- Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust: Moral Uses of Violence and Will
Usually, when one is contacted about reviewing a new book, it is a fairly straight-forward process: one decides if the topic falls within one's competence, and then one decides whether or not to accept the editor's invitation to write the review. Having written on prisoners of war during the Second World War, and having taught lectures and seminars on Hitler, Stalin, the Second World War, and the Holocaust, the reviewer felt no compunction about agreeing to examine James M. Glass's Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust: Moral Uses of Violence and Will. And yet, it was far from an easy process to evaluate Professor Glass's work. [End Page 167]
Part of the problem comes from the fact that this book cannot easily be categorized as falling within a single discipline: it raises questions and deals with topics of politics, history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology. The reviewer, shamefully, has a difficult enough time speaking to colleagues within his department, let alone across the departmental divides within a campus. Reviewing this book may go some way toward rectifying this tendency.
James M. Glass is Professor of Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He has, as the publisher informs the reader, a distinguished career as both a scholar (in terms of publications) and teacher, and has much experience in navigating between emotional, psychological, and political topics—in the last decade, with reference to the Holocaust. The book originated as a series of lectures and conference papers, which were subsequently reworked. It is based primarily upon previously published secondary literature, but is supplemented with vivid personal testimony from survivors, obtained through interviews conducted by the author, as well as surviving diaries and memoirs. Glass successfully avoids the pitfalls that often come from cobbling together sections prepared originally for other purposes: the work is thematically coherent and compelling.
Structurally, his book is divided into the following chapters (with the subheadings, where they exist, in parentheses): Introduction: Memory, Resistance and Reclaiming the Self; 1) The Moral Justification for Killing (The ghetto: demoralization and breakdown); 2) Collective Trauma: The Disintegration of Ethics (Devastation to body and mind: ghetto isolation, Underground action: self and its restoration, Ghetto authority and underground action, The Jewish community and depletion of will); 3) The Moral Position of Violence: Bielski Survivors (The Bielski survivors: the past in the present); 4) The Moral Goodness of Violence: Necessity in the Forests (Political organization and political action, Violence and the recovery of self, Escape to the forests, Politics in the forest: community transforming self); 5) Spiritual Resistance: Understanding its Meaning (Recording and witnessing: what is being seen, Spirit and survival: the protections of the inner self, Arguing with God: a dialogue regarding faith, Dissociative psychological process: not seeing the pain); 6) Condemned Spirit and the Moral Arguments of Faith (Physical assault and disorientation, God's presence in the self, Domination: Patterns of injustice, Soul-death and faith); 7) The Silence of Faith Facing the Emptied-out Self; 8) Law and Spirit in Terrible Times (Mysticism and faith: action as belief, Spiritual refuge or psychological disintegration: who can ever know?). It is followed by extensive footnotes (offering both citations and elaborations), a thorough bibliography, and an effective index. [End Page 168]
Perusing the sub-headings gives an indication of the path the author takes, and the reader will likely be drawn to some sections more than others, based on his previous knowledge of the Holocaust and his personal interests. All sections, from the academic point of view, are soundly presented and backed by appropriate evidence.
The main point to realize from the beginning is that it is not his intention to present a "history" of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust—for such traditional narratives, the reader is referred to other specialized works (of which the most important are by Yehuda Bauer, Peter Duffy, and Reuben Ainsztein). What Glass does, rather, is identify and understand what we should consider to be...