Collect and Record: Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

Oxford University Press   2012


Laura Jockusch, who is a Martin Buber Society Fellow at the Hebrew University, and teaches Holocaust studies at the University of Haifa, has written a comprehensive work on the survivors who founded Jewish historical commissions and documentation centers after World War II. The book is based on extensive research and as historian Omer Bartov writes, it “demonstrates that contrary to the conventional view, there was no silence after the Holocaust, but rather a refusal by the rest of the world to listen.”

Many of the names of those committed to keeping the memory of the Shoah alive will be unfamiliar, although the author’s section on the Jewish Documentation Center in Austria focuses on Simon Wiesenthal and Towia Frydman, whose work are recognizable to an American audience because of their work toward the persecution of Nazi war criminals. Jockusch informs us that both Nazi hunters were Holocaust survivors who were driven by several factors, including the increasing leniency of Allied authorities toward Nazi war criminals in light of the nascent Cold War, and their transitory situation as DPs in Austria, which lent urgency to their quest to obtain and present evidence to the military government or the Austrian police of the criminality of the Nazi perpetrators. Above all, they endeavored in this way to bring the full extent of the Shoah to public consciousness by “ lifting the mantel of silence,” whereby the non-Jewish public obscured the fate of the Jews “while urging survivors not to scrounge off the pity of the world.”

Of the survivors who engaged in recording Jewish life during the Shoah, this reviewer was particularly surprised to come across the name of Isaac Schneersohn, born in Kamenets-Podolski (Ukraine) to the Schneersohn family of Lubavitch Hasidic rebbes. Educated as a rabbi, Schneersohn involved himself in Jewish social work and belonged to the liberal Russian party, the Cadets, leaving for France in 1920 following the Bolshevik Revolution. During the German occupation of France, Schneersohn escaped to the Southern Zone where he survived in hiding. After the war he reconstituted the documentation center in Paris which he had founded in Grenoble.

This original and important study is bound to change the way historians understand the uneven reception of the early scholarship on the Holocaust. Although the 1947 European conference of Jewish historical commissions and documentation centers (the first attempt to fully comprehend the Shoah) revealed divisions along national lines that had previously been submerged, thus producing minimal tangible achievements, the conference contributed to dispelling the myth that Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were traumatized, and silent.

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