In this book, Yehuda Bauer, an internationally acclaimed Holocaust historian, describes the destruction of small Jewish townships, the shtetls, in what was the eastern part of Poland by the Nazis in 19411942. Bauer brings together all available documents, testimonies, and scholarship, including previously unpublished material from the Yad Vashem archives, pertaining to nine representative shtetls. In line with his belief that history is the story of real people in real situations,” Bauer tells moving stories about what happened to individual Jews and their communities.
Over a million people, approximately a quarter of all victims of the Holocaust, came from the shtetls. Bauer writes of the relations between Jews and non-Jews (including the actions of rescuers); he also describes attempts to create underground resistance groups, efforts to escape to the forests, and Jewish participation in the Soviet partisan movement. Bauer’s book is a definitive examination of the demise of the shtetls, a topic of vast importance to the history of the Holocaust.
Eminent Holocaust historian Bauer (Rethinking the Holocaust) examines the death under Soviet and then Nazi occupation of the shtetls, small Jewish communities where lived 30% to 40% of prewar Polish Jewry and one-fifth of all Jews killed in the Holocaust. Burdened by poverty and anti-Semitism, shtetl Jews demonstrated solidarity and devotion to Judaism and family. With the establishment in 1939 of Soviet rule, these traditions and the institutional structures of the Jewish communities collapsed quickly and with little resistance; Bauer speculates on why this was so. From the German occupation in the summer of 1941 until the winter of 1942, Jewish resistance was mainly unarmed, in the form of educating children, baking Passover matzos, and smuggling food. Most of the Polish shtetl Jews were brutally killed between March and December 1942 by Einsatzgruppen (specialized German murder units) or by local militias under German command. The behavior of Jewish leaders ran the gamut from heroic to corrupt, and attitudes of gentile neighbors were usually indifference, suspicion, hostility, and murderous anti-Semitism. Although too specialized for lay readers, Bauer's valuable addition to Holocaust scholarship spotlights an under-researched aspect of the Jewish genocide. Maps. (Jan.)