Vanishing Diaspora / Edition 1

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Overview

In 1939 there were ten million Jews in Europe. After Hitler there were four million. Today in 1996 there are under two million. On current projections the Jews will become virtually extinct as a significant element in European society over the course of the twenty-first century. Now, in the first comprehensive social and political history of the experience and fate of European Jews during the last fifty years, Bernard Wasserstein sheds light on the reasons for this dire demographic projection.

Drawing on a rich variety of sources, many hitherto unpublished, Wasserstein begins with the painful years of liberation after World War II when Jews tried to recover from the destruction of their people and communities, then traces the Jewish experience in Eastern and Western Europe in different national and ideological contexts. His important and original inquiry covers the impact on Jews of postwar reconstruction, Soviet occupation, the Cold War, and the collapse of communism. These, combined with the memory of Nazi genocide, the persistence of antisemitism, the development of Israel, and the Middle East conflicts, shaped the history of European Jewry in the second half of the twentieth century.

With exceptional eloquence and conviction, Vanishing Diaspora argues that survival for European Jews ultimately will depend on choices they themselves make to reverse trends. They have an alarmingly imbalanced death-to-birth ratio, and many have jettisoned religious observance in the spirit of a secular Europe, losing their cultural distinctiveness as well as their numbers. This often painful story of destruction, irreparable loss, and the shattering of ties thus serves as a wake-up call and a dramatic warning.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal

Wasserstein...is among the first to examine postwar European Jewish history as a whole, from England to Russia, and compel us to recognize the breadth of this unfolding tragedy...[His] book can serve as a clarion call to American Jewry.
— Joshua Rubenstein

Washington Post Book World

[A] lucid and informative study...[It is] provocative in the context of American debates over Jewish identity and continuity.
— Paul Breines

Boston Globe

Crisply written and insightful...Vanishing Diaspora examines the fate of the Jews across the Continent and Britain since the end of the Second World War and shows that Hitler deserves only part of the blame for the Jews' gradual disappearance.
— Ethan Bronner

Washington Times

[Wasserstein's] writing deftly pulls the reader along from the reconstruction of Europe after the war to the birth of the Jewish state, to life behind the Iron Curtain and the relative ease and freedom of Western Europe, all through the eyes of Jews. This is a work of history, but it has the feel of a narrative as Mr. Wasserstein combines literary and cultural references with statistics, dates and places...[An] excellently researched and written book.
— Abby Wisse

Conservative Judaism
We are indebted to Bernard Wasserstein for a well written and challenging book that raises many serious questions not only about the survival of European Jewry, but of the future of Jewish existence in this country as well...Clearly, this is a book worth reading and sharing with thinking and concerned Jews.
Jerusalem Post

The major part of the book is a gracefully written history of European Jewry since World War II, and is one of the best accounts of the subject. The book, like Wasserstein's other works, is a pleasure to read, with occasional turns of wit redolent of the best English historiographical writing. He admirably wends his way through the intricate jigsaw of European Jewries, east and west.
— Geoffrey Wigoder

Choice
There have been historical studies of the individual Jewish communities in postwar Europe, but Wasserstein is the first to survey them all...This well-written survey is a valuable work because of its breadth and its contextualization of the major Jewish events of the last 50 years.
Wall Street Journal - Joshua Rubenstein
Wasserstein...is among the first to examine postwar European Jewish history as a whole, from England to Russia, and compel us to recognize the breadth of this unfolding tragedy...[His] book can serve as a clarion call to American Jewry.
Washington Post Book World - Paul Breines
[A] lucid and informative study...[It is] provocative in the context of American debates over Jewish identity and continuity.
Boston Globe - Ethan Bronner
Crisply written and insightful...Vanishing Diaspora examines the fate of the Jews across the Continent and Britain since the end of the Second World War and shows that Hitler deserves only part of the blame for the Jews' gradual disappearance.
Washington Times - Abby Wisse
[Wasserstein's] writing deftly pulls the reader along from the reconstruction of Europe after the war to the birth of the Jewish state, to life behind the Iron Curtain and the relative ease and freedom of Western Europe, all through the eyes of Jews. This is a work of history, but it has the feel of a narrative as Mr. Wasserstein combines literary and cultural references with statistics, dates and places...[An] excellently researched and written book.
Jerusalem Post - Geoffrey Wigoder
The major part of the book is a gracefully written history of European Jewry since World War II, and is one of the best accounts of the subject. The book, like Wasserstein's other works, is a pleasure to read, with occasional turns of wit redolent of the best English historiographical writing. He admirably wends his way through the intricate jigsaw of European Jewries, east and west.
Wall Street Journal
Wasserstein...is among the first to examine postwar European Jewish history as a whole, from England to Russia, and compel us to recognize the breadth of this unfolding tragedy...[His] book can serve as a clarion call to American Jewry.
— Joshua Rubenstein
Boston Globe
Crisply written and insightful...Vanishing Diaspora examines the fate of the Jews across the Continent and Britain since the end of the Second World War and shows that Hitler deserves only part of the blame for the Jews' gradual disappearance.
— Ethan Bronner
Washington Times
[Wasserstein's] writing deftly pulls the reader along from the reconstruction of Europe after the war to the birth of the Jewish state, to life behind the Iron Curtain and the relative ease and freedom of Western Europe, all through the eyes of Jews. This is a work of history, but it has the feel of a narrative as Mr. Wasserstein combines literary and cultural references with statistics, dates and places...[An] excellently researched and written book.
— Abby Wisse
Jerusalem Post
The major part of the book is a gracefully written history of European Jewry since World War II, and is one of the best accounts of the subject. The book, like Wasserstein's other works, is a pleasure to read, with occasional turns of wit redolent of the best English historiographical writing. He admirably wends his way through the intricate jigsaw of European Jewries, east and west.
— Geoffrey Wigoder
Washington Post Book World
[A] lucid and informative study...[It is] provocative in the context of American debates over Jewish identity and continuity.
— Paul Breines
Joshua Rubenstein
Mr. Wasserstein...is among the first to examine postwar European Jewish history as a whole, from England to Russia, and compel us to recognize the breadth of this unfolding tragedy...[His] book can serve as a clarion call to American Jewry. -- Wall Street Journal
Ethan Bronner
Crisply written and insightful...Vanishing Diaspora examines the fate of the Jews across the Continent and Britain since the end of the Second World War and shows that Hitler deserves only part of the blame for the Jews' gradual disappearance. -- Boston Globe
Kirkus Reviews
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 pre1948 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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674931992
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/30/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 356
  • Sales rank: 812,059
  • Product dimensions: 0.74 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernard Wasserstein is President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and Fellow of St. Cross College, Oxford.
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Table of Contents

List of Tables

Preface

Acknowledgements

Abbreviations

Glossary

Displaced Persons

Stalin's Last Victims, 1945-53

Revival in Western Europe, 1945-73

The Impact of Israel

Facing the Past

Jews and the Christian Problem

Three Germanies and the Jews

The Soviet Jewish Revolt

East European Shadows, 1953-89

West European Dilemmas, 1973-89

Jews in the New European Disorder

Afterthoughts

Notes

Bibliography

Index

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