June 13, 2024
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A Closer Look at Lublin

Reviewing: “Gates of Tears: The Holocaust in the Lublin District” by David Silberklang. Yad Vashem Publications. 2013. English. Hardcover. 498 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9653084643.

Dr. David Silberklang, the senior historian of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, the lead editor of Yad Vashem Studies, and the series editor of The Holocaust Survivors’ Memoirs Project, has written an extremely important work that adds significantly to our understanding of the Lublin District, which played a central part in the “murder and persecution” of Jews during the Shoah.

From 1939-1941, the Lublin District was a dumping ground for Jews from western Poland, the Reich, and other parts of the District. It became the center for Jewish forced labor and the center of murder of the Jews from the General Government (Cracow, Warsaw, Radom, and Lublin, with Cracow serving as the administrative center established by the Nazis on October 26, 1939), as well as for all other Jews who were deported into the area from the Reich, western Poland and other parts of the General Government.

Refining the Process of Destruction

It was here the Nazis developed and honed their ability to deport massive numbers of people on a continuing basis and to employ stationary gas chambers to murder large number of people. Approximately 1 million Jews were murdered in the Lublin District as part of “Operation Reinhard” (the secret German plan to exterminate Polish Jews in the General Government district) including 99% of the local Jewish population.

Although Silberklang is not the first to write about the Lublin District, his prodigious use of documents in Hebrew and Yiddish, from Russian sources, and those found in the Lublin State Archives containing the records of the Judenräte in Lublin and other Polish Jewish communities, (rarely, if ever consulted by other scholars) provides new insights into the process of destruction and the Jewish response to it.

The Search for Mystical Heroism

Said Silberklang: “The search for a mythical heroism has at times been so overpowering that Jewish activities during the Holocaust have been examined largely from that vantage point—the extent to which Jews’ activities in their efforts to survive were dangerous and heroic. The definition has evolved and expanded over the years to include not only those who engaged in organized armed resistance, but also what has been termed in Hebrew amidah—unarmed resistance and attempts to survive, including illegal activities….

“Most Jews, it may be assumed, did all they could to survive… But could all Jews have been heroes? What can such a perspective say about all the people who lived and died as ordinary mortals and not as heroes on pedestals? Yehuda Bauer [academic adviser to Yad Vashem] aptly cautioned against creating a nostalgic or ‘overdrawn’ picture of resistance or amidah.”

A Final Note

In this work, Silberklang has demonstrated the necessity of using all available documents in every language to construct a more accurate description of what transpired in any given historical event. “Gates of Tears: The Holocaust in the Lublin District” has to be essential part of any Holocaust library.


Dr. Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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