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Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23.1 (2004) 133-137

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Current Perspectives on the Holocaust

Review Essay

Purdue University Calumet
Holocaust: A History, by Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2002. 444 pp. $27.95.
The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. Paperback edition 2002. 836 pp. $35.00.

Far more than just another survey of the Holocaust, the recent publication, Holocaust: A History, by Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, is an important contribution to Holocaust studies for at least two reasons: first, as a new, insightful, comprehensive approach to the Holocaust; second, because it has incorporated many of the most recent interpretations and information on the topic and has included much new material developed by its authors. The very comprehensiveness of its approach makes this work somewhat less precisely focused than earlier important general interpretations, such as The War Against the Jews, 1933-45 (1975, 1986) by Lucy Dawidowicz, Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews (originally published in 1961 and subsequently revised and expanded) and others. One of the major reasons for the inclusion in Holocaust: A History of the multiplicity of issues and perspectives is that the Dwork and van Pelt book reflects a broadening of recent interpretations of the Holocaust, as was described and documented in the numerous and varied essay collection ably edited by Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck and entitled, The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined (1998, 2002).

A paperback version of the 1998 publication, the 2002 edition of the Berenbaum and Peck collection, published by Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, has increased the availability of this fine selection of interpretive and historiographical essays. The essays were originally presented as a part of the effort of the United States Holocaust Research Institute, affiliated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "to take stock of the field, to consider where it had been and where it must go" (p. xii). The title of the effort was "The Holocaust: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined," which has been made a part of the title employed by Berenbaum and Peck for the publication of the collection of essays. Organized under eleven headings, the essays that [End Page 133] make up The Holocaust and History surveyed major issues, themes, and topics relating to study of the Holocaust. The purpose of the collection was "to present the state of Holocaust studies on the brink of the twenty-first century." As the editors indicated, the book "examines what has been understood from the ashes, what cannot be understood—or is not yet understood. It considers what has been misunderstood, where our insights have taken us, and where they have failed" (p. xii). The book has effectively done that, for the essays are well developed, well written, thoughtful, interesting, and based on current analyses of the field. Collectively, they are an excellent summary of the status of Holocaust studies at the end of the twentieth century. The lead essays by Raul Hilberg, Yehuda Bauer, Eberhard Jackel, and Michael Marrus that make up the first section of the book set a tone of assessment, critical evaluation, and projection of future directions that were elaborated in the other sections of the book. Sections of the book included essays on antisemitism, science and racial policy, deciding on and implementing the Holocaust, the behavior of "ordinary men," Nazi mistreatment of non-Jews, the concentration camp experience, world response to the plight of the Jews, Jewish resistance, rescuers, and survivors. The breadth and scope of the book, along with the quality of the essays, is to be commended and speaks well for the book's comprehensiveness and authoritativeness. This volume is strongly recommended for scholars and laypersons alike, and the paperback edition should make more likely a broader audience for this important volume...


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