We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962

We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962

We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962

We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962

Excerpt

The Jewish teenagers who spent the summer of 1956 at the Reform movement's Camp Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, edited a literary magazine, a repository of their fond memories of a summer well spent. They could not possibly have known, as they cobbled together All Eyes Are on the… Literary Magazine—made up of mimeographed short stories, poems, humorous vignettes of camp life, mixed in with some serious pieces which speculated on the religious and cultural programs that they had just experienced—that, a half-century later, their camp yearbook would be used to show how American Jews went about the process, text by text, artifact by artifact, and act by act, of creating a communal culture that hallowed the memory of the six million Jews who perished in Europe during the Holocaust. Neither could they imagine that their deeds and words would play a role in undermining a widely accepted paradigm about post– World War II American Jews and the Holocaust, one which asserted that, on the whole, they remained silent about that catastrophe which had so recently befallen their people.

But their naive and youthful words show how profoundly the destruction of one-third of the Jewish people at the hands of the Germans infused the rhetoric and action of the Jews of America who, despite their distance in space and time from the tragedy, lived in its shadow. One camper, Sharon Feinman, said it most clearly as she focused in her piece on the summer's theme, “Naaseh v'nishma” [we will do and we will hear], the words drawn from Exodus, declaimed by the Israelites at Mt. Sinai as they accepted the Ten Commandments. In summarizing what she learned during those weeks away from home, she demonstrated how American Jews in the post–World War II period engaged with the horrendous events that had recently engulfed their people in Europe. Her brief essay's determined prose reflected the widespread concern of the Jews of the United States with the Holocaust, with their insistence that it be remembered and their understanding that it affected their lives.

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