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Yehuda Bauer

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5049 | Film ID: 3793, 3794, 3795, 3796, 3797, 3798, 3799

Yehuda Bauer, an Israeli scholar, talks about how he first became involved in the study of the Holocaust and how he tries to strike a balance between emotional involvement and objectivity. He talks about the Jewish Council and Israeli attitudes to them after the war. Lanzmann and Bauer debate Kasztner's actions and motivations and the Nazi fantasy of the powerful "world Jewry". The interview was recorded outdoors in the early evening at a kibbutz in Israel (probably Bauer’s home).

FILM ID 3793 -- Camera Rolls 1-3 -- Interview Judenrat
CR1 Bauer says he came from Prague in 1939 at the age of twelve. His father was a Zionist and got the family out on the day the Germans came in. Lanzmann asks how he started working on the Holocaust in Israel and Bauer explains that it was impossible for him as a historian not to deal with it and that he was scared to do so.
CR2 Lanzmann asks Bauer if there is a change of attitude among Israelis toward the Judenrat. Bauer says yes, and that research has shifted toward an understanding of the conditions under which Judenrat were working, and the impossibility of generalizing about the policy of all of the Judenrat. Bauer describes an extreme case in the Lodz ghetto where Rumkowski wanted to save the Jews by making them slaves of the Germans, calculating that no slave master would murder his slaves. He did this with support of the rabbis and Jewish elites. Lanzmann calls this a policy of "rescue through work". It did keep 60,000 Lodz Jews alive until 1944, longer than in other ghettos. Had the Soviet Army moved into Lodz in July 1944 instead of January 1945, Rumkowski might have been remembered as a hero or savior, but Bauer calls him a murderer.

CR3 Lanzmann talks of the ghetto situation being different from that of occupied countries like France where there was a permanent struggle between the bourgeoisie and the workers. Bauer points out that there is a big difference between cooperation and collaboration, the latter being an ideological union with the occupiers which helped the Nazis win the war. Some Judenrat tried to save the Jews through slave labor, but the approach did not work because the Nazis hated the Jews based on ideology, rather than economics, so the end was murder. It is important to look at the moral action or intention. Barasch in Bialystok was an honest man who tried to save as many people as possible by working with the underground, while Rumkowski fought against the underground and destroyed it. In Kovno, the Jewish elder Elkis tried to help the underground with the support of the Jewish police. In Minsk, the leader Myschkin helped to organize the resistance. Bauer says that attempts to present the Judenrat as stereotypes are fallacious. Lanzmann presses Bauer to define the difference in the leaders' position. Bauer says it was more than the leaders; it was also the environment and whether there was a military or civilian government in place.

FILM ID 3794 -- Camera Rolls 4-6 -- Interview Judenrat
CR4 Bauer draws a distinction between when the Judenrat operated. Studies show that a large number of Judenrat had the support of the population at first. Later, their sphere of action was limited, and they felt forced to hand over their own people as slave laborers. Bauer tells a case in Kosov, Ukraine, where when alerted that the Germans were coming to kill the Jews, three of the Judenrat delayed the Germans with talk while the Jews ran off to hide. Bauer explains that there was a policy among some Judenrat heads to sacrifice a minority in the hope of saving the majority, which is what Genz did in Vilna having the Jewish police handing over the old people to be killed by the Germans.

CR5 Lanzmann and Bauer discuss the decision of the Communist Party, the Judenrat, and the ghetto population to turn in Itzi Gritenberg, the head of the resistance movement, to the Germans. Gritenberg supported Jakob Genz in sending Jewish elders away. The underground found itself in a similar position as the Judenrat, with the responsibility for choosing the life or death of others. Bauer illustrates a case of two Jews near Vilna who escaped to the forest; when they did not return, the Nazis killed 150 Jewish villagers. The resistance felt that the Germans put them in a no-win situation.
CR6 Bauer explains that the resistance movement was different from the Judenrat in that the former realized that armed resistance was the only reaction to the Nazis, and that it was hopeless - everybody would be killed. In contrast, he reads a speech by Jakob Genz, head of the Vilna ghetto, who sacrificed elders rounded up by the ghetto police, with Genz saying that he has blood on his hands, whereas the intelligensia would live with a clear conscience. Bauer cites examples of alternate ways of dealing with the Germans. In Slovakia, the Judenrat decided to save the whole community, so were able to negotiate with and pay money to the Slovak government, and establish work camps for youths. Lanzmann points out that conditions were different in Slovakia because there were no ghettos. Bauer counters with examples of ghettos in Minsk, Wolinia and Belorussia where the Judenrat helped get youths into the forest and fight the Germans. Many of the youth were Zionists who had disengaged from the Jewish community before the war.

FILM ID 3795 -- Camera Rolls 7,8 -- Interview Divers
CR7 Bauer says again that the youth movements, Zionist and Communist, both had as their mission the establishment of a new society. But being stuck in the ghetto, they had to share the Jewish way of life, which they had rejected. In Vilna, Bialystok and Cracow, they decided that the ghetto was lost anyway, so where they could, they escaped into the forest and became partisans. In Belorussia, about 25,000 Jews escaped, many of them becoming fighters, even forming family camps. Acquiring guns was a major challenge, since it was difficult to be accepted into partisan units without arms. But in the Warsaw ghetto, there was no way to have an effective armed resistance during the big deportations in 1942.

CR8 Bauer surmises that the reason for the failure of the resistance groups to organize an uprising in Warsaw in 1942 is that they were still unprepared. It went against their history and tradition to rebel. But when the remaining 55,000 Jews in the ghetto realized that the others had been killed, the population organized themselves, neutralizing the Judenrat and the Jewish police. Bauer explains that the Western world had heard about the pogroms, murder and ghettos in Eastern Europe, as reported in the New York and the Palestinian Hebrew newspapers, but no one had put the events together as a plan because the events were so unprecedented as to be unthinkable. The shock of realization came when a group of Palestinians who had been living in Europe came to Palestine in the fall of 1942 and told the whole story.

FILM ID 3796 -- Camera Rolls 9,10 -- Zionism
CR9 Bauer goes into detail about the disbelief of the Western world about the news of the systematic killing of the Jews in Europe. He cites the public denial of Itzak Greenbaum despite having accurate information from a correspondent in Switzerland. Lanzmann presses Bauer and he says that Greenbaum knew there was little the Jewish population of Palestine could do, so he took the attitude of "rescue through victory." It was only when 69 Palestinians came from Poland, Germany, Belgium, and France in 1942 having witnessed the atrocities, that the world realized the "rumors" they had discounted were true. Greenbaum sent out a call to fight in 1943 saying that the European Jews had gone "like sheep to slaughter" and that "we must be different".

CR10 Bauer speculates about what the Jews in Palestine could have done. He says the dilemma for the Zionists in Palestine was to create a mass Jewish State. All would be lost if there was no Jewish State after the war and no country would absorb what Jews were left. The Jews were completely powerless in 1942 and 1943 - they had no ships or aircraft to get to Europe. Leaders sought help from the British and begged that a few hundred parachutists be sent into Europe. In the end, 31 parachutists were sent. Bauer continues about the contradiction of resources, whether to raise money for building an independent state or for rescuing European Jews. There was pressure from the kibbutz movement, youth movements and working class movement for more direct action, such as sending a delegation to Istanbul. Ben Gurion and Sharett tried to influence the British and American governments to negotiate with the Nazis to save the Jews of Europe or at least to delay their murder. Lanzmann mentions that the slow pace of the pressure to negotiate is in direct contrast with the speed of the deportations of the Hungarian Jews in 1944.

FILM ID 3797 -- Camera Rolls 11,12,14 -- Interview Divers
CR11 Bauer agrees with Lanzmann about the incongruity of events: The Nazis destroy the Jews at a fantastic speed, yet the reaction of the world was contradictory and slow. He surmises that the Western powers were focused on winning the war by military means in an effort to destroy the Nazis. Saving people was not a military aim. Even in 1944, when American bombers could have reached Eastern Poland, bombing Auschwitz was not a priority. Bauer addresses the accusations against Kasztner, the leader of the Zionist rescue committee in Budapest. Kasztner is alleged to have negotiated with the Nazis. Bauer does not believe the Jews of Klusz knew of the Germans' plan of annihilating European Jews from the 2,500 Polish Jews who escaped into Hungary between 1942 and 1944. Those who escaped told their Hungarian hosts about Belzec, Treblinka, and Majdanek. The Judenrat in Budapest sent messengers to ghettos to warn Jews that they would be deported and killed in Poland. Several of the twelve messengers survived and reported after the war that they were kicked out by the ghetto community - people simply did not want to know. Lanzmann questions how they were warned.

CR12 Bauer and Lanzmann argue about whether the Jews of Klusz were sufficiently warned about the deportations - Bauer suggesting they were warned by their own leaders but didn't want to believe the information, Lanzmann saying that people were not told directly enough to run for their lives. Bauer says that Kasztner, a noted journalist, was setting a precedent by negotiating with the Germans for a ransom - first, not to put the Jews in a ghetto and later, to save as many Jews he could. Kasztner had to decide which approach was more effective. He chose to negotiate because the Germans put the stages of concentration, isolation, Aryanization and deportation into action very rapidly with the cooperation of the Hungarian population and government; there was no time or place for escape. The discussion turns to the famous train he negotiated. It consisted of Klusz Jews, including Kasztner's family, friends and some rich people who could pay for others. Bauer argues that Kasztner put his family there to show that the train would go to a safe place rather than to Auschwitz. Lanzmann sees Kasztner's achievements in two ways: he saved 1,600 Jews, yet behaved like a classic Judenrat member in saving only a handful of people. Bauer sees Kasztner in a positive light, given that everything was stacked against saving even a few people - the Jews were in labor battalions, rebellion was impossible, there were no weapons nor support from the Hungarian population and the SS was in charge. Kasztner was a clever negotiator, convincing Eichmann, Becher and Himmler that he was someone to be reckoned with.

CR14 Bauer explains that the German generals knew that Germany couldn't win the war in 1942. The Nazis saw the Jews as a world power and thus a bargaining chip with the Allies. The Brandt mission in 1944, meant to exchange trucks for Jews, was doomed to failure because of this dichotomy. Bandi Gross, a crook, was the only person with direct contact with the British and American in Istanbul to negotiate a separate peace. Lanzmann wonders why Eichmann continued the killings if negotiations were going on. Bauer explains the two parallel lines of Nazi policy - the use of the Jews as a bargaining tool (without Hitler's knowledge) and their complete destruction. To the Nazis, the Jews were not human beings, so they could be either sold or killed, whichever was more convenient. Lanzmann adds, "Kill or sell was the same thing."

FILM ID 3798 -- Camera Roll 15 -- Interview Divers
CR15 Lanzmann says the only way the Nazis could reach the Allies for negotiations was through the Jews because of their imputed world power. Bauer agrees that the Nazis were fighting a war against world Jewry. He states that negotiation plans to "sell Jews" began in 1939 with Schacht-Rubli whereby 100,000 young Jews would emigrate under support from Jews outside Germany. Bauer revisits the "ransom deal" in Slovakia with Wisliceny in 1942. Deportations stopped for a while, which Wisliceny attributes to the Catholic Church's intervention. Bauer disagrees, contending there is no proof of the connection. He says that Weissmandel and Fleischmann believed their plan stopped the deportations, so they proposed the Europaplan, again to exchange Jews for money. Bauer suggests that this plan wasn't about getting money for Jews, but about opening the door to negotiations with the Allies. Lanzmann asks for more details about the war against the Soviet Union being a war against the Jews. Bauer says the evidence is to be found in Hitler's second book in 1928 and his preparations for the attack in 1940 about fighting the Judeo-Bolshevist power. Hitler's quest was a conquest of the world by a healthy, cultured Germanic race and the destruction of the Satanic power of the Jews, which, he believed, controlled the world of his enemies.

FILM ID 3799 -- Camera Roll 13 -- Coupes
CR13 Bauer is speaking but the sound is missing and the roll has not been located in the archive. It is dark and Bauer puts on a sweater. There is no written transcript for this roll so it is likely that the audio malfunctioned during the interview.

Event Date
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
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Record last modified: 2018-05-02 12:48:52
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