Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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WEINRYB / PROBLEMS OF JEWISH HISTORIOGRAPHY TODAY
55
and acts which they never perpetrated. Most of these authors
are carried away by irrational emotions, seeking support for their
wish-images of a fancied past, with good or bad intentions, as
the case may be.
True, history writing generally, not being a precise science,
plagued by conceptual fuzziness and suffering from the fragmen­
tary nature of information about the past, leaves itself open to
such uses and abuses. But generally, modern historiography may
be said to have developed as a discipline, mainly in relation to
the sources and their use according to certain rules about origin,
credibility, meaning, etc., while leaving the interpretation open
to a relativism, to the subjective judgment of the writer swayed
by his personal bias, ideology and attitudes. Such a dichotomy
is bound to, and frequently does, permit relativism in the han­
dling of the source material itself, often with the result that
history becomes a sort of historical fiction. Nevertheless, most
historians speak of and value “the truth in history,” and are
particular about accuracy in handling the sources. T o quote the
late Dutch historian J . Huizinga, “Careful observation, able to
reject the false and recognize the reliable on the basis of ex­
perience and comparison, raises the value of certainty of things
proved true and correct.”
TH E IN TERPRETAT ION OF FACTS AND EVENTS
Reverting from such general remarks to the specific—the book on
the Jews of Poland with which we are concerned—let me say that
the newer approach applied here lies mainly in the massive use
of sources and the handling of these facts in a particular way.
This may make the narrative appear closer to reality, with em­
phasis on the word “closer,” without claiming that it is possi­
ble to guage past reality with complete accuracy. In addition to
acquiring meaning—to becoming history—facts and events have
to be interpreted through patterns, general notions, categories
and classifications. And in this process of discovering some form
in what has survived from a certain period in human society,
the subjective element is always present, with each historian fol­
lowing his
Weltanschaung,
seeing the material from the per­
spective of his situation or beliefs, his culture and outlook. Ob­
jectively, history can hardly reach ultimate definitive truth on
the major questions of human behavior, and no really sharp