We Remem­ber With Rev­er­ence and Love: Amer­i­can Jews and the Myth of Silence After the Holo­caust, 1945 – 1962

  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

In this well-researched and pas­sion­ate­ly argued book, Hasia Din­er chal­lenges the con­ven­tion­al view that post­war Amer­i­can Jew­ry showed lit­tle inter­est in the Holo­caust until the 1960’s and, in fact, want­ed to for­get it rather than memo­ri­al­ize it. She main­tains that near­ly every his­to­ri­an, lit­er­ary schol­ar, and cul­tur­al crit­ic who has com­ment­ed on Amer­i­can Jews in this peri­od and their rela­tion­ship to the Shoah, assert­ed with utter cer­tain­ty that Amer­i­can Jews made lit­tle of the Holo­caust, repressed it and did not make it an impor­tant part of their com­mu­nal lives. Whether moti­vat­ed by guilt, shame, fear, indif­fer­ence, or the desire to assim­i­late, Amer­i­can Jews sim­ply did not memo­ri­al­ize or focus on the Holo­caust until the Eich­mann tri­al in 1960 – 61 and Israel’s stun­ning vic­to­ry in the Six Day War of 1967 made it social­ly and cul­tur­al­ly accept­able to do so. Com­ing out of World War II, Amer­i­can Jews were too busy with the emer­gence of the State of Israel, the threats of the Cold War, mov­ing to the sub­urbs, financ­ing a syn­a­gogue­build­ing boom and carv­ing out their place in soci­ety to have room in their pub­lic cul­ture for the tragedy of Euro­pean Jewry.

Din­er rejects this con­ven­tion­al view and claims that it is cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly false and based on thin evi­dence and gleaned from few sources. Uncov­er­ing a rich and var­ied trove of doc­u­men­ta­tion — in lit­er­a­ture, song, litur­gy, pub­lic dis­play, and many oth­er forms, We Remem­ber with Rev­er­ence and Love shows that Amer­i­can Jews were deeply engaged in memo­ri­al­iz­ing the Holo­caust in a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of ways and that it was a pow­er­ful ele­ment of Jew­ish life in post­war Amer­i­ca. Whether in litur­gy or ped­a­gogy, in staged cer­e­monies or in the delib­er­a­tions of Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions and in the activ­i­ties of their youth groups, the tragedy of Euro­pean Jew­ry was cen­tral to Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and activ­i­ty. In this impor­tant book of schol­ar­ship and con­vic­tion, Din­er attempts to revise our under­stand­ing of post­war Amer­i­can Jew­ry. She cor­rect­ly chal­lenges the con­ven­tion­al views on this top­ic, although her alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive is also over­drawn to a degree, espe­cial­ly her asser­tions con­cern­ing what Amer­i­can Jews did and said con­cern­ing the sur­vivors,” the refugees,” die geblibene (those left) in Yid­dish, or the Dis­placed Per­sons, as they were var­i­ous­ly referred to. Her claims here, chal­lenged by sol­id research, raise doubts about the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the over­all the­sis. I sus­pect the real­i­ty is some­where between the denial and repres­sion accept­ed by most and the active and pro­duc­tive engage­ment and advo­ca­cy sug­gest­ed by Din­er. A live­ly and con­tro­ver­sial book, it is sure to spark debate and con­ver­sa­tion for years to come. 2009 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Win­ner in Amer­i­can Jew­ish Studies.

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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