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Bondage To the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust (Modern Jewish History) Paperback – March 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A very well researched and nuanced study of postwar Poland's efforts, first to deny, then to begin to deal with the complex reality of the Holocaust and particularly the fact that Auschwitz and all the other major death camps were located on Polish soil. In an angry outburst, former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir once claimed that Poles ``imbibe anti-Semitism with their mother's milk.'' Largely by probing Polish sources, Steinlauf, a senior research fellow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, uncovers a far more complex, variegated relationship between Polish Jews and Gentiles before, during, and after the Holocaust. He doesn't scant the longstanding, deep Polish stereotype of the Jew as ``the spoiler, the avenger, the foe of everything Polish.'' Yet he also notes how some Poles, even while manifesting anti-Semitic attitudes, were so appalled by the Nazi juggernaut of death that they saved or otherwise assisted Jews. Unfortunately, even more betrayed Jews; most, however, remained distraught bystanders, paralyzed by the Germans' murder of over two million of their non-Jewish fellow citizens. The immediate post- Holocaust period witnessed pogroms in Kielce and elsewhere during which some 2,000 returning Jewish survivors were murdered. In the nearly half-century of Communist rule that followed, there were several violent anti-Semitic outbreaks, and purges in the Polish Communist Party. Steinlauf traces the slow, uneven, and still very incomplete emergence of a new, more open and sympathetic attitude toward the Holocaust and the rich, if often troubled, legacy of Polish Jewish history, as well as toward contemporary Jewish sensibilities. Steinlauf clearly links this change to the emergence of the Solidarity movement and the fall of Communism, though it is still being bitterly fought by Polish nationalists both within and outside of the Catholic Church. Steinlauf's work is crisply written and refreshingly succinct. This very fine study of intellectual, cultural, and ethnic history deserves broad exposure. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Jewish History
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815604033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815604037
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on August 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Michael C. Steinlauf recognizes the mutuality of Polish-Jewish prejudices: "For the Jew, both peasant and noble, each in his own way, manifested those characteristics of brutality, ignorance, and loutishness that were the antithesis of the Jewish ethos; they were, in a word, goyim (gentiles)."(p. 6). He realizes the fact that the 1918-era and 1945-era pogroms occurred within the context of generalized violence (p. 19, 45). Remembering that Polish Jews constituted only 10% of the prewar general population, Steinlauf is rather candid about prewar Jewish economic dominance:"Jews were vastly overrepresented in commerce and in the professions. In 1921, more than 60 percent of those in commerce were Jews; in 1931, more than half the doctors in private practice and one-third of the lawyers were Jews. Although foreign investment and state-run enterprises had begun to displace Jewish-owned industry, on the eve of World War II Jewish firms still employed more than 40 percent of the Polish labor force, while certain industries, textiles and food most notably, were predominantly in Jewish hands."(p. 16).

Steinlauf faults: "...American and British Jews, who found denouncing Polish anti-Semitism easier than criticizing their own governments' inaction in saving Jews."(p. 37). He admits that there is no way of even estimating how many Polish Jews survived the Holocaust (p. 46). Steinlauf (p. 129) cites an example of postwar Polish reluctance to acknowledge the hiding of Jews as being motivated by fear of being robbed of the suspected Jewish wealth left behind. This contradicts the likes of neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross, who would have us believe that such secrecy stemmed from fear of the anti-Semitic disapproval of neighbors.

Unfortunately, Steinlauf attacks various historians, notably Richard C.
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24 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Yitzhak Shamir's statement had disgraced him - anti semitism in Europe cannot be denied - what also cannot be denied is that Poland was the only European country to give Jewish citizens rights, and had the only government which publicly stood up for its Jewish population when other countries scoffed. I resented statements that seem to project the idea that Poland was somehow to blame for the Holocaust - the German Army was to blame. I think although the author provided some excellent information and history not readily available elsewhere, he also forgot that Hitler's policy was to also exterminate Poles - and that in many concentration camps the first victims were Poles. There wasn't enough comparative info in the book, for example about America's role in denying the Holocaust during the war - even though Polish people cried out about what was going on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Judith Pines Fried on October 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author tells us the history of Poland in an even-handed, not angry way, so that the reader can have a new understanding of the Holocaust.
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