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Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 43:1 (2015)

Dr. David Silberklang

Questions regarding human behavior during the Holocaust stand at the heart of this issue. Four research articles analyze aspects of the behavior of Dutch, German, and Polish Jews, Poles and others – the impact of waiting on German Jewry, especially in the 1930s (Guy Miron); Dutch and German Jews from Holland in Theresienstadt (Anna Hájková); “bystanders” in Eastern Europe (Jan Grabowski); and Jews in the Central Polish shtetl Staszów (Sara Bender). Other subjects examined include: the development of Yad Vashem’s synagogue (Doron Bar); and reviews of new research on France (Shannon Fogg on Daniel Lee), Poland (Jacek Leociak on Rachel Feldhay Brenner), the first weeks of mass murder in the USSR (Jeffrey Kopstein on Witold Mędykowski), and Romania (Mariana Hausleitner and Ronit Fisher, each on two books). The issue is dedicated to the memory of Martin Gilbert, Ze’ev Mankowitz, and Feliks Tych, with articles on them by Bernard Wasserstein, Gideon Shimoni, and Eleonora Bergman and Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska respectively.

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This article looks into the issue of waiting in the lives of German Jews under Nazi rule and fits into the scholarly discourse about Jewish perceptions and experiences of time in the Holocaust. The first part of the article, based on the German-Jewish press in the first years of Nazi rule, examines the attitudes of liberal and Zionist writers toward the issue of waiting. It shows how the dilemma—whether to wait or to act quickly—touched upon fundamental issues in German-Jewish identity and political culture. The other two parts of the article, based mainly on the study of diaries of Jews in the period, illuminate the question of waiting from the individual’s point of view. The second part discusses the sundry motives that German-Jewish diarists offered for waiting, identifies the developments or events for which they waited, and sheds light on the varied circumstances that forced them to wait during the Nazi years. The article concludes by discussing the effect of the varied waiting experience on the bourgeois ethos of the Jewish diarists in Germany, on their daily lives, and on their very selves.


This article takes the 5,000 Jews from the Netherlands deported by the Nazis to Theresienstadt as a point of departure to examine larger issues of citizenship, ethnicity, and habitus in the camp society. Some two-thirds of this group were German and Austrian emigrants; the other third, Dutch-born Jews. While the former soon became accustomed to the rules of the inmate community, the latter, native Dutch, lived at distance and were often isolated from prisoner society. This passive behavior of the Dutch Jews was also visible in other camps, and was echoed by non-Jewish Dutch prisoners in concentration camps. The specific Dutch-Jewish reaction was connected to Dutch and Dutch-Jewish history, in particular their group habitus.

In this article, Jan Grabowski takes issue with the pertinence of Raul Hilberg’s triad – Perpetrators-Victims-Bystanders – at least as far as the so-called “bystanders” were the “Aryans” living in occupied Poland. The author argues that the extreme violence associated with the liquidations of the ghettos, combined with the presence of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees seeking shelter, could leave no one indifferent. In the Generalgouvernement the extermination of the Jews was a public, terrifying spectacle, with millions of more or less engaged, and fully aware, spectators. By the early summer of 1942, news of gas chambers and the crematoria had reached the general populace, and both Jews and non-Jews knew what was happening at the murder sites of Treblinka, Sobibór, Chełmno, Bełżec, and Auschwitz. Nevertheless, very few people — a tiny minority, although terrorized by the fear of German reprisals and the hostile reactions of their peers, neighbors, and sometimes families — expressed any interest or willingness in helping the desperate Jews on the run. Moreover, certain segments of Polish society actually took advantage of the Jewish tragedy, in order to seek social and professional advancement. Therefore, argues the author, “bystanding” in Poland during the war was simply not an option.


This article is based on Joseph Goldstein’s diary in Yiddish that appeared in the Yizkor book of the Staszów community, published in Israel in 1962. The diary was written not in real time, but in the early postwar years, after the author had settled in Melbourne, Australia. It begins on September 1, 1939, with the author in Staszów, Sandomierz County, in the Kielce area of the Radom District, and ends in January 1946. During that month, 250 survivors from Staszów and the vicinity, who were living in DP camps in Germany, organized a memorial evening for their murdered townspeople and established a Staszów survivors committee. The information that Goldstein reports in his diary, intersecting with copious testimonies and memoirs, yields an inclusive and comprehensive picture of the fate of the Jews of Staszów during World War II and the Holocaust as compared with that of several nearby communities in Sandomierz County, such as Chmielnik, Chęciny, Stopnica, and Pinczów. The article looks into the daily lives of the Jews of Staszów through ghettoization in mid-1942; the events leading to their deportation to Treblinka in November 1942; the labor camps, where those left behind in the town spent another year until the town became Judenrein; and relations between the Jews of Staszów and the town’s Polish inhabitants.

The article deals with the construction of a synagogue at Yad Vashem, which was completed in 1964. It answers the question of why those at the helm of Yad Vashem in its first decade of existence felt it necessary to establish a synagogue there, and shows that besides the need for daily prayer services for visitors (and staff), it was also seen as a symbolic monument to the annihilation of European Jewry. Alongside the Hall of Remembrance, the Synagogue constituted an additional commemorative element on the Mount of Remembrance.



Review of Daniel Lee, Pétain’s Jewish Children: French Jewish Youth and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1942


Under the Vichy regime, the French government sought to enact a National Revolution intended to rebuild France after its shocking defeat. Based on traditional values, such as a return to working the land, manual labor and nationalism, the National Revolution was also predicated on the exclusion of Jews from the national community. In Petain’s Jewish Children, Daniel Lee explores the ways in which the seemingly contradictory goals of regeneration and exclusion actually created a space for French Jewish youth to participate in the National Revolution during the first two years of the German occupation. Lee also demonstrates the heterogeneity of opinions regarding Jews at the highest levels of government, as well as areas of convergence between some Jewish organizations and the National Revolution.

Review of Rachel Feldhay Brenner, The Ethics of Witnessing: The Holocaust in Polish Writers’ Diaries from Warsaw, 1939-1945


In her latest book, Rachel Brenner continues on the one hand to pursue her scholarly interest in the ethical dimension of witnessing, while on the other departing from her customary research methodology. The nature of the sources changes, as the author moves from records made by Jews (victims of the Holocaust) to accounts written by Poles (witnesses to the Holocaust). The work falls within the range of subjects that can broadly be designated as Polish-Jewish relations during the war. Brenner focuses on the personal experiences of Poles, and this focus largely accounts for the book’s originality, since it constitutes one of the few studies dealing with the attitudes of Poles toward the Jews, which deliberately restricts its source base to records made by Poles (in this case, Polish writers) in real time, during the war and occupation. The author’s scholarly aim is to reconstruct the Polish axis of Polish-Jewish relations, Polish perceptions of Jews, Polish myths and phantasms related to Jews, and, last but not least, to present the tensions between empathy, indifference, and enmity toward Jews.

Review of Armin Heinen and Oliver Jens Schmitt, eds., Inszenierte Gegenmacht von rechts. Die "Legion Erzengel Michael" in Rumänien 1918-1938; and Hildrun Glass, Deutschland und die Verfolgung der Juden im rumänischen Machtbereich 1940-1944


This review presents two new books on right-wing extremists in Romania prior to 1944. The collective volume edited by Armin Heinen and Oliver Jens Schmitt contains ten articles on the Iron Guard before 1938. The articles analyse the influence of the Iron Guard in various social strata, not only in Bucharest but also in the countryside. The reviewer criticizes the fact that antisemitism is investigated more precisely in only one chapter in the book, and that two of the contributors deal uncritically with the police's evaluations of the Jews. In her book, Hildrun Glass examines Romania‘s attitude toward the persecution of the Jews by the Naziss. Glass sketches three different phases: a congruence in the policy of annihilation in 1940/41 followed by some disagreement in 1942, which led in 1943/44 to a divergent attitude toward the Jews, allowing for the implementation of rescue operations in Romania. In particular, the reviewer stresses many new archival sources that the author has located and utilized.

Review of Henry Eaton, The Origins and Onset of the Romanian Holocaust; Simon Geissbühler, Blutiger Juli—Rumäniens Vernichtungskrieg und der vergessene Massenmord an der Juden 1941


This review examines two new volumes of research by historians Henry Eaton and Simon Geissbühler that center on the blood-drenched events in the summer of 1941 in Romania.  In addition to reviewing the books and assessing their importance from the perspective of a researcher of the Holocaust of Romanian Jews, the article extends the geopolitical bounds of the examination to the books’ relevance to the contemporary discussion in Romania on the Holocaust and examines Romanians’ motives for, and interest in, confronting their responsibility for the events at issue. Emphasizing the value and significance of the two books discussed, the review article also highlights the importance of the development of current historical research that focuses on Nazi allies such as Romania that pursued independent policies during the Holocaust in dealing with the “Jewish problem”— not only in terms of historical value but also in view of the importance of this development for the contemporaneous political debate over Romania’s standing in the European and international arena.