The movie industry in recent years has latched onto a winning formula — bring out a movie, then a sequel and then offer the third in the series — the prequel that will help us understand how everything we have seen came to pass. Steinweis’ precisely researched and presented volume serves in effect as the prequel to the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews (with denial of the Holocaust being perhaps the sad sequel in this [sic] trilogy). Steinweis, the Rosenberg Professor of History & Judaic Studies at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, uses a voice that reflects a dispassionate, academic tone, characterized by careful analysis of both the research and motivations of an array of scholars who studied and published on various aspects of The Jewish Question from the early 1930’s through the very close of World War II. Racial theories translated into predetermined research outcomes that “demonstrated” everything from our involvement in commerce as part of a desire for worldwide economic domination to our sexual promiscuity and alleged disproportionate involvement in criminal acts. While not the purview of this book, one cannot help but think of parallels within American society as researchers in the first six decades of the 20th century studied and reported on various negative qualities and attributes inherent in African-Americans or in women. Despite the application of this research that influenced to varying degrees a wide range of Nazi policies — up to and perhaps including The Final Solution — Steinweis’ review of specific scholars and their work reflects precisely the integrity lacking in those he writes of. With some exceptions, the scholars who participated in the Nazi Jewish studies were not intellectual frauds or Nazi party hacks. They were dishonest scholars, but scholars nonetheless. Their careers and their work violated the presumption that the scholar has responsibility to use knowledge honestly and for positive ends. In the final analysis, the great failing of the Nazi antisemitic scholars was more ethical than intellectual. The measured manner in which he addresses this important area of Holocaust history, including describing some of the post-World War II successes some of these scholars enjoyed in their professional careers, may, for some, lack a sense of the emotion-laden moral outrage we Jews so often want to see expressed. Yet, reading this book, I easily found on virtually each page the words of the Tachanun prayer [recited in the traditional weekday morning prayers] reverberating in my mind: Look and see — we were an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we are regarded as sheep led to the slaughter. Studying the Jew helps us in no small way understand an aspect of what can otherwise be an unbearably painful part of our collective Jewish experience and consciousness.
William Liss-Levinson is vice president, chief strategy & operations officer of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., a consumer health research, information, and publishing company. He holds a Ph.D. in education and is a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Book Council.