Marion Kaplan, a respected professor of History at CUNY and Queen’s College, spent significant time researching and planning the detailed account of the Holocaust story and the heartbreaking plight of the Jews among the Nazis of Germany. She is touched by the life of women and reversed roles that family people had to play as they struggled with life in exceedingly unfavorable conditions befitting decent human beings. Women were forced to play roles that naturally ought to be men’s. They acted as family protectors, bread winners, and managers of most of their family operations and endeavors.
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Kaplan, in a very unique way, uses the book “Between Dignity and despair”, to shed some light on Jewish life based on diaries, interviews, memoirs and even letters from men and women of Jewish descent in Germany. The author is systematic in the presentation of the main in theme of the book. In special manner, Kaplan does not dwell much on the story of the Holocaust that impacted extensively on the lives of Jews and other people in Germany. The story mostly focuses on the shambolic struggles of the Jews in Germany as they strived to make sense out of their lives in an environment that was turning wild and unpleasant day and night.
Though many would have felt that the Jews ought to have escaped earlier from the ferocity of their Germany persecutors, Kaplan is categorical in demonstrating how that was the trickiest way out of the ordeal that befell them. The author uses the book to clearly outline the reasons and justification for the Jews’ reluctance to escape the wrath of their most cruel enemy. In Kaplan’s view, though the Holocaust seemed unavoidable, it was very difficult to ascertain its emergence since the Nazi repression took place in the most irregular and unpredictable stages. It went on like that until the spontaneous eruption of violence in November, 1938. At that time, there was a tense moment of frantic efforts from all sections to seek refuge in safer places other than Germany, for the Jews. This did not go on as war set in. By this time, Jews were languishing in the severest of circumstances. Their friends had turned into ferocious foes who robbed them of their meager possessions, shunning their little livelihoods and throwing them into the horrible conditions of sheer suffering. Their own neighbors became savages that could feed on their blood, enslaving and persecuting them, as well.
The Jewish men and women who got trapped in Germany, and no way of escape had to endure difficult times of undignified living and moments of great suffering. Most of died of murder, others just succumbed to the harsh living conditions in their captivity, while many more opted to take their own lives to go with some tinge of dignity left in them. In fear of being butchered by their own friends and neighbors, many Jews hid underground despite the apparent risk of likely bombings and worries of being discovered by the Nazis. It was terrible for all of them as they were pressed to the limit of loneliness and unbearable human endurance.
Kaplan’s main theme, as presented in the book “Between Dignity and Despair”, is to show the dilapidation of German Jews all the way through the itinerary of the Holocaust. She is able to incarcerate the factual dreadfulness of Nazi exploits, in addition to letting the reader comprehend memories of those who survived the horrible experience under the Nazis’ awful madness. Kaplan also makes great effort to relate times of incidents by stating particular months when they did occur.
With the center of attention being the fate of families and especially women's experience, the book “Between Dignity and Despair” takes the reader into the vicinities, the kitchens, shops, and schools, to give him or her the texture and shape, the exact feel of what it was like to be a Jew in Germany full of the Nazis. The book accurately brings out the horrible picture of existing in Germany at that time of the Holocaust as Jew in a crowd of hostile Nazi people, salivating or Jewish blood and flesh. The 1930s, Marion Kaplan points out, were "highly ambiguous," providing "no clear indication of the genocide to come," but racial abuse "demeaned the perpetrators as it ravaged the victims," in order for "social death" to "lead to physical death." These are particularly indispensable contributions to the reader’s understanding of Nazi Germany and the harmful influence of racism, in general.
Kaplan gives an account of events in a systematic and quite informative way. The book sends a message full of information about the miseries of the Jews in Nazi Germany. It is not targeted at any specific group of people or individuals. The information contained in Kaplan’s piece of writing in respect of the Jews’ experience during the Holocaust is for digestion and absorption by the general audience who have interest in knowing what transpired and, simply getting a picture of the main events that led to the ordeal that German Jews faced.
The fact that this book concentrates a lot on women is plus and gives me, as a reader, and any other keen observer unquestionable interest to study it. Many studies focus mainly on the cruelties of the Nazi people and the plight of the Jews, giving detailed historical events with regard to the Holocaust. However, most of the studies do not dwell much on the sufferings of specific groups like children, men and women during such terrible moments. Kaplan makes a unique contribution to the existing literature review about the story of the Nazi German, their unbelievable racial intolerance and horrible experiences German Jews had to face. By featuring great insights about the role of Jewish women during those hard times, Kaplan curves out a space for herself in the historical records as a significant contributor in informing many people, in a special, purposeful way, about the happenings and the way people lived before and during the Holocaust.
Although the book entirely represents a commendable effort of Kaplan, it also contains a number of flaws that lowers the quality of its contents. In her quest to reveal women’s role in their families and the entire Jewish fraternity, Kaplan appears to be biased in respect of gender. She intentionally tries to portray men as weak beings who could not even stand up for their own families. Kaplan focuses on praising women’s unwavering dedication and commitment to family as compared to their male counterparts. The author indirectly or directly gives men the bad trait of cowardice and a quality of irresponsibility. This is irrational because in such cases of war, men may not, expectedly, spent all their times outside their homes leaving their wives as custodians of their families and property, as they physically attempt to confront their enemy. Furthermore, though the author tried to indicate months when events occurred, there are no specific dates given for such happenings. Since the author seems to give a lot of credit to Jewish women during those terrible times, it would be more educating to explicitly indicate why men never acted they way they ought to have done. She heavily describes the responsibilities that women had to assume, yet she does not try to state the underlying reasons for such turn of events.
This book, in spite of the few the few flaws, is a wonderful historical analysis of events pertaining to the Jewish life in German in the 1930s up to 1945. For those who would like to know about women’s place in the family and general society of the Jews at that time, “Between Dignity and Despair” is a wonderful record of information for them. Besides, there is a chapter that talks about marriage and divorce, an issue of family life that most studies fail to consider in the account of Jewish struggles among Nazis.
In summary, Kaplan did a commendable job in the name of “Between Dignity and Despair”. The author did appreciable research and the outcome is an informative piece of writing that opens readers’ eyes to the difficult feeling of Nazi Germans and their racial intolerance that subjected Jewish Germans to immense suffering and loss of dignity. From this book, readers have a chance to get a vivid image of Jewish life in the 1930s through to 1945.
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