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January 20, 1978 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-01-20

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56 Friday, January 20, 1978


Holocaust and Collaborationists: Dr. Isaiah Trunk's
Research Into Nazi Pressures on Jewish Councils

Nationwide efforts to en-
courage studies of the
Holocaust in American
schools and the visit in Po-
land, at the Warsaw
Ghetto's remains. by Presi-
dent Jimmy Carter, revive
interest in the role of the
Judenrat," the Jewish
Councils which were work-
ing under Nazi compulsion
during their occupation of


"Judenrat," the most de-
finitive study of the Councils
and their operations, by Dr.
Isaiah Trunk, provides a
basis for the study of that
function which has been un-
der debate since the defeat
of Hitlerism. The encyclo-
c work, first published
by Macmillan in 1972, has
just been re-issued as a pa-
perback by Stein and Day.

Trunk was born in Po-
land, holds a master's de-
gree in history from the
University of Warsaw and a
Doctor of Jewish Literature
degree from the Jewish
Teachers Seminary in New
York. Throughout his life he
has published works on the
history of the Jews in Po-
land. He is now a research
associate at the YIVO In-
stitute for Jewish Research.

He spent more than five
years preparing this book.

The Nazis decreed the es-
tablishment of Jewish Coun-
cils ("Judenrat") on Oct.
12, 1939. Each community
would have its "representa-
tive" Council, and each

Council would receive or-
ders from German official
agencies and would be ex-
pected to see that these or-
ders were obeyed "by all
Jews and Jewesses."

In "Judenrat, - Trunk
probes into the conditions in
which the Councils were
forced to operate and into
the motivations and deeds
of the members.
Dr. Trunk has had access
to a vast amount of privi-
leged, authoritative mate-
rial on the social back-
ground and' behavior of the
individuals who made up
the Councils. He also includ-
es discussions of the painful
post-war aftereffects. and of
the trials of surviving Coun-
cil members and Jewish
ghetto policemen.

How are the Jewish coun-
cils to be judged, in view of
the tragedies that erupted.
often with their aid? Dr.
Trunk thus judges the Jews
who cooperated with the

"We think that the Coun-
cils' collaboration with the
Germans can, mutatis mu-
tandis, be defined as collab-
oration d'Etat, a term
which is closer to our defini-
tion of 'cooperation.' Con-
sidering their tasks, cooper-
ation with the authorities
was unavoidable for the
Councils. The very rationale
for their existence would
have vanished without it.

"The Councils had to
maintain daily contacts with

the Germans in such mat-
ters as food, delivery of
forced laborers, collection
of imposed material Leistu-
ngen. filling production or-
ders for ghetto industry,
permission for import of
raw materials. carrying out
of some welfare activities —
medical or sanitary serv-
ices, education of children,

"It was stated in official
German pronouncements
that the. Councils represent-
ed the interests of the Jews.
There even was a Council
(in Bedzin ) where this task
was mentioned in its title:
Interessenvertretung der ju-
dischen Kultusgemeinde in
Bendsburg. Thus the Coun-
cils were made to believe
that they would be able to
protect Jewish interests."

On this score. Dr. Trunk
also judges the Nazi-in-
spired Councils historically
and makes these corn-
parisons by drawing upon
experiences of the past:

"There were many in-
stances where the Councils
came about-on the initiative
of pre-war community lead-
ers and other people active
in civic work. On many oc-
casions these people, who at
the beginning of the occupa-
tion voluntarily interceded
with the occupation author-
ities (at that time, the mili-
tary) on. behalf of the op-
pressed Jews, later were
nominated to serve on the
"The membership of nu-
merous Councils was, in
fact, an extension of the
pre-war Kehila bodies. In
other cases, representatives
of pre-war institutions and
organizations with long-time
experience were nominated.
According to our poll, of 740
Council members 43 percent
had been active in Kehilas
and municipal organs be-
fore the war.

"The argument that the
Councils were a German in-
stitution because they were
established on German or-
ders is not valid at all. All of
the community representa-
tives for hundreds' of years
in Jewish Diaspora history
had been established by or-
ders of various govern-
ments. They did not fail to
be Jewish institutions for all

Jews, forbidden to use other public transport, board the
Warsaw Ghetto streetcar.

As to the argument that
they served the interests of
the state it should be men-
tioned that from the earliest
times all Kehila bodies

A Jewish policeman, at right (note armband), is shown with German police at the exit
gate from the Lodz Ghetto.

served to some extent the
interests of the state, espe-
cially in fiscal matters, and
were collectively respon-
sible for Jewish taxes, e.g.,
in Czarist Russia until the
middle of the 19th Century.
"The Vaad Arba Aratzot
(the Council of Four Lands,
an autonomous Jewish gov-
erning body in Poland from
the 16th to the 18th Cen-
turies ) was dissolved in 1764
by the Polish Sejm (Parlia-
ment) because it had not
been effective enough for
the fiscal interests of the
state treasury.
"Thus serving the inter-
ests of the state was not a
new task for the Jewish
Councils. The horrible dif-
ference between the Kehila
bodies of the past and the
Jewish Councils was that
for the first time in Jewish
history a Jewish organ was
forced to help a foreign,
criminal regime to destroy
Were non-Jews affected
like the Jews by forced co-
operation with the Nazis?
Dr. Trunk indicated differ-
ences, between collabora-
tion and cooperation, stat-
"For purposes of com-
parison, it should be re-
membered that cooperation
between the indigent non-
Jewish population and the
authorities took place
throughout the occupied ter-
ritories. Hundreds of thou-
sands of officials and work-
ers from among the local
population (in the Govern-
ment General alone their
number reached 260,000 per-
sons according to a report
by Frank of January 1944)
served in the German ad-
ministrative, economic, ju-
dicial, and even police ap-
paratuses. Without their
assistance it would have
been impossible for the Ger-
mans to administer and
dominate the occupied
"No accusations of collab-
oration were advanced
against these people after
the war, • except in some
individual cases of overt
criminal acts committed
against the population in the
occupied territories.

"There were. however,
basic differences between
non-Jewish collaboration
and Jewish cooperation.
"1. Collaboration of non-
Jews was on a voluntary
basis, either becasue of
sharing the National Social-
ist ideology, or because of
opportunity for personal
gain (career, authority,
etc.), or in order to let off
pentup hatred toward the
Jews, or because of a lust to
rob and kill.
"This category includes
Jewish Gestapo agents and
the demoralized members
of the Councils and the
ghetto police who served the
German authorities in order
to gain privileges and mate-
rial goods for themselves
and their families. In con-
trast, the cooperation of the
Councils with the Germans
was forced upon the Jews
and was maintained in an
atmosphere of ever-present
merciless terror.
"2. Diametrically differ-
ent were German aims with
regard to non-Jewish collab-
orationists, as compared to
Jewish ones. Toward the
former their aims were
political and tactical: to
infect with propaganda and
morally disarm the local
population in order to neu-
tralize the anti-Nazi move-
ment. But with respect to
the Jews, the imposed coop-
eration was aimed at
accomplishing the special
tasks of an .instrument for
carrying out all anti-Jewish
persecution measures,
including self-destruction,
with the Council members
and the Jewish police them-
selves as the final victims.
"3. The non-Jewish collab-
orationists greatly profited
from the fruits of their coop-
erations, sharing the mate-
rial privileges of the Ger-
man authority apparatus.
They were considered allies
in the future 'New Europe:
while the Councils. as a
rule, acted under conditions
of constant physical and
spiritual degradation, al-
ways on the brink of the
abyss, with the threat of
being thrown into it hanging
over them all the time.
They were treated as
enemies by the Nazis, as

were all Jews.
- "However. cooperation
with the Germans was a
threat to spineless Council
members. They were in
danger of going to the ex-
treme in cooperating with
the Nazis, not so much in
the illusory belief of inter-
ceding for the common good
of the Jews as for their own
"In an atmosphere of
moral nihilism, corruption
of Nazi officialdom, and in-
human terror, it was not
easy for such Council mem-
bers to be on guard against
crossing the fine demarca-
tion line between coopera-
tion and collaboration. Com-
pelled to adjust themselves
to the mentality of their
German bosses. some of the
Council members were dis-
posed to adopt their meth-
ods. They were often forced
to do so.
"There were also Coun-
cilmen with a compulsive
urge to rule. and participa-
tion in the Councils provided
them with the opportunity of
relieving their lust for au-
thority and honor; for this
they felt obligated to the
Dr. Trunk contends that
"the phenomena of the Jew-
ish Councils should be dis-
cussed in the framework of
Jewish history, and not as a
unique and queer episode."
He adds:
"The researcher of the
Holocaust is not free from
looking for historical analo-
gies between the situations
the Councils faced and those
the Kehila leaders of old
dealt with.
"Despite all the differ
ces of the Nazi era, as com-
pared with other dark times
in Jewish history, we be-
lieve that a historical com-
parison between the role of
the Kehilas during the Kan-
tonist era, for instance. in
the first half of the 19th
Century in Czarist Russia,
may prevent us from con-
sidering the Jewish Councils
as a one-time phenomenon
without any parallel in Jew-
ish history."
In the growing library on
the Holocaust, Isaiah
Trunk's "Judenrar • thus as-
sumes major importance.

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