Col­lect and Record: Jew­ish Holo­caust Doc­u­men­ta­tion in Ear­ly Post­war Europe

Lau­ra Jockusch
  • Review
By – December 11, 2012

Lau­ra Jockusch, who is a Mar­tin Buber Soci­ety Fel­low at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty, and teach­es Holo­caust stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Haifa, has writ­ten a com­pre­hen­sive work on the sur­vivors who found­ed Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal com­mis­sions and doc­u­men­ta­tion cen­ters after World War II. The book is based on exten­sive research and as his­to­ri­an Omer Bar­tov writes, it demon­strates that con­trary to the con­ven­tion­al view, there was no silence after the Holo­caust, but rather a refusal by the rest of the world to lis­ten.”

Many of the names of those com­mit­ted to keep­ing the mem­o­ry of the Shoah alive will be unfa­mil­iar, although the author’s sec­tion on the Jew­ish Doc­u­men­ta­tion Cen­ter in Aus­tria focus­es on Simon Wiesen­thal and Towia Fry­d­man, whose work are rec­og­niz­able to an Amer­i­can audi­ence because of their work toward the per­se­cu­tion of Nazi war crim­i­nals. Jockusch informs us that both Nazi hunters were Holo­caust sur­vivors who were dri­ven by sev­er­al fac­tors, includ­ing the increas­ing lenien­cy of Allied author­i­ties toward Nazi war crim­i­nals in light of the nascent Cold War, and their tran­si­to­ry sit­u­a­tion as DPs in Aus­tria, which lent urgency to their quest to obtain and present evi­dence to the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment or the Aus­tri­an police of the crim­i­nal­i­ty of the Nazi per­pe­tra­tors. Above all, they endeav­ored in this way to bring the full extent of the Shoah to pub­lic con­scious­ness by “ lift­ing the man­tel of silence,” where­by the non-Jew­ish pub­lic obscured the fate of the Jews while urg­ing sur­vivors not to scrounge off the pity of the world.”

Of the sur­vivors who engaged in record­ing Jew­ish life dur­ing the Shoah, this review­er was par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­prised to come across the name of Isaac Schneer­sohn, born in Kamenets-Podol­s­ki (Ukraine) to the Schneer­sohn fam­i­ly of Lubav­itch Hasidic rebbes. Edu­cat­ed as a rab­bi, Schneer­sohn involved him­self in Jew­ish social work and belonged to the lib­er­al Russ­ian par­ty, the Cadets, leav­ing for France in 1920 fol­low­ing the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion. Dur­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion of France, Schneer­sohn escaped to the South­ern Zone where he sur­vived in hid­ing. After the war he recon­sti­tut­ed the doc­u­men­ta­tion cen­ter in Paris which he had found­ed in Greno­ble.

This orig­i­nal and impor­tant study is bound to change the way his­to­ri­ans under­stand the uneven recep­tion of the ear­ly schol­ar­ship on the Holo­caust. Although the 1947 Euro­pean con­fer­ence of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal com­mis­sions and doc­u­men­ta­tion cen­ters (the first attempt to ful­ly com­pre­hend the Shoah) revealed divi­sions along nation­al lines that had pre­vi­ous­ly been sub­merged, thus pro­duc­ing min­i­mal tan­gi­ble achieve­ments, the con­fer­ence con­tributed to dis­pelling the myth that Jew­ish sur­vivors of the Holo­caust were trau­ma­tized, and silent.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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