Yid­dish Civ­i­liza­tion: The Rise and Fall of a For­got­ten Nation

Paul Kri­waczek
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011

This book is a fas­ci­nat­ing and ener­getic, but sig­nif­i­cant­ly flawed, effort to uncov­er and trace the roots and trunk of the Yid­dish- speak­ing Jew­ish civ­i­liza­tion that flour­ished for over 800 years in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe. 

The Aus­tri­an-born British author appar­ent­ly lacks suf­fi­cient knowl­edge of the basic lan­guages need­ed to com­pre­hend and tell the sto­ry reli­ably. Nev­er­the­less, he tells an engross­ing tale that includes the argu­ment that a major source of East Euro­pean Jew­ry con­sist­ed of Slav­ic-speak­ing Jews or con­verts to Judaism who came to be dom­i­nat­ed by Jew­ish cul­tur­al trends and norms import­ed from the West­ern Jew­ries of North­ern France and the Rhineland. 

The book is pecu­liar­ly doc­u­ment­ed, with ref­er­ences to for­eign lan­guage works which the author pre­sum­ably did not read in the orig­i­nal, while some of the stan­dard works in Eng­lish do not appear in the bib­li­og­ra­phy or notes. The source notes them­selves do not gen­er­al­ly include page ref­er­ences, and there are numer­ous mis­spellings and mis­trans­la­tions that might have been caught and cor­rect­ed with more care­ful and knowl­edge­able editing. 

Sad­ly, one can­not rec­om­mend this book, but one must mourn what the author’s ener­gy, humor and curios­i­ty could have pro­duced. Bib­lio., index, notes, photographs.

Robert Moses Shapiro teach­es mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, Holo­caust stud­ies, and Yid­dish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture at Brook­lyn Col­lege of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. His most recent book is The War­saw Ghet­to Oyneg Shabes-Ringel­blum Archive: Cat­a­log and Guide (Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press in asso­ci­a­tion with the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Library and the Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Insti­tute in War­saw, 2009). He is cur­rent­ly engaged in trans­lat­ing Pol­ish and Yid­dish diaries from the Łódź ghet­to and the Yid­dish Son­derkom­man­do doc­u­ments found buried in the ash pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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