A brilliantly conceived, nation-by-nation history of Europe’s Jews during the three decades before the Holocaust.
Almost as terrible as that genocide was the less well-known savagery unleashed on Jews in the early 20th century by the armies of kaiser, tsar, and commissar. In the first year of the Russian Civil War, for instance, the White Army of General Anton Ivanovich Deniken, who demonized Jews as antichrists and Bolsheviks, systematically burned and buried its victims alive, drowned them in wells, raped women, and mutilated children, killing more than 80,000 in Ukraine alone. Such events, writes Sachar (History/George Washington Univ.; Israel and Europe, 1999), did much to fuel the growth of the Zionist movement, which early on found considerable support from American Jews and an unlikely ally in the government of Poland. Some of the tension, the author notes, sprang from anti-Semitic nationalist movements, some from the redrawing of national boundaries after WWI that among other things placed 4.5 million non-Romanians under Bucharest’s rule, turning “an essentially homogeneous population into a complex mosaic of racial, cultural, and linguistic ethnicities that would determine the state’s future diplomacy and much of its domestic policies.” Repression was less violent for assimilated Jewish residents of such countries as Germany and France, though it was real all the same: wherever they lived, Sachar writes, “No people ever experienced more of the Old World’s underside.” Pages populated by the likes of Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Arthur Schnitzler catalogue Jews’ great contributions to European culture, deftly underscoring the failure of post-WWI Europe to sweep aside prewar inequities and make a real home for this long-suffering people.
A fine contribution to European history and Judaic studies alike.