CHICAGO (Apr. 7)
Prof. Yehuda Bauer, director of Hebrew University’s prestigious Institute of Contemporary Jewry, greatly admires Simon Wiesenthal’s famed efforts to apprehend Nazi murderers, but he flatly rejects his view that, as Jews, we should remind the world that II million people were murdered by the Nazis, including five million non-Jewish Christians.
On the contrary, Bauer said in a wide ranging presentation at a Northeastern Illinois University symposium on teaching the Holocaust, the number of non-Jews who were killed in the concentration camps was a maximum of 750,000. However, Bauer added, the Nazis actually an nihilated 26 million to 28 million non-Jewish Europeans through mass murder, slave labor, starvation, and starvation-related disease.
This, he said, included practically all Polish intellectuals among the three million Polish non-Jews killed, Czechs, Byelo-Russians, and other Eastern European. Byelo-Russians suspected as partisans were burned alive by the thousands in Russian Orthodox churches.
All such groups were regarded by Hitler as sub-humans, and their extermination or persecurtion, according to Bauer, was truly genocide. The Jews were not victims of such genocide, but were the first group in history — so far — to experience a Holocaust. Hitler’s racial policy placed Jews not in the category of sub-humans (like Slavs), but as the non-human embodiment of complete evil, who were trying to take over the entire world through their satanic machinations.
To exterminate this evil was the “holy” mission of the German people, as leaders of the pure and exalted Aryan race. Thus it was possible for members of the SS to murder hundreds of Jews and come home at night as “Christian” husbands and fathers.
GERMAN PEOPLE’S KNOWLEDGE OF FATE OF THE JEWS
Bauer revealed information from a previously unknown 1942 survey of the German people on the still debated question: “Did the German people know what happened to the Jews?” A German anti-Nazi managed to ask this question of hundreds of his fellow-citizens.
While he travelled extensively throughout the country, he deliberately made acquaintances, and then casually asked what they had heard about the fate of Jews from their cities, towns or villages. Eighty percent responded that they had heard that Jews had been killed. Bauer asked: If 80 percent admitted they knew, didn’t the other 20 percent have the same guilty knowledge ?
HOW EUROPEANS JEWS FACED THE HOLOCAUST
Bauer addressed directly the agonizing issue of why and how Jews submitted to the Nazis He rejected unequivocally the extreme positions that Jews went like sheep to the slaughter, or that they were all heroes and heroines.
He reminded his audience that Jews were small minorities in much larger communities, were not united, had no arms, no tradition of officer training, and were psychologically unprepared. Within months of the Nazis’ entry into Poland, nos of the Jewish population was starving, decimated by typhus, demoralized with no opportunity for resistance. And yet, there was resistance — and not just in Warsaw. In 44 other ghettoes, there were armed groups. In 91 of the 110 Byelo Russian towns and villages where Jews lived, they did resist. There were 25,000 Jewish partisans, most of whom perished. There were 6,000 Jews in Tito’s army. In fact the very first group Tito organized included 13 fighters from Macedonian Zionist groups.
Bauer did not spare his audience the other bitterly trogic side — the Jewish traitors: the ghetto police; capos in the death camps; even Jewish hangmen. Among them were young and old men and women; religious and non-religious; intellectuals and workers.
(This writer will never forget his shock in the summes of 1945 when, as a Joint Distribution Committee representative, he witnessed riots in the DP camps forcing U.S. military police to prevent lynching by the Jewish survivors of former capos whom they had discovered in the camp.)
Bauer stressed that despite all too frequent non-Jewish assistance to the Nazis in the occupied countries, there were many examples of true bravery. In Poland and in Germany itself, Jews were hidden by Christians throughout the war. The Archbishop of France asked every priest to save Jews. The Ursuline Sisters and Benedictine monks played a key role in rescuing Jews, as did priests and bishops in Italy.
The same could not be said of Pope Pius XII who never lifted his voice. Bauer stated that the Pope’s failure to act was clearly due to his desire to preserve the Catholic Church at all costs from attacks by the Nazis.
ROLE OF AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY
Bauer praised the accomplishments of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in saving Jews during the Holocaust … a fact deeply appreciated by Jews who had been under the Nazi yoke. Ironically, Bauer believes this is not known by most American Jews who still mistakenly assume that little or nothing was done by any American Jewish organization.
Bauer’s latest book, “American Jewry and the Holocaust — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1939-1945,” is a detailed presentation of JDC’s global efforts.
The book, based on JDC’s complete files of its wartime activities, reveals the problems created by all too limited funds and initial lack of understanding by JDC leaders of the depth and scope of Nazi plans, but has high praise for JDC’s overseas American staff and its European staff — most of whom were martyred by the Nazis.
It was the JDC that financed the revolt in the Warsaw ghetto and Raoul Wallenberg’s rescue of Hungarian Jews. Few people are aware that the JDC constantly sent aid to Jews in all the occupied lands.
In the last months of the war, through its Swiss representative, Saly Mayer, JDC negotiated with top SS officers the Nazi ransom offer to save Hungarian Jews — with approval and participation of the U.S. War Refugee Board, and which eventually did save the lives of thousands of Jews in Hungary and in the death camps.