A lucid and comprehensive chronicle of the perils of postwar European Jewry. Wasserstein (History/Brandeis Univ.), an...


VANISHING DIASPORA: The Jews in Europe Since 1945

A lucid and comprehensive chronicle of the perils of postwar European Jewry. Wasserstein (History/Brandeis Univ.), an authority on wartime British Jewry, again captures the neutral but engaging tone of his award-winning The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln (1988). He covers the changing complexion over time of how the continent's Holocaust survivors were treated and why. The book is careful not to make generalizations about emigration policies to pre-1948 Palestine, for instance, because each nation's relationship to Britain was a controlling factor. Wasserstein makes some telling points by way of minor facts that he chooses to include; he informs us that burial grounds for Polish pogrom victims were turned into a football field; that only 1.5 percent of the DPs that Britain absorbed were Jewish; and that in the postwar era more Jewish homes in France had Christmas trees than Hanukkah menorahs. Beyond the Stalinist purges, the Slansky affair in Czechoslovakia, and the Klaus Barbie trial in France, the book offers chapters tracing the demographic, cultural, and religious trends across the continent. We learn that by the 1960s the Jewish fertility rate in the Netherlands was half that of the gentiles, that German-Jewish writers preferred exile to return (like Nellie Sachs to Sweden), and that the long, painful progress in interfaith relations between Nostra Aetate and Vatican II took a long detour around the Auschwitz convent crisis. While a popular historian might describe the Diaspora's rejuvenation after Israel's Six-Day War in glowing terms, Wasserstein reminds us that ""in many European eyes, Israel was now seen as too big for its boots and as a persecutor rather than a victim."" The bibliography underscores just how many books are concentrated within this essential one-volume text. It is likely to be a standard in its field for decades--more time than Wasserstein gives the vanishing diaspora of Europe.

Pub Date: March 15, 1996


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996