JUDENRAT: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe Under Nazi Occupation by Isaiah Trunk
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JUDENRAT: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe Under Nazi Occupation

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An important, formidably researched book. Trunk's subject is the Jewish Councils in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, organizations designed ""to serve only one purpose -- to execute Nazi orders regarding the Jewish population."" The book examines the Councils' welfare activities, their servile relation to the Nazi authorities, and their ""local control"" administration. The Councils declined morally as uncooperative elements were destroyed; and they displayed a heretofore undiscussed continuity with the wealthy, conservative members of the Kehila organizations which mediated prewar Jewish life in the interests of earlier Eastern European despotisms. In an understated, matter-of-fact way Trunk documents the prevalent favoritism and corruption of many Council members -- he always reminds us that no blanket generalizations hold -- and shows how Council taxes, which in large part went to pay salaries, fell most heavily on the poorest ghetto inhabitants. Along with the well-known brutality and self-aggrandizement of ghetto police, the horrifying caricature of a competitive society within the whole ghetto is described. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Trunk's treatment is his stress on the Councils' ""rescue through work"" strategy -- building a disciplined slave labor force to prove the Jews' value to the Nazi war economy. On the one hand this amounted to a total identification with the Nazi ethic; on the other it made a certain desperate pragmatic sense at the time. Its ultimate logic was fulfilled when the Councils had to draw up lists of deportees, and the ""unfitness"" criterion prevailed. The labor camps, the ""work ghettos"" (the last to be destroyed), and general Nazi slave-labor policy are discussed only in passing, but Trunk notes that the SS was competing with the Wehrmacht for ""sole mastery of the Jewish labor force."" In reply to the question, ""Were the Councils collaborationists?"" Trunk merely concludes that they were ""collaborationists d'Etat"" -- like the Vichy government. Readers can draw their own conclusions, not least from the evidence presented about many Councils' efforts to destroy all resistance movements within the ghetto. The book will undoubtedly draw scholarly attention and on occasion strong debate.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Macmillan