Did Jews Win the Second World War?

Historian Benjamin Ginsberg Challenges the Narrative of Jewish Passivity

Atomic Man: Ginsberg argues that scientists like Albert Einstein should be considered part of a Jewish war effort.
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Atomic Man: Ginsberg argues that scientists like Albert Einstein should be considered part of a Jewish war effort.

By Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Published August 29, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
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● How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism
By Benjamin Ginsberg
Rowman & Littlefield, 234 pages, $35

Benjamin Ginsberg’s intriguing new book, “How the Jews Defeated Hitler,” offers a provocative new answer to an old question. In seeking to explain why the Jews failed to resist the Nazis during World War II, he declares that they not only resisted, but also helped bring about the Nazis’ defeat.

Ginsberg, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, interweaves factual and counterfactual observations throughout his study. His main thesis is that the Allies did not win World War II without the help of “the Jews.” At the same time, he frequently wonders whether the Allies “could…have won without the help of the Jews.” The first statement is correct but not well known; the latter is unknowable. Together they define the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

Ginsberg begins by challenging the belief, associated with the work of Hannah Arendt and Raul Hilberg, that the Jews were less likely to resist the Nazis during the Holocaust than to collaborate with them. In refuting this claim, Ginsberg does not cite the abundance of recent scholarship showing how Jews practiced diverse strategies of (mostly nonviolent) resistance during the war. Rather, he redefines resistance altogether, abandoning a focus on the plight of largely powerless Jews living under Nazi rule (in ghettos and concentration camps), and shifting it to Jews who lived outside the Nazi orbit and fought them more actively.

The author explores the role of Jewish “resisters” in four areas: 1) in the Soviet army, where they were soldiers, officers and engineers tasked with inventing new weapons; 2) in the United States, where they promoted wartime interventionism, served in the army, financed the war and developed the atom bomb; 3) in the area of Allied espionage, whether working for the Soviets, British or Americans, and 4) in various European anti-Nazi resistance movements. Only in the last realm were Jews under Nazi occupation. In the other three, they belonged to what might better be described as the active “opposition” to the Nazis.

In each of the four categories of Jewish resistance, Ginsberg describes many impressive facts about Jewish participation in the Allied war effort. Readers will be especially impressed to learn about little-known Jewish contributions to the Soviet cause, including their role in inventing the T-34 tank, the La-5 aircraft, and the Katyusha rocket.


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