In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Rights Protection Has a Geography
  • Rebekah Klein-Pejšová (bio)

How shall we address the question of Jewish rights protections? To what extent have we become beholden to a conventional, "lazy dichotomy between nationhood and cosmopolitanism" in considering the issue?1 Between particular and universal claims? Must we imagine the quest as Jews (as members of the group) or as individuals? Can we even separate the two?

Time and place dictate our challenges and opportunities in answering the question of rights protections. In 1946, United States Army general Mark W. Clark called on Jewish displaced persons remaining in the American zone in Austria to carefully ponder their present position and where their best chance for future security and economic independence might lie. He urged them to go home, underscoring the difficulty of emigration to North and South American countries that let in only small numbers of people annually.2 Home was in the countries from which they had been uprooted and which would soon lie behind the Iron Curtain. Jews who chose to go home would largely face two choices after 1948: they could emigrate and take on a Jewish nationality within the newly established State of Israel, or they could completely and fully assimilate at home.3 Rights protection has a geography.

James B. Loeffler's Rooted Cosmopolitans is a genealogy of modern human rights that confronts head-on the complicated history binding human rights and nationalism. It insists that we reckon with the "twin births" of the State of Israel and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.4 His "rooted cosmopolitans"—postwar Jewish rights defenders—sought to cultivate universal justice from Jewish particularisms and in so doing, Loeffler argues, brought about the emergence of what we consider modern human rights, a universal model that would twist and tangle in the winds of the Cold War.5 His book raises many important and difficult questions with urgent implications for [End Page 171] the implementation of rights protections today. Where does collective self-determination fit into the postwar paradigm? Is not autonomy the hinge from which other rights hang? How and where, for whom and by whom is self-determination acknowledged? How painful is the realization that folding the particular into the universal demands our mutuality? Self-defense requires concrete politics, yet so does universal rights protection.

Loeffler locates the origin of modern human rights not in the postwar era but in the aftermath of the First World War. His is an analysis that connects the civilian catastrophe of the First World War with recognition of the need for international rights protections through the work of Jewish activists. Loeffler highlights the link between the often-overlooked Jewish experience of wartime and postwar violence and the crises with rising Jewish solidarity, self-defense, and nation building.6 "This history [of modern human rights] begins … in the living shtetls of Eastern Europe," he writes, rather than in the global response to the events of the Holocaust. "Post–World War II international human rights began life as a specifically Jewish pursuit of minority rights in the ravaged borderlands of post–World War I Eastern Europe."7 Loeffler unfolds his story beginning with a vivid description of the November 1918 pogrom in what was then Lemberg (Lviv, Lwów), allowing us to imagine what the photographer covering the story for an unnamed Prague newspaper could not, in good conscience, capture on film.

We recognize similar developments across the new and transformed states of Central and Eastern Europe that emerged from the dissolved Habsburg, German, Ottoman, and Russian Empires. In the territory of Slovakia, for instance, the Jewish People's Union (Volksverband der Juden für die Slovakei) sought to unite the Jewish population there to face the newly established Czechoslovak state as a Jewish national minority, largely in response to the anti-Jewish riots of November 1918 and those that followed during the Hungarian Red Army's invasion and occupation in the spring of 1919. The Jewish People's Union sent a copy of its manifesto ("Jewish Brothers!") to the American Jewish [End Page 172] Committee in New York, its letterhead featuring Rabbi Hillel's resonant question "If I am not for...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 171-178
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.