Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

I have often been told that historians practice their craft because they love to uncover the past and to tell a good story. Certainly, this was true for me in my prior work. I experienced the excitement of revealing hidden stories, of bringing women's history to the fore and challenging old paradigms. Writing this book, however, provoked different feelings, so different that it is important to me to write about them. This book is one I had to write, but, of all my work, it was the hardest book to write. And this, of course, has everything to do with its topic, the genocide of the Jewish people.

More personally, it has to do with my own background. I was born in January 1946. This means that my parents, refugees from Nazi Germany, waited to start a family until they were experiencing the relief of Germany's defeat, until Russian tanks were winning the Battle of Berlin. My mother had emigrated from Germany in 1936, a twenty-two-year-old with no possibility of pursuing her teaching career after the Nuremberg Laws. My father, who worked as a manager in a store owned by a Jewish family, fled to Holland in 1939 upon being summoned by the police in his hometown. My parents met in America. They counted themselves among the "lucky" ones: my mother rescued her parents, my father's siblings escaped Germany, and his parents died natural deaths. Still, they lost all of their uncles and aunts, as well as cousins and friends. Moreover, those who remained--the German-Jewish diaspora--scattered to the ends of the earth. Our family had relatives in Australia, Canada, England, Israel, Latin America, the Netherlands, South Africa, and even West Germany. Wherever they settled, though, the cloud of Nazi Germany's murderous rejection of them remained, even as they and my parents created new lives.

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