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Book Notes: Anti-Semitism in France. A Political History from Léon Blum to the Present, Pierre Birnbaum; Anti-Semitism in the Third Reich, Hermann Graml; How Dark the Heavens, Sidney Iwens

David Cesarani

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Anti-Semitism in France. A Political History from Leon Blum to the Pre? sent, Pierre Birnbaum. Translated by Miriam Kochan (Blackwell, Oxford 1992. First published in French, 1988) 305 pp. + index. ?45.00. Anti-Semitism in the Third Reich, Hermann Graml. Translated by Tim Kirk (Blackwell, Oxford 1992. First published in German, 1988) 250 pp. + index. ?14.95 (paperback). How Dark the Heavens, Sidney Iwens (Shengold Publishers, New York, second edition 1992) 290 pp. np. Pierre Birnbaum acquired his considerable reputation in France as a sociologist. More recently he has turned his attention to the analysis of modern anti-Semitism, a subject which he notes has received little attention from French historians. Birnbaum consequently brings freshness to the subject, but at the price of some historiographical naivety and an undiscriminating approach to his material. Never? theless, his thesis on anti-Semitism is interesting and he breaks new ground when examining the 1930s and the 1950s. Birnbaum wants to liberate the study of anti-Semitism in France from the debate over the existence, or otherwise, of a specifically French version of Fas? cism. He also wishes to escape from the notion of an 'eternal' and undifferentiated anti-Semitism. Both approaches, he suggests, neglect the role of the state and the relations which Jews bear to it. Unlike Hannah Arendt, who claimed that Jews suffered from their cleaving to the state when its authority began to break down, Birnbaum maintains that it is precisely the strength of the French state that put Jews in jeopardy. Jews were emancipated in France and permitted to enter politics and the service of the nation provided they abandoned a particularlistic Jewish identity. This they did, but the shedding of a separatist ethos in favour of an assimilationist 'Franco-Judaism' was not apparent to Edouard Drumont and his heirs. They abhorred the spectacle of Jews achieving positions of influence in the Third Republic. When the government of Jules Ferry instigated a policy of radical secu 287</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes larism the defenders of religion, especially Catholics, identified the Jews as the prime movers and beneficiaries of the campaign. Because the republic had accepted Jews and awarded them prominent positions, the state invited its enemies to adapt and use old anti-Jewish stereotypes to mobilize people against it. Those who rejected the strong state rejected the Jews too. This thesis may be original when applied to France, but it is hardly new in general. Moreover, in buttressing his argument with international comparisons Birnbaum describes the United Kingdom and the United States as 'weak states' which is questionable. Hostility towards the Jews was greater in these countries than his selective reading of the literature allows, and even if it was less violent than in Germany or France this may have had a variety of causes apart from the nature of state power. Birnbaum brilliandy describes the character of French anti-Semitism prior to the Dreyfus Affair. He then traces the persistence of anti-Jewish stereotypes and canards in the campaigns against Leon Blum and Pierre Mendes France: the Jew as Oriental, nomadic, neurotic, feminine, conspiratorial and monied. While some of the material on the 1880-90S is familiar from the work of Robert Byrnes and Stephen Wilson, which he generously acknowledges, his compendious research on the 1930s and the 1950s is pathbreaking. Sometimes the political intrigues around which the spiteful rhetoric was woven may be too dense for Anglophone readers, but the quality and the quantity of the anti-Semitism is sure to be new and shocking. It should be noted, however, that the tide is deceptive. This book is really a study of political anti-Semitism directed at Blum and Mendes France and the continuities between the two, with some mention of similar themes in the right-wing opposition to Laurent Fabius. Hermann Graml, long associated with the Munich Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, covers more familiar ground in a history of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany that will prove useful to students and interesting to general readers. Allowing for the occasional lapse into sentences of Teutonic dimensions the translation is highly readable. However, the introduction fails to alert those unfamiliar with the related historiography that the book is really an elaborate reply to those, like Martin Broszat and Hans Mommsen, who depict the unfolding of Nazi policy towards the Jews as being determined as much by contingent circumstances as by a pre? existing and powerful ideology. Graml begins with a lucid account of the development of anti-Semitism in modern Germany. He argues that by the 1890s volkisch thought, social Darwinism and eugenics had become so intermingled that the logic of German anti-Semitism prescribed either the expulsion or the extermination of the Jews. While Jews were shielded by the state this was of no importance, but the collapse of the Kaiserreich and the weakness of Weimar exposed them to danger. When millions of Germans voted for the NSDAP, claims Graml, they did not do so in innocence of Nazi attitudes towards the Jews. 288</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes However, between 1933 and 1938 Nazi policy on the Jews was subject to internal and external constraints. While ideology propelled the rank and file towards ever greater brutality, politics and diplomacy obliged the leadership to backpedal. This resulted in the farcical boycott of April 1933 and anti-Jewish laws so hedged with qualifications that, for example, 70 per cent of Jewish lawyers remained in place after passage of the law supposedly forcing Jews out of the profession. Gradually, as one check after another was removed, the Nazi leadership, responding to pressure from below, proceeded from de-emancipation to isolation and then expropriation. The turning point was 1938: beginning with Vienna the SS gained control of Jewish affairs, making them a 'police matter'. During Kris? tallnacht ninety-one Jews were killed, yet no one was prosecuted. This showed 'the first symptoms of a growing will to destroy now all the more modest ways of satisfying the drive to persecute the Jews had been exhausted.' At this point Graml departs from 'functionalist' interpretations that emphasize the zig-zags in Nazi policy up to spring 1941. He maintains that Hitler orally decreed the murder of Russian Jewry in the summer of 1940. Accordingly, when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 the Einsatzgruppen set about the annihilation of the whole Jewish population. Logic, necessity and psychology then led inexor? ably to a Final Solution embracing all of European Jewry. Since the mid-1980s this line has been repeatedly questioned. Some of the relevant scholarship may have appeared too late for inclusion by Graml, but readers should be warned that the thesis he advances is now in severe difficulty. The last chapter, which deals with 1941-5, is more generally the weakest of the book. There are numerous errors. Graml says that Auschwitz-Birkenau was in operation in January 1942, when in fact the first gassings took place there in March 1942. He speaks of public protests in allied countries in mid-1942, months before knowledge of the Final Solution was openly available. The Slovak Revolt is dated to 1942, whereas it occurred in late 1944. These slips suggest that Graml is happiest dealing with the period up to 1939. Indeed, his perceptive comments on pre-war German attitudes towards the Jews contrast with his cursory remarks on wartime German anti-Semitism and public knowledge of the Final Solution. The strengths of this study lie in the clear and concise analysis of how anti-Semitism in Germany acquired such a radical and potentially exterminatory edge. It offers a sharp analysis of the compromises which reality forced on the Nazis during 1933-9, while exposing the oft-concealed thread of ideology. Each year brings new memoirs by Holocaust survivors, but the nature of survival under the Nazis dictated that each tale would be extraordinary. Sidney Iwens' recollections are structured in the form of a diary, some of it first written on scraps of paper in the Daugavpils (Dvinsk) ghetto and reconstituted in a DP camp after the war. It is both a feat of memory and a literary achievement. Iwens writes 289</page><page sequence="4">Book Notes in a matter-of-fact way that highlights the horror of what he witnessed, his terror and his own flashes of insight. While never florid or artificial, he tells his story in gripping style. Iwens was born and grew up in Jonava in Lithuania. The German attack in June 1941 overtook the Lithuanian Jews before they could orchestrate any response. He and his family fled to Daugavpils in Latvia, but they were separated, and only Sidney and his brother made it there. By sheer luck he was spared in the initial mass killings of Jewish men who were rounded up and imprisoned in July. Thanks to a hiding place, he also survived the mass murder in August of almost the entire Jewish community, which had been uprooted and crammed into a 'ghetto', in a fort south of the city. The bulk of the killing was carried out by Latvian militia. Time and again he and other Jews were saved by German soldiers who picked them for work details. From September 1941 to September 1943 Iwens was employed by the German army along with 900 other Jews in the citadel of Daugavpils. They lived in close proximity to the permanendy based rear-echelon troops and developed relation? ships with them. Relationships also grew between the young Jews. To his great interest he found romance blossoming just months after the most horrendous experiences. In the wake of Stalingrad Jews found it easier to obtain weapons and assistance from local people or wavering East European collaborators. Now armed, in September 1943, Iwens and several friends left the ghetto to join the partisans. His experiences in the forest were mixed, and it says much that he voluntarily returned to the ghetto two months later. It offered a temporary respite. Soon he had to flee to the Siauliai ghetto where he found sanctuary until July 1944. Then he was shipped to Stutthoff concentration camp and later a Dachau sub-camp. The period prior to the war's end formed a crescendo of violence, hunger and terror. Time and again in this narrative the author makes an observation that brings the reader up short. Awaiting execution he sought out landsleit since, 'It seemed easier to die in the company of people one knew'. Later he observed that, 'People standing in line to be killed didn't look very different from those waiting to buy bread'. Even in July 1944, despite all the evidence around them, he noted that the Jews of Siauliai still thought their work in the local leather factory would guarantee their existence. 'Their own prospects of survival were somehow separ? ated in their minds from the well-known fate of other Jews.' Iwens repeatedly considers the behaviour of the Lithuanians and Latvians, but manages to avoid a universal rancour. He reminds himself and his readers that there were always some good men or women. What stands out from this important and highly readable memoir is the archipelago of humanity that stretched along? side the concentration camp universe constructed by the Nazis. David Cesarani 290</page></plain_text>