On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War

Bernard Wasserstein. Simon & Schuster, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9427-7
Ten million Jews lived in Europe in the late 1930s, and University of Chicago history professor Wasserstein (Barbarism and Civilization) seeks to restore both the successes and conundrums of the lives of their multifaceted communities that flourished in the face of the fact that whether they remained openly Jewish or tried to assimilate, they were rejected by most other Europeans. Still, Europe’s Jews felt a deep sense of rootedness in cities like Amsterdam, Vilna, Minsk, and Salonica, and were often the most literate section of the population. The Jewish press, with at least 854 different publications, was a vibrant, multilingual reflection of the lives of its readers. In the performing arts hundreds of Jewish playwrights, actors, critics, and directors transformed the European stage, and audiences were predominantly Jewish, too. Jewish politics were highly factionalized, raucous, and uncompromising between the wars; Jewish women also played a disproportionate role in the feminist movements all over the continent. Wasserstein even acknowledges the sporting lives of Europe’s Jews—particularly at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where 13 Jews won medals (though their triumph was tinged with irony in a Nazi-ruled Germany). A substantive, perceptive, and highly valuable kaddish for lost lives and lost worlds. 16 pages of b&w photos; maps. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (May) 
Reviewed on: 03/05/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
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