyer, diplomat, Holocaust researcher, and public figure who emigrated to the United States from Lithuania in 1940. The fourth article, by Amit Kama and Sharon Livne, draws our attention to the ongoing discussion regarding the boundaries of Holocaust memory and commemoration in Israeli society, particularly in relation to the commemoration of the persecution of the LGBT community during World War II.

The book reviews in this volume are diverse, each providing a critical view of recent scholarship on wartime events. Reviews have been written by Avinoam Patt, Marta Marzańska-Mishani, Jan Láníček, and Jan Burzlaff.

The current volume (49:1) of Yad Vashem Studies opens with two memorial pieces in honor of Dr. William B. Helmreich and Dr. Theodore (Zev) Weiss, written by Beth Cohen and by Christopher Browning and Omer Bartov, respectively.

Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, and many students and researchers find it difficult to access articles and scholarship due to the pandemic. Therefore, we will continue at this time to make all issues of Yad Vashem Studies freely available to the public.

Abstract

Hilde Koch Neuberger was born Clara Hilde Koch in Frankfurt am Main in 1896; she died in Auschwitz in 1942. Her name appears on the Mannheim memorial to the city’s Jewish inhabitants who perished in the Holocaust, and on the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris. Although she illustrated books for an internationally active publisher, her biography was hitherto unknown. Her long-overlooked published work and historical records provide one view of her life, but a more individual picture can be gained from a small number of surviving letters, photographs, unpublished artwork, and inherited memories. It took more than a decade to bring together these different aspects in order to (re)assemble a biographical outline of Hilde Koch’s life.

The article favors a constructionist approach to biography and uses microhistorical methods.

Abstract

Rather than chart some steadily evolving theology that R. Kalonymous Kalman Shapira’s Warsaw ghetto sermons phenomenologically defy, the author notes six critical theological junctures and one overarching juncture. Each is accompanied by new explications not noted previously, revealing moments that signal an exhaustion with traditional responses to suffering. As such the author presents a programmatic reading of the sermons’ haltingly unprogrammatic improvised widening of the door to alternatives that deviate from accepted theodicies. Although referring to historical dates periodically, the analysis intentionally refrains from correlating the sermons to specific events in the ghetto. More importantly, the sermons reflect R. Shapira’s own internal struggles, evoking theological discourse in the face of a theological novum or rupture. Though after each juncture momentary withdrawals or relapses might occur, these critical junctures remain embedded in his consciousness. Once each is contemplated, there is no turning back.

Abstract

The life of Dr. Jacob Robinson (b. 1889, Lithuania; d. 1977, New York) embodied the complexity of Jewish existence in the twentieth century. An attorney by training, Robinson emigrated with his family from Lithuania to the United States in 1940. After the State of Israel was established, his public and political efforts also focused on Israeli matters of interest. Thus, examining his life’s story is informative about Robinson’s involvement in the processes that shaped the Jewish people and Israel in the twentieth century.

In this article the author presents Robinson’s papers, which contain valuable information about the Eichmann Trial, and widens understanding of the complex issue of Holocaust research and shaping Holocaust remembrance in Israel and the United States. The purpose of Robinson’s efforts to disseminate information about the Holocaust transcended the bounds of the Holocaust question itself. He wished to use the memory of the Holocaust so as to shape the Jewish people and the world at large after the war. Robinson’s public activity reflects a fascinating and singular model of Jewish nationhood. Robinson opposed “the negation of the exile,” viewing the Diaspora as an important and evolving part of Jewish existence, particularly after World War II.

Abstract

On May 30, 1994, a group arrived at Yad Vashem with the intention of holding a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance. This ostensibly straightforward event was different for several reasons. The participants were Jewish homosexuals and lesbians from Israel and abroad who had come to remember and commemorate Jewish and non-Jewish homosexuals and lesbians whom the Nazis had murdered. Moreover, the ceremony elicited turbulent reactions, including a demonstration against it as it proceeded and a tumultuous debate in the media and the Knesset. The ceremony challenged the prevalent paradigm of Holocaust remembrance as it had been customarily accepted.

Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of media coverage and parliamentary proceedings, this article is a discussion of the complex relationship between the culture of remembrance, polarized political discourse, and conventional wisdom as to the “right” way to commemorate the Holocaust. The ceremony unintentionally undermined the symbolic boundaries of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration, indirectly putting on the public agenda the social demarcation of who had the right to this memory. Israeli society was tested in a way that challenged its tolerance, acceptance, and legitimization of an out-group.

Reviews

Abstract

The review essay analyzes the recently published book by the German American historian Wolf Gruner on the Holocaust in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The reviewer focuses on some of the main features of the book; namely, Gruner’s effort to analyze the grassroots’ developments of the persecution, including the involvement of the “Czech” Protectorate authorities, and the assessment of the Jewish communities’ responses to the persecution. Despite some reservations about the main conclusions and sources used in the book, the reviewer praises Gruner for the effort to challenge the simplified historical narrative that still dominates historiography on the Holocaust in the Protectorate, and which presents Czechs purely as victims and resisters. Gruner opens key questions related to the local Czech authorities’ contribution to the segregation and persecution of the Jews, a topic that needs to be at the center of future historians’ research into the Holocaust in the Protectorate.

Abstract

This review article assesses the ongoing “visual turn” in Holocaust studies. It engages with three recent books that reproduce more than 330 photographs from Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, and various concentration camps. The three books focus on the widespread use of cameras for and by the perpetrator networks in the so-called “Lily Jacob” and Niemann albums, as well as on taking pictures as an act of resistance by camp inmates. Interpreting photos as essential sources of the Holocaust, they open new avenues for more systematic visual histories that inquire into the visibility and invisibility of the extermination.

Abstract

In Pod klątwą: Społeczny portret pogromu kieleckiego (Cursed: A Social Portrait of the Kielce Pogrom), Joanna Tokarska-Bakir applies methodologies from the disciplines of anthropology, history, and sociology in order to present a nuanced view and a comprehensive understanding of the events that took place in Kielce on July 4, 1946. The author’s detailed analysis of archival sources—some known and some newly discovered—reveals the stories of the Jewish victims of the pogrom and a panorama of perpetrators. Tokarska-Bakir presents a new understanding of the pogrom, which, in her view, was not a result of any political conspiracy, but was made possible by a combination of several factors. Antisemitism, the prevalent conviction in the “blood-libel” myth, the prospect of financial gain, and the belief that Jews were “running rampant” and taking too many economic and political liberties were the reasons that made the murder possible. Setting the analysis of the historical sources in the context of “eventless” history and equally considering all participants in the events, their economic and personal motives, the long-term social (both local and national) processes and historical structures, and the religious and cultural imprints on the national subconscious, Tokarska-Bakir is able to provide us with a glimpse of the complexity of that one day.

Abstract

Dina Porat’s Li Nakam Veshilem is a fascinating, meticulously-researched, and thoughtful account of Abba Kovner’s Nakam (Revenge) group, the plot for revenge, and the attitude of the Yishuv to such revenge in the overall encounter with the Holocaust. Porat details the ultimate failure of the plot to poison the German water supply and also chronicles the exploits of the group that remained in Germany and managed to poison the bread at the Langwasser camp near Nuremberg. While the history of the postwar quest for vengeance has often been presented as a “tremendous story” that captivates the imagination, Porat examines the significance of the plot from the broader perspective of the history of the Holocaust and the State of Israel by means of serious archival research. More fundamentally the book examines the relationship between the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. If during the war the Yishuv was largely powerless to rescue Jews and respond to the Nazi threat, who would decide what was best for the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Holocaust? Who would set the post-Holocaust agenda for the Jewish people? To what extent did the creation of the State of Israel become a valve for displaced rage? Porat’s conclusion suggests that the Yishuv emissaries were justified in limiting Kovner’s and his accomplices’ plans for revenge, because the need to create the state trumped the survivors’ desire in this respect. Porat also raises a philosophical question: How do we make sense of revenge after the Holocaust? And who would carry out the obligation to exact vengeance on behalf of the Jewish people? Acting on behalf of the Jewish people, the leadership determined that the creation of the state (not the murder of six million Germans) would be the only appropriate response to the Holocaust.