The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors

The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors

Jewish Studies

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ISBN: 978-1-4128-5297-5
Pages: 309
Binding: Paperback
Publication Date: 02-18-2014
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The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors reveals the victims’ frank and thought-provoking answers to searching questions about their experiences: Was the Holocaust God’s will? Was there any meaning or purpose in the Holocaust? Was Israel worth the price six million had to pay? Did the experience in the death camps bring about an avowal of faith? A denial of God? A reaffirmation of religious belief? Did the Holocaust change beliefs about the coming of the Messiah, the Torah, the Jews as the chosen people, and the nature of God?

Drawing on the responses of seven hundred survivors, Reeve Robert Brenner reveals the changes, rejections, reaffirmations, doubts, and despairs that have so profoundly affected the faith, practices, ideas, and attitudes of survivors, and, by extension, the entire Jewish people.

Many survivors carried their deepest secrets and innermost beliefs silently, from internment to interment. But Brenner’s quest provided the impetus for many survivors to end their silence about the past and come forth with their feelings. In poignant vignettes scattered throughout the book, their answers to these profound questions are offered, disclosing ardent, overpowering passions and sensibilities.

Editorial Reviews

The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors. . . is an important book and not sufficiently known. . . . [I]t offers valuable testimony as to what the Holocaust did to the beliefs of the people who lived through it.”

―Harold Kushner, Conservative Judaism

“An invaluable and long overdue contribution to Holocaust studies. Such personal testimony for survivors reminds us that despite the unspeakable horrors, human dignity and decency and faith were never fully stifled.”

―Gerald Green, author of the TV drama Holocaust

“A sensitive study, carefully constructed and empirically based, that supplies substantial, balanced insight where before there were only opinions and surmise. The full range of the victims’ religious feeling is revealed, often in their own agonized reflections. Everyone concerned about contemporary religion, responses to catastrophe and the state of Jewish belief will want to read this book.”

―Robert M. Selzer, author of Jewish People, Jewish Thought

"We are dealing here with an extraordinary achievement, an encyclopedic study which should prove to be one of the very few volumes with staying power and definitiveness to be worthy of a place on a reading and reference bookshelf in the libraries of generations of Jews to come. . . . Page after page, the book lifts the veil which reveals the Jewish innermost soul, the richness of the Jewish mind and character. . . among the most uplifting, spirited, and valuable books on a subject whose depth we are now beginning to explore."

―Dr. Debora Phillips, Director of the Princeton Center For Behavior Therapy, Congress Monthly

"Brenner's personalized accounts, the data enhanced by the anecdotal material, provides new depth for understanding, greater than Rabinowitz's New Lives or Elie Wiesel's moving, quasimystical account of that time.

"He offers in this book a most important understanding of the changes that have occurred thus far. Sociologists and the general community will find this book enlightening."

―Teresa Donati Marciano, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Sociology Review

"Rabbi Brenner's book is a rich footnote to Arendt and Orwell."

―The Brooklyn College, Alumni Literary Review

"The author conceived and carried through his project with great skill. His judicious comments about his findings are enhanced by a sophisticated sense of the limitations of this sort of investigation. His balance of history, ideas, data, excerpts and interpretations is evocative and enlightening, resulting in a text which is, for this sort of work, even pleasurable reading."

―Eugene Borowitz, Sh'ma Review

"The originality of the theme, the accuracy and vastness of the research—over 700 questionnaires and 100in-depth interviews and the eloquence of language-surely cast this as one of the important books to emerge from the ever-growing literature of the Holocaust."

―Dr. David Kranzler, The Jewish Press

"This remarkably thoughtful and carefully researched study reports on the changes in religious belief and practice undergone by Holocaust survivors as a result of their ordeal. Most valuable are the personal testimonies of the survivors."

―Arnold Eisen, Columbia University, Religious Studies Review

“[T]he single most important research study of 20th century Jews and Judaism.”

―Alan Zuckerman, Brown University

“Brenner has gone to considerable lengths to interview Holocaust survivors about their religious reactions to their experience. . . . The information in this book is terribly important, for we must try to understand all the effects of the Holocaust before the generation that experienced it passes away.”

—Gailfred Boller Sweetland, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“Rabbi Brenner’s goal is to discover ‘how surviving European Jews construed and interpreted their Holocaust experiences and how they were affected religiously, in their faith and practice, by what they had undergone.’ Many ‘experts,’ he argues, have spoken for the survivors, but until now no one has asked them, in a systematic way, how their encounter with radical evil affected their faith. . . . I applaud the fact that Rabbi Brenner restricted this book to the survey and its results. The temptation must have been great to use the questionnaire. . . as a springboard for his own theological speculations, but for now he has wisely kept to the role of researcher. In this way he has allowed the survivors to be the dominant voice in this volume.”

—Michael K. Kinnamon, The Journal of Religion

“I have nothing but unqualified praise for the stirring autobiographical survivor testimonies which he has judiciously selected and incorporated into the book. These personal accounts reveal the whole spectrum of religious reactions to the Holocaust.”

—Benny Kraut, Judaism

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Transaction Edition






An Afterword
Selected Bibliography