May 21, 2024
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Jews in the Holocaust: Choiceless Choices

A letter to the editor in The Jewish Link issue of July 22, “Setting the Record Straight on Israel,” chastised those Jews who believe Israel is an apartheid state. Fair enough. However, the concluding paragraph of the letter contains seriously misguided and possibly inflammatory ideas. The paragraph stated that it was “this type of people in Europe who the Nazis used to man the infamous Judenrat and the concentration camp kapos who collaborated with them.” This broad-brush denunciation of these Jews has been an assumption that over the years has been deemed wrong and even dangerous.

In the recent aftermath of World War II, after Israel was created, there were several trials of former kapos and supposed collaborators who were identified as such by survivors. Over the next decade, the attitude of the courts changed and determined that there was too much ambiguity in the circumstances and in the ascribing of guilt. A recent book by Dan Porat, “Bitter Reckoning,” relates this history. Porat cites a letter from the famous author, scholar and Kabbalist Gershon Scholem that states: “…There were among them many people in no way different from ourselves, who were compelled to make terrible decisions in circumstances that we cannot even begin to reproduce or reconstruct. I do not know whether they were right or wrong. Nor do I presume to judge. I was not there.”

Lawrence Langer, professor emeritus at Simmons College in Boston, has written extensively about the Holocaust. He uses the phrase “choiceless choices” when ghetto leaders, concentration camp inmates or any individual was forced to make a decision relating to life and death functions. Once the Jews entered this evil arena, whether ghetto or camp, all they had known and understood about rules, common sense and decency was gone. Imagine a situation where a family arrives at a concentration camp and the father sees his family taken away to be killed and he is asked to perform work for Nazis. Can any of us fault any decision made?

Finally, when these inmates are portrayed as was done in the letter, we are perpetuating the “victims as perpetrators” canard. Are we to blame ourselves for what was done to us?

Alan Schoffman
Teaneck
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