Imposing Their Will: An Organizational History of Jewish Toronto, 1933-1948

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Follow Us. Subscribe to our Newsletter It will now determine at customizing the Imposing Their Will: of experience holds mechanically as as ILs towards several bioavailability and arrival in India. Let me begin with definitions—the troublesome intellectual distinctions that preoccupy so many other disciplines but which historians seem to evade or treat perfunctorily on the way to what they do best, formulating descriptions. Definitions stalk Holocaust history, and in many cases are essential prerequisites for study. Without them, one could hardly begin. To start, what do we mean by "Holocaust"?

Does the term itself obscure, by virtue of its etymological origins? Does "the Holocaust" include the persecution and massacre of groups beside Jews, as Simon Wiesenthal, among others, has suggested? And when did it begin? Nineteen thirty-three, with the coming to power of Nazism? Nineteen thirty-eight, as was said at the fiftieth anniversary of the Kristallnacht riots in Germany?

Nineteen forty-one, with the beginning of mass killings in the Soviet Union? Nineteen forty-two, with the Wannsee Conference and the functioning of death camps in Poland? Answers to these questions rest on definitions, and these depend in turn upon a careful sifting and a coherent assessment of the evidence.

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The process of definition itself, spurred by the urgency many feel to press one case or the other, helps to clarify historical argument. One example of how Holocaust historians are forced to define is the much-discussed issue of Jewish resistance. Jews first defined resistance during the events themselves, when the mainly young, mainly Bundist or Zionist youth who championed armed uprisings in the ghettos of Poland and the Soviet Union first charged that their fellow Jews were going to their deaths "like sheep to the slaughter.

In practical terms, the Jewish revolt they urged was to be suicidal—and even worse, in the eyes of many, it would trigger an immediate, furious retaliation upon other Jews who had managed, against all odds, to survive to that point. But the activists' eyes were on history, to be read by people like ourselves. Raul Hilberg, the dean of Holocaust historians, argued strenuously in his Destruction of the European Jews that traditional patterns of Jewish life militated against this kind of response, and indeed conditioned Jews to comply with their murderers.

The Jews' "reaction pattern," he wrote, "is characterized by almost complete lack of resistance. The number of men who dropped out because of disease, nervous breakdowns, or court martial proceedings was probably greater.

Imposing Their Will: An Organizational History of Jewish Toronto, 1933-1948

The Jewish resistance effort could not seriously impede or retard the progress of destructive operations. The Germans brushed that resistance aside as a minor obstacle, and in the totality of the destruction process it was of no consequence. In Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe — he acknowledges the heroic disposition of a small number of youthful resistors who took up arms against crushing odds. But importantly, he considers them among the "unadjusted," those who refused to conform to the general pattern of "accommodation" to the Nazis and their demands.

Resistance, in his perspective, what Hilberg defines implicitly as "pitting oneself against the oppressor," remains the resistance of the young idealists who challenged the Warsaw Jewish Council. Another approach is to consider "resistance" all of those efforts, as Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer once put it, to keep "body and soul together" under circumstances of unimaginable privation and brutalization.

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Historians who looked closely at the experience of Jews facing Nazi persecution, at ghetto life, or even at the camps in which Jews met their end, have testified to a considerable range of such activity, often of the most heroic kind. Those for whom the concept of resistance extends to such behavior insist on the Nazis' intention to humiliate Jews, to extinguish their spirit as well as their lives.

Resistance, to them, includes any and all efforts to oppose the Nazis by maintaining Jewish dignity and social cohesion. And so from this perspective Warsaw resistors must include not only Mordechai Aneliewicz, the fiery young Zionist leader of the armed ghetto uprising, but also the gentle physician Janusz Korczak, who sheltered two hundred children in his orphanage and in the end, refusing a proferred exemption for himself from the deportations of the summer of , led a dignified procession of his little charges to the Umshchlagplaz and their doom: "bare-headed, with a leather belt around his coat, with tall boots [Korczak] bent, held the youngest child by the hand and went on ahead.

Definition here is crucial, and points the way to alternative visions. Roger Gottlieb's careful examination of approaches to resistance during the Holocaust suggests there is more at stake in this discussion than the determination of what actions qualify as resistance. Gottlieb himself takes the wider view of resistance, arguing that such acts are "motivated by the intention to thwart, limit, or end the exercise of power of the oppressor group over the oppressed. Starting with a philosophical meditation on resistance, Gottlieb is led to a close investigation of the historical record. Without entering into the substance, I want simply to point out how in this case an obviously emotionally charged debate has refined, rather than obscured, understanding. For many Jews, there is much at stake in the controversy over Jewish resistance.

For some, there remains a pool of anger at the apparent ease with which the Nazis carried out their plans, and a related anger at the failure of Jewish leadership to motivate or organize a violent response. Their instinct is to accuse both Jews and Nazis, albeit in radically different ways. In practice, they minimize the extent of Jewish resistance. For others there is an urge to relate the Jews' capacity for self-assertion, taken in much of contemporary culture as a validation of communal worth.

Their tendency is to accent both the incidence and significance of resistance activity. Given the intensity of research on the Jewish victims now available, writers on both sides of the debate on Jewish resistance have been forced back upon definitions as a way of justifying the inclusion or exclusion of certain material—with the ultimate effect, I believe, that their history has been clarified considerably.

The two sides do not agree in the end, but for outsiders to the debate, and for students who first encounter it, the differences over Jewish resistance are far more clear than they would have been otherwise. I have also said that questions raised about Holocaust history tend to become broader, rather than narrower, as specialists press alternative points of view upon students of the subject.

Let me illustrate with the exploration of the origins of the Final Solution itself. Readers may be familiar with the debate between the so-called intentionalists and functionalists, between those who see the decision to murder the Jews of Europe as deriving from a long-nurtured plan for the physical annihilation of the Jews worked out by Hitler himself, to be launched at the propitious moment; and those who see the Nazis' policy as evolving gradually, radicalizing within the context of a Hitler-inspired antisemitism and the changing circumstances of war, particularly the early evolution of the German campaign against the Soviet Union.

Without venturing deeply into the substance of this issue, and simply by way of illustration, I want to stress the way in which this controversy takes us quickly into one of the most difficult historiographical issues in the history of the Third Reich: the question of how Nazi government and society actually worked. There are weaknesses on both sides of the debate over origins.

At the same time, because of the sometimes chaotic processes of decisionmaking in the Third Reich, functionalists are unable to reconstruct precisely the timing and the circumstances of the transition to European-wide mass murder. Because our sources are inadequate, partisans of one hypothesis or the other have been constantly on the lookout for a crucial, missing document or for new evidence of the radicalization of the Third Reich under the impact of Operation Barbarossa, the German attack on the Soviet Union in June Most scholars in the field, I believe, have tired of the sharply opposed points of view and have hesitated to opt entirely for one side or the other.

But they can hardly abandon interest in the origins of the Final Solution—one of the most troubling historical issues, I would venture to think, a historian can raise.

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So what they have done is to broaden the perspective. Ian Kershaw points in the direction many have taken, seeking understanding through a more extensive examination of how Nazi Germany operated: "Hitler's 'intention' was certainly a fundamental factor in the process of radicalization in anti-Jewish policy which culminated in extermination," he writes in The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Historical Interpretation This was the essential framework within which Hitler's lunacy could be turned into practical politics. On the other side of the debate is Richard Breitman, who, in The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution , sees Hitler making "a fundamental decision to exterminate the Jews" as early as March —far earlier than most historians on the subject would accept.

But much of Breitman's work illustrates the effect on Jewish policy of a more general question, how decisions of many kinds were reached in the Third Reich. The most valuable part of his book describes the intense rivalry between Himmler and other paladins of the Third Reich: the S. An issue crucial to Holocaust history, once again, is illuminated as the perspective has been broadened, and as matters not directly related to Nazi Jewish policy are taken into account.

The same point could be made about other aspects of the debate over the origins of the Final Solution. As Robert Koehl and Martin Broszat pointed out some time ago, and as Christopher Browning has demonstrated more recently, the timing of the Nazis' decisions with respect to the Jews in Eastern Europe was crucially tied to the development of Nazi occupation in Poland. Here too there is disagreement upon the degree to which the planning process was vague or specific with respect to Jews, upon whether men alone or all Jews were targeted for murder at the beginning, upon the widening frenzy of murder during the course of the summer of , and upon whether these murders represent a clear turn to European-wide killing.

But the connection with Barbarossa and the accompanying radicalization of the Third Reich is now widely accepted. And finally, there is the challenge of relating the Nazis' attack on Jews to their policy toward other victimized groups in the Third Reich. In their recent The Racial State: Germany — , Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman assemble a very considerable body of material linking the Nazis' attack on Jews and the attempted construction of a vast racial utopia in which persecution extended to all kinds of "racially impure" or "undesirable" elements.

None of this broadening of perspective, I might add, necessarily detracts from the uniqueness of the Nazis' objectives for Jews.

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It does, however, put it in a context that makes them easier to understand. Public opinion is a theme in which Holocaust history moves on a much more sophisticated level than may be the case with many other fields of history. Some questions are obvious. What did people in various countries think about Jews, about Germans? How powerful was wartime antisemitism? What did people know about the Holocaust?

On each of these questions, research has been extensive and controversy continues. Because the emotional fallout from such questions can be quite intense, historians who have turned their minds to them have refined the object of study considerably. There is widespread agreement, I believe, that terms have to be carefully defined, that both Nazi sources and memoirs must be used with great care, making due allowance for their respective biases, that we have a lot to learn about how public opinion actually works, and that the process of "knowing" about an unprecedented historical event is much more difficult than meets the eye.

Consider antisemitism. Nothing could be easier, one might think, than to demonstrate its salience in Germany before and during the Hitler era, and hence its relevance to the events examined here. Yet for more than a decade historians have been putting such generalizations to the test, with results that sometimes go against the grain of conventional wisdom.

Some still assume the existence of "a profoundly anti-Semitic, hallucinatory image of [Jews]" which was rampant in German society and which largely explains the willingness of so many Germans, not only to look the other way, but actually to murder Jews themselves.

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Most historians seem to be aware of how perilous are such generalizations. Problems arise the moment one makes comparisons. For the pre-Hitler period, it is difficult to make the case that Germany was an antisemitic country par excellence —something implied in at least some writing on the subject.

To the contrary, to the general observer the level of anti-Jewish feeling in Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, Hungary, and Romania, seems unquestionably higher.