Jew­ish Respons­es to Per­se­cu­tion, 1933 – 1946: Vol­ume I

Jur­gen Matthaus and Mark Roseman
  • Review
By – October 3, 2011

This is an excep­tion­al­ly well researched vol­ume intend­ed for a spe­cial­ist audi­ence. How­ev­er, any read­er seek­ing a glimpse of the mind­set of Ger­man Jew­ry in the years lead­ing up to the Final Solu­tion will find the rich array of doc­u­ments and cor­re­spon­dence in this vol­ume to be of great inter­est. The authors, both dis­tin­guished Holo­caust schol­ars, have made a major con­tri­bu­tion to the field with the release of this painstak­ing­ly researched work. 

The doc­u­ments and cor­re­spon­dence are assem­bled in a well-orga­nized man­ner begin­ning with the rise of Nazism and end­ing with Kristall­nacht and its con­se­quences. The authors pro­vide valu­able con­text and expla­na­tion before and after the doc­u­ment entries.

Each read­er will bring their own spe­cif­ic inter­est to this ref­er­ence work and use a giv­en doc­u­ment or series of doc­u­ments in sup­port of a par­tic­u­lar per­spec­tive on the evo­lu­tion of the Shoah. An arrest­ing exam­ple of the denial of impend­ing doom can be seen in a let­ter in which a Jew­ish writer from Meck­en­heim express­es ini­tial relief that Nazis had stopped singing the infa­mous song which exclaimed when Jew­ish blood spurts from the knife” out of con­sid­er­a­tion for the local pop­u­lace! The let­ter goes on to lament that the singing has resumed each night with the new lyrics: hang the Jews.” This is but one of hun­dreds of exam­ples illus­trat­ing the respons­es of Ger­man Jew­ry to the grave exis­ten­tial threats that the fright­ened and con­fused vic­tims did not know would become reality. 

Jew­ish Respons­es to Per­se­cu­tion pro­vides pow­er­ful exam­ples of denial and ratio­nal­iza­tion as defens­es in the face of overt hatred, acts of vio­lence and recur­rent threats of geno­cide in the years 1933 to 1938. Death anx­i­ety trig­gered a full spec­trum of respons­es rang­ing from irra­tional opti­mism to real­iza­tion of loom­ing cat­a­stro­phe to sui­cide with each illus­trat­ed by a par­tic­u­lar entry. 

One can only hope that a sim­i­lar com­pi­la­tion of doc­u­ments, emails and text mes­sages from con­tem­po­rary Israelis would reflect a very dif­fer­ent response to the Iran­ian nuclear pro­gram and the repeat­ed calls for the destruc­tion of the Jew­ish State. This book is laud­able as a schol­ar­ly addi­tion to the doc­u­men­tary his­to­ry of the Holo­caust as well as an unin­tend­ed and trag­ic reminder of the mor­tal dan­gers that stem from a dis­be­liev­ing, defense­less, and unarmed Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion fac­ing geno­ci­dal anti-Semi­tism. Abbre­vi­a­tions, bib­li­og­ra­phy, chronol­o­gy, glos­sary, index, list of documents.

Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

Discussion Questions