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Judaica part 3 — The Holocaust

Catastrophe, Memory, and the Historical Record  

The Holocaust (Shoah as it is referred to in Hebrew) is the most important and tragic event in modern Jewish history, the dimensions of which are still being felt. Millions of Poles, Russians, Gypsies, and countless others perished as the result of Nazi Germany's campaigns of military conquest, but it does not diminish this human catastrophe to recognize that hatred of the Jews had a special place in Hitlerian ideology. The Nazis aimed at the total destruction of the Jewish population of Western and Eastern Europe.

Raphael Lemkin Mimeograph

The word genocide dates only from 1943. It was devised by Raphael Lemkin, an émigré lawyer of Galician Jewish background who sought a precise term to denote an atrocity on the scale of the Nazi efforts to annihilate the Jews. Lemkin had studied the mass killings of Armenians by Turks as the Ottoman empire collapsed; as World War II unfolded, he sought to warn the world of the lethal consequences of Nazi policy. The archives' Raphael Lemkin mimeograph is his translation of regulations used by German military governments in occupied Europe in the early phase of the war. Lemkin became an advocate for an international treaty against genocide, which was approved by the United Nations in 1948.

Having long recognized the importance of collecting materials that document the Holocaust, the Hoover Library and Archives contain substantial holdings on the subject. In 1980, Hoover curator of the West European Collection, Agnes F. Peterson, compiled an annotated list of archival materials relating to the Holocaust, which has been updated since to reflect more recent acquisitions of such materials. When some wish to deny the Holocaust's ever having taken place, archival documents become ever more important as a means of establishing the historical record.

Donald McClure Papers and Tomas Glanc Collection

Some archival materials relating to the Holocaust include: architectural plans and prisoner lists from the Dachau concentration camp, both donated by Willem Houwink, a former Dachau prisoner; documents pertaining to the Buchenwald concentration camp in the Donald McClure papers; and a firstperson account of the Auschwitz death camp written by Julius Zon, a Polish prisoner. The Thomas Glanc collection contains rare memorabilia pertaining to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The Hoover Library and Archives also have a complete set of the records of the international military tribunal established at Nuremberg to judge Nazi war criminals.

Daniel Lerner and William R. Philp Collections

The archives' collections relating to the Nazi Party (under its official name, the Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiter-Partei) and its leaders, Hitler, Himmler, and Göring include the Daniel Lerner collection, which has a large number of German documents captured by the American army at the end of World War II. Among those are ones specifically dealing with Nazi policies toward the Jews. That collection also contains the transcripts of interrogations of German prisoners of war and other materials relating to the rise of nazism in Germany. The William R. Philp collectionhas similar materials concerning the early growth of the Nazi movement, including documents detailing the attempted assassination of Hitler on July 20, 1944.

Jan Karski Papers

Various aspects of the Holocaust are still subject to historical debate, including the Allied response to news of the existence of death camps such as Auschwitz. Among the first informants about the Nazi genocide was the Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski, who personally briefed Churchill and Roosevelt, giving them reports from Jewish organizations in Poland, as well as his own eyewitness accounts of Nazi atrocities in the Warsaw ghetto. The Jan Karski papers document Karski's trip to the United States in 1943 and contains microfilm copies of Polish underground publications and photographs from the German occupation of Poland. Also in the collection are materials relating to Karski's account of his wartime missions, Story of the Secret State.

A number of collections specifically concern the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943, when Jews fought back against the German security forces. Documents relating to this rebellion, which was brutally suppressed, can be found in the Polish embassy in Great Britain (Poland. Ambasada (Great Britain)) and Polish Information Ministry (Poland. Ministerstwo Informacji i Dokumentacji) records. The Polish Information Ministry records also include more general accounts of the extermination of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The Wladyslaw Anders papers contains over 18,000 personal accounts and questionnaires relating to Poles imprisoned and deported during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941. Among these are numerous testimonies concerning Jewish prisoners and deportees. There are similar personal accounts of life during the Soviet occupation of Poland and concerning Jews deported by the Soviets in the Polish Information Ministry records.

Ona Simaite Papers

One person who risked her life to help those who were victims of Nazi persecution was Ona Simaite, a Lithuanian woman who used her professional credentials as a librarian to enter the Vilna ghetto and aid Jews trapped there. Simaite, a non-Jew, was eventually arrested by the Germans and sent to the Dachau concentration camp; she survived and settled in France. Before her death in 1970, she was recognized as one of “the righteous among nations” by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel. The Ona Simaite papers include her handwritten account of conditions in the Vilna ghetto between 1941 and 1944, as well as materials pertaining to her life in France after the war.

Other accounts in the archives by Holocaust survivors include the unpublished memoirs of Michael Stone, a Latvian Jew who emigrated to the United States after the war. Materials in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast and corporate records deal with responses by Soviet-era writers to the Holocaust, including Yevgeny Yevtushenko's famous poem “Babi Yar,” which directly addresses the massacre of Jews in the Ukraine during the war, and Anatolii Kuznetsov's documentary novel on the same subject. In the Gleb Struve papers are some materials relating to Paul Celan, a poet of Romanian Jewish origin who wrote a celebrated literary response to the Holocaust.

Celan's poem “Todesfuge” (Death fugue) contains the repeated phrase “Death is a master from Germany.” Most historical approaches to the Holocaust have necessarily focused on German responsibility for the atrocities. More recent scholarship on the subject, however, includes an examination of participation in the Holocaust of elements other than German ones, specifically, those local collaborators and allies who abetted the Nazis. Historians in many countries, from West European ones such as France to various East European countries in the post-Soviet period, are seeking to establish a more accurate record of what occurred in German-occupied territories during World War II.

Anti-Jewish violence, including pogroms, also occurred in countries allied with Nazi Germany, not always at the instigation of the Germans. In 1970, the Hoover Press published one of the first English-language books devoted to the subject of the fascist allies of the Nazis in Eastern Europe: The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania, by Nicholas M. Nagy-Talavera, who used the resources of the Hoover Library and Archives.

Several collections relate to Vichy France and its officials, many of whom sought to exculpate themselves after the war for their role as collaborators. In the Gaston Bergery, René de Chambrun, Marcel Déat, and Georges Albertini collections are examples both of self-justifying writings and objective information concerning Vichy policies toward the Jews.

Pierre Gamburg Papers

An altogether different perspective on the French experience in World War II is provided by the Pierre Gamburg papers, which consist mostly of his diaries. Gamburg, a French lieutenant and a Jew, was held in German prison camps between 1940 and 1945. As a prisoner of war, Gamburg was protected by the Geneva conventions and was largely unaware of the fate of European Jews, although he became increasingly concerned about the fate of his family in France as time went on. Gamburg’s diaries provide poignant details concerning the conditions he endured during his captivity and record the attitudes exhibited by imprisoned French officers toward the Jews in their ranks, who were held on a separate prison floor. Thanks to the generous support of Françoise Gamburg Fleishhacker, a transcription of the French original and an English translation of the diaries were made available in 2004.

Certain collections in the archives specifically concern contemporary scholarship on the Holocaust. The Holokausta Izpetes Problemas Latvija proceedings contain materials from a Holocaust conference in Riga, Latvia, in 2000, including conference papers, videotape recordings of conference sessions, and local press coverage. There is also a textbook used in the curriculum of Latvian public schools to teach about the Holocaust, including events that took place in Latvia under German occupation. In addition to the Riga conference, the archives also has two collections pertaining to earlier academic conferences on the Holocaust, one at Harvard University in 1988 and another at San Jose State University in 1977.

The question of accountability for the Holocaust began with the end of World War II and it may never be fully adjudicated, in either a legal or moral sense. There is, however, a historical record of instances in which Nazi officials were brought to justice. In addition to the Nuremberg trial materials mentioned previously, the archives has sound recordings of excerpts of Adolf Eichmann's trial in Israel in 1961. This trial attracted international attention, and it was also the subject of Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, a refugee herself from Nazi Germany. In her book, Arendt advanced the thesis of “the banality of evil” to describe how seemingly ordinary people could allow themselves to become participants in, or accessories to, mass murder.

Eric Voegelin Papers

Arendt enjoyed a long career as a public intellectual in the United States and Europe, with her scholarly concerns often focusing on political violence in the twentieth century. Her early work The Origins of Totalitarianism sought to describe Stalinism and nazism as twin phenomena, different in crucial respects but similar in others. The Eric Voegelin papers include that philosopher's correspondence with Arendt. The Sidney Hook papers contain Hook's correspondence with, and his writings about, Arendt. A friendly exchange of letters between Arendt and Eric Hoffer is in the Hoffer papers.


Related slide shows

May 22, 2007

The Holocaust Collection Highlight

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