Here, from the dean of Holocaust historians, is that rarity, a contemporary autobiography that is actually too short....


THE POLITICS OF MEMORY: The Path of a Holocaust Historian

Here, from the dean of Holocaust historians, is that rarity, a contemporary autobiography that is actually too short. Recently retired as a professor of political science at the University of Vermont, Hilberg writes movingly of his youth in Vienna and his experiences as a refugee in Cuba and New York. The heart of his work recounts the 13 lonely years he spent sifting through over 40,000 German documents while researching his pioneering, magisterial work, The Destruction of the European Jews (1961), the first study to look at the German bureaucratic machinery of destruction from 1933 on. He notes how difficult it was to find a publisher--several university presses (including Princeton and Columbia) rejected the manuscript. Hilberg also staunchly defends his controversial thesis that during the Holocaust, European Jewish institutions became ""an extension of the German bureaucratic machine."" Yet his view on this question is severely limited by his lack of access to the Yiddish and Hebrew sources carefully culled by Isaiah Trunk in his book Judenrat. This definitive work on the Jewish councils under Nazi rule paints a much more complex picture of local Jewish leaders' behavior. However, Hilberg is on target in critiquing such historians as Martin Gilbert, who define ""Jewish resistance"" during the Holocaust so broadly as to render the concept almost meaningless. He also settles scores with other scholars and popular historians of the Holocaust, most notably political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Hilberg tellingly notes how extensively Arendt ""borrowed"" from The Destruction for her Eichmann in Jerusalem, while providing only the flimsiest credit. Hilberg's style is crisp and succinct, perhaps to a fault. This is very much the memoir of a scholar; those hoping for extensive insights into Hilberg the man will be disappointed. One is left wanting more, though also filled with admiration for this remarkable historian's single-minded dedication to his craft.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 1996


Page Count: 208

Publisher: Ivan Dee

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996