The Holocaust in American life /

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Main Author: Novick, Peter, 1934-
Format: Book
Language:English
Published:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
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Review by Choice Review

With probing intelligence and wide-ranging archival and secondary research, Novick (Univ. of Chicago) demonstrates how and why American Jewish perceptions of the Holocaust have changed so radically over time. Having marginalized the Holocaust until the 1960s, American Jews came to rediscover and reinterpret its significance, canonizing it as central to group identity and successfully projecting it as a unique catastrophe bearing singular and universal lessons for humanity. Novick's analysis of the confluence of sociological and historical factors contributing to this phenomenon, the core of his work, is relentlessly thorough, acutely insightful, and intellectually exciting, making his book required reading for anyone interested in the Holocaust and its cultural place in American life. The text is less convincing, however, in its overarching historiosophic reflections, which are historically flawed and polemical in nature. A secular Jew, Novick laments American Jewish "Holocaust fixation," which has reinforced an inward Jewish retreat that supplanted his favored liberal social values, and he argues that Jews can and ought to change their Holocaust-centered orientation. But he fails to grapple with the fundamental issue of how the Holocaust ought to be remembered. He errs in assuming that his historicization of this process renders the truths about the Holocaust at which Jews have arrived contrived and faulty. All levels. B. Kraut; CUNY Queens College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An exceptionally interesting, prodigiously researched study of how the Holocaust has been understood and the uses to which it has been put, in American--particularly American Jewish--political, communal, and intellectual affairs. Novick (History/Univ. of Chicago; The Resistance Versus Vichy, not reviewed) notes that until about 1965, the Holocaust was ""marginalized"" in American life, subsumed under the Cold War's political dynamics, as well as its cultural and pedagogic agenda. A wide variety of forces, from the Eichmann trial to the rise of identity politics and concomitant focus on ""victimization,"" led to the Holocaust becoming ""centered in American life."" In the 1980s and particularly the '90s, with Holocaust education made compulsory in the high schools of several states, the erection of Holocaust memorials, and the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., it came to have ""transcendent status as the bearer of eternal truths or lessons that could be derived from contemplating it."" American Jewish leaders were instrumental in furthering this process, both to garner support for Israel and as pan of their effort to deter assimilation. The Holocaust has achieved, in one of Novick's more polemically charged phrases, a ""perverse sacralization."" Yet parts of his book seem to argue against this thesis, or at least to demonstrate that Holocaust-centeredness may be an ephemeral phenomenon. Novick notes how superficial, and sometimes opportunistic or manipulative, allusions to the Holocaust from both ends of the political spectrum have been; he wonders how long it will be before Holocaust memorials become ""part of the tuned-out urban background""; and he maintains that the memory of the Shoah has had a negligible influence on Washington's response to genocide in places like Biafra and Cambodia. Concerning America's hesitant response to Serb atrocities in Bosnia, for example, he asserts that ""'the lessons of Vietnam' . . . easily trumped 'the lessons of Holocaust.'"" Inconsistent in its approach, occasionally characterized by rhetorically overcharged prose, this well-written, richly layered, pathbreaking work nonetheless deserves a wide readership. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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