Were American Jews silent during the Holocaust? Scholar finds her answer in public record

We Remember with Reverence and Love

We Remember with Reverence and Love

by Leon Cohen

In the summer of 1956, teens at the Reform movement’s Union Institute camp (later renamed Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute) in Oconomowoc, Wis., published their own literary magazine.

And while this magazine was filled with recollections of camp activities, the teens who wrote the articles obviously felt haunted by something else — the destruction of European Jewry during World War II; and they referred to it often.

New York University historian Hasia R. Diner mentioned and quoted from this magazine at the beginning of her 2009 book, “We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust 1945–1962” (New York University Press, 2009).

That magazine was just one item in an abundance of evidence Diner had uncovered showing that, contrary to a commonly believed myth, during the first two decades after World War II, Jews throughout the United States were not indifferent to, nor did they try to avoid or suppress discussion of, the Holocaust.

Indeed, as Diner said in a telephone interview on April 16, “I was pretty irritated, kind of appalled, by the way other historians wrote about this subject” because they made their claims without evidence and in the interest of furthering political agendas.

In fact, “the public record is so different,” she said. “All over the country, there was engagement, public programs, ceremonies, written material,” plus survivors “being interviewed, giving public testimony, creating survivor organizations and being connected to other American Jewish organizations.”

The book she wrote about this won a 2009 National Jewish Book Award from the Jewish Book Council and the American Jewish Studies/Celebrate 350 Award.

Diner will be speaking about her findings in Milwaukee at a Distinguished Scholar Luncheon sponsored by the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

The event celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month and will take place on Thursday, May 13, noon, at the Rubenstein Pavilion of the Jewish Home and Care Center.

State native

Diner has more than one reason for opening her book with an instance from Wisconsin. She herself is a state native.

She grew up on Milwaukee’s West Side. Her father was Morris Schwartzman, director of and teacher at the United Hebrew School, which met at the Beth Am Center that once existed on Burleigh St.

Not only did she study Hebrew with him, but her father and stepmother, Holocaust survivor Ita Eichenbaum (her birth mother, Esther, died when Hasia was 2), spoke Yiddish at home.

Schwartzman also was an active Labor Zionist, and Hasia during her teen years belonged to Habonim, the movement’s youth organization, she said.

When she began doing graduate study in American history, she said, she realized that her background would help her do pioneering work in American Jewish history.

“The fact that I had a reading knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish meant that I was able to do research in sources that many others could not,” Diner said. “It opened up the possibility of studying aspects of American history through the medium of American Jewish history.”

Diner is also very interested in women’s history, for much the same reason that she is interested in American Jewish history – because American history “looks different when you look at it from the margins rather than from the center,” which has been “white, male, middle class Protestant men.”

Her other books have included “The Jews of the United States: 1654 to 2000” (2004) and “Her Works Praise Her: A History of Jewish Women in America from Colonial Times to the Present” (2002).

Diner currently is Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History and director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History at NYU.

She is married to Steve Diner, chancellor of Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and has three grown children.

From The Jewish Chronicle

The original text of the review may be found here.


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