Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg Gives Book Talk on How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism
Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg discussed his new book, How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism to a packed room at the Johns Hopkins Center for Advanced Governmental Studies on Thursday, November 7.
Dr. Ginsberg discussed how the idea of the book came about. A couple of years ago, a student in one of his classes during a discussion of Nazism asked him why didn’t the Jews do more to resist the Nazis. Dr. Ginsberg shared with the audience his own personal history – how his mother hid in a barrel in 1941 when German soldiers and Ukrainian collaborators attacked the Jewish ghetto in Poland, shooting Jews on the spot and rounding up the rest. She was perhaps the only survivor of this mass murder. To speak of unarmed civilians resisting such an invasion of armed soldiers makes little sense. But in situations in which Jews could resist they did and did so quite well.
This broader understanding of Jewish resistance was the focus of his book and the talk on Thursday. There were four key areas in which Jewish resistance played a significant role in the defeat of the Germans: Jewish engineering in the Soviet Union; Jewish mobilization efforts in the US, Jewish contributions in the fields of intelligence and espionage, and American Jewish scientists on the Manhattan Project.
Many historians account for the Soviet defeat of Germany to its overwhelming manpower or the Russian winter. Ginsberg called into question the numerical superiority of the Russian army and noted that the Russian winter affected both Russians and Germans. Ginsberg instead focused on the contributions of Jewish engineers as a decisive explanation for the Soviet victory. Under tsarist Russia, Jews were banned from attending schools and universities. After the Russian revolution, universities were opened up to Jews, with the result that many Jews emerged as leading scientists and engineers. Ginsberg shared the fascinating story of Boris Vonnikov, a Jewish Soviet engineer who was imprisoned by Stalin for offering an evacuation plan of Soviet industry and artillery in the advent of a German invasion, only to be called upon later to organize and direct the successful evacuation of Soviet industry to the Urals. Stalin, who had imprisoned him earlier, promoted him to a three-star general. Jewish engineers, such as Isaak Zaltsman, people’s commissar for tanks, and other Jewish engineers designed Soviet tanks, such as the T-34, and Soviet artillery, such as Katyusha rocket artillery, that were more durable and superior to their German counterparts. Mordecai Israel Gourevitch designed the famous MIG fighter planes.
Jewish resistance, broadly understood, continued in other areas as well, including popular mobilization efforts in the United States to join the war effort and overcome the isolationist impulse of many Americans. Jews and WASPS formed an alliance to help Roosevelt in his war effort and support the critical land lease aid to both Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny, who Ginsberg called a “Jewish bunny” also lent his efforts to the cause through patriotic song and cartoon.
A third way Jewish resistance manifested itself was through espionage. Russian Jew Leopold Trepper was part of the “Red Orchestra” spy ring which brought advanced knowledge to Stalin. In the US, William Friedman, the founder of cryptoanalysis, directed the US. Army’s Signals Intelligence Service (today’s NSA) and pioneered computerized code breaking methods and designed encryptions that were never broken by the Germans.
Finally the Manhattan Project was predominately comprised of Jewish scientists who were devoted to producing a nuclear bomb before the Nazis had a chance to, though it would turn out to be used in Japan.
In these ways, Ginsberg demonstrated that Jewish resistance, when more broadly understood or defined, was very significant and played a decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. It was a fascinating discussion that gave rise to a lively discussion among those who attended. For those interested, you may purchase the book on Amazon.com.