Collaborator or Would-Be Rescuer? in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 39:1
Avihu Ronen, Hadas Agmon, Asaf Danziger
Collaborator or Would-Be Rescuer?: The Barenblat Trial and the Image of a Judenrat Member in 1960s Israel
Several trials conducted in Israel questioned the role of Jewish leadership in the Holocaust and raised the problematic image of the Judenrat among the survivors. In 1963, the state prosecuted Hirsh Barenblat who had been the head of the Jewish police in Będzin. Due to Barenblat’s high position and the attempt to impose comprehensive culpability on all Judenrat members, his trial became an important milestone in the development of Holocaust memory as it pertained to the Jewish leadership of the time. In Barenblat, the principle question raised throughout was the essence of the Judenrat and its members, and this may have been the only attempt to respond to it. This question split the survivors of Będzin: some testified against Barenblat and some testified for the defense. Although many of the witnesses condemned the Judenrat as an institution, there was no consensus among them regarding Barenblat’s role. The rulings of both courts largely reflected the witnesses’ vacillations. The District Court convicted Barenblat and sentenced him to five years in prison. The Supreme Court exonerated him. Both courts believed that the rest of the job should be left to historians. However, the absence of a resolution in the Barenblat trial symbolized the beginning of a process of change in the perception of the role of Jewish leadership and the Judenrat in the Holocaust — a perception that is neither accusatory nor apologetic and, instead, is mindful of the paradoxical complexity that envelops these institutions and individuals.