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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The question, of course, is how these Jewish contributions should be assessed. Ginsberg himself seems undecided. Early on, he boldly claims that “the allies, particularly the USSR, would very likely have been defeated without the Jews.” At other points he is more hesitant, declaring, for instance, that Soviet Jewish soldiers “played an important role but hardly determined the outcome of the war.”

One reason for Ginsberg’s indecisiveness is the conceptual ambiguity of his book’s chief protagonists — “the Jews.” His frequent use of this generalizing phrase can, at times, mislead. Readers might reasonably assume from the book’s title, for example, that the Jews alone defeated Hitler. Other sentences, such as “The Jews resisted through their influence in the United States” or “The Jews and WASPS forged an alliance,” will prompt readers to ask: Which Jews? Religious or secular? Liberal or conservative? Young or old? Elsewhere, Ginsberg is more careful, writing that “Jews” (not “the Jews”) “had a good deal of influence within the new Soviet state.” This formulation shows that Ginsberg is aware of how generalizing terms can reinforce anti-Semitic canards. But it does not prompt him to differentiate — as perhaps he should — among the different people who compose “the Jews.”

Then there is the difficult question of proportionality in assessing the Jewish contribution to Allied victory. When Ginsberg writes that Jews were “prominent” in the Red Army and then discloses that they were “4 percent of the army’s officers…and more than 10 percent of its political officers,” what should readers conclude? These figures certainly show Jewish overrepresentation in the army. But it means that more than 90% of Red Army officers were non-Jewish. Similarly, when he writes that 2% of Bletchley Park cryptologists were Jewish at a time when only .5% of England was Jewish, it raises the question of what numerical thresh old should count as meaningful — let alone decisive — in measuring the Jewish contribution to the Nazis’ defeat.

Without fully wrestling with this question, Ginsberg’s analysis is less convincing than it otherwise might be. When he writes, with respect to the Soviet war effort, that “the Jews were… the best educated… segment of the populace. There were none to take their places,” he implies that the USSR would have lost the war without the Jews. But if Jews were at most 10%–15% of key sectors of the Soviet war effort, that means that at least 85% of the Red Army’s officer corps, engineering cadres and spies were non-Jews. They clearly did not lack talent. Would their contributions have sufficed for the USSR to defeat the Germans?


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