Jewish heroism during the Holocaust was expressed not only through armed resistance to the Nazis, but through non-violent means as well, says an Israeli historian.
Heroism manifested itself through the preservation of human dignity among oppressed Jews and through acts of rescue on the part of non-Jews, noted Robert Rozett, the co-author of a forthcoming book with Avraham Milgrom on the subject, and the director of the Yad Vashem Library in Jerusalem.
Rozett’s book – which he describes as a “documentary reader” – is based on letters and diaries produced by Jews during the Holocaust.
It will be the first volume of its kind, said Rozett, who was in Toronto recently at the invitation of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
“Heroism is not just armed resistance,” said Rozett, the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary who was born in the United States and made aliyah in 1978. “Heroism is also the spiritual courage that enabled Jews to wear the [Nazi] yellow star and Jewish women to keep their families together against all odds. It’s a different kind of heroism.”
Rozett’s still untitled book, which will be published in 2013 by Yad Vashem and Israel’s Knesset, will at first appear in Hebrew and then, possibly, in English.
Among the rescuers he discusses is Raoul Wallenberg, the legendary Swede who is credited with having saved 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest from 1944 onward.
In fact, Wallenberg acted in conjunction with a host of other rescuers, said Rozett, who, under the supervision of eminent scholar Yehuda Bauer, wrote his PhD thesis on Jewish rescue and revolt in Slovakia and Hungary.
“About a dozen or more people were involved in the rescue of Hungarian Jews in Budapest, including the Swiss consul, the Vatican representative, the honorary Spanish consul, and the Red Cross.”
As for armed resistance, Rozett said that revolts broke out in about 12 cities in Poland and Lithuania, including Warsaw, Vilna and Bialystok.
Revolts were planned in other localities, but were not carried out, he added.
Jewish resistance was only effective when it was connected to a larger non-Jewish revolt, he said, citing the 1944 Slovak rebellion. Rozett – a graduate of Hebrew University’s Institute for Contemporary Jewry – said that Holocaust denial is all the more serious when it is linked to a campaign delegitimizing Israel.
In his estimation, Holocaust denial has become a mainstream concept in the Muslim and Arab worlds, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being one of its most outspoken proponents.
Israeli politicians who evoke the Holocaust for political ends feed into criticism that Israel exploits the Holocaust, he said.
“We’d like people in the public domain to be careful about what they say. But it’s germane to talk about Jewish history. The Holocaust belongs in public, but it depends how it is used.”
Yad Vashem’s library is probably the biggest of its kind, containing 130,000 titles in 54 languages, primarily in English and German, said Rozett, who has been its director for the past 18 years.
Among the publications are 1,300 yizkor books from Jewish communities destroyed by the Nazis and 9,000 memoirs written by Holocaust survivors.
Each year, about 4,000 titles, some on Jewish life and identity, are added to the collection. In the interests of comprehensiveness, the library collects Holocaust denial literature, too. “Not all suppliers want to deal with that material,” he said.
The library also stocks German publications from the Nazi era and Jewish newspapers and journals from the Holocaust period.