How the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto Defeated a Pandemic

In the summer of 1941, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were struck by a severe outbreak of typhus—to which they were especially vulnerable due to overcrowding, poor hygienic conditions, and widespread malnutrition. Yet infection rates dropped by some 40 percent in November, just when they would be expected to rise sharply as the weather grew colder. Emanuel Ringelblum, the ghetto’s leading historian, wrote at the time that “there was no way of explaining rationally” why the plague abated. But a recent scientific study appears to have found an explanation, as Eva Botkin-Kowacki reports:

Official numbers suggest that there was a total of 20,160 cases [of typhus in the ghetto], but the researchers . . . dug into other historical reports and estimated that 80,000 to 110,000 [of about 460,000] residents were infected. They suggest that the official numbers are likely low because residents were afraid to come forward in fear of repercussions from the Nazis. Some 20,000 residents died of typhus, and many more died from hunger while suffering from the illness.

[T]he Nazis’ efforts to ghettoize Jews in Warsaw had inadvertently created a hub of doctors. There were about 800 physicians among those imprisoned there, and many more nurses and scientists. . . . [They] established a health council, procured vaccines as much as they could, held public lectures on preventative health, sanitation, and hygiene, set up an underground medical school, and conducted scientific studies.

[T]he new health council advocated for a decentralized approach to fight the epidemic. While the Nazi authorities forced draconian quarantines and mobilized punitive sanitation squads, . . . the health council focused on education and independent empowerment whenever possible. Cleanliness was encouraged and often enforced. Self-isolation and social distancing became basic practice and common sense. And community kitchens were set up by volunteer groups and food smugglers to help feed the starving population.

Of those who survived disease and privation, most were murdered at the Treblinka death camp during the subsequent two years.

Read more at Christian Science Monitor

More about: Holocaust, Medicine, Warsaw Ghetto

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood