On the Eve by Bernard Wasserstein
The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War

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Synopsis

On the Eve is the portrait of a world on the brink of annihilation. In this provocative book, Bernard Wasserstein presents a new and disturbing interpretation of the collapse of European Jewish civilization even before the Nazi onslaught.

In the 1930s, as Europe spiraled toward the Second World War, the continent’s Jews faced an existential crisis. The harsh realities of the age—anti-Semitic persecution, economic discrimination, and an ominous climate of violence—devastated Jewish communities and shattered the lives of individuals.

The Jewish crisis was as much the result of internal decay as of external attack. Demographic collapse, social disintegration, and cultural dissolution were all taking their toll. The problem was not just Nazism: In the summer of 1939 more Jews were behind barbed wire outside the Third Reich than within it, and not only in police states but even in the liberal democracies of the West. The greater part of Europe was being transformed into a giant concentration

camp for Jews. Unlike most previous accounts, On the Eve focuses not on the anti-Semites but on the Jews. Wasserstein refutes the common misconception that they were unaware of the gathering forces of their enemies. He demonstrates that there was a growing and widespread recognition among Jews that they stood on the edge of an abyss.

On the Eve recaptures the agonizing sorrows and the effervescent cultural glories of this last phase in the history of the European Jews. It explores their hopes, anxieties, and ambitions, their family ties, social relations, and intellectual creativity—everything that made life meaningful and bearable for them.

Wasserstein introduces a diverse array of characters: holy men and hucksters, beggars and bankers, politicians and poets, housewives and harlots, and, in an especially poignant chapter, children without a future. The geographical range also is vast: from Vilna (the “Jerusalem of the North”) to Amsterdam, Vienna, Warsaw, and Paris, from the Judeo-Espagnol-speaking stevedores of Salonica to the Yiddish-language collective farms of Soviet Ukraine and Crimea.

Wasserstein’s aim is to “breathe life into dry bones.” Based on comprehensive research, rendered with compassion and empathy, and brought alive by telling anecdotes and dry wit, On the Eve offers a vivid and enlightening picture of the European Jews in their final hour.
 

About Bernard Wasserstein

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Bernard Wasserstein is Ulrich and Harriet Meyer Professor of Modern European Jewish History at the University of Chicago. His many previous books include The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, which was awarded the Golden Dagger for Non-Fiction by the Crime Writers’ Association, and Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time.
 
Published May 1, 2012 by Simon & Schuster. 576 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Nearly 10 million Jews were inhabiting Europe, contained in what the author delineates as four zones enjoying more or less benevolent status among communities of non-Jews but already feeling the lashing of secular currents as well as anti-Semitism—across both Europe and the Soviet Union.

Mar 01 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

Publishers Weekly

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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 rema...

Mar 05 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

Christian Science Monitor

The focus in this book about the approach of the Holocaust is not Adolf Hitler and the Nazis but the European Jews themselves.

May 22 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

The Bookbag

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy: Escape from the Nazis: The Incredible and Inspiring Saga of Two Young Jews on the Run in World War II Poland by Benjamin Mandelkern A Senseless Squalid War: Voices From Palestine 1890s - 1948 by Norman Rose You can read more book reviews and buy...

Jul 05 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

The Bookbag

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy: Escape from the Nazis: The Incredible and Inspiring Saga of Two Young Jews on the Run in World War II Poland by Benjamin Mandelkern A Senseless Squalid War: Voices From Palestine 1890s - 1948 by Norman Rose You can read more book reviews and buy...

Jul 06 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

San Francisco Chronicle

A young American visiting scholar, Libe Schildkret, who arrived to spend a year working at YIVO in 1938, later described it: 'Everything at YIVO - its location, its landscaped setting, its modern design, the gleaming immaculateness of the place - delivered a message.

Jun 03 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

Bookmarks Magazine

Wasserstein’s aim is to “breathe life into dry bones.” Based on comprehensive research, rendered with compassion and empathy, and brought alive by telling anecdotes and dry wit, On the Eve offers a vivid and enlightening picture of the European Jews in their final hour.

Jul 08 2012 | Read Full Review of On the Eve: The Jews of Europ...

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