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Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in…
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Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (Studies in… (1998 original; edició 1999)

de Marion A. Kaplan (Autor)

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Between Dignity and Despair draws on the extraordinary memoirs, diaries, interviews, and letters of Jewish women and men to give us the first intimate portrait of Jewish life in Nazi Germany. Kaplan tells the story of Jews in Germany not from the hindsight of the Holocaust, nor by focusing on the persecutors, but from the bewildered and ambiguous perspective of Jews trying to navigate their daily lives in a world that was becoming more and more insane. Answering the charge that Jews should have left earlier, Kaplan shows that far from seeming inevitable, the Holocaust was impossible to foresee precisely because Nazi repression occurred in irregular and unpredictable steps until the massive violence of Novemer 1938. Then the flow of emigration turned into a torrent, only to be stopped by the war. By that time Jews had been evicted from their homes, robbed of their possessions and their livelihoods, shunned by their former friends, persecuted by their neighbors, and driven into forced labor. For those trapped in Germany, mere survival became a nightmare of increasingly desperate options. Many took their own lives to retain at least some dignity in death; others went underground and endured the fears of nightly bombings and the even greater terror of being discovered by the Nazis. Most were murdered. All were pressed to the limit of human endurance and human loneliness. Focusing on the fate of families and particularly women's experience, Between Dignity and Despair takes us into the neighborhoods, into the kitchens, shops, and schools, to give us the shape and texture, the very feel of what it was like to be a Jew in Nazi Germany.… (més)
Membre:VUProjectSafe
Títol:Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (Studies in Jewish History)
Autors:Marion A. Kaplan (Autor)
Informació:Oxford University Press (1999), Edition: 1, 304 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
Valoració:
Etiquetes:No n'hi ha cap

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Between Dignity and Despair : Jewish Life in Nazi Germany de Marion A. Kaplan (1998)

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The author's purpose for writing the book, imho, was to illustrate that the violence and anti-semitism that occurred in Nazi Germany began with the small things, not the violence that we normally read about. It began with exclusion and separation. Conditions affected men, women, and children differently. I felt that book was light on examples but heavy on feminism. Not a memorable read for me. ( )
  Tess_W | Dec 28, 2014 |
In her book Between Dignity and Despair, Marion Kaplan contends that standard histories of the Nazi Era and the plight of Europe's Jewish population too often focus on the perpetrators and their mechanistic approach to mass murder. What is lost is an accurate representation of the victims, how they responded to the violence perpetrated against them, and ultimately, how they had to come to terms with the implementation of the “Final Solution.” Kaplan's goal is to bring the lives of the Jewish victims back into focus, to remind us that they should be central in our study of the holocaust. She also seeks to remind us of the important role of Jewish women, who had to try and maintain some semblance of normalcy and sanity in the midst of extreme persecution. Kaplan reminds us that these women still had to get the children to school and get dinner on the table, all while their world was literally crumbling around them. Her narrative explains the sorrow and the horror the Jewish people endured in terms that are universal and easy for all of us to relate to: the context of home and family, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors.

In chapter one Kaplan outlines how the increased Nazification of Germany created severe economic and personal crises for the German-Jewish community. Unable to own businesses, or belong to professional organizations, many Jewish families lost their livelihoods. Kaplan also explains that while the Nazi laws became ever more restrictive, many “Aryan” businesses in the private sector made sure they were "ahead of the curve" when it came to eliminating Jews from the payroll or as customers. Because so many men lost their jobs and income, women willingly moved beyond the traditional confines of traditional roles and played a critical role in helping families survive economically. They were willing to be trained or re-trained and take almost any work available in order to replace their husband’s lost income. Many women were even willing to become apprentices to their own ‘help’ to make sure had a marketable trade that they could use in Germany or abroad. Kaplan also contends that women were far more aware of the changes that were occurring within German society. She suggests that since men were used to a certain level of competitiveness and aggression, they were not as attuned to the changes which occurred in their own neighborhoods. Women, on the other hand, were able to sense these changes at the grocer’s, at the post office, and even among their non-Jewish friends. Because they were more attuned to the increase in discrimination, Kaplan shows that they were far more likely to push for emigration than their husbands.

In her second chapter Kaplan further explains how women continued to expand their spheres of influence and to increase their responsibilities. She explains how they learned languages to prepare for emigration and enrolled in training classes to enable them to find work outside the home. They were also called upon to continue to maintain the stability of the home by making due with less and providing a "safe haven" in the midst of difficult times. Kaplan also revisits the many reasons why women were such a driving force behind emigration. Husbands, she contends, felt they couldn't afford to leave their business interests and their livelihoods, women had no such ties to the economy. Kaplan explains that many women were more attuned to the growing hostility than their husbands were, precisely because they were use gaining information from, what men considered, "unusual" sources, such as their own domestic help, neighbors, and through their own experiences on the street and while running errands. It also appears that women were forced to repress much of their fear and anxiety as a coping mechanism - almost out of necessity in order to maintain their sanity and their ability to deal with such extreme circumstances. Even when some women did convince their husbands that it was time to leave Germany, Jews faced an ever-growing list of obstacles. From the "Reich Flight Tax to foreign nations who closed immigration suddenly, Jews had to be ready to change plans, begin from scratch and even start learning yet another new language at a moments notice.

Kaplan outlines the unique stresses and obstacles faced by "mixed" families in Nazi Germany. While "interracial" marriages often face difficulties and stressors that couples who share the same ethnic and religious backgrounds, the pressure exerted by the Nazis was sometimes insurmountable for some couples. In fact, the Nazis openly encouraged "Aryans" to divorce their "non-Aryan" partners and promised to allow them back into the "Aryan" fold. Those who did not divorce their Jewish partners, faced continued sanctions, and, in the case of women, were often regarded as little more than prostitutes. It wasn't only the government that was a source of uncertainty and pain, but also "Aryan" family members, according to Kaplan. She asserts that it was impossible to know whether one's in-laws would be supportive or would toe the party line. Often, they could justify their antisemitism, but maintain the notion that their particular family member was the exception. In addition, Kaplan noted that in instances where Jewish women were married to "Aryan" men, the decision whether to stay together or divorce was also a question of life or death. Jewish women who lost the "protection" of an "Aryan" husband were subject to deportation and ultimately death. While some men stood by their wives, Kaplan recounts the stories of several who divorced their partners, literally sentencing them to death.

Chapter four is a particularly difficult chapter to read. So many discussions of the Holocaust focus on the “final solution, the concentration camps, and on the wholesale dehumanization and murder of the Jews at places like Dachau. Kaplan, however, shines a light on the years before the mass deportations and helps us to understand (as if we could ever truly understand) the fear, anxiety, stress and helplessness that the Jews were subjected to before the "final solution." At no place is Kaplan's narrative more compelling than in her discussion of the impact of Nazi policies on children. Without the protection of parents and siblings, young children were exposed to taunts, physical violence and humiliation at the hands of both teachers and other students. They were segregated, forced to sit on special benches, forbidden from participating in class field trips and ostracized. Many children were forced to endure the promulgation of Nazi propaganda and listen to the rants of pseudo-science as their teachers taught "racial" sciences. They were reminded daily that they were not only different from, but less than the "aryan" children in their class. It is difficult to comprehend how people could become so consumed by animus or patriotism that they were willing to not only verbally abuse Jewish children, but were also willing to use the threat of violence by their peers. That any of these children found the strength to stand up to their tormentors is truly amazing.

Jewish life in Nazi Germany hinged on the events that took place on November 9 and 10 of 1938. Before Kristallnacht, German Jews may have hoped that things would change, that Nazi policies would be met with resistance by non-Jews, or that the Nazis might even be overthrown. It’s appropriate that in Kaplan’s book, her chapter, “The November Pogrom and its Aftermath” comes near the middle of her narrative. Life in Nazi Germany would only become progressively worse and more hostile, and any hopes that Jewish families had to “ride out the storm” were dashed. But the events of Kristallnacht did something else according to Kaplan, they moved the violence of anti-Semitism from the realm of the streets to the privacy of one’s own home. Mobs pushed their way into Jewish homes and emptied china cabinets, dresser drawers, pantries and bookshelves. They tore up bedding and burned books. Home was no longer a refuge from the growing restrictiveness of the world outside, Jewish families lost that last bastion of security. Kaplan states that, “The image of flying feathers is one of a domestic scene gravely disturbed. This was women's primary experience of the November Pogrom. The marauders beat and arrested men. Although some women were publicly humiliated, bloodied, beaten, and murdered, most were forced to stand by and watch their homes torn apart and their men abused (126).”

As Kaplan continues her narrative, we see how the lives of those Jews who were unable to emigrate became increasingly constricted. The Nazis had succeeded in completely isolating Jews and un-assimilating them. By forcing them to wear the yellow star it was now impossible for them to assume to attempt to “blend in.” They were forbidden most healthy food items, forbidden to shop at most stores – and even then allowed to only shop at certain times of the day. They were forced to work as slave labor for companies like Mercedes-Benz and Siemans. Jewish converts to Christianity were forced to sit in segregated spaces banned from services altogether. They were forced out of their own homes and crowded together in apartments and then forced to move again and again into ever shrinking living spaces. The more they sought to emigrate, the more the Jewish people found their avenues blocked by a Nazi bureaucracy that sought to steal everything from them, and from a world-community that began to callously close its eyes and its doors. While Kaplan tells us that many sought to escape by living life “underground”, it was fraught with danger. Without identification papers Jewish men and women were unable to purchase food or obtain proper medical care and they were often at the mercy of a German citizenry whom they had no reason to trust.

All of these things occurred before the mass deportations to the concentration camps. The individuals who were crowded onto the railway cars for their final journey were a people that had been starved, abused, beaten, harassed, hounded and dehumanized. Many of them were elderly people whose children had managed to escape the Third Reich for Palestine or the United States, leaving them alone and lonely. As Kaplan reminds us, most were women (237). But they had once been schoolteachers, doctors, businessmen, professors, nurses and clerks. More importantly, they had once been someone’s neighbor or friend. All over Germany neighbor allowed neighbor to disappear without ever taking a stand. Friends chose to abandon their friends at their time of greatest need. Few offered any protest as they saw the suffering of the Jewish people increase.

I struggle with the German silence and have found myself asking: What would have happened if the German people had taken a stand in the early years of the Nazi regime? Could they have made a difference or ousted the Nazis if they had simply said ‘no’ to the politicization of race and the institutionalization of discrimination? As the power of the Nazis grew, resistance became more and more difficult, and most people simply closed their doors and pulled the blinds to avoid seeing anything they didn’t want to see. But it does not exonerate them. It does, however, force us to ask hard questions about how we ensure that something like the Holocaust does not occur again – even as we face the reality that we have allowed to happen again – in Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. ( )
  hystrybuf | Jun 24, 2012 |
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Between Dignity and Despair draws on the extraordinary memoirs, diaries, interviews, and letters of Jewish women and men to give us the first intimate portrait of Jewish life in Nazi Germany. Kaplan tells the story of Jews in Germany not from the hindsight of the Holocaust, nor by focusing on the persecutors, but from the bewildered and ambiguous perspective of Jews trying to navigate their daily lives in a world that was becoming more and more insane. Answering the charge that Jews should have left earlier, Kaplan shows that far from seeming inevitable, the Holocaust was impossible to foresee precisely because Nazi repression occurred in irregular and unpredictable steps until the massive violence of Novemer 1938. Then the flow of emigration turned into a torrent, only to be stopped by the war. By that time Jews had been evicted from their homes, robbed of their possessions and their livelihoods, shunned by their former friends, persecuted by their neighbors, and driven into forced labor. For those trapped in Germany, mere survival became a nightmare of increasingly desperate options. Many took their own lives to retain at least some dignity in death; others went underground and endured the fears of nightly bombings and the even greater terror of being discovered by the Nazis. Most were murdered. All were pressed to the limit of human endurance and human loneliness. Focusing on the fate of families and particularly women's experience, Between Dignity and Despair takes us into the neighborhoods, into the kitchens, shops, and schools, to give us the shape and texture, the very feel of what it was like to be a Jew in Nazi Germany.

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