Due to the extended length of this material, I’ve decided to divide it into two posts. This is the continuation of “Powerful Critique of Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’,“on the morally diverse nature of the Judenrate leadership and the substantial degree of resistance offered up by Jews against the Nazis, despite the overwhelming odds:
“Locally Recognized Jewish Leaders”?
Miss Arendt mentions two Polish Judenrat Chairmen, Adam Czerniakow in Warsaw and Chaim Rumkowski in Lodz. Her references are worth pursuing, for there were three-quarters of a million Jews in Warsaw and Lodz. The fact is that neither of these men was a “recognized” Jewish leader. Czerniakow was a “little-known leader in the Artisan’s Union.” Under his chairmanship the Warsaw Judenrat degenerated into a “gang of operators and swindlers,” despised by the starving Jewish population. In Lodz, no recognized Jewish leaders offered to serve in the Nazi-organized Judenrat. Rumkowski and two others were appointed. Thus Rumkowski, a small welfare official, emerged from obscurity and whispers of corruption to become dictator of the Lodz Ghetto. In the early days of his despotism, there were strikes and public demonstrations of protest. Rumkowski asked the Nazis for troops to shoot down Jewish demonstrators. Miss Arendt refers to Rumkowski as a Jewish leader. She fails, however, to inform her readers that it was not the Jews of Lodz but the Nazis who raised him to prominence.
The Judenräte of Eastern Europe were not usually elected by the Jewish population. They were Nazi appointed bodies. Moreover, the councils had a history and a development—something one would never imagine from Miss Arendt’s timeless picture.
At the beginning, when no one could suspect that the Jews were to be exterminated there were some with diverse political backgrounds who saw participation in the councils as a social obligation. It “was a question of responsibility for the life of the community.” There had to be some machinery for distributing the starvation rations, procuring funds for schools and hospitals, etc. This sort of “cooperation” was not confined to the Jews. Throughout Europe local governments engaged in day-to-day administrative relations with the Nazi occupation. ….
I have in my possession material relating to Poland and other countries testifying to repeated dismissals, deportations or executions of the members of the Judenrat by the Nazis—even several times in a single town. In one town, Belchatow, near Lodz, the member, of the Judenrat were thus changed eight times. This was a sort of “negative selection.” The Germans sought weak and corrupt characters, and continued their search until they found a suitable person. Among the members of the first Judenrat of this town (Belchatow) there were still a number of persons guided by a sense of social responsibility. Consequently, they were executed. The same thing happened in other places.
Officials from the First Lodz Judenrat were tortured, blackmailed and sent to a punishment camp. The chairman of the Lemberg Council, Josef Parnas was executed for refusing to increase the contingent of forced labor deliveries. …
Miss Arendt’s assertion that the Jewish Councils were made up as a rule of locally recognized Jewish leaders, fails to accord with the facts. But in denying her contention, I am not implicitly endorsing her notion of the Councils as Quislings who cooperated in the Jewish extermination. There is, after all, a considerable moral gap between a corrupt, incompetent or ruthless official and one who would assume this role in the unparalleled crime of exterminating his own people. Consider that Adam Czerniakow, chairman of the graft-ridden Warsaw Council, committed suicide when the Nazis raised the quota of Jews to be deported. The tendency of Judenrat officials to commit suicide is an index of the desperation that beset the Councils.
Take this passage from a speech by Jacob Gens, Chairman of the Vilna Jewish Council, to a meeting in the ghetto.
If I am asked to supply a thousand Jews, I do it, because it we, Jews, will not supply, the Germans will come and take with violence not a thousand but thousands. . . . In order to enable a remnant to survive. . . . I had to plunge into dirt and act without conscience.
I would like to know the political or moral view that Miss Arendt would have proposed at the time, had she been in Jacob Gens’ position. ….
The Jewish People
…. Miss Arendt … says very little about the activities of the Jewish resistance. She emphasizes in her brief remarks how “incredibly weak and essentially harmless” the resistance groups had been and “how little they had represented the Jewish population.” (p. 108) How, one wonders, did the ghetto revolts take place? ….
Her view that only the very young could resist does not withstand a moment’s reflection. Consider that before the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, the resistance organization won governmental power from the Judenrat, levied taxes to buy arms, and prepared the battle. Can Miss Arendt imagine that the sixty thousand Jews still in the ghetto would have permitted some hundreds of youths to engage in a political and military insurrection unless, as Emanuel Ringelblum in fact noted in his diary, most were set on resistance. The ghetto fighting force was, of course, composed primarily of youth. Only a tiny store of arms (including two machine guns) could be obtained; barely enough for the trained fighters–none for the rest of the population.
Miss Arendt’s stress on the “incredible” about the Jewish resistance was not its weakness, but, given the conditions under which Jews lived under Nazism, the strength of the will to fight. Acts of resistance brought massive and unspeakably brutal retaliation. The Nazis practiced “collective responsibility” hundreds of times. Yet there were large scale uprisings in Warsaw, Vilna ad Bialystok; a general strike in Lodz, revolts in Tarnov, Bendin, Czenstochow and Borislaw, partisan fighting, even a successful rebellion in the death camp of Treblinka. [Ezorsky fails to include the mass breakout from Sobibor–Seliger]
Consider the condition of the sixty thousand Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. For years they had starved, slaved in murderous forced labor and listened to loudspeakers blaring news of Nazi victories. Twenty-five per cent of the population had died in the ghetto of starvation and disease. The official ration before the uprising was one hundred and eighty calories. Everyone knew that the revolt would be defeated. Yet they faced the Nazis with exemplary courage–the armed fighters and the population as well, “Every Jew in the ghetto was a soldier,” writes Bernard Goldstein, an organizer of the revolt. Girls strapped hand grenades to their bodies in preparation for their last encounter with German soldiers. S.S. Major General Stroop noted the insane courage of the ghetto women. Thousands of people were burned alive when the Nazis set fire to factories. Yet workers threatened with the same fate refused to surrender. … They get in the way of her paradox of Jewish cooperation with Hitlerism–that paradox which is Miss Arendt’s “scholarly” tale of Europe’s murdered Jews. …
With this second part, I’ve now posted most of the middle of the three major sections of Prof. Ezorsky’s memorable and important article. Click Hannah Arendt Against the Facts for the entire article online, including the author’s detailed reference notes. For a comprehensive and engaging review of the controversy surrounding Hannah Arendt’s work on Eichmann and the Holocaust, I highly recommend another article one can find online: “The Eichmann Polemics: Hannah Arendt and Her Critics” by Michael Ezra, published in the Summer 2007 issue of Democratiya.