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On the Threshold of the Holocaust

Anti-Jewish Riots and Pogroms in Occupied Europe: Warsaw – Paris – The Hague – Amsterdam – Antwerp – Kaunas


Tomasz Szarota

In the early months of the German occupation during WWII, many of Europe’s major cities witnessed anti-Jewish riots, anti-Semitic incidents, and even pogroms carried out by the local population. Who took part in these excesses, and what was their attitude towards the Germans? Were they guided or spontaneous? What part did the Germans play in these events and how did they manipulate them for their own benefit? Delving into the source material for Warsaw, Paris, The Hague, Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Kaunas, this study is the first to take a comparative look at these questions. Looking closely at events many would like to forget, the volume describes various characters and their stories, revealing some striking similarities and telling differences, while raising tantalising questions.
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What we normally associate the Holocaust with is genocide. The destruction of the Jewish nation has enshrouded the anguishes, sufferings, and humiliations the Jews experienced before being annihilated. Anti-Jewish riots tend to be neglected by authors of general studies concerning the history of the Second World War; similarly, they are not to be found in the works describing the Shoah. Likewise, not much would be found in the publications about the pogroms witnessed after 22nd June 1941 by Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, and Moldavia.1

Studies authored by historians from the countries where these occurrences took place tend to pass them over in silence for one more reason. To embark on this subject, a sore point as it really is, calls for courage as it implies that infamous and ignominious, or viciously brutal deeds could have been perpetrated not only by the Germans but also by the researcher’s compatriots. It is true that anti-Jewish disturbances – incidents, excesses, riots – sometimes turning into pogroms in which the Jews were getting beaten and in many cases killed, were not infrequently inspired by the German occupiers. It is, however, no less true that such incidents tended to occur here and there on the initiative of the local population – before the Germans entered. It should be borne in mind that the Germans might afterwards have persuaded or encouraged local people to take part in the persecutions or extermination of their Jewish neighbours, but as a rule they did not force them...

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