Remembering the Holocaust: Lucy Dawidowicz

Remembering the Holocaust: Lucy Dawidowicz

(Pictured: Dawidowicz working at her desk.)

“Personal commitments do not distort, but instead they enrich, historical writing.”

—Lucy Dawidowicz

Lucy Dawidowicz (1915–1990) was a Jewish historian and author whose bestselling book The War Against the Jews: 1933–1945 was one of the most groundbreaking and influential books on the subject of the Holocaust.

Dawidowicz, née Schildkret, was born in New York City to secular Jewish parents who had emigrated from Poland. Her strong interest in literature and poetry led her to study English literature at Hunter College before beginning work on her Master’s degree in the same subject at Columbia University in 1936. She left the program to work for a year before reentering Columbia to pursue a Master’s in Jewish history. In 1938, Dawidowicz traveled to Wilno, Poland, to work at the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO). The experience was formative for her, and she would later draw upon the anti-Semitism she encountered in Poland in much of her writing. Dawidowicz returned to New York City in August of 1939, just weeks before Germany’s invasion of Poland. She spent the next seven years working as a researcher for New York’s YIVO branch, founded by Max Weinreich, one Dawidowicz’s few mentors in Poland to survive the Holocaust.

In 1946 Dawidowicz went to Germany to work with Holocaust survivors in displacement camps. She would later write in her memoir From That Time and Place (1989) that it was during her time in Germany that she realized the full extent of the Holocaust. In particular, she lamented the loss of whole Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, like the one she lived in while in Wilno. After returning to the United States in 1947, she married Szymon Dawidowicz and  began work as a researcher for the American Jewish Committee. She was also a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the New York Times Book Review. Her landmark book, The War Against the Jews (1975), was published to both great acclaim and great criticism and remains one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Holocaust. She also wrote a number of articles, essays, and compilations of Jewish history, including her first book, The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe (1967), and On Equal Terms: Jews in America, 1881–1981 (1982).

Dawidowicz died in 1990 in her home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.