Posts Tagged ‘‘The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust’’

Book on Vanished Jewish Communities of the Holocaust

March 31, 2020

Shmuel Spector, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, 3 vols. (New York University Press, 2001). 

I found this book in the latest Postscript catalogue for April 2020. The blurb for it goes

Profiling more than 6,500 Jewish communities, with over 600 photographs, 17 pages of maps, a chronology and glossary, these volumes are the product of three decades of work at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority of Israel. The alphabetically arranged entries provide details of the history, people and customs of communities, large and small, that thrived throughout much of Europe, north Africa and the Middle East during the early part of the 20th century, but were changed irrevocably by the Holocaust.

The price is beyond most people’s pockets. It was £173.00, but Postscript are offering it at £75. It might, however, be available from an academic library.

I’ve absolutely no problem with this book whatsoever. The college where I did my undergraduate degree, the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, which became part of the University of Gloucestershire, hosted an exhibitions of photos of the shtetl Jewish communities of eastern Europe. There is, however, a moral problem with Yad Vashem. While it’s entirely correct to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, critics of the museum have complained that it acts to sanitise some of the world’s worst political leaders when they turn up on an official visit to make a deal. These have included real Nazis and anti-Semites, people responsible for horrific crimes against humanity, authoritarians with absolutely no regard for the value of human life. But these people suddenly become worthy friends of Israel and its people by the simple act of making a visit to Yad Vashem as part of their itinerary and laying a wreath or making some other gesture of mourning.

The activity of Yad Vashem in researching and documenting the Jewish communities destroyed by the Holocaust in Europe also has a counterpart among the Palestinians. They are also active doing the same for the Palestinian communities destroyed during the Nakba, the term they use for their violent ethnic cleansing at the foundation of Israel. In contrast to the victims of the Jewish genocide, I very much doubt that any western publisher will bring out a book on these lost communities.

Because if they did, the Israel lobby and someone like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Board of Deputies of British Jews would almost certainly accuse them of anti-Semitism.