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Drawing on a rich variety of sources, many hitherto unpublished, Wasserstein begins with the painful years of liberation after World War II when Jews tried to recover from the destruction of their people and communities,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.
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.
[A] lucid and informative study...[It is] provocative in the context of American debates over Jewish identity and continuity.
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.
[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.
A lucid and comprehensive chronicle of the perils of postwar European Jewry...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.
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.
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.
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.
- 352 pages
- 5-3/4 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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