The book is researched and organized brilliantly and written convincingly. We right off do note that Bauer is an Israeli scholar so his English is a bit choppy at times. And he also comes across a bit more opinionated than they typical American scholar (and we assume that's after editors toned down his rhetoric).
Bauer's work provides a definitive and focused closure for us on the topic. We taught for years the romantic idealized European shtetl of Zbrowski and Herzog via Life is With People, and we tolerated the Broadway version of the culture in Fiddler on the Roof. (Bauer leaves no doubt in his work that he has no patience for that representation of the shtetl.)
In his meticulous, vivid and argumentative manner, Bauer tells how the shtetls of the kresy region in Eastern Poland were weakened by the Russians and then eliminated by the Germans. "By the end of 1942, most of the shtetlach in the kresy had been decimated...By early 1943 the shtetlach had been annihilated...(page 67)."
He constantly inquires and probes into how history unfolded with thought experiments of what might have been if certain facts had been different. You get to know how Bauer makes his historical facts. There's nothing ominous or secret about how he reconstructs the past. But man, is it tense and dramatic.
A personal reaction.
We nearly jumped out of our seat when we got to his discussion about Jewish resistance. When we realized that Bauer invented his own term for describing resistance and called it "Amidah" -- we heard clicks go off and then canons boom, because to us that meant much more than you can imagine. We identify in our new book one of our archetypes of the synagogue with the rabbinic Amidah prayer. This identifiable behavior that Bauer labels Amidah fits the pattern our archetype perfectly. We have some more to say about this in our forthcoming volume.
Here is how Bauer describes the phenomenon of Amidah in his earlier book, Rethinking the Holocaust:
"The Hebrew term amidah...means literally "standing up against," but that does not capture the deeper sense of the word. When I speak of resistance, I mean amidah, and that includes both armed and unarmed actions and excludes passive resistance, although that term is almost a non sequitur, because one cannot really resist passively. When one refuses to budge in the face of brutal force, one does not resist passively; one resists without using force, and that is not the same thing.The discussion in this book notes that, "Unarmed Amidah in the Kresy was limited by the impossible external circumstances, although it did exist in some places and was expressed in ways that were specific to the areas discussed here." (And note how in this later book he capitalizes Amidah.)
What does amidah include? It includes smuggling food into ghettos; mutual self-sacrifice within the family to avoid starvation or worse; cultural, educational, religious and political activities taken to strengthen morale; the work of doctors, nurses and educators to consciously maintain health and moral fiber to enable individual and group survival; and, of course, armed rebellion or the use of force (with bare hands or with "cold" weapons) against the Germans and their collaborators.(Rethinking the Holocaust, p. 120.)
Okay. This is not a perfect book. But it is definitive and compelling. In the example that I summarized regarding Amidah, and in many other ways that Bauer retells this tragic chapter of our people's past, his version shines brightly with insights and explanatory power.