Dawidowicz, Lucy S.

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Lucy S. Dawidowicz was born June 16, 1915 in New York City, to Max and Dora (Ofnaem) Schildkret. Her parents were secular Jews who were not affiliated with a synagogue. In fact, the first time that Lucy S. Dawidowicz went to a Jewish service was in 1938 in Vilna. Dawidowicz attended Hunter College and received her B.A. in 1936. She continued her studies as a Masters student in English Literature at Columbia University. Although she enjoyed poetry and literature, the events taking place in Europe made her desire to study literature waver. As a result of her search for a new field of study, she sought the advice of a Polish History teacher and mentor, Jacob Shatzky. He advised studying Jewish history.

The idea didn't come as a surprise to me, perhaps because it had been afloat in my subconscious. But I protested that I was academically unprepared. The Mitlshul graduate courses in Jewish history were the only history I had ever studied, besides those high school tariffs and railroads. I would have to start once more from the beginning. Furthermore, it was even more impractical than studying English literature, for in those days, except for the rabbinate, the possibility of a career in Jewish studies was little more than a daydream. ( From That Place and Time , 23)

Lucy S. Dawidowicz decided to continue her studies at Columbia in February of 1937 in the field of European Jewry. Shatzky advised her to study the Yiddish press, and convinced her that the best place to study Yiddish was at the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO) in Vilna, Poland. Dawidowicz became an "aspirantur" or research fellow with the help and advice of Shatzky.

In 1938 she traveled to Vilna, Poland, as a research fellow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Lucy S. Dawidowicz worked with the three directors of the YIVO: Max Weinreich, Zelig Kalmanovich, and Zalmen Reisen. Of these three, only Weinreich survived the war to found the YIVO Institute in New York City. Three people were to have lifelong places in her heart from her brief time in Vilna: Max Weinreich, and the family that she became closest to, Riva and Zelig Kalmanovich. In her memoir Dawidowicz says that she felt closer to the Kalmanovichs than she had to her own parents. The preface to her Holocaust Reader has a quote from Zelig Kalmanovich (December 27, 1942-the Vilna Ghetto). "History will cherish your memory, people of the ghetto. Your least expression will be studied, your struggle for human dignity will inspire poems..." The Kalmanovichs, along with the other connections which Dawidowicz made in Vilna, helped her to integrate and bridge the gap which she felt existed between the two worlds of the European shtetl and modern-day life. She saw Vilna before it was destroyed by the Nazis, and spent the rest of her life demonstrating the tremendous potential which the world had tragically lost due to the murder of six million Jews.

During the years 1940-1946 Lucy S. Dawidowicz was an Assistant to the Research Director of YIVO in New York City. She followed the news of the Nazi persecutions of Jews in the papers; yet like most Americans, she did not completely integrate the full scale of the destruction until the liberation of the concentration and death camps in 1947. Dawidowicz met her future husband at YIVO in New York:

Syzmon Dawidowicz, whom I was later to marry, was brought out soon after the Nazi invasion because as a Bundist leader his life was in imminent danger; but his family was still in Poland. In 1943-44, when the list of names came of people who had been killed in the Warsaw Ghetto, his daughter was on the list. I lived through all this suffering with people who were close to me. It was therefore natural that when the war was over I should go back to Germany to work with survivors, first in Munich and then in Bergen Belsen. ( The Jerusalem Post Magazine , Friday July 11, 1980, pg. 8)

World War II had a profound effect upon Lucy S. Dawidowicz. Historical reality molded her into the historian she would become. After WW II, Lucy S. Dawidowicz returned to Europe as a relief worker for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), the largest Jewish relief organization in America. While in Europe, Lucy S. Dawidowicz worked with Jewish survivors in the Displaced Persons (DP) Camps, and also became involved in the retrieval of stolen books for YIVO. Lucy S. Dawidowicz initiated the plan to retrieve these stolen books. She worked for months on identifying and retrieving YIVO's books from Frankfurt to New York City's YIVO. She has described her feelings about this time in her life in her memoir and in various articles about the writing of her memoir that may be found in this collection. "By arranging for the transfer of these volumes to the New York branch of YIVO, I felt I had, in some small, perhaps symbolic way, responded to the obsessive fantasies of rescue that had haunted me for years."

Lucy S. Dawidowicz published her most critically acclaimed book, The War Against the Jews 1933-1945, in the year 1975. This has been considered one of the definitive works in Holocaust historiography. In addition to this work, she published books on the Jews in America and essays on Jewish history and identity. In 1985, Dawidowicz initiated and founded the Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature. Besides being a voracious New York Mets fan and avid walker, she spent much of her time painstakingly researching her great love: Jewish history. Dawidowicz was a regular contributor to Commentary, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Magazine, Times Literary Supplement, and This World .

Dawidowicz also taught and lectured. She considered teaching and lecturing secondary to historical research and writing.

Honorary Degrees: Kenyon College Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Monmouth College Yeshiva University Spertus College of Judaica Honors and Awards: Guggenheim Fellow in 1976 Anisfeld-Wolf Prize for The War Against the Jews Jewish Book Award for her memoir, From That Place and Time Member of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, 1978-1979 Jewish National Book Award for From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938-1947 (1989) Bibliography of published books by Lucy S. Dawidowicz Politics in a Pluralist Democracy (1963-Co-authored with Leon J. Goldstein) For Max Weinrich: Studies in Jewish Languages, Literature, and Society (1964-Co-Editor) The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe(1967) The War Against the Jews 1933-1945(1975) A Holocaust Reader (1976) The Jewish Presence: Essays on Identity and History (1977) The Holocaust and the Historians (1981) On Equal Terms: Jews in America 1881-1981 ( 1982) From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938-1947 (1989) What is the Use of Jewish History? (1992-PubIished posthumously)
  • June 16, 1915: Born in New York City.
  • 1932 - 1936 : Attended Hunter College and received a B.A. in English Literature.
  • 1937: Studied English Literature as a Master's Student at Columbia University, did not finish degree due to the plight of European Jewry and the seeming irrelevance of English Literature.
  • 1938: Research Fellow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Learning in Vilna, Poland (YIVO).
  • August 1939: She left Poland and arrived in New York.
  • 1940 - 1946 : Worked as an Assistant to Max Weinrich (one of the three directors or Vilna's YIVO, and the only one to escape to America and survive). She is Assistant to Research Director at New York City's YIVO.
  • 1946 - 1947 : Education Officer at Displaced Persons (DP) Camps with American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC).
  • 1947: Works as member of AJDC-Retrieves stolen books from YIVO's library. Did research for John Hersey's novel The Wall that was about the Warsaw Ghetto. The Wall was published in 1950.
  • January 3, 1948: Marriage to Syzmon Dawidowicz.
  • 1965: Recipient of Award from National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
  • 1948 - 1969 : Research analyst and then a research director for the American Jewish Committee.
  • 1969: Accepted position as teacher of Holocaust history at Yeshiva University. Teaches course on Holocaust at Stem College- The War Against the Jews evolves out of the course.
  • 1970 - 1975 : Paul and Leah Lewis Professor Holocaust Studies.
  • 1975: The War Against the Jews is published.
  • 1976: Guggenheim Fellow. The Holocaust Reader is published. This is a source book of firsthand data from the 1920's until 1945 and the completion of the German partition of Poland.
  • 1978: Leaves Yeshiva University.
  • 1979: Szymon Dawidowicz dies. Lucy and Szymon had been married 31 years.
  • 1975 - 1981 : Delivers Aaron-Roland Lectures in Judaic Studies at Stanford University.
  • 1980: Delivers B. G. Rudolph Lecture in Judaic Studies at Syracuse University.
  • April 18, 1982: "American Jews and the Holocaust" (New York Times Magazine, this essay was part of the debate about the role of American Jewry. Dawidowicz believed that American Jews did all that was in their power to help European Jewry.)
  • 1985: Initiated and founded the Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature.
  • December 5,1990: Mrs. Dawidowicz dies at the age of seventy-five.

From the guide to the Papers of Lucy S. Dawidowicz, undated, 1936-1990, (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Alfred Kazin collection of papers, 1933-1990, 1933-1978 The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
referencedIn Lore Segal papers, 1897-2009, 1939-1990 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn International Workers Order Records, Bulk, 1945-1951, 1930-1956, (Bulk 1940-1951) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Papers of Lucy S. Dawidowicz, undated, 1936-1990 American Jewish Historical Society
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Relation Name
associatedWith International Workers Order. corporateBody
associatedWith Kazin, Alfred, 1915-1998 person
associatedWith Segal, Lore Groszmann person
associatedWith Steegmuller, Francis, 1906- person
associatedWith Van Doren, Mark, 1894-1972 person
associatedWith Wilson, Edmund, 1895-1972 person
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