Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution 1.5
After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany. By Michael Brenner, translated by Barbara Harshav. 1997. Princeton University Press. 195 pp with index.
The Holocaust has been one of the most analyzed events of the 20th century. There has also been a large amount of research on Jews who left Germany, either to go to Israel or as part of the diaspora. In light of these facts, it is strange that it took fifty years for someone to compile a comprehensive history of Jewish life in Germany immediately after the war. It is to the benefit of everyone concerned with the ends of wars and the renormalization of social life that Michael Brenner published Nach dem Holocaust: Juden in Deutschland 1945-1950 in 1995. After the Holocaust, translated by Barbara Harshav, is the first English edition.
After the Holocaust is made up of two separate but interrelated sections. In the first, Brenner provides a historical account of the years after the liberation. The chapters in this section are well-documented and thorough. Brenner examines the policies of the Allies and also the political actions of the Jews who could not or would not leave Germany. He is concerned with providing a firm context for what will follow.
If there is a criticism of Brenner's approach, it may be that the history seems somewhat unemotional and antiseptic. However, this is more than remedied in Brenner's second section which is made up of a collection of oral histories from Holocaust survivors who initially stayed in Germany. Brenner did not choose the people providing his "witness accounts" to be representative of all of the Jews in Germany after the war. Instead, he picked those who were still alive and contributed to the recreation of Jewish life in Germany.
It is interesting that the stories in After the Holocaust begin where most first person accounts of the Holocaust end. For example, Ernest Landau starts with "I was liberated in Bavaria, between Tutzing and Feldafing." The accounts Brenner collected are interesting and show a variety of perspectives and experiences, but most importantly, they are human.
After the Holocaust has immense value for scholars studying post-conflict societies in general and postwar Germany in particular. But perhaps its greater service is to remind us that the work is not done when the fighting ends and societies do not revert to a state of peace and harmony without the concerted effort of many people.
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