Originally published in Hebrew as Mul har haGa’ash, David Engel, a professor of Holocaust Studies and European History at NYU, provides us in Historians of the Jews and the Holocaust with a brilliant “historiographic study of the tendency of historians of the Holocaust…and historians of the Jews…to construct their fields as two separate realms, each with its own rules and practices, whose border is not readily crossed.”
Trained as a historian of Modern Europe with emphasis on Poland, Engel explains in this work his growing interest in “Holocaust Studies” and his realization that the divisions that separated the two camps were not passing ones “born of momentary circumstance, but [rather] the product of principled position[ s] deeply rooted in the professional discourse of Holocaust scholars and historians of the Jews alike.”
Engel shows that “reasons for this counter-intuitive situation lie in the evolution of the Jewish historical profession since the l920’s.” Here he draws on the writings and professional activities of such scholars as Salo Baron and his students at Columbia University, the Israelis Ben Zion Dinur, Shaul Esh, Jacob Katz, and Uriel Tal, and the non-Zionist Raul Hilberg to reach his conclusions. Engel’s discussion of Yad Vashem’s refusal to publish Hilberg’s “The Destruction of the Jews” (1961) throws new light on that affair. Engel also discusses with great insight and erudition the inability of non-Zionist writers such as Hannah Arendt and Bruno Bettelheim to influence their Israeli and American and British Zionist counterparts as well as the larger Jewish public following the Eichmann trial.
It will prove to be important to both senior scholars and beginning doctoral students in modern Jewish history.
Carl J. Rheins was the executive director emeritus of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Modern European History from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and taught courses on the Holocaust at several major universities.