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.