The Yid­dish His­to­ri­ans and the Strug­gle for a Jew­ish His­to­ry of the Holocaust

Mark L. Smith

  • From the Publisher
January 1, 2013

The Yid­dish His­to­ri­ans and the Strug­gle for a Jew­ish His­to­ry of the Holo­caust iden­ti­fies the Yid­dish his­to­ri­ans who cre­at­ed a dis­tinc­tive­ly Jew­ish approach to writ­ing Holo­caust his­to­ry in the ear­ly years fol­low­ing World War II. Author Mark L. Smith explains that these schol­ars sur­vived the Nazi inva­sion of East­ern Europe, yet they have not pre­vi­ous­ly been rec­og­nized as a spe­cif­ic group who were unit­ed by a com­mon research agen­da and a com­mit­ment to shar­ing their work with the world­wide com­mu­ni­ty of Yid­dish-speak­ing survivors.

These Yid­dish his­to­ri­ans stud­ied the his­to­ry of the Holo­caust from the per­spec­tive of its Jew­ish vic­tims, focus­ing on the inter­nal aspects of dai­ly life in the ghet­tos and camps under Nazi occu­pa­tion and stress­ing the impor­tance of rely­ing on Jew­ish sources and the urgency of col­lect­ing sur­vivor tes­ti­monies, eye­wit­ness accounts, and mem­oirs. With an aim to dis­pel the accu­sa­tions of cow­ardice and pas­siv­i­ty that arose against the Jew­ish vic­tims of Nazism, these his­to­ri­ans cre­at­ed both a vig­or­ous defense and also a dar­ing offense. They under­stood that most of those who sur­vived did so because they had engaged in a dai­ly strug­gle against con­di­tions imposed by the Nazis to has­ten their deaths. The redemp­tion of Jew­ish hon­or through this recog­ni­tion is the most inno­v­a­tive con­tri­bu­tion by the Yid­dish his­to­ri­ans. It is the area in which they most influ­enced the research agen­das of near­ly all sub­se­quent schol­ars while also dis­turb­ing cer­tain accept­ed truths, includ­ing the beliefs that the ear­li­est Holo­caust research focused on the Nazi per­pe­tra­tors, that research on the vic­tims com­menced only in the ear­ly 1960s and that Holo­caust study devel­oped as an aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­pline sep­a­rate from Jew­ish his­to­ry. Now, with writ­ings in Yid­dish jour­nals and books in Europe, Israel, and North and South Amer­i­ca hav­ing been recov­ered, list­ed, and giv­en care­ful dis­cus­sion, for­mer ideas must yield before the Yid­dish his­to­ri­ans’ pub­lished works. The Yid­dish His­to­ri­ans and the Strug­gle for a Jew­ish His­to­ry of the Holo­caust is an eye-open­ing mono­graph that will appeal to Holo­caust and Jew­ish stud­ies schol­ars, stu­dents, and gen­er­al readers.

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