People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn

March 2022

I bought this provocatively titled book after reading several essays by the author in various publications (some versions of the essays are also in the book). It’s a savage critique of modern antisemitism and how it gets overlooked when people fixate on the past instead of recognizing what’s happening in front of them right now - i.e., repeated attacks on Jews in the States and around the world, the tacit acceptance of casual antisemitism, the disregard for the living Jewish community of today as a diverse group of people with all the complexities and contradictions that entails.

The book opens with a brilliant takedown of the mythology that has crystallized around Anne Frank (“An Anne Frank who lived might have told people about what she saw at Westerbork, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen, and people might not have liked what she had to say.”). She goes on to recount the stories of “lost” (read: expelled/murdered) Jewish communities in China, the Soviet Union, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. She dismantles “blockbuster” Holocaust exhibitions (“The Auschwitz exhibition does everything right, and fixes nothing”), and everything from “uplifting Holocaust literature” (involving “non-Jewish rescuers who risk or sacrifice their own lives to save hapless Jews, thus inspiring us all”) to the Merchant of Venice. In between, she describes what it’s like to live in America as a Jewish person today (hint: it’s not great).

Dara Horn is righteously and rightfully angry, but’s she’s also scathingly funny, and I found myself laughing in parts - the kind of startled bark of a laugh that erupts from you when someone wryly says something quite shocking but also painfully perceptive. So this book is grim, and it’s a lot to take in, and it’s provocative and opinionated and not going to appeal to everyone, but it’s also eminently readable and honest and, I think, important.

Further reading…