Perpetrators, bystanders, victims : Jewish intellectuals and the Holocaust in postwar America / by Kirsten Lise Fermaglich.
This dissertation examines the lives and works of four American Jewish intellectuals who developed influential analogies between Nazi concentration camps and American society in the early 1960s: historian Stanley M Elkins, writer Betty Friedan, psychologist Stanley Milgram, and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. Although their influential analogies did not focus on the Jews murdered in Nazi death camps, but instead emphasized the universal nature of concentration camps, I demonstrate that these intellectuals chose to develop these analogies in part because they were Jewish. Using unpublished papers, and oral histories, as well as published works, my dissertation shows that these intellectuals' interest in concentration camp imagery was sparked by their experiences with American anti-semitism and by the knowledge that they themselves probably would have been killed had their families not emigrated from Europe, Elkins, Friedan, Milgram, and Lifton thus identified themselves as potential Jewish victims, while simultaneously striving to become successful members of the American intelligentsia. This simultaneous identification as insiders and outsiders sheds light on the historical development of American Jewish identity and suggests, moreover, that aspects of American Jewish identity have shaped contemporary images of the Holocaust in the United States. By examining the contemporary public reaction to these intellectuals' work, I also demonstrate that many ordinary Jewish and non-Jewish Americans absorbed analogies of the Holocaust into their political thought. Debates over African-American civil rights, feminism, and the Vietnam War were all shaped by the images of the Holocaust that these intellectuals popularized. Historians have not yet examined this Holocaust imagery in any depth. My dissertation illuminates postwar history by demonstrating that these intellectuals' work provided Americans with a powerful vision of both Nazi Germany and the United States as criminal bureaucratic societies, places where perpetrators, bystanders, and victims all colluded with one another and suffered together. This vision of universal guilt and suffering helped to inspire radical political protest in the 1960s, and it also contributed to the development of a therapeutic culture in the 1980s and 1990s that valorized victims who survived emotional trauma.
Record last modified: 2018-05-24 14:02:00
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