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The Jews of Bialystok During World War II and the Holocaust
Sara Bender; Yaffa Murciano, trans.

The Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry

2008 • 448 pp. 44 illus. 2 maps. 6 x 9"
Jewish Studies / Holocaust Studies

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“Indispensable. . . Bender includes an invaluable comparison of the response of the Bialystok ghetto to other major ghettos such as Warsaw, Vilna, and Lodz, contrasting the efforts of Barash’s leadership with... [continued in Reviews below]”—Jewish Book World

Jewish society as an active protagonist in the story of the Holocaust

This history of Jewish Bialystok during World War II provides an in-depth analysis of one of the largest Jewish communities to pass from Soviet to German occupation, and it enhances our understanding of the response of Polish Jewry to the Holocaust. The Bialystok community’s fate is representative of many other Jewish communities in Poland and Lithuania, but unlike other communities, Bialystok Jews left an unusually large documentary record. Exhaustive research in archival sources including first-person testimonies and memoirs enables Bender to create a multifaceted account of the motivations of Jewish communal leaders as well the attitudes and behavior of ordinary men and women as they grappled with an inhumane occupation and severe adversity.

Bender’s conclusion, in which she compares the history of the Bialystok community and ghetto to several other major communities, including Warsaw and Vilna, makes the volume an even richer contribution to the study of Polish Jewry during the Holocaust.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“Indispensable. . . Bender includes an invaluable comparison of the response of the Bialystok ghetto to other major ghettos such as Warsaw, Vilna, and Lodz, contrasting the efforts of Barash’s leadership with those of other major Judenrat leaders such as Adam Cerniakow, Jacob Gens, and Chaim Rumkowski.”—Jewish Book World

“[An] outstanding achievement. . . . Bender positions the events of wartime in relation to the prewar existence of the Jews—such as the various political and religious divisions—and reveals how these were manifested in the ghetto, particularly the resistance movement. Bender is also acutely aware of the extent to which events and forces outside the ghetto, including developments of which the Białystok Jews were ignorant, influenced Nazi policy and actions. Her judgments concerning key individuals are noteworthy for their empathy and offer plausible explanations for why they acted as they did—and why, at critical moments, they were seemingly paralyzed. After all, nothing they could do would change the ultimate, fatal end that the Nazis had planned.”—Slavic Review

“Sarah Bender’s book is an outstanding example of what a historian can do to illuminate the real, not the imagined, history of the Shoah. This thorough investigation of both German policies and, mainly, the Jewish reactions to the unexpected onslaught on Jewish lives, does away with preconceptions and historical errors. A most important addition to our knowledge.”—Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Academic Adviser of Yad Vashem

“The ghetto phenomenon was central to the experience of East European Jewry during the Holocaust. However, the picture of ghetto life often presented in comprehensive scholarly studies and educational material alike, is actually based on materials from the two major ghettos Lodz and Warsaw, established in 1940 in Nazi-occupied Poland, i. e. before the Final Solution. But from the more then 1100 ghettos established by the Nazis and their allies, the great majority came into being after the invasion of the Soviet Union. Therefore, the ghettos of this period should get much more attention than hitherto given to them. Dr. Bender's comprehensive study of the Jews of Białystok during WW II and the Holocaust sets an example in this regard: it tells a multifaceted story of a Polish Jewish community, first conquered and suppressed by the Soviets (1939–1941), then persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. Within the tornado of destruction, attempts for plain survival as well as for maintaining some meaningful day-to-day life were made by the various groups within the ghetto. Dr. Bender powerfully paints the dilemmas facing the Jews by focusing on two leaders: the actual head of the Judenrat Ephraim Barash, and the leader of the underground, Mordechai Tenenbaum-Tamaroff. Her study is thus an important contribution to the understanding of Jewish society as an active protagonist in the story of the Holocaust.”—Prof. Dan Michman, Professor of Modern Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University, and Chief Historian, Yad Vashem

SARA BENDER is associate professor in the Department of Jewish History at Haifa University. She is the associate editor of Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations (2007).

Fri, 16 Nov 2018 14:27:58 -0500