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We cannot know with certainty. But in counterfactual history, it is commonly argued that the absence of certain individuals would not have prevented the occurrence of key scientific, technological and cultural breakthroughs. If not Copernicus, then Galileo; if not Einstein, then Oppenheimer; if not Hus, then Luther. This arguably holds true for groups, as well. If the Jews had not existed, the Soviets may simply have drawn on others to staff the army, invent the weapons and win the war.
Moreover, for Ginsberg to really answer the causal question of what the Jews’ contribution to the Allied victory was, he would need to address whether the Allies really won the war or whether the Germans lost it. Historians such as Niall Ferguson and Adam Tooze have argued recently that the Nazis inevitably lost the war because of their economic inferiority to the Allies. Was the Jews’ role, therefore, merely supportive as opposed to decisive? Ginsberg does not say.
Then again, he is ultimately less interested in providing a sustained empirical analysis of his fascinating question than in producing a polemic. This is made clear in the book’s final chapter, which is a prolonged critique of left-wing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism after 1945. However cogent many of his points in this chapter may be (and some are stronger than others), they are oddly divorced from the question of how the Jews helped to defeat Hitler. Thus the book ends on an idiosyncratic note.
Whatever readers make of Ginsberg’s conclusions, they are sure to be stimulated by his engaging and provocative book. Although he may overstate the Jews’ contribution to Hitler’s defeat, he offers a useful corrective to prevailing views of Jewish impotence. In World War II, Jews were not only victims — they were also victors.
Gavriel Rosenfeld is a professor of history at Fairfield University. His book, “Hi Hitler! The Nazi Past in the New Millennium,” will appear with Cambridge University Press in 2014.