ISBN: 978-0-691-17257-6

Drew Stommes

Yale University

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Groups threatened by genocidal campaigns neither predominantly comply with perpetrators' extermination efforts, nor do they uniformly resist in the face of brutal violence. Evgeny Finkel's book convincingly conceptualizes the distinct set of survival strategies available to European Jews endangered by Nazi atrocities, arguing that pre-WWII political institutions and individual Jews' prewar levels of political activism determined their choice of a particular survival pathway. Finkel not only rigorously accounts for how Jews responded to the threat of extermination, but presents his theory and empirical evidence in a way that is genuinely moving for the reader – a rarity in the social sciences. His typology of survival strategies distinguishes between cooperation and collaboration, coping and compliance, evasion, and resistance. It makes use of rich qualitative evidence of Jewish experiences in Białystok, Minsk, and Kraków, demonstrating how prewar state policies implemented in each locality affected the distribution of available survival strategies. Blending rich vignettes drawn from Holocaust survivors' testimonies with other archival evidence conveys how prewar policies fostering Jewish integration with non-Jewish society enabled Jews to more easily evade German extermination attempts. A limitation of the study is that Finkel excludes Nazi Germany's policies and local decision-making from his analysis, contending that such policies had a limited impact on Jews' available survival options. However, local wartime dynamics likely affected the extent to which German forces could devote resources towards, for example, detecting Jewish resistance groups and thwarting evasion. In turn, these wartime factors modified the available distribution of survival strategies over time. Despite this, Ordinary Jews is a vital contribution to our understanding of Jewish strategies during the Holocaust and civilians' responses to threats of mass violence more broadly.