His­to­ri­ans of the Jews and the Holocaust

David Engel
  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

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.

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