What Is the Use of Jewish History?

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Perhaps most importantly, the essays of the late Lucy Davidowicz collected in WHAT IS THE USE OF JEWISH HISTORY? fight the views of revisionist historians concerning such pivotal events as the Holocaust, the second Exodus (to Israel), and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Davidowicz’s raw outrage at what she conceives as fellow historians’ misinterpretations of Jewish aims carries through every essay. In one of the most significant, “How They Teach the Holocaust,” she reiterates her theme: during the two thousand years of their experience in the diaspora, Jews have not been the overreaching, self-serving villains that many histories implicitly find them to be. Rather they have for centuries been isolated by their non-Jewish neighbors, exposed to unspeakable pogroms, and then, in the worst century of all for them, butchered just for being Jews.

Davidowicz sees her life’s work in jeopardy due to the misrepresentation of historians who replace traditional anti-Semitism with the more subtle contemporary form of it: criticism of Israel for “crimes” against Arabs and Palestinians. Aligned with such critics of Israel, Dawidowicz contends, are out-and-out apologists for the Holocaust, those who believe it either never happened or that it did not happen the way most historians say it happened.

For this last group Dawidowicz reserves her purest vitriol, and she scathingly documents their incompetence and perversity. At the same time, she scourges those historians—many of them Jewish—who find President Franklin Roosevelt guilty of not stopping the Holocaust by allowing Europe’s threatened Jews into the United States, saying that they overlook the fact that Roosevelt put all the resources the United States had at its disposal into the war effort.