- Holocaust Historiography's View The historiography of the holocaust has produced two extreme views regarding the role of the Judenraete ("Jewish Councils"). One view sees them as an instrument of collaboration in the Nazi policy of extermination. hannah arendt made that very argument in her work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She charged that, had the Jewish people remained leaderless, they could never have been killed in such massive numbers, the German task would have been far more difficult. The other view regards them as a continuation of the Jewish communal structure of the pre-World War II period which contributed greatly to the continued existence and functioning of Jewish communal life during the Holocaust. Both of these views stem from inadequate information and a lack of sufficient perspective immediately after the Holocaust. In recent years, however, considerable research has uncovered much new material which enables a more objective view to be taken of the Judenraete. Isaiah Trunk's work on the Judenrat presented a far more complete view of the complexity of their role, the diversity of their composition, their fate, and their decisions. raul hilberg , who had been improperly identified with Arendt's view, introduced the Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow with a long and distinguished essay on the Judenrat. It is now possible to distinguish between the various stages of the Judenrat activities corresponding to the changes which took place in the policy of the Nazis, and, in addition, one can now investigate the differences arising from changes in personnel during the various stages of the Judenraete and their composition. It is, of course, true that the Judenrat organizations were imposed on Jewish communities as their only central representative bodies, and that the Nazis saw in them an instrument for the realization of their policies, from persecution to total annihilation. But the Jewish leaders could not know that, at least not at the outset. Nevertheless, it now appears that the Jews were not only a passive suffering element in this process, but developed their own initiative. As a result, two aims were in direct conflict with one another – the German and the Jewish. heydrich insisted that important and influential personalities be included in the Judenraete, in order to exploit their influence among the Jews on the one hand, and to discredit them in the eyes of the Jewish populace on the other hand, thus neutralizing a potentially active opposition, The Jewish communities on their part tried to include veteran and devoted leaders in the councils, in order to utilize them for the welfare of the community. This was not an easy task in Poland since many Jewish leaders fled eastward toward the Soviet Union in the face of the advancing Germany armies. There were, indeed, instances of communal workers who were reluctant to join the Judenraete. However, those who joined, whether as a result of Nazi pressure or because of the desire of the community, were most conscious of the experience which the Jews had accumulated during different periods of Diaspora history, when a similar organic framework had been enforced and had lent itself to further the interests of the community. Consequently, during the early period of the Judenraete there was some significant continuity of personnel between the Judenraete and the prewar communal institutions. An analysis of the composition of 128 Judenraete in the Generalgouvernement (German-occupied Poland) showed that more than 80% of the personnel held similar positions of responsibility and authority in the kehillah, city councils, and other organizations. The Judenraete developed a wide range of communal activities in which they applied the dual principle of fulfilling the demands of the Nazis (forced labor and financial levies) as well as the needs of the community (health, education, supervision of communal kitchens, aid to refugees and the poor). A sticking point in many ghettos was the relationship of established Jewish leadership to emerging Jewish leadership, whether it be youth groups or the resistance, self-help groups or even those who fought for memory and documentation. During the early period of their establishment, the Judenraete regarded obedience to the Nazi demands as a means of ensuring the continued survival of their communities, even when they were faced with the tragic contradictions of this situation. Supplying the Nazis with a labor force, which often provided vital supplies to the Germans and enriched local German supervisors, should have strengthened the position of the Jews and prevented attacks on them. However, this labor force strengthened the German war potential at a time when the fate of the Jews depended upon its weakening. Rational policy considerations would have suggested that the ghettos be sustained, but Judenrat leaders did not comprehend the depth of the Nazi commitment to the "Final Solution." During the first period, the Judenraete employed every tactic and subterfuge in order to alleviate the burdens of the community: bribery, protectionism, and exploitation of conflicts between the various German authorities. It should be taken into consideration, however, that the political, social, and psychological conditions which would have made rebellions possible did not exist for the Jewish communities. The members of the Judenraete did not, and could not, know that Nazi policy was destined to reach the stage of mass extermination. Among other factors which militated against a large-scale anti-Nazi resistance movement in the Jewish communities during the early period of German occupation were: the hostile attitude of the surrounding non-Jewish population, which prevented any possibility of effective dispersion or concealment; the collective punishments inflicted by the Nazis; their threats against any budding opposition; and finally, the belief that, as the war progressed, the tide would turn and this would lead to a collapse of the German war machine. These factors led to the strategy combining the demands of the Germans with provision for the internal needs of the community. It would be wrong and misleading to describe the relationship between the Judenraete and the Nazis as "collaboration" in any meaningful sense of the term, as "collaboration" implies a degree of partnership, even if an unequal one; its basis is a voluntary agreement between the two parties. This was certainly not the case with the Judenraete and the Nazis – whose relationship was that of a murderer and his victims. The Judenraete were a passive object of pressure in the realm of German policies, and their initiative was used to strengthen the standing of the community within the official framework of Nazi authority and to promote illegal activity. As soon as the Nazi policy of mass extermination was embarked upon, the Judenraete were no longer able to strike a balance between the demands of the Nazis and the interests of the community. It was at this point that a split occurred in the reactions of the Judenraete. An investigation reveals that 80% of the early Judenraete did not succumb to Nazi pressures. Some refused to carry out the economic decrees, others warned the Jews against imminent aktions, and many refused to hand Jews over for expulsion. The Nazis eliminated those who failed to implement their policies and replaced them with more acquiescing individuals who had a much weaker sense of communal responsibility. During the later stage, in 89 communities in the Generalgouvernement area, only 40 were headed by individuals who had been associated with communal activity before World War II. The others had no such association with Jewish community life, and it is of interest to note that 23 of them were refugees, some from Germany, Austria, or Czechoslovakia. Even during this latter period, examples of self-sacrifice in the interests of the community were not lacking. However, the number of those who succumbed to Nazi pressure – putting their own personal interest before that of the community – exceeded the number of those who did not. Some of the members of the Judenraete came to the conclusion that, if the Nazis were indeed intent upon the total extermination of the Jews, it might still be possible to save a remnant by acquiescing in, and reconciling oneself to, the destruction of the rest. There was also a policy of deliberate misrepresentation and deceit on the part of the Germans, so as to prevent opposition on the part of their victims, by deluding them into the belief that they were not all being sent to their death. In addition, the members of the Judenrat, even when they had no more doubt as to the fate awaiting those transported, nevertheless harbored another hope – that the course of the war was running in favor of the Allies, and that the approaching victory would result in the liberation of at least that remnant of the Jews which had succeeded in remaining alive. In conclusion, one can distinguish four lines of Judenrat conduct vis-à-vis the Nazis: 1\. Limited cooperation – even in the economic and material spheres. 2\. A willingness to acquiesce in Nazi demands when it was merely a question of expropriating Jewish property and of other material pressures, but a total opposition to the handing over of Jews. 3\. Reluctantly agreeing to the deportation to near certain death of one part of the Jewish population in the hope that the other part might, as a result, be saved. 4\. Complete submission to Nazi demands in order to safeguard the narrow interests of those concerned. The majority of members of the Judenraete who belonged to the veteran leadership of the community chose to act according to the first two of these lines of conduct. The last two were pursued by relatively few Judenrat leaders and were characteristic of the final stages, when the leaders were men with no communal background or past association with the kehillah. However, it is impossible to indulge in generalizations when judging the actions of the members of the Judenraete. The fact that the framework was forcibly imposed upon the community did not necessarily transform those involved into willing tools of the Nazis. The behavior of each Judenrat must be examined separately and in relation to the different periods of their activity. In the final analysis, the Judenraete had no influence on the frightful outcome of the Holocaust; the Nazi extermination machine was alone responsible for the tragedy, and the Jews in the occupied territories, most especially Poland, were far too powerless to prevent it. (Aharon Weiss / Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Friedman, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 2 (1958), 95–112; N. Eck, ibid., 6 (1961), 395–430; J. Trunk, ibid., 7 (1968), 147–64; 189–92; R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961) (1985) (2004); Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), 104–10; J. Robinson, And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight (1965), 142–87; G. Hausner, Justice in Jerusalem (1966), index; P. Friedman, in: L. Blau et al. Essays on Jewish Life and Thought (1959), 199–230; J. Trunk, in: Dappim le-Ḥeker ha-Sho'ah ve-ha-Meri, 2 (1969), 119–36; idem, in: Ha-Amidah ha-Yehudit bi-Tekufat ha-Sho'ah (1970), 160–80; idem, Nittuk o Reẓifut be-Va'adei ha-Kehillot ba-Tekufah ha-Naẓit (pub. by: Ha-Ḥug li-Ydi'at Am Yisrael ba-Tefuẓot be-Veit Nesi ha-Medinah, 1 no. 3, 1966); Z.A. Bar-On, Ha-Hanhagah: Derakheha ve-Aḥrayutah (1970), 180–92. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Trunk, Judenrat, The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under the Nazi Occupation (1972); Y. Bauer, Hashlakhot Meḥkar ha-Shoah al Toda'atenu ha-Historit (1973); A. Weiss, in: Yalkut Moreshet, 15 (1973); R. Hilberg, S. Staron, and J. Kermisz, The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow (1979).
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.
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