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What Horn gets wrong in her ‘Dead Jews’ critique of Jewish heritage tourism

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There is a concept of a tourism industry, popular in places largely devoid of Jews, called ‘Jewish Heritage Sites’. The term is a really ingenious piece of marketing … It’s a much better name than ‘Property seized from dead or expelled Jews’.

—Dara Horn

In her new book Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Past, Dara Horn claims that both Jews and non-Jews spend an inordinate amount of time mistakenly adulating dead Jews like Anne Frank. Yet, the world spends very little energy trying to understand modern living Jews or how past Jews lived. This mistaken adulation of dead Jews has created an industry of Holocaust museums, Jewish heritage sites, and cemeteries attracting hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish tourists. In fact, the whole notion of Jewish heritage tourism is an “ingenious marketing gimmick” foisted on “gaslit” Jews and non-Jews. She claims that this failure is an “affront to human dignity.”

Dara Horn’s main thesis leaves a lot to be desired in regard to the ‘twisted’ adulation of dead jews. Even imaginary dead jews like Shylock the Merchant of Venice cannot escape her widely cast nets. I will leave it to professionals in the fields of comparative literature, Jewish heritage, museums and the Holocaust to deal with the validity of her respective assertions. What I would like to do here is just deal with her claims about Jewish heritage tourism, a field in which I have been working for the past several years. Her accusations and innuendos are not novel and only serve to perpetuate harmful myths surrounding this burgeoning field.


In 1984, The Chinese invested 30 million dollars towards a project seeking to memorialize the pioneering Jews of Harbin. In 1920 Jews established the city as a key transit point of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The memorialization involved restoring synagogues, creating exhibits, and recreating downtown Harbin as it existed in 1920. Horn’s main objection to this seemingly genuine endeavor is its true underlying “deception.” The Harbin narrative glosses........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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