A POWERFUL, DEEPLY MOVING NARRATIVE OF HOPE REBORN
IN THE SHADOW OF DESPAIR
Fifty years after it was bombed to rubble, Berlin is once again a city in which Jews gather for the Passover seder. Paris and Antwerp have recently emerged as important new centers of Jewish culture. Small but proud Jewish communities are revitalizing the ancient centers of Budapest, Prague, and Amsterdam. These brave, determined Jewish men and women have chosen to settle-or remain-in Europe after the devastation of the Holocaust, but they have paid a price. Among the unexpected dangers, they have had to cope with an alarming resurgence of Nazism in Europe, the spread of Arab terrorism, and the impact of the Jewish state on European life.
Delving into the intimate stories of European Jews from all walks of life, Kurlansky weaves together a vivid tapestry of individuals sustaining their traditions, and flourishing, in the shadow of history. An inspiring story of a tenacious people who have rebuilt their lives in the face of incomprehensible horror, A Chosen Few is a testament to cultural survival and a celebration of the deep bonds that endure between Jews and European civilization.
A half-century after the Holocaust, Paris has again become a major Jewish center, and traditional Jewish life is thriving in Antwerp and Budapest. Jewish communities in Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam, however, are struggling, and Poland is almost devoid of Jewish life. Kurlansky (A Continent of Islands) visited numerous Jewish communities that had been decimated during the war, interviewing camp survivors, rabbis, atheists, professional people, political activists and writers. Stitching together their personal stories with history and reportage, this keenly observant narrative charts a traumatized people's experiences in rebuilding their lives after unimaginable horrors and the loss of their homes and businesses. Many of Kurlansky's respondents voice anxiety over the resurgence of anti-Semitic and nationalist violence.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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March 25, 2002
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Excerpt from A Chosen Few by Mark Kurlansky
Anti-Semitism has proven to be one of the most enduring concepts in European civilization. In a 1927 book calledThe Wandering Jew, about the struggles of poor eastern European Jews, Viennese Jewish novelist Joseph Roth concluded that anti-Semitism would vanish from the world, ended by the Soviet Union. He wrote of anti-Semitism, "In the new Russia, it remains a disgrace. What will ultimately kill it off is public shame." He noted virulent outbursts in Russia but dismissed them as the death struggles of dinosaurs resisting the inevitable future. Roth even speculated that "If this process continues, the age of Zionism will have passed, along with the age of anti-Semitism-- and perhaps even that of Judaism itself." Today the Soviet Union has been gone for a decade but anti-Semitism is still here. So for that matter, is Judaism. "The Jewish question"--I have never been certain what the question is--that Roth predicted would be put to rest with Russian leadership, has endured. The lesson to be learned from Roth, aside from a warning to writers not to publish predictions in books, is that both Judaism and anti-Semitism have deep and permanent roots in Europe. Though Judaism is a less European idea than anti-Semitism, for many Jews, Jewish culture is European--or was. Because of the Holocaust, Europe is no longer the most Jewish continent. It may have remained the most anti-Semitic, though Africa and Asia, with their Muslim populations are certainly vying for the title. It is difficult to be certain because anti-Semitism is more difficult to quantify than Judaism. As the nations of the former Soviet bloc struggle for acceptance in the West--admission into Western clubs such as NATO and the European Union-- Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress have urged that progress towards democracy in these nations be measured by the way they are treating their Jews. This is not as skewed a perspective as it at first sounds. Anti-Semitism, whether in Hungary, Germany, or France, has usually been tied to undemocratic movements. The growth of anti-Semitism in France, from the Dreyfus case to World War II collaboration, was tied to monarchists, fascists, and other groups that did not support republicanism. The Soviet Union was in principle opposed to anti-Semitism, and even outlawed its outward manifestations. But as that nation grew increasingly repressive, it also became increasingly anti-Semitic. The "anti-zionist campaign" in Poland in the late 1960s was the precursor to general repression. But a more subtle anti-Semitism is allowed to breathe and grow even in the setting of democracy. Now in the early twenty-first century when so much urgency is given to fighting international terrorism, it is useful to remember that in the late twentieth century Jews feared Arab gunmen and bombs in Paris, Antwerp, Munich--much of western Europe. No European Jew went to a Jewish restaurant or a synagogue without calculating the risk of attack. These attacks against social organizations, restaurants, schools and synagogues were met with official statements of outrage and very little else. Almost no effort was made to capture or punish the perpetrators, even when Israeli intelligence offered information that could lead to their capture. Today when wondering how international Arab terrorism could have become so brazen, we should note that twenty years ago they were allowed to kill Jews in western Europe with impunity. In the decade that has passed since I researchedA Chosen Few, the standing in Europe of both Judaism and anti-Semitism has barely changed. This is not surprising, but what is surprising is that none of the countries about which I wrote in this book has moved one step further away from World War II. Eu