Peter Novick: An Appreciation
Michael Berenbaum is a professor of Jewish Studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of theHolocaust, at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
Peter Novick argued that the Holocaust had been overemphasized in American culture and manipulated by prominent Jewish organizations to preclude any criticism of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians. He asserted that it was used to strengthen Jewish identity by making a long-defeated enemy central to that identity at precisely the point when Jews have gained full acceptance in American national life. Novick saw this as a fixation that allowed Jews to see themselves as oppressed when they have, in fact, become privileged.
Novick, who died on February 17 at age 77, held views on the Holocaust that were antithetical to everything to which I have devoted my professional life. But Novick was my friend as well as my opponent. This was so because he embodied the best in American intellectual life, offering others a model of what it means to be a serious scholar.
Long before publishing “The Holocaust in American Life” in 1999, Novick, who taught at the University of Chicago, had established his reputation as a bold historian willing to tackle difficult and controversial topics head-on. His first book, “The Resistance Versus Vichy,” published in 1968, examined the purging and execution of French collaborators with the Vichy regime after World War II. Novick who estimated that anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 collaborators were killed then, brought into the open the degree of collaboration between the French populace and the Vichy regime, and the vengeance the Resistance sought in the war’s aftermath — much to the discomfort of the French, who were constructing the myth of the Resistance as the embodiment of their response to Nazi conquest....
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