Books: Anti-Semitism and It’s Tentacles
New books are shedding light on our understanding of Jew hatred and the Holocaust. Here is a selection that looks at anti-Semitism in England as well as in the United States, and how Nazi persecution and Jewish survival were complex affairs.
Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews by Peter Longerich. (Oxford University Press, 645 pp. $34.95)
Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp by Christopher Browning. (Norton, 375 pp. $27.95)
Rezso Kasztner: The Daring Rescue of Hungarian Jews: A Survivor’s Account (Pimlico) by Ladislaus Löb. (Pimlico Press, 338 pp. $22.95)
The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses by Stephen H. Norwood. (Cambridge University Press, 352 pp. $29)
Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius. (Oxford University Press, 864 pp. $45)
Holocaust by Peter Longerich, director of the Research Center for the Holocaust and Twentieth-Century History at the University of London, argues that Judenpolitik, or anti-Jewish policy, was at the center of the Nazis’ strategy to realize their utopian dream of a racially homogeneous national community, first in Germany and subsequently throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. To rid Europe of its Jews, states Longerich, was not only central to the whole National Socialist movement, but was what gave it its distinctiveness. Therefore, he says, it is pointless to select a single order for a Final Solution, but rather to understand that the escalation from persecution to genocide involved a highly complicated series of decisions that emanated from the Nazi leadership, but whose implementation was left to the interpretation, if not imagination, of the actual perpetrators.
Kasztner remains a controversial figure, but Löb’s book should help rehabilitate his place among those who tried to save Hungarian Jewry.
Great Britain’s worst nightmare, however, was that negotiating with the enemy on behalf of saving Jewish lives might lead the Nazis to allow millions of Jews to be free and demand entry to the one place that would accept them, Jewish Palestine. From the Evian Conference in 1938 to the White Paper of 1939 to the Bermuda Conference of 1943, this was always an unacceptable alternative, lest it alienate the Arabs. It was not only the Nazis, therefore, but also Allies, such as Great Britain, that prevented those, like Kasztner, from successfully negotiating the rescue of European Jewry. —Jack Fischel
Jonathan Papernick had worked as a journalist in Israel, and those experiences, transformed into short stories, turned The Ascent of Eli (Arcade) into an impressive first collection. A novel, Who By Fire, Who By Blood (Exile Editions), followed in 2007, and Papernick soon joined the ranks of Dara Horn, Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer as a young Jewish writer worth watching.
Readers of this collection of more than 41 essays will either learn more than they ever wanted to know about the piyyut, liturgical poem, “Un’taneh Tokef,” recited on the High Holidays (for instance, it is not recited in many Reform synagogues because they are troubled by its theology of God standing in judgment and deciding “who will live and who will die”). Or they will be amazed by the varying attitudes toward the poem’s 39 verses.