ORDINARY JEWS by Evgeny Finkel


Choice and Survival During the Holocaust
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A political scientist turns fresh eyes on the problem of how European Jews responded to the Holocaust as it was unfolding.

Why did so many Jews not fight back? Past studies often look at “choiceless choices,” to which Finkel (Political Science and International Affairs/George Washington Univ.; co-editor: Coloured Revolutions and Authoritarian Reactions, 2013) adds, “yet choices they were nonetheless.” The author groups those choices into categories including evasion and cooperation and collaboration, in a gamut of responses ranging from outright collaboration to outright resistance. His study acquires layered depth with close analysis of three populations: the Jews of Minsk, Krakow, and Bialystok, among which (but also within which) there were significant variations, so much so that the author cautions that he is necessarily looking at “general behavioral patterns.” Among more culturally assimilated people, for instance, compliance was a norm simply because lawful people growing up in a supposedly lawful civilization could not believe what was happening to them. “There were also Jews…who initially believed that the German authorities had the legitimate right to issue orders,” he writes, “and that these orders ought to be obeyed by the subject population.” In Minsk, a place of pogroms, the population was more attuned to self-defense, with resistance shared by members of the working and middle classes alike. Finkel recognizes some of the difficulties attendant in all the choices: with evasion, for example, came the horrible fact for some Jews of being deported by Soviet authorities to the Nazis. He also ventures onto difficult and surely controversial ground when examining the behavior of collaborators. He closes this plainly written but inevitably somber account with pointed lessons for those who may find themselves persecuted, arguing, “it is possible to analyze and even to try to predict the behavior of people targeted by mass violence, and…doing so might increase our ability to help these people when violence unfolds.”

Of much interest to students of modern history but also to those engaged in humanitarian relief efforts, refugee relocation, and the like.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-691-17257-6
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2017


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