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On the eve : the Jews of Europe before the Second World War
Bernard Wasserstein
Adult Nonfiction DS135.E83 W36 2012

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Ten million Jews lived in Europe in the late 1930s, and University of Chicago history professor Wasserstein (Barbarism and Civilization) seeks to restore both the successes and conundrums of the lives of their multifaceted communities that flourished in the face of the fact that whether they remained openly Jewish or tried to assimilate, they were rejected by most other Europeans. Still, Europe's Jews felt a deep sense of rootedness in cities like Amsterdam, Vilna, Minsk, and Salonica, and were often the most literate section of the population. The Jewish press, with at least 854 different publications, was a vibrant, multilingual reflection of the lives of its readers. In the performing arts hundreds of Jewish playwrights, actors, critics, and directors transformed the European stage, and audiences were predominantly Jewish, too. Jewish politics were highly factionalized, raucous, and uncompromising between the wars; Jewish women also played a disproportionate role in the feminist movements all over the continent. Wasserstein even acknowledges the sporting lives of Europe's Jews-particularly at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where 13 Jews won medals (though their triumph was tinged with irony in a Nazi-ruled Germany). A substantive, perceptive, and highly valuable kaddish for lost lives and lost worlds. 16 pages of b&w photos; maps. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Prior to 1939, the Jews of Europe lived in four distinct zones: the western zone encompassing Britain, France, and the Netherlands; the central zone of the German lands, including Austria; the Eastern European world of Polish and Romanian Jewry; and the extreme eastern zone comprising the Soviet Union. While each region had distinct characteristics, Wasserstein (history, Univ. of Chicago) asserts that signs of communal decay can be identified stalking the length and breadth of continental Jewish life. Wasserstein attributes the decline of European Jewry to a low birth rate, increased anti-Semitism across the continent, the exclusion of Jews from public life, intra-Jewish squabbles over limited communal resources during a time of economic crisis, and a lack of political power. VERDICT Although he does not regard the Jews as passive victims, Wasserstein proposes that the Jewish communities were dying out even before the Holocaust, a thesis likely to generate lively discussion as it challenges the nostalgic view of the vitality of Jewish life before 1939. This study, based on extensive research, is well written and is recommended for university libraries and specialized collections. [See Prepub Alert, 11/28/11.]-Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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