From Publishers Weekly
An NYU professor of American Jewish history, Diner (The Jews of the United States, 1654–2000
) sets out to refute what she contends is an accepted truth: that until the 1960s, American Jewry suffered from a self-imposed collective amnesia about the Holocaust. Diner marshals considerable evidence that American Jews were aware of the Holocaust and their culture was influenced by it, from their newspapers to youth movements, to whom speakers repeatedly invoked the Holocaust. They raised $45 million in 1945 alone to succor survivors in Europe. A 1952 commemorative Passover text from the American Jewish Congress was widely distributed and reprinted yearly in Jewish newspapers. Even Adolph Lerner's failed campaign to create a memorial in New York City demonstrates postwar American Jewish engagement with the Holocaust, Diner says. The 1961 publication of Yevtushenko's Babi Yar exposed both German barbarities and Soviet anti-Semitism. Diner's worthy, innovative, diligently researched work should spark controversy and meaningful dialogue among Holocaust scholars and in the Jewish community, but her vigorous defense of American Jews would pack more punch if she had devoted more space to the arguments she disputes. Photos. (Apr.)
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Post-Holocaust discourse over the past four to five decades often accepts as a given a questionable thesis: American Jews in the decades following 1945 preferred to avoid emphasizing or even discussing the horrors of the Holocaust; motives were a combination of shame, indifference, and a desire not to “stir things up.” The silence was broken, so the story goes, by the revelations at the 1961 Eichmann trial, and further breached when the lead-up to the Six-Day War in l967 revived fears of Jewish annihilation. Professor Diner acknowledges the galvanizing effect of those events, but she convincingly asserts that prior Jewish forgetfulness was largely a myth. Beginning with the conclusion of World War II and the revelations of the extent of the Holocaust, individual Jews and diverse Jewish organizations worked consistently and effectively to heighten awareness amongst both Jews and Gentiles of the genocide of European Jews. The efforts crossed religious and ideological divides and included literature, political efforts, religious campaigns, and various forms of public memorials. --Jay Freeman