This article explores the uneasy relationship between research into modern Jewish history and research on the Jews during the Holocaust. As a point of departure for the discussion, the article presents certain aspects that arise from David Engel’s recent book Historians of the Jews and the Holocaust, which noted the detachment of Jewish historians from the historical perspective of the Holocaust era. The historiography presented here illuminates the issue mainly in the context of research taking place in North America and analyzes the inherent problematique of the matter from a theoretical perspective as well. The article then notes early efforts by European Jewish intellectuals and historians, as far back as the 1930s, to contemplate modern Jewish history in a new way, from the perspective of the ascent of Nazism and racial antisemitism.
The second part of the article sheds light on the issue from a converse point of view to that examined by Engel. It points to the problematic disconnect of the research discourse among Holocaust researchers, chiefly those who concern themselves with the history of Eastern European Jewry during the Holocaust, from the broader research discourse on Jewish history, chiefly the modern, and attempts to demonstrate the origins and implications of this disconnect. Towards a conclusion, the article suggests possible ways of solving the problem and building bridges between the two research disciplines, both via the evolving research into the she’erit hapletah (surviving remnant) after the Holocaust and from the more theoretical perspective that stems from the “cultural turn.”