Res­cue the Sur­viv­ing Souls: The Great Jew­ish Refugee Cri­sis of the Sev­en­teenth Century

Adam Teller

January 25, 2020

A ground­break­ing exam­i­na­tion of a lit­tle-known but defin­ing episode in ear­ly mod­ern Jew­ish history

A refugee cri­sis of huge pro­por­tions erupt­ed as a result of the mid-sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry wars in the Pol­ish-Lithuan­ian Com­mon­wealth. Tens of thou­sands of Jews fled their homes, or were cap­tured and traf­ficked across Europe, the Mid­dle East, and North Africa. Res­cue the Sur­viv­ing Souls is the first book to exam­ine this hor­rif­ic moment of dis­place­ment and flight, and to assess its social, eco­nom­ic, reli­gious, cul­tur­al, and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences. Draw­ing on a wealth of pri­ma­ry sources in twelve lan­guages, Adam Teller traces the entire course of the cri­sis, shed­ding fresh light on the refugee expe­ri­ence and the var­i­ous relief strate­gies devel­oped by the major Jew­ish cen­ters of the day.

Teller pays par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to those thou­sands of Jews sent for sale on the slave mar­kets of Istan­bul and the exten­sive tran­sre­gion­al Jew­ish eco­nom­ic net­work that coa­lesced to ran­som them. He also explores how Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties ral­lied to sup­port the refugees in cen­tral and west­ern Europe, as well as in Poland-Lithua­nia, doing every­thing pos­si­ble to help them over­come their trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences and rebuild their lives.

Res­cue the Sur­viv­ing Souls offers an inti­mate study of an inter­na­tion­al refugee cri­sis, from out­break to res­o­lu­tion, that is pro­found­ly rel­e­vant today.

Discussion Questions

Res­cue the Sur­viv­ing Souls throws us back to a deci­sive moment in the his­to­ry of the Jew­ish peo­ple. In the mid-sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, wars and pogroms in East­ern Europe left thou­sands of Jews dead and caused the dis­place­ment of tens of thou­sands more. Many of the Jew­ish refugees fled west­wards in what would become a pat­tern in mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry — ear­li­er migra­tions tend­ed to move toward the east while oth­er Jews found them­selves in shack­les, trans­port­ed to the slave mar­ket of Con­stan­tino­ple. With excep­tion­al eru­di­tion, pen­e­trat­ing intel­li­gence, and sparkling prose, Adam Teller depicts this hor­ren­dous moment in all of its com­plex­i­ty: as a moment of death but also of new life; dis­rup­tion and con­nec­tion; and sense­less vio­lence but also pre­cious moments of human sym­pa­thy. Based on research in dozens of archives and almost as many lan­guages, Res­cue the Sur­viv­ing Souls is a tour de force of his­tor­i­cal writ­ing: it is at once com­pul­sive­ly read­able and schol­ar­ly to a fault, and it con­nects, in a way rarely if ever seen before, his­to­ries of East and West, Jews and non-Jews, what hap­pened many cen­turies ago in a far­away coun­try and what is still hap­pen­ing in our world.