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  • Opfer und Täter zugleich? Moraldilemmata jüdischer Funktionshäftlinge in der Shoa
  • Beate Meyer
Opfer und Täter zugleich? Moraldilemmata jüdischer Funktionshäftlinge in der Shoa, by Revital Ludewig-Kedmi. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag, 2001. 368 pp. Euro 20.50.

When the Israeli-Swiss psychologist Revital Ludewig-Kedmi was looking for first- and second-generation interviewees for her dissertation on Jews who had been prisoner-functionaries, a colleague suspected she either had to be a very brave person or a bad one. The present book is testimony to her courage; nothing, at least in the text, gives the slightest indication of the latter.

Yet this work is nonetheless a daunting challenge. It compels us to read in harrowing detail about the depressing experiences of the Jews who—voluntarily, under [End Page 144] duress, or by mere chance—accepted responsibilities and functions in Jews’ Councils (Judenräte), ghettos, and concentration camps. The focus here is more on the psychological wounds than the bodily sufferings, those mental scars which continue to afflict even later generations: the perversion of the personal and social morality of the victims entrapped in a system of compulsion in which ultimately the survival of each doomed individual demanded the life of another.

From the perspective of many other ghetto or camp inmates, the prisoner-functionaries appeared to hold in their hands the power over life and death. And in stark contrast with the masses of the powerless, the Kapos and Judenrat members often were in fact in a position to utilize a modicum of latitude, however miniscule, in order to pass on some information or make a decision with potential positive or negative consequences for their own family (and/or own person) and the members of the Jewish community. That sliver of borrowed power enabled those interviewed by the author to assist some. Yet in so doing, they were always aiding the enemy and abetting his ends. For Ludewig-Kedmi, both block chiefs in the camps and Judenrat members in the ghettos who managed to survive faced similar problems later on in coming to terms with their experiences and actions: “At the heart of the moral dilemma was the context of compulsion, in which to help one’s own family, friends or oneself meant at the same time possible hurt and injury for others. It was a question weighing off assistance against potential harm. For both groups, to disobey orders meant to put their own lives at risk” (p. 29). The author believes there were no demonstrable gender-specific differences in the strategies for coping with their experiences developed by male and female prisoner-functionaries after liberation, a contention feminist scholars would likely dismiss.

In the four families she chose as representative cases, devoting a lengthy chapter to each, Ludewig-Kedmi interviewed one male and three females in the first generation, along with two sons and two daughters, as well as a few other family members. The first-generation interviewees all lived in Israel after the war. For many decades, Israeli society ostracized former prisoner-functionaries for their specific persecution experiences, even indicting them for their alleged crimes. The public image of history was dominated by Zionist and partisan fighters; later attention also turned to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. If the interviewees wished to talk about their experiences beyond their immediate family circle, they had to adapt them to social expectations or be prepared for possible sanctions. Consequently, the individual strategies which former functionaries employed to try to reestablish a moral self-image are stamped not only by their structures of personality before the persecution and their experiences under German occupation, but they also bear the decisive imprint of conditions prevailing after the liberation. In the four exemplary cases, the author highlights differing strategies for coping with their past utilized by her interviewees: heroism, shame, family loyalty, and solidarity. She bolsters her presentation by references to the methodology used, along with charts and detailed excerpts from interviews. Ludewig-Kedmi succeeds in providing the reader with a [End Page 145] clearer picture of the interdependencies between experiences, strategies for coping with one’s past, and intergenerational processes, packaging her insights in a readily...

Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 144-146
Launched on MUSE
2004-01-20
Open Access
No
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