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Now in Paperback

March 16, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941 to 1945, David S. Wyman (Pantheon: $8.95). Remembering the Holocaust is not enough. Holocaust museums, activist groups, historical research centers, films and paintings can, of course, deepen our sensitivity to injustice. But in themselves, memories also can distort, creating the illusion that prejudice, indifference and other attitudes favorable to fascism are merely the products of a particular time and place. Worse, they can foster the cynical conviction that atrocities are inevitable, given human nature.

"The Abandonment of the Jews" is one of three books released since 1984 that view the Holocaust as a problem for the present, a product of society, and, thus, preventable. David S. Wyman forcefully demonstrates that within the context of the war, the destiny of persecuted Jews carried too little weight to tip the scales in their favor. "How else explain the semi-indifference of an F.D.R. faced with the agony of the European Jewry?," Elie Wiesel writes in the introduction. "How justify the anti-Semitic political tendencies of some of the higher officials in the Department of State?" In "Beyond Belief" (Free Press: $19.95), Deborah Lipstadt documents how the mass media stopped news of the Holocaust from reaching the public, while in "Were We Our Brother's Keepers?" (Hartmore House: $18.95), Haskel Lookstein shows that American leaders were less than diligent in their efforts to help the Jews. A fourth book, "Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941" (Pantheon: $8.95), first published in the early 1970s and now available in paperback, illustrates how the United States closed the door on many Jews trying to immigrate prior to and during the war.

Eyewitness 2: Three Decades Through World Press Photos, Harold Evans, text (Salem House: $13.95). It's comforting to watch images flash by on TV news. Since the parade of colors and shapes begins as the day ends, we're not under any pressure to impart meaning to what we see. We're free, of course, to become enlightened, indignant or curious, but even what's traditionally considered the best photojournalism--stomach-wrenching scenes of atrocity, close-ups of defiant, determined faces--evokes reactions that are more visceral than intellectual. Few pictures, in short, are worth a thousand words.

But they can connect us immediately to a telling reality of the moment, while words can deceive--think of "limited nuclear engagement" or "immobilization maneuvers." In the short text that accompanies this 1981 collection, updated in 1985, author Harold Evans admits that a "daily diet of even more extreme brutality (can) atrophy our sense of outrage." The photographs, consequently, were chosen after considering such questions as, "Is the violent detail necessary for a proper understanding of the event?" Still, few pictures collected here suggest tranquillity, whether they show an emaciated Ethiopian baby on a scale reading "three kilos" or people holding onto mattresses as they sail out of a high-rise apartment surrounded by billowy fire clouds.

The United States Navy in World War II, edited by S. E. Smith (Morrow: $15.95) is expansive (1,000 pages) and thorough, with more than 100 contributors, 142 photographs and 18 pages of battle maps. The stories, written by naval officers, military experts or journalists, transport readers into the center of the battle; scholarly research is left to other historians. A chapter titled "The Battle Analyzed," for instance, runs no more than two pages. Reflective depth, however, is not essential in these entertaining stories about dauntless leaders ("He was in danger, and he was hot on the trail of the enemy, so he was happy") and dangerous adventures, such as one naval run through icy polar straits near Murmansk, Russia.

Noteworthy: "The Survival of Charles Darwin: A Biography of a Man and an Idea," Ronald W. Clark (Avon: $5.95). Heated battles against "the preposterous theory," an in-depth, critically acclaimed account of why a young aristocrat decided to take on the beliefs so dear to family and friends, and an extensive bibliography on Darwinism and its effects on the natural sciences. "Baron Philippe," Joan Littlewood (Ballantine: $8.95). Baron Philippe de Rothschild looks back at his daring escape from the Nazis, his successful effort to turn neglected vineyards in Southern France into a leading wine producer, and his obsessions, from racing cars and yachts to poetry, architecture, astronomy and theater.

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