Magazine

'The Ambiguity of Virtue': Impossible decisions

Bernard Wasserstein examines the heartbreaking choices facing the members of the Jewish Council of Amsterdam during World War II.

Eindhoven Resistance with troops of the 326th Medical Company (101st Airborne)
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons
Early in 1942, after failing to persuade Nazi officials to rescind their orders, the Jewish Council of Amsterdam urged conscripts to comply with instructions to vacate their homes, surrender their keys and appear, with their families, at the railway station. To “forestall worst measures,” a form letter indicated, those who had been called should not “shirk” their “unavoidable duty.”

At the same time, however, several members of the council demanded a discussion “of the fundamental question of how far the Jewish Council should continue to cooperate, now that its work has taken on a different character from what had originally been promised.” In the almost complete surviving set of council minutes, Bernard Wasserstein tells us, there is no record that such a discussion occurred.



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