Between Dignity And Despair: A Review Of Marion Kaplan’s Book Essay, Research Paper
Between Dignity and Despair: A Review of Marion Kaplan s Book
Marion Kaplan s Between Dignity and Despair (Oxford, 1998) covers stories of Jewish life in the time of the Holocaust, when the Nazis began to overtake Germany. Kaplan herself narrates to the reader historical facts, while she includes selections from letters, memoirs, and interviews with survivors. The book is written in chronological order of events, from the daily life of German Jewish families before the Holocaust began to the days when rights were taken away; from the beginning of forced labor and deportation to the aftermath of the war.
Kaplan tries to include details from each significant event during the time of the Holocaust. She first mentions how life was for German Jews before the start of Nazi rule. She explains that most Jews adapted enthusiastically to the social, political or cultural styles, [in order to proclaim] their German patriotism (page 12), later they began to disregard this when Nazi actions began to take place. Kaplan then mentions how Jews experienced ostracism through the examples of the boycott of Jewish goods in April of 1933, which was a first attempt at limiting the participation of Jews in the German economy.
In chapter two, German Jews private lives, rather than public lives, are the focus. Kaplan explains how Jews began to feel forced into limiting their appearances in public. She goes into instances of people wishing to emigrate, partially as a result of these feelings. For the most part, if a woman wanted to leave, she was seen as insane. Kaplan recounts one woman s story: I implored my husband and a friend to leave they believed my nerves had given
way (page 68). Of course, as conditions continued to become worse, more Jews attempted to leave Germany.
Chapters three and four focus more on Jewish family and children s lives. People of mixed Jewish and Aryan races were referred to as Mischlinge, and even those who had married Jews were counted fully as Jews and accused of race defilement (page 75). These Germans were treated as such, including all laws and punishments. As for children, it became increasingly difficult to be in school. In April 1933, the Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools was created, in essence establish[ing] a quota of 1.5 percent total enrollment for Jews (page 94). Progressively, attendance in mixed schools by Jewish children seemed pointless altogether
Chapters five through eight discuss the worsening of German Jewish life up through the conclusion of the war. The descriptions begin with the unforgettable eve of The November Pogrom, otherwise known as Krystallnacht, in which the Nazis attacked Jews houses and properties. These chapters continue on to the references of bombings to life in the camps; from partial families who managed to hide to those who managed to survive and their testimonies.
The central theme of this book is to demonstrate the degradation of German Jews throughout the course of the Holocaust. Kaplan manages to capture the factual horrors of Nazi actions, as well as allowing the reader to experience memories of survivors. Kaplan does well to relate times of events by stating specific months. However, Bauer and Berenbaum in A History
of the Holocaust (Grolier, 1982) and The World Must Know (Little, Bwon, and Company, 1993), respectively, tend to be a little bit more specific by stating actual dates. For example, when referring to the establishment of the Nuremberg Laws,
Kaplan simply states In September 1935 (page 17). Bauer and Berembaum both mention that the actual date of implementation of these laws was September 15, 1935. It is important to know specific dates so that we may remember these events in relation to other events that may have happened in a certain month during this time. Specific dates allow us to be more aware, also in recalling our knowledge of the Holocaust.
I noticed a contradiction to Kaplan, however, in a film that we viewed in class. Kaplan states that women were more inclined to emigrate because they were not as integrated into the public world (page 63). In the 1979 movie The Holocaust, Bertha Weiss did not wish to leave Germany because she felt so much a part of Berlin. Perhaps this film interpretation was simply to make a general statement, but it cause me to become a bit confused as to facts.
In general, I prefer Kaplan s book to those we have been studying in class so far. She focuses much on testimonies of others and is able to connect them to her historical explanations. I would much rather listen to/read personal accounts than simply hear/read about just the facts. I feel more related to the subjects at hand and am able to relate in a more realistic fashion. Kaplan chooses to illustrate the history more of an area of interest, so I am better able to grasp concepts and the emotions dealt with on such a touchy issue.