The International School for Holocaust Studies
Nazi Europe and the Final Solution
Reviewed by Dr. Gideon Greif
Edited by David Bankier and Israel Gutman
Yad Vashem, 2003
International conferences are usually accompanied by a book that is comprised of the papers that were given during the proceedings, together with additional scientific commentary and literature. The volume we have here originated with a conference that took place in Warsaw in 1999, under the initiative of Yad Vashem, the Warsaw Jewish Historical Institute, and the Institute of Sociological Studies in Hamburg, and in which leading Holocaust researchers from Israel and around the world took part. Amongst the participants were the Israeli researchers Dan Michman, Israel Gutman, David Bankier, Daniel Blatman, Renee Posansky, Shmuel Krakowski, Jean Ancel, Yitzchak Arad, as well as the European researchers Wolfgang Benz, Beata Kosmala, and Felix Tych.
The subject at the heart of the volume is the attitude of the local populations in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany towards the Jews of those countries. In simple terms: What was the attitude of the local non-Jewish population to their Jewish neighbors after the Nazi invasion? How did non-Jewish merchants relate to the Jewish merchants with whom they had done business for years, once the Jews were cast out of the cycle of the economy? How did artists or writers relate to their Jewish colleagues once they had been expelled from cultural life?
In order to approach these questions, we first ask: why have these matters not been discussed at an international conference until now? There are two major reasons for this. First, time was needed for research into these delicate questions, and the distance of time facilitates a more far-reaching overview. Second, freedom of research was not possible in Eastern Europe under communist regimes. Only throughout the last decade has research in these countries been carried out in a manner that meets academic and scientific standards.
The advantage of papers that appear in a collection published in connection with an academic conference is that they focus on a very specific and defined topic. For example, subjects included in this volume highlight the attitude towards Jews in the Polish underground press; the rescue of Jews in Italy; the stance of the Ukrainian nationalist groups towards Jews during the war; the Czech and the "Final Solution"; the position of Slovak public opinion about the "Solution of the Jewish Problem"; Polish historiography of the Holocaust; the "Bund" and the Polish socialists at the time of the Holocaust; the Polish Resistance and the Jews during WWII; French public opinion and the Jewish question during the years 1930–1942, etc.
The forty articles featured in this volume touch upon traditional antisemitism prevalent in those countries, as well as attitudes towards Jews in those countries between the two World Wars. The question which all of the papers share is a basic one: How did people respond to their Jewish neighbors who were humiliated, shunned, and ultimately murdered?
The articles discuss different types of response, or lack of response, on the part of the Church, official institutions and underground organizations, on the part of those defined as "bystanders", (by no means a simple definition) and on the part of ordinary citizens. Furthermore, the articles deal with those complex instances of Germany's allies, such as Romania and Slovakia, and of countries like the Ukraine and Lithuania, whose nationalist movements believed that the Third Reich would bestow upon them the nationalist rights which they sought. The articles also deal with countries like Denmark and Italy, where Jews did benefit from the help of the local population. In sum, a spectrum of possibilities, situations, and circumstances are addressed within this important volume.