Please note that this review will act as spoilers for the book.
About the book
Who Betrayed the Jews? directly contrasts with Agnes Grunwald-Spier’s previous book The Other Schindlers. In the earlier publication, Grunwald-Spier details the heroic accounts of those who risked their lives to rescue Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. In this work, the darker side of humanity is revealed. Using a vast amount of witness and survivor testimony, Grunwald-Spier illustrates the many ways in which the Jews of Europe were systematically persecuted, robbed of their property and sent to their deaths.
Beginning with tragic stories of how Jews in hiding were often reported to the Gestapo by close friends and neighbours, it is shown that the Nazis and the security forces under their control were reliant upon the general population complying with their anti-Jewish legislation.
The chapter entitled ‘Betrayals by Jews’ presents a complicated picture. There is the story of Celeste Di Porto of Rome, better known as La Pantera Nera (The Black Panther), who betrayed fellow Jews to the Gestapo in order to avoid the same fate. Grunwald-Spier also examines the role of the Jewish Councils within the ghettos, explaining the extremely difficult position, or to use Primo Levi’s words, the ‘Grey Zone’ these Jews were placed in. The book also examines the role of national corporations, such as the railway networks in France who offered discounts to the Nazis for bulk transports of Jews.
Additionally, well-known businesses were not only complicit in the robbing, deportation and killing of Jews, but often went beyond what was asked of them by the Nazi authorities. Consequently, a large part of the book is dedicated to the issues of Aryanisation; the process by which the Jews were systematically robbed of their livelihoods and possessions. Grunwald-Spier explains that through this theft and heavy financial sanctions placed on the Jewish communities, often the Jews were unwittingly financing their own death sentences.
There are further chapters dealing with the indoctrination of German youth into the Nazi philosophy and, later, the living conditions within the ghettos and the concentration camps. The specific cases of children, First World War soldiers and sports personalities are also examined.
There are some sparks of light within the harrowing stories, such as the account of the Danish government refusing to cooperate with the round-up of its Jews and the gallant behaviour of Muslims in Algiers who refused to take stolen Jewish property.
Ultimately, this work covers far more than the title would suggest. Almost all aspects of Nazi persecution of Jews are covered, making it a useful introductory tool to the historical timeline of the Holocaust. The wealth of personal testimony makes it clear that betrayal came in many forms, had numerous disastrous consequences, and that almost all European Jews were ultimately affected.
About the author
A founder trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Agnes Grunwald-Spier is a survivor of the Holocaust. She was sent to the Budapest Ghetto when she was just four months old; she and her mother were liberated there in January 1944. She was awarded an MBE in 2016 for her work with Holocaust survivors and organisations. She has authored one other book entitled The Other Schindlers which details the stories of non-Jews who risked their lives and families to rescue Jews at risk from Nazi persecution. The work received high praise and has been translated into different languages.
It is pointed out that in a large number of cases the Jewish individuals concerned, and now their heirs, have not received apologies, compensation or the return of their possessions. Holocaust Memorial Day’s theme for 2017 is How can life go on? Without even a simple apology or the return of possessions is it ever possible for the victims of the Holocaust to feel they have received any justice? As Grunwald-Spier concludes,
‘Those who survived received little support or understanding and struggled to retrieve their lives, their homes and possessions… The struggle for restitution has continued until the current time … Survivors mostly died before restitution was available. Most had no justice and have been failed by almost everyone, including international bodies created to protect them.’ (p.546)
It is now left to the new generation to ensure justice and restitution for the survivors and their heirs, a struggle which continues even 70 years after the Holocaust.
1. Agnes Grunwald-Spier argues that the Nazis changed the nature of Jewish persecution from religion-based to race-based. Discuss Nazi policy in the context of the history of antisemitism.
2. What constitutes a betrayal?
3. To what extent did civil authorities (police, local authorities) act on their own initiative during the Holocaust?
4. Discuss the role of the Jewish Councils within the ghettos and the ‘grey zone’ they found themselves in.
5. Discuss the issue of using scientific knowledge which is the result of unethical practice.
6. Why was it difficult for survivors to return to their hometowns after the war?
7. What obstacles are in place for survivors looking for material restitution?
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