Remembering a Great Jewish Historian and Fearless Polemicist

Yesterday was the 29th anniversary of the death of the great Jewish historian Lucy Dawidowicz. Robert King, a professor of Yiddish and a longtime friend, reminisces about her scholarship, her trenchant and often biting essays, and her sometimes fierce personality. He begins with the second time he heard her speak:

Lucy (she shoved aside my “Professor Dawidowicz” the first time I used it) gave . . . a marvelous lecture on the controversial role—actually, in her view, the lack of a role—that the American left had played during the Holocaust; the gray establishment (and conservative) Jews had done a lot more to save Jewish lives, as she saw it. That was what got Lucy Dawidowicz in the trouble she enjoyed so much: tossing Molotov history-cocktails expertly into previously quiet, still corners of liberal Jewish guilt and ambiguity. . . .

The book, however, that brought her to widest recognition and controversy was The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 (1975). In it she argued that Hitler’s driving force was the destruction of world Jewry. . . . Her other books attracted less controversy, but she always had her critics, mostly from the left. Everything she wrote holds up remarkably well, however: A Holocaust Reader (1976); The Holocaust and the Historians (1981)—a harsh criticism of other historians’ evasions and hypocrisy in dealing with the Holocaust. . . . An invaluable guide to her work, and to her as a person, was published posthumously by her friend Neal Kozodoy, What Is the Use of Jewish History?

“Woke” Lucy Dawidowicz was not. But there is a richness in the historical detail of her work that rises above the liberal/conservative, woke/retro binarity. I do not claim to understand the Holocaust very well—why one supposedly civilized, gifted people tried to exterminate another civilized, even more gifted people—but without Lucy Dawidowicz’s books I would understand it not at all. Texture is what she brings to the table; one feels that one was there, grasping at rotten potato peels in the ghetto or in the Ponar forest awaiting a bullet in the back of the neck.

Get unlimited access to Mosaic: Subscribe now

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories FREE.

Register Now

Get unlimited access to Mosaic: Subscribe now

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories FREE.

Register Now

Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Jewish history, Yiddish

Distrust of the Supreme Court Led Likud Voters to Rally around Netanyahu

Jan. 17 2020

A few weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu handily won the Likud party’s primary election, receiving 72 percent of the votes. He won despite the fact that he is facing indictments on corruption charges that could interfere with his ability to govern if he remains Israel’s premier, and despite the credible challenge mounted by his opponent, Gideon Sa’ar. Evelyn Gordon credits the results not to love of Netanyahu but to resentment of Israel’s overweening Supreme Court:

Sign up to read more.

You've read all your free articles for this month. Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture and politics.

Register Now

Sign up to read more.

You've read all your free articles for this month. Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture and politics.

Register Now

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politics, Israeli Supreme Court