Prewar Europe was full of vibrant Jewish communities that had existed for generations. Each of these communities was home to communal institutions, including growing educational institutions. Within each community different streams of Judaism developed over the years and affected its character. No two communities were identical. The nature of the community depended not only on the makeup of its members, but on the various religious streams that reached it, on the local Jewish leadership and on the extent to which the Jews were integrated in
the surrounding gentile society. While community life affected the individual, the individual both reflected and influenced the character of the local community.
The story of the Holocaust, then, is the story of each and every community and each and every family, the family being the link between the individual and the community, the foundation stone on which the existence of the Jewish nation rests. The unique aspect of this study unit is that it focuses on one community out of many, and on the story of one family that experienced all the horrors, survived them and rebuilt itself.
The community is that of Dutch Jewry, and in its midst was a group of emigrants who had arrived in Holland from Germany and Austria. They carried with them a way of life that was firmly anchored in the principles of Torah im derech eretz. They were destined to share the same fate as that of native Dutch Jews, though initially it did not seem that it would be so.
The story of the Emanuel family was recorded by Yonah Emanuel in his book Dignity to Survive, and has been preserved in letters and writings of other members of the family. These all served as the basis for this unit.
Through the medium of the story of one family, the student will be able to gain an insight into the experiences of the Jews of Holland. The connection to one family and its members will bring the topic close to the student’s heart, allowing him/her to understand the hardships of the time, the enormity of the catastrophe and the greatness of the Jews’ religious steadfastness.
We are grateful to Mrs. Emanuel and the members of the family for their cooperation in making their memories available to the next generation of students.
The structure of the unit and didactical suggestions
This study unit is structured chronologically, relating Family Emanuel’s story at a few stages in time. At each of these stages, information is given about the political-social situation, the members of the family, and the Jewish values that served the family as an anchor at all times. The stages are: