The ProsenPeople

New Book Reviews May 1, 2016

Sunday, May 01, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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Everything Is Fresh and New

Friday, April 29, 2016 | Permalink

Barbara Kreiger is the author of The Dead Sea and the Jordan River, a chronicle of the natural and human history of two of the Middle East’s most iconic bodies of water. Barbara is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

When students ask me what to write about or how to start, I tell them never to underestimate what’s interesting, because the truth is that any subject can potentially engage a reader’s attention. If you have an instinct, no matter what it is, try writing a couple of pages, I suggest, and then see if those pages become three, then four.

I recommend research as a way of learning more. If you ask older family members what it was like when they were young: that’s research. If you visit the town where your parents grew up: that’s research. If you look online or in a library to find out what might have been on your grandparents’ dinner table or what games kids played back then, that’s research. Research reflects our curiosity and is how we find answers to our questions. It’s about “being there,” in our subject, both literally and imaginatively.

When I started writing my book about the Dead Sea, the first thing I did was to hike in the region and get a feel for the landscape. I was fortunate that I was able to spend several weeks in Israel, and with a friend who knew the region intimately, I was able to learn far more than I would have on my own. I talked to all kinds of people—outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, scientists, kibbutzniks—and heard how precious the environment was to all of them.

At one point, I came upon a particular feature along the shore. It was a rock that was marked with incised letters. It turned out that the rock had a history of some eighty years and was connected to early exploration of the Dead Sea region, and I made it my mission to dig into that history. After a few months of investigating, I had written the first ten pages of what would be my book. I didn’t know it then, but what’s interesting is that those ten pages ended up as the conclusion to a later chapter.

What that taught me, and which I try to pass on to beginning writers who are wondering how to start, is that it doesn’t matter where you start, but that you start. I explain that unlike a potter, the writer has no clay to begin fashioning into a bowl or jug: our “clay” is not the thoughts in our heads, because they come and go, and we can’t turn them over in our hands to see if we want to alter the shape, add to it, remove excess. For a writer, words on paper are what we have to work with. Then we can develop a kind of relationship with what we’ve written and test it for its truth or beauty: Do I like what I said? Have I said it well? Have I said what I meant? And—most importantly, to my mind—do I know yet what I meant to say? For to me, writing is a process of exploration and discovery, and while it causes some uncertainty when we don’t fully know what we want to express, it’s also quite exciting that the very process of writing brings us to greater understanding of our subject.

There is no such thing as objectivity in writing. Even when we try, we can’t leave ourselves out entirely. Our writing reflects who we are, and rather than try to hide that, we can use that awareness responsibly and creatively. That’s not to say that when I wrote about the Dead Sea I wrote about what it means to me. Rather, it’s to suggest that implicitly I conveyed my appreciation for this unique body of water in the way I described it and considered its significance.

My final advice: everything is fresh and new. No one has yet said the things you want to say in the way that you’d say it. It’s your opportunity and your privilege to find the words to express yourself.

Barbara Kreiger is adjunct associate professor and chair of creative writing in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program at Dartmouth College.

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Gerald Stern's The Name

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 | Permalink

Gerald Stern is an American poet, essayist and educator. The author of twenty collections of poetry and four books of essays, Stern has taught literature and creative writing at Temple University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Raritan Valley Community College, and Iowa Writers' Workshop. Since 2009, Stern has been distinguished poet-in-residence and a member of the faculty of Drew University's graduate programme for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in poetry.

Stern is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University and has attended the University of Paris for post-graduate study. He received the National Book Award for Poetry in 1998 for This Time: New and Selected Poems, and was named as a finalist in 1991 for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Leaving Another Kingdom: Selected Poems. In 2000, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman appointed Stern as the state's first poet laureate.

The Name by Gerald Stern

Having outlived Allen I am the one who
has to suffer New York all by myself and
eat my soup alone in Poland although
sometimes I sit with Linda he met in Berkeley
or San Francisco when he met Jack, the bread
thin and wasted, and not too salty the way the
Chinese further down sometimes make them, the
name still on my mind whatever the reason for
mystery, or avoidance, though rat Netanyahu
and pig that swings from a needle or lives in some
huge incubator, they do darkness where there
was light, the name hates them, the name
in hiding, the name with a beard, and Linda she
loves the name though she invokes her Christ
as Jack her lover and tormentor did and
taught her to do though it is too easy, that,
it troubles me but what can I say, what should I
say while we walk north on the right hand side,
past the pork store and the hardware store, me lecturing
on Logos (my God) and what not Hebrews and Greeks
where Allen and I once kissed, Jack in the sun now.

Originally published in Poetry (October 2011), reprinted with permission from Gerald Stern.

Click here to see all the books of poetry featured for Jewish Poetry Month.

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Beautiful Because It Simply Is

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 | Permalink

Barbara Kreiger is the author of The Dead Sea and the Jordan River, a chronicle of the natural and human history of two of the Middle East’s most iconic bodies of water. Barbara is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

I was raised in a multi-generational Jewish family with firm roots in southern Connecticut, to where my great-grandfather Abraham had immigrated from Russia with his wife, fittingly named Sarah, at the start of the twentieth century. My earliest memories are of living in his home with him, a house he had built on a small street in Shelton. We were three children by then; my great-grandmother had just died, and Abraham asked my parents to move in with him. My grandparents lived next door, making my childhood very cozy and fulfilling, and very Jewish.

There weren’t many Jewish families in the small towns of the Naugatuck Valley between New Haven and Bridgeport, and we Jews were a tight community. There were two Orthodox shuls, one in Derby and one in Ansonia, and in the mid-1950s the two congregations merged. I remember the groundbreaking, when we kids ran around with our little shovels to participate in the ceremony. Before long, the building was ready for us, and my life from that point through high school was focused on Beth Israel Synagogue Center, the yellow brick structure in Derby. Friday night services, Hebrew school twice a week, Sunday school for history, culture, and Israel, and a long string of bar and bat mitzvahs, then confirmation, all served as the glue that kept each class together until we went our separate ways to college.

It’s an understatement to say that it was a rich and intensely meaningful experience, growing up in a small town amid generations who were committed on behalf of the community itself, Jews worldwide, and Israel. It has served all my life as a template for fulfillment. These days it’s impossible to replicate that model, with generations scattered, aspirations divergent, and identification so individual rather than communal. But those years taught me what I needed to know about what it means to be a Jew.

To be a Jew is to value our particular way of living because we love it, not because we have to. We love it because it’s beautiful, and it holds certain truths for us. In my family we spoke always about fair play, rooting for the underdog, loyalty, responsibility to those who have less than we did. It’s beautiful because the Shabbat table was set with a white tablecloth, our best china and crystal glasses, the brass candlesticks my great-grandmother had brought from Russia, the shiny silver wine cup a bar mitzvah gift to my father, the challah tucked under my grandmother’s satin cover; beautiful to hear my grandfather with his Ashkenazi Hebrew chant Jonah on Yom Kippur; beautiful to hear the old folks speaking Yiddish; beautiful because it simply was.

But our particularism never obscured a larger worldview where we were taught to embrace a universal system of values based on justice and fair play. To be a Jew is to be inclusive, to understand that once we were strangers in Egypt, and millennia later in America, and that it was our obligation to treat the real or metaphorical stranger with compassion. To be a Jew meant to question the status quo and never take our comfort for granted. To be a Jew meant that when we opened the door at our seder, it was not a mere symbolic gesture but would be fulfilled in our sensitivity to others.

So when I think about my connection to Jewish life, I don’t see it as something I created but rather as a birthright, part of my genetic make-up you could even say. I admire those who create a sense of Jewishness for themselves and their families. But I can’t take credit for myself. To be Jewish was to be human, was one of the wonderful ways to be human. And with that understanding, I was sent out into the world.

Barbara Kreiger is adjunct associate professor and chair of creative writing in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program at Dartmouth College.

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Mort, May 1947

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 | Permalink

Excerpted from The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The domestic, feminine scene unfolding before Mort did nothing to improve his spirits. Upstairs, in his brother’s apartment, substantial preparations were being made. Not just the brushing of hair and the tying of sashes. Serious words were being spoken from man to man, from father to son. Mort pushed away his breakfast plate and frowned.

Thirty minutes before they were supposed to leave, there was a thudding of footsteps down the stairs and a quick knock on the door. “Got to go! See you there!” Abe’s voice rang with excitement. Mort had assumed they would all walk over to the synagogue together. “What do they need to get there so early for?” he grumbled at his wife. Knowing better than to defend her brother-in-law, Rose shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know,” she answered.

Mort had been dreading this day, the day of his nephew’s bar mitzvah, for months. In the weeks leading up to it, the increased noise and activity of his brother’s family overhead agitated him. He found himself imagining different scenarios to go with every thud and thump he heard. Was Abe’s wife, Helen, testing out a new cake recipe? Was his nephew Harry trying on his new suit? What were the other boys laughing about? Mort tortured himself in this manner for several weeks. He was a sharp, thin man, and in the month before the bar mitzvah he had lost at least ten pounds. His increasingly angular appearance alarmed his wife, but everyone else was too busy to notice.

Rose had been up earlier than usual that morning to make sure the girls were ready on time. Hair ribbons were neatened and his three daughters, clad in matching yellow dresses, were lined up in front of him after breakfast. “They’re like a row of spring daffodils,” Rose entreated. “Don’t you think so?”

Mort looked up, but he was an unappreciative audience. Judith was almost twelve and seemed too old for matching dresses. She was fidgeting in the line, anxious to get back to the book she had been forced to leave on the kitchen table. Every week, Mort insisted that Judith present him with her chosen pile of library books for approval. Every week, Judith asked Mort if he wanted to read one of her books too, so they could discuss it. Every week, he declined.

Mimi, the prettiest of the three, was the most comfortable on display. She was only eight, but already she carried herself with a stylish grace that Mort found unfamiliar. Mort thought she looked the most like Rose. Mimi was forever making cards for friends and family members with pencils and crayons that she left all over the house. Last year, she found her father’s card in the kitchen trash pail the morning after his birthday. She ran crying to him with it, waving it in her hand and asking why he had thrown it away. “My birthday is over,” he explained. “I don’t need it anymore.”

Dinah, the baby of the family, had the most trouble keeping quiet during Mort’s inspection. She was only five, and though she had been taught not to ask her father too many questions, she couldn’t seem to help herself. “What’s your favorite color?” she blurted out, eyes wide with anticipation. Mimi, hoping the answer might give her some insight regarding the design of next year’s birthday card, seemed eager for the reply. But the response was of no help. “I don’t have one,” Mort said.

After Mort nodded his silent endorsement of the girls’ appearance, the family was ready to go. He usually took the lead during outings like these, leaving everyone else struggling to match his quick strides. The girls knew better than to try to walk alongside him. Even Dinah had stopped trying to hold his hand years ago. Instead, they had taken to walking single file on family outings, like unhappy ducks in a storybook, with Rose bringing up the rear.

Continue Reading »

Copyright © 2015 by Lynda Cohen Loigman. Reprinted with permission from St. Martin's Press.

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Discovering the Dead Sea from a Different, Not-So-Distant Shore

Monday, April 25, 2016 | Permalink

Barbara Kreiger is the author of The Dead Sea and the Jordan River, a chronicle of the natural and human history of two of the Middle East’s most iconic bodies of water. Barbara is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

When I started writing my book about the Dead Sea, I was somewhat tentative in my approach because the subject was so large and there were so many possible ways to begin. Yet, mesmerized as I was by the landscape and history, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I was awed by the beauty and uniqueness of this strange landscape, where the barren cliffs towered above a long and narrow lake. I was intrigued by the fact that the Dead Sea was shared by Israel and Jordan, two nations that were then in a state of war. I looked out at the crisp blue water, salt crystals sparkling along the shore, and I wondered how it could be that an international border was somehow demarcated. Who could tell where 50% ended and enemy territory began? I looked at my map, where a soft lavender line, painted in a pleasing curve, indicated the border. It was not at all intimidating.

To start the project, I spent several weeks in Israel, where I divided my time between the Rockefeller Library in East Jerusalem and hiking around the Dead Sea to become better acquainted with the surroundings. One day as I was exploring the shore, I happened to meet a team of scientists who were going out in a boat to gather samples of water and sediment to bring back to their laboratories. When they heard I was writing about the Dead Sea, they invited me to join them for the day. It was an unprecedented opportunity. I gathered my notebook and camera, quickly packed my backpack, and jumped aboard.

It was a very exciting day. I was out on a forbidden lake, and looking first to the Israeli side, then to the Jordanian, I was struck by the contrast between the tranquility of the scene and the turmoil of the political world. At the same time, I was with a group of scientists whose work knew no borders and who were committed to one thing only: a greater understanding of this corner of the natural world.

I instinctively knew that on both sides, on all sides, were people with shared goals and a passionate attachment to the region. Indeed, later I became acquainted with a trilateral organization consisting of Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians whose focus was their shared environment. Working together to promote regional cooperation as they strive to protect their collective resources, EcoPeace/Middle East inspired me with their commitment to education and cross-border initiatives. Undaunted by political obstacles, they continue to draw support from all sides and internationally. Of course I couldn’t help but be drawn in by their devotion to social and environmental teamwork.

So when I speak about my influences, I think about the dedication of all the people I eventually met—Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians; the scientists on the boat, the nature lovers whose careers were devoted to protecting the fragile environment, the hikers who trekked across the desert for a view of the Dead Sea from the heights—in other words, all who feel drawn to this unique landscape and compelled to keep returning. I considered myself very fortunate to have become aware of this network as I started out: their devotion inspired me, and my own commitment, which was to do justice to theirs, had to be expressed in a book worthy of their collective contributions. I felt I had to write as engaging and evocative a book as possible, to attract an audience with a huge variety of reasons for wanting to read my narrative, to highlight the work that so many others had done in various fields over the years, and to find for myself a quiet intersection between my values and the natural world, too often threatened, but, we hope, resilient and enduring.

Barbara Kreiger is adjunct associate professor and chair of creative writing in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program at Dartmouth College.

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New Book Reviews April 22, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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Jews in the Rubble: A Reading List

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Polly Zavadivker wrote about S. Ansky, Isaac Babel, and Vasily Grossman’s chronicles of the catastrophe of the Russian twentieth century. She is blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

Gussakov, Galicia, during World War I. Photograph taken by Bernard Bardach. Leo Baeck Institute, New York

My husband likes to say that I specialize in rubble. He is only half-joking.

I study the history of Jews in Russia and the USSR during the First and Second World Wars. Over the years, I have encountered many texts written by eyewitnesses that stood out to me for their historical insights, literary styles, and the compelling personalities that animate them. Originally written in Yiddish and Russian, the majority of them have unfortunately not been translated into English. Among those that are available in English, here is a brazenly biased list of five of my favorites:

1. The 1915 Diary of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front: I found this diary so compelling that I translated it in order to share with others. Approximately five months’ worth of diary entries, written from January to March and September to October, 1915, are what remain of the diaries that S. An-sky kept during World War I. They later became the basis for a 600-page Yiddish memoir that he completed in 1920, Khurbn Galitsye (The Destruction of Galicia). In simple, stark words, he recounts wartime experiences in the capital cities of Moscow, Petrograd, and Kiev; his travels across Russian-occupied Galicia as an aid worker among Jewish civilians; his encounters with Russian and Cossack troops on trains; and his close encounters with death and destruction. To my knowledge, this is the only eyewitness account available in English by a Jewish writer on the Russian side of the Eastern Front lines of World War I.

2. Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary: Babel, a Jewish literary genius born and raised in Odessa, recorded his experiences as a bespectacled Jewish Communist traveling with a Red Army detachment during the Polish-Bolshevik War in summer 1920. A secular Jew who intended to make a place for himself in the new Soviet order, he was nonetheless deeply troubled by the prospect of what that new order had in store for the Jews. His diary provides evidence of his emotional reactions to encounters with Hasidic rebbes, centuries-old synagogues, and violent Red Army troops. The diary remained a hidden source for Babel’s famous Red Cavalry story cycle for nearly seventy years, and resurfaced in the 1990s, with multiple printings in Russian, German and an excellent translation into English by Carol Avins.

3. The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe, edited by David Roskies: This is an indispensable tome of literary sources written by East European Jews from the First to the Second World War. Roskies culled translations from Yiddish, Russian, Polish, and Hebrew texts from a variety of genres, including poetry, memoirs, diaries and journalism.

4. The Road: Stories, Journalism and Essays by Vasily Grossman: This collection includes three deeply moving texts that are essential to understanding the lesser known aspects of the Holocaust: Grossman’s essay about the death camp at Treblinka, whose liberation he witnessed as a journalist traveling with the Red Army in 1944; his 1943 short story “The Old Teacher,” about the mass shooting of Jews in an unnamed village in Ukraine; two brief but powerful letters that Grossman wrote to his mother in 1950 and 1961 on the anniversary of her death in the city of Berdichev, where she was killed by Germans in a mass shooting in September 1941.

5. Regrowth: Seven Tales of Jewish Life Before, During, and After Nazi Occupation: Beautifully crafted Yiddish short stories by Der Nister, or “The Hidden One,” pseudonym of the Soviet Yiddish writer Pinhas Kaganovich. A native son of Berdichev, like Vasily Grossman, Der Nister’s stories describe the destruction of Jewish families and communities under Nazi occupation of Soviet territory. His psychological insights and imagery convey the depth of damage done to the inner lives of victims and those left in the aftermath.

Polly Zavadivker is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Delaware. She is the editor and translator of the recently published 1915 Diary of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front.

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Let My People In

Monday, April 18, 2016 | Permalink

Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism. This week she begins an exclusive series on celebrating the Jewish holidays in a family with special needs as a Visiting Scribe guest contributor on The ProsenPeople.

Each Passover, I struggle with the Hagaddah passage about the Four Sons. We’re told there is the Wise Child, the Simple, the Wicked, and the Silent. I know they’re meant to be symbolic, but would you want someone labeling your child as the smart one, the stupid one, the trouble-maker, or the one who has nothing to say?

Admittedly I’m sensitive when it comes to labeling children. My son Mickey has special needs. People have been labeling him for more than twenty years. Mickey is autistic. He has epilepsy. He didn’t learn to speak for a long time. So you can see why I cringe when we read that bit about the Simple or the Silent Child. My son is disabled, but he’s not silent, and he’s certainly not simple—in fact he is astonishingly complex: he makes profound observations, and asks startling questions. When his brother Jonathan first left for college, Mickey was disconsolate. “My brother doesn’t live here anymore? We’re divorced?” he asked.

When Mickey was small and the diagnosis new and painful, I used to feel as if other, “typical” families were feasting in a great restaurant, while my family of four stood outside, our noses pressed longingly to the window. With time, that feeling abated, but it resurfaces every Passover, when I think about how many special needs families don’t feel welcome at the table, their synagogue, or in their community.

At the seder, we fill a cup with wine for the prophet Elijah. We set him a place at the table. Elijah, we’re told, roams the earth disguised as a stranger, so during the feast we open the front door. If we should find a stranger on the doorstep, we are told to welcome him in kindly. It’s a metaphor for inclusion: everyone deserves a place at the table.

Mickey loves Passover so much he talks about it for months before. He doesn’t need a calendar—for him, family celebrations and holidays punctuate the passing of the year. At the seder, he’s proud when it’s his turn to read aloud from the Haggadah. He scarfs down the matzo, the only traditional Passover food he tolerates. He’ll peek to see where the we’ve hidden the afikoman. His diet is limited, so my thoughtful sister-in-law always puts aside the plain meatballs he likes; his cousin Lauren bakes his favorite flourless brownies for him.

Still, Mickey has yet to make it through an entire seder. There’s too much noise, and too many people. The spirited singing drives him from the room. “I’m out of here!” he announces. He retreats to a sofa, fits headphones over his ears, and cocoons with his iPad.

I used to be embarrassed about that behavior. But one of the things we say in the autism community is, “Behavior is communication.” When he isolates himself, he’s letting us know his sensory system is overloaded, which can trigger a seizure. Fortunately, our family understands, accepts, and accommodates. His place at the table is secure.

I like to remind myself that Moses, the hero of the Passover story, had special needs too. He stuttered. Sometimes he needed his brother Aaron to speak for him. Each of us, if we live long enough, will probably have special needs of our own. We may need a wheelchair, or a hearing aid, or, like Moses, someone to speak for us. Disability is part of the human condition.

Inclusion isn’t just something to talk about during Jewish Disability Awareness Month in February. Each year, as we end the seder with the words, Next year in Jerusalem, we give voice to the hope that tomorrow will be better. My hope for next year: a place for everyone at the table.

Liane Kupferberg Carter is a nationally-known writer and advocate for the autism community and a co-author of the Autism Speaks Advocacy Took Kit. She will be touring for the 2016 – 2017 season on her book Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable through the JBC Network.

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On Writing Catastrophe: Jewish Chroniclers of War in 20th-Century Russia

Monday, April 18, 2016 | Permalink

Polly Zavadivker is the editor and translator of the recently published 1915 Diary of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front. She is blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

An-sky’s notes taken in Tarnow, Galicia, February 14, 1915

What does it mean to write in a war zone? For Russian Jewish writers during the first half of the twentieth century, this was not a hypothetical question. Some of the best known writers of the Russian Jewish literary canon—among them S. An-sky, Isaac Babel, and Vasily Grossman—witnessed and survived massively destructive wars of the twentieth century as they wrote about them. An-sky traveled across the western Russian Empire and Austrian Galicia as a relief worker from 1914 to 1917; Babel crossed from Ukraine into Poland as a political officer and journalist with the Red Army in 1920; and Grossman served as a war correspondent behind front lines from Stalingrad to Berlin for the Soviet newspaper Red Star between 1941 and 1945.

These writers entered the war zones with the intention to write about them. They undertook journeys across the cities, towns, and villages of war torn Eastern Europe at great personal risk. Like disaster tourists at a time of almost global disaster, they became witnesses to colossal human catastrophes that unfolded before them. As writers, they turned aside from the horror they saw in order to document it in ink and pencil, on the small pads of paper and notebooks that they carried on themselves. They wrote while sitting in military trucks, trains, and horse-drawn carts, and in hotels, military headquarters, and civilians' homes. From the notes they hastily scribbled at the time of war, they created stories about what they had seen and remembered. Their notes and later stories became first drafts of history.

As Jews, writers like An-sky, Babel, and Grossman also felt compelled to represent the experience of Jews in Eastern Europe during wartime. Their war writings are therefore also histories of the Jewish experience of watershed events in twentieth-century history. Jewish chroniclers of catastrophe traversed the heartlands of devastation, along the frontier that lies between historic Poland and Russia (the Pale of Settlement, as it was known before 1917). These borderlands—in today’s Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and the Baltic states—were home to the largest segments of Europe's Jewish populations until 1945. Consequently, they became the places where the largest segments of Europe's Jewish population fell victim to violence in each war. During World War I, the Russian military deported nearly half a million Jews from northwestern Russia and Galicia to the Russian interior and carried out hundreds of pogroms; in 1919 and 1920, the Jews of Ukraine and Belarus fell victim to devastating massacres at the hands of Russian, Ukrainian, Cossack, and Polish troops during the Russian Civil War; during World War II, German Einsatzgruppen units shot 1.5 million Jews just in occupied Ukraine alone.

Russian Jewish war writers chronicled each of these catastrophes, and they were able to gauge the extent of destruction to Jewish life and culture in these regions not only because they had witnessed the effects of war firsthand, but also because they possessed intimate knowledge of these places. They were native sons, born and raised in the shtetls and cities of the territories that became war zones between 1914 and 1945.

These writers knew what war meant, then, for the Jewish people. They understood that battles between armies result in more than the death of human lives; war also destroys culture and civilization—it destroys history. How will the Jewish people's experiences of war be remembered if the victims’ stories are lost? If their stories do reach audiences in the future, will readers believe what they read? And will they have the capacity to comprehend what has taken place? The writers pursued these questions with a sense of urgency during and after the different wars. The diaries, letters, poetry, stories, journalism, and notes they left bring us as close as we can come to those dark moments in history, the starting points for understanding the Jewish experiences of the series of wars that ended with the total destruction of Jewish civilization in Eastern Europe during the first half of the twentieth century.

Polly Zavadivker is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Delaware.

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