Eliezer Gruenbaum (1908–1948) was a Polish Jew denounced for serving as a Kapo while interned at Auschwitz. He was the communist son of Itzhak Gruenbaum, the most prominent secular leader of interwar Polish Jewry who later became the chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Rescue Committee during the Holocaust and Israel’s first minister of the interior. In light of the father’s high placement in both Polish and Israeli politics, the denunciation of the younger Gruenbaum and his suspicious death during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war add intrigue to a controversy that really centers on the question of what constitutes—and how do we evaluate—moral behavior in Auschwitz. Gruenbaum—a Jewish Kapo, a communist, an anti-Zionist, a secularist, and the son of a polarizing Zionist leader—became a symbol exploited by opponents of the movements to which he was linked. Sorting through this Rashomon-like story within the cultural and political contexts in which Gruenbaum operated, Friling illuminates key debates that rent the Jewish community in Europe and Israel from the 1930s to the 1960s.
In late summer 1929, a countrywide outbreak of Arab-Jewish-British violence transformed the political landscape of Palestine forever. In contrast with those who point to the wars of 1948 and 1967, historian Hillel Cohen marks these bloody events as year zero of the Arab-Israeli conflict that persists today. The murderous violence inflicted on Jews caused a fractious—and now traumatized—community of Zionists, non-Zionists, Ashkenazim, and Mizrachim to coalesce around a unified national consciousness arrayed against an implacable Arab enemy. While the Jews unified, Arabs came to grasp the national essence of the conflict, realizing that Jews of all stripes viewed the land as belonging to the Jewish people. Through memory and historiography, in a manner both associative and highly calculated, Cohen traces the horrific events of August 23 to September 1 in painstaking detail. He extends his geographic and chronological reach and uses a non-linear reconstruction of events to call for a thorough reconsideration of cause and effect. Sifting through Arab and Hebrew sources—many rarely, if ever, examined before—Cohen reflects on the attitudes and perceptions of Jews and Arabs who experienced the events and, most significantly, on the memories they bequeathed to later generations. The result is a multifaceted and revealing examination of a formative series of episodes that will intrigue historians, political scientists, and others interested in understanding the essence—and the very beginning—of what has been an intractable conflict.
Practical Zionism in the Mandate era (1920–1948) is usually associated with agricultural settlements (kibbutzim), organized socialist workers, and the creation of a formal high culture. This book fills a gap in historical research by presenting a different type of practical Zionism in Jewish Palestine—urban, middle-class, and created by popular and informal daily practices. While research on Tel Aviv has so far been confined to “positivist” historical description or focused nostalgically on local myths, Helman’s book reconstructs and analyzes the city’s formative decades on various levels, juxtaposing historical reality with cultural images and ideological doctrines. Topics include the city’s physical portrait, major public events, consumer culture, patterns of leisure and entertainment, and urban subcultures.