WHY WE WATCHED by Theodore S.  Hamerow
Kirkus Star


Europe, America, and the Holocaust
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Masterful analysis of the conditions Jews faced in the allied countries before and during World War II.

In his eminently readable account, Hamerow (History Emeritus/Univ. of Wisconsin; Remembering a Vanished World: A Jewish Childhood in Interwar Poland, 2001, etc.) describes how Jewish communities in parts of Western Europe and the United States reacted—and often turned a blind eye—to the growing fascist threat against their co-religionists. Relying heavily on demographic and economic data, the author is balanced and never polemical. Cultural differences caused some Jews in Western Europe and America to resist allowing more immigration from Germany and Eastern Europe, he argues, and worsening economic conditions caused people to fear admitting newcomers who would compete for already scarce jobs. Chronicling the changing nature of anti-Semitism, the author notes that in earlier periods, especially before the French Revolution, it was subtler: “The ups and downs of official policy regarding the Jewish community reflected expediency, indecisiveness and sometimes simply indifference rather than a deep-seated hostility.” By the time of the Holocaust, however, attitudes toward Jews had changed, and the governments and citizens of many European countries were looking for a more drastic solution to the Jewish “problem.” Examining how the Holocaust is perceived in modern society, both in academic and popular venues, Hamerow notes that while Americans generally consider it “the unparalleled atrocity of the twentieth century,” Old World denizens are more inclined to lump it with the sufferings of others under Nazi rule. Though his lengthy narrative occasionally goes off on tangents, for the most part it moves at a brisk pace. Scholarly enough to appeal to academics, it will also find an audience with general history buffs. The story Hamerow tells is unequivocally sad, but he ends with an optimistic assessment of the current state of Jewry.

An important contribution to the scholarly literature about one of the seminal events in European history.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-06462-9
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2008