- Jewish Life in Nazi Germany: Dilemmas and Responses
The 2006 Miller Symposium at the University of Vermont’s Center for Holocaust Studies brought together leading German, American, and Israeli scholars in the field of German Jewish history to present their research on “Jewish Life in Nazi Germany.” The volume presents lectures from the conference that focused on Jewish responses to Nazi persecution in Germany, mainly before the deportations. It also includes some illustrating photographs and an appendix with some significant (including some lesser-known) documents in English translation. The volume addresses a range of different issues: from the long-debated controversial role played by the leadership of the Jewish community to aspects of everyday life, a topic that has been in the focus of more recent studies.
Building on her well-known earlier work, Marion Kaplan, a pioneer of a gender-conscious, “everyday-life” perspective on Jewish history, analyzes the evolution of Jewish family life, gender relations, and the changing roles of Jewish women under the impact of the Nazi onslaught. Jürgen Matthäus turns to individuals, mostly Nazi-defined “Mischlinge,” who tried to escape persecution by establishing judicial proof of “Aryan” ancestry. In their respective contributions, Avraham Barkai and Francis [End Page 687] Nicosia discuss the complex issue of Jewish self-help and the inevitable cooperation with Nazi institutions—namely the controversial “community of interest” between German Zionists and the Nazi regime—that this entailed. Konrad Kwiet also examines the history of daily life under the Nazi regime, looking at the so-called Judenhäuser, i.e., the last living quarters for most German Jews before their deportation: a segregated space and de facto ghetto without walls that isolated them from neighbors—neighbors who often willingly participated in their exclusion. Beate Meyer focuses on the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, the Nazi-controlled German-wide “Judenrat,” and its strategies to deal with persecution and deportation policies, as well as its helplessness in the face of systematic mass murder. Finally, Michael Brenner traces the role of cultural activities (especially theater and scholarship) within the ghettoized German Jewish community.
The different contributions follow a heavily Berlin-centered view of German Jewish history during the Third Reich. Because the contributions tend to focus on the victims’ perspective, options, possibilities, and dilemmas, they do not all achieve the type of “integrated history” that Saul Friedländer has recently called for, one that truly brings together different perspectives, including that of perpetrators and bystanders. The volume nonetheless provides an excellent overview of some recent approaches and research themes. Together with the appendix of documents, it makes for a good choice for use in the classroom.