The Jewish Press and the Holocaust, 1939-1945

By Bernt, Phyllis | Journalism History, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

The Jewish Press and the Holocaust, 1939-1945


Bernt, Phyllis, Journalism History


Gorny, Yosef. The Jewish Press and the Holocaust, 1939-1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 294 pp. $90.

Translated from Hebrew by Naftali Greenwood, Yosef Gorny's book examines the role of the Jewish Press during World War II. Gorny conducts a comparative analysis of the content and editorial positions of the major Jewish newspapers in Palestine, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1945. He finds commonality across all of the newspapers, regardless of language (Hebrew, Yiddish or English), political orientation (Zionist, trade unionist, socialist, communist or revisionist), or national location. He argues that the Jewish newspapers in these countries acted as part of a transnational community as they argued for civil and political rights for Jews, contributed to the development of Jewish national culture, and aggressively reported the details of the Holocaust.

Gorny divides his analysis into two subperiods: 1) the period from 1939 to 1942, which he describes as a time of uncertainty during which the Jewish press was unaware of the magnitude of the Nazis' extermination efforts, and thus questioned qcasualty reports while expressing optimism about the Jews' prospects after the war; and 2) the period from 1942 to 1945, which he describes as a time of horror during which these newspapers grasped the extent of the Holocaust and castigated the western powers for both their inadequate efforts to rescue Jews and their failure to acknowledge that the Jewish situation was uniquely tragic and perilous.

In each of the four countries studied, Gorny focuses on the Jewish newspaper with the largest circulation and most influence, closely examining the content and editorial stances of these newspapers in their war coverage, and using them as a point of reference for his analysis of the other Jewish papers in those countries. The Hebrew-language Davar, which was affiliated with the Mapai labor party in Palestine; the Yiddish-language and socialist-leaning Forverts in the United States; and The Jewish Chronicle, an English-language, Zionist newspaper in Britain, serve as these focal newspapers. Gorny also analyzes the shortlived Yiddish-language Aynikayt, created in 1942 in the Soviet Union as a vehicle to militate for the creation of a second front. Gorny finds a great deal of commonality in the way in which all these Jewish newspapers presented the reality of the war to their readers. All of these newspapers acknowledged that the best hope for European Jews was the defeat of fascism, and thus provided more coverage of war-front news than did the mainstream newspapers. These newspapers also devoted more column inches to the experiences of European Jews than did the mainstream press, arguing that their plight was more dire than that of other ethnic groups who faced a loss of freedom rather than a campaign of extermination. These newspapers criticized the Allies for their unwillingness to recognize the unique situation of European Jewry and for their failure to undertake efforts to rescue them, and criticized Jews in Palestine, the United States, and Britain for not doing more to assist their European brethren. Perhaps even more significant from Gorny's perspective, all of these newspapers contributed to the concept of a Jewish identity. …

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