Every student of the Holocaust knows the crucial importance of survivors' testimonies in reconstructing the crime. They bring us as close as we are likely to get to the multifaceted essence of the experience, whether that involved being abandoned or helped by one's neighbors; concentrated in ghettos or sent directly to labor camps; witnessing actual mass murder or the piecemeal brutality of "extermination through work"; escaping the Nazis or enduring the worst that they could do. It may be, as some have said, that close attention to survivors' accounts buys texture and historicity at the expense of coherence. If so, it is a risk we need to take if we are to grasp the complexity of the process and approach an understanding of what happened to the victims. Far better that we let the survivors shape our image of the Holocaust than leave that task to novelists and film makers.
Accounts by Holocaust survivors are most readily available as published memoirs and recorded interviews. Each has its virtues. Written memoirs impose style and structure on the chaos of memory. Oral recollections, such as those set down in this volume, put a premium on spontaneity and raw directness. Both have this in common, however: most of the accounts available to us were set down long after the events they describe. They continue to appear today, more than fifty years later. Only a handful came into being in the immediate postwar years.
The delay was understandable. Some survivors did not then want to talk about what they had gone through, but those who did had trouble finding a sympathetic audience. After the initial shock and outrage over the revelations of Nazi atrocities wore off in 1945, the world consciously tried to put the war behind and concentrate on reconstruction. Survivors who emigrated to the United States were urged not to dwell on the past but to start anew. Those who moved to Jewish communities in Palestine (and, later, Israel) met with disapprobation for their tardy Zionism and for allegedly having gone "as lambs to the slaughter." Everywhere it was easier to keep silent or repress traumatic memories rather than risk being misunderstood or disbelieved. Widespread interest in what survivors had to say developed only in the 1960s when a new generation, jolted by revelations at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961, began asking questions about the Holocaust. By then memory might return imperfectly, sometimes in bits and pieces. It could take years for survivors to fit them back together and understand them well enough to relate.
The late appearance of survivors' accounts has raised questions about their reliability. Although no memory is ever likely to be perfect, even in the short term, it must be conceded that accuracy diminishes with time. A vast literature on the psychology of remembering has documented the fallibility of long-term memory and its vulnerability to a broad range of interfering stimuli. The vividness of remote memories depends heavily on rehearsal, i.e., thinking and talking about them; and yet studies have shown that the more frequently they are reproduced, the less accurate they become. Unpleasant facts may be forgotten or repressed. New information can interfere with memory, modifying and distorting it. Once incorporated into the original memory, it cannot be distinguished from what is actually reconstructed, especially after much time has elapsed. One of the most eloquent and insightful Holocaust survivors, Primo Levi, came to accept this as a sad truth. Although he once celebrated the reliability of his own recollection of events, in his last book he conceded the frailty of memory and noted that he and other survivors had "ever more blurred and stylized memories, often, unbeknownst to them, influenced by information gained from later readings or the stories of others." It should be emphasized that there is no suggestion here of deliberate fabrication. Blurred remembrance is rather "the predictable result of many years of conscious and unconscious refashioning of the past little by little, including assimilating the roles of other actors who have since died." Nor should this be interpreted as an attack on memoirs and interviews recently set down. Their importance is incontestable, and they will naturally be held up to the historian's usual critical scrutiny. The point here is to underline the special value of the few survivors' accounts rendered shortly after the Holocaust ended.
The interviews with Holocaust survivors that make up this volume were gathered in 1946 by the American psychologist David P. Boder. It was the first oral history of its kind and the only one done before Yad Vashem began its work in Israel a decade later. Moving from camp to camp set up for displaced persons in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, Boder interviewed 109 victims of Nazi persecution, the majority of them Jews. Although he drew together a unique and valuable collection of sources on the Holocaust, he succeeded in publishing only a handful of the interviews during his lifetime. The audience simply was not there. Since Boder's death in 1961, his work has been largely forgotten. This volume presents thirty-six of the most important of his interviews of Holocaust survivors.
In some respects David P. Boder was an unlikely originator of such a project. Sixty years old in 1946, he was nearing the end of an academic career that had not previously touched on social psychology or matters of trauma and recovery. He had been born to Jewish parents in Latvia when it was part of the Russian Empire, but his last close surviving relative there, his mother, had died at an advanced age just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and there is no evidence that he lost family members during the Holocaust. And yet, a fuller view of his life story provides clues about why this man, of all people, should have gone to Europe after the war to interview survivors.
Boder was born in Liepaja, Russia, in 1886. Educated at Vilna, Leipzig, and the Psycho-Neurological Institute at St. Petersburg University, his studies were interrupted by World War I, during which he served in the army of the Tsar. In 1919 he fled the Russian Civil War with his daughter, Elena, and his second wife. Reaching Mexico by way of Siberia and Japan, Boder taught psychology at the National University of Mexico until he secured a permit to enter the United States in 1926. After completing a master's degree at the University of Chicago and a doctorate at Northwestern, he began teaching psychology at the Lewis Institute in Chicago, later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT). There his role was confined largely to teaching in a service department, and it cannot be said that he was a major figure in psychological research in the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps his chief claim to fame at that time was as founder and director of the Psychological Museum at the Lewis Institute/IIT, which popularized research techniques in his field.
Hence Boder, an Eastern European Jew who doubtless had experienced anti-Semitism, victimization by war, and the life of a refugee trying to build a new life far from home, could readily identify with the human wreckage of Hitler's genocidal war. Additionally, the somewhat marginal position Boder occupied in his field freed him to branch out into areas of inquiry shunned by mainstream researchers. Contemplating his career, one gets the impression of a man open to taking risks and willing to reinvent himself, even at an age when most people contemplate retirement. Finally, the subject of Boder's master's thesis, the psychology of language, betrays a longstanding interest in linguistic analysis. Indeed, Boder went to Europe specifically to discover what words survivors would choose in telling their stories. Fluent himself in German and Yiddish, he must have thought himself well qualified for the task.
Nothing, however, could have prepared him for all the impediments to actually doing it. In 1945 it was not simply a matter of jumping on a plane or boat for Europe. One had to get State Department permission to enter the liberated and occupied zones, and bureaucratic obstacles delayed Boder's departure for more than a year, until July 1946. By that time his leave of absence from IIT was nearly up, and its president was insisting that he be back before the end of September to meet classes bulging with recently returned veterans. Boder's efforts to supplement a modest research grant from the Psychological Museum fell flat. The American Joint Distribution Committee rejected his application because the project was not limited to interviewing Jews. When Boder finally arrived in Paris, lugging an early version of the model 50 wire recorder, he found that working conditions in the overcrowded refugee centers were anything but ideal. People came and went in the storage areas and administrative offices where he conducted the interviews (background noise frequently intrudes on the recordings); bored refugees often tried to eavesdrop (Boder can be heard chasing them away); and determined individuals occasionally barged into the sessions demanding to be included. The recorder proved even more balky than usual now that it was dependent on a still shaky European power grid filtered through converters and transformers. Under the circumstances it was no small accomplishment for Boder to conduct more than one hundred interviews and travel hundreds of miles in just two months.
Boder later explained that he tried to stay away from persons whose stories were represented to him as exceptional. "I wanted the rank and file experiencenot the unusual story. I would limit my stay to about two days in one place, partly because the narratives would begin to show signs of preparation and lose their spontaneity, and partly because of the desire to record the experiences of individuals in many and dissimilar groups." Employing a nondirective style of interviewing, and unbound by any interview questionnaire, Boder asked his subjects where they were when the war began and let them take over as much as they were willing to do. "I would sit behind the person, so that he would not be influenced by the facial expressions of the interviewer. No other persons were permitted in the room where the interview was taking place, and never was the person interviewed permitted to resort to the use of prepared notes." The technique often worked well. Many of the interviews lasted several hours and required little prompting from Boder. But in a significant minority of cases he had to drag information out of his subjects, and even then the results were sometimes disappointing.
Back in Chicago, Boder set about seeking funds to get the interviews translated and published. A series of grants from the United States National Health Service from 1947 to 1957 enabled him to translate seventy of the most important interviews and deposit mimeographed and microcard copies in a handful of large research libraries. Publication was another matter. Editor after editor told Boder that the public was surfeited with information about Nazi atrocities and that books such as those he was proposing did not sell. When in 1949 the University of Illinois Press decided to publish eight of the interviews, six of them of Holocaust survivors, Boder had to agree to forego his lengthy content analysis and limit himself to a very short introduction. The book, I Did Not Interview the Dead, won a prize for its artistic design from the American Institute of Graphic Arts but received few reviews. In 1952 his editor informed Boder that the book was selling poorly and that there was no chance of its being reprinted. All Boder's subsequent efforts at getting additional interviews published came to nothing. In 1957 his application for yet another renewal of his federal grant was turned down, and the translation project was left uncompleted. By that time Boder had retired from IIT and moved to Los Angeles, where he occupied an unpaid position as a research associate in the psychology department at UCLA. In the last years of his life he unsuccessfully applied for grants to translate key works in the history of Russian neurophysiology. Boder died in Los Angeles in 1961, the year of the Eichmann trial. By the time the world began to take notice of the genocide of the Jews, Boder's efforts had been all but forgotten.
The reader should know that this version of the interviews differs from Boder's in several respects. Most obviously, it is selective, consisting exclusively of accounts by Jews who survived Hitler's attempted genocide and who had something important to say. Those who "froze up" or were unable to tell coherent stories during the sessions have been excluded, as have been the accounts of anti-Communist Soviet citizens, members of various religious sects, and other Gentile refugees. Just as significantly, this version edits and revises Boder's translation. Boder insisted on a starkly literal, verbatim rendering of the original language, searching it for evidence of what he called "deculturation" and various types of trauma. Here the objective is to let the survivors tell their stories as clearly and as intelligibly as possible, always in their own words, but with much redundant material excised and, in a few cases, the narratives reordered for chronological coherence. Those for whom every hesitation, repetition, and convolution may be heavy with meaning ought to consult the original recordings or transcriptions. Moreover, Boder's command of English, while usually competent, was never entirely idiomatic; after all, he had been forty years old when he entered the United States. Here every effort has been made to honor Boder's fidelity to the distinct character of the original text while rendering it in more precise and idiomatic English.
The reader will also note that these oral accounts do not include all categories of Holocaust survivors. Whoever could return home in 1945 usually did so, and Jews from Greece, Italy, France, Holland, and other Western European countries rarely turned up in "Displaced Person" (DP) camps. Much the same was true of survivors from the prewar Soviet Union. These are interviews of Jews who, for the most part, could not or would not go home again, those from Germany and Eastern Europe or who had been refugees from those places in Western Europe before the war.
That in itself is a broad category, presenting problems of organization. Most Holocaust victims went through such varied experiences that neat classifications are impossible. The best approach is to group the victims according to where they were when the Nazis tried to gather them up. No other single factor was as important in determining the fate of the Jews, for the length and severity of Nazi rule varied greatly from country to country. So, too, did Gentile attitudes toward Jews, the availability of hiding places, and the proximity of safe foreign havens.
We begin with Poland, where German rule was unparalleled in its duration and brutality, even though we should distinguish between its western and eastern halves. Jews in the former experienced nearly two years of comparatively benign pregenocidal German policies between 1939 and 1941, which lulled some of them into a false sense that things would get no worse. Their coreligionists east of the Bug River first tasted Nazi racism at about the time of its radicalization as Hitler turned his armies against the USSR. Ultimately virtually all of Poland's Jews came to experience the full force of ghettoization, forced labor, and extermination. Only the few who fled eastward with the Soviets were spared. Ninety percent of Poland's 3.3 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and survivors in Poland experienced the most intense wave of postwar anti-Semitism in Europe. Hence it is not surprising that Polish Jews contributed more than half of the interviews contained in this volume. These are followed by a single representative of Lithuanian Jewry, which was treated in essentially the same way after the German attack in June 1941.
Jews who lived in Germany on the eve of the Holocaust are represented in the five accounts that follow. They divide into two groups, those who once had been German citizens (or, before 1938, Austrian citizens) and those who had been aliens, usually members of the sizable Polish Jewish minority in Germany. The former, especially elderly Jews married or well connected to non-Jews, sometimes enjoyed privileged treatment, including incarceration in the "model ghetto," Theresienstadt in occupied Czechoslovakia. Most non-German Jews were expelled in the late 1930s and theoretically should have shared the fate of Eastern European Jewry, but in practice many of them had come to know the Nazis and the outside world too well to let matters take their course in Poland.
All three of the interviews with Jews from France were of women who had found refuge there before World War II from harsh conditions in Eastern Europe. As noncitizens they were the first Jews to be rounded up and handed over to the Germans by officials of the collaborationist Vichy regime. On the other hand, they and their cohort usually had a better chance of survival than if they had stayed behind in parts of Eastern Europe where German rule was direct and far more brutal.
These interviews are followed by two with Slovakian Jews, victims of a state created by the Nazis and run by local fascists who gladly handed their Jews over to the Germans in two separate waves, one in 1942 and another two years later. Those who survived the first wave naturally stood a better chance of hiding or holding out. Something similar must be said of accounts by Hungarian Jews that close the anthology. Sheltered from deportation until 1944 by a Hungarian government that was anti-Jewish and allied with Hitler, but disinclined to participate in genocide, Hungarian Jews who were not then immediately exterminated at Auschwitz stood at least a fighting chance of enduring the death throes of the Third Reich.
Seeing the Holocaust through the eyes of the victims is fraught with difficulties inherent in all forms of "history from below." How typical is one person's experiences, or those of several dozens, when, after all, millions of people were swept up in Nazi genocide? No two of their stories would be the same, and some of the worst would never be told. (As Boder put it in his title, "I did not interview the dead.") These difficulties can never be completely overcome, but minimizing them requires some effort to summarize what has been learned so far about Nazi policies and the responses of victims and bystanders.
The remainder of this introduction is devoted to a broad overview of the Holocaust, fitting the interviews into the big picture. Books about the Holocaust that provide only the briefest historical background before plunging into Nazi genocide slight the importance of long-term Jewish-Gentile relations in determining the fate of Jews under Nazi rule. It is commonly understood that well before Hitler the Jews were an unpopular minority almost everywhere in Europe, widely despised for their religious differences, liberal politics, and business prowess. That was certainly true in Eastern Europe, and nowhere more so than in Poland, where the large Jewish minority was significantly overrepresented among bankers, industrialists, the intelligentsia, and the professions. There and in Hungary and Romania, governments routinely conceded to popular anti-Semitism in the 1920s and 1930s with laws narrowing Jewish rights. Later, under German rule, significant portions of the Eastern European populations would help the occupier torment the Jews or else refuse to help them. Not surprisingly, several interviews in this collection confirm the widely held impression that Ukrainian guards were among the most feared in ghettos and camps. Unfortunately, Boder's practice of beginning most of the interviews with the outbreak of war left these complex interrelationships largely unclarified. A somewhat fuller perspective on Jewish-Gentile relations will emerge from our exploration of East European bystander reactions during the Holocaust itself, and, as we shall see, they were by no means one-sided.
German Jews, of course, felt Nazi anti-Semitism long before the armies
began to march. Policies designed to isolate the Jews and make them
despair of any future in Germany had as their goal the victims'
"voluntary" emigration. However, for a number of reasons having to do
mainly with not wanting to alienate traditional conservatives at home or
popular opinion abroad, the Nazis were slow to unleash these measures. Not
until the pace of "Aryanizing" Jewish property accelerated in 1937 and actual violence broke out during "Crystal Night" in 1938 did it become unambiguously clear that the Jews would have to get out, and by then the hour was late. Nor were many foreign doors open to them. Elderly Jews such as Hildegard F. and Friedrich S. were understandably slow to face the daunting task of starting new lives (nos. 24 and 25). Many German Jews in small towns and villages moved to the shelter of big-city Jewish communities in hopes of holding out, as did Jürgen B.'s family (no. 23). Alien Jews in Germany like David M. and Jacob M., however, faced expulsion or concentration camps as Hitler moved toward war (nos. 26 and 27).
During the first two years of armed conflict, the German dictator still planned to solve the "Jewish problem" through emigration. Madagascar and Siberia were his favored dumping grounds for Jews who could not arrange more salubrious sanctuary. Jews throughout German-dominated Europe were registered in preparation for the exodus that was to follow the expected swift military victory. In Poland, where German rule was far more direct and brutal than in Western Europe, ghettosthose characteristic features of the coming Holocaustwere established to concentrate and isolate the large Jewish communities and ready them for speedy extrusion. This doubtless painful process at least had the advantage of shielding the Jews from harassment by German officers, Polish anti-Semites, and especially ethnic Germans who lived in Poland. Although German policies were not yet genocidal, Rachel G.'s description of forced labor and reprisals in Warsaw documents their murderous results (no. 11). Julian W. describes conditions so execrable in Lodz that Jews willingly entered the ghetto in February 1940 (no. 15). Ghetto administrations took over crucial tasks of rationing scarce food supplies and providing basic social services. A glimpse of the latter is caught in the eyes of Israel U., then a homeless orphan in Lodz (no. 14).
At some point in 1941historians disagree about exactly when and whyNazi Jewish policy changed from emigration to extermination. Unless Hitler had been planning genocide all along, as now seems doubtful, the change was organically linked to his war against the Soviet Union. It may have been euphoria over initial victories in the East that precipitated the Final Solution, or perhaps it was induced a few months later by rage over stiffening Russian resistance and intimations of ultimate German defeat. General plans for the mass murder of Jews, completed at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, provided for swift death in extermination centers or else slow death in slave labor camps. But the whole enterprise was to be kept secret as much as possible. The Nazis had learned long before that ordinary people, Germans included, rarely could stomach violence against Jews, and of course the victims themselves were to be kept in the dark in order to heighten their vulnerability.
Naturally word leaked out and made the rounds via the rumor mill and, starting in June 1942, Allied radio broadcasts. Did Jews then know about plans to kill them? The question bears heavily on issues of compliance and resistance during the Holocaust and charges that, far too often, Jews meekly accepted their fate. Evidence in these interviews suggests that some Jews knew, or suspected, the worst of the Germans. Certainly that was true of those who lived near the death camps, as did Udel S. not far from Auschwitz in Eastern Upper Silesia (no. 2). Armed with this knowledge, Rabbi Solomon H.'s small community in Eastern Poland resisted deportation, with disastrous results (no. 20). Word about Treblinka was also partly responsible for the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943, as several interviews attest.
But especially for Jews who lived far from the killing fields, knowledge
of genocide was either absent or repressed. In 1943 Jürgen B. arrived
Auschwitz from Germany in a state of ignorance (no. 23). The same was true of Edith S. arriving from France (no. 28). Pinkus R. explains that as late as 1944 the Germans were still successfully disguising deportations from the Lodz ghetto as destined for work camps in Germany (no. 17). At about the same time Hungarian Jews arrived in Auschwitz believing it a relocation center or work camp. George K. had heard about crematoria over the BBC but dismissed the reports as atrocity propaganda (no. 33). Few outside Eastern Poland and the occupied areas of the USSR knew about the murders there of hundreds of thousands of Jews and others by SS Einsatzgruppen (Special Action Squads). No one at the time could see the big picture. Ignorance combined with incredulity and denial ("It may be happening to other groups of Jews, but it won't happen to us") to keep hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of potential victims in the dark about genocide.
Nazi officials, intent on sustaining the Jews' ignorance and exploiting their uncompensated labor, sealed those they did not kill outright in ghettos and work camps to produce for the Reich. The situation in Kovno described by Ephraim G. was typical of most ghettos; possession of a work card was essential to keeping one's family together and avoiding deportation to some uncertain fate (no. 22). Even very young Jews like Israel U. in Lodz hastened to master skills that would earn them the coveted cards (no. 14). Rachel G.'s job as an occupational retrainer assured her a privileged position in the Warsaw ghetto (no. 11). Most ghetto jobs involved industrial drudgery. And yet, Roma T. must have wished she had one of them. Her assignment was to clean out Warsaw apartments vacated by deported Jews; those who had been unable to make the trip had been shot by the Germans (no. 19). Evidently, though, work was not always the order of the day. Nechama E. describes idly waiting for months in a small town in Eastern Poland where, it seems, the ghetto served principally as a holding pen (no. 7).
Ghetto affairs were conducted by Jewish Councils created by and responsible to the Germans. Control over work permits, food allocations, ghetto police, and deportation lists gave the councils power literally over life and death. The very fact that they managed the ghettos and made them productive for the Germans has led to charges of complicity in genocide, and it cannot be denied that Jewish leaders who stood up to the Nazis did not last long. The trend in modern scholarship is to view the Jewish Councils in less negative light than once was the case, acknowledging their efforts to save at least a remnant of the Jewish people and their well-founded fears of immediate mass slaughter should the Jews not comply.
In 1946 that was not yet the view. Very few of the survivors Boder spoke with had anything good to say about the Jewish Councils. Fairly typical is Udel S.'s condemnation of the regional Jewish Council in Eastern Upper Silesia for lulling Jews into a false sense of security. Typical, too, is his personification of the council in its chairman, Monek Moren (no. 2). That role in the Lodz ghetto was played by Chaim Rumkowski, whose energetic and intrusive personality made him a lightning rod for everyone's frustrations. Israel U. tempers his criticism of "King Chaim" when he points out that his administration established an efficient food rationing system and kept the Germans happy with ghetto production until August 1944 (no. 14). Pinkus R., however, hints at the corruption that inevitably crept into the system in Lodz, as it did in other ghettos (no. 17). The overwhelming impression left by the ghetto stories is of endless and mounting tensions caused by brutal mistreatment and fears for the future compounded by overwork and undernourishment. If the reader has time to read only one ghetto experience, make it Ephraim G.'s moving description of the Kovno ghetto (no. 22). Above all, what he has to say about the monstrous German response to defiance by Kovno Jewish leaders ought to make us thoughtful about the chances for successful overt resistance in the ghettos.
At the time no one could know that only one of the ghettos would survive to the end of the Holocaust. The exception, Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, had been unique almost from the beginning. The Nazis made it into their "model ghetto" to house elderly Jews who had fought for Germany in the Great War or who, like Hildegard F., had German spouses (no. 24). Friedrich S., a retired engineer from Vienna, attests to the active, and often extremely able, cooperation of ghetto inhabitants in making the town as livable as possible (no. 25). That helped the Nazis use Theresienstadt as a propaganda tool and to fool Red Cross inspectors. At the same time such cooperation enabled thousands of its Jews to survive until the Germans handed the ghetto over to the Swiss Red Cross during the last days of the War.
Ordinary German Jews, as well as their coreligionists in Western Europe,
were granted no such privileges. In 1941 German Jews began to be sent to
Eastern European ghettos, where their fate was often no different from
that of their hosts. Indeed, one of the best descriptions of the black
market in Lodz comes from Jacob M., deported from Hamburg in 1941 (no.
27). Other Jews in Germany were kept at home in concentration camps only
to be sent eastward in 1942. A few exceptions were made for skilled workers in German armaments plants, such as Jürgen B., but that ended in 1943 (no. 23). In occupied countries such as France, however, a great deal depended on the cooperation of local officials in identifying and apprehending Jews. The collaborationist Vichy regime willingly responded to German requests for assistance, starting with roundups of the large population of alien Jews. All of the accounts from the Jews in France attest to the hostile attitudes of most French police and bureaucrats, although none is more vocal on the subject than Fania F. (no. 30). Conditions in French detention camps that held Jews for deportation to the East seem mild only in comparison with what awaited them in Poland.
Jews deported from Polish ghettos, French detention centers, German concentration camps, and cities and towns all over Hitler's expanding empire were put through a selection process, usually in Poland, to determine who was to work and who to die. This might happen at a major installation such as Auschwitz or at a comparatively minor transit or work camp. Those victims lucky enough to make the initial cut would go through the experience again and again as the weak were weeded out to make room for fresh slaves. Not surprisingly, the four camps devoted solely to exterminationChelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobiborare scarcely mentioned in the interviews; virtually no one had survived them. On the other hand, the two camps that combined "crematoria" (as the survivors almost inevitably called the gassing and burning installations) and forced labor facilities, Auschwitz and Majdanek, are well represented.
The survivors forcefully remind us that Auschwitz was not one camp but a complex of administrative, industrial, exterminatory, and support centers. The original camp, Auschwitz I, contained the central offices where a few fortunate Jews, Nelly B. among them, might secure comparatively comfortable work assignments (no. 29). Birkenau (Auschwitz II), about two miles away, with its barracks and "crematoria," was constructed by prisoner labor starting in 1942 and never finished, as we learn from one of its first Jewish prisoners, Helena T. (no. 32). A bit farther away was the "Buna" (synthetic rubber) factory at Monowitz (Auschwitz III) where, as George K. informs us, contact with Germans and Polish civilian workers sometimes ameliorated harsh labor conditions (no. 33). Israel U. and Adolph H. were assigned to different satellite camps, run by Auschwitz but some distance away, that supplied the main camps with food and coal (nos. 14 and 34). Work at Auschwitz was of every imaginable kind. The most important thing in terms of survival was that it be indoor work. One gets a sense from Hadassah M.'s description of women prisoners at Auschwitz being driven to clean out fish ponds just how short the lives of those doing outside work were likely to be (no. 9).
The smaller camp at Majdanek, near Lublin in Eastern Poland, also used poison gas but at first was oriented more toward extermination through work. Jews who survived it, like Jurek K. and Roma T., were there for only short periods (nos. 8 and 19). Nechama E., who was sent back to Majdanek as part of a clean-up squad, confirms that all its surviving Jews were massacred by the SS in its "Harvest Festival" action in November 1943, not with gas but by shooting (no. 7).
Auschwitz and Majdanek were unique in that they were the only Nazi camps that combined large scale gassing and forced labor facilities. No one there for any length of time was unaware of the "crematoria." Among the most ghastly scenes described in these pages are those set at Auschwitz as hundreds of thousands of newly arrived Hungarian Jews were gassed and burned in 1944. The ovens were quickly overtaxed, and prisoners whose job it was to dispose of the bodies were forced to employ open pits, turning the landscape literally into an inferno. Hadassah M. and Edith S. were certain that gassings done at that time were so hurried that many of the victims were dragged from the gas chambers in a stupor and burned alive (nos. 9 and 28). Although it is not possible now to confirm that this really happened, it would appear that in 1946 many Auschwitz survivors were convinced that the Hungarian Jews still breathed when they were thrown into the flames.
Auschwitz and, to a lesser extent, the other extermination centers have become synonymous with the Holocaust. And yet, hundreds of thousands of victims never were anywhere near a gas chamber. They either spent most of the period working in ghetto factories or else were sent to one or more of the hundreds of Nazi slave labor camps located throughout occupied Eastern Europe and inside Germany itself. Relatively neglected in historical research, these camps were so numerous and diverse that no one has yet cataloged them all. The interviews give some insights into that diversity. Some, such as the early "Organization Schmelt" camps (named for SS General Albrecht Schmelt, Himmler's "Special Representative for the Employment of Foreign Labor in Upper Silesia"), were exclusively Jewish and characterized by treatment that was often less hellish than what came later. The same was true of Jewish work camps that were at first loosely tied to Gross-Rosen, the easternmost of the prewar German concentration camps.
In 1943-44 these Jewish camps were redesignated outposts of the mother
camp and hence placed under concentration camp discipline, meaning that
guards drawn from the German army were replaced by SS men. Something
similar happened to the approximately 160 Organization Schmelt camps, many
of which were then liquidated and the remainder divided between
Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz. This reorganization invariably worsened camp
conditions, although the deterioration of Germany's military situation
also played a part. Abraham K. gives details of this transition at
Markstadt and nearby Fünfteichen, satellites of Gross-Rosen, as the
German armaments firm Krupp expanded its Bertha Works in eastern Germany
late in 1943 (no. 1). Udel S.'s telling of his relocation from Auschwitz
to Fünfteichen suggests, however, that these outposts rarely became
as brutal as the main branch (no. 2).
The interviews usefully remind us of the prominent involvement of German
private enterprise in exploiting Jewish labor. Firms such as Krupp, I. G.
Farben, and HASAG ran giant factories in Poland and Eastern Germany under
SS management. The slave labor camps attached to them were not always
single sex nor exclusively Jewish, but Jews were heavily represented and
treated worse than Poles and others. Fairly typical were the ammunition
plants run by HASAG at Skarzysko-Kamienna in central Poland, described by
Roma T. (no. 19). Jurek K., who watched his father sicken and die there from overwork and malnutrition, knew what "extermination through work" meant (no. 8). About 8,000 Jews worked there at any one time; at least three times that number died there between 1942 and 1944. Circumstances were no better at state-owned concerns, as Kalman E.'s experiences at the Hermann Göring Works at Starachowice attest (no. 6). An interesting comparison is possible with the Slovakian Jewish labor camps, experienced by Baruch F., where conditions were still tolerable (no. 31).
Harsher working conditions and increasingly intrusive SS supervision also
characterized the forced labor camps in Germany itself, as Fela N.'s
experiences at a series of textile mills show (no. 3). Some of the worst
circumstances prevailed at work camps in Germany during the last months of
the war. Sigmund R. and Jürgen B. thought they had known the worst in
Poland until they were evacuated to Germany in 1945 (nos. 5 and 23). This impression was not uniform, however. Jacob M. found work in a German ammunition factory "paradise" compared with Auschwitz (no. 27). Nechama E. may have survived because the Germans removed her from Bergen-Belsen to work in an aircraft factory as the war wound down (no. 7). Contacts with sympathetic civilian employees in these workplaces sometimes made a crucial difference to the chronically underfed slaves.
The Germans and their accomplices who supervised ghettos, work camps, and extermination centers are glimpsed occasionally, although sometimes only from afar. The handful of Jews lucky enough to get jobs in camp offices sometimes found their German bosses correct and agreeable, as was true of Helena T. at Auschwitz (no. 32). Elsewhere the brutality of the SS and the German police batallions could be appalling. Nechama E. describes a drunken holiday raid by Germans on a small Polish ghetto that can only be described as a perverted form of sport (no. 7). And yet, German guards, some of them SS officers, could treat their charges decently and even humanely; see in particular the interviews of Abraham K. and Pinkus R. (nos. 1 and 17). Several of Boder's informants, Udel S. among them, give examples of both beastly and compassionate behavior by the perpetrators (no. 2). The evidence, here and elsewhere, does not lend itself to easy generalities about all Germans. Certainly members of other nationalities joined in tormenting the victims, as the interviews with Slovakian and Hungarian survivors attest. George K., for example, alludes to Hungarian police and army officers abusing and looting Jews during the roundups of 1944 (no. 33).
Jews in ghettos and forced labor camps were far more likely to come into close daily contact with officials who were, like them, captives of the Nazis. These officials carried out German orders in return for privilegesmore and better food, exemptions from deportations or harsh work detailsthat could be withdrawn at any time. This had the great virtue, as the Germans saw it, of minimizing demands on their own manpower. Hence in ghettos Nazi policies were enforced by ghetto officials and Jewish police forces under the overall supervision of the Jewish Councils. Following the collapse of the councils' strategy of cooperating with the Germans, these officials were often targeted for reprisals, especially the Jewish police who had rounded up their neighbors for deportation while sparing members of their own families. Jacob M. describes Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz seeing to it that newly arrived members of the Lodz ghetto police did not survive the camp (no. 27).
In the forced labor camps a complex hierarchy of prisoner administration
made them inmate-run to a surprising degree. Capos supervised work crews
and block seniors oversaw the prisoner barracks. These and other prisoner
trustees reported to the camp senior, also an inmate, who in turn was
responsible to the SS. Capos and block seniors in particular have the
reputation of having been corrupt and brutal, and the interviews often
confirm it, but with unexpected twists. For these posts the Germans often preferred German professional criminalsthieves, murderers, toughs of all kindswho were usually the most feared prisoner officials. And yet, Jürgen B. credits one of them with saving his life at Auschwitz (no. 23). Jews occupied such positions more frequently than is commonly suspected, and with them, too, the record is mixed. Abraham K. documents astoundingly savage treatment at the hands of fellow Jews, although he senses that the capos and block seniors, too, were victims of the Nazis (no. 1). K.'s ruminations on the nature of evil in this context are particularly worthy of attention, although not everyone will be as forgiving as he is.
Jews may have been best off under non-Jewish capos and block seniors who were political prisoners, principled opponents of the Nazis who did not need to prove themselves worthy of their position by targeting Jews. Anna K. credits her Auschwitz block senior, a Polish political prisoner, with saving her life when she was gravely ill with gallstones (no. 18). Control by political prisoners of Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany also made a significant difference for Jews held there. Bernard W., one of only a handful of Jews who spent the entire Holocaust at Buchenwald, knew that best of all (no. 4). The survivors make it clear that without the cooperation of political prisoners, Jews and non-Jews, in the running of the camps, it would have been much harder to maintain hygiene and protect individuals from arbitrary acts by professional criminals among the prisoners and the SS guards themselves.
Survivors are more broadly generous with their praise for camp medical personnel, themselves prisoners, who managed to save lives even when basic medicines and dressings were scarce or totally absent, as was usually the case. Doctors, nurses, and medical orderlies were often the only persons in a position to shield patients from SS officers eager to murder incurables with fatal injections. Fela N. owed her life to such protection (no. 3). Other lives were saved by members of the "Canada" detail, present at the Birkenau ramp to take the newcomers' belongings to be sorted. Israel U. recalls these prisoners whispering to him and others to lie about their age if necessary to maximize the chances of being selected for work (no. 14). Jacob M. witnessed a newly arrived woman being forced by one of the old hands to give her child to an older woman and proceed along the ramp alone (no. 27). She could not have known that older women and all women with children, regardless of age, would be sent to the gas chamber. The prisoner had given her a chance to live.
Having close friends or family members with you could be a crucial
advantage in German work camps. Friends who supplied extra food and
encouraging words kept Edith S. from joining the ranks of
"Moslems"camp slang for prisoners who had given up and were certain
to die (no. 28). As often as not the friendships were made right in the
camps; Benjamin P., for example, benefited tangibly from ties with the
orchestra conductor at Monowitz (no. 10). Strong Jewish family ties often led siblings and parents and children to stay together as long as possible. Israel U. recalls the Germans trying to separate relatives and friends during the initial processing at Birkenau (no. 14), but that was almost impossible to do when large transports were arriving, and even when prisoners were separated it was sometimes possible for them to reunite once in the camp. Hadassah M. and her sister helped each other make it through three of the worst camps, Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Ravensbrück (no. 9). Pinkus R. was separated from his family at Auschwitz but managed to reunite with his two teenage sons and keep them all together straight through to the DP camp (no. 17). It should be added, though, that family solidarity could also put a Jew at risk. Jurek K. returned to the Warsaw ghetto to be with his parents even though he had found a hiding place with sympathetic Poles and knew that Warsaw Jews were being deported to Treblinka (no. 8). Baruch F. survived precisely because he defied his parents and left home to live in the forests of Slovakia (no. 31).
By now it should be clear that the Nazis had greatly narrowed the choices open to victims but not eliminated them altogether. The interviews abound in examples of opportunities seized and risks taken. Jacob M. lied about his skills to get a good job (no. 27). Prisoners like Nechama E. and George K. jumped at chances to do extra work for their block seniors in return for additional bread and soup (nos. 7 and 33). That is also how Adolph H. survived the notorious Jawiszowice coal mines that fed the Buna works at Auschwitz III (no. 34). Developing and exploiting barter economies and black markets in ghettos and camps kept Abraham K., Rachel G., Julian W., and many others alive (nos. 1, 11, and 15). Knowing German as well as other languages was useful in managing the polyglot forced labor camps, and promoting their language skills won coveted office jobs for Nelly B. and David M. (nos. 29 and 26). The survivors often attributed their survival to luck, and that certainly played a part, but the evidence suggests that pluck could be every bit as important.
Survival strategies were put to stringent tests during the last days of
the Holocaust as the Germans moved their prisoners into the contracting
Reich, hoping to prolong their employment as slave workers or else use
them as bargaining chips in negotiations. These transfers often had to be
done partly or wholly on foot since what was left of Germany's rolling
stock was reserved mainly for the military. Hence survivors of Auschwitz
and all the labor camps associated with it and Gross-Rosen were marched to rail heads in Germany and Czechoslovakia and then moved west in (mostly open) railroad cars in the dead of winter. The death toll in this relatively little studied phase of the Holocaust was appalling. Nervous SS guards, understaffed and with the Russians on their tail, shot anyone who faltered. Adolf H. recalls that half of the group of prisoners with whom he marched out of Auschwitz, forced by their guards to bed down in the open, did not get up in the morning (no. 34). The lucky ones arrived in German camps that still could provide a modicum of food, medical care, and orderly administration. Buchenwald remained one of them to the end, and Nechama E. and Udel. S. indicate that the same was true of Theresienstadt (nos. 7 and 2). The Red Cross managed to get a number of inmates released to Sweden from the women's concentration camp, Ravensbrück, Edith S. among them (no. 28). But Jews dumped in the hopelessly overcrowded convalescent camp at Bergen-Belsen found a far worse situation, as Fela N. makes clear (no. 3).
And then, at the very end, for some there was still more marching to be done. The SS remained under orders to keep their charges from being liberated, and whenever possible they took them away again. At Buchenwald the prisoners themselves foiled a portion of these final death marches, enabling Jurek K. and Mendel H. to tell the tale (nos. 8 and 16). They had feared that their guards would shoot them rather than let them fall into enemy hands, and that is just what did happen to thousands of victims who could not avoid the last-minute evacuations. But not always. Pinkus R. recalls that the SS man who evacuated his work squad from a German labor camp found carts on which to carry the sick and ultimately let all his charges go (no. 17).
Evidence that Jews acted to save themselves and their friends from death while in German hands has never satisfied critics who fault them for not taking more aggressive action against the Nazis. Why did they not fight back, engage in sabotage, form underground resistance networks, or at the very least escape when the opportunity was there? Failure to do so has been traced variously to the Jews' alleged pacifistic culture, their lack of arms, the hostility of Gentile neighbors, and draconian German policies. The interviews shed some light on all these issues, including the Nazi enforcement of "collective responsibility," punishing large numbers of Jews for the acts of one or a few. Rachel G. gives examples of this in the Warsaw ghetto (no. 11). But the interviews also show that fighting back was not quite as rare as some assume. Isaac W. speaks for hundreds of Polish Jews who were able to retreat with Soviet forces in 1941 and then don Red Army uniforms to avenge their fellow Jews (no. 21). Baruch F. and his brother joined large numbers of young Jews who broke out of work camps to take up arms during the abortive Slovak National Uprising in 1944 (no. 31). Nathan S. must have been just twelve or thirteen when he began acting as a scout for Soviet partisan units in Eastern Poland (no. 13). Nor should the battle of the doomed in the Warsaw ghetto be forgotten. Benjamin P. shows that lack of weapons and ammunition ultimately forced the fighters to take cover and wait to be burned out (no. 10).
This lack of weapons meant that most Jewish resistance would have to be unarmed resistance. This took several forms. One was trying to avoid deportations from ghettos by hiding in "bunkers"cleverly disguised rooms in attics, basements, or behind false wallsduring the later phases of the Holocaust. Their inadequacy for long-term concealment, especially for families with small children, comes out in Udel S.'s memories of Bedzin (no. 2). Ephraim G. recalls that the ghetto police in Kovno became adept at discovering these hiding places (no. 22). Under very different conditions in France, Edith S. worked in the Jewish underground to hide Jewish children in the homes of cooperative Frenchmen (no. 28). No one familiar with these and other survivors' accounts is likely to reach the conclusion that Jews responded passively to Nazi persecution.
A few Jews, such as Lena K. and Rachel G., concealed their identities and posed as Poles, although this required excellent command of the Polish language and help from Polish friends (nos. 12 and 11). Even with such friends it was possible to fall victim to Poles who preyed on Jews trying to pass outside the ghettos, as happened to Roma T. (no. 19). And yet, complete strangers came to the aid of Anna K. (no. 18). Sweeping judgments of Poles and other Eastern Europeans during the Holocaust are difficult to sustain in the light of these experiences.
Escape from ghettos, trains, and work camps was difficult and in some situations impossible. Obstacles to breakouts that were attempted emerge from the interview with Kalman E. (no. 6). But if one could escape, what then? How could one survive without food, water, and shelter? Gentiles might help, but most did not; they were impoverished, too, and if caught suffered the same fate as the Jews. Nechama E. managed to jump from a train she believed was taking her to Treblinka only to see no alternative to walking to the nearest ghetto and waiting for the Germans to make their next move (no. 7). Rabbi Solomon H. attempted to save part of his flock by leading them out of their Eastern Galician ghetto and establishing a family camp in the woods, but very few of them survived the winter (no. 20).
It was still risky but far easier to escape and hope to survive in the confusion surrounding deportations in the last days of Nazi Germany. Some, like Helena T., were able to melt into lines of German refugees moving in the same direction as the prisoners (no. 32). Others took advantage of bombing raids to disguise themselves as Germans, and, especially in the case of women, German officials no longer found it easy to tell them apart. Nelly B., unable to walk very far, actually got help from Nazi welfare agencies (no. 29). Stranger still was the flight of Benjamin P. Disguising himself as a wounded SS veteran, he took a job as overseer on a German farm only to have a few anxious moments after liberation convincing the Russians he was who he said he was (no. 10). The prize story, however, is told by Sigmund R., who escaped from a death march out of Dachau with a few friends and brazened his way across southern Germany to Switzerland as the Reich teetered on the verge of collapse (no. 5).
Naturally most survivors had no chance to liberate themselves, and for those who were not too sick to know what was happening at the time, the moment of liberation was unforgettable. The Russians come off no worse than the Americans in the memories of the liberated. At Buchenwald liberation gave rise to one of the few occasions for concentration camp humor. The story appears in several versions in these interviews and involves Buchenwald commander Hermann Pister calling the camp from Weimar to order the prisoners executed and being assured they had been (or would be), or else roundly insulted by newly freed prisoners who answered the phone. It did not happen that way, but for the survivors the story was a priceless source of mirth for years to come. On a more serious note, two of the survivors, Israel U. and Benjamin P., acknowledged taking revenge on German civilians following liberation (nos. 14 and 10). P. also returned to Auschwitz to torment his former tormentors. These reprisals, understandable under the circumstances, are rarely mentioned in subsequent memoirs. It was, perhaps, easier to talk about them with a sympathetic American in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Women's experiences of the Holocaust are well represented in the interviews. Fourteen of the thirty-six survivors who speak in this volume were women, which roughly reflects the nearly two-to-one ratio of men to women in the DP camps. Certainly women were less likely to survive, targeted from the beginning of genocide as bearers of future generations of Jews. Especially for them, much depended on staying out of German hands, and it cannot be denied that survivors like Rachel G. and Lena K. showed imagination and flair in seizing life-saving opportunities to "pass" as Gentiles (nos. 11 and 12). Women with children and without the help of Gentile friends had it much tougher. Raisel M.'s mother courageously (and presciently) defied her husband, who wanted to lead his family back to the ghetto from which they had escaped, and in doing so probably saved Raisel's life, but could not save her own (no. 13).
Jewish women who were unable or unwilling to escape were more likely to be selected to die because they lacked work skills required by the Germans, and obviously pregnant women and women with children were routinely sent straight to the gas chambers. And yet, those who were selected for work may have been somewhat better prepared for survival than were men. The traditional "women's work" for which they had been trainedrepairing clothing, promoting cleanliness, fostering warm social relationscame in handy in forced labor camps, as Fela N. makes plain (no. 3). At the same time, we should avoid any temptation to romanticize the subject. Women were sexually vulnerable, and Roma T. recalls that Jewesses raped by SS men were sometimes killed to cover the crime (not of rape but of "race pollution") (no. 19). Women who concealed pregnancies in the camps often gave birth under unspeakable conditions; Edith S. gives but one example (no. 28).
If anything, children were even less likely to live. In ghettos they were usually allowed to remain with their families, although the Germans sometimes organized special deportations of young children. In the camps those under ten were regarded by the Germans as "unproductive eaters," and except for those in the short-lived Auschwitz Gypsy and Family camps, the latter described by Hadassah M., they would not be spared (no. 9). As Nechama E. learned to her sorrow, it did not pay to form emotional attachments to children who somehow managed to survive for short periods in the camps (no. 7). Older children might be spared if they lied about their age and especially if they convinced the Germans they could work; it also seems likely that very young Jews like Edith Z. were regarded by their masters as more pliable subjects (no. 13). Several of Boder's informants, barely in their teens at the time of the events they described, mastered lifesaving work skills with breathtaking speed, giving special meaning to the clich about "growing up fast."
Liberated survivors who returned home to Eastern Europe to look for family members and perhaps start life over encountered a world in ruins and more than a little antagonism. Homes and apartments that still stood had long before been taken over by others who were loath to give them up. Soviet occupation and the imposition of Communism outraged Polish, Hungarian, and other nationalisms, while the stereotype of Jewish sympathy for the Reds heightened anti-Semitism. Bernard W. encountered an implacably hostile postwar atmosphere in his Polish home town, while Rabbi Solomon H. made no headway in restoring religious life in Warsaw given the intensity of ill feeling among the Poles (nos. 4 and 20). Udel S. was only one of thousands of Polish Jews for whom the Kielce pogrom of July 1946 was the last straw (no. 2). At about the same time Lena K. was giving up on her school for Jewish orphans in southern Poland. Harassed and attacked both individually and collectively, they left for France and, eventually, Palestine (nos. 12 and 13). Sincere Communists like Rachel G. might hope for a better future based on radically transformed economic and social institutions, but most Polish Jews joined Hadassah M. in resisting appeals to stay from the government-sponsored "Central Committee of the Jews in Poland" and, when necessary, left without official permission (nos. 11 and 9).
At the time survivors made the decision to chance lives as refugees in Western Europe, they could not have known how long it would take to find permanent homes. They believed themselves to have been victimized by the Nazis more than any other single group, and they could no more understand why they were expected to go on being denizens of "camps" than they could fathom continued limits on immigration into Palestine and the United States. For the victorious Allies, however, Holocaust survivors were only one component of a far larger refugee problem. In 1945 Jews constituted less than one percent of the fourteen million refugees from Hitler's War, although by 1947 they made up a far larger proportionperhaps as much as one thirdof the approximately 700,000 unrepatriated displaced persons in Europe. The British, who interpreted the westward migration of Holocaust survivors after 1945 as part of a well-orchestrated Zionist plot to undermine British rule in Palestine, were not particularly welcoming of Jews in their zones of occupation. Benjamin P. and Isaac W. provide glimpses of life in British DP camps in Austria as well as insights into problems of accepting the prolongation of regimented camp life after liberation (nos. 10 and 21).
Jewish refugees clearly preferred the American camps set up exclusively
for Jews and often made great efforts to reach one. Helena T. describes
the camp at Feldafing set up for Jews in a former Hitler Youth camp south
of Munich (no. 32). There they did not have to rub shoulders with DPs from
Ukraine and the Baltic states, some of whom might have helped the Nazis
kill Jews. Others, like Jürgen B. and David M., were allowed to live
independently in German homes (nos. 23 and 26). Perhaps the happiest interviewees were those living in small, autonomous shelters and camps in France, Italy, and Switzerland, supported by American Jewish charities and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. There conditions might be as pinched as in the bigger camps, but at least life was brightened by a greater sense of community and self-determination.
No single vision of the future sustained these survivors during the years of postliberation waiting. For a few it was an apocalyptic image of new lives for Jews in the coming state of Israel. Some were Zionists of long standing. Pinkus R. owned property in Palestine and had made plans to move there even before the war (no. 17). The post-Holocaust collapse of Orthodox Judaism's rejection of Zionism comes through in Rabbi Solomon H.'s report on the religious idealism combined with Jewish nationalism that prevailed in a kibbutz camp (no. 20). Other survivors spoke with genuine optimism about starting over in the United States, South Africa, or Latin America, their destination often determined by the location of relatives. Still others said nothing about the future (Boder did not always draw them out on the subject) or appeared reluctant to make plans.
It may be significant that several of the survivors actually drew some inspiration from their experience of the Holocaust. Veterans of the women's camp at Birkenau, Edith S. among them, stood in awe of the memory of Mala Zimetbaum, who, recaptured after escaping the camp, publicly defied her executioners (no. 28). Roma T. remembered something similar happening at Majdanek, leading to momentary defiance among the prisoners (no. 19). Benjamin P. had reason to dwell on some of the worst behavior of Jews during the Warsaw ghetto uprising, including Jewish turncoats helping the Germans flush out the survivors, but he also relived the heroism of the nameless woman who died holding off the Germans in the early hours of the revolt and so inspired her comrades to fight with equal valor (no. 10). Auschwitz survivors who were in Birkenau in October 1944 remembered the Sonderkommando revolt, sometimes, like Anna K., in larger-than-life terms (no. 18). These and other courageous acts, perhaps raised from mere history to legend, helped establish the psychological basis for confidence that a time would come when Jews would exert some control over their own future.
Reading these survivors' stories both validates some recent trends in Holocaust scholarship and suggests directions for further research. Conspicuous among the former are tendencies toward exonerating Jewish leaders and prisoner trustees from charges that they cooperated in their own destruction. Certainly some Jewish Council members, capos, and block seniors were venal, and some of them made errors, but most did the best that could be done under the circumstances and are better viewed as victims rather than collaborators. Something similar must be said of the retreat from condemning Jews for not resisting. The chances for successful resistance were severely limited, but what could be done commonly was done, whether hiding in "bunkers" or forests, smuggling food or bribing officials, adopting false identities or doing extra work for extra rations. As many of these survivors could attest, just staying alive was resisting.
Much still remains to be learned. A deeper understanding of pre-1939 Jewish-Gentile relations in Eastern Europe would shed more light on why help was offered or withheld during the Holocaust. Further inquiries into what Jews knew about genocide and when they knew it might reveal that large numbers of them were genuinely unaware of what the Germans had in store for them. The ignorance of new arrivals in Birkenau in the last months of the camp speaks volumes. Additionally, we need to know more about the Holocaust outside the big camps and ghettos. Lodz and Warsaw, Auschwitz and Majdanek are fairly well understood, but what do we know about Dabrowa-Gornica and Miedzyrzec, Skarzysko-Kamienna and Markstadt? Finally, the psychology of the killers ought to capture more of our attention. Recent and extremely valuable studies of Holocaust perpetrators have portrayed them as reluctant killers, ordinary men motivated chiefly by deference to authority and conformity to the group. Some of those encountered by survivors included here resemble that characterization, but not all of them by any means.