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Ghettos 1939–1945: New Research and Perspectives on Definition, Daily life, and Survival Browse

Geoffrey Megargee—Definition, Administration, and Resistance


Thank you, Paul. Ladies and Gentlemen. Good morning and welcome to our symposium. As project leader in the Center's work to compile and edit an encyclopedic history of all of the Nazi camps and ghettos, it is a special privilege and pleasure to hear from scholars who are doing some of the most innovative and important work in the field. As Paul Shapiro just mentioned, our first panel today deals with issues of definition, administration, and resistance. I think you will notice, as I did in reviewing the papers, the extent to which they force us to reevaluate the ghettos as historical phenomena. Whereas historians have tended to treat ghettos as a rather homogeneous category of sites, these papers point out the tremendous variety that actually characterized the ghetto experience.

Let me introduce our presenters for this first panel in the order in which they will speak: Professor Christopher R. Browning is the Frank Graham Porter Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council's Academic Committee. Professor Browning is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work on perpetrator motivation entitled Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, a book that is remarkable not only for its scholarship, but also for its accessibility. In fact, though, Ordinary Men is just one of many books and articles that Professor Browning has published as he has established himself in the first rank of Holocaust scholars. Today Professor Browning will explore the processes and motivations behind the creation and management of ghettos in Poland in 1940 and 1941. His work is significant because it points out the complexities of German policy, the range of motivations involved in creating ghettos and indeed the confusion that often dominated German thinking.

Professor Dennis Deletant will carry the theme of differentiation further by describing events in Transnistria, that region of the Ukraine between the Dniester and Bug rivers to which the Romanian regime deported thousands of Jews. Professor Deletant is Professor of Romanian Studies at University College, London, and he was the 2000–2001 Rosenzweig Fellow for the study of the fate of Jews in Transnistria during the Holocaust, here at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. In addition to his studies of the Holocaust in Romania, he is also the author of two works on Communist rule in that country. Professor Deletant's paper today will help us understand how and why the ghetto experience for Romanian and Transnistrian Jews was unique.

Professor Dan Michman is Professor of Modern Jewish History, Chair of the Institute of Holocaust Research, and Chair of the Institute of Research on Diaspora Jewry in Modern Times at Bar-Ilan University, as well as the chief historian at Yad Vashem. He has conducted research and published on such diverse topics as German-Jewish refugees in the Netherlands, the problems and conditions of religious Jewry under the Nazi regime, and Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Professor Michman's study parallels that of Professor Browning in a sense, in that it calls into question established, rather one-dimensional view we have had of one element of the ghetto experience, that is, the origins and roles of the Jewish Councils.

Professor Sara Bender is Professor of Jewish History at the University of Haifa and the managing editor of the Lexicon of the Righteous among the Nations, which she is preparing under the auspices of the International Center for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem. She has done extensive research on the Jewish communities of Bialystok, Radom, Vilna, and Kielce. Today Professor Bender will share some of the knowledge she has gained in studying the two ghettos of Bialystok and Kielce. Her comparison of those two communities illustrates the greatly divergent paths that different ghettos could take, depending on the attitudes of the German officials who oversaw them and the abilities of their Jewish leaders.

Professor Lenore Weitzman is the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Sociology and Law at George Mason University and also currently a Fellow of the Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance here at the Center. She has authored or edited six books, including Women in the Holocaust, which she co-edited with Dalia Ofer. In her paper this morning, Professor Weitzman will focus on the role of women couriers in the Jewish resistance, a group that has received scant attention, despite its heroic activities. She will thus cap a panel that is full of thought-provoking work, by challenging us to recognize previously unheralded courage and thus to broaden our understanding of ghetto life.

And now it is my great pleasure to turn the podium over to our first speaker, Professor Browning.

From the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies symposium, Ghettos 1939–1945: New Research and Perspectives on Definition, Daily Life, and Survival