Some books fly high above the field, making sweeping generalizations about big questions. Other books circle over a specific problem, analyzing it in great...

Some books fly high above the field, making sweeping generalizations about big questions.

Other books circle over a specific problem, analyzing it in great detail to say something important about a single subject.

Joshua Zimmerman‘s The Polish Underground and the Jews, 1939-1945 (Cambridge University Press, 2015) shows how important and valuable books that adopt the latter approach can be. The book is an exceptionally rich account of the attitudes, politics, policies and actions of the Polish Underground regarding Polish Jews during the Second World War. Zimmerman, Associate Professor of History at Yeshiva University in New York, spent years exploring archives, memoirs and secondary sources in preparing the book. Nearly every page of the book displays this research, with extensive quotes from newspapers, internal communications and leaders within the army.

Zimmerman is well-aware of the historical and political stakes involved in his question. His answers are careful, nuanced and balanced. I can imagine people disagreeing with his conclusions (although I personally am convinced), but it’s hard to imagine a more thorough attempt to approach the question. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the interaction of Polish Jews and Polish institutions and individuals during the war.


Kelly McFall is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. His research and teaching concentrates on the history of violence and human rights, focusing especially on the history of genocide.  His writing centers around a pedagogy titled Reacting to the Past.  Here he has written, among others, The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

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