Between Dignity and Despair

Between Dignity and Despair : Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

4.15 (308 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

Draws on the extraordinary memoirs, diaries, interviews, and letters of Jewish women and men to give us an intimate portrait of Jewish life in Nazi Germany. Kaplan tells the story of Jews in Germany not from the hindsight of the Holocaust, nor from the vantage of 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 neighbours, and driven into forced labour. For those trapped in Germany, mere survival became a nightmare of increasingly desperate options.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 162.6 x 231.1 x 25.4mm | 362.88g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 6 halftones, bibliography
  • 0195115317
  • 9780195115314

Review quote

"Kaplan's gendered approach is of considerable methodological interest. She distinguishes between the experience of Jewish women and men because, in her words, being male or female mattered. Kaplan makes an interesting distinction between the fate of Jewish men and women." Review Essays/The Decline and Rise of German Anitsemitismshow more

About Marion A. Kaplan

Marion Kaplan is Professor of History at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany (OUP), which won the National Jewish Book Award and the German History Prize and The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany. She lives in New York City.show more

Review Text

An exceptional Holocaust study from the vantage point of German Jewish women. German Jews in general have been accused of loving Germany too much and of suffering less than their Eastern European counterparts. Kaplan (History/Queens Coll., CUNY), the award-winning author of The Making of the Jewish Middle Class (not reviewed), doesn't dampen the first charge, but has lots of personal and poignant responses - and statistics - to eradicate the latter. German Jews, she writes, "expected the worst - they did not expect the unthinkable." As far as what German Jews suffered, we see from Kaplan's research that "women reveal crucial private thoughts and emotions." Drawing on their "stories, memoirs, interviews, letters and diaries," and aided by her own eye for the intimate detail, she lets us re-experience how "Nazi Germany succeeded in enforcing social death on its Jews" by slowly banning them from all public places. And German Jewish women were a public force; they had smaller families and more education than the average woman, and in the League of Jewish Women Voters they numbered 50,000 for Germany's bourgeois feminist movement. When conditions worsened, "most [women] adjusted to daily deprivation" and insult, courageously carrying on family life and tasks with a semblance of normalcy. And women, faced with carrying on in such circumstances, were often less naive than their husbands, who didn't want to risk their livelihoods. The author cites one woman who smuggled the family's valuables in a secret compartment of her desk and only told her husband the night before they arrived in Cuba. Taboos about mistreating women gradually fell, and the Nazis - for whom "racism and sexism were intertwined" - murdered a disproportionate number of elderly women. Only 1,400 German Jews survived by being hidden by their countrymen, less than one percent of the original population in 1933. This is a major addition to Holocaust studies, as so few works have concentrated on women. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

308 ratings
4.15 out of 5 stars
5 35% (107)
4 47% (145)
3 17% (53)
2 1% (2)
1 0% (1)
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