- Die Judenverfolgung im Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren: Lokale Initiativen, zentrale Entscheidungen, jüdische Antworten, 1939–1945 by Wolf Gruner
During the last two decades comprehensive works on the Holocaust have placed greater emphasis on developments in Central and Eastern Europe and the importance of local decision-making in order to improve our understanding of the course of the Final Solution. Many of these studies, however, have focused on Austria and Poland. In contrast, scholars usually mention Bohemia and Moravia only briefly, although they suffered the Nazi regime's first occupation of a majority non-German population. Wolf Gruner's new book takes an important initial step towards filling that silence.
Wolf Gruner, the Shapell-Guerin chair in Jewish Studies and professor of history at the University of Southern California, argues that the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia played an important "intermediary role on the path to extermination" (p. 305). Using German- and English-language official documents and survivor testimonies, Gruner explores Nazi anti-Jewish policy, Czech anti-Jewish policy, and Jewish responses to persecution. Although the book examines the interaction between all three factors, its strength lies in its detailed description of interactions between central Nazi policies and local initiatives. The book is organized chronologically into ten chapters, beginning in 1918 with the founding of Czechoslovakia and ending in 1945. Gruner uses Saul Friedlander's "integrated" history approach to challenge several narratives: that the Holocaust in the Protectorate was directed by Berlin, that events in the Protectorate were of limited importance for the wider course of the Holocaust, and that Protectorate Jews passively submitted to persecution.
Gruner claims that Nazi and Czech officials in the Protectorate sometimes developed "Jewish" policies independently of one another, sometimes cooperating in pursuit of their own interests (p. 9). Gruner demonstrates that Jewish policy in the Protectorate frequently developed from local initiatives. Centralized decision-making did not predominate until well after the Final Solution began. Before 1938, Bohemian and Moravian Jews were well integrated and assimilated, though antisemitic attacks, primarily by fascist and nationalist groups, occurred "in the course of state-building" (p. 42). During the 1930s, an increase in refugees fleeing Nazism—many Jewish— exacerbated earlier tensions. After the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland, the Czecho-Slovak government became increasingly authoritarian and implemented anti-Jewish measures "not as a result of direct pressure from Hitler, but from the influence of radical Czech circles" (p. 43). After its occupation of the Bohemian Lands in March 1939, the Nazi government centralized control over military, foreign, and economic policies. Gruner emphasizes that the Czech government remained largely in place and had "far-reaching autonomy" in all other realms of policy (p. 66). Hitler personally granted the Czech government autonomy to set Jewish policy. Nonetheless, the occupational administration was involved, controlling the Aryanization of Jewish property and introducing forced emigration policies in summer 1939. The Czech administration, however, introduced its own anti-Jewish policies, focusing on the exclusion of Jews from various professions and public spaces. [End Page 112]
In Chapter 4, Gruner turns to the invasion of Poland. He argues that Protectorate Jewish policy temporarily became more centralized as the Reich mobilized for war. Gruner exemplifies centralized efforts with the so-called Nisko deportations to occupied Poland in fall 1939. Although Himmler quickly suspended the Nisko deportations, local authorities assumed that the deportations would resume. Thus they continued excluding Protectorate Jews from economic life. With rapidly growing unemployment, the Jewish Religious Community in Prague (JRC Prague)—newly assigned responsibility for all "racial Jews" in the Protectorate—created a retraining division that offered courses in manual labor and group labor assignments in preparation for emigration as well as to provide welfare for the unemployed. This division worked closely with local employers to find individual and group placements for Jewish "labor divisions."
Building on that foundation, the second half of the book presents one of its most significant contributions: the analysis of the forced labor program, which highlights the interaction...