Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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BERNARD D. WEINRYB
Some Problems of Jewish
Historiography Today *
B
e s id es
t h e
o p p o r t u n i t y
of acknowledging, with thanks, my per­
sonal satisfaction in receiving a prize, this occasion should also
provide an opportunity to air a few problems connected with
writing Jewish history today.
In our generation Jewish life in most of Eastern and Central
Europe has been brutally snuffed out by Hitler and Stalin. The
latter’s followers are continually weakening the possibility of
Jewish existence. Throughout most of that region both Jews
and Jewish historiography have become taboo and are disap­
pearing. Or, still worse, the latter is evolving into anti-Jewish­
ness or anti-Semitism.
On the Jewish side, the writing of the history of the Jews of
Eastern Europe is becoming delocalized, separated from its “ecol­
ogy”; it is losing its connection with the country and the living
body of Jewish people there, past and present, and degenerating
into the history of a people with no future. These facts tend to
cause the historian to lose any sense of reality, to resort to the
use of metaphors, to regard wishful thinking as life situations,
to take words for deeds and behavior patterns, and illusions and
mystical dreams for facts.
A great deal of writing, in various languages, is authored by
both friend and foe, most of which falls short of being history.
There are writers who defend the Jews, who record cases of op­
pression—as if to arouse world consciousness or to moralize about
generations long gone—who indulge in apologetics, stressing the
contributions or morals of the Jews. Others are filled with nos­
talgia for a vanished world or are busy erecting a memorial, put­
ting up a
matzevah
to the victims of the near or distant past.
On the other hand are the writers who scoff at, attack, and ac­
cuse the Jews, again past and present, of all manner of misdeeds
* Remarks made upon receipt of the 1974 Bernard H. Marks Award for
Jewish History presented by the Jewish Book Council for his book
Th e Jews
of Poland
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973).
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