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Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz (June 16, 1915 – December 5, 1990), was an American historian and an author of books on modern Jewish history, in particular books on the Holocaust (lived in Wilno 1938- August 1939)
Dawidowicz's first interests were poetry and literature. She attended Hunter College from 1932 to 1936 and obtained a B.A.in English. She went on to study for a M.A. at Columbia University, but abandoned her studies because of concerns over events in Europe. At the encouragement of her mentor, the historian Jacob Shatzky, Dawidowicz decided to focus on history, especially Jewish history. Dawidowicz made the decision to learn Yiddish and at Shatzky's urging, in 1938 she traveled to Wilno, Poland (modern Vilnius, Lithuania) to work at the Yiddish Scientific Institute (known by its Yiddish acronym as the YIVO).
Dawidowicz lived in Wilno until August 1939 when she returned to the United States. During her time at the YIVO, she became close to three of the leading scholars there, namely Zelig Kalmanovich, Max Weinreich and Zalmen Reisen. Only Weinreich survived the Holocaust and that only because he went to New York to establish a branch of the YIVO there before World War II. In particular, Dawidowicz was very close to Kalmanovich and his family, whom she described as being her real parents. During her time in Poland, she encountered anti-Semitism from the local Gentile population and her later writings on Gentile-Jewish relations in Poland were very much coloured by her memories of the time in Wilno. Dawidowicz was well known for her view that the vast majority of the Roman Catholic population in Poland was virulently anti-Semitic before and during World War II. Other historians, such as Norman Davies, have objected to the factual validity of this portrayal of Gentile-Jewish relations.
From 1940 until 1946, Dawidowicz worked as a researcher at the New York office of the YIVO. During the war, she was aware that something horrible was happening to the Jewish people of Europe, though it was not until after the war that she finally became aware of the full extent of the Holocaust.
In 1946, Dawidowicz traveled to Germany where she worked as an aid worker for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in the various Displaced Persons (DP) camps. During this period, she involved herself in the search for various looted YIVO books in Frankfurt. Only after the war, did she realize the full extent of the Jewish catastrophe, when she became involved with providing aid for Holocaust survivors. By her own admission, she was full of sorrow over the fate of European Jews, hatred for the Germans and pride in the tenacity of Holocaust survivors. In particular, she was filled with sadness as she realized that the world of Eastern European Jewry that she had encountered and lived among in Poland before the war had been destroyed forever, and all that was left of it were the emaciated survivors she was working with and her own memories. Moreover, Dawidowicz found it very poignant that she had left that world in August 1939; a month before the process of destruction had begun.
In 1947, she returned to the U.S. and on January 3, 1948, she married a Polish Jew named Szymon Dawidowicz. Upon her return to the U.S. she worked as a researcher for the novelist John Hersey's book The Wall, a dramatization of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. From 1948 until 1960, Dawidowicz worked as a historical researcher for the American Jewish Committee. During the same period, Dawidowicz wrote frequently for the Commentary, the New York Times and the New York Times Book Review. An enthusiastic New York Mets fan, Dawidowicz lived the rest of her life in New York. In 1985, she founded the Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature from Yiddish and Hebrew into English. A fierce anti-Communist, Dawidowicz often campaigned for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel.
Works and opinions
Dawidowicz's major interests were the Holocaust and Jewish history. A passionate Zionist, Dawidowicz believed that had Israel been established prior to the Holocaust there would have been a place of refuge for Europe's Jews who were targeted for destruction, and the overwhelming majority of European Jews would have been saved. Dawidowicz took a Intentionist line on the origins of the Holocaust. Dawidowicz contended that it was Adolf Hitler's intention to exterminate the entire Jewish population of the world. Dawidowicz argued that right from the moment that Hitler first heard of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, he conceived his master plan for the Holocaust and everything he did from time onward was directed toward the achievement of this goal. In Dawidowicz's opinion, Hitler had already "openly espoused his program of annihilation" when he wrote Mein Kampf in 1924. Dawidowicz's conclusions were that: "Through a maze of time, Hitler's decision of November 1918 led to Operation Barbarossa. There never had been any ideological deviation or wavering determination. In the end only the question of opportunity mattered".
In her view, the overwhelming majority of Germans ascribed to the völkische anti-Semitism from the 1870s onward, and it was this morbid anti-Semitism that attracted support for Hitler and the Nazis. Dawidowicz believed that there was a symbiotic relationship between Hitler and the German people. Hitler needed the German people to accomplish his plans for aggression and genocide, and the German people needed Hitler's anti-Semitism to fill their lives with a sense of worldwide superiority. Dawidowicz maintained that from the Middle Ages onward, German society and culture were suffused with anti-Semitism and there was a direct link from medieval pogroms to the Nazi death camps of the 1940s. In her view, Nazi Germany was a well-organized totalitarian machine with Hitler guiding and directing every step of his carefully thought-out master plan for genocide with the German people as Hitler's enthusiastic accomplices and followers. Citing the work of Fritz Fischer, Dawidowicz argued that there were powerful lines of continuity in German history and there was a Sonderweg (Special Path), which led Germany inevitably to Nazism.
Dawidowicz criticized revisionist historians who offered incorrect and sympathetic views of the Nazis. For Dawidowicz, National Socialism was the essence of total evil, and she wrote that movement was the "... daemon let loose in society, Cain in corporate embodiment". Regarding foreign policy questions, she sharply disagreed with Taylor over his book The Origins of the Second World War. In even stronger terms, she condemned the American neo-Nazi historian David Hoggan for his book War Forced on Germany. In the same vein, she fiercely disapproved of David Irving and was enraged by his book Hitler's War with its suggestion that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust. Dawidowicz criticized the work of German historians who sought to minimize German complicity in Nazi era's attempt to murder all of Europe's Jews. In her view, historians who took a functionalist line on the origins of the Holocaust question were guilty of ignoring their responsibility to historical truth.
She accused the British historian Norman Davies of seeking to whitewash Polish anti-Semitism and of being an anti-Semite himself. During the same period, Dawidowicz denounced the work of the philosopher Ernst Nolte, whom she accused of seeking to justify the Holocaust. In response to her criticism of Norman Davies some in the academic community argued that Dawidowicz labeled anyone as anti-Semitic who did not mirror her views, and used the label indiscriminately in an effort to smear and discredit historians with varying interpretations of the events in question.
In her The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, she writes that anti-Semitism has had a long history within Christianity. In her opinion, the line of "anti-Semitic descent" from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler was "easy to draw." She wrote that Hitler and Luther were both obsessed by the "demonologized universe" inhabited by Jews, and that the similarities between Luther's anti-Jewish writings and modern anti-Semitism are no coincidence, because they derived from a common history of Judenhass, which can be traced to Haman's advice to Ahasuerus. Although modern German anti-Semitism also has its roots in German nationalism, Christian anti-Semitism was a foundation she says was laid by the Roman Catholic Church and "upon which Luther built."
Some of her notable books include The War Against the Jews 1933-1945, her best-selling 1975 history of the Holocaust, and The Holocaust and the Historians,a study of Holocaust historiography. A collection of her essays relating to Jewish history, What Is the Use of Jewish History?was published posthumously in 1992.
Dawidowicz wrote the critically acclaimed The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe to document Jewish civilization in Eastern Europe prior to its destruction in the Holocaust. In On Equal Terms: Jews in America, 1881-1981,Dawidowicz wrote an account of Jews in the United States that reflected an appreciation for her American citizenship, which saved her from being a victim herself in the Holocaust.
* co-written with Leon J. Goldstein Politics In A Pluralist Democracy; studies of voting in the 1960 election, with a foreword by Richard M. Scammon, New York, Institute of Human Relations Press, 1963.
1. ^ Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship London: Edward Arnold 2000 page 97.
* Bessel, Richard Review of The Holocaust and Historians, Times Higher Education Supplement, March 19, 1982, page 14.
* Guide to the Papers of Lucy S. Dawidowicz
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Dawidowicz"
Published: December 6, 1990
Lucy S. Dawidowicz, a scholar of Jewish life and history whose book "The War Against the Jews" is widely regarded as a pioneering study of the Nazi genocide, died early Wednesday in Manhattan. She was 75 years old and lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Mrs. Dawidowicz, the daughter of Polish immigrants, was at the center of the study of the modern Jewish experience at Yeshiva University, where she held a chair in interdisciplinary Holocaust studies. Early in her career, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, she went to Europe, where she helped Jewish survivors of the war to re-create schools and libraries, and she recovered vast collections of books seized by the Nazis.
Before that, while in her early 20's, she had lived in Vilna, Poland, from 1938 to 1939, where she witnessed the onslaught of European anti-Semitism, writing about the experience in a memoir, "From That Place and Time," published by W. W. Norton last year. Her other books include "The Jewish Presence" (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) in 1977 and "The Holocaust and the Historians" (Harvard University Press), a critical survey of scholarship on the Holocaust, in 1981. Hopes Turn to Agonies
"There was a certain irony to my trip to Vilna," Mrs. Dawidowicz told an interviewer for Publisher's Weekly last year, speaking of her pre-war experience in Poland. "I went there with the romantic belief that it might become the world center for a self-sustaining Yiddish culture."
When she saw what turned out to be the beginning of the end of Jewish life in Poland, she immersed herself in Yiddish literature and Jewish history, so that she could help to preserve Jewish culture in the postwar world.
Mrs. Dawidowicz (pronounced dah-vee-DOH-vich), a small energetic woman who spoke in the accents of the Bronx, engaged in heated arguments within Jewish circles over both the nature of the Holocaust and the responsibility of American Jews for not doing more to prevent it.
Her major work, "The War Against the Jews," postulates that the destruction of the Jews was a central and inescapable element in Nazi ideology and was always a principle war aim of Hitler, just as important as his military conquest of Europe. In this view, she conflicted with other historians, who believed that the Holocaust was not a necessary part of the Nazi program but evolved in response to such circumstances as the defeats on the Eastern front. Evidence Over Passion
"The War Against the Jews" (Holt, Rinehart & Winston) was called "a work of high scholarship and profound moral import" by Irving Howe, in his review in The New York Times Book Review. It is marked above all by its sobriety. Mrs. Dawidowicz allows the coolly accumulated weight of detail -- the growing force of the Nazi's anti-Semitic juggernaut, the evolution of the camps as places of scientific murder, the efforts by the victims to hold onto fragments of normal life -- to create its emotional and intellectual impact.
Mrs. Dawidowicz refused to judge the failure of the Jews themselves to mount a more active resistance to the genocide, and in this she clashed bitterly with a number of other historians.
Her belief was twofold. First, she felt it morally inappropriate for those who did not face the persecutions themselves to criticize the behavior of those who did. Second, she felt that in any case, Jewish resistance was doomed to failure. Given the Jews' isolation, their lack of arms and the overwhelming material superiority of their enemies, there was virtually nothing they could have done to alter their fate, she wrote. Defended Role of Jews
In her book "The Holocaust and the Historians," Mrs. Davidowicz is critical of a number of historians and commentators -- Bruno Bettelheim, Hannah Arendt and Raul Hilberg are among those she mentions -- who described the European Jews during the war as passive, cowardly or, in the case of the Judenrat, set up by the Nazis as self-governing boards in the ghettos, even collaborationist.
Similarly, Mrs. Dawidowicz rejected a chorus of opinion to the effect that Jews in the United States were guilty of complacency and a failure to react effectively to the Holocaust.
In articles in Commentary magazine and The New York Times, she wrote, first, that the Jews here did undertake wipespread efforts to awaken the government and world opinion to the fate of the European Jews. Second, she argued that, in any case, whatever might have been done here, the Jews of Europe were caught in a vise from which virtually no escape was ever possible. The only way to save them, she believed, was to militarily defeat the Nazis as quickly as possible, and that fact justified the Allies' concentration on the war effort, rather than on efforts to save the Jews.
Mrs. Dawidowicz, whose maiden name was Lucy Schildkret, was born in New York in 1915 and educated at Hunter College and Columbia University. She recounts in "From That Time and Place" how she began to work for YIVO's Manhattan branch after her year in Vilna. She met her husband, Szymon Dawidowicz, an escapee from Poland there. Mr. Dawidowicz died in 1979.
Mrs. Dawidowicz, who had no children, is survived by her sister, Eleanor Sapak.