Vanishing Diaspora; The Jews in Europe since 1945

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 ...

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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Drawing on a rich variety of sources, many hitherto unpublished, Wasserstein begins with the painful years of liberation after World War II when Jews tried to recover from the destruction of their people and communities,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

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Today there are fewer than two million Jews in Europe, compared with 10 million in 1939. Brandeis history professor Wasserstein predicts that, as Europe's Jews continue to assimilate, intermarry and maintain an extremely low birthrate, the European Jewish community will become virtually extinct-both as a population group and as a cultural entity-unless Jews launch a revival of Hebrew and Yiddish culture. A provocative source for everyone concerned with the fate of European and indeed American Jewry, this history delineates Jewish postwar reconstruction, upward mobility and a traumatizing coming to terms with the past among Jews of western and eastern Europe, even as they faced resurgent anti-Semitism and nationalist xenophobia. His chronicle includes in-depth discussions of Soviet Jewish emigration, Christian-Jewish relations and the Jewish communities of England, France, Germany, Poland and Hungary. (Mar.)
George Cohen
Wasserstein points out in this exceptional social and political history that in 1939 there were nearly 10 million Jews in Europe, but during the Holocaust more than half were murdered. By 1994, emigration and a surplus of deaths over births had reduced Europe's Jewish population again by more than half, to less than two million. Wasserstein, a professor of history at Brandeis University, predicts that by the year 2000 the number of Jews in Europe will not be much more than one million, the lowest figure since the Middle Ages. He believes that during the next two or three decades the Jews of Europe at best face slow diminution and at worst virtual extinction. (Poland's Jewish population of 3,250,000 in 1937 had been reduced to 6,000 by 1994, for example.) Wasserstein finds that Jewish languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino) have practically died out in Europe, along with most elements of religious practice. In conclusion, his view is that survival of Europe's Jews will ultimately depend on the choices they themselves make. "If the Jews of Europe do, in the end, disappear, it will be because, as a collectivity, they lost the will to live," he sadly notes.
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: 9780674931961
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Pages: 332
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.02 (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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