Yehuda Bauer, Historian of the Holocaust (Part 1)
Portrait of an Historian
me tell you a story.” This is a phrase that appears often
when Dr. Yehuda Bauer speaks to students and teachers about
the history of the Holocaust. As he explains, it is not
enough to know the dates and facts of an event. “We must
know the stories of individuals. We must study their moral
dilemmas.” And such stories! His stories capture the very
essence of the Holocaust experience. Take, for example, the
following account about
Kovner, as told by Professor Bauer:
When the attempt at the rebellion in the ghetto [Vilna]
failed and one of the two main units was captured by the
Germans, Abba decided that there was no other choice—try to
escape through the sewers, and go to the forest. The
chances were slim, as they did not have enough weapons, and
the exit from the sewers was not secured, so that they could
easily have fallen into German hands. Nor did they have an
exact idea how to reach the forests of Rudniki and what to
do once they arrived there, surrounded as they would be by a
hostile peasantry. The entry into the sewer was difficult:
they would have to go in a single file and crawl through a
narrow space with little air. Abba decided to admit only
members of the Underground, or young people who had joined
it at the last moment. His mother suddenly appeared from
her hiding place and asked her son what she should do. He
could not admit his mother while refusing to admit the other
older people. He left his mother behind.
||Why are stories
important for learning about the past?
||How do you learn
about the past?
||How did you learn
about the Shoah?
||Talk about a film
or a television program on history that has helped you learn
about a certain history. Why is this medium effective in
teaching an historical event?
fall of 2003, Yehuda Bauer was a visiting professor at the
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His dynamic
presentations, unforgettable stories of the Holocaust era
and commitment to teaching the Holocaust left an indelible
impression on audiences. Many who heard the professor
wanted to know his story:
||Where did he
||How did he become
||Why does he take
such an interest in the issues of rescue and
||What are his
current areas of research?
||Why has he
written about his rethinking of the Holocaust?
Bauer delights in telling how his interest in history
started with a dynamic and concerned history teacher he had
as an adolescent. Along with this positive educational
experience, one cannot help but wonder if the times in which
Yehuda Bauer was growing up peaked his interest in history,
the history of the Jews in particular. Hitler’s National
Socialist Party came to power during Yehuda’s boyhood, and
by his fifteenth birthday the Nazis were implementing their
“Final Solution” to the Jewish Question. As a young adult,
Bauer became involved with the Israeli struggle for
||To what extent
did these major historical events influence the
thinking and decisions of the young Bauer?
||Why has he found
the study of history essential for dealing with
||Why has the
study of the Holocaust remained for him the
central defining event of modern history, the
history of the Jews in particular?
The Formative Years of Dr.
Yehuda Bauer was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1926.
He grew up in Prague, fluent in Czech, Slovak and German.
From 1934 until 1939, his father, a dedicated Zionist, tried
to get his family to Palestine. It took him time to raise
the money (a thousand pounds) required for emigration to
Palestine. On March 15, 1939, the very day that Germany
assumed control of Bohemia and Moravia, the Bauer family
departed for Palestine.
attended high school in Haifa, Palestine. It was during
this time that a dynamic history teacher,
cultivated his love for history and inspired him to become
an historian. As Bauer recently recalled:
attended the Hugim (pronounced khugim} high school in
Haifa. From, I think, the eighth or ninth grade we had
Rachel Krulik as our history teacher. She was quite an
attractive, smallish, round woman, and she taught us what
was known as general—as opposed to Jewish—history. The
textbook was pretty boring, but her way of teaching was
wonderful. She brought pictures to the classroom, maps, and
stories about the people she was teaching us about—not only
the kings and generals, but the ordinary people, the
peasants and townspeople. She talked about the era of Louis
XIV and she made it come alive.
Influenced by her, and at the ripe age of 16, I decided that
I was going to study and write history. I used to visit her
in her very modest home, which she shared with her very
intelligent, very friendly, but reclusive husband (they had
no children). She told me she had been born in Cracow, in
Poland, and had studied in pre-Hitler Germany. In actual
fact, if she had been born later, she probably would have
been a university teacher, but Palestine in the early
forties could afford no such luxuries.
finished school, and went my own way. Many years later, I
had put my mother in an old age home, in Haifa of course.
It is a home for people with a Central European background,
mainly German-speaking seniors. As my mother slowly
declined, I visited more often. One day, suddenly, I saw
Rachel again—an old woman, who had lost her husband, and was
moving into the home. She was immediately glad that I had
recognized her, and then, for a few months whenever I
visited my mother, I went up to her room for a chat. As
alert and brilliant as ever, she no longer had a will to
live—not because she was desperate or sad, but simply
because she had nothing to offer anymore, and was quite
happy to leave the stage.
day I came, and she was gone, suddenly and peacefully. Some
of what I have to offer comes from her.
completing high school he joined the
underground that later became the core of the Israeli Army.
Having received a British scholarship he left to attend a
University in Cardiff, Wales. His university studies were
interrupted when he returned to fight in the Israeli War of
Independence during 1948-9; Bauer resumed and completed his
university studies in Cardiff. He then returned to Israel
where he joined
Shoval and began his graduate work in history at Hebrew
University. His doctoral thesis focused on the Palestine
Mandate, and in 1960 he received his doctorate.
1961 as the freshly minted Ph.D. began his teaching career
with the Institute for Contemporary Jewry (Hebrew
University, Jerusalem), he had a conversation with Abba
Kovner, a Holocaust survivor and poet and well known Zionist
leader. Kovner said that Bauer’s work on Jews in Palestine
during World War II was “not bad,” but asked why he was
wasting his time writing about Jews in Palestine.
Kovner in later years
Bauer inquired why? Kovner replied with a question: “What
was the most important event in Jewish history?”
answered, “the Shoah.”
then,” said Kovner, “why don’t you deal with it?”
“Because I’m scared,” replied Bauer.
“That,” said Kovner, “is a very good starting point.”
I still am scared,” says Bauer today.
conversation with Kovner took place in the early 1960s.
Today, Dr. Yehuda Bauer is one of the preeminent historians
of the Holocaust. For more then four decades his research,
publications, and teaching have focused on the Holocaust.
Although his interpretations have changed as new archives
have become available, Bauer maintains that his fundamental
belief in the importance of the Holocaust remains unchanged:
the statement, eighteen years ago [when he published his
first History of the Holocaust], that the
Holocaust must be considered the watershed event in modern
history not only stands, but is the basic reason that
hundreds of university and college courses in the United
States and Canada, as well as in other countries are devoted
to the subject.
have had a decisive influence on your life?
||Why do you think
Abba Kovner argued that the Shoah was the watershed event in
||Why do you think
the young Bauer said he was “scared” about investigating the
subject of the Shoah?
Brief Overview of Dr. Yehuda
Bauer’s Research and Teaching
The Research of Dr. Bauer
the outset of his research on the Holocaust, Bauer
recognized the significance of fluency in several
languages. He already knew Czech, Slovak, German and
English. He soon mastered working knowledge of Yiddish,
French and Polish.
the 1960s and 1970s his Holocaust research focused on the
experiences of survivors and the policies pursued by major
American Jewish organizations during the Holocaust. His
principal publications in those years reflected these
interests. As early as 1968 he prepared a small book
entitled They Chose Life for the American Jewish
Committee that examined various facets of Jewish resistance
during the Holocaust. Subsequent studies included:
Flight and Rescue (1975), a study of Jewish refugees in
Europe 1944-8; My Brother’s Keeper (1974) outlining
the history of the American Joint Distribution Committee,
1914-1939; American Jewry and the Holocaust (1982)
centering on the activities of the
Joint Distribution Committee
and other European organizations during the Holocaust.
Several years later, in 1989, he published Out of the
Ashes on how the American Jewish organizations dealt
with survivors in Europe
1945 and 1954. His latest book is Rethinking the
Holocaust (2001), which attempts an overview of the main
issues of Holocaust research.
the last two decades Dr. Bauer has turned his attention to
the little explored topic of relations between Jews and
Nazis on the rescue of Jews. He was intrigued by these
negotiations. Even though many of these efforts failed,
Bauer felt it was important to examine them and consider
possible scenarios whereby the efforts might have
succeeded. Much of his work on the topic was synthesized in
his Jews for Sale (1994).
Dr. Bauer: The Consummate
Teaching has been another significant aspect of Dr. Bauer’s
career. During the 1970s he served several years as the
Chair of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry and became a
full professor at Hebrew University in 1977. In 1980 he
became the permanent Academic Chair of the Institute for
Contemporary Jewry and founded the Vidal Sassoon
International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He
remained in this position until 1995.
the last decade, he has been a visiting professor at several
universities including Yale, Brandeis, University of Hawaii,
and the Center for the Study of Antisemitism in Berlin.
Twice he has been the Ida E. King Scholar in Holocaust
Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Teaching the Holocaust for several decades prompted Dr.
Bauer to synthesize his interpretations in A History of
the Holocaust (1981), a textbook for college and
university teaching on the subject. He also compiled his
lectures in The Holocaust in Historical Perspective
and Jewish Emergence from Powerlessness. His most
recent publication, A History of the Holocaust (2001,
Revised Edition) incorporates recent research from the newly
opened Eastern European archives and updates information
from his 1981 History.
makes Bauer’s teaching approach so exciting and memorable
for students and general audiences is his ability to tell
stories. The following story of his mentor Abba Kovner
illustrates his amazing skills as a storyteller:
Abba Kovner told the story, which seemed to be pure fiction,
of his going to an attic in the ghetto, where he found a
tailor bent over his sewing machine. When he looked closer,
the tailor was sewing a long piece of paper, and when he
looked closer still he realized that he was sewing without a
thread. He asked the tailor: what are you doing? Why are
you sewing paper, and without a thread? And the tailor
answered: I am sewing to write the history of the Jewish
people, and especially of the people today. There is no
substance, only paper, and on it I am writing, but there is
had always thought that this was the figment of Abba’s wild
imagination, but then he told me once, that there was some
reality behind it. At one point, in the ghetto, he went to
a cellar, and he saw there a tailor, and the man was
actually sewing, but there was no material and no paper,
there was simply nothing. And the tailor was working on the
machine, and the machine had no needle, and no thread. And
when Abba asked, thinking the tailor had gone out of his
mind, the man answered, that he had no work, and the machine
was useless, and he was pretending, just like the Jews were
pretending that there was substance to their live in the
ghetto, and that that was the core of the history of the
Throughout his career, Dr. Bauer has believed it is
imperative that he explore new ideas and themes.
“Historical research is continuing,” he remarked in a recent
workshop, “and new insights will undoubtedly have to be
added in the future.”
keep himself and others abreast the latest research, Bauer
has been instrumental in organizing major international
conferences: he organized the first international conference
in New York in 1975 and co-edited the papers in The
Holocaust as Historical Experience (1981). In 1988, he
worked with Dr. Elizabeth Maxwell to organize the
international conference at Oxford; three volumes of papers
resulted from the conference. Also, he edited the
Journal of Holocaust and Genocide Studies between 1988
Bauer’s is particularly interested in making sure the
broader public has access to and understanding of the
history of the Holocaust. He has been the adviser to
numerous film and television productions on the Holocaust:
he takes special pride in his association with
during recent years Dr. Bauer has received numerous
recognitions for his research and writing in the field of
Holocaust Studies. In 1998, he was the recipient of the
Israel Prize, the highest civilian award in Israel. In
2001, he was elected a Member of the Israeli Academy of
Science. Currently, he serves as academic adviser to Yad
Vashem, academic adviser to the International Task Force for
Remembrance, and Research, and senior adviser to the Swedish
Government on the International Forum on Genocide
Who, or What is an Historian?
Bauer has been a practicing historian for more than four
decades and has very set ideas of what it means to be an
and foremost, he insists that history is not a science. It
is not possible to conduct experiments or prove theories
with historical information. Nor does he believe history is
an art. From his perspective, the best description of
history is that it is a craft: history is the attempt to
describe events of the past and move from description to
analysis, in accordance with certain agreed rules of
evidence, of analysis of language, and of logic. The study
of history is based on the assumption that while one cannot
recreate the past as it actually happened, one can assume
that the event was the product of human action and is
therefore accessible to human understanding. As Dr. Bauer
Historical events are the products of meetings of infinite
numbers of causal chains, and because they are infinite,
they cannot be fully known; however, detailed analysis based
on a carefully differentiated accumulation of descriptions
can bring us very close to the events, to that elusive
post-modernist theories that tell us that there are no facts
because we all view whatever happened from subjective angles
are . . . unacceptable. The fact that we may view events
from subjective angles does not mean that these events did
not happen, and there are ways of mitigating the influence
of subjective factors, so that the never-ending effort to
get as close to the actual event as possible can yield
satisfactory results. We may come very close to a full
the historian, Bauer notes that there is a major difference
in collecting evidence in the Ancient World and in more
recent times. The amount of written materials and
archaeological evidence of ancient empires is limited and
one can usually only draw conclusions of a general nature.
For example, we know little about the private lives of
Egyptian pharaohs except what they wanted inscribed on their
tombs. We have some general knowledge of the social and
economic life of Egyptian peasants, traders and officials
because they are often inscribed on hieroglyphic
inscriptions. Yet we have no way of knowing how accurate
such descriptions are and whether they can be generalized
for the whole, complicated society.
Biblical stories create special problems for historians.
These stories are part legend and part historical fact, and
it is often difficult for an historian to distinguish
between the two. However,
philological analysis can yield important suggestions
of life in the Ancient World, and this evidence can either
be confirmed or contradicted by archaeological evidence.
Working on modern history differs dramatically from working
with ancient history. We have a deluge of written
materials—political, economic, social, philosophical and
literary. We also have artistic, musical, and architectural
evidence of the lives people lived. In many cases, however,
the abundance of written documents hides the fact that much
of the material is secondary in importance, and we miss the
centrally important evidence of decision-making processes,
both for main institutions and for ordinary individuals.
Nothing more clearly illustrates the difficulty of
ascertaining the decision-making process than examining the
discussions between Hitler and members of his elite. After
1938, there was not a formal government meeting in Germany.
Rather, Hitler had conversations with leading Nazis. Since
Hitler would not allow any of the discussions to be
committed to paper, those present at the meetings composed
notes of their meetings with Hitler. Historians have no way
of knowing that what was written down accurately reflect
what was said. No other government operated in this
fashion. Even in the Soviet Union, there were documented
accounts of meetings. Granted officials of the Soviet Union
may have doctored their accounts to comply with the party
line, but, in fact, records were kept.
Similarly problematic are
records of the Jewish Councils
records were kept of meetings, it is more than likely that
records were written with the understanding that the Nazis
might subsequently read them. Thus, these written records
do not necessarily reflect what transpired during the
council meetings. And only some of these records survived.
Daily life, internal controversies, debates over armed and
unarmed resistance have to be gleaned from comparisons of
different types of documentation including oral histories
conducted in the postwar decades.
||How do you verify
that something is true?
||What if you heard
something on the bus or in the classroom, how would you
check to see if it is true?
What are Documents from the
is an historian, and working with documents is central to
his work. He has very precise ideas about ways to interpret
documents and the rules of evidence an historian must follow
to ascertain the veracity of a document whether it comes
from perpetrators, victims or bystanders.
documentation of the perpetrators includes a wide variety of
sources: instructions, orders, correspondence between
bureaucrats and their respective agencies, reports and
memoranda, and recorded conversations. In his efforts to
understand the evolution of the “Final Solution” and the
relationships between Nazis in different bureaucracies and
countries, Bauer has spent many hours sifting through the
||Why do you think
it would be difficult to verify a document by a perpetrator?
some scholars of the Holocaust consider Nazi documentation
as accurate descriptions of past events, Bauer refuses to
take the documents at face value: he subjects them to
critical analysis, ascertaining whether or not the documents
were prepared to serve as Nazi propaganda or put the Nazis
in a positive light. Bauer’s cautionary approach has, at
times, led him to develop different interpretations of
events than have been commonly accepted by other
historians. As Bauer explains:
see German documents as literally reflecting the
events they describe or to which they relate.
. . .[T] his can be very misleading.
German documents were often created in order to
mislead, or beautify, or cover up.
classic example of a misleading document is Adolf Eichmann’s
report of the Wannsee Conference, the meeting of key
bureaucrats from various Nazi ministries held on January 20,
covers discussions on how Jews would be moved eastward and
how Jews would be treated after being exploited as a slave
labor force. Although some historians have written that the
Nazi decision to implement the ”Final Solution” took place
during the Wannsee Conference, Bauer carefully notes that
the decision was developed over a period of months before
the conference. The principal purpose of the conference was
to discuss the ways for implementing the “Final Solution.”
Moreover, Bauer notes, Eichmann revealed at his trial in
1960 that his Wannsee report omitted certain crucial
discussions of the conference such as the methods of killing
Jews. Eichmann testified that Heydrich wanted the report to
be a relatively harmless version of the meeting.
||Why did Heydrich
want this harmless version of the Wannsee Conference?
discussion of the report on the Wannsee Conference.
||If you were a
newspaper reporter in January 1942, how would you have
written about the Wannsee Conference?
misleading are Nazi accounts of the partisans in Eastern
Europe. Some Nazi reports of clashes between German forces
and partisan units stress the threat of Jewish bandits. In
fact, during these particular confrontations there were few
or no Jews involved. Other documents of Nazi encounters
with Jewish partisan units repress mention of the
involvement of Jews. To speak of Jewish involvement in
partisan activities would have been embarrassing for the
Nazi regime. According to Nazi propaganda, Jews could not
be an effective fighting force, nor was it possible that
Jews could pose a threat to German armed forces.
order to avoid misinterpretation, Bauer urges scholars to
compare documents with other sources to verify or question
an account. This kind of comparative analysis, Bauer
continues, must be applied to all sources of the era, not
just those of German provenance.
everything that is committed to paper is also true,” warns
Bauer, “and not every document has the same veracity value.”
Diaries and private letters written by perpetrators as well
as victims are other sources of documentation. The
immediacy of such documents appeals to historians. On the
other hand, these sources are private, subjective accounts,
and the historian needs to be circumspect in using such
sources without other means of verification.
||Why would we read
memoirs of Holocaust survivors rather than novels?
testimonies of Holocaust survivors are invaluable sources.
“One must never argue with a survivor,” explains Bauer, “and
every testimony must be treated with utter respect.”
However, Bauer does echo other historians in Holocaust
Studies who say that oral testimonies must be subjected to
the same rigorous analysis that is accorded other sources.
notes several challenges with survivors’ testimonies. First
and often problematic is the question of memory. Survivors
may forget things or events. In some cases, survivors have
told their stories so many times and begin infusing memories
of other survivors. There are also cases in which survivors
hide certain facts that they find embarrassing or, in their
minds, not worthwhile relating. Bauer has even come across
testimonies in which the survivor seeks to mislead
with written documentation, Bauer stresses the significance
of verifying testimonies. One testimony of an event or a
situation should not be considered a reliable source. Yet,
when a number of testimonies converge, provided they have
been recorded independently of each other and there has been
no prior adjustment between witnesses, they are “at least as
reliable as written documents, if not more so.”
Another factor to consider in analyzing testimonies is the
time they were recorded. Contrary to historians who have
argued that testimonies taken immediately after the war and
the Holocaust in 1945 and 1946 contain more accurate
recollections than testimonies taken several decades later,
Bauer is careful to note that the testimonies given by
survivors directly after the war often omit the details of
more terrible experiences because the survivors are dealing
with trauma that makes it difficult to convey the details of
pain and suffering. Survivors giving testimonies years or
even decades after the war are more selective in what they
chose to remember, but the survivors are often more willing
to disclose vivid descriptions of painful events and reveal
details that they previously suppressed.
problem can be addressed if the historian can interview a
survivor at different intervals. However, Bauer warns:
interviewer, and especially the historian, has his/her own
subjective problem in that they are justifiably reluctant to
doubt survivors’ testimonies and relate to them the same way
they would to any other historical source.
Memoirs are essentially testimonies that are written without
the mediation of an interviewer. Bauer once again urges
caution in using such sources. While people often have a
tendency to believe what is written and published are
accurate reflections of what took place, this is not
necessarily the case. Moreover, memoirs dealing with memory
must be subjected to the same rules of evidence that apply
to oral testimonies.
Working as an Historian of the
genocide of the Jewish people during World War II has come
to be known as the Holocaust. Bauer joins a growing number
of historians who criticize the term that means “whole burnt
offering.” The Jews were not offered to anyone, they were
word “Shoah” which is becoming more widely used among Jews
and non-Jews means “catastrophe.” In Hebrew the term
applies to natural cataclysmic events as well as manmade
catastrophes. However, as Bauer concedes there are no
better terms than “Holocaust” and “Shoah.” And,
interestingly enough, the Polish term for the genocide of
Polish people during World War II is “zaglada” or
“catastrophe” in Polish. The Romany term for the genocide
of Gypsies is “porrajmos” which also means “catastrophe.”
precise language for the atrocities suffered by various
peoples during World War II is still lacking, all these
events can be considered under the larger category of
coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943.
There are many parallels between the Holocaust and other
||The suffering of
the victims is unwarranted. There is
nothing the victims did in these instances:
they were persecuted and murdered for who they
were. There is no difference between the
victims regarding their sufferings.
made use of bureaucracies to carry out persecution and state
sanctioned murder of victim groups.
made use of the latest available technology for transporting
and murdering victims as well as disseminating propaganda
camps were created for holding civilian victims.
other hand, Dr. Bauer lists five factors that make the
Holocaust an unprecedented form of genocide. He is very
clear to say “unprecedented” rather than “unique.” If it
were “unique,” Bauer says, it would be a onetime occurrence
in human history and therefore stand outside the human
experience. Unprecedented means that it can become a
precedent for another event. And, indeed, the Holocaust has
been a precedent for more recent genocides in Cambodia,
Bosnia, Rwanda, and East Timor.
factors that make the Holocaust “unprecedented” are as
||The totality of
the Holocaust: The Nazis sought to murder all Jews.
This effort to eliminate an entire people has not been found
in other genocides prior to the Holocaust.
universality of the Holocaust: The Nazis sought to
murder Jews everywhere that German interests predominated.
Since the Germans intended to extend their control
throughout the world, they aimed at a global campaign to
murder the Jews.
non-pragmatic nature of National Socialist
ideology: Nazism, in contrast to other
ideologies of genocidal regimes, was not
pragmatic. Even when an action did not
serve the Nazis’ military or economic interests,
they pursued a policy of murdering Jews.
One graphic example, cited by Bauer, pertains to
the thousands of Jewish armament workers in
Berlin. At the height of the war when the
Nazis needed skilled workers, they sent the
Jewish workers to concentration camps.
According to Bauer, pragmatic concerns have been
prominent in other genocides, but the Nazis only
offered pragmatic reasons for actions as a
rationalization for what they had done.
What came first and foremost was the advancement
of Nazi ideals even if this course of action
endangered the security and stability of the
centrality of race in the organization of the
National Socialist state: The Nazi
movement was based on the pseudoscience of
eugenics. For the first
time in history, Bauer stresses, the Nazis set
out to create a society based on a racial
hierarchy—this was revolutionary. In fact,
Bauer continues, National Socialism was the only
real revolutionary movement of the twentieth
Socialist view of the Jew as the eternal,
omnipresent threat to the Third Reich and Nazi
civilization: The Nazis perceived Jews
as the embodiment of enlightened ideals of
western civilization, with a culture that had
developed as a continuity for thousands of
years. In seeking to attack the basis of
western civilization, the Nazis focused on the
Jews as the symbol of modern, enlightened,
civilization seen as the antithesis of their
movement—a symbol that needed to be destroyed if
the Nazi revolution was to achieve its goals.
||What relation do
you see between the Holocaust and other genocides?
||Do you agree with
Dr. Bauer’s distinctions?
Information on the
Holocaust: An Ever-Growing Body of Material
the most remarkable features of Dr. Bauer’s career is his
ongoing quest for information on the Holocaust and his
willingness to change his interpretation of events as new
sources become available. For this reason, he is excited
by the information in the newly opened archives of Eastern
Europe and the greater accessibility to sources in Western
European and American sources.
recent years, there has been an explosion of information
about the Holocaust and its context. The opening of the
Soviet archives after 1989 has been a sea change. Important
German materials were uncovered there; Soviet investigations
into Nazi crimes, and post liberation inquiries into the
fate of all the inhabitants in areas occupied by the
Germans, have elucidated and will continue to elucidate,
many developments in areas about which we knew very little.
Relations between Jews and non-Jews in those areas of
Eastern Europe can now also be better understood. Polish
archives have been open for quite a long time, but there,
too, new materials of great importance have been uncovered.
Romanian, Hungarian and most recently Bulgarian
documentation has become available.
materials in Western Europe and the United States are being
made available.] French provincial archives are being
opened. In the United States, materials of the
Office of Strategic Services
(OSS), the American spy agency during the war, have been
released, and in their wake, British Intelligence sources
are slowly becoming available. A huge amount of memoirs
have been and are being published, some of them very
important and instructive ones.
all this excitement with newly uncovered sources, Bauer has
also encountered disappointments and frustrations. He is
especially irritated by the policies of the Vatican and the
International Tracing Service (ITS).
Vatican has only recently opened its archives up until 1939,
coinciding with the death of Pope Pius XI. The sources for
the war years remain sealed. Since information flowed into
the Vatican from all over Europe, Bauer feels it is
imperative that the wartime sources be made public.
Moreover, the opening of the wartime sources would shed more
light on church personalities and policies during the Nazi
era and deepen our understanding of the role the Church
played in the era.
The International Tracing Service, located in Arsolen,
Germany, refuses to change its policy of an inaccessible
archive. The service has the names of millions of prisoners
held in camps of Nazi Germany. Its international board that
includes the United States maintains that the archives must
remain closed since the privacy of individuals must be
maintained. A specific request for information on a person
whose name is known will be honored: usually it takes at
the very least six months to a year to get the information.
Recent decisions of the governing board may hopefully change
Bauer has taken a prominent position in the campaign to open
Vatican and ITS archives. Together with Saul Friedlander,
another major historian, he refused to participate in the
Catholic Jewish commission created by the Vatican to examine
already published sources from the Vatican. Bauer indicated
that he would only agree to sit on the commission if
scholars were permitted to study Vatican archives. His
request went unfulfilled. As the Academic Advisor to the
International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Bauer
worked together with others in the attempts to open the
Bauer stresses three factors that will help in the
exploration and research of the newly opened
archives—knowledge of several languages; use of the computer
technology; and use of video testimonies.
he himself learned as a young scholar, facility in several
languages is essential for research on the Holocaust.
Increasingly, it is becoming vital to know Eastern European
languages to handle the documentation from Romania, Hungary,
Bulgaria and the former Soviet Union. Similarly, findings
of Jews who took refuge in Shanghai require knowledge of
Chinese and Japanese. Without these linguistic skills, Bauer
maintains that serious research on the genocide of Jews is
introduction of computers,” Bauer argues, “ has influenced
all historical research, including that of the Holocaust.”
Research time is made more efficient by the digitalization
of archival materials. Writing and creating bibliographies
are also made easier by the computer. Bauer, however, warns
that the researcher must be careful to select reliable sites
and avoid the misinformation from the websites of Holocaust
Thirdly, Bauer praises the video testimony projects such as
the Shoah Foundation. Thousands of testimonies have been
made available to scholars. Bauer estimates that at least
a third of these are valuable sources for historians.
Essential Documents for the
Study of the Holocaust
has a deep appreciation of documents. Both in writing and
teaching about the Holocaust, Bauer presents documents for
careful scrutiny and encourages students to know well the
skills of critical analysis. When he was asked what he
considered fundamental documents needed for a study of the
Holocaust, Dr. Bauer cited the following:
--The article “Wear it with pride, the Yellow Star,” by
Robert Weltsch, April 4, 1933
Nuremberg Laws, September and November 1935
discussion of German policy towards the Jews in Hermann Goring’s office in the wake of the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht),
November 12, 1938
speech to the German Reichstag (Parliament), on
January 30, 1939
instructions of Reinhard Heydrich (head of the SS police
September 21, 1939 (the Schnellbrief)
letter of Goring to Heydrich on July 31, 1941, on the
solution of the “Jewish problem”
--The cable of Dr. Gerhard Riegner in Geneva, on August 8,
1942, informing the United States and Great Britain about
the murder of the Jews
--The Declaration of the United Nations on December 17,
1942, acknowledging the Nazi murder of the Jews.
--Excerpts from the diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, March 10 and
October 2, 1940
--The last letter of Mordechai Anielewicz, the commander of
the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, to Antek Zuckerman, his deputy,
on May 23, 1943.
--Heinrich Himmler’s speech to SS officers on October 4,
1943, in Poznan
--Excerpt from the letter of Reszoe Kastner (who tried to
rescue Hungarian Jews by negotiating with the Nazis in
Switzerland), July 12, 1944.
--Hitler’s testament, April 29, 1945
The Challenges of Holocaust
Education Today and in the Future
as Dr. Bauer has very set views on methods of research and
the handling of documents, he has developed fundamental
guidelines for teaching the Holocaust and genocide.
first guideline is that teachers give students a strong
background on the narrative of events of the Holocaust. In
addition to the chronology of the Nazi era and an
exploration of Nazi ideology, Bauer stresses that three
themes should be addressed:
evolution of the Nazi policy regarding the Jews;
varied reactions among the victims—Jews and other
rescue efforts of Jews and non-Jews.
research and recently opened archives, explains Bauer, have
greatly enhanced our understanding of these themes.
students have a firm background in the Holocaust, they need
to place the Holocaust within the larger framework of
studying genocidal violence—this will enable them to discern
the similarities among genocides as well as single out
factors that make the Holocaust an unprecedented event of
emphasizes that genocide and mass violence must be
taught—for example the genocide and mass violence that
occurred in Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan.
Students must confront the reality of mass murder and human
destruction. For American students he believes it is
particularly important that they examine the treatment of
Native Americans and African slaves. They must grapple
with the question of whether or not these American events
were genocidal events.
Bauer is fully aware of the time constraints in the study of
genocide, the Holocaust in particular. Bauer responds by
saying it is possible to combine factual teaching with
examination of moral dilemmas. “Moral conclusions have to
be reached by the students themselves, hopefully in open
discussion, and the teacher has to make clear that that he
or she does not have all the answers.” Thus, it is critical
for teachers to select out stories of moral dilemmas faced
by perpetrators, victims or bystanders.
also critical that students examine the stories of rescuers
and gain insights into why these individuals made their
choices to help others rather than take part in the
persecution and brutality of others. The rescuers’ stories
highlight the fact that it was possible for individuals to
act on behalf of others. Rare as these stories were, they
serve as an important contrast to the more typical stories
of bystanders and perpetrators who did not see victims
within their universe of moral concern and obligation.
Bauer observes that the newly opened archives in Eastern
Europe have deepened our knowledge and understanding of
Whatever stories are selected, students should be encouraged
to ask: What would I have done? What could I have done?
What should I have done?
is optimistic that education on the Holocaust and genocide
will persist in the future. Genocidal violence offers a
window into the dangers inherent in racism, ethnic and
national hatred, antisemitism and discrimination. Even
though the generation of Holocaust survivors is passing,
some of their children and grandchildren are carrying on the
story. Moreover, video testimonies of survivors provide
invaluable educational materials.
believes that Holocaust and Genocide education throughout
the international community and the development of
international tools and mechanisms for the prevention of
genocide will help to restrict the levels of genocidal
violence that have characterized earlier generations of the
Literally hundreds of millions were killed in the last two
centuries or so, and fighting these phenomena would improve
the lot of all of humanity very considerably. Whether the
political forces in the world will rise up to this challenge
is to be seen—education about these things should lead to an
awareness that could be translated into pressure on
politicians to act. . . . It is all up to us.
In your education, what have
you discussed about genocidal violence?
How do you define your universe of moral concern and obligation?