The Jews of Bielorussia During World War II


The Ambivalent Attitude, of the JUDENRAETE, to Jewish Flight From the Ghettos, and To Fighting the Nazis. Media-Criticized Polish Scholar Ewa Kurek Was Right

This book has a rather anti-Polish tone. However, it inadvertently provides information that clarifies and validates some of the legitimate Polish grievances against Jewish conduct.

JEWS IN COMMUNISM: NOT ONLY ASSIMILATED JEWS OR JUDAISM-MARGINAL JEWS

Shalom Cholawski describes and alludes to the emergence of the Poalei Zion and the Bund, in the late 19th century, and their impact on overall Jewish thinking, as well as the absence of a clear boundary between Jewish Socialists and Jewish Communists. He writes, “It was characteristic of Eastern European Jews that socialist Jewish parties, essentially secular in nature like Poalei Zion, the Bund and part of the Communist Party, included Jews who conducted traditional and even religious lives without their seeing any contradiction between their ways of life and their socialist views. Bielorussian Jewry produced a long and impressive line of famous Jewish personalities, party leaders and famous writers.” (p. xxiii).

NOT ALL CHOICELESS CHOICES: A RANGE OF BEHAVIORS OF THE JUDENRAETE TOWARDS THE JEWS IN THE GHETTO

Cholawsky presents examples of ghettos in which the JUDENRAETE was benevolent towards the Jewish population, and one which it was decidedly not. As an example of the latter, he comments, “In Berezna, JUDENRAT chairman Yoel Gilber, a one-time public figure, exploited his status in the ghetto for his own benefit and the benefit of the other JUDENRAT members. He received food for the ghetto but gave only part to the population, taking the rest for himself and his colleagues.”(p. 262).

This was no aberration. Cholawsky writes, “In many other ghettos, too, there were JUDENRAT members and policemen who were known for their inflexibility, their indifference towards other people’s suffering, their heavy handed methods, and their concern only for themselves.” (p. 263).
The author inadvertently touches on the meme of “choiceless choices”. This meme is often invoked to summarily dismiss Jewish misconduct during the Holocaust. Yet not everything Jews did under the Nazis partook of choiceless choices. Thus, for example, obeying German commands may have been a choiceless choice, but the local JUDENRAT’s withholding of food from the Jewish masses, was not a choiceless choice.

MEDIA CRITICISMS NOTWITHSTANDING, POLISH SCHOLAR EWA KUREK WAS CORRECT: JEWISH LEADERS SACRIFICED SOME JEWS IN AN ATTEMPT TO SAVE OTHER JEWS

Author and eyewitness Cholawsky frankly acknowledges that, “Some JUDENRAETE even came to terms with the idea that there was a need to sacrifice part of the Jewish population in order to save the rest.” (p. 254).

Consider, for example, the Glubok ghetto. Cholawsky notes that, “The attitude of the Jewish police towards the ghetto was not all of one piece. There were some who believed that it was permissible to sacrifice the individual for the ‘general welfare’. They therefore provided the Germans with Jews sometimes for labor and sometimes—for execution.” (p. 256). Another example is provided by the local rabbis of Rubzhewice, who advised the local JUDENRAT to turn over some fugitive Jews, as demanded by the Germans. (p. 258).

IMPLICATIONS OF THE AMBIVALENCE OF THE JUDENRAETE TO JEWS BECOMING FUGITIVES

In many cases, the local JUDENRAT was strongly opposed to any Jews fleeing the ghettos and hiding in the forests or among the GOYIM. At times, the JUDENRAT would even denounce Jews that were contemplating such an act, to the Germans. Examples of local JUDENRAT hostility towards Jewish fugitive behavior are those at Baranowicze, Glubok, Dolhinov, and Novogrudek. (pp. 256-257).

At times, the local JUDENRAT would repeat mollifying German lies, as facts, in order to further discourage any Jewish flight from the ghettos. As an example, with reference to the JUDENRAT of the Pinsk ghetto, Cholawski comments, “When rumors were spread in October 1942 of its being dug, the German commander had invited the JUDENRAT chairman Minsky and his colleagues come to him and calmed them with a story that the pits were to be used to store fuel and that the Jews were working for the German war effort. Minsky and his colleagues passed on the soothing words verbatim without any warning or reservations.” (pp. 257-258).

Consider the implications of all this. Nowadays, the infrequency of Jews ultimately trying to save their lives, by fleeing the ghettos, is reflexively blamed on the alleged indifference or hostility of the local population towards aiding fugitive Jews. As shown by Cholawsky, a very important reason for Jews not going into hiding among Aryans, on a larger scale, is the many JUDENRAETE that had harsh policies against any Jews fleeing from the ghettos! So do not unilaterally blame everything on the Poles.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE AMBIVALENCE OF THE JUDENRAETE TO JEWS FIGHTING BACK AGAINST THE GERMANS

Shalom Cholawsky identifies a range of JUDENRAT attitudes towards Jewish open or guerrilla resistance, ranging from total opposition to ambivalence to active support. (pp. 255-on). However, serious attempts to resist the Germans were very much in the minority. Cholawsky acknowledges that, “The third group of JUDENRAETE who lead the revolt, EXISTED IN ONLY A FEW GHETTOS. Where JUDENRAETE members were active in the underground or played a role in the spontaneous uprisings by the ghetto’s Jews.” (p. 261; Emphasis added).

This noncommittal Jewish attitude towards combat is obvious. So why is it surprising, for example, that Poles commonly did not take the upcoming Warsaw Ghetto Uprising too seriously, that Poles were possibly reluctant to provide significant armaments to the suddenly fighting-professing Jews, and that, other factors being equal, Poles were not exactly keen on welcoming Jews into the ranks of Polish guerrilla forces, such as the A. K. (ARMIA KRAJOWA) or the NSZ?

The alleged Polish tendency to be skeptical of Jewish fighting abilities, and the alleged reluctance to embrace and include fugitive Jews as desirable guerrilla fighters, is customarily blamed on (what else?) anti-Semitism, on stereotypes of Jews are poor soldiers, etc. Cholawski’s work inadvertently shows that the explanation is much more prosaic: The JUDENRAETE, of the German-occupied Belarussian-majority territory of the Kresy, could not make up its mind whether to maintain “Jewish passivity” in trying to appease or bribe the Germans, or whether to fight them. This, of course, was also true of the JUDENRAT of the Warsaw Ghetto and of other locations.

THE JUDENRAT: OFTEN AN ELITE OF SECULARIZED JEWS THAT LOOKED DOWN UPON TRADITIONAL OR RELIGIOUS JEWS

The nowadays-seen antagonism, of many atheist Israeli Jews towards the HAREDIM, evidently has a long history. In fact, Cholawsky believes that the relationships between the JUDENRAETE and ghetto Jews, in the shtetls of German-occupied Belarus, were usually better than those of their counterparts in central German-occupied Poland, for this very reason. He writes, “There was in this region no assimilated strata of persons like the many who entered the JUDENRAETE in other parts of Poland and in other European countries, particularly in the larger cities, and who served as a murky source of alienation and even of hatred, not a little due to self-hatred, towards the ghetto Jews.” (p. 265).

 

Jan Peczkis

Source: GoodReads.com , July 26, 2018

Published with the author’s permission.

  • Title image: Part of cover of „The Jews of Bielorussia During World War II” by Shalom Cholawsky. 1998. Source: GoodReads.com / selected by wg.pco

Polish-Club-Online-PCO-logo-2, 2018.07.27.