Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

Basic HTML Version

WEINRYB / PROBLEMS OF JEWISH HISTORIOGRAPHY TODAY
57
But the same is not true, for instance, of the stereotype of the
Jew inadvertently portrayed by Paul Hilberg in his Ph.D. thesis
in the United States (
The Destruction of the European Jews),
and by Gerald Reitlinger in his book (
The Final Solution)
pub­
lished in England, on the destruction of European Jews, which
resulted, in part, from their unfamiliarity with Jewish history
and with the Yiddish-Hebrew and Slavic sources of the Nazi
years and their acceptance of the propaganda images put forth
by the Communists in the post-war years. Reemphasized later
by Hannah Arendt’s negativism (
Eichmann in Jerusalem,
1964),
this stereotyping led not only to long fruitless discussions about
the
Judenraten
(the Jewish Councils) during the Nazi years, but
also contributed to the massive attacks by Soviet Russia and its
satellites, by the Arabs, and parts of the New Left and Third
World groups, on Israel, Zionism, Jews and Judaism as alleged
collaborators of the Nazis and killers of the six million Jewish
victims. This has created, and continues to create, deep anti-Sem­
itic trends in many countries and in a host of writings, propa-
gandistic as well as so-called research publications.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE HISTORIAN
Thus the historian is sometimes responsible not only for the
historical truth, relative as this “lady” tends to be, but also for
avoiding social harmfulness. So, if one may paraphrase what the
late Edmund Wilson wrote many years ago about American lit­
erature one could summarize by saying: “What we lack in Jew­
ish history—writing is not writers, but serious criticism, exact­
ness, accuracy,” an awareness of the peculiarity of the historical
allegedly written in the 11th century. This “story” was told by Joseph Si-
monius Assemani (1689-1768), the first librarian of the Vatican Library, in
his Catalogue published in 1756. For over 200 years many scholars and
writers—possibly close to a hundred—quoted Samuel of Russia’s book to sup­
port various “historical” assumptions and theories ranging from the exist­
ence of a large Jewish community in Russia in the 11—12th century, its make­
up, spiritual trends, etc. to proof of Russia’s early contact with the West
(the latter offered by two Soviet Russian historians a few years ago). The
truth is that Samuel had nothing to do with Russia in Eastern Europe, but
he lived in Russiano in Italy
(.see
Bernard D. Weinryb, “The Myth of Sam­
uel of Russia: 12th Century Author of a Bible Commentary.”
Th e Seventy-
Fifth Anniversary Volume of the Jewish Quarterly Review,
1967, pp. 528-
543).