Jews of Europe Syllabus


Vital, A People Apart, Chapters 7-Epilogue (pp. 643-898)  

Part III Introduction (pp. 643-460)

What does Vital mean when he calls the 19th century “Jewry’s last age of innocence” p. 643)?

What “balance” crumbled as a result of the aftermath of WWI?  Why?

On p. 645, Vital argues that the political order created by the French Revolution slowed the crisis of European Jewry, which was then stimulated by WWI.  What does he mean by this?

What 3 principles does Vital say dominated post-war politics, and what were the consequences for Jews?


Chapter 7 (War)

There was a wide-spread myth that Jews did not serve in WWI, and another (equally wide-spread) that they dictated government policies that led to war—were either of these myths true?  Explain.

Did Jews in Germany support the German war effort in WWI? Explain.

On p. 650, Vital says that the impact of the war on Jewish soldiers would have pleased Enlightenment thinkers—what does this mean?  Would the long-term impact have pleased them?

Why did France and England adopt a position favoring “national self-determination” even before the US entered the war?

How were Jews in the Russian Empire treated by the occupying German army during WWI?  How were they treated by the Russian army?

What became of the Pale of Settlement during the war, and why?

Did the British and French governments approve of Russia’s Jewish policies during the war?  Explain.  How did “public” opinion in the USA shape their response?

Had US Jewish leaders been able to moderate Russia’s policies during the war?  Explain.

What is Vital’s point (pp. 662-63) about how the war shaped British policy makers’ views of Jews as an “international power”?  Did Jews have such power?

How was British and French concern for shaping opinion among US Jews related to their (British and French) war-time positions on Zionism?

Did Lucian Wolf and the “Cojoint Committee” in Britain support Zionism?  Why did they propose that the British government endorse a Zionist position?  Why did the Foreign Office become interested in the “Palestine Idea”?

Why did the French reject the Palestine Idea?  What became of the “Idea” in early 1916 and why?

Was the Zionist movement becoming stronger at the start of the war?  How and why did the onset of war hit the Zionist leadership?  And why did the World Zionist Organization decide to declare “neutrality” in the war?

Did all Zionist activists agree that the movement should remain “neutral”?  Explain.

How does Vital explain the origins and the purpose of the Balfour Declaration of 1917?   How was it influenced by British ambitions in the Near East?

What effect did the Balfour Declaration have on the standing of the Zionists in Jewish public opinion in Europe?  Did the Zionists really “dictate” the declaration?  (Please note the text of the declaration in fn, 87 on p. 698).  And why did non-Zionists fear that it would promote anti-Semitism?

How did the Declaration aid the Zionists politically?

What “big questions” did the Balfour Declaration fail to actually solve?


Chapter 8 (Peace)

Does Vital think that Soviet rule “emancipated” Russia’s Jews?  Explain.

Did the Bolsheviks attack Jewish society for its “Jewishness”?  Explain.

Did most Jews support the Bolsheviks in 1917?  What was Lenin’s view on the Jewish Problem?

Why did the Bolsheviks create a special Jewish Affairs department in the government and a “Jewish Section” in the Communist Party?  What does he see as the ultimate goal of the Evsektsii?

What similarities and what differences does Vital see in Tsarist and Bolshevik Jewish policies?

According to Vital, what was the result of Soviet rule over Russia’s Jewish community by 1930?

Why had Jews been more supportive of the Reds than of the Whites during the Russian Civil War?  How had the White armies treated Jews?

According to Vital, how did anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine during the Civil War differ from previous pogroms?  How does he compare Denikin’s Volunteer Army to the Germany Army in WWII (and how did the Volunteer Army’s treatment of Jews differ from that under the Nazis)?

Did Jews control the Bolshevik/Communist Party?

Where does Vital think that the 20th century myth of “Jewish power” and a “Jewish conspiracy” comes from?  What were its political functions?

Was ensuring “national self-determination” after WWI a simple matter?  How did the complexity of Europe’s “ethnic map” effect Jews?

How did the Paris Peace Conference deal with the question of whether Jews are a “nationality”?

Was there one, unified Jewish “voice” at the Paris Peace Conference?  Explain.  Why did the Zionists have a certain political advantage over other Jewish groups at the conference?

Did events in the Russian Civil War influence decision making about Jews at the conference?  In what sense did the Zionists begin running “on two tracks” as a result of these events?

What did the Zionists and the “American” Jews ask of the conference?  And what position did the conference (and the subsequent “Minority Treaties”) actually take on the issue of Jewish rights?

Why were the Allies nervous about pushing the Poles too hard on the issue of Jewish rights?  Did the Minority Treaty with Poland require recognition of Jews’ rights?  And how did the Allies expect to hold Poland to these promises?


Chapter 9 (Captivity)

What does Vital think that the “minority treaties” of the peace conference really achieved?

Does Vital think that the Allied leaders were cynical or inept in regards to Jewish rights?  Explain.  If anything, what does he see as their main “short-sightedness”?

What position did most Jewish leaders take toward “the state” and what was the problem with the idea that Jewish political participation in the life of the state would ensure Jews’ equal rights?

How did post-WWI anti-Semitic rhetoric differ from pre-war anti-Semitism?  How does Vital explain the new desire to completely remove the Jews?

Did mass Jewish emigration reduce the Jewish population in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s-early 1900s?  Explain.

Was Poland ethnically all “Polish” under the new Second Republic?  Were there many Jews in Poland?  Where did they live, and why was that important?

Did Polish leaders consider Jews to be Poles?  What did the Polish National Democrats and the leadership of the Catholic Church in Poland have to say about Jews? 

On a whole, what kind of legal treatment did Jews receive under the Polish Second Republic?  And what kind of people led the anti-Jewish campaigns in Poland?

How and why did the Polish government’s policy towards Jews change in 1936?

How does Vital characterize the Polish Jewish community during this era and why?  Was it wealthy?  Did it think of itself as ethnically Polish?  Was it apolitical?  Was it politically unified?

What was the strategy of the General Zionists in Poland at this time?  Of Orthodox religious leaders (e.g., Agudat Yisrael)?  Of the Bund?

What was the idea of “doikeyt” (see glossary, p. 918), and how did the Bund practice this?  Did the Bund passively “take” anti-Jewish violence and persecution?  Explain.  What were the results?

Did Jewish activism ultimately protect Jews in Poland?  Was emigrating to Palestine a real alternative?

On pp. 798-99, Vital says that Jews simply did not have the power to fight their enemies as equals.  What does he mean by this?

In what sense did events in Poland render the previous “big” questions of Jewish political life irrelevant?

Was Poland the only country to impose laws and discriminate against Jews in the 1930s?  Explain.  Why couldn’t Jews simply leave Europe?

How did the situation of Jews in Germany differ from that in Poland, and how was German anti-Semitism different from Polish anti-Semitism?  How were the goals of Jewish policy in both states similar in the late 1930s?

According to Vital, what four aspects of the 1933 “Nazi Revolution” were particularly disastrous for Germany’s Jews? What is his point regarding “Oriental Despotism”?  Nationalism?  The Nazi focus on race?  The “dual nature” of Nazi policy?

Under the German Republic, did Jews have equal rights under the law?  Was there universal support for Jewish equal rights?  Did Jews dominate the government civil service and the universities?

When they took power in 1933, how did the Nazis make their anti-Jewish laws “less threatening”?  Why might Jews have had hope that things might not get worse in the first years of Nazi rule?  Were Jews disloyal to Germany in this era?

What were the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and what did they do to Jewish hopes that Nazi policy could be moderated?

Why did the Nazis focus so much attention on driving Jews out of rural areas?

What does Vital consider most significant about Kristallnacht?  How does he explain its “cause”?  And what did the Nazis “learn” from the German public reaction to Kristallnacht?

Did Germany’s Jews stage protests against the Nazis of organize self-defense forces?  Why not?  Explain.  How did they respond to the growing repression and violence of Nazi policy [he discusses three reactions]?

What was the Reich Representation of German Jews and what was its practical function?  What was its policy regarding emigration?  How did the Nazi regime treat it (before 1938)?

How did German Zionists respond to Nazi rule?

What is the point of entitling this chapter “Captivity”?


Chapter 10 (Denouement)

What does the first sentence in this chapter mean?

Does Vital think that the Holocaust was historically inevitable?  Explain.

According to Vital, what two “simple” questions faced Europe’s Jewish leaders once the Nazis came to power in Germany?  Why did Nazi rule make the issue of leadership of Jewish communities so very important?

What was the relationship between the Comité des Délégation Juives and other Jewish organizations in the 1930s?  Was it able to unite Europe’s Jewish leaders?  Explain.

What was the World Jewish Congress?  What was its purpose, and who was in its majority?

How does Vital characterize the views of US Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise?

According to Vital, why did it take so long (1936) for the WJC to become operational?  What was its connection to the World Zionist Organization, and did it endorse non-engagement in domestic affairs? 

What (or whom) did the WJC identify as the external and internal “enemies” of the Jewish people?  And what did it try to do about radical anti-Semitism?  Nazism?

What was the Boycott campaign against Germany, and did the WJC initiate it?

How did the British and US governments respond to the campaign, and was it effective?

What was the 1933 Transfer Agreement between the WZO and the Nazi regime?  What were its advantages to the Nazis and to the WZO?  What was public opinion about the agreement once it became known publicly?  Why?

What were the strengths of the WZO that made it a model for other Jewish organizations?

Please note the discussion of politics in Palestine in the 1930s, and in particular the efforts of the Labor Party to wrestle with the same issues that confront and divide Israel today.

Did all Zionists want all European Jews to come to Palestine?  Explain.  How did Jews and Arabs in Palestine react to the influx og German Jews in the 1930s?  And under what conditions would Arab leaders accept a Jewish state in Palestine?

When did the Zionists quickly understand the threat posed by the Nazis?

Vital gives a lot of attention to the 1938 Evian conference:  what was the stated purpose of the conference, and what would it not discuss?  Was it intended to change policies on Jewish emigration?  So why had FDR called the conference?

What did the Evian conference participants really intend to do about the refugee problem?

What does Vital think of the performance of Jewish leaders at the Evian conference and why?

How did the British government’s “new” position on Palestine in 1938-39 affect the Zionists’ approach to the Evian conference?

For Vital, what were the Evian conference’s “accomplishments”?

Does Vital think that Germany’s anti-Semitic policies were an anachronism in Europe in the 1930s?  Explain.

According to Vital, could Jews escape Europe in the 1930s?  What could have been done to aid Europe’s Jews?  Why, then, does Vital consider the Evian conference of such symbolic importance to understanding the fate of Europe’s Jews?



Look at the table on p. 897—what became of Europe’s Jews in 1939-45?  Why does Vital end the book here?

BIG QUESTION: What is the thesis of Vital’s book?


Jews of Europe Syllabus