Lucy Dawidowicz Vilna 1939
Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Vilna 1939

Thirty years after her death, the historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1915-1990) is not well-remembered, although the title of her seminal book The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 is. In fact, “The War Against the Jews” is a phrase used in the exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The phrase asserts Dawidowicz’s fundamental argument: that the Nazis waged a deliberate and particularistic war of annihilation against European Jewry while prosecuting a conventional war for territory and global political power.

In her book, Dawidowicz analyzed both Nazi antisemitism and the Jewish communal response to the Nazis’ assault, marking a new, integrated approach to the study of the catastrophe that focused on Jewish as well as German sources. This book, and her earlier 1967 anthology The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life in Eastern Europe, made Dawidowicz a household name in the postwar years as Americans came to terms with the destruction of European Jewry. Both books emphasized the distinctiveness of the East European Jewish culture that the Germans and their allies had successfully destroy, a culture that Dawidowicz hoped would deepen the Jewish commitments of postwar American Jews.

Nancy Sinkoff, professor of Jewish studies and history, and academic director of the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, has just published the first comprehensive biography of Lucy S. Dawidowicz, From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History (Wayne State UP, 2020). From Left to Right not only explores Dawidowicz’s contribution to Holocaust historiography, but also her evolving political views. Dawidowicz, like many other immigrant children, notably the famous “New York intellectuals,” was a youthful communist, became an FDR democrat midcentury, and later championed neoconservatism. Sinkoff argues that Dawidowicz’s rightward shift emerged out of living in prewar Poland, watching the Holocaust unfold from New York City, and working with displaced persons in postwar Germany. Based on over forty-five archival collections, From Left to Right chronicles Dawidowicz’s life as a window into the major events and issues of twentieth-century Jewish life.

From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History can be purchased here using the code SS20 for 30% off the cover price.

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