Oxford University Press

  • Between Dignity and Despair draws on the extraordinary memoirs, diaries, interviews, and letters of Jewish women and men to give us the first intimate portrait of Jewish life in Nazi Germany.
    Kaplan tells the story of Jews in Germany not from the hindsight of the Holocaust, nor by focusing on 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 neighbors, and driven into forced labor. For those trapped in Germany, mere survival became a nightmare of increasingly desperate options. Many took their own lives to retain at least some dignity in death; others went underground and endured the fears of nightly bombings and the even greater terror of being discovered by the Nazis. Most were murdered. All were pressed to the limit of human endurance and human loneliness.
    Focusing on the fate of families and particularly women's experience, Between Dignity and Despair takes us into the neighborhoods, into the kitchens, shops, and schools, to give us the shape and texture, the very feel of what it was like to be a Jew in Nazi Germany.

  • From the seventeenth century until the Holocaust, Germany's Jews lurched between progress and setback, between fortune and terrible misfortune. German society shunned Jews in the eighteenth century and opened unevenly to them in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, only to turn murderous in the Nazi era. By examining the everyday lives of ordinary Jews, this book portrays the drama of German-Jewish history -- the gradual ascent of Jews from impoverished outcasts to comfortable bourgeois citizens and then their dramatic descent into genocidal torment during the Nazi years. Building on social, economic, religious, and political history, it focuses on the qualitative aspects of ordinary life -- emotions, subjective impressions, and quotidian perceptions. How did ordinary Jews and their families make sense of their world? How did they construe changes brought about by industrialization? How did they make decisions to enter new professions or stick with the old, juggle traditional mores with contemporary ways? The Jewish adoption of secular, modern European culture and the struggle for legal equality exacted profound costs, both material and psychological. Even in the heady years of progress, a basic insecurity informed German-Jewish life. Jewish successes existed alongside an antisemitism that persisted as a frightful leitmotif throughout German-Jewish history. And yet the history that emerges from these pages belies simplistic interpretations that German antisemitism followed a straight path from Luther to Hitler. Neither Germans nor Jews can be typecast in their roles vis a vis one another. Non-Jews were not uniformly antisemitic but exhibited a wide range of attitudes towards Jews. Jewish daily life thus provides another vantage point from which to study the social life of Germany. Focusing on both internal Jewish life -- family, religion, culture and Jewish community -- and the external world of German culture and society provides a uniquely well-rounded portrait of a world defined by the shifting sands of inclusion and exclusion.

  • Between Dignity and Despair draws on the extraordinary memoirs, diaries, interviews, and letters of Jewish women and men to give us the first intimate portrait of Jewish life in Nazi Germany.
    Kaplan tells the story of Jews in Germany not from the hindsight of the Holocaust, nor by focusing on 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 neighbors, and driven into forced labor. For those trapped in Germany, mere survival became a nightmare of increasingly desperate options. Many took their own lives to retain at least some dignity in death; others went underground and endured the fears of nightly bombings and the even greater terror of being discovered by the Nazis. Most were murdered. All were pressed to the limit of human endurance and human loneliness.
    Focusing on the fate of families and particularly women's experience, Between Dignity and Despair takes us into the neighborhoods, into the kitchens, shops, and schools, to give us the shape and texture, the very feel of what it was like to be a Jew in Nazi Germany.

empty