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political world

Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival by Niewyk, Donald L. (ed.) published by The University of North Carolina Press

jan peczkis|Friday, July 15, 2016

This anthology features Holocaust survivors from Poland and a few other countries, including Germany. The experiences include those of Jews who fled the ghettos as well as those who survived the war by being in German concentration camps. The survivors are identified by their first names and the first letters of their last names.

The editor provides footnotes and other explanatory information. For instance, he tells the reader that 70,000 Polish Jews moved to Germany before WWI. (p. 289).

I elaborate on a few specific topics of lasting interest:


Abraham K. describes the actions of the Jewish Council of Eastern Upper Silesia, which was responsible for more than forty Jewish communities in the general area. It was headed by Moshe (or Monek) Merin. Abraham K.’s provides information about Merin, and the Jewish militia (Jewish ghetto police), that contradicts the notion that these collaborators were merely powerless individuals desperately trying to save their own lives. It also contradicts the notion that Jewish collaborators were not really collaborators in that they obtained no favors from the Germans. Thus, Abraham K. writes, “I don’t know how he [Merin] worked himself up so high. He had influence with the Gestapo and everywhere had his say. He had his own automobile, he had a chauffeur, and he led the life which he certainly could not have afforded before the war…The Jewish militia did not feel that they were merely functionaries to execute what was demanded of them. They also felt that they were better, more important people.” (p. 29).
All this had practical consequences. A Jew about to be arrested by a German policeman, who usually did not know him, could often hide. But if a Jew was about to be arrested by a Jewish policeman, who usually knew the Jew, then any attempt to hide was much more difficult. (p. 29).


Communists often wrapped themselves in the mantle of sympathy for Jews. However, Bernard W. described the attitudes of the German political prisoners that he encountered at Buchenwald, “Only in rare cases was a Jew looked upon as an equal with a German. It was a rare case that a German Communist should not consider himself first a German and only then a Communist.” (p. 76).


In recent years, neo-Stalinist authors, notably Jan T. Gross, have accused Poles of being animated by “greed and anti-Semitism” whenever they sought financial compensation for aiding Jews. Editor Donald L. Niewyk knows better. While giving the introduction to the interview of Lena K., regarding Jewish children hidden in church institutions, he comments, “Attempts by church officials to extract payment from Jews for sheltering the orphans during the war must be viewed compassionately in light of the desperate poverty of these institutions at the end of the fighting.” (p. 151). Comment Comment | Permalink
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