With the completion of Suicidal Europe, 1870-1933, Léon Poliakov has brought his history of anti-semitism to the start of the Nazi regime.[*] The whole work has taken him at least fourteen years. Beginning this volume with what looked likely to be the gradually advancing triumph of the enlightened attitudes to Jewry proclaimed by 18th-century philosophy, he has instead had to trace the hostile reactions to Jewish emancipation in the major countries and stands at the end peering forward into the dark abysses of human behaviour in the 1930s. To write as he does without rancour and with a light but biting wit, neatly captured in a good translation, is an intellectual victory in itself. But it is the comprehensive nature of the undertaking, its determination to synthesise all previous work on this complicated subject while also reinterpreting it in the light of the author’s own experience and of what we now know to have been the terrible conclusion, that has made these volumes important. Yet at the end anti-semitism still remains in many ways mysterious.
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[*] The History of Anti-Semitism: Vol. IV, translated by George Klin. Oxford, 422 pp, £20, 1 August, 0 19 210038 4.