Vital has written the first comprehensive history of the Jewish
communities of Europe from the French Revolution to the outbreak of
World War II. The revolution of 1789 saw the triumph of Liberalism
over absolutism and with it the beginning of a century of
emancipation and assimilation for Jews throughout Western Europe.
In Central and Eastern Europe, however, any form of emancipation
for long threatened German control over the ethnically divose but
unstable Hapsburg empire and in Russia threatened the very
foundations of the autocratic Tsarist state itself; there, Jews
were confined to the Pale of Settlement and suffered plupical
violence and discrimination which, far from encouraging
assimilation, reinforced a self-isolating, inward-looking Yiddish
culture as well as stimulating the urge to emigrate, an urge
rendered more compelling in the 1880s by the newly popular Zionist
vision of the prospect of a historic return to the 'promised land'
of Israel. The German and Austrian Jews, however, were to become
tragic victims of their seeming success, particularly in business
and the liberal arts, as the prosperity of late 19th-century
Capitalism collapsed into the inter-war slump and the values of
liberal progress and cultural diversity fell victim in Germany to
the brutal scapegoating of Hitherite fascism. Vital's monumental,
detailed and deeply-impressive hsitory ends in 1939, on the verge
of the greatest catastrophe ever to befall the Jews of Europe, the
Holocaust of 1942-45, even though, ironically, this was to help to
bring about, albeit in a troubled and controversial form, the
Zinoist dream of reconstituted Jewish nation state in Palestine in
1948. (Kirkus UK)
The twentieth century has seen both the greatest triumph of Jewish
history (the birth of the nation of Israel) and its greatest
tragedy (the state sponsored genocide of the Holocaust). A People
Apart is the first study to examine the role played by the Jews
themselves, across the whole of Europe, during the century and a
half leading up to these events.
In this monumental work of history, David Vital explores the Jews'
troubled relationship with Europe, documenting the struggles of
this "nation without a territory" to establish a place for itself
within an increasingly polarized and nationalist continent. The
book ranges across the whole of the continent during this crucial
period, examining Jewish communities in all the major countries,
describing everything from incrementalism in England to the
impenetrable hostility to be found in Germany. The author describes
pogroms, poverty, and migration, the image of the Jew as
revolutionary, the rise of Zionism and the "Palestinian idea," and
much more. Vital is particularly interested in the dynamics within
the Jewish community, examining the clash between politically
neutral traditionalists and a new group of activists, whose
unprecedented demands for national and political self-determination
were stimulated both by increasing civil emancipation and the
mounting effort to drive the Jews out of Europe altogether. The
book ends on a controversial note, with Vital suggesting that the
fate of the Jewish people was to some degree their own doing; at
times, by their own autonomous action and choice; at others, by
inaction and default.
This powerful and stimulating new analysis represents a watershed
in our understanding of the history of the Jews in Europe.
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