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Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz (June 16, 1915 – December 5, 1990), was an American historian and an author of books on modern Jewish history, in particular books on the Holocaust.


Dawidowicz was born in New York Citymarker as Lucy Schildkret. Her parents, Max and Victoria (née Ofnaem) Schildkret were secular-minded Jews with little interest in religion. Dawidowicz did not attend a service at a synagogue until 1938.

Dawidowicz's first interests were poetry and literature. She attended Hunter Collegemarker from 1932 to 1936 and obtained a B.A. in English. She went on to study for a M.A. at Columbia University, but abandoned her studies because of concerns over events in Europe. At the encouragement of her mentor, the historian Jacob Shatzky, Dawidowicz decided to focus on history, especially Jewish history. Dawidowicz made the decision to learn Yiddish and at Shatzky's urging, in 1938 she travelled to Wilnomarker, Polandmarker (modern Vilniusmarker, Lithuaniamarker) to work at the Yiddish Scientific Institute (known by its Yiddish acronym as the YIVO). With the help of Shatzky she became a research fellow there.

Dawidowicz lived in Wilno until August 1939 when she returned to the United Statesmarker. During her time at the YIVO, she became close to three of the leading scholars there, namely Zelig Kalmanovich, Max Weinreich and Zalmen Reisen. Only Weinreich survived the Holocaust and that only because he went to New York to establish a branch of the YIVO there before World War II. In particular, Dawidowicz was very close to Kalmanovich and his family, whom she described as being her real parents.

From 1940 until 1946, Dawidowicz worked as an assistant to a research director at the New Yorkmarker office of the YIVO. During the war, like most Americans, she was aware of the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people in Europe, though it was not until after the war that she finally became aware of the full extent of the Holocaust.

In 1946, Dawidowicz traveled back to Europe where she worked as an aid worker for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in the various Displaced Persons (DP) camps. During this period, she involved herself in the search for various looted books in Frankfurtmarker and their retrieval for YIVO. Only after the war, did she realize the full extent of the Jewish catastrophe, when she became involved with providing aid for Holocaust survivors. By her own admission, she was full of sorrow over the fate of European Jews, hatred for the Germans and pride in the tenacity of Holocaust survivors. In particular, she was filled with sadness as she realized that the world of Eastern European Jewry that she had encountered and lived among in Poland before the war had been destroyed forever, and all that was left of it were the emaciated survivors she was working with and her own memories. Moreover, Dawidowicz found it very poignant that she had left that world in August 1939; a month before the process of destruction had begun.

In 1947, she returned to the U.S. and on January 3, 1948, she married a Polish Jew named Szymon Dawidowicz. Upon her return to the U.S. she worked as a researcher for the novelist John Hersey's book The Wall, a dramatization of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. From 1948 until 1960, Dawidowicz worked as a historical researcher for the American Jewish Committee. During the same period, Dawidowicz wrote frequently for the Commentary, the New York Times and the New York Times Book Review. An enthusiastic New York Mets fan, Dawidowicz lived the rest of her life in New York. In 1985, she founded the Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature from Yiddish and Hebrew into English. A fierce anti-Communist, Dawidowicz often campaigned for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israelmarker.

Opinions and criticism

Dawidowicz’s major interests were the Holocaust and Jewish history. A passionate Zionist, Dawidowicz believed that had Israelmarker been established prior to the Holocaust, "the terrible story of six million dead might have had another outcome." Dawidowicz took an Intentionalist line on the origins of the Holocaust. Dawidowicz contended that it was Adolf Hitler's intention to exterminate the entire Jewish population of the world. Dawidowicz argued that right from the moment that Hitler first heard of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, he conceived his master plan for the Holocaust and everything he did from that time onward was directed toward the achievement of this goal. In Dawidowicz's opinion, Hitler had already "openly espoused his program of annihilation" when he wrote Mein Kampf in 1924. Dawidowicz's conclusions were that: "Through a maze of time, Hitler's decision of November 1918 led to Operation Barbarossa. There never had been any ideological deviation or wavering determination. In the end only the question of opportunity mattered".

In her view, the overwhelming majority of Germans subscribed to the völkische antisemitism from the 1870s onward, and it was this morbid antisemitism that attracted support for Hitler and the Nazis. Echoing the arguments made in A.J.P. Taylor's The Course of German History, Dawidowicz believed that there was a symbiotic relationship between Hitler and the German people. Hitler needed the German people to accomplish his plans for aggression and genocide, and the German people needed Hitler’s antisemitism to fill their lives with a sense of worldwide superiority. Dawidowicz maintained that from the Middle Ages onward, German society and culture were suffused with antisemitism and there was a direct link from medieval pogroms to the Nazi death camps of the 1940s. In her view, Nazi Germany was a well-organized totalitarian machine with Hitler guiding and directing every step of his carefully thought-out master plan for genocide with the German people as Hitler’s enthusiastic accomplices and followers. Citing the work of Fritz Fischer, Dawidowicz argued that there were powerful lines of continuity in German history and there was a Sonderweg (Special Path), which led Germany inevitably to Nazism.

Dawidowicz criticized revisionist historians. In her opinion they offered incorrect and sympathetic views of the Nazis. For Dawidowicz, National Socialism was the essence of total evil, and she wrote that movement was the "... daemon let loose in society, Cain in corporate embodiment". Regarding foreign policy questions, she sharply disagreed with Taylor over his book The Origins of the Second World War. In even stronger terms, she condemned the American neo-Nazi historian David Hoggan for his book War Forced on Germany. In the same vein, she fiercely disapproved of David Irving and was enraged by his book Hitler’s War with its suggestion that Hitler was unaware of the Holocaust. Dawidowicz criticized the work of German historians who sought to minimize German complicity in Nazi era's attempt to murder all of Europe's Jews. In her view, historians who took a functionalist line on the origins of the Holocaust question were guilty of ignoring their responsibility to historical truth.

Dawidowicz was a leading critic of the American historian Arno J. Mayer's account of the Holocaust in his 1988 book Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? arguing that Mayer played up anti-communism at the expense of antisemitism as an explanation for the Holocaust. Dawidowicz entitled her review of Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? in the October 1989 edition of Commentary as the "Perversions of the Holocaust". Dawidowicz argued against Mayer that the historical evidence shows that Hitler was not convinced that the war was lost as early as December 1941, and that Mayer's theory is anachronistic. Dawidowicz commented that the Einsatzgruppenmarker had been massacring Jews since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, and that Mayer's claim that the Jews were only surrogate victims due to Germany's inability to defeat the Soviet Union was in her opinion rubbish. Dawidowicz attacked Mayer for saying that more Jews died at Auschwitz from diseases than from mass gassing, and for writing that Holocaust survivor testimony was highly unreliable as a historical source as supporting Holocaust denial. Dawidowicz questioned Mayer's motives in listing the works of Arthur Butz and Paul Rassinier in his bibliography. Dawidowicz ended her review of Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? by accusing Mayer of excusing German racism, rationalizing the Nazi dictatorship, of portraying Soviet Jews as better off than they were under the Soviet dictatorship, and by presenting the Holocaust as due to reasonable political goals instead of the ideological decision fueled by fanatical antisemitism that Dawidowicz saw as it as.

She accused the British historian Norman Davies of seeking to whitewash Polish antisemitism and of being an anti-Semite himself. During the same period, Dawidowicz denounced the work of the philosopher Ernst Nolte, whom she accused of seeking to justify the Holocaust. In response to her criticism of Norman Davies some in the academic community argued that Dawidowicz labeled anyone as antisemitic who did not mirror her views, and used the label indiscriminately in an effort to smear and discredit historians with varying interpretations of the events in question.

In her The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, she writes that antisemitism has had a long history within Christianity. In her opinion, the line of "antisemitic descent" from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler was "easy to draw." She wrote that Hitler and Luther were both obsessed by the "demonologized universe" inhabited by Jews, and that the similarities between Luther's anti-Jewish writings and modern antisemitism are no coincidence, because they derived from a common history of Judenhass, which can be traced to Haman's advice to Ahasuerus. Although modern German antisemitism also has its roots in German nationalism, she held that Christian antisemitism is linked to the Roman Catholic Church, and that it was the foundation "upon which Luther built."

Some of her notable books include The War Against the Jews 1933-1945, her best-selling 1975 history of the Holocaust, and The Holocaust and the Historians, a study of Holocaust historiography. A collection of her essays relating to Jewish history, What Is the Use of Jewish History?, was published posthumously in 1992.

Dawidowicz wrote the critically acclaimed The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe to document Jewish civilization in Eastern Europe prior to its destruction in the Holocaust. In On Equal Terms: Jews in America, 1881-1981, Dawidowicz wrote an account of Jews in the United States that reflected an appreciation for her American citizenship, which saved her from being a victim herself in the Holocaust.


  • co-written with Leon J. Goldstein Politics In A Pluralist Democracy; studies of voting in the 1960 election, with a foreword by Richard M. Scammon, New York, Institute of Human Relations Press, 1963.
  • (editor) The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life And Thought In Eastern Europe, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1967.
  • Reviews of The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher & The Foreign Policy Of Hitler's Germany by Gerhard Weinberg pages 91–93 from Commentary, Volume 52, Issue # 2, August 1971.
  • The War Against The Jews, 1933-1945, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975 ISBN 0-03-013661-X
  • A Holocaust Reader, New York: Behrman House, 1976 ISBN 0-87441-219-6.
  • The Jewish Presence: Essays On Identity And History, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977 ISBN 0-03-016676-4.
  • Spiritual Resistance: Art From Concentration Camps, 1940-1945 : a selection of drawings and paintings from the collection of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, Israel, with essays by Miriam Novitch, Lucy Dawidowicz, Tom L. Freudenheim, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981 ISBN 0-8074-0157-9.
  • The Holocaust and the Historians, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1981, ISBN 0-674-40566-8
  • On Equal Terms: Jews in America, 1881-1981, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982 ISBN 0-03-061658-1.
  • From That Place And Time: A Memoir, 1938-1947, New York: W.W. Norton, 1989 ISBN 0-393-02674-4.
  • What Is The Use Of Jewish history? : Essays, edited and with an introduction by Neal Kozodoy, New York: Schocken Books, 1992 ISBN 0-8052-4116-7.



  • Bessel, Richard Review of The Holocaust and Historians, Times Higher Education Supplement, March 19, 1982, page 14.
  • Eley, Geoff "Holocaust History", London Review of Books, March 3-17, 1982, page 6.
  • Marrus, Michael The Holocaust In History, Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987 ISBN 0-88619-155-6.
  • Rosenbaum, Ron Explaining Hitler: The Search For The Origins Of His Evil, New York: Random House, 1998 ISBN 0-679-43151-9.

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