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“Choiceless Choice”

jan peczkis|Thursday, June 15, 2017

There are books that become known less for their content, and more for an idea that they had introduced or popularized. This book is one of them. Lawrence L. Langer and his “Choiceless Choice” has become part of Holocaustpeak, thanks in large part to this book. My review exclusively focuses on this


Lawrence L. Langer explains what he means by “choiceless choice” as follows, “…to clarify of how utterly the Nazi mentality corrupted moral reality for the victims…where crucial decisions did not reflect options between life and death, but between one form of abnormal response and another, both imposed by a situation that was in no way of the victim’s own choosing.” (p. 72).


Langer does begin with an obvious kill-or-die situation at Auschwitz. He describes the situation where the Jewish inmates had to choose between killing a newborn infant, and letting the Germans find out that one of the Jewish women was a mother, which would send her to the gas chambers. (pp. 72-73).

An obey-or-die (in fact, obey-AND-die) “choiceless choice” situation involved the Jewish SONDERKOMMANDO at Auschwitz. They had to burn the bodies of their fellow Jews, under the certain knowledge that disobedience was only another form of suicide and that, whatever they chose to do, they would all be put to death anyway. (pp. 95-96).

What about non life-or-death situations? Lawrence L. Langer describes the “choiceless choice” situation, at Auschwitz, that consisted of two alternative indignities: Forego bathing, so that the sewers work adequately, to take a bath, and make the sewers back up and create an intolerably offensive (and unhealthy) situation. (p. 74).


The author’s discussion of “choiceless choices” is somewhat simplistic. Fact is, questions about Jewish non-culpability (and culpability) had been discussed many times before, and had not consistently led to the conclusion that Jews are summarily excused from collaboration with the Nazis. For instance, please click on [and read my detailed review] of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law (The Collected Courses of the Academy of European Law). Also see my review of The Portable Hannah Arendt (Penguin Classics).

Langer tells only half the story. What about the "choiceless choices" faced by Polish inmates (including my father) of Nazi German concentration camps?

Clearly, the reader needs to go beyond the purely Judeocentric framework and examples of this book, and to consider the following:


Lawrence L. Langer’s statements raise more questions than they attempt to answer. In other than extreme cases, when does the "choiceless choice" consideration leave off, and personal responsibility begin?

Consider the following: A Jewish KAPO has been told by the Germans what to do. The KAPO is acting at German gunpoint. Almost everyone would recognize that the Jew is in an obey-or-die, choice-less choice situation. Now consider less clear-cut circumstances. No German is pointing a gun at the Jewish KAPO, but there is a German standing in the background. Is the Jewish KAPO still in a choiceless-choice situation? Now what happens when there is no German overseeing the Jewish KAPO? Does the Jew now have a choice, and is therefore responsible for his actions, or is he still in a choiceless-choice situation? Finally, could it be said that the very NATURE of the relationship, between the Nazi and the Jew, ipso facto always puts the Jew in a choiceless-choice situation?

Now let us repeat the foregoing set of scenarios with a Pole at Jedwabne. The Pole had been told by the Germans what to do. Almost everyone agrees that no Germans were pointing their guns at the Poles. However, Germans were present—as even conceded by arch-Polonophobe Jan T. Gross. The implications are clear: No German is pointing a gun at the Pole at Jedwabne, but there is a German standing in the background. Is the Pole still in a choiceless-choice situation? Or does somebody arbitrarily decide, after the war, that the Pole had a choice, and is therefore responsible for his actions? Now what happens if (hypothetically speaking) there were no Germans at Jedwabne—that is, there was no German overseeing the Pole? Does the Pole now have a choice, or is he still in a choiceless-choice situation? Who decides this? Finally, could it be said that the very NATURE of the relationship, between the Nazi and the Pole, ipso facto always puts the Pole in a choiceless-choice situation?

The answer is rather obvious. It all boils down to the following: There one standard in existence for one people (the Jews), and another standard for other peoples (e. g, the Poles). Jewish-Nazi collaboration is summarily exculpated, if not defined-away entirely, while gentile-Nazi collaboration is not.5 starsJewish-Nazi Collaboration Analyzed. Earlier Jewish-Soviet Collaboration at Bialystok: Exculpation Falls Apart Other reviews of this book already inform the reader about its overall content, and I do not repeat them. Instead, I focus on specific themes. My review content is topical, and not according to the actual chronology of events.


A major shortcoming of this work is the fact that author Evgeny Finkel thoughtlessly repeats the talking points of neo-Stalinists Jan T. Gross and Jan Grabowski. For instance, Finkel blindly repeats Gross’ false equivalence of the German-imposed death penalty for aiding Jews and that for non-Jewish offenses. (p. 128). [For details, see comments].

As for the fate of fugitive Jews in German occupied Poland, a much better work, than Grabowski’s JUDENJAGD (Hunt for the Jews) is [click and read my review of] Krwawe Upiory (Polish Edition). starsThe Legacy of the Holocaust in Israel. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Overrated. Jewish-Nazi Collaboration. The Kafr Qasim Massacrer This work focuses on the Holocaust as the raison d’etre of the State of Israel. It discusses Holocaust survivors, Israel’s wars with her neighbors as a thwarting of a new Holocaust, the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt, and much more. It also emphasizes Jews who cooperated with the Nazis, and that is what I elaborate in my review. Instead of limiting myself to the contents of this book, I also relate its ideas to the collaboration of other peoples with the Nazis.

Author Idith Zertal emphasizes the implication of the connection between Zionism and the Holocaust. For instance, Marek Edelman, until recently, had largely been ignored by Israelis, as he was not a Zionist and because he had stayed behind in Poland. (p. 35). In addition, Hannah Arendt, following the unwelcome criticism of Jewish conduct in her EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM, “was never again invited by an Israeli academic institution to have her say after the publication of her book, either on the book or on any other subject.” (p. 131). Only after the passage of forty years was her book translated into Hebrew. (p. 131).


Some recent media portrayals of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising have included statements to the effect that the Warsaw Jews resisted the Nazis longer than did the entire Polish Army in 1939. Such a comparison is patently ridiculous.

In contrast, author Zertal keeps the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in proper perspective--a very small event. She writes, (quote) In purely military terms, the Warsaw ghetto uprising [sic] was not a major operation. It made no contribution towards shortening the war or vanquishing Nazism. It did not save Jewish lives and made no real difference in the process of systematic murder of the Jews of Europe…There are various estimates by survivors of the uprising, such as Antek Zuckerman, Israel Gutman, and Marek Edelman, which range from 220 fighters (Edelman) to 500 (Zuckerman). (unquote)(p. 27).


The issues raised in this book ask whether the collaborator who is a member of the victim group is truly a collaborator, and when and if collaboration can be excused because of the desperation of the situation, the actual or perceived goal of lessening the gravity of the situation, the breakdown in normal considerations of right and wrong, the lack of freedom to make independent choices, etc. However, the problem with such reasoning is that it can also be applied to the Nazi collaboration of other peoples (e g, eastern Europeans). Either that, or the Jews and the Holocaust are so “special” and so “different” that one set of “rules” apply to Jews cooperating with the Nazis, and another set of “rules” apply to everyone else who cooperated with the Nazis. For more on all this, please click on, and read my detailed reviews, of Jewish Honor Courts: Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation in Europe and Israel after the Holocaust and International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law (The Collected Courses of the Academy of European Law).


The Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, was passed by the Knesset in 1950. (p. 60). Zertal suggests that it came to be because Holocaust survivors demanded that Jewish collaborators be brought to justice (p. 62), and in order to appease Israeli disgust at Jewish conduct during the Holocaust. (p. 65).

How serious was this effort? A series of trials took place in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but in NO CASE was a Jewish defendant found guilty of the death of a single person. (p. 67). Prison sentences, when administered, were perfunctory. (p. 69). By the time of the Eichmann trial, the Holocaust was reckoned so unprecedented that Jewish conduct was [arguably conveniently] deemed impossible to judge. (p. 77).

Can Jewish conduct summarily be excused simply because the defendants are Jews, and “all Jews were victims of the Nazis”? The brutal conduct of defendant Yehezkel Anigster, the Chief Kapo at two Silesian labor camps in 1943-1944, is instructive. Zertal asks, (quote) Were the only alternatives to serve the Nazis or face death, to subjugate fellow prisoners or face punitive action? Did they accept dubious positions to forestall potentially worse situation? In Anigster’s case, prosecution witnesses, in describing the defendant’s sadism, said there was no external pressure for the defendant’s beatings, since in most cases the Germans were not present. Moreover, several witnesses claimed that no prisoner was forced to accept the position of kapo or Chief Kapo, and that “there were some who refused and were not punished.” (unquote)(pp. 72-73).


Although Zertal does not mention Poles or Jedwabne, the decision of Judge Yosef Lamm, in the aforementioned Anigster case, has a direct bearing on accusations related to so-called “complicity in the Holocaust”.

Chief Kapo Yehezkel Anigster was charged not only with brutal treatment of Jewish inmates, but also of contributing to their “alarming death rate”. (p. 71). However, Judge Yosef Lamm declared that Anigster “had not intended to exterminate the civilian population” and had “‘made it easier for the Nazis to execute their plan to annihilate the Jewish people, thereby playing a terrible and heinous role, but with intentions utterly different from those of the Nazis’, he [Anigster] was merely a Nazi ‘accomplice’. Lamm adjudged that in no way could Anigster be regarded as guilty of crimes against humanity.” (p. 74).

To apply the foregoing reasoning beyond its narrow Judeocentric context, let us consider the Poles and Jedwabne. Let us suppose that some ethnic Poles did indeed freely participate in the German-sponsored mass murder of Jews at Jedwabne and environs. As far as these Poles were concerned, they were merely taking revenge for the earlier Jewish-Soviet collaboration against fellow Poles, and nothing more. There goals were completely different from those of the Nazis. Acting as they were in July 1941, which was before Nazi exterminatory policies against Jews became evident (late 1941 or early 1942), they could not possibly have had any inkling of the fact that their actions would contribute to the eventual systematic Nazi German extermination of 5-6 million Jews. On this basis, these Poles may be thought of as “accomplices” of the Nazis, but cannot be accused of “crimes against humanity”, let alone “complicity in the Holocaust”. And yet that is exactly what many Jews say about Poles.


Nowadays, we see various European nations blamed, to some degree, for the Holocaust, so that “reparations” money can be extorted from them. Interestingly, when reparations were originally demanded--from Holocaust-perpetrator Germany alone--in the early 1950’s, some Jews saw even THAT as both hypocritical and self-serving. For instance, this was the view of Shmuel Tamir, who was in opposition to the Mapai ruling party in general and to David Ben Gurion in particular. [Note that Ben Gurion did little to alleviate the Holocaust then going on in Europe, which Zertal explains (or excuses) as a form of pragmatism. (p. 29)]. Zertal comments, (quote) Referring to the issue of German reparations, Tamir had written: “And now, they want to protect their lying, parasitic regime by accepting ‘reparations’ for [the] extermination—in which they played a part—‘reparations’ for the flesh and blood of the Jewish people…maybe even…for the flesh and blood of their own fathers and mothers.” (unquote)(p. 89).

[For a more detailed--though perhaps excessive--critique of Ben Gurion’s conduct during the Holocaust, please click on, and read my detailed review, of Ben-Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews].

Let us move beyond Ben Gurion and the Israeli politics of the 1950’s. What would Shmuel Tamir say, today, were he alive to see the long-lasting and ever-expanding Holocaust Industry?


The best-known Jewish massacre of Arab civilians was at Deir Yassin in 1948. Zertal does not mention this, but he instead brings up the mass murder of 41 Arab villagers, men, women, and children, in October 1956, at Kafar Kassem. (pp. 172-173). Jewish officer Shalom Ofer, and several of his men, conducted the deed—a premeditated act of mass murder--based on the fact that some of the Arabs had failed to obey the curfew. Shalom Ofer was unrepentant of this crime, saying that “We acted like Germans, automatically, we didn’t think.” (p. 172). In contrast, Rabbi Benyamin was quoted as saying, “‘Soon we shall resemble Nazis and pogromists.’” Yeshayahu Leibovitz went as far as suggesting that the Nuremberg defendants will now have to be rehabilitated. (p. 172).
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