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The Lost Books of a Polish Yeshiva and Their Mysterious Fate

Sept. 25 2017

In February 1940, the Deutsche Jugend Zeitung, the official news organ of the Hitler Youth, published a story about the German seizure of the yeshiva in the city of Lublin. This act was followed, according to the article, by the ceremonial burning of its 30,000 books. But the story is without corroboration from contemporary sources, and recently historians have concluded that it was mere propaganda intended to stir the enthusiasm of young Nazis. But where, then, did the books from one of Poland’s largest yeshivas go? Barbara Finkelstein discusses what is known:

[The Polish historian Adam] Kopociowski contends that the Germans preferred stealing surreptitiously from Jewish individuals and Jewish organizations [to such public burnings]. He has learned that they sent Lublin’s vast holdings to the so-called Lublin Staatsbibliothek, a German state library that served as a depot not only for the yeshiva books, but also books from the Jesuit College Bobolanum, the Municipal Public Library, the Catholic University of Lublin, and the H. Lopacinski Memorial Library. To catalogue the Jewish religious texts, the German-appointed [official] Vasyl Kutschabsky recruited Rabbi Aron Lebwohl, a brilliant yeshiva student and one-time secretary to Rabbi Meir Shapiro, [the founder and former head of the Lublin yeshiva].

From April 1941 to November 1942, Rabbi Lebwohl labored at his task. Well before its completion, though, he was deported with the rest of the Lublin ghetto to Majdanek, the nearby German concentration and extermination camp. According to Nazi records, Lebwohl went straight into the gas chambers. His catalogue has never been found. . . .

As for the books themselves, it seems they were originally intended for a planned Nazi “museum of an extinct race.” A number were supposed to be shipped to Berlin. But where they actually went, writes Finkelstein, is a mystery. Yet the books have turned up in a variety of settings, from Jewish libraries to auction houses, and they now seem to be “all over the place.” How they were scattered also remains a matter of speculation.

Read more at Forward

More about: Books, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Polish Jewry

Hamas Sets Its Sights on Taking over the PLO

Oct. 20 2017

Examining the recent reconciliation agreement between the rival Palestinian organizations Fatah and Hamas, Eyal Zisser argues that the latter sees the deal as a way to install its former leader, Khaled Meshal, as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and thereby the Palestinian Authority. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened:

Even the former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat . . . took the PLO leadership by force. His first steps, incidentally, were with the Fatah organization, which he cofounded in January 1965 in Damascus, under Syrian patronage. Fatah was meant to serve as a counterweight to the rival PLO, which had come into existence [earlier] under Egyptian patronage. Arafat, however, was relegated to the sidelines in the Palestinian arena. It was only after the 1967 Six-Day War that he exploited the resounding defeat of the Arab armies to join the PLO as the leader of Fatah, which led to his gaining control over [the PLO itself].

Meshal [most likely] wants to follow in Arafat’s footsteps—a necessary maneuver for a man who aspires to lead the Palestinian national movement, particularly after realizing that military might and even a hostile takeover of [either Gaza or the West Bank] will not grant him the legitimacy he craves.

It is hard to believe that Fatah will willingly hand over the keys to leadership, and it is also safe to assume that Egypt does not want to see Hamas grow stronger. But quasi-democratic developments such as these have their own dynamics. In 2006, Israel was persuaded by Washington to allow Hamas to run in the general Palestinian elections, thinking the Islamist group had no chance of winning. But Hamas won those elections. We can assume Meshal will now look to repeat that political ploy by joining the PLO and vying for its leadership.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Fatah, Hamas, Khaled Meshal, Palestinian Authority, PLO, Politics & Current Affairs, Yasir Arafat