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New Book by NYU’s Diner Debunks Myth of Holocaust Silence Among American Jews

January 26, 2009
N-246, 2008-09

Silence about the Holocaust among American Jews is not supported by a trove of religious, cultural, and journalistic archival material, New York University Professor Hasia Diner concludes in her book, We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962 (NYU Press, April).

In fact, she writes, “American Jews told and retold details of the catastrophe in multiple forms. Over and over, men and women asserted the necessity of revisiting it in their institutions and organs of public opinion, in all its horrors. By virtue of belonging to the people who had been targeted for extinction and as the victims’ kin, both literal and metaphoric, they considered it their duty to recite the story of the six million.”

Diner adds that these actions “laid the foundation for the better organized, bigger, and more elaborately funded Holocaust projects of the last decades of the twentieth century.”

Diner’s work challenges the existing post-war narrative of the Holocaust that posits American Jews turned away from the genocide in Europe and instead focused on the comforts of suburbia and other benefits generated by the 1950s economic boom. Previous scholars have contended it was the offspring of Holocaust survivors who brought the horrors of World War II to the public sphere-a development that occurred in the 1960s as a result of either the Eichmann trial early in the decade or the June 1967 Six-Day War in Israel.

An exhaustive review of Jewish life in America over the nearly two decades following World War II reveals the extent to which the Holocaust was a fundamental component in families and communities.

“Some American Jews chiseled references to the tragedy onto cemetery markers and emblazoned them onto the plaques that adorned the walls of Jewish communal buildings,” Diner writes. “Others turned to music, composing, recording and performing what would emerge as a familiar repertoire of works that stood for the Holocaust. Those able to created dances, dramas, pageants, poems, scholarly works, and graphic images that took as their subject something about the Jews who had perished.”

In a starred review, Kirkus Review writes it is “a work of towering research and conviction,” adding that “Diner is particularly compelling in her exploration of how the postwar Jewish liberal agenda-transformed by the experience of the Holocaust, immigration discrimination, and anti-Semitism in America-boldly embraced the civil-rights crusade.”

Diner, a professor in NYU’s Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, has also authored The Jews of the United States, 1645 to 2000 (2004) and The Lower East Side Memories: The Jewish Place in America (2000), among other works.

For review copies, contact Betsy Steve, NYU Press, at 212.992.9991 or betsy.steve@nyu.edu. Reporters interested in speaking with Diner should contact James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or james.devitt@nyu.edu.

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Graduate School of Arts and Science, Research

Type: Press Release

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