The Secularization of Relations between Jews and Non-Jews: An Introduction


generations , became marginal . Presumed “ racial” identity would now be the decisive factor . Goering , Hitler’s deputy , is known for his declaring that he would decide who is a Jew . In the first years of Nazi rule , only Jews who were First World War veterans and who had actively participated in the fighting would , for a time , constitute a separate , exceptional category . All other Jews were defined in accordance with biological racial criteria , which negated any element of free choice on their part . The hope of many German Jews , that , as in the past , the anti-Semitic ire would be directed against the “ Ostjuden” ( eastern Jews ) , with their traditional customs and demonstrative religiosity , would prove baseless . The Nazis eliminated all the internal distinctions between Jews . The distinction between observant and secular Jews seemed especially superfluous to them . Needless to say , no consideration of Christian morality could stop the transition from the policy of isolating and boycotting the Jews to the phase of deportations , the concentration of Jews in ghettos , and the final extermination . An End of Days atmosphere reigned in Germany from the Nazi rise to power . It intensified during the bloody war that followed , and the figure of the hated Jews stood in its center . Historians disagree as to whether Hitler planned the destruction of European Jewry from the outset . While the resolute anti-Semitism of the Nazi leadership is unquestioned , it is difficult to determine when the Final Solution itself was formulated . Historians who argue that it had been planned from the beginning are opposed by those who maintain that the program of total destruction emerged only upon the Wermacht’s advance eastward , with the policy of deportations and incarceration in ghettos , and when the implementation of acts of mass murder on the basis of local and private initiatives began , during the fall and winter of 1941 . Whichever the case , one of the harsh revelations of the Holocaust is the degree of collaboration with the Nazis by ordinary Germans and by other peoples in Europe – west and east . Those who shared the Nazi worldview , including its racial anti-Semitism , were apparently to be found everywhere . Some gave free reign to their traditional enmity toward the Jews , which had not disappeared even in the most modern contexts ; there were those who sought material gain for themselves : taking over confiscated Jewish property , positions that had become vacant , and the like . There were also others who refused to accept the acts of destruction . Those individuals who concealed , smuggled , and aided Jews in every way possible - the Righteous Gentiles - were present in every country . Collectively , of special interest are the instances of the Netherlands , Denmark , and Bulgaria . The Dutch example was thought until recently to be an instance of a decent community that supported the Jews to the best of its ability , even under a protracted and cruel occupation . In recent years , however , the extent of collaboration , by both Dutch authorities and considerable numbers of individuals in this country , has come to light . All that can be said of this case today is that in the Netherlands , in comparison with other places , there might have been more instances of extending aid to the Jews . A much more impressive joint activity , by the authorities and private individuals alike , took place in Denmark . The conditions of the occupation there were apparently less oppressive there than usually under the Nazis . Be that as it may , at the last moment the local underground succeeded in saving most of the country’s Jews by smuggling them by sea to neutral Sweden . The instance of Bulgaria , a German ally that managed to retain a certain degree of independence , exemplifies the possibility of collectively protecting the local Jews by delaying tactics from above and by vigorous opposition to the deportations from below . The stance of non-Jewish societies that did not live under the rule of the Nazis and their allies during the implementation of the Final Solution raises difficult questions , too . From the outset , the possibilities for entry by Jews were limited almost everywhere . In Eretz Israel , the British continued to implement

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