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How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism

Overview

One of the most common assumptions about World War II is that the Jews did not actively or effectively resist their own extermination at the hands of the Nazis. In this powerful book, Benjamin Ginsberg convincingly argues that the Jews not only resisted the Germans but actually played a major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. The question, he contends, is not whether the Jews fought but where and by what means. True, many Jews were poorly armed, outnumbered, and without resources, but Ginsberg shows ...
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How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism

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Overview

One of the most common assumptions about World War II is that the Jews did not actively or effectively resist their own extermination at the hands of the Nazis. In this powerful book, Benjamin Ginsberg convincingly argues that the Jews not only resisted the Germans but actually played a major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. The question, he contends, is not whether the Jews fought but where and by what means. True, many Jews were poorly armed, outnumbered, and without resources, but Ginsberg shows persuasively that this myth of passivity is solely that—a myth.

The author describes how Jews resisted Nazism strongly in four major venues. First, they served as members of the Soviet military and as engineers who designed and built many pivotal Soviet weapons, including the T-34 tank. Second, a number were soldiers in the U.S. armed forces, and many also played key roles in discrediting American isolationism, in providing the Roosevelt administration with the support it needed for preparing for war, and in building the atomic bomb. Third, they made vital contributions to the Allies—the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain—in espionage and intelligence (especially cryptanalysis), and fourth, they assumed important roles in several European anti-Nazi resistance movements that often disrupted Germany’s fragile military supply lines. In this compelling, cogent history, we discover that the Jews were an important factor in Hitler’s defeat.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/23/2013
Political science professor Ginsberg (Downsizing Democracy) takes a broad look at Jews who countered Nazism through military force and sabotage, scientific and engineering discoveries, intelligence work, and political organizing. He devotes almost as much attention to little-known figures like Mikhail Gourevich, designer of the MiG fighter, as he does to the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. Ginsberg's most interesting chapter, reveals how Jewish financiers and other leaders, such as James Warburg, joined forced with WASP leaders like Dean Acheson who favored America declaring war against Nazi Germany. Ginsberg greatest strength—his comprehensiveness—is also his greatest weakness, as he includes excessively trivial facts like Irving Berlin having written a song to sell U.S. war bonds. Moreover, he comes to the lackluster conclusion that, "We can never know if the Allies would have defeated Hitler without the Jews. But we can say that the Allies did not defeat Hitler without the Jews." Also problematic is Ginsberg's concluding "Aftermath and Afterward," which veers off into contemporary anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and has been better addressed by such historians as Robert Wistrich. Ginsberg has written an eye-opening history, but sullied his achievement in trying to cover too much and tacking on a tangential, tendentious ending. (June)
Express Milwaukee
The apparent lack of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust has long been troubling. Johns Hopkins political science professor Benjamin Ginsberg proposes a new way of understanding what actually happened: Jews did resist, not so much in the impossible environs of Nazi-occupied Europe but from elsewhere. Jews took leading roles in Britain’s codebreaking program and America’s nuclear project, eagerly served in the U.S. and Soviet military and designed some of Russia’s best weapons, including the T-34 tank. Ginsberg leaps to some invalid assumptions—the atom bomb almost certainly would not have been dropped on Germany had the Nazis held out a few months longer—but his thesis brings fresh eyes to an old subject.
Hadassah Magazine
[Benjamin Ginsberg] makes a compelling case for Jewish resistance and gives the lie to those who question otherwise.
Stephen H. Norwood
Benjamin Ginsberg’s pathbreaking study demolishes the widely held view that Jews failed to resist during the Holocaust. He conclusively demonstrates the immense Jewish contribution, on many fronts, to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Ginsberg uncovers many forms of Jewish anti-Nazi resistance largely overlooked by other scholars. His book analyzes and details European and American Jews’ prominent role in conventional and partisan military efforts, in scientific and engineering breakthroughs critical to the Allied war effort, in undermining Nazi propaganda, and in counteracting isolationism in the West. This work will transform how scholars and the public view Jews and the Holocaust.
Donald M. McKale
An exceptionally well-written and cogently argued study showing how Jews resisted Nazism vigorously and effectively. Ginsberg has done a prodigious amount of work in military, political, economic, scientific, intelligence, and cultural sources. The result is a synthesis that makes for fascinating reading, showing how and why Jewish resistance and opposition to the Nazis manifested itself in a number of settings both inside and outside German-occupied territory. A beautifully researched and written analysis of, and an original contribution to, an important subject.
St. Louis Jewish Light
[T]hrough the lens of Benjamin Ginsberg, a second generation survivor and political science professor, the truth (which is more about brains and gumption than brawn and gore) is better than the fiction. In How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism, Ginsberg gives an unexpected and thrilling history of key, Jewish contributions to the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany.
Alan Caruba
It is a common belief that the Jews of Germany and Europe went passively to their deaths in the concentration camps and surely millions were duped by the Nazis that they were merely being 'relocated.' Information about the camps was kept secret from Jew and non-Jew, and often not believed when it leaked out. How the Jews Defeated Hitler by Benjamin Ginsberg reveals that it was not whether Jews fought, though poorly armed, outnumbered, and without resources, but the means they used as participants in the anti-Nazi resistance units. . . Ginsberg concludes with a look at the way old enemies of the Jews have mutated into new ones, the most obvious being Muslims worldwide, but also those on the Left seeking an alliance with them. This is a fascinating story that has not been told in its full context until now.
Forward
Benjamin Ginsberg’s intriguing new book, How the Jews Defeated Hitler, offers a provocative new answer to an old question. In seeking to explain why the Jews failed to resist the Nazis during World War II, he declares that they not only resisted, but also helped bring about the Nazis’ defeat. . . . Readers will be especially impressed to learn about little-known Jewish contributions to the Soviet cause, including their role in inventing the T-34 tank, the La-5 aircraft, and the Katyusha rocket. . . . [R]eaders. . . are sure to be stimulated by his engaging and provocative book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442222380
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/16/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,006,786
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Ginsberg is David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His many books include The Fall of the Faculty, Presidential Power: Unchecked and Unbalanced, and Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public.
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Read an Excerpt

How the Jews Defeated Hitler

Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism


By BENJAMIN GINSBERG

ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.

Copyright © 2013 Benjamin Ginsberg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4422-2238-0



CHAPTER 1

Introduction

The Problem of Jewish Resistance


During a class discussion of Nazism, one of my students said he simply could not understand why the Jews hadn't resisted the efforts of the Germans to exterminate them. This assertion is, of course, quite common and not limited to undergraduates. The noted historian Raul Hilberg, for example, wrote, "The reaction pattern of the Jews is characterized by almost complete lack of resistance. Measured in German casualties, Jewish armed opposition shrinks into insignificance." My response to the student, which became the topic of this book, was that the Jews had not only resisted but actually played a major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. The question, I said, was not whether the Jews fought but where and by what means.

Let me make two points at the outset. First, Jewish resistance to the Nazis should be characterized as a form of cumulative rather than collective action. That is, for the most part, Jewish resistance lacked even a modicum of central coordination or leadership. It consisted of a host of disparate groups, individuals, and organizations on several continents mounting various responses, ranging from partisan warfare through nuclear research, to the threat of Nazism. These uncoordinated efforts, however, were channeled by a common threat and cumulated into what we shall see was a potent, albeit sometimes futile, response to the Germans.

A second point concerns the meaning and scope of the term "resistance." Jewish resistance is often defined narrowly to refer to the activities of Jews in the occupied lands of Europe. Yet, just as the French Resistance operated outside as well as inside France, Jewish resistance and opposition to the Nazis manifested itself in a number of settings both inside and outside German-occupied territory. To ignore this point is to risk distorting the historical record. The discussion of Jewish resistance normally focuses on villages, ghettos, concentration camps, and other locations where whatever resistance arose was certain to appear feeble and was usually futile. Desperate and unarmed Jews in Eastern European shtetlekh (villages), city ghettos, and death camps hardly had the means to resist. Unarmed individuals cannot exactly mount armed resistance. Some fought nonetheless. There was resistance in nearly every major ghetto, and revolts broke out in virtually every concentration camp. Jewish undergrounds were organized in, for example, the Warsaw, Minsk, Vilna, and Bialystok ghettos, and some Jews who survived the liquidation of those ghettos, as we shall see in chapter 5, joined partisan groups in the forests. And revolts broke out even at the Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz Vernichtungslager (extermination camps), among others. These were, however, easily and quickly suppressed by the Germans.

There seems little doubt, though, that in the ghettos and death camps, hoping to save their own lives and those of their family members, more Jews cooperated and even collaborated with the Germans than resisted. How could it be otherwise? Without weapons or military training or outside support, and guarded by ruthless and heavily armed German paramilitary police and their Ukrainian, Croatian, or other Hilfswillige (non-German volunteers known as Hiwis who worked in various capacities for the German army), few would resist, whether they were Jews or Americans, Englishmen or Frenchmen. Most would cooperate hoping to live another day. Some would collaborate hoping to survive even longer.

Hannah Arendt claimed that the Nazis depended on the cooperation of the Judenräte (the Jewish Councils established by the Germans to administer the day-to-day life of the ghettos), the Jewish police, and so forth to administer the "final solution." "To a Jew," said Arendt, "this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story." Arendt's claim is certainly true, particularly in the case of the Lodz ghetto, led by Chaim Rumkowski, who insisted on cooperation with the Germans until the very bitter end. Arendt was correct to view this as an exceedingly dark story. But the part of the story that so offended her doesn't distinguish the Jews from anyone else.

The head of German security in Amsterdam, for example, said, "The main support of the German forces in the police sector and beyond was the Dutch police. Without it, not 10 per cent of the German occupation tasks would have been fulfilled." Members of the Dutch police, along with thousands of Dutch Nazis, volunteered to serve in the Wehrmacht and formed the Thirty-fourth SS (Schutzstaffel) Volunteer Division, Landstorm Nederland. The same was true of the French. As many, if not more, collaborated as resisted. Until the Americans, British, and Canadians landed at Normandy, the Germans had little trouble occupying France with 3,000 to 4,000 of their own military police officers and the assistance of 100,000 cooperative French policemen and 40,000 members of the French paramilitary Milice. As in the Netherlands, French volunteers, many drawn from the Milice, joined the German army, forming the Thirty-third Waffen SS Division, Charlemagne.

If the ghettos and camps are not the correct places to look for effective Jewish resistance, where then? My own family's story, in particular the different paths to survival taken by my mother and father, may offer an answer as well as an illustration of the limits and possibilities of resistance. One night toward the end of 1941, my mother's stot (town)was entered by Germans and their Ukrainian auxiliaries, who began rounding up Jews, beating and shooting many of them on the spot and collecting the others for what was euphemistically known as "resettlement." Some Jews ran while others hid, but few resisted. My mother hid in an empty barrel, and through sheer blind luck, no one looked into that particular refuge. She survived, but she may have been the only survivor of that particular night's Aktion (campaign to assemble and deport Jews). She saw her own mother taken away and never saw her again. Should she and the others have resisted? How exactly could a scattering of unarmed civilians resist troops armed with automatic weapons and only too happy to kill them, then and there?

My father, on the other hand, resisted strenuously, but the context was quite different. After escaping from a German labor camp in 1940, he fled east and managed to reach the Soviet army. He was promptly conscripted and trained to serve in an artillery regiment. When large numbers of Katyushas, the famous Soviet rocket artillery, began to be deployed in 1942 and 1943, he was assigned to fire salvos of rockets at the Germans. These Soviet rockets, developed as it happens by Jewish engineers, were very effective against German infantry. In response to Hilberg's comment regarding the insignificance of armed Jewish resistance, one might say that salvos of hundreds of deadly rockets developed by Jews and fired by a Jew represented an exceedingly robust form of armed Jewish resistance. Even Arendt would have had no reason to feel ashamed. The Germans feared the Katyushas, so they would have been compelled to agree if they had known who was shooting at them.

The moral of the story is that rather than look for armed resistance among unarmed civilians and express scorn at Jews for failing to do what could not be done, we should look for resistance where it was possible to resist. If we pursue this path, we come to a very different conclusion about the Jews and their efforts during the war.

The fact of the matter is that the Jews resisted very vigorously and quite effectively through four vehicles. The first was the Soviet army. Jews constituted a significant percentage of the fighting strength of the Soviet army, including both its combat and political officers, and, on a per capita basis, won more medals and decorations than members of any other ethnic group in the USR. More importantly, as we shall see, Jewish engineers supervised the evacuation and reconstruction of Soviet military industry in 1941 and designed and built many of the weapons upon which the Soviet army depended during the war. These included the T-34 medium tank, generally seen as the best tank of the war, the La-5 fighter plane, the Katyusha rocket launcher, and others. These weapons allowed the Soviets to survive the disasters of 1941 and, in four years, to drive the Wehrmacht back to Berlin.

Second, the Jews resisted through their influence in the United States. During the 1930s, most Americans were isolationist, anti-British, or pro-German. This included significant numbers of German, Italian, Irish, and Scandinavian Americans. America's white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) elite, though, was pro-British, while the Jews were anti-German. With the encouragement of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and British intelligence, the Jews and WASPs forged an alliance that worked to bring about shifts in American public opinion, to discredit isolationist groups, and to give Roosevelt the political backing he sought for rearmament, the introduction of universal military training, and critical lend-lease aid to Britain and the USR.

During the war itself, Jewish soldiers fought in every branch of the U.S. military. On the home front, Jews played a major role in maintaining popular morale, selling bonds, and organizing the economics of the war effort. At the same time, Jewish scientists worked to build the atom bomb, a weapon that became America's ace in the hole and eventually ended the war. Hitler had declared that the war would be a war of extermination (Vernichtung). He presumably had the Jews and other Untermenschen (subhumans) in mind, but had the Germans fought on just a few months longer, or had the Jewish scientists of the Manhattan Project completed their work just a few months sooner, the war would certainly have brought Vernichtung—for the Germans.

Third, Jews in the Soviet Union, United States, and Great Britain were very important in the realm of intelligence and espionage. The Soviet Union's major—and very effective—spy rings, including the Red Orchestra, were led by Jews who, in some instances, had been schooled in the arts of espionage by Soviet intelligence services before the war. In the United States, Jews were among the leading figures in the realm of cryptanalysis. In fact, the term "cryptanalysis" was coined by America's foremost cryptanalyst, William Friedman. Friedman's heavily Jewish group at the U.S. Army's Signals Intelligence Service (predecessor of today's National Security Agency) pioneered modern code breaking and designed the U.S. military's SIGABA cipher machine, whose encryptions were never broken during the machine's period of service, which ended in the 1950s.

Jews were also involved in the British cryptanalysis effort. In Britain, however, Jews were more important in the area of covert operations. In particular, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) recruited a sizeable group of foreign-born Jews whose linguistic and cultural skills would help them operate in the German-occupied countries of Europe. These individuals became important actors in British covert operations in Europe. There were, of course, Jews in regular British and Commonwealth forces, including the famous Jewish Brigade, and many fought bravely. The number of Jews in Britain, Australia, and so forth was, however, minuscule, so their number in the military was necessarily very small as well.

Finally, Jews played important roles in several of the major European anti-Nazi resistance movements. When Americans think of resistance to the Nazis, they tend to think of the French and, perhaps, the Norwegians and Danes. The Norwegians helped the British SOE destroy the German heavy water plant at Vemork, and both the Norwegians and the Danes heroically smuggled large fractions of their small Jewish communities to safety in Sweden. Generally, though, these two movements posed little threat to the Germans.

The French, for their part, with the exception of the Jews and the Communist Party, did not resist very vigorously until after D-day. Asked at Nuremberg about the impact of French resistance on German military production, Reich armaments minister Albert Speer quipped that he wasn't aware that there had been any French resistance. In both Western and Eastern Europe, however, Jews helped to lead resistance groups whose acts of sabotage and attacks on the always-fragile German supply lines to the east did hinder the Germans and help the Allies. This includes the Polish, Greek, and Yugoslav resistance movements and the most important of the World War II resistance movements, the partisans of the Soviet Union.

In these four ways the Jews not only resisted but played a major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Could the Allies have won without the help of the Jews? Perhaps. Did they win without the help of the Jews? No.

In 1945, Hitler was dead, the Germans had been defeated, and the Allies were victorious, but it cannot exactly be said that the Jews had won. More than 6 million Jews were dead. The several hundred thousand Jewish survivors in displaced person's camps were unwelcome almost everywhere, while former Nazis were given asylum in the United States and Canada and provided with humanitarian assistance by the Vatican and the Red Cross. In the Soviet Union, Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign, halted temporarily by the war, resumed with a vengeance. In the United States, Jews, who had been among the first to warn of the Nazi threat in the 1930s, were accused of "premature anti-Fascism" by various anti-Communist crusaders in the postwar period.

When he launched his postwar campaign against the Jews, even Stalin usually had the good grace to eschew outright anti-Semitism in favor of campaigns against "cosmopolitans" and the like. As the memory of the war and the Holocaust faded, however, as if to confirm Marx's well-known comment that history repeats itself—das eine Mal als Tragodie, das andere Mal als Farce (the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce)—a more overt anti-Semitism, containing more than an element of farce, reemerged in Western Europe in the odd form of liberal anti-Zionism. This time the question of Jewish resistance in Europe was moot, since there were hardly any Jews left.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from How the Jews Defeated Hitler by BENJAMIN GINSBERG. Copyright © 2013 Benjamin Ginsberg. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: The Problem of Jewish Resistance
Chapter 2: The Soviet Union: The War of the Engineers
Chapter 3: The United States: The Anti-Nazi Coalition
Chapter 4: Jewish Intelligence
Chapter 5: Partisan Warfare
Chapter 6: Aftermath and Afterward: From Tragedy to Farce
Bibliography
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