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Ordinary Jews:
Choice and Survival during the Holocaust
Evgeny Finkel

Hardcover | 2017 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691172576
296 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 10 line illus. 6 tables.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400884926 |
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A Q&A with Evgeny Finkel

How Jewish responses during the Holocaust shed new light on the dynamics of genocide and political violence

Focusing on the choices and actions of Jews during the Holocaust, Ordinary Jews examines the different patterns of behavior of civilians targeted by mass violence. Relying on rich archival material and hundreds of survivors' testimonies, Evgeny Finkel presents a new framework for understanding the survival strategies in which Jews engaged: cooperation and collaboration, coping and compliance, evasion, and resistance. Finkel compares Jews' behavior in three Jewish ghettos—Minsk, Kraków, and Białystok—and shows that Jews' responses to Nazi genocide varied based on their experiences with prewar policies that either promoted or discouraged their integration into non-Jewish society.

Finkel demonstrates that while possible survival strategies were the same for everyone, individuals' choices varied across and within communities. In more cohesive and robust Jewish communities, coping—confronting the danger and trying to survive without leaving—was more organized and successful, while collaboration with the Nazis and attempts to escape the ghetto were minimal. In more heterogeneous Jewish communities, collaboration with the Nazis was more pervasive, while coping was disorganized. In localities with a history of peaceful interethnic relations, evasion was more widespread than in places where interethnic relations were hostile. State repression before WWII, to which local communities were subject, determined the viability of anti-Nazi Jewish resistance.

Exploring the critical influences shaping the decisions made by Jews in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe, Ordinary Jews sheds new light on the dynamics of collective violence and genocide.

Evgeny Finkel is assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.


"A political scientist turns fresh eyes on the problem of how European Jews responded to the Holocaust as it was unfolding. . . . Of much interest to students of modern history but also to those engaged in humanitarian relief efforts, refugee relocation, and the like."--Kirkus

"Instances of . . . mass hysteria have been appearing on a weekly basis, revealing an historical illiteracy so vast that it could contain 1,000 books on the Holocaust. If the ignorant could read only one of them . . . Ordinary Jews would be an excellent way to begin their education."--Stefan Kanfer, City Journal

"Finkel provides a fresh and often fascinating analysis. . . . He makes a compelling case that the response of Jews was based in no small measure on their experiences before the war."--Glen Altschuler, Jerusalem Post

"Finkel’s book on an individual’s choice and survival during the Holocaust focuses on how victims from three Jewish ghettos--Minsk, Kraków, and Bialystok--reacted in response to danger from the Nazis and their allies. . . . This study is fascinating in how Finkel weaves personal narratives from the victims with social science foundations in order to reach some macro conclusions. . . . Finkel’s book is provocative and worth reading for scholars looking to understand the victims within these wretched ghettos."--Choice

"As more Holocaust works push through the barrier of the Holocaust as unknowable, restoring Jewish life and agency before, during--and after--the Shoah is essential. Finkel’s work makes a solid contribution in this regard without losing sight of the people, actions, policies, and laws most responsible for creating the contexts of such life-or-death ‘choices.’"--Peter Admirand, Reading Religion


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Table of Contents:

List of Tables, Maps, and Figures vii
Note on Transliteration ix
1 Introduction 4
2 Setting the Stage: Jewish Ghettos during the Holocaust 21
3 What Did the Jews Know? 51
4 Cooperation and Collaboration 69
5 Coping and Compliance 98
6 Evasion 126
7 Resistance 159
8 Conclusions 191
Appendix 1 Data and Archival Methods 199
Appendix 2 Distribution of Strategies 208
Appendix 3 Beyond the Three Ghettos: Econometric Analysis of Uprisings 212
Notes 223
Abbreviations 245
Bibliography 247
Glossary 263
Acknowledgments 265
Index 269

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