West European Jewish Communities after the Holocaust
David Weinberg’s multi-national study, focusing on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, offers a wide lens through which to view post-war efforts to help Jewish communal life recover its voice and its raison d’être. By underscoring the similarities in the situation facing Jews across borders, he demonstrates how the three communities with the aid of international Jewish organizations utilized unprecedented means to meet unprecedented challenges. His thematic approach adds much to our understanding of post-war European Jewish life.
David Weinberg’s multi-national study focuses on the efforts by the Jews of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands to reconstruct their lives after the Second World War. These efforts have largely been ignored, perhaps because the emphasis on assisting survivors in displaced persons camps in occupied Germany, Austria, and Italy and in developing Israel as the centre of the Jewish world after the Holocaust diverted attention from the struggle by Jews in western Europe to recover their voice and sense of purpose. Weinberg attempts to set the record straight, presenting the challenges that were faced both in the national context and in the world Jewish arena and examining how they were dealt with.
Weinberg begins his study by reviewing the action taken to revive Jewish communities in the three countries materially and institutionally, remodelling them as efficient, self-sustaining, and assertive bodies that could meet new challenges. With the creation of the State of Israel, Jews who stayed in western Europe had to defend their decision to do so while nevertheless showing public support for the new nation. There was also a felt need to respond quickly and effectively to any sign of antisemitism. In addition, tensions arose between Jews and non-Jews concerning wartime collaboration in deportations, and the need to memorialize Jewish victims of Nazism. The Cold War offered challenges of its own: the perceived need to exclude communist elements from communal affairs was countered by a resistance to pressures from American Jewish leaders to sever links with Jews in eastern Europe. Yet beneath the show of assertiveness Jewish life was fragile, not only because of the physical depletion of the population and of its leadership but because the Holocaust had shaken religious beliefs and affiliations and had raised questions about the value of preserving ethnic and religious identity. At the same time, new forms of Jewish consciousness had evolved, meaning that Jewish leaders had to provide for diverse educational, religious, and cultural needs.
This book's comprehensive approach offers a broad and valuable addition to existing studies on the regeneration of Jewish life in individual European countries. Underscoring the similar political, cultural, social, and economic issues facing Jewish survivors in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands after the Holocaust, David Weinberg demonstrates how, with the aid of international Jewish organizations, they used unprecedented means to meet unprecedented challenges. It is a story worth telling that adds much to our understanding of postwar European Jewish life.
David Weinberg is Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University and Wayne State University. From 1993 through 2013, he served as Director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies and Professor of History at Wayne State University in Detroit. He has been a visiting professor in modern Jewish history at the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Pennsylvania, the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Dr Weinberg earned his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. He is the former editor of Shoah and member of the Academic Advisory Board of Shofar and serves on the academic advisory boards of the Wayne State University Press and the Holocaust Memorial Center of Detroit. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Loewenstein-Wiener Fellowship from the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives of Hebrew Union College and a Wayne State University Distinguished Faculty Fellowship and Faculty Recognition Award. He is the author of Community on Trial: The Jews of Paris in the 1930s and Between Tradition and Modernity: Haim Zhitlowski, Simon Dubnow, Ahad Ha-Am, and the Shaping of Modern Jewish Identity. He has published and lectured extensively in America, Europe, and Israel on modern European Jewish history and the Holocaust.
Note on Transliteration
List of Abbreviations
1 Return, Relief, and Rehabilitation
2 Restructuring European Jewish Communities: Hopes and Realities
3 The Challenge of a Jewish State
4 Antisemitism and the Historical Memory of the Second World War
5 The Cold War: A Community Divided
6 Towards the Future: Religious, Educational,and Cultural Reconstruction
Conclusion: The 1960s and Beyond
Resources for Further Research
‘This meticulously researched book explains why Jews stayed in Europe after the Holocaust and the challenges they faced . . . indispensable reading for the understanding of the situation of Jews in today's Europe.’
Michael Brenner, Chair of Jewish History and Culture, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, and Director, Center for Israel Studies, American University, Washington DC
‘This deeply researched, nuanced, and illuminating analysis of the reconstruction of Jewish life in western and central Europe (chiefly France, Belgium, and the Netherlands) in the several decades after 1945 fills a real scholarly need. Among other things it demonstrates that despite the views of many contemporaries, Jewish and non-Jewish, the Holocaust did not put an end to meaningful Jewish life on the continent. Nor did the triumphant establishment of the State of Israel, despite its claims on the allegiance of all Jews. In fact, well-organized and culturally significant Jewish communities albeit highly diverse and contentious) eventually re-emerged and played a significant role within world Jewry in the second half of the twentieth century. Weinberg shows how the foundations were laid for this remarkable development. This is also a most timely study. Although it deals mainly with the 1940s and 1950s, it appears at a moment when once again, although under very different circumstances, the question of the future of European Jewry is the subject of a great debate. For all these reasons Weinberg’s landmark study deserves a wide readership.’
Ezra Mendelsohn, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
‘In 1945 the Jewish communities of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands seemed to have been left with little more than a catastrophic past; the future seemed almost too bleak to contemplate. Within two decades, however, new foundations had been laid and new organizational structures set up, and each community was evolving in its own way and with its own new dynamic. Some would call this a miracle, but David Weinberg shows that it was actually the result of a historical process achieved through far-reaching vision and purposeful human action. Combining detailed information with overview and analysis, he reconstructs the interplay between individuals and institutions that determined this historical process. Carefully researched and clearly written, it is an important contribution to our understanding of this period.’
J.C.H. Blom, Professor Emeritus of Dutch History, University of Amsterdam; former director of the Netherlands Institute of War Documentation
‘David Weinberg’s Recovering A Voice provides a clear and comprehensive overview of the institutional rebirth of the French, Belgian, and Dutch Jewish communities in post-Holocaust Europe. His well researched study offers an indispensable and impartial account, warts and all, of the complex political, cultural and ideological interactions and tensions among American, British, and continental Jewish actors as they charted postwar Jewish life both before and after the birth of the State of Israel in a setting dominated by the Cold War. The significance of Weinberg’s book transcends the postwar time period he set out to study. For the tensions he analyzes reappear, virtually unchanged, in the post-1989 European Jewish setting, leading one to wonder about the actual weight of these recovered Jewish voices in an ever more torn Jewish world.’
Diana Pinto, author of ‘A New Jewish Identity for Post-1989 Europe’