Dance on the Razor’s Edge: Crime and Punishment in the Nazi Ghettos

By Svenja Bethke

© 2021

The ghettos established by the Nazis in German-occupied Eastern Europe during the Second World War have mainly been seen as lawless spaces marked by brutality, tyranny, and the systematic murder of the Jewish population. Drawing on examples from the Warsaw, Lodz, and Vilna ghettos, Dance on the Razor’s Edge explores how under these circumstances highly improvised legal spheres emerged in these coerced and heterogeneous ghetto communities.

Looking at sources from multiple archives and countries, this book investigates how the Jewish Councils, set up on German orders, formulated new definitions of criminal offenses and established legal institutions on their own initiative as a desperate attempt to ensure the survival of the ghetto communities. Bethke explores how people under these circumstances tried to make sense of everyday lives that had been turned upside down, taking with them pre-war notions of justice and morality, and considers the extent to which this rupture led to new judgments on human behaviour. In doing so, this book aims to understand how people attempted to use their very limited scope for action in order to survive. Set against the background of a Holocaust historiography that often still seeks for clear categories of "good" and "bad" behaviour, Dance on the Razor’s Edge calls for a new understanding of the ghettos as complex communities in an unprecedented emergency situation.

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Product Details

  • Series: German and European Studies
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
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Quick Overview

Exploring notions of justice and morality, this book offers a new interpretation of everyday life in the ghettos during the Second World War.

Dance on the Razor’s Edge: Crime and Punishment in the Nazi Ghettos

By Svenja Bethke

© 2021

The ghettos established by the Nazis in German-occupied Eastern Europe during the Second World War have mainly been seen as lawless spaces marked by brutality, tyranny, and the systematic murder of the Jewish population. Drawing on examples from the Warsaw, Lodz, and Vilna ghettos, Dance on the Razor’s Edge explores how under these circumstances highly improvised legal spheres emerged in these coerced and heterogeneous ghetto communities.

Looking at sources from multiple archives and countries, this book investigates how the Jewish Councils, set up on German orders, formulated new definitions of criminal offenses and established legal institutions on their own initiative as a desperate attempt to ensure the survival of the ghetto communities. Bethke explores how people under these circumstances tried to make sense of everyday lives that had been turned upside down, taking with them pre-war notions of justice and morality, and considers the extent to which this rupture led to new judgments on human behaviour. In doing so, this book aims to understand how people attempted to use their very limited scope for action in order to survive. Set against the background of a Holocaust historiography that often still seeks for clear categories of "good" and "bad" behaviour, Dance on the Razor’s Edge calls for a new understanding of the ghettos as complex communities in an unprecedented emergency situation.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: German and European Studies
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    "Dance on the Razor’s Edge is an important addition to the literature on Holocaust-era ghettos given the originality of both its focus on law and order and its novel source base. Through comparative analysis of three ghettos – in three different geopolitical contexts – the book highlights overlapping experiences as well as key differences in Jewish experiences."


    Tim Cole, Professor of Social History and Director of the Brigstow Institute, Bristol University of Bristol

    "Well organized and well written, Dance on the Razor’s Edge represents the best quality of scholarship. Based on impressive research in several archives in Poland, Israel, and the United States, it offers a strong argument clearly presented and explained. The text, devoted to a problematic, emotionally loaded, and contested subject, is written in an objective, tactful, and calm – but at the same time, clear and convincing – tone. This book will be fascinating to a general audience and even more attractive to students and professors of Holocaust studies and the Second World War."


    Piotr Wróbel, Professor and Konstanty Reynert Chair of Polish History, University of Toronto
  • Author Information

    Svenja Bethke is a lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Leicester.
  • Table of contents

    Acknowledgments
    Note on Names and Places
    Abbreviations

    Introduction

    1. Nazi Jewish Policy in Eastern Europe and the Perspective of the Jewish Councils
    2. Jewish Council Proclamations: Definitions of Criminal Activity
    3. The Jewish Police as an Executive Organ
    4. The Ghetto Courts
    5. The Ghetto Penal System
    6. Ordinary Ghetto Residents and Their Relationship with Internal and External Authorities

    Conclusion: Criminality and Law between the Poles of External Power and Internal Autonomy

    Notes
    Bibliography
    Index

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