The Death of the Shtetl

Yehu­da Bauer Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

For many Jews and non-Jews alike, Israeli his­to­ri­an Yehu­da Bauer, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Holo­caust Stud­ies at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem, is con­sid­ered the world’s fore­most expert on the Shoah. In his lat­est book, The Death of the Shtetl, Bauer pro­vides a pen­e­trat­ing analy­sis of the destruc­tion, between Sep­tem­ber 1939 and March 1943, of thou­sands of small Jew­ish towns and vil­lages that com­posed the east­ern part of the pre­war Pol­ish Repub­lic. These shtet­lach, which com­prised the cen­ter of tra­di­tion­al pre­war Jwish exis­tence” were home to over 1.3 mil­lion Jews. Draw­ing heav­i­ly on sur­vivor tes­ti­monies col­lect­ed after the war at Yad Vashem, impor­tant sur­vivor mem­oirs, and the lat­est Israeli, Ger­man, British, and Amer­i­can schol­ar­ship Bauer con­cludes that the two per­cent of Jews (26,000) from the Kresy (north­east­ern Poland, Vol­hy­nia, and East Gali­cia) who sur­vived the war owed much to sim­ply pure chance and luck.” 

The Death of the Shtetl tells the sto­ry of nine rep­re­sen­ta­tive shtet­lach and sur­veys dozens of oth­er sim­i­lar com­mu­ni­ties. At the same time, Bauer focus­es on major ques­tions that have pre­oc­cu­pied his­to­ri­ans for the past 65 years: the role played by the Juden­rate in the destruc­tion of 1.3 mil­lion Jews, the efforts of a few hun­dred young Zion­ists (left and right) to orga­nize resis­tance groups, the atti­tudes and actions of Sovi­et par­ti­sans who even­tu­al­ly lib­er­at­ed the sur­vivors, and final­ly the role played by the non-Jew­ish neigh­bors (i.e., the Poles, Ukraini­ans, and Belorus­sians) in the mur­der of one-fifth of all the vic­tims of the Holocaust.

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

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