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May 2002 Journal

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The terrible dilemma

‘BYSTANDERS’ TO THE HOLOCAUST: A RE-EVALUATION
David Cesarani and Paul A Levine (eds.)
Frank Cass, 2002

Professors Cesarani and Kushner examine the various reactions in Britain to the rise of Nazi persecution both before the outbreak of war and after. Of particular significance is the analysis by David Cesarani of 12 people, non-Jews, who played a very important part not only in the rescue of individuals but, more important, in creating the climate of opinion among the public - Jewish and non-Jewish alike - which eventually led to action by the government, even in a very limited way. It might be argued that, strictly speaking, these people do not fall into the category of ‘bystanders’ but that would assume that bystanders only stand by and do nothing, which itself is a misunderstanding of this particular dilemma. Professor Cesarani pays tribute to these 12 people in a way which has not been done before, and the volume would repay study for this section alone.

Other contributors to this volume examine the position of the Swiss and Swedish governments and the very different ways in which they resolved the terrible dilemma of those who wished to be neutral in the face of obvious evil. One particular paper examines what was probably the most disturbing problem of all - the ways in which Jewish organisations reacted and the impossible task faced by Jewish emissaries in Switzerland with inadequate resources and having to combat disbelief even among those who might have been expected to have come to their assistance.

There remains a conflict running through this volume. On one hand, there are those who condemn the ‘outside’ world for having done nothing - or, at best, for having done less than was possible. On the other hand, there are those who claim that the Allies did what they could, and that the primary aim had to be the winning of the war. There will never be a definitive answer, and there will always be the accusation that those who did not do enough were motivated not by their helplessness but by feelings not always clearly distinguishable from those of the perpetrators themselves. There are too many self-revealing comments written on the margins of official documents for such feelings to be ignored.

This volume of essays is to be highly commended. Clearly and unambiguously it presents the dilemmas facing the ‘liberal’ conscience in this period. It points to the extent to which individuals perceived what needed to be done and were prepared to do it. The volume is produced as a special number of the invaluable periodical The Journal of Holocaust Education, and its editors and publisher have performed a very good service for us by presenting it as a volume in its own right. As such, it is a very important addition to our knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust and deserves a place in all Holocaust libraries.
Aubrey Newman

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