- Paperback: 382 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books (September 20, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0618082328
- ISBN-13: 978-0618082322
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Holocaust in American Life 0th Edition
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In the first decades following World War II, Americans rarely discussed the Holocaust. Now, remembering the Holocaust has become a fundamental part of Jewish identity; gentiles, too, view the Holocaust as a touchstone of moral solemnity. In The Holocaust and American Life, Peter Novick asks why, and his answers are both sensible and shocking. He explains the immediate postwar silence about the Holocaust by reviewing the basics of cold war politics: just after the liberation of the concentration camps, Americans were called upon to sympathize with "gallant Berliners" who resisted the Soviets and built a wall against Communism--an "enormous shift from one set of alignments to another," Novick notes. Novick then leads readers through the series of events that brought the Holocaust to the forefront of American consciousness--the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the Six-Day War, the Carter administration's Israel policy, and the construction of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Among Novick's most controversial ideas is his assertion that American Jews spoke softly of the Holocaust at first because they didn't want to be seen as victims; later, Jews decided that victim status would work in their best political interest. Or, as Novick puts it, "Jews were intent on permanent possession of the gold medal in the Victimization Olympics." The Holocaust in American Life is as carefully researched and argued as it is polemical and probing. Novick does not suffer Holocaust deniers lightly, and he is empathic toward victims and survivors, but he has no tolerance for false sentiment. One wishes that more people would ask, as Novick does, what kind of a country would spend millions of dollars on a museum honoring European Jewish Holocaust victims instead of a monument to its own shameful history of black slavery. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Why has the Holocaust, five decades after its conclusion, remained such a burning issue in the consciousness of Americans, both Jews and Gentiles? After all, most historical events fade from memory with the passage of time and the deaths of those who directly experienced the events. Yet, despite the occurrence of more recent and certainly quite horrific mass atrocities, from Cambodia to Rowanda, the Holocaust continues to play a central role in American public discourse. In this unsettling and fascinating work, Novick, a Jew and a professor of history at the University of Chicago, examines how a variety of domestic and foreign events have moved Holocaust consciousness to the center of American life and kept it there. The author unhesitatingly probes touchy subjects, including the role of Holocaust consciousness in cold war politics, the "uniqueness" of the Holocaust, and even the supposed "obsession" of American Jews (few of whom are Holocaust survivors) with the Holocaust. This is an important work that is bound to irritate, even outrage, many readers. Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The book does an excellent job of linking popular thinking about the Holocaust with concurrent historical trends and developments, including the more intense American focus on the Pacific as opposed to the European theatre for much of the war, the lack of appreciation during and immediately after the war for the immensity of the Jewish genocide, the emergence of the Cold War (together with the "discovery" of common totalitarian threads between Nazism and Stalinism), the "rehabilitation" of Germany after Stalin took over Eastern Europe, changing views about "victimization" in American popular culture, the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and Hannah Arendt's controversial analysis of it, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973, as well as the decline in American anti-semitism in general at the same time that radical black activists were employing anti-Jewish rhetoric.
One of the most important contributions of the book is its discussion of the alleged "uniqueness" of the Holocaust, which the author shows to be both historically inaccurate and dangerous in leading down the slippery slope where any other more recent catastrophes and disasters are minimized in comparison. Rich with example and documentation--the footnotes and endnotes should be read, too--the book is one I expect to return to in the future. Broad in its scope and well-written, it is generally quite persuasive in the arguments it advances.
I would concur with those critics who fault the author's occasionally overly colloquial style, especially when he is discussing Holocaust deniers. His dismissal of them as "kooks" and "nut cases" detracts from the generally strong case he makes against them.
Novick argues (convincingly to me) that these, and a bunch of other things that I'd always assumed, are simply wrong. And I'm not just talking about the "soap factory" stories. The "political message" of the Holocaust (like most other things) often doesn't have much to do with "historical truth".
An earlier reviewer comments on the issue of the uniqueness of the Holocaust: actually, Novick does discuss this issue at some length, arguing convincingly that the whole issue is quite vacuous... uniqueness is a rhetorical rather than a historical matter.
I'm a little surprised that there hasn't been more of a media uproar over this book: it's a lot *more* controversial than Goldhagen's book of a few years ago (Hitler's Willing Executioners). Maybe the storm just hasn't broken yet?
There are some caveats, however. This book is not about the Holocaust. Indeed, there is almost nothing in this book about the event itself nor indeed is there much on Holocaust historiography, aside from some sensible comments about the reaction of the Allies. There are few comparisons as to how other societies and other Jewish communities have understood the Holocaust. One has to ask if the political use of the Holocaust and the changing portrayal of the Holocuast is as shocking or surprising as Novick implies? One sometimes has the impression that Novick takes a "heads I win, tails you lose" approach, that any portrayal of the Holocaust by American Jews would be wrong or trite.
Finally, Novick's book in many ways resembles Keith Richburg's "Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa." Both books are fundamentally inward looking and tell us much about how Americans misunderstand the world beyond their shores and little about what has actually happened. In that sense Novick is part of a worrying trend in history, where the study of how we think about the past and remember the past has replaced the study of the past. Knocking down misleading captions in the Holocaust Museum is important, but easy. Making use of the new archival sources that are now available in Eastern Europe, and which will greatly enhance our understanding of the Holocaust, is rather more difficult and far more important.