book on the history of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe from 1945 to
the present day
After the war in Central and Eastern Europe, many Jews who had escaped the Holocaust embraced Communism in the hops of building a new world free of anti-Semitism and ethnic and religious differences. The choices they made often led to friction between them and societies in which they lived and into which they were seeking to integrate.
For the majority of the population, communism and the arrival of the Red Army represented defeat in the war and a loss of independence, whereas for the Jews they meant a new hope of salvation and integration into society.
These different perception of the new communist regimes created new stereotypes. In particular, the myth of the so-called "judeocomune" developed. The new totalitarianism came to be identified with imagined Jewish power, and this happened in the very countries where millions of Jews had died at the hand of Hitler, but also through the extensive complicity of pro-nazi regimes and the indifference of civil society. Paradoxically, in some situations the Jews were even regarded by the population as the sole beneficiaries of the new geopolitical set-up in Western Europe and behind the Iron curtain.
Ebrei invisibili ("Invisible Jews") tells this still almost unknown story of the Jews who survived. The authors Gabriele Nissim and Gabriele Eschenazi explore the distinctive relationship between the Jews and the communist ideology, the stories of the Stalinist "Jewish" leaders, the traumas experienced by a generation which saw its dreams frustrated on many occasions, the policies adopted by the new regimes towards the Jewish question, the role of Israel, the playing-down of the specifically Jewish aspect of the holocaust, and the new Jewish condition in the post-communist era.
This book helps to explain why, in the new Europe born from the collapse of the communism, the Jewish question in the East has an entirely different character from that which it has in the West. The existential condition of the Jews who lived for forty years under totalitarianism is radically different from that of the Jews who have lived in a democracy since the end of the Second World War.
A separate chapter is dedicated to each country, and frequent comparisons are drawn between the different situations, which show many points in common but also some unexpected divergences, as in the anomalous case of Bulgaria. There are also specific historical introductions for each country on the wartime and pre-war periods.
This book is written in a journalistic stile and, though dealing with complex problems,is easy to read. It takes account of all published materials on the subject and is based on detailed information gathered during five years of research carried out with the help of scholars and research centres, especially the Jerusalem-based Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the study of anti-Semitism.
Unpublished first-hand account collected by the authors alternate with historical data and information in such a way as to help the reader identify with the context and understand more clearly the experience of the Jewish communities in the communist countries. Amongs the two hundred interviews (not all of whom are quoted in the book) are many prominent figures who played a leading part in Jewish life and in the political history of their countries.
In Poland: Professor Jerzy Shapiro, a world-famous neurosurgeon, formerly a doctor in the Warsaw ghetto; Professor Kristyna Kersten, the leading Polish historian; Konstanty Gebert, a Solidarnosc adviser; the historians Stefan Meller and Jerzy Jedlicki; Barbara Torunczik, a well known exponent of Polish dissent and one of the prime mover in Solidarnosc; Krysztof Wolicki, journalist and former communist; the intellectual Stanislaw Krajeski; and the writer Teresa Prekerowa, renowned for her research on the Poles who helped the persecuted Jews during the war.
In Hungary: the philosophers Sandor Radnoti, Agnes Heller and Ferenc Feher; Istvan Csurka, an anti-semitic writer and politician; the historians Andras Gero and Gyorgy Litvan; Miklos Vasharelyi, spokesman of Imre Nagy in 1956 and a leading dissident; Erno Lazarovits and Gyorgy Bolmann, prominent members of the Jewish community; the sociologist Andras Kovacs; Georgy Gado, liberal democratic member of parliament and rapresentative of the Jewish community; and Ferenc Kosgez, member of parliament and former dissident.
In Bulgaria: Victor Shemtov, a Bulgarian sionist who later became segretary of the Israeli socialist party Mapam; the historians Moshe Mossek and Shlomo Shealtiel; Nicolaiev Radan, scholar and director of the Bulgarian section of radio Free Europe; and Isaac Levy, leading representative of the Jewish communists.
In Romania: Moshe Rosen, Chief rabbi of Romania; Ovid Crohmalniceanu, writer and literary critic; Leon Volovicy, historian at the Centre for the study of antisemitism in Jerusalem; Professor Yancu Fisher, dean of the faculty of Romanian Literature of the university of Bucharest; the marxist philosopher Henry Wald; Silviu Brucan, Romanian ambassador at the UN from 1959 to 1962 and opponent to Ceausescu; Tatiana Pauker, daughter of Ana Pauker, the well-known communist leader of the 1950s; the journalists Uri Valurianu, Andrej Cornea and Toma Roman; and the historian Michael Shafir.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia: Livia Rothkirchen, researcher at the Yad Vashem Centre in Jerusalem; the slovak historian Pavel Mestan; the philosopher Pavel Bergman; the writer Yoseph Klansky, a former communist; Eduard Goldstücker, former president of the writers' union and a leading spirit in the Prague spring; Ota Ernst, former director of the National Theatre in Prague; Bedrich Nossek, director of the Jewish Museum in Prague; Fedor Gal, Slovak politician; and the journalist Susan Satmari, leader of Charter '77 in Bratislava.
In Germany: Peter Kirchner, doctor and president of the Jewish community of East Berlin from 1971 to 1989; Helmut Eschwege, the most important scholar of the Jewish history in east Germany; Andrei Brie, deputy secretary of the PDS (the former communists); Salomea Genin, a communist activist; the Yiddish singer Jalda Ribling; Peter Honigmann, director of the archive of German Jews; and Professor Julius Schöps, director of the Moses Mendelsohn Centre for European Jewish studies of the university of Potsdam.
The interviews were carried out in the course of a number of prolonged visits to the countries of origin of the individuals concerned and to the countries were they currently live.
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