When in 1975 Lucy Dawidowicz published The War against the Jews she started the swell of one of those waves of intellectual hysteria which betray the yearning for conformity among American historians. The intention of the book was entirely justified and laudable. In her judgment, historians had not given the massacre of the European Jews the importance it deserved as a central event in the history of our century. Her book set off a clamour for 'holocaust studies' as a uniquely instructive branch of history, and at the peak of this hysteria some distinguished scholars even began to demand that 'holocaust studies' should become a compulsory subject in school and university. The impact of the book was scarcely less than that of Roots, stripping bare the deep concern of the United States with its own ethnic composition. The fact that all this fuss was mainly a fuss about the nature of American society meant that the subsequent contribution of 'holocaust studies' to explaining the massacre has been derisory compared to the noise which they generated. The massacre is first and foremost a problem in German history, and in the German Federal Republic the issues raised by Dawidowicz have stimulated an altogether higher level of debate and a controversy of profounder significance for all societies.
LRB 2 May 1985 | PDF Download