The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry under Soviet Rule, 1939-1941

The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry under Soviet Rule, 1939-1941

The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry under Soviet Rule, 1939-1941

The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry under Soviet Rule, 1939-1941

Synopsis

The book's title, The Lesser of Two Evils, describes the dilemma and ultimate fate of the two million Eastern European Jews following the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of August, 1939, which divided the regions of eastern Poland, the Baltics, and, eastern Romania between Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. Because of the imminent geographical and political changes, the Jews in these areas had to calculate who was the "lesser of two evils" - the Soviets or the Nazis. The book, originally published in Hebrew, is the culmination of 30 years of research by noted historian Dov Levin. It is the only study that deals comprehensively with the economic, social, religious, cultural, and political consequences of this overlooked episode in modern history. In order to obtain an authentic account, the author interviewed hundreds of witnesses and consulted thousands of original documents in 13 languages. The book also portrays the everyday life of the Jewish communities at that time. The events that occurred during this significant period in Jewish history led directly to the destruction of the Jewish populations of these regions in the Holocaust.

Excerpt

The horrors of the Final Solution for European Jewry cast a shadow on the lives of millions of Jews during the short period discussed in this work. For them it was a transitional or interim period, something that would prevail "until further notice." In the overall perspective of the history of Soviet Jewry, however, the significance of these events transcends the period under discussion.

Between the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (June 22, 1941), more than two million Jews from the Soviet-annexed territories (eastern Poland, the Baltic countries, Bessarabia, and Northern Bukovina) became, to some extent, "Soviet Jews" -- in addition to the more than three million Jews in the USSR proper. The two groups together accounted for one-third of all Jews alive at the time.

The Jews in the annexed territories were fundamentally different from their compatriots in the USSR in their social characteristics, culture, and spiritual lives. While much of Soviet Jewry belonged to the professional intelligentsia and was strongly inclined to dwell in large cities, most Jews in the annexed territories lived in shtetls and small towns, where they engaged in traditional Jewish occupations. While Soviet Jewry was eroding as a result of assimilation (intermarriage and estrangement from Jewish culture and customs), the Jews in the annexed territories thrived on their Jewish heritage, both religious and secular, and were only marginally affected by assimilation. While the Jews of the Soviet Union had no public organizations . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.