The Jews Are Coming Back: The Return of the Jews to Their Countries of Origin after WWII

Article excerpt

The Jews Are Coming Back: The Return of the Jews to their Countries of Origin after WWII, edited by David Bankier. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2005. 320 pp. $29.95.

In recent years, historical scholarship has paid due attention to the lives of Holocaust survivors and the rebuilding of Jewish communities in postwar Europe, and a great number of articles, edited volumes, and monographs has been published. While Jewish Displaced Persons - Jews who could not or did not want to return to their countries of birth, citizenship, or prewar residence but waited to leave Europe forever - have become a focal point, Jews who did return to their countries of origin have received comparatively little attention. The book TJk Jews Are Coming Bach The Return of the Jews to their Countries of Origin after WWJJ, edited by David Bankier, seeks to fill this void in the scholarship, taking a comparative approach to the issue of Jewish return in nine countries.

In a brief introduction, David Bankier outlines the unwelcoming scenery to which Jews returned in the wake of the war. Pieter Lagrou opens the volume by establishing the common traits characterizing the reception of the Jews by European societies in the early postwar years. Devastated by war, economic ruin, and broken national identities, these societies rebuilt along ethnic homogeneity and nationalist myths. Jewish returnees were greeted with suspicion, rejection, and violence and excluded from conceptions of national martyrdom.

Seven case studies discuss the return of the Jews to Western Europe. Renée Poznanski examines the different apprehensions and expectations connected to the notion of "return" for Jews and Gentiles in France. While many Frenchmen condemned mass murder, they nevertheless condoned Vichy's anti-Jewish legislation and demanded that Jews accept an inferior position in postwar French society and refrain from claiming any privileges due to persecution. Gradually, Jews accepted that reintegration into French society was possible only if they renounced the public recognition of their tragedy. Patrick Weil analyzes the debates over the legal status of French and foreign Jews in the resistance circles around de Gaulle and demonstrates that the return to legal equality was not a priority. Therefore, only in 1945 was Vichy's anti-Jewish legislation fully repealed and more liberal policies towards foreigners adopted in France and Northern Africa.

Frank Caestecker discusses the reluctance of Belgian authorities to recognize the particular nature of Jewish suffering and provide special care for Holocaust survivors. Citizenship remained the only category entitling survivors to state support, even though 90 percent of the Jewish population of Belgium victimized by Nazi persecution were not Belgian nationals.

Dienke Hondius addresses the latent antisemitism encountered by Dutch Jewish sur vivors, leading to theit gt owing alienation from the Netherlands. Dutch non-Jews showed indifference towards the cataclysm of Dutch Jewry and disqualified it from the public recognition enjoyed by the Dutch resistance. Conny Kristel investigates the tadical changes in postwar Dutch Jewish communal leadership. While prewar communal leaders were discredited through their "assimilationist" approach and involvement with the Jewish Council, Zionists took the lead over the postwar community, thereby effecting a growing distance from the Dutch surroundings and an increased bonding with Jewish otganizations abroad.

Mario Toscano analyzes restitution, repeal of racial legislation, and the reconstruction of rhe Jewish community in Italy, arguing that Italian Jews succeeded in integrating into postwar Italian society by aligning themselves to the anti-Fascist and anti-German resistance. …