It may be premature, since this site has not even been properly launched yet, but I would like to declare Dara Horn's People Love Dead Jews (Norton) as the Radicalism of Fools book of 2021.

The book is as disturbing as the title suggests. It points to how dead Jews, particularly those who perished in the Holocaust, tend to be regarded with great affection nowadays. In contrast, live Jews tend not be viewed nearly so favourably.

Since the 1970s a large number of Holocaust museums have sprung up around the world. At the same time Holocaust education has become widespread in schools. Yet Horn, a novelist with an academic background in Hebrew and Yiddish literature, maintains this trend has not coincided with a more favourable attitude towards live Jews.

Take the world-renowned Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The museum commemorates the life of a Dutch Jewish teenager who hid from the Nazis with her family and four others in the secret annex of a building for two years. Eventually they were discovered; possibly betrayed. Anne and most of her family were murdered in concentration camps. Otto, Anne’s father, was the only survivor.

Despite the theme of the museum a young religious Jew employee there was ordered to conceal his skullcap under a baseball cap. That was reportedly because of concerns that an open expression of Jewish identity could compromise the museum’s neutrality. After four months the museum relented but Horn argues convincingly its actions followed a broader pattern.

Similarly the museum refused to put an Israeli flag on Hebrew versions of audio-visual guides to the museum’s exhibits. In contrast, other languages were illustrated by national flags. Eventually the display was corrected.

Most strikingly Horn points to the lessons often drawn from Anne Frank's brutally short life. In particular the widely quoted line from her diary saying: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart”. Yet, as Horn points out, within three weeks of writing this line she met people who were definitively not good.

Horn’s work suggests some penetrating insights about what could be called the contemporary instrumentalisation of anti-Semitism.  But to read about them, and why I think they are so important, you will have to wait for my full review of the book.

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