The best books about modern Jewish migration and displacement

Ori Yehudai Author Of Leaving Zion: Jewish Emigration from Palestine and Israel after World War II
By Ori Yehudai

Who am I?

I am a historian at The Ohio State University. When I started my academic studies in Israel, I was initially interested in European history and only later began focusing on Jewish and Israeli history. I’m not exactly sure what attracted me to this career, but it’s probably the desire to better understand my own society and identity. I enjoy studying migration because it has played such an important role in Israeli and Jewish history, and even in my own life as an “academic wanderer.” Migration also provides a fascinating perspective on the links between large-scale historical events and the lives of individuals, and on the relationships between physical place, movement, and identity. 


I wrote...

Leaving Zion: Jewish Emigration from Palestine and Israel after World War II

By Ori Yehudai,

Book cover of Leaving Zion: Jewish Emigration from Palestine and Israel after World War II

What is my book about?

The story of Israel's foundation is usually told from the perspective of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel. Leaving Zion turns this historical narrative on its head, focusing on Jewish out-migration from Palestine and Israel between 1945 and the late 1950s. The book demonstrates that despite the dominant view that displaced Jews should settle in the Jewish homeland, many Jews instead saw the country as a site of displacement or a way-station to other lands. Weaving together the perspectives of governments, aid organizations, Jewish communities and individual migrants, and covering events in the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas, this study provides a fresh transnational perspective on the critical period surrounding the birth of Israel and the post-Holocaust reconstruction of the Jewish world.

The books I picked & why

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Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany

By Atina Grossmann,

Book cover of Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany

Why this book?

During the years immediately following World War II, around a quarter of a million Jewish Holocaust survivors gathered in displaced persons camps and other places in Allied-occupied Germany. Atina Grossmann examines the complicated and unexpected interactions between those Jewish refugees and their German neighbors and American occupation soldiers, exploring political and ideological questions as well as details of everyday life, with a particular focus on the role of gender and sexuality. Paying attention to multiple voices and perspectives, Grossmann brings to life the hardships, dilemmas, ironies, and hopes of postwar displacement and reconstruction. 

Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany

By Atina Grossmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jews, Germans, and Allies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, more than a quarter million Jewish survivors of the Holocaust lived among their defeated persecutors in the chaotic society of Allied-occupied Germany. Jews, Germans, and Allies draws upon the wealth of diary and memoir literature by the people who lived through postwar reconstruction to trace the conflicting ways Jews and Germans defined their own victimization and survival, comprehended the trauma of war and genocide, and struggled to rebuild their lives. In gripping and unforgettable detail, Atina Grossmann describes Berlin in the days following Germany's surrender--the mass rape of German women by the…


The Wandering Jews

By Joseph Roth, Michael Hofmann (translator),

Book cover of The Wandering Jews

Why this book?

In this short book of essays, Joseph Roth, author of the great novel The Radetzky March, describes the efforts of Eastern European Jews to find new homes in the West following the turmoils of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Roth reports on interwar Jewish life in shtetls in Eastern Europe and in what he calls “ghettos in the West” such as Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, as well as in America and the Soviet Union. He writes with sympathy about “ordinary people” forced out of their homes at a time of growing restrictions on international movement and mounting animosity towards migrants in many countries. 

The Wandering Jews

By Joseph Roth, Michael Hofmann (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wandering Jews as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every few decades a book is published that shapes Jewish consciousness. One thinks of Wiesel's Night or Levi's Survival in Auschwitz. But in 1927, years before these works were written, Joseph Roth (1894-1939) composed The Wandering Jews. In these stunning dispatches written when Roth was a correspondent in Berlin during the whirlwind period of Weimar Germany, he warned of the false comforts of Jewish assimilation, laid bare the schism between Eastern and Western Jews, and at times prophesied the horrors posed by Nazism. The Wandering Jews remains as vital today as when it was first published. "[A] book of impassioned…


The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

By Tara Zahra,

Book cover of The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

Why this book?

The Great Departure demonstrates how Jewish migration can be better understood against the backdrop of a larger migration story – in this case, that of the approximately 55 million Europeans who moved to the Americas between the mid-19th and the mid-20th centuries. Tara Zahra’s study of this mass movement also reveals the importance of investigating not only the arrival of migrants to their new destinations but also the policies and debates surrounding departure from and even return to the old country. This wide-ranging book combines moving stories of individuals and families with discussions of big ideas concerning freedom, nationalism, and global economic dynamics, while also challenging the common image of America as a paradise for immigrants. 

The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

By Tara Zahra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Departure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1846 and 1940, more than 50 million Europeans moved to the Americas, irrevocably changing both their new lands and the ones they left behind. Their immigration fostered an idea of the "land of the free" and yet more than a third returned home again. In a ground-breaking study, Tara Zahra explores the deeper story of this movement of people.

As villages emptied, some blamed traffickers in human labour. Others saw opportunity: to seed colonies like the Polish community in Argentina or to reshape their populations by encouraging the emigration of minorities. These precedents would shape the Holocaust, the closing…


Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel

By Orit Bashkin,

Book cover of Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel

Why this book?

During the first few years after Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country’s population was doubled by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants, many of whom had been forced to leave their former countries following persecution and other pressures. Immigrant absorption in Israel, however, was fraught with conflicts, due, inter alia, to a lack of resources and the mistreatment of immigrants, especially those from Muslim countries. Orit Bashkin concentrates on the 123,000 Iraqi Jews who moved to Israel during that period, recounting the discrimination and poor living conditions they faced, but also their struggles for civil rights and human dignity. The book connivingly questions the idea of Israel as a melting pot for all Jews, and sheds a broader light on the rupture of migration and the ability of migrants to resist state policies.    

Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel

By Orit Bashkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Impossible Exodus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1949 and 1951, 123,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to the newly established Israeli state. Lacking the resources to absorb them all, the Israeli government resettled them in maabarot, or transit camps, relegating them to poverty. In the tents and shacks of the camps, their living conditions were squalid and unsanitary. Basic necessities like water were in short supply, when they were available at all. Rather than returning to a homeland as native sons, Iraqi Jews were newcomers in a foreign place.

Impossible Exodus tells the story of these Iraqi Jews' first decades in Israel. Faced with ill treatment and discrimination…


Memoirs: Hans Jonas

By Hans Jonas, Christian Wiese (editor), Krishna Winston (translator)

Book cover of Memoirs: Hans Jonas

Why this book?

Hans Jonas was born in 1903 in Mönchengladbach, studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger in the 1920s, and after Hitler’s rise to power left Germany for British Mandate Palestine, where he enlisted in the Zionist Haganah militia. During World War II he served in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade and then fought in the 1948 Arab-Jewish war in Palestine. After demobilization, he could not secure a permanent academic position in newly established Israel, and moved to Canada and then to the United States, where in 1955, he accepted a professorship at the New School of Social Research in New York, eventually becoming a prominent philosopher and public intellectual. His beautifully written memoir illuminates the impact of migration and the upheavals of the 20th century on the life of a Jewish intellectual. 

Memoirs: Hans Jonas

By Hans Jonas, Christian Wiese (editor), Krishna Winston (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Hans Jonas died in 1993 at the age of 89, he was revered among American scholars specializing in European philosophy, but his thought had not yet made great inroads among a wider public. In Germany, conversely, during the 1980s, when Jonas himself was an octogenarian, he became a veritable intellectual celebrity, owing to the runaway success of his 1979 book, The Imperative of Responsibility, a dense philosophical work that sold 200,000 copies. An extraordinarily timely work today, The Imperative of Responsibility focuses on the ever-widening gap between humankind's enormous technological capacities and its diminished moral sensibilities. The book became…


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