On Long Win­ter Nights: Mem­oirs of a Jew­ish Fam­i­ly in a Gali­cian Town­ship (18701900)

Hinde Bergn­er; Justin Cam­my, trans. and ed.
  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

On Long Win­ter Nights is rich with details about Jew­ish fam­i­ly life in Gali­cia pri­or to the dev­as­tat­ing hor­rors of 1939. In 1869, Jews con­sti­tut­ed more than 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Gali­cia. Life in the small Gali­cian town of Reden, where the Bergn­er fam­i­ly lived, was mod­est. The fam­i­ly man­aged an estate and was able to enjoy a com­fort­able liv­ing. Hinde Bergn­er, who was invest­ed in the strug­gle for self-eman­ci­pa­tion, was deter­mined to get a world­ly edu­ca­tion; her fam­i­ly was com­mit­ted to help­ing her. Bergn­er mocked her khey­der teach­ers, her match­mak­ers, and even the Hasidic rab­bi. Flu­ent in three lan­guages — Yid­dish, Pol­ish and Ger­man — she was part of a gen­er­a­tion of read­ing Jew­ish women” who brought mod­ern ideas and sen­si­bil­i­ties into tra­di­tion­al soci­ety. The young Bergn­er found free­dom in sec­u­lar edu­ca­tion, but at the same time, she longed for roman­tic love. 

By 1900, the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of Gali­cian Jew­ry was in decline. Poles and Ukraini­ans boy­cotted Jew­ish mer­chants; and ordi­nary Jews were again blamed for the country’s prob­lems. In the sum­mer of 1939, Nazi forces came into Gali­cia and gave Jew­ish res­i­dents two hours to leave their homes. By 1941, the Nazis had tak­en con­trol of all of Gali­cia and mur­dered most of its Jews. It is believed that Hinde Bergn­er and her broth­er both died in Belzec, a Nazi exter­mi­na­tion camp, in 1942 or 1943. The mem­oir pro­vides impor­tant infor­ma­tion about Jew­ish life in the pre-Holo­caust- era small towns and ham­lets of Gali­cia. The Bergn­er fam­i­ly, respon­si­ble for the book’s pub­li­ca­tion, rec­og­nized its social and schol­ar­ly sig­nif­i­cance. Social his­to­ri­ans inter­est­ed in shtetl life will find much of val­ue in its descrip­tions and in the live­ly crisp draw­ings and pho­tographs of Bergn­er fam­i­ly members. 

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