Jewish Journal


October 15, 2013

The Jewish Resistance Exchange, Part 2: On Old Myths About Jews & New Myths About Israel



Professor Benjamin Ginsberg

Benjamin Ginsberg is the David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Hopkins Center for Advanced Governmental Studies in Washington, DC.  His research interests include American politics, Jewish history, higher education policy, and the societal impact of war and violence.  He is the author, coauthor or editor of 24 books.

This exchange focuses on his recent book, 'How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism' (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013).

(Part 1 can be found right here)


Dear Professor Ginsberg,

First of all, thank you for your first reply. I'd like to start the second round with the Hannah Arendt quote you cited-  

"To a Jew, this role of Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story."

I noticed that in your book you actually say that Arendt's claim is "certainly true" and that the very existence of Jewish cooperation with the Nazis- mainly through the Judenrate- was indeed a very dark affair. The problem you point out in Arendt's remark is that it implies that the Jewish leadership was special or alone in its cooperation with the Nazis, while in fact there was omnipresent cooperation with the Nazis all throughout occupied Europe- people and organizations cooperated with the Nazis not only against the Jews but against their fellow countrymen (the French and the Dutch police forces get 'special mention' in that respect).

This made me wonder about your strategy toward debunking the myth of Jewish cowardice. Like most myths about the Jews, it seems that this legend too is based on the idea that there is something different in the 'character' or in the constitution of Jews, the idea that they are not like other people. Of course, the Jews of Europe could and should simply be seen as human beings who faced dire unprecedented historical circumstances. Moreover, the majority of them did in fact come from a traditionally non-violent small town society, one which valued learning and faith far more than force (which is not at all a bad thing!).

My two questions are-

1) Is the pernicious cowardice myth you talk about- at least the part about the Jews of Europe not doing anything- not simply a particularly nasty description of a non-violent (largely rural-based) people which faced one of the most massive military forces the world has ever seen?

2) If this is the case, why not simply reject the accusation that the Jews of Europe acted differently from how anyone else in their position would have acted? Why answer a myth ('the Jews were cowards') with a myth ('the Jews defeated Hitler'; by calling this a myth I don't mean to take away from the important factual data you present- the phrasing is just inherently mythical and heroic in its nature)?

I'm looking forward to your answer,



Dear Shmuel,

An interesting question, but the myth of Jewish cowardice did not simply arise spontaneously. It was constructed during and after the war by political forces seeking to assert that Jews were less than human, unable to help themselves, and not worthy of support from others. This is a very pernicious myth which echoes and reverberates to this very day. Ironically, the myth of Jewish cowardice seems to coexist with the new myth of Jewish aggression against the Palestinians. These two narratives have become interwoven into a story of cowardly Jews turning around and attacking the even more helpless Palestinians.

My book does not offer a counter myth. It offers an historical narrative designed to correct established mythologies. As I observe, many Jews like many Frenchmen and so forth were complicit in a variety of ways. For the Jews, however, this was only part of the story. Where they could, the Jews did resist quite vigorously and played an important role in the defeat of Nazi Germany.  The Jews, moreover, did not conspire to steal the land of the Arabs. For the most part, Jewish refugees were resettled in Palestine because no one would take them.    These are facts, not myths.

Today, of course various sorts of anti-Semites, sometimes masquerading as anti-Zionists, are actively developing a new set of myths. In their myths the Holocaust did not actually occur and the Jews are the true Nazis, murdering Palestinians. Even the myth that Jews take the blood of Gentiles for religious ceremonies has been revived, now in a new form which has the IDF harvesting the organs and blood of Palestinian babies.

So, again, I would strongly assert that my goal is not myth making. My purpose is to correct the historical record and, thereby, to affect contemporary discourse. The Jews were not cowards. Israel was not a product of land thefts and, those who have claimed to be anti-Zionists are anti-Semites in very, very, very thin disguise.

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