June 2015 marks the centenary of the birth of Jewish historian, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, who was born in New York to Jewish Polish parents, Max and Dora (Ofnaem) Schildkret, on June 16, 1915, and died in New York on December 5, 1990.
The first book on the Sho’ah that I read was the Penguin Books paperback edition of Lucy S. Dawidowicz’ most famous work, Hitler’s War Against the Jews, 1933-45, first published in 1975 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Four things struck me about the book, even before I began to read it. First, the title, which is so direct, giving the clear message that from the time Hitler came to power in Germany 1933 until his death in 1945, he conducted a war against the Jewish people. Next, the author’s first name: Lucy, which told me that she was a woman. And then, her last name: Dawidowicz; I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it, but I knew that it was Polish. Finally I opened the book, and I read the dedication: ‘In memory of Toba (Tobtshe) Dawidowicz Warsaw 1924 – Warsaw Ghetto 1943 and Zarek Dawidowicz Warsaw 1927 – Treblinka 1942 (?) Two of six million.’
So, even before I began to read the book, it was clear to me that Lucy S. Dawidowicz was personally engaged with her subject matter. Initially a student of English literature, after her BA and MA studies, concerned about what was happening in Europe, Lucy Schildkret, as she was then, changed course and travelled to Vilna in Poland in 1938 to work at the Yiddish Scientific Institute (known by its Yiddish acronym as the YIVO), only returning to the United States in August 1939 , on the eve of war. In 1940, Max Weinreich, a founder of the YIVO, who had also fled, set up the Institute in New York and asked her to work with him – which she did for the next six years. But then, in 1946, she went to Germany as an aid worker with the Joint Distribution Committee, where she spent eighteen months among Jewish survivors and also helped to catalogue thousands of books confiscated by the Nazis. After her return, she married Polish political refugee, Szymon Dawidowicz, on January 3, 1948.
The back-story of Jewish historian, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, provides the context in which she conducted her research into the Sho’ah and wrote Hitler’s War Against the Jews, 1933-45. Significantly, her thesis that Hitler intended to murder the Jews from the very beginning was controversial in Holocaust historian circles. Indeed, labelled an ‘intentionalist’, she was opposed by the ‘functionalists’, who argued that the Final Solution evolved as World War II progressed. However, having chosen to go to Poland to study Yiddish immediately before the war and to return to Europe after the war to help her people, for Lucy S. Dawidowicz the Holocaust was much more than a matter for academic debate. For more information about her life and work, see ‘Lucy S. Dawidowicz’ by Eliyana R. Adler in the Jewish Women’s Archive (http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/dawidowicz-lucy-s)