The International School for Holocaust Studies
Jewish Solidarity - The Individual and the Community
Welcome to the 28th issue of Teaching the Legacy. This e-newsletter will focus on Jewish solidarity during the Holocaust.
The relationship between the individual and the community has been discussed for thousands of years in Jewish tradition and contemplative thought. For instance, what constitutes a "community" in Jewish tradition and practice? What obligations does the individual have toward the community, and what obligations must the community meet towards the individual? Must an individual be a part of the community, or can he escape his community? Should an individual put himself first, or must he think first of the others who surround him?
During the Holocaust, these concepts and questions were put to extreme tests. The Nazis purposely isolated the Jews, forcing them into ghettos where contact with the outside world was cut off. They tried to destroy the Jewish model of community by making it punishable by death to attend synagogue, by shutting down schools, by prohibiting the workings of many Jewish institutions. Even the most intimate of communities – the family – was imperiled by the German policies. The ravenous hunger that the Nazis inflicted on the Jews in the ghettos and in the camps worked to crumble the infrastructure of the Jewish family, at times pitting children against their parents in the struggle to somehow get enough food to stay alive. And, of course, by attempting to physically exterminate the Jews, the Nazis tried to wipe out the entire Jewish community by killing its individual members. In short, the Nazis attempted, systematically, to cause Jew to turn against Jew. In these circumstances, can we still speak of solidarity? Did the relations between the individual and the community change? How was it possible to continue the Jewish traditions?
The fact that any Jewish solidarity remained during the Holocaust – the fact that there were individuals who continued to work for the good of their communities, in a variety of ways – is nothing short of miraculous.
The current newsletter discusses these concepts from varying angles. The main article discusses solidarity in the youth movements, and as expressed in institutions such as the soup kitchens that were established in the ghettos. We include an interview with Dr. Havi Dreifuss about cohesion and rupture in Jewish society during the Holocaust. The newsletter contains an article about Rabbi Regina Jonas, who worked to care for members of the Jewish community in Germany and in Theresienstadt, and an article on the Bielski Brothers, who demonstrated incredible Jewish solidarity despite, and during, their actions as partisans in the forests of Belarus. We have also included an interview with the Holocaust survivors Yitzhak Livnat and Chaim Raphael, who tell their own story of human solidarity in Auschwitz Birkenau. The newsletter contains a lesson plan on spiritual resistance and on "Compassion Within the Ghetto Walls" – solidarity within the Warsaw Ghetto. There is a book review of The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, which demonstrates the solidarity of women inmates of a vicious labor camp. The newsletter also includes certain Holocaust artifacts.
As always, the newsletter features new publications and updates on recent and upcoming activities at the International School for Holocaust Studies and across Yad Vashem. We hope you find this issue interesting and resourceful and we look forward to your feedback.