If you have any interest in Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, plan to come to the Museum on Sunday,October 28 for our symposium, Jewish Resistance Reconsidered. You will have the rare opportunity to hear two towering figures in Holocaust scholarship, Professors Israel Gutman and Yehuda Bauer, who will be traveling from Israel to make rare New York City appearances. This symposium is being held in conjunction with our special exhibition, Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust. In addition to Bauer and Gutman,Judith Baumel-Schwartz, David Engel, Robert Shapiro, and Yitzchak Mais will participate.
The exhibition,the symposium, and the companion volume to the exhibition are all important contributions to combatting the widely held stereotype that Jews were passive victims in the Holocaust. The following is an excerpt from my Preface to the companion volume:
As a historian, I am fond of saying, “context is everything.” In trying to understand the study of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, this dictum becomes especially critical. If the reader has any doubts, he or she need only think about the oft-repeated question, “Why did the Jews go like sheep to the slaughter?”
This question, in and of itself, is evidence that the public, including many Jews, has confused Jewish powerlessness during the Holocaust with passivity. People conclude, wrongly, that, because Jews were not able to mount significant, sustained, and effective opposition to Nazi persecution, they did not resist at all. The question, based, as it is, on a false premise, requires an answer that calls for layers of understanding, and yes, an appreciation of context.
The Cover of the Exhibition's Companion Volume
The answer involves understanding the context in which Jews found themselves, the inconceivable choices they were forced to make, the limited options that were available to them, the incredible isolation of their communities, the lack of knowledge of their true situation, and the overwhelming strength and ruthlessness of their enemy. The answer also requires knowledge of the many ways that Jews tried to maintain their dignity, to spread the word of their fate, to ensure that their stories would be known, to save fellow Jews.
The myth that all Jews went passively to their deaths persists, in part, because there has been little effective public education that relates this very complex issue with appropriate context and perspective.
I am immensely proud of the work the Museum’s leadership and staff have done to remedy this deficit through this special exhibition, Daring to Resist. Not only have they communicated this vital story of Jewish resistance through an engaging and visually striking exhibition, they have further elaborated upon that bold statement with this eloquent volume which, in and of itself, is an enormous contribution to the field.
We have broken new ground with our exhibition, and the upcoming symposium promises to make an extraordinary contribution to a neglected and often misunderstood history.