Bitter Reckoning: Israel Tries Holocaust Survivors as Nazi Collaborators

Bitter Reckoning: Israel Tries Holocaust Survivors as Nazi Collaborators

by Dan Porat


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Beginning in 1950, the state of Israel prosecuted and jailed dozens of Holocaust survivors who had served as camp kapos or ghetto police under the Nazis. At last comes the first full account of the kapo trials, based on records newly declassified after forty years.

In December 1945, a Polish-born commuter on a Tel Aviv bus recognized a fellow rider as the former head of a town council the Nazis had established to manage the Jews. When he denounced the man as a collaborator, the rider leapt off the bus, pursued by passengers intent on beating him to death. Five years later, to address ongoing tensions within Holocaust survivor communities, the State of Israel instituted the criminal prosecution of Jews who had served as ghetto administrators or kapos in concentration camps.

Dan Porat brings to light more than three dozen little-known trials, held over the following two decades, of survivors charged with Nazi collaboration. Scouring police investigation files and trial records, he found accounts of Jewish policemen and camp functionaries who harassed, beat, robbed, and even murdered their brethren. But as the trials exposed the tragic experiences of the kapos, over time the courts and the public shifted from seeing them as evil collaborators to victims themselves, and the fervor to prosecute them abated.

Porat shows how these trials changed Israel’s understanding of the Holocaust and explores how the suppression of the trial records—long classified by the state—affected history and memory. Sensitive to the devastating options confronting those who chose to collaborate, yet rigorous in its analysis, Bitter Reckoning invites us to rethink our ideas of complicity and justice and to consider what it means to be a victim in extraordinary circumstances.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674988149
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/15/2019
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Dan Porat is the author of The Boy: A Holocaust Story, which the New York Times called “a gripping, harrowing Holocaust story” and Elie Wiesel praised as “a poignant and riveting investigation.” Porat is a teacher and researcher at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 From Revenge to Retribution in Post-Nazi Europe 12

2 Tensions among Survivors in Mandatory Palestine 41

3 The Nazis and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law 67

4 Preliminary Court Examinations 81

5 Weighing the Actions of Jewish Collaborators 102

6 Did Jewish Kapos Commit Crimes against Humanity? 126

7 The First Doubts about the Kapo Trials 143

8 Judging a Nazi and Reframing Collaboration 173

9 Absolving Ordinary Functionaries 187

Epilogue 213

Notes 221

Acknowledgments 265

Illustration Credits 269

Index 271

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