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From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History is the first comprehensive biography of Dawidowicz (1915–1990), a pioneer historian in the field that is now called Holocaust studies. Dawidowicz was a household name in the postwar years, not only because of her scholarship but also due to her political views. Dawidowicz, like many other New York intellectuals, was a youthful communist, became an FDR democrat midcentury, and later championed neoconservatism. Nancy Sinkoff argues that Dawidowicz’s rightward shift emerged out of living in prewar Poland, watching the Holocaust unfold from New York City, and working with displaced persons in postwar Germany. Based on over forty-five archival collections, From Left to Right chronicles Dawidowicz’s life as a window into the major events and issues of twentieth-century Jewish life.
From Left to Right is structured in four parts. Part 1 tells the story of Dawidowicz’s childhood, adolescence, and college years when she was an immigrant daughter living in New York City. Part 2 narrates Dawidowicz’s formative European years in Poland, New York City (when she was enclosed in the European-like world of the New York YIVO), and Germany. Part 3 tells how Dawidowicz became an American while Polish Jewish civilization was still inscribed in her heart and also explores when and how Dawidowicz became the voice of East European Jewry for the American Jewish public. Part 4 exposes the fissure between Dawidowicz’s European-inflected diaspora nationalist modern Jewish identity and the shifting definition of American liberalism from the late 1960s forward, which also saw the emergence of neoconservatism. The book includes an interpretation of her memoir From that Place and Time, as well as an appendix of thirty-one previously unpublished letters that illustrate the broad reach of her work and person.
Dawidowicz’s right-wing politics, sex, and unabashed commitment to Jewish particularism in an East European Jewish key have resulted in scholarly neglect. Therefore, this book is strongly recommended for scholars and general readers interested in Jewish and women’s studies.
Lucy Dawidowicz comes alive again with her wisdom and insight, her prescience and unflinching honesty (and her sometimes orneriness). This prodigiously researched book takes readers deep inside the world that shaped Dawidowicz and that she documented with passion and courage.
– Francine Klagsbrun, author of Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel
With this book, Lucy Dawidowicz has found her biographer. But even beyond that important contribution, Nancy Sinkoff offers profound insight into the American Jewish psyche, chronicling its diverse cultural proclivities and political sensibilities. With literary elegance and masterful command of her sources, Sinkoff uses Dawidowicz to tell a larger story: the rise of Jewish political conservatism as a powerful force in American life from its roots in Yiddish progressive circles in New York. An outstanding achievement by a first-rate historian.
– David N. Myers, UCLA
In this masterful biography of a pioneering scholar-intellectual, Sinkoff reveals precisely how American Jewish politics came to be bound by the golden chains of memory and trauma to the vanished world of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. In the process, she sets a new standard for American Jewish political history.
– James Loeffler, Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History, University of Virginia
Lucy Dawidowicz’s life and career encapsulates much of the Jewish experience since the time of World War II. She was in Poland immediately before the war, in Germany right after the war, and at the heart of the political debate that would roil and continues to roil the American Jewish community over the past seventy years. Often ignored by historians because she was a woman, Dawidowicz regains her rightful place in the annals of American Jewish history thanks to this compelling and meticulously researched biography by Nancy Sinkoff.
– Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of Antisemitism Here and Now