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Jewish Council, Będzin, report on Jewish police 1941

1 of 14 Collections in

Jewish Perspectives on the Holocaust

Jewish Community Documents

This collection shows some of the different tasks that Jewish community organizations performed during the Holocaust—including record keeping, advocacy, and rescue efforts. Documents from local and national organizations, international agencies, and German-controlled Jewish Councils reveal the dangers and uncertainties they faced. 

Jewish Community Documents

Records produced by Jewish organizations in the period from the Nazi rise to power until the end of World War II show some of the official responses of Jewish community leaders to the Holocaust. Unlike individual diaries or personal letters, these official documents were produced for institutional purposes. The author of a diary or personal letter might express their thoughts, feelings, or details about their private life.1 In contrast, bureaucratic documents are generally written by officials to conduct business or create a record of events.

This does not necessarily mean that institutional documents are more reliable historical sources. These reports, memos, and correspondence still have authors who made decisions about what to include, what to emphasize, and what to leave out. Many documents produced by Jewish communities during World War II actually depended on the work of individuals or small groups of people. Examples featured here include the letter of the president of the Jewish community of Split to Colonel Vincenzo Cuiuli and the letter of Selig Brodetsky and Leonard Stein to the British Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Jewish community organizations also received petitions from individuals like Meir Halle and Asna Zhurkovska.

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This collection has documents from both prewar and wartime community organizations. Many of these organizations were directly affected by persecution and genocide in Europe. Sources like the circular letter from the Jewish community of Zagreb show how Jewish communities struggled to provide food and other aid to persecuted Jews.2 There are also documents from international organizations, like the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Documents like "The Massacre of the Jews of Jassy" or a Note Regarding the German Policy of Deliberate Annihilation of European Jewry show how these organizations collected evidence and spreading information about the Holocaust.3

Other Jewish organizations were more directly controlled by German authorities. Jewish Councils (Judenräte) in the ghettos of German-occupied territories of Poland and the Soviet Union kept records that show how they operated according to bureaucratic procedure. The featured bylaw of the Audit Office and a circular letter of the Aid Center for Jews show how such organizations had to operate within severe constraints.4

The documents of the Jewish community organizations represented here show how these institutions differed from one another. Their missions and purposes varied greatly. Some of them faced Nazi persecution directly, while others operated far away from the dangers in Europe. Independent Jewish organizations relied on the voluntary participation of their members. However, German-appointed Jewish Councils were made to enforce German orders. Despite these differences, each of these organizations produced documents regularly according to procedure. They also kept many of the records that they produced and processed. These records became valuable archival sources for historical study.

Jewish community organizations kept official records according to formal procedures without knowing if the documents would outlive them or if they would be destroyed. The documents in this collection show how some Jewish community organizations responded to events. The official records, reports, and memos of these organizations remain valuable primary sources for the study of the Holocaust.

For examples of these types of primary sources, see the related Experiencing History collections, Holocaust Diaries and Wartime Correspondence.

For examples of primary sources about relief and rescue efforts during the Holocaust, see the related Experiencing History collection, US Government Rescue Efforts as well as all Experiencing History items marked with the tag, relief and rescue.

For more information on the rescue and relief work of Jewish organizations during the Holocaust, see Yehuda Bauer, American Jewry and the Holocaust: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1939-1945 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981); George Garai, ed., Forty Years in Action: A Record of the World Jewish Congress, 1936-1976 (Geneva: World Jewish Congress, 1976); and Gerhart Riegner, Never Despair: Sixty Years in the Service of the Jewish People and of Human Rights (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006).

To learn more about German-appointed Jewish Councils during the Holocaust, see Evgeny Finkel, Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival during the Holocaust (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017); Samuel D. Kassow, "A Tale of Three Ghettos," Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 36, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 200-208; Isaiah Trunk, Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation (New York: Macmillan, 1972); and Jonathan Petropoulos and John K. Roth, Gray Zones: Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and Its Aftermath (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005).

All 13 Items in the Jewish Community Documents Collection

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