Amidah: Defiance

From a review of Yehuda Bauer’s The Death of the Shtetl, on the Jews of the Eastern European shtetlach (shtetls) in the Nazi age.

Partisans with PPsh SMGsSome were saved by erstwhile German Communists who had hidden their party membership and were in the Wehrmacht. Many young Jews saved themselves by fleeing into the forests and joining Soviet partisans, not all of whom welcomed them but needed them, if only temporarily, to kill Germans and their allies. (Soviet anti-Semitism would flourish after the war) Some few managed to live to tell the tale but recognized that it was merely chance that allowed them to live. All came close to death. “Some of them thought it had been the work of God, but most knew better: the same God, if he existed, had failed to protect their loved ones.”

From an interview with Bauer:

MO: In the book, you use the term “amida” to signify defiance, was there defiance in the shtetl?

YB: There certainly was defiance in many shtetlach — there was also a total collapse of society and the lack of any kind of defiance in other shtetlach. I tried to find out why there should have been just widely different types of reaction in communities that were geographically and socially so near to each other.

MO: How did the partisans fare?

YB: There were many, probably thousands, of Jews that were murdered by Soviet partisans, and there were thousands who survived because they joined the partisans. It is far from being a black-and-white story, and I tried to explain why that should have been so. Most people who survived owed their lives to either the few people who hid them and fed them, or to Soviet partisans. At least one major partisan commander (Vassily Chernishev [“Platon”]) was recognized as a “Righteous.” Some of the murderers among the partisans are also known by their names.

From another review:

Here is how Bauer describes the phenomenon of Amidah in his earlier book, Rethinking the Holocaust:

“The Hebrew term amidah…means literally “standing up against,” but that does not capture the deeper sense of the word. When I speak of resistance, I mean amidah, and that includes both armed and unarmed actions and excludes passive resistance, although that term is almost a non sequitur, because one cannot really resist passively. When one refuses to budge in the face of brutal force, one does not resist passively; one resists without using force, and that is not the same thing.

What does amidah include? It includes smuggling food into ghettos; mutual self-sacrifice within the family to avoid starvation or worse; cultural, educational, religious and political activities taken to strengthen morale; the work of doctors, nurses and educators to consciously maintain health and moral fiber to enable individual and group survival; and, of course, armed rebellion or the use of force (with bare hands or with “cold” weapons) against the Germans and their collaborators.(Rethinking the Holocaust, p. 120.)

The discussion in this book notes that, “Unarmed Amidah in the Kresy was limited by the impossible external circumstances, although it did exist in some places and was expressed in ways that were specific to the areas discussed here.” (And note how in this later book he capitalizes Amidah.)

More on this topic.

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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