Tightrope: Six Cen­turies of a Jew­ish Dynasty

Michael Karpin
  • Review
By – December 22, 2011

Michael Karpin wrote this saga of the Back­en­roth fam­i­ly upon a request of the Brazil­ian-born busi­ness­man Allan Kahane in 1987 to write the life sto­ry of his fam­i­ly. Their sto­ry starts in Ger­many in 1350, when they escaped from per­se­cu­tions and the bubon­ic plague and set­tled in Gali­cia. It ends in the 1980’s in Brazil, Israel, and the Unit­ed States where dif­fer­ent branch­es of the fam­i­ly set­tled down after World War II

Karpin’s sources con­sist of gen­er­al his­to­ry of the Gali­cian Jews and par­tic­u­lar accounts of per­se­cu­tions on the one hand and Jew­ish achieve­ments in the oil indus­try, on the oth­er. He also relies on news­pa­pers, offi­cial records, let­ters, per­son­al diaries, hand­ed-down genealo­gies, and inter­views. Most of the his­to­ry of the fam­i­ly until the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry is based on fam­i­ly lore woven into the gen­er­al his­to­ry of Jew­ish Gali­cia with­out much detail. But dur­ing the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, a peri­od for which more record­ed per­son­al doc­u­ments and inter­views are avail­able, the fam­i­ly sto­ry becomes more detailed and bio­graph­i­cal. The real sto­ry of the Back­en­roths starts with Abra­ham the Tav­ern Keep­er (b. 1720), con­tin­ues with his great-grand­son (1852 – 1934) who mar­ried Haya Heller (1863 – 1893), and ends with Han­na Back­en­roth-Sobel and her hus­band Israel Kahane and with Naf­tali Back­en­roth- Bron­ic­ki through the Holo­caust peri­od in Rus­sia and Gali­cia and after the war. Inter­wo­ven with the main fam­i­ly sto­ry are tales about oth­er Back­en­rothes, such as Leopold Weiss, who con­vert­ed to Islam and became Muham­mad Asad. 

Tightrope com­bines pop­u­lar his­to­ry with fam­i­ly lore and per­son­al mem­oirs. Karpin tends to use the mem­oirs told by his sub­jects with­out reli­a­bil­i­ty checks or interpretations. 

Bib­li­og­ra­phy, fam­i­ly charts, index, maps, notes, photographs.

Bat­she­va Ben-Amos has two Ph.D.s, one in soci­ol­o­gy from the U. of Penn­syl­va­nia, the oth­er in clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy from Hah­ne­mann University/​Hospital. In 2007, she received a fel­low­ship for The Sum­mer Insti­tute on the Holo­caust and Jew­ish Civ­i­liza­tion at North­west­ern University.

Discussion Questions