1915 Diary of S. A. An-sky: A Russ­ian Jew­ish Writer at the East­ern Front

S. A. An-sky; Pol­ly Zavadi­vk­er, trans.
  • From the Publisher
April 18, 2016

S. An-sky was by the time of the First World War a well-known writer, a long­time rev­o­lu­tion­ary, and an ethno­g­ra­ph­er who pio­neered the col­lec­tion of Jew­ish folk­lore in Rus­si­a’s Pale of Set­tle­ment. In 1915, An-sky took on the assign­ment of pro­vid­ing aid and relief to Jew­ish civil­ians trapped under Russ­ian mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion in Gali­cia. As he made his way through the shtetls there, close to the Aus­tri­an front­lines, he kept a diary of his encoun­ters and impres­sions, writ­ten in Russ­ian. His diary entries present a detailed reflec­tion of his dai­ly expe­ri­ences. He describes con­ver­sa­tions with wound­ed sol­diers in hos­pi­tals, fel­low Russ­ian and Jew­ish aid work­ers, Russ­ian mil­i­tary and civil­ian author­i­ties, and Jew­ish civil­ians in Gali­cia and parts of the Pale. Although most of his diaries were lost, two frag­ments sur­vived and are pre­served in the Russ­ian State Archive of Lit­er­a­ture and Art. Trans­lat­ed and anno­tat­ed here by Pol­ly Zavadi­vk­er, these frag­ments con­vey An-sky’s vivid first­hand descrip­tions of civil­ian and mil­i­tary life in wartime. He record­ed the bru­tal­i­ty and vio­lence against the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, the com­plex­i­ties of intereth­nic rela­tions, the prac­tices and lim­i­ta­tions of phil­an­thropy and med­ical care, Rus­si­fi­ca­tion poli­cies, and anti­semitism. In the late 1910s, An-sky used his diaries as raw mate­r­i­al for a lengthy mem­oir in Yid­dish pub­lished under the title The Destruc­tion of Galicia.

Vis­it­ing Scribe: Pol­ly Zavadivker

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

Jews in the Rub­ble: A Read­ing List of Sovi­et Jew­ish Eye­wit­ness Accounts of World War I

Discussion Questions