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Dawidowicz's starting point in this survey of historical writing on the destruction of six million European Jews is the observation that this unprecedented event has been generally glossed over. The Holocaust, she argues, was unique even within the context of the million killed in World War II because Hitler aimed at total annihilation of the Jews and because this was a central element in Nazi ideology, for her, indeed, it was the central aim. Proceeding to a review of the literature on this period, Dawidowicz (The War Against the Jews) divides her study by national boundaries; her chapters cover English and American, German, Soviet, Polish, and Jewish historiography--and general histories as well as those dealing more specifically with the Jews. The historian's attitude toward the Jews, she maintains, is largely shaped by a national perspective (which makes her omission of a chapter on France both curious and regrettable). In surveying the English writings, she attributes the general failure to give anti-Semitism due prominence in explanations of Nazism to upper-class British anti-Semitism, while the same oversight in the Polish and Soviet writings is seen to stem from both official ideological fluctuations and deeply-rooted anti-Semitism within the national cultures. In discussing the differences between various Jewish histories of the Holocaust, Dawidowicz uses a variety of approaches; in the case, for instance, of Raul Hilberg--whose The Destruction of the European Jews charged Jewish Council leaders with complicity in the Holocaust--the contention is that Hilberg, not being a historian, didn't know how to use documentary sources. Though Dawidowicz solidly establishes her main point, her own perspective is skewed, since she discounts any effort to discuss the political uses to which Nazism put its ideology; for her, Nazism was not a counterrevolutionary or rightist movement, but a movement to destroy the Jews, and any other view is regarded, in one way or another, as anti-Semitic. So while her survey is a useful (if patchy) one, it doesn't tell the whole story.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press