The Shtetl: Myth and Reality 1874774765, 9781874774761

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Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright
Dedication
Editors and Advisers
Preface
Contents
Note on Place Names
Note on Transliteration
List of Abbreviations
Part I: The Shtetl: Myth and Reality
Introduction. The Shtetl: Myth and Reality
The Shtetl as an Arena for Polish–Jewish Integration in the Eighteenth Century
Inter–Religious Contacts in the Shtetl: Proposals for Future Research
The Hasidic Conquest of Small-Town Central Poland, 1754–1818
The Drama of Berdichev: Levi Yitshak and his Town
Polish Shtetls under Russian Rule, 1772–1914
How Jewish Was the Shtetl?
The Changing Shtetl in the Kingdom of Poland during the First World War
The Shtetl: Cultural Evolution in Small Jewish Towns
Small Towns in Inter-War Poland
Jewish Patrons and Polish Clients: Patronage in a Small Galician Town
Maintaining Borders, Crossing Borders: Social Relationships in the Shtetl
The Soviet Shtetl in the 1920s
Shtetl and Shtot in Yiddish Haskalah Drama
Kazimierz on the Vistula: Polish Literary Portrayals of the Shtetl
Imagining the Image: Interpretations of the Shtetl in Yiddish Literary Criticism
Shtetl Codes: Fantasy in the Fiction of Asch, Schulz, and I. B. Singer
Returning to the Shtetl: Differing Perceptions
Part II: New Views
A Jewish Russifier in Despair: Lev Levanda’s Polish Question
Like a Voice Crying in the Wilderness: The Correspondence of Wolf Lewkowicz
Jewish Prisoner Labour in Warsaw After the Ghetto Uprising, 1943–1944
The Gęsiówka Story: A Little-Known Page of Jewish Resistance
Part III: Documents
Gomułka Writes to Stalin in 1948
Introduction
Document 1: Władysław Gomułka’s Letter to Stalin
Document 2: Cryptogram from Stalin and Molotov to Bolesław Bierut
Part IV: The Sixty-Fifth Anniversary of Events in Przytyk: A Debate
If Not a Pogrom, Then What?
Pogrom? The Polish–Jewish Incidents in Przytyk, 9 March 1936
It Was No Ordinary Fight
Life and History
Letter from Ryszard Fenigsen
Przytyk and the Market Stall
Part V: Reviews
Chone Shmeruk, Hakeriyah lenavi: mehkerei historiyah vesifrut, edited by Israel Bartal; Chone Shmeruk, Ayarot ukerakhim: perakim beyetsirato shel shalom aleikhem, edited by Chava Turniansky
Anna Michałowska, Między demokracją a oligarchią: Władze gmin żydowskich w Poznaniu i Swarzędzu
Magdalena Sitarz, Yiddish and Polish Proverbs: Contrastive Analysis Against Cultural Background
Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (eds.), New Perspectives on the Haskalah
Brian Porter, When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland
Irena Janicka-Świderska, Jerzy Jarniewicz, and Adam Sumera (eds.), Jewish Themes in English and Polish Culture
Nancy L. Green (ed.), Jewish Workers in the Modern Diaspora
Gertrud Pickhan, ‘Gegen den Strom’. Der Allgemeine Jüdische Arbeiterbund ‘Bund’ in Polen, 1918–1939
Anna Cichopek, Pogrom Z ydów w Krakowie, 11 sierpnia 1945 r.
Michał Horoszewicz, ‘Przez dwa millenia do rzymskiej synagogi’: Szkice o ewolucji postawy Kościoła katolickiego wobec Żydów i judaizmu
Obituaries
Rafael Scharf (1914–2003)
Eugenia Shrut (1925–2003)
George Szabad (1917–2002)
Notes on the Contributors
Glossary
Index
Recommend Papers

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the institute for polish‒jewish studies The Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies in Oxford and its sister organization, the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies, which publish Polin, are learned societies which were established in 1984, following the First International Conference on Polish–Jewish Studies, held in Oxford. The Institute is an associate institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and the American Association is linked with the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Both the Institute and the American Association aim to promote understanding of the Polish Jewish past. They have no building or library of their own and no paid staff; they achieve their aims by encouraging scholarly research and facilitating its publication, and by creating forums for people with a scholarly interest in Polish Jewish topics, both past and present. To this end the Institute and the American Association help organize lectures and international conferences. Venues for these activities have included Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Institute for the Study of Human Sciences in Vienna, King’s College in London, the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, the University of Lódz´, University College London, and the Polish Cultural Centre and the Polish embassy in London. They have encouraged academic exchanges between Israel, Poland, the United States, and western Europe. In particular they seek to help train a new generation of scholars, in Poland and elsewhere, to study the culture and history of the Jews in Poland. Each year since 1986 the Institute has published a volume of scholarly papers in the series Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry under the general editorship of Professor Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University. Since 1994 the series has been published on its behalf by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, and since 1998 the publication has been linked with the American Association as well. In March 2000 the entire series was honoured with a National Jewish Book Award from the Jewish Book Council in the United States. More than twenty other works on Polish Jewish topics have also been published with the Institute’s assistance. /

For further information on the Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies or the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies, contact . For the website of the American Association for Polish--Jewish Studies, see .

THE LITTMAN LIBRARY OF JEWISH CIVILIZATION

Dedicated to the memory of Louis Thomas Sidney Lit tman who founded the Littman Library for the love of God and as an act of charity in memory of his father Joseph Aaron Lit tman ‫יהא זכרם ברו‬

‘Get wisdom, get understanding: Forsake her not and she shall preserve thee’ prov. 4: 5

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization is a registered UK charity Registered charity no. 1000784

POLIN S T U D I E S I N P O L I S H J E W RY ccccccccccccccccdxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

VO LU M E S E V E N T E E N

The Shtetl: Myth and Reality Edited by ANTONY POLONSKY ccccccccccccccccdxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Published for The Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies and The American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies

Oxford . Portland, Oregon

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization Chief Executive Officer: Ludo Craddock Managing Editor: Connie Webber PO Box 645, Oxford ox2 0uj, uk www.littman.co.uk ——— Published in the United States and Canada by The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization c/o ISBS, 920 N.E. 58th Avenue, Suite 300 Portland, Oregon 97213-3786 First published in 2004 First digital on-demand edition 2009 © Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies 2004 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. The paperback edition of this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISSN 0268 1056 ISBN 978‒1‒874774‒76‒1 Publishing co-ordinator: Janet Moth Copy-editing: Laurien Berkeley Proof-reading: Tamar Wang Index: Bonnie Blackburn Cover design by Pete Russell, Faringdon, Oxon. Printed in Great Britain by Lightning Source UK, Milton Keynes, and in the United States by Lightning Source US, La Vergne, Tennessee

This book has been printed digitally and produced in a standard specification in order to ensure its continuing availability. Articles appearing in this publication are abstracted and indexed in Historical Abstracts and America: History and Life

Dedicated in love and appreciation to

eugenia shrut 1925‒2003 a courageous and indomitable survivor of the Holocaust and resolute upholder of the heritage of Polish Jewry —— This volume of polin benefited from grants from t h e l u c i u s n. l i t ta u e r f o u n dat i o n and t h e m e m o r i a l f o u n dat i o n f o r j e w i s h c u lt u r e

Editors and Advisers EDITORS

Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Lublin Israel Bartal, Jerusalem Antony Polonsky (Chair), Waltham, Mass. Michael Steinlauf, Philadelphia Jerzy Tomaszewski, Warsaw EDITORIAL BOARD

Chimen Abramski, London David Assaf, Tel Aviv Władysław T. Bartoszewski, Warsaw Glenn Dynner, Bronxville, NY David Engel, New York David Fishman, New York ChaeRan Freeze, Waltham, Mass Józef Gierowski, Kraków Jacob Goldberg, Jerusalem Yisrael Gutman, Jerusalem Jerzy Kłoczowski, Lublin Ezra Mendelsohn, Jerusalem Joanna Michlic, Bethlehem, Pa.

Elchanan Reiner, Tel Aviv Jehuda Reinharz, Waltham, Mass. Moshe Rosman, Tel Aviv Szymon Rudnicki, Warsaw Henryk Samsonowicz, Warsaw Robert Shapiro, New York Adam Teller, Haifa Daniel Tollet, Paris Piotr S. Wandycz, New Haven, Conn. Jonathan Webber, Birmingham,UK Joshua Zimmerman, New York Steven Zipperstein, Stanford, Calif.

A DV I S O RY B O A R D

Wl adysl aw Bartoszewski, Warsaw Jan Błon´ski, Kraków Abraham Brumberg, Washington Andrzej Chojnowski, Warsaw Andrzej Ciechanowiecki, London Norman Davies, London Victor Erlich, New Haven, Conn. Frank Golczewski, Hamburg Olga Goldberg, Jerusalem Feliks Gross, New York Czesl aw Hernas, Wrocław Maurycy Horn, Warsaw Jerzy Jedlicki, Warsaw Andrzej Kamin´ski, London Hillel Levine, Boston /

/

/

Lucjan Lewitter, Cambridge, Mass. Stanisl aw Litak, Lublin Heinz-Dietrich Löwe, Heidelberg Emanuel Meltzer, Tel Aviv Shlomo Netzer, Tel Aviv David Patterson, Oxford Zbigniew Pełczyn´ski, Oxford Alexander Schenker, New Haven, Conn. David Sorkin, Madison, Wisc. Edward Stankiewicz, New Haven, Conn. Norman Stone, Ankara Shmuel Werses, Jerusalem Jacek Woz´niakowski, Lublin Piotr Wróbel, Toronto /

Preface This volume of Polin is centred around a core of articles devoted to the shtetl. Many of these articles were first delivered as papers at a conference organized by the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London on 19‒21 June 2001, entitled ‘The Shtetl: Myth and Reality’. An introduction to this section follows. As in previous volumes of Polin, in the ‘New Views’ section substantial space is given to new research into a variety of topics in Polish Jewish studies. These include an analysis by Brian Horowitz of the views of the Russian Jewish writer Lev Levanda on the Polish uprising of 1863, two accounts of the Ge˛siówka concentration camp set up in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, and a description of the Yiddish correspondence with his American relations of Wolf Lewkowicz, who lived in Konskowola and Lódz´ in the inter-war period. In addition, the volume contains an annotated translation of the letter written by Wladyslaw Gomulka to Stalin in December 1948. We also reprint the substance of a controversy in the pages of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on the character of the anti-Jewish disturbances in Przytyk in March 1936. Polin is sponsored by the Institute of Polish–Jewish Studies, which is an associated institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and by the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies, which is linked with the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University. As with earlier issues, this volume could not have appeared without the untiring assistance of many individuals. In particular, we should like to express our gratitude to Dr Jonathan Webber, Treasurer of the Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies, to Professor Jehuda Reinharz, President of Brandeis University, and to Mrs Irene Pipes, President of the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies. These three institutions all made substantial contributions to the cost of producing the volume. The volume also benefited from grants from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation. As was the case with earlier volumes, this one could not have been published without the constant assistance and supervision of Connie Webber, managing editor of the Littman Library, Janet Moth, publishing co-ordinator, and the tireless copy-editing of Laurien Berkeley, Claire Rosenson, and Phyllis Mitzman. Plans for future volumes of Polin are well advanced. Volume 18 will deal with the history of Jewish women in eastern Europe, volume 19 with Polish–Jewish relations in the United States, and volume 20 will be devoted to recording and memorializing the Holocaust. Further volumes are planned on Jews in premodern Poland–Lithuania, on 1968 in Poland, and on the history of the Jews in Kraków. We should welcome articles for these issues as well as for our ‘New Views’ /

/

/

/

/

viii

Preface

section. We should also welcome any suggestions or criticisms. In particular, we should be very grateful for assistance in extending the geographical range of our journal to Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, both in the period in which these countries were part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and subsequently. We note with sadness the death of George Szabad, a long-standing supporter of Polish–Jewish understanding and of our yearbook; of Rafael Scharf, one of the founders of the Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies and of this yearbook; of Eugenia Shrut, a key member of the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies; and of Adam Penkalla, a fine scholar, a helpful colleague, and a frequent contributor to these pages.

POLIN

We did not know, but our fathers told us how the exiles of Israel came to the land of

Polin (Poland). When Israel saw how its sufferings were constantly renewed, oppressions increased, persecutions multiplied, and how the evil authorities piled decree on decree and followed expulsion with expulsion, so that there was no way to escape the enemies of Israel, they went out on the road and sought an answer from the paths of the wide world: which is the correct road to traverse to find rest for the soul? Then a piece of paper fell from heaven, and on it the words: Go to Polaniya (Poland). So they came to the land of Polin and they gave a mountain of gold to the king, and he received them with great honour. And God had mercy on them, so that they found favour from the king and the nobles. And the king gave them permission to reside in all the lands of his kingdom, to trade over its length and breadth, and to serve God according to the precepts of their religion. And the king protected them against every foe and enemy. And Israel lived in Polin in tranquillity for a long time. They devoted themselves to trade and handicrafts. And God sent a blessing on them so that they were blessed in the land, and their name was exalted among the peoples. And they traded with the surrounding countries and they also struck coins with inscriptions in the holy language and the language of the country. These are the coins which have on them a lion rampant towards the right. And on the coins are the words ‘Mieszko, King of Poland’ or ‘Mieszko, Król of Poland’. The Poles call their king ‘Król’. When they came from the land of the Franks, they found a wood in the land and on every tree, one tractate of the Talmud was incised. This is the forest of Kawe˛ czyn, which is near Lublin. And every man said to his neighbour, ‘We have come to the land where our ancestors dwelt before the Torah and revelation were granted.’ And those who seek for names say: ‘This is why it is called Polin. For thus spoke Israel when they came to the land, “Here rest for the night [Po lin].” And this means that we shall rest here until we are all gathered into the Land of Israel.’ Since this is the tradition, we accept it as such. s. y. agnon, 1916

POLIN Studies in Polish Jewry volume 1 Poles and Jews: Renewing the Dialogue (1986) volume 2 Jews and the Emerging Polish State (1987) volume 3 The Jews of Warsaw (1988) volume 4 Poles and Jews: Perceptions and Misperceptions (1989) volume 5 New Research, New Views (1990) volume 6 Jews in Łódz´, 1820–1939 (1991) volume 7 Jewish Life in Nazi-Occupied Warsaw (1992) From Shtetl to Socialism (1993): selected articles from volumes 1–7 volume 8 Jews in Independent Poland, 1918–1939 (1994) volume 9 Jews, Poles, Socialists: The Failure of an Ideal (1996) volume 10 Jews in Early Modern Poland (1997) volume 11 Aspects and Experiences of Religion (1998) volume 12 Galicia: Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians, 1772–1918 (1999) Index to Volumes 1–12 (2000) volume 13 The Holocaust and its Aftermath (2000) volume 14 Jews in the Polish Borderlands (2001) volume 15 Jewish Religious Life, 1500–1900 (2002) volume 16 Jewish Popular Culture and its Afterlife (2003) volume 17 The Shtetl: Myth and Reality (2004) volume 18 Jewish Women in Eastern Europe (2005) volume 19 Polish–Jewish Relations in North America (2007) volume 20 Memorializing the Holocaust (2008) volume 21 1968: Forty Years After (2009) volume 22 Social and Cultural Boundaries in Pre-Modern Poland (2010) volume 23 Jews in Kraków (2011)

Contents Note on Place Names

xv

Note on Transliteration

xvi

List of Abbreviations

xvii PART I

THE SHTETL: MYTH AND REALITY Introduction. The Shtetl: Myth and Reality an ton y pol o ns ky The Shtetl as an Arena for Polish–Jewish Integration in the Eighteenth Century ad am telle r

3

25

Inter-Religious Contacts in the Shtetl: Proposals for Future Research m ich al galas

41

The Hasidic Conquest of Small-Town Central Poland, 1754‒1818 g len n dy n ne r

51

The Drama of Berdichev: Levi Yitshak and his Town y oha nan pe t r ov s ky-s ht e r n

83

Polish Shtetls under Russian Rule, 1772‒1914 joh n klier

97

/

How Jewish Was the Shtetl? ben - cion pinc huk The Changing Shtetl in the Kingdom of Poland during the First World War k on rad zie lin´ s k i

109

119

The Shtetl: Cultural Evolution in Small Jewish Towns alin a cal a

133

Small Towns in Inter-War Poland reg in a ren z

143

/

xii

Contents

Jewish Patrons and Polish Clients: Patronage in a Small Galician Town rosa lehmann

153

Maintaining Borders, Crossing Borders: Social Relationships in the Shtetl an namari a o r l a- b u kows ka

171

The Soviet Shtetl in the 1920s g en nad y e str ai k h

197

Shtetl and Shtot in Yiddish Haskalah Drama joel ber ko wit z

213

Kazimierz on the Vistula: Polish Literary Portrayals of the Shtetl eu gen i a pr oko p - ja nie c

233

Imagining the Image: Interpretations of the Shtetl in Yiddish Literary Criticism mi k hail k ruti ko v

243

Shtetl Codes: Fantasy in the Fiction of Asch, Schulz, and I. B. Singer katarzyna wie˛ c l awska

259

Returning to the Shtetl: Differing Perceptions sh im on redlich

267

/

PART II

NEW VIEWS A Jewish Russifier in Despair: Lev Levanda’s Polish Question brian h orowit z

279

Like a Voice Crying in the Wilderness: The Correspondence of Wolf Lewkowicz mirosl aw w ó jcik

299

Jewish Prisoner Labour in Warsaw After the Ghetto Uprising, 1943‒1944 g abriel n . f inde r

325

/

The Ge˛siówka Story: A Little-Known Page of Jewish Resistance ed ward k os soy

353

Contents

xiii

PART III

DOCUMENTS Gomulka Writes to Stalin in 1948 lec h w. g l ucho ws k i Introduction Document 1: Wladyslaw Gomulka’s Letter to Stalin Document 2: Cryptogram from Stalin and Molotov to Boleslaw Bierut /

365

/

/

/

/

/

365 376 381

PART IV

THE SIXTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF EVENTS IN PRZYTYK: A DEBATE If Not a Pogrom, Then What? . jola n ta z yndul

385

Pogrom? The Polish–Jewish Incidents in Przytyk, 9 March 1936 piotr g on ta rcz yk

392

It Was No Ordinary Fight . jola n ta z yndul

397

Life and History ry s zard fenigse n

400

Letter from Ryszard Fenigsen

401

Przytyk and the Market Stall k saw ery pr usz yn´ s k i

404

PART V

REVIEWS Chone Shmeruk, Hakeriyah lenavi: meh.kerei historiyah vesifrut, edited by Israel Bartal; Chone Shmeruk, Ayarot ukerakhim: perakim beyetsirato shel shalom aleikhem, edited by Chava Turniansky d avid assaf

413

Anna Michalowska, Mie˛dzy demokracja˛ a oligarchia˛: Wladze gmin z.ydowskich w Poznaniu i Swarze˛dzu mag d alena t e t e r

419

/

/

xiv

Contents

Magdalena Sitarz, Yiddish and Polish Proverbs: Contrastive Analysis Against Cultural Background h en ry k d uda Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin (eds.), New Perspectives on the Haskalah veren a d ohrn Brian Porter, When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland scott ury Irena Janicka-S´widerska, Jerzy Jarniewicz, and Adam Sumera (eds.), Jewish Themes in English and Polish Culture . mare k pa ry z Nancy L. Green (ed.), Jewish Workers in the Modern Diaspora k on rad zie lin´ s k i

422 427

429

432 434

Gertrud Pickhan, ‘Gegen den Strom’. Der Allgemeine Jüdische Arbeiterbund 438 ‘Bund’ in Polen, 1918‒1939 j ack jacobs . 440 Anna Cichopek, Pogrom Zydów w Krakowie, 11 sierpnia 1945 r. n at ali a al eks iun synagogi’: Szkice o Michal Horoszewicz, ‘Przez dwa millenia do rzymskiej . ewolucji postawy Kos´ciola katolickiego wobec Zydów i judaizmu g rzeg orz i gn a t ows k i /

/

448

OBITUARIES Rafael Scharf (1914‒2003) an tony pol o ns ky

453

Eugenia Shrut (1925‒2003) ry s zard fe nigse n

460

George Szabad (1917‒2002) an tony pol o ns ky

462

Notes on the Contributors

465

Glossary

471

Index

475

Note on Place Names Po l i t i c a l connotations accrue to words, names, and spellings with an alacrity unfortunate for those who would like to maintain neutrality. It seems reasonable to honour the choices of a population on the name of its city or town, but what is one to do when the people have no consensus on their name, or when the town changes its name, and the name its spelling, again and again over time? The politician may always opt for the latest version, but the hapless historian must reckon with them all. This note, then, will be our brief reckoning. The least problematic are those places that have a widely accepted English name, which we shall use by preference. Examples are Warsaw, Kiev, Moscow, St Petersburg, and Munich. As an exception, we maintain the Polish spelling of Kraków, which in English has more often appeared as Cracow. Most other place names in east central Europe can raise serious problems. The linguistic and contextual diversity encountered cannot adequately be standardized by editorial formula, and in practice the least awkward solution is often to let subject matter and perspective determine the most suitable spellings in a given article. The difficulty is well illustrated by Galicia’s most diversely named city, and one of its most important, which boasts five variants: the Polish Lwów, the German Lemberg, the Russian Lvov, the Ukrainian Lviv, and the Yiddish Lemberik. A particular difficulty is posed by Wilno/Vilne/Vilnius/Vilna, to all of which there are clear objections: until 1944 the majority of the population was Polish; the city is today in Lithuania; ‘Vilna’, though least problematic, is an artificial construct. Our preference will be to use the common English form ‘Vilna’ until its first incorporation into Lithuania in October 1939, and ‘Vilnius’ thereafter. In all cases where context does not strongly suggest a preference, the following guidelines will apply by default for the period up to the Second World War: 1. Towns that were clearly part of a particular state and shared the majority nationality of that state will be given in a form which reflects that situation (e.g. Breslau, Danzig, Rzeszów, Przemys´l). 2. Towns that were in ‘mixed’ areas will take the form in which they are known today and which reflects their present situation (e.g. Poznan´, Torun´, Kaunas).

Note on Transliteration he bre w An attempt has been made to achieve consistency in the transliteration of Hebrew words. The following are the key distinguishing features of the system that has been adopted: 1. No distinction is made between the aleph and ayin; both are represented by an apostrophe, and only when they appear in an intervocalic position. 2. Veit is written v; h.et is written h.; yod is written y when it functions as a consonant and i when it occurs as a vowel; khaf is written kh; tsadi is written ts; kof is written k. 3. The dagesh h.azak, represented in some transliteration systems by doubling the letter, is not represented, except in words that have more or less acquired normative English spellings that include doubling, such as Hallel, kabbalah, Kaddish, rabbi, Sukkot, and Yom Kippur. 4. The sheva na is represented by an e. 5. Hebrew prefixes, prepositions, and conjunctions are not followed by hyphens when they are transliterated; thus betoledot ha’am hayehudi. 6. Capital letters are not used in the transliteration of Hebrew except for the first word in the titles of books and the names of people, places, institutions, and generally as in the conventions of the English language. 7. The names of individuals are transliterated following the above rules unless the individual concerned followed a different usage.

y i d d ish Transliteration follows the standard YIVO system with the following exceptions. All proper names (including those of groups and institutions) are capitalized. In addition, occasional Hebrew titles or terms embedded in a Yiddish linguistic context have been transliterated using the YIVO system.

ru ss i a n and u kr a i n i a n The system used is that of British Standard 2979:1958, without diacritics. Except in bibliographical and other strictly rendered matter, soft and hard signs are omitted and word-final -i˘⁄i, -i⁄ii˘⁄i, - p ii˘⁄i, -ii˘⁄i in names are simplified to -y.

List of Abbreviations AAN

Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw

AGAD

Archiwum Gl ówne Akt Dawnych, Warsaw

AK

Armia Krajowa (Home Army)

AL

Armia Ludowa (Popular Army)

/

ALBI-NY Archives of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York APK

Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Krakowie

APKh . AZIH . BZIH

Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Kielcach . Archiwum Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Warsaw . Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego

CAHJP . CKZP

Central Archive of the History of Jewish People, Jerusalem . Centralny Komitet Zydów w Polsce

GPU

Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie (state political authority), the Soviet secret police

HHStA

Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv, Vienna

KA

Kriegsarchiv, Vienna

KdfO

Komittee für den Osten (Committee for the East)

KOMZET Komitet po zemel⬘nomu ustroistvu trudyashchikhsya evreev (Committee for the Rural Placement of Jewish Labourers) LBI

Leo Baeck Institute, New York

NBU

Natsional⬘na Biblioteka Ukrayiny im. V. I. Vernadskoho

NEP

New Economic Policy

NSZ

Narodowe Sil y Zbrojne (National Armed Forces)

OZET

Obshchestvo po zemel⬘nomu ustroistvu trudyashchikhsya evreev (Association for the Rural Placement of Jewish Labourers)

PPR

Polska Partia Robotnicza (Polish Workers’ Party)

PPS

Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party)

PZPR

Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza (Polish United Workers’ Party)

RGIA

Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv

/

TsDIAUK Tsentralnyi derzhavnyi istorychnyi arkhiv Ukrainy, Kiev WAPK

Wojewódzkie Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Krakowie, Oddzial na Wawelu

YVA . ZOB

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem . Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization)

/

PART I ccccccccccccccccdxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The Shtetl: Myth and Reality

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Introduction. The Shtetl: Myth and Reality a ntony polon sky It is not difficult to find descriptions of the mythical shtetl. One of the most characteristic is that of Abraham Joshua Heschel, scion of a great hasidic family who emigrated from Poland, first to Germany and then to the United States, and became one of the leading theologians of American Judaism. In his lament for the lost world of east European Jewry The Earth is the Lord’s, published in 1946, he wrote: Korets, Karlin, Bratslav, Lubavich, Ger, Lublin—hundreds of little towns were like holy books. Each place was a pattern, a way of Jewishness . . . The little Jewish communities in Eastern Europe were like sacred texts opened before the eyes of God, so close were the houses of worship to Mount Sinai. In the humble wooden synagogues, looking as if they were deliberately closing themselves off from the world, the Jews purified the souls that God had given them and perfected their likeness to God . . . Even plain men were like artists who knew how to fill weekday hours with mystic beauty.1

His sentiments were echoed, although with a characteristic twist, by the Polish Jewish poet Antoni Sl onimski, also the product of a distinguished Jewish lineage, who, in spite of his baptism as an infant, always considered himself a ‘Jew of anti. semitic antecedents’. In his ‘Elegia miasteczek zydowskich’ (‘Elegy for the Shtetls’, 1947), he wrote: /

No more will you find in Poland Jewish shtetls Hrubieszów, Karczew, Brody, Falenica In vain will you seek in the windows lighted candles And search for the sound of chants from the wooden synagogue. The last scourings, the Jewish rags have vanished They sprinkled sand over the blood, swept away the footprints And whitewashed the walls with bluish lime As after a plague or a great day of fasting. 1 A. J. Heschel, The Earth is the Lord’s: The Inner World of the Jew in East Europe (1946; New York, 1986), 89, 92, 93.

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Antony Polonsky One moon shines here, cool, pale, alien, Outside the town, when the night lights up, My Jewish kinsmen, with their poetic fancies, Will find no more Chagall’s two golden moons. They have flown away frightened by the grim silence. No more will you find those towns, Where the cobbler was a poet, The watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour. No more will you find those towns where biblical psalms Were linked by the wind with Polish laments and Slavic ardour, Where old Jews in the orchard, under the shade of cherry trees, Wept for the sacred walls of Jerusalem. No more will you find those towns where poetic mist, The moon, winds, lakes and the stars above Wrote in blood a tragic story The history of the world’s two saddest nations.2

Examples of this sort of elevated nostalgia could easily be multiplied. They all depict a mythical shtetl. Partly this is merely the common phenomenon of the idealization of a lost and romanticized past, usually linked with the childhood of the author. But there are more serious flaws in this mythologized picture of the shtetl. In the first place, towns and, indeed, villages of very different types are indiscriminately lumped together. Thus Sl onimski equates Hrubieszów, Karczew, Brody, and Falenica. Of these only Hrubieszów could really be described as a shtetl. Karczew and Falenica are summer resorts near Warsaw, before the war mostly patronized by Jews, while Brody in the nineteenth century was a free port on the Russian–Austrian frontier and a major centre of the Haskalah. Heschel is somewhat more accurate. Korets, Bratslav, Lubavich, and Ger could certainly be described as shtetls. But Karlin is a suburb of Pinsk, and Lublin was a major town with a population in 1938 of 115,000. Certainly, one needs to make a clear distinction between small towns, townlets, and villages. This is an awareness to be found in some writers. In his novella Dos shterntikhl⬘ (‘The Shabbos Headband’) Israel Aksenfeld distinguished clearly between a shtetl (or, as he described it, a kleyn shtetl), a shtot, and a gross shtot: /

Anyone familiar with our Russian Poland knows what Jews mean by a small shtetl, a little town. A small shtetl has a few cabins, and a fair every other Sunday. The Jews deal in liquor, grain, burlap, or tar. Usually, there’s a man striving to be a Hasidic rebbe. A shtot, on the other hand, contains several hundred wooden homes (that’s what they call a house: a home) and a row of brick shops. There are: a very rich man (a parvenu), several well-to-do storekeepers, a few dealers in fields, hareskins, wax, honey, some big moneylenders, who use cash belonging either to the rich man, going halves on the profits, or to the tenant farmers and tenant innkeepers in the surrounding area. Such a town has a Polish 2

. A. Sl onimski, ‘Elegia miasteczek zydowskich’ (1947), in his 138 wierszy (Warsaw, 1984), 175–6. /

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landowner (the porets) with his manor. He owns the town and some ten villages, this entire district being known as a shlisl. Some prominent Jew, who is held in esteem at the manor, leases the entire town or even the entire district. Such a town also has a Jewish VIP, who is a big shot with the district police chief. Such a town has an intriguer, who is always litigating with the town and the Jewish communal administration, even on the level of the provincial government. In such a town, the landowner tries to get a Hasidic rebbe to take up residence, because if Jews come to him from all over, you can sell them vodka, ale, and mead. All these goods belong to the landowner, and so up goes his income. Such a town has a winehouse keeper, a watchmaker, and a doctor, a past cantor and a present cantor, a broker, a madman, and an abandoned wife (an agunah), community beadles, and a caterer. Such a town has a tailors’ association, a burial association, a Talmud association, and a free-loan association. Such a town has various kinds of synagogues: a shul (mainly for the Sabbath and holidays), a bes-medresh (the house of study, for everyday use), and sometimes even a klaizl (a smaller house of worship) or a shtibl (a small hasidic synagogue). God forbid that anyone should accidentally blurt out the wrong word and call the town a shtetl. He’d instantly be branded as the local smartass or madman. A town is called a big town if there are a couple of thousand householders and a few brick buildings aside from the wooden homes. This is a horse of a different colour. Here, everyone boasts that he greeted someone from the next street because he mistook him for an out-oftowner. After all: In such a big town as this, how can you tell if a stranger is a local? There are tons of people whom you don’t know from Adam.3

A second problem with the ‘mythological’ shtetl is that non-Jews are hardly present in it, or, if they are, appear in highly stereotypical form. Israel Bartal in his study of the representation of non-Jewish characters has shown that there is a high degree of continuity between the way these are depicted in the literature of the Haskalah and in later Hebrew and Yiddish writing.4 When these towns were established, the dominant figure was the Polish landowner, the owner of the town. Yet when a fictionalized image of the shtetl was set down, the power of the porets had waned considerably with the Russian suppression of the Polish uprisings of 1830 and 1863 and the abolition of serfdom and unfree cultivation. To quote David Roskies’s important study ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’: When the shtetl entered into literature, between 1831 and 1863, the dates of the two failed Polish uprisings against the tsar, it was just as the Polish nobility was being stripped of its powers. Thus the porits, for all that he once loomed so large on the shtetl landscape and saw to it that nothing much in that landscape ever changed, himself became transported to the land of legend, either as the benign ruler, such as Graf Potocki, or as the sadistic and dissolute nobleman who signaled the collapse of all moral authority. The porits, much like the Roman emperor before him, came to be seen as merely a pawn in the divine scheme of things.5 3 I. Aksenfeld, The Headband, in his The Shtetl, ed. and trans. J. Neugroschel (Woodstock, NY, 1989), 49–50. The description later says that the context was 1812–13. 4 I. Bartal, ‘Non-Jews and Gentile Society in East European Hebrew and Yiddish Literature 1856–1914’, Polin, 4 (1989), 53–69. 5 D. Roskies, ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’, in his The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 45.

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Hebrew and Yiddish literature abound in depictions, both positive and negative, of the Polish noble owner of the shtetl. In Ayit tsavua (‘The Hypocrite’, 1858‒64), a novel by Abraham Mapu, one finds a ridiculously romanticized depiction of the salon of a Lithuanian magnate, where enlightened Poles and Jews meet and discuss Voltaire, philosophy, and the Jews. ‘The Count’s wife and her daughter are welldisposed: they do not distinguish between members of different nations but only between good and bad people.’ It is the Countess who brings together the young enlightened Jewish couple who are the centre of the novel. She describes them as follows: ‘These are the young people of the new generation, filled with knowledge and reason.’6 More frequent is the negative depiction of the porets, which was also well established both in Jewish folklore and in hasidic hagiography, where the tsadik was able to use his powers of intercession to turn aside aristocratic malevolence, a topic discussed in Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern’s account of the tsadik Levi Yitshak (Levi Isaac) of Berdichev in this volume. The classic Hebrew writer of the Haskalah Yehuda Leib Gordon articulates this hostile image well in his first short story, ‘Shenei yamim velailah eh.ad bemalon oreh.im’ (‘Two Days and One Night in an Inn’), which was written in 1859 but which remained unpublished for a decade. In this he presents a Polish szlachcic arrogantly humiliating a poor Jewish pedlar: The nobleman sat on his chair, like an officer in front of his regiment. He sipped from the full glass in front of him and shook his head at everything the pedlar took from his basket to show he did not want his wares . . . The Jew showed the Pole all his treasures, exhausting his soul by his efforts and trying to induce him to buy with all the adjurations in the Torah. But the nobleman did not choose any of his wares. He criticized and cursed him and all the Jews, and when he was wearied with all the trinkets set before him, drove the pedlar away.7

As Brian Horowitz has shown in his chapter in this issue, one can find both the positive and negative images of the Polish nobility in the works of Lev Levanda, the leading Jewish novelist writing in Russian in the 1870s and 1880s. The negative image became more pronounced in the post-Haskalah period. It was given a characteristic articulation in the work of the Yiddish writer Yitshak Leibush Peretz (Isaac Leib Peretz), where, particularly in later stories, with their pseudo-folkloric character, the Polish nobleman and particularly the Polish noblewoman become symbols for the corruption and licentiousness of the non-Jewish world. As Bartal has pointed out, ‘The Polish noblewoman is the epitome of sexual attractiveness and lasciviousness, and can be resisted by the Jew only with difficulty.’8 He quotes from Peretz’s story ‘Der markt’ (‘The Market’): On market days, especially on the days of their festivals, they drive about in their carriages, all decked out, splendid, and accompanied by the Cossacks of their courts, through the A. Mapu, Ayit tsavua, 3 pts. (1858, 1861, 1864), in Kol kitvei avraham mapu (Tel Aviv, 1950). J. L. Gordon, ‘Shenei yamim velailah eh.ad bemalon oreh. im’, in his Kitvei yehudah leib gordon: 8 Bartal, ‘Non-Jews and Gentile Society’, 62. Prozah (Tel Aviv, 1960), 3–16. 6 7

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towns and villages. When they see a handsome and comely Jew, they call the Cossacks . . . [And the Jew] is filled with fear and awe before the lady whom he had glimpsed and seen that she was very beautiful, splendidly dressed and ornamented.9

During the period when maskilim still expected the authorities to assist them in the reform of the Jewish community, Russian officials are often depicted in a favourable and highly stereotypic way, above all in the works of Gordon, Abraham Baer Gottlober (Avrom-Ber Gotlober), and Isaac Joel Linetzky. Gordon’s short story ‘Shenei yamim velailah eh.ad bemalon oreh.im’, which has already been alluded to, contains a highly stylized eulogistic description of a Russian government official: Out of the carriage stepped a man dressed in an official uniform, looking like an army officer. I heard him speaking the language of Russia and I felt secure enough to approach him. The Russians are a people of modest mien and genuine feeling and they adhere to the tradition of their Slavonic ancestors of making foreigners welcome and receiving them hospitably. . . . The Russian responded to me with a smile and answered me politely. ‘I am going to Warsaw, sir. . . . Very good, sir,’ continued the good-hearted official. ‘I will be happy to keep you company because I am travelling alone . . . I know you are a Hebrew [evrei].’ He said to me, ‘You cannot go on your way because it is still the sabbath. I shall wait for you until nightfall.’10

Even before 1881 some writers, such as Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Shalom Jacob Abramowitz, pen-name Mendele Mokher Seforim), took a much more hostile view of the Russian bureaucracy, while after that year favourable depictions of Russian officials become almost non-existent, to be replaced by the hostile and often buffoonish officials of Sholem Aleichem’s ‘Tevye der milkhiker’ (‘Tevye the Dairyman’). Instead there was an idealization of the progressive intelligent, like the revolutionary student Romanenko in Sholem Aleichem’s novel In shturm (‘In the Storm’; first called Der mabl, ‘The Deluge’). The child of a mismatch between a noble and liberal Polish woman and a vulgar Ukrainian antisemite, Romanenko is described in as idealized manner as Gordon’s official: Anyone who knows the events of recent times will understand the meaning of the phrase ‘eternal student’. He is, indeed, one of the best children of this land; he has in his heart a warm love, a pure conscience, lofty ideals and is full of goodwill to do everything possible for the hungry and unhappy people . . . In short, not only does he hold revolutionary and socialist views, he is also an organizer and activist, the creator of a whole group.11

Peretz was more ambivalent. In his short story ‘In postvogn’ (‘In the Mail Coach’, 1891) he draws a sympathetic portrait of Janek Polniewski, a radical member of the intelligentsia who has abandoned the study of medicine to become a provincial pharmacist and who rejects antisemitism as ‘a kind of cholera, an 19 10 11

Y. L. Peretz, ‘Der markt’, in his Ale verk, 11 vols. (Vilna, 1922), vi. 83. Gordon, ‘Shenei yamim velailah eh.ad bemalon oreh. im’, 7. Sholem Aleichem, In shturm, in his Folksfond aufgabe, 28 vols. (New York, 1917–25), xxiv. 65.

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epidemic’. The narrator of the story is set at ease by the reassurance of his former friend but is instantly suspicious when the latter ascribes his friendly feelings towards the Jews to an encounter with a Jewish woman. He remarks: ‘What do you think? That his conscience would hold him back? From a young Jewish wife! Why not? Once, to gain glory, it was necessary to bring Jews to baptism; today it is enough to seduce a Jewish woman by drawing her away from her God, from her parents, from her husband—from her whole life.’12 The depiction of peasants is equally devoid of reality. To quote Roskies again: When the market economy was still viable, the Ukrainian- Belorussian- and Polish-speaking peasants were the Jews’ main source of livelihood. On market days the peasantry from the surrounding villages descended upon the shtetl with their open wagons loaded with livestock and produce. These they sold to the Jews in return for goods and services. By nightfall, the peasants were gone, including those who drank away their earnings in the local Jewish tavern. In fact, there were Gentiles who resided permanently within the town proper, but they mostly lived on the outskirts, and owned plots of land, which embodied their ongoing link to an agrarian lifestyle. (This is true even in present-day Poland.) Although the spire of the Roman Catholic kos´ciól [church] dominated the shtetl skyline, often rivaled by the onionshaped dome of the Eastern Orthodox, the gentile majority made its presence felt only on market days, Sundays, or religious festivals. The surest sign of trouble was if the peasants reappeared en masse and off schedule. Then the only one who could save the Jews was the Russian constable or sheriff, and that only for a price.13 /

Thus, even though Sholem Abramovitsh felt an instinctive sympathy for the poor and oppressed peasantry, he still saw them as primitive and prone to violence. This emerges clearly in his novella Di klyatshe (‘The Mare’), in which a broken-down horse represents the suffering Jewish people; the peasants, the popular persecutor of the Jews; the narrator (who in a Gogolesque turn of fate is turned into a horse), a typical Jewish radical of the period of reforms of Alexander II; and the Devil, the Russian government, who eventually rides the mare. Abramovitsh provides a characteristic picture of the encounter between the narrator, Yisrolik, in his equine state, the peasants, and the mare: . . . I stood up and I witnessed a terrible scene. Young wild bullies were harassing a skinny haggard mare on all sides, pelting her with stones, goading whole packs of dogs on her . . . I couldn’t simply stand there as a silent observer to such misdeeds . . . ‘Savages!’ I said, making straight for this pepper of the earth. ‘What do you have against that poor horse?’ Some of the bullies didn’t even hear me; others did catch something and guffawed arrogantly. A few of the dogs looked at me in surprise, several of them barked at a distance, others glared, ready to leap at me from behind and tear me to shreds . . .14 12 ‘In the Mail Coach’, repr. in The I. L. Peretz Reader, ed. with introd. R. R. Wisse (New York, 13 Roskies, ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’, 45. 1996), 112, 116. 14 Sholem Abramovitsh, The Mare, in his Great Tales of Jewish Occult and Fantasy, ed. and trans. J. Neugroschel (New York, 1991), 554–5; with minor amendments to the translation.

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Abramovitsh also highlights the isolation of Jews and peasants. In Kitser masoes binyomin hashlishi: (‘The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third’, 1878) the protagonists, Benjamin and Sendrel, do not even have a common language with a peasant they encounter as they begin their search for the ten lost tribes. Sendrel rose, walked over to the peasant, and said as politely as he could: ‘Dobry dyen! Kozhi no tshelovitshe kudi dorogi Eretz-Yisro’eyl?’ [Good day! Tell me, sir, how does one go to the Land of Israel?’] ‘Shtsho?’ [‘What?’] asked the peasant, eyeing him in bewilderment. ‘Yaki Yisro’eyl? Nye batshil ya Yisro’eyl’ [‘What Israel? I haven’t seen any Israel’]. ‘Nye, Nye’ [‘No, No’], interrupted Benjamin impatiently from where he sat. ‘He thinks you’re asking about a person named Israel, not about the land.’ . . . The peasant spat, told them both to go to the Devil, and drove away muttering: ‘Eres-Srul, Eres-Srul!’15

Peretz, particularly in his socialist period, had more sympathy for the peasantry. He put the following words into the mouth of the tailor-hero of his short story ‘Dos shtrayml’ (‘The Fur Hat’, 1893): I used to enjoy making peasant coats. First, why not? Second, I thought to myself, ‘The peasant gives us bread, he does hard and bitter work in the summer and I cannot protect him from the sun, so he should at least be protected from the cold, during the winter, when he rests.’16

Non-Jewish servants working in Jewish households also appear in many stories. In one of his stories Sholem Aleichem describes Hapke, a Ukrainian maid in a Jewish household: Hapke spoke Yiddish like a Jew and used in her speech a mass of phrases in loshn-koydesh [literally ‘holy language’; Jewish religious terms, usually Hebrew- or Aramaic-derived]. When she spoke of Hveydor [another servant], she referred to him as a kapoernik [a derogatory term for a non-Jew].17

The portrayal of Christianity, whether in its Roman Catholic or its Russian Orthodox version, is for the most part negative, although some distinctions are drawn. Thus one does sometimes find sympathetic portraits of the enlightened higher Catholic clergy, particularly in the period before 1881. One such figure is portrayed in Ayzik Meir Dik’s story ‘Zafrona’. He was one of the most distinguished of all the priests of the region; he knew oriental languages, Hebrew and Arabic, was a great engineer and scientist, and knew history. His wealth corresponded to his wisdom, since, the descendant of great ancestors, he owned much property. Despite his wealth he was modest with all people of the town . . . They [the 15 Sholem Abramovich [Abramovitsh], The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third, trans. H. Halkin, in D. Miron and K. Frieden (eds.), Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler (New York, 1996), 334. 16 Y. L. Peretz, ‘Dos shtrayml’, in his Ale verk, 11 vols. (Vilna, 1922), vi: Far kleyn un groys, 130. 17 Sholem Aleichem, Folksfond aufgabe, xvi. 92.

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bishop and the Jewish narrator] both had benevolent feelings for both Jews and Christians. At one table they, each for his part, spoke peace and truth [traditional Haskalah catchwords]. The difference of religion did not separate their hearts.18

Peretz sharply contrasted the pre-modern period, when religious coexistence had been a feature of shtetl life, and the modern period, when antisemitism became the stock in trade of the parish priest. He describes the change in his story ‘Der drong’ (‘The Stake’): Previously there had been a good priest, roly-poly, smiling, with red cheeks and laughing grey eyes . . . He was friendly with the Jews . . . He used to lend a rouble from time to time against some pawn and without high interest . . . Before the sabbath and holidays he was a redeemer and saviour. . . . ‘Take pity on Moyshe Khaym, an abhorred Christ-hater, but who has a wife and children, and lend him a few coins . . .’ While the old priest had maintained good economic relations with the Jews, the new one was active in boycotting them. The new priest was infected with antisemitism and preached against economic contacts with the Jews. He often referred to that story, the old tale of the hanged man [i.e. Jesus] . . . ‘Be careful,’ he says, ‘you should not deal with any Jew, neither buy nor sell.’ If they don’t listen, he refuses confession, won’t grant absolution. ‘Let their souls burn in hell for ever,’ he says.19

George Orwell argued that a cliché is the easiest way to convey complex information in a condensed manner. In this sense, all these descriptions, however clichéd, contain an element of reality. But they hardly begin to describe the complexity of social interactions both within the small town and between it and the outside world. Some aspects of the problems involved in describing the religious interaction between Jews and Christians in the shtetl are described in Michal Galas’s chapter in this volume. The third problem with the literary image of the shtetl is that it is highly abstract and ideologically driven. In Roskies’s words: /

Two very different perspectives converged on the shtetl: the one static and synoptic, the other dynamic and deconstructive. Neither owed much to the ‘real’ past. So far as the shtetl itself was concerned, it existed on a timeless plain at the nexus of the Jews and their God. Like Jerusalem, the shtetl defined itself as a kehillah kedoshah, a covenantal community. As such, it maintained the essential institutions of shul (synagogue), besmedresh (studyhouse), shtiblekh (hasidic houses of prayer), khadorim (elementary schools), mikve (ritual bath), and besoylem (sanctified burial ground). These secured the bond between Jews and God, just as the various voluntary societies and professional guilds called khevres organized the social interaction among the Jews themselves. Critics were quick to point out that power was concentrated in the hands of the male burghers, who elected the Jewish community council called the kahal. They shed no tears for the abolition of the kahal by Tsar Nicholas I in 1844. Whether the shtetl of memory was located at the nexus of Jews-and-God or of 18 19

Ayzik Meir Dik, ‘Zafrona’, in his Geklibene verk, 2 vols. (New York, 1954), ii. 97. Y. L. Peretz, ‘Der drong’, in his Ale verk, vii: Bilder un skitsn, 210–11.

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Jews-and-other-Jews, it lay outside of time and geopolitical space. The shtetl was seen, for better or worse, as a kind of Greek city-state: independent, self-regulating, and oblivious of the contemporary world.20

Thus, the maskilim, like Israel Aksenfeld in his novella Dos shterntikhl, saw the shtetl as the root of Jewish backwardness, but the generation of writers who were confronted with the new situation that followed the change in Russian government policy after 1881 were much more sympathetic to the shtetl. In their eyes, in spite of its poverty and apparent primitiveness, the shtetl became a fortress of authentically Jewish spiritual values, which was beleaguered on all sides. This view can be found in the writings of both Sholem Aleichem and Yitshak Leibush Peretz. However, not all writers of this generation found the shtetl charming and a repository of virtues lost in the city. Hayim Nakhman Bialik’s poem ‘Bitshuvosi’ (‘Upon My Return’) is a savage reflection on the suffocating intellectual isolation of the shtetl and of his own feelings of being unable to free himself from its prison-like atmosphere. The next generation of Yiddish writers, including Yitzhak Meir Weissenberg, Sholem Asch, and David Bergelson, each had a new and distinctive image of the shtetl. Weissenberg highlighted the class antagonisms among shtetl Jews during the revolution of 1905, Asch wrote of ‘tough Jews’ and their close relations with the nonJewish population, while Bergelson described the spiritual emptiness of small-town life in the years after the crushing of the 1905 revolution. The literary depiction of the shtetl found its fullest expression in the more than 1,200 yizkor bikher (memorial books) created to commemorate the lost world of east European Jewry, of which Roskies has written, ‘In more ways than one, these memorial books are a species of fiction. They borrow unconsciously from literary sources, even as they interpolate bona fide works of prose, poetry, and professional memoir.’21 They have been studied by Jack Kugelmass and Jonathan Boyarin and form the basis for Rachel Ertel’s book Le Shtetl.22 But they are very questionable as a historical source. As David Roskies has argued, they should be seen rather as ‘a valiant group effort to shape the disparate and conflicting memories of former shtetl inhabitants and the pieces of the symbolic shtetl landscape into a lasting, coherent, memorial’. He remarks on two other features of these accounts: After a brief chapter that outlines what little is known about Jewish life in the town prior to the twentieth century, the yizkor book hits its stride with vignettes about the coexistence of tradition and modernity on the crowded shtetl streets: rabbis, scholars, philanthropists, merchants, and madmen, rubbing shoulders with political activists, youth groups, amateur actors, soccer players, cyclists, modern women, and local boys who made good. . . . Within that idealized group portrait, there is an occasional Polish nobleman to liven things up. 21 Roskies, ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’, 44. Ibid. 64. From a Ruined Garden: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry, ed. and trans. J. Kugelmass and J. Boyarin, 2nd, expanded edn. (Bloomington, Ind., 1998); R. Ertel, Le Shtetl: La bourgade juive de Pologne de la tradition à la modernité (Paris, 1982). 20 22

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Otherwise, the Gentiles are depicted as an undifferentiated mass of peasants who appear and disappear on market day. Jewish–gentile relations are recalled in the context of strikes, pogroms, anti-Jewish boycotts, murders, and the Holocaust.23

The yizkor bikher are thus of relatively little value in describing the history of the Jewish small town up to 1939. Where they can be of considerable importance, as Jan Gross has recently demonstrated, is in providing detailed accounts of the process of mass murder in small towns, for which there are very frequently no other documentary sources.24 We also have non-Jewish (predominantly Polish) descriptions of the shtetl. These are also highly abstract in both their positive and negative manifestations. In the Polish literature of the Enlightenment, discussions of the shtetl are primarily concerned to explain the backwardness of Polish towns, for which the Jews are frequently held responsible. This is how the shtetl appears in such works as Ignacy Krasicki’s Pan Podstoli (‘Mr Pantler’, 1778‒98) and Michal Krajewski’s Podolanka w stanie natury wychowana (‘A Girl from Podolia Raised in a State of Nature’, 1784). According to the pre-war Polish critic Zbigniew Les´niodorski, the descriptions of provincial towns are limited to ‘a picture of destitution, neglect and decline, supposedly caused . . . by the Jewish population’.25 This view of the shtetl was maintained in the literature of the early nineteenth century, permeated as it was by the principles of the Enlightenment and of the reforms of the period of the last . Polish king, Stanisl aw August. Thus in Potocki’s novel Podróz do Ciemnogrodu (‘A Trip to Backwoodsville’, 1820), the traveller passes through ‘muddy, unpaved streets, covered by boards here and there, low houses, only a tenth of them made of brick, Jews and beggars everywhere . . . ill-built muddy towns, full of monasteries and Jews’.26 This view of the shtetl persisted . until the twentieth century, even in the work of progressive writers like Stefan Zeromski. In Przedwios´nie (‘Before the Spring’, 1925) the hero crosses the frontier into the Kingdom of Poland. The sight he sees undermines his romantic view of Poland: /

/

[Spring] tried to shroud in its faint colours the disgusting sight which people had laid out against its background, full of immortal beauty: a Polish Jewish town. Cezary looked with gloomy eyes at the quagmire of muddy little streets, at the houses, all of various sizes, shapes, colours, and degrees of filthiness, at the pigsties and puddles, at the farm buildings and burnt rubble. He returned to the marketplace surrounded by Jewish shops, their doors and windows splashed with months-old mud and unwashed under that for many months.27 Roskies, ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’, 61. J. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton, 2001). 25 Z. Les´ niodorski, ‘Miasta i mieszczanie w powies´ ci stanisl awowskiej’, Pamie˛tnik Literacki, 1–2 (1935), 188; quoted in E. Prokopówna, ‘The Image of the Shtetl in Polish Literature’, Polin, 4 (1989), . 26 S. Potocki, Podróz do Ciemnogrodu (Warsaw, 1820), i. 29, 146. 131. . 27 S. Zeromski, Przedwios´nie (Warsaw, 1948), 109. 23 24

/

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Introduction

There were also more positive Polish stereotypes. The romantic novelist Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, in his Latarnia czarnoksie˛ska (‘The Magic Lantern’, 1844), commented on the familiarity of the shtetl: And do you know what makes every town Polish? The Jews. When there are no more Jews, we enter an alien country and feel, accustomed as we are to their good sense and services, as if something were not quite right.28

It was the inter-war writer Ksawery Pruszyn´ski who gave the classic description of the Polish noble town in his account of Krzemieniec (Kremenets): Here it stands before me, Krzemieniec the jewel, the most beautiful of Polish towns and how Polish it is. In the depths of the ravine, former noblemen’s houses, bulging and white, with columns and with dark eyes for windows; in the crush of streets converge the Jewish houses with fringed porches around them, like the inn in Pan Tadeusz. There are two types of Polish towns, those from the Piast period and those from the Jagiellonian period, the western and the eastern towns. The former were built by Germans and Italians, the latter by the nobleman and the Jew. Krzemieniec is the purest example of the latter.29

Post-war Polish literature also has many descriptions of the shtetl, some written by Jewish survivors, others by people like Tadeusz Konwicki, who grew up with Jewish children in what he describes as a provincial town, the quintessential small town on the outskirts of Vilna. This was a town among a vast archipelago of such towns, which produced the founder of Metro-GoldwynMayer and Józef Pil sudski, famous, miracle-working rabbis and the arch-traitor and tsarist spy Bal aszewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Wilner and myself . . . All that was best in Europe and America came from there and pushed old Europe and young America forward . . . I remember Bujwidze better all the time. I dream of Bujwidze constantly. This microscopic town, this most typical of towns, in actual fact the name of the town alone without the town was so characteristic, and somehow formed types like myself, like Romain Gary, Soutine, David Halberstam and three quarters of American directors, writers, actors and politicians.30 /

/

Konwicki tried to re-create this environment in fiction in his book Bohin. A more recent example of this genre is Zagl ada by Piotr Szewc, with its idealized view of pre-war Zamos´c´.31 So much for the mythical shtetl and its literary reflections. In this volume a number of chapters discuss the way it has been represented. Joel Berkowitz discusses the way shtetl and shtot are depicted in Yiddish Haskalah drama; Mikhail Krutikov examines how the shtetl has been conceptualized in Jewish literary criticism; Eugenia Prokop-Janiec investigates the literary use of the town of Kazimierz /

28 29 30 31

J. I. Kraszewski, Latarnia czarnoksie˛ska (Kraków, 1977), 271. . K. Pruszyn´ski, Podróz po Polsce (Warsaw, 1937). . T. Konwicki, Wschody i zachody ksie˛zyca (Warsaw, 1982), 86. T. Konwicki, Bohin (Warsaw, 1987); P. Szewc, Zagl ada (Kraków, 1993). /

14

Antony Polonsky

on the Vistula; and Katarzyna Wie˛cl awska outlines the fantastic elements in the way shtetls are described in the work of Sholem Asch, Bruno Schulz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. What can we say about the reality? Paradoxically, we are most fully informed about the history of the small Jewish town in Poland–Lithuania in the early modern period (to 1795). Jews first settled in Poland in significant numbers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, invited by the kings to settle in the developing towns of Poland and Lithuania as traders, minters, moneylenders, and bankers. Around 1500 they numbered about 24,000 and were located in some eighty-five towns. These numbers increased to about 350,000 by the middle of the seventeenth century, when the community was the largest in Ashkenaz, and to nearly three-quarters of a million by the mid-eighteenth century, when it was the largest Jewish community in the world and constituted over a third of world Jewry. By this time less than a quarter lived in towns under royal authority, such as Kraków, Vilna, Poznan´, Lviv, and Lublin. Nearly three-quarters lived in towns and villages controlled by the local nobleman. In the course of the sixteenth century the szlachta (nobility) had established itself as the dominant stratum in Poland–Lithuania politically, economically, and socially. Through parliament and the institution of the elected monarchy it had succeeded in reducing the king to a relatively powerless figurehead. Socially, it had undermined the position of the burghers in the royal towns and had reduced the bulk of the peasantry to serfdom. It was during this period of noble dominance that Jews began to move to private towns, particularly in Ukraine. A law of 1539 conferred complete power over such towns established on noble estates on their owners. They encouraged Jews to settle in these towns since they were seen as less demanding politically and socially than Christian burghers. Thus when, in 1576, Hieronim Sieniawski founded a new township in Oleszowo, near Lubaczów, he included provisions in the privilege he granted to new settlers which permitted the Jews to practise their religion: /

The Polish Crown flourishes with people of diverse estates, particularly in regard to their religious allegiance on the principle that no authority shall exercise power over faith, honour and conscience. We wish therefore to secure a peaceful life especially to those persons who have suffered persecution not because of any crimes or evil deeds, but for other reasons, so that they may enjoy all the liberties of the laws enacted by us.32

It was in this way that the ‘marriage of convenience’ between the szlachta and the Jews that characterized pre-partition Poland–Lithuania came into existence. Jews began to manage the estates of the szlachta through the system of leasing known as the arenda, and became the indispensable traders and craftsmen of the rural economy, locating themselves in the small towns and villages of the noble estates. 32 S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, xvi: Poland–Lithuania (Philadelphia, 1976), 125.

15

Introduction

How did this work in reality? We have a clear picture of the situation in Opatów, a small town on the Vistula, from an inventory made by its owner Pawel Karol Sanguszko, when he and his wife inherited the town on the death of her father, Aleksander Dominik Lubomirski, in 1721. At this time the town’s population numbered 1,700: 1,000 Jews and 700 Catholics. The Jews certainly dominated the town economically and socially. They owned most of the more imposing houses (the bulk of the houses were wood) and included sixteen of the nineteen merchants (the other three were probably Scots). The large majority of both the Jewish and Catholic populations consisted of artisans, but here there was some complementarity. The principal Catholic artisan trades were shoemaking, baking, and furworking; among the Jews, baking, butchery, and cap-making. One Jewish arendator (lessee) lived in the town.33 The charter granted to the Jews of Opatów in 1670 was very specific. After reaffirming earlier privileges, it continued: /

In the first place, they are entitled to build on their own grounds, a synagogue, schools, a cemetery and a hospital. They may sell all types of alcoholic drinks in different measures, goods in various measures and other types of trade in their home and in places where booths are permitted. We prohibit the burghers from establishing any obstacle to Jewish trade. They are also permitted to slaughter all types of cattle and sell the meat freely. In relation to rents and taxes, they are to pay the same as all burghers. We will maintain the courts of their elders as before, with the right of free appeal to the court at our residence, as is set out in their earlier privilege. We thus, having listened carefully to the humble supplication they have made to us, deign to accept their just request and confirm all their rights both ancient and more recent granted by the princes our ancestors of blessed memory and while maintaining our feudal rights unimpeded, maintain, confirm and approve their request . . .34

As Hundert demonstrates in his study of the town, Jewish life here was marked by vitality and energy, so that the Jewish predominance in commerce and artisanship exceeded in its weight the numerical preponderance of Jews. The Church was unable to undermine the position of the Jews because of the protection they enjoyed from the town owner. Jewish society was very stratified and dominated by a small group of related merchants and arendators. Contrary to the view held by earlier Jewish historiographers, most notably Simon Dubnow, the town owner was reasonable in his behaviour. He sought what was best for the town. The situation of the Jews in Opatów, in Hundert’s view, demonstrates that Jews felt reasonably secure in Poland–Lithuania and that ‘Poland was as much theirs as their neighbors’ ’. At the same time, he argues, ‘there is no question that animus and tension were the governing qualities in relations between Jews and Christians. The historical issue is how this animus was expressed in relations between particular people and groups of people at particular times and in particular places.’35 33 G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century 34 35 Ibid. 160–1. Ibid. 38. (Baltimore, 1992), 1–8.

16

Antony Polonsky

Rosman’s analysis of the history of the town of Medzhybizh draws a similar picture.36 The town, founded in the twelfth century and provided with defences against possible Tatar attack, was situated in a border area in Podolia, midway between Lviv and Kiev, near the River Buh, on the line where Greek Catholicism gave way to Orthodoxy. It developed as an administrative centre for the Sieniawa– Czartoryski entail, the largest landholding in eighteenth-century Poland, and also became an important trading centre. It suffered considerably during the upheavals of the mid-seventeenth century and was devastated by Khmelnytsky, who occupied it four times; and it was occupied by the Turks in 1672–6 and 1678–86. The town finally returned to the control of the Sieniawa–Czartoryski family in 1687. Medzhybizh did not regain its pre-1648 population of 10,000 during the eighteenth century, but by 1740 it was inhabited by 764 potential taxpaying households (545 Christian and 219 Jewish), or approximately 5,000 people (about onethird Jews). It profited from the increase in economic activity of the middle decades of the eighteenth century, and this renewed prosperity was reflected in the late 1730s in the building or restoration of the town’s synagogue and Catholic and Orthodox churches. During this period, as Rosman has demonstrated, the value of the general arenda of the town, which awarded its holder the lease on income derived from liquor manufacture and sale, various market and product taxes, the operation of local mills, and customary payments from some of the guilds, increased considerably in value. However, economic growth was not uninterrupted: the town was adversely affected by natural disasters and the predations of Haidamak rebels and the Russian army, which occupied the area on a number of occasions; the 1740s also saw something of an economic recession, with the price of village arendas falling and a reduction in the excise collected from self-employed Jews. The Jewish community of the town had been re-established after its destruction during the years of the flood, and by the mid-eighteenth century it numbered 2,039, when the town was one of the fifteen largest Jewish communities in Poland– Lithuania. Between 1722 and 1740, while the town’s total population increased by 50 per cent, the number of Jews had grown by 67 per cent. Jews owned the majority of the better, stone houses in the town as well as most of the stores on the marketplace. There was no closed Jewish quarter in Medzhybizh, and close to a third of the Jews had at least one Christian neighbour. By analysing the partial and complete lists of office-holders between 1726 and 1743, Rosman was able to demonstrate that, although the communal organization of Medzhybizh conformed to the eighteenth-century pattern of a self-perpetuating oligarchy, there was more turnover and less repeat incumbency of offices than is revealed by Majer Bal aban’s analysis of Jewish office-holding in Kraków in the early years of the seventeenth century. He concluded: /

36 M. Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba’al Shem Tov (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1996), 63–83.

Introduction

17

The structure suggested by these numbers is of an oligarchy composed of several factions, probably based mainly on family ties. Each faction had to be accommodated, and therefore no single group could commandeer all the offices year after year, merely exchanging titles among themselves, as was the case in seventeenth-century Cracow. In Medzhybizh apparently, the offices had to rotate through the factions, a process that took several years.37

Jewish life was unquestionably marked by a wide social gap, and enmity between ruler and ruled, rich and poor, elite and plebeians. The elite groups—factors who worked for the Polish administrators, arendators of the magnate’s rights, those to whom was leased the collection of the kahal’s income, and the kahal itself—tended to overlap, which strengthened their position. At the same time there were significant divisions between these groups, and on occasion the kahal was capable of standing up for the interests of the common man, as was the pospólstwo, a body made up of all the male householders whose level of taxation entitled them to participate in the political process but who were not currently holding office and who were charged with supervising the activities of the kahal. In this issue of Polin the pioneering analyses of Hundert and Rosman are developed by Adam Teller in his chapter on the shtetl as an arena for a degree of societal integration in eighteenth-century Poland–Lithuania. We do not have anything comparable to the studies of Rosman and Hundert on Jewish smaller towns in the nineteenth century. It is clear that the legal situation of the Jews in these towns changed significantly in this period. The abolition of serfdom and feudal conditions, first in Prussian Poland and then in Galicia, the Congress Kingdom, and the Pale of Settlement, did away with the rights of the noble owner of the small town. With the exception of the tsarist empire, where regulations restricting Jewish residence rights were extended after 1881, Jews now had the right to reside in any part of any town. Throughout this period they remained a vital part of the rural economy and retained their role as intermediaries between the estate and the village. But social stratification became more extreme in the Jewish small town as some people profited from the commercialization of agriculture and the new links with the outside world and others were impoverished by the disappearance of their traditional occupations. Change certainly came only slowly to the Jewish shtetl. We have a very vivid description by the writer S. An-Ski (Solomon Zainwill Rapaport) of his experiences when he tried to bring the principles of the Haskalah to the small town of Liozno: At the beginning of 1881 I left Vitebsk, my birthplace, to become a tutor in the town of Liozno. Seventeen years old, this was the first independent act in my life, but I abounded in dashing self-reliance and was greatly inspired by the high ideals which lit up my vision. About a year earlier, I had left the straight and narrow; I became engrossed in worldly books and turned into an ardent maskil. I was then most influenced by Lilienblum’s H . atot ne’urim (‘The Sins of Youth’). 37

Ibid. 77.

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Antony Polonsky

I did not go to Liozno so much to teach as to spread Haskalah among the young people, to open their eyes. I took a bundle of Haskalah books along: I. B. Levinsohn’s Zerubavel, Mapu’s Ahavat tsion, Smolenskin’s Kevurat h.amor and, of course, H . atot ne’urim. At that time, the Jewish towns of Lithuania were congealed in the old Orthodox ways and absolutely refused to face up to new trends and movements. Liozno, once the residence of the old Lubavicher rebbe, Schneur Zalman, was in this respect even more backward than the other villages. Until my arrival, the town had had only one teacher, a former yeshiva student, whom the rabbi and the melamdim persecuted at first and then persuaded to repent. They cut his hair, took him to the ritual bath, burned the hair with the short coat, dressed him in a long garment and a skullcap, and sat him down in the synagogue to study the holy books. But their joy was short-lived: a few months later the penitent ran away and became converted. It was not easy for me to find jobs tutoring. To avoid provoking malicious acts against me from the start, I put on a mask of piety and showed that my only purpose was to earn my keep. I played my role well, I obtained lessons, and soon I was in touch with several boys. Despite its isolation from the great world, the town nevertheless had a few ‘infected’ young people, who reached out for light and knowledge and thirsted for a word of Haskalah. They understood immediately I was not as pious as I made out, and wordlessly, but with expressive glances, they hinted they wanted to establish contact with me. They soon succeeded. Once, late at night, I heard a cautious quiet tap on my window. Opening it, I saw before me two boys who, quietly but joyously and spiritedly, told me they came to discuss an important, a most important matter. Not waiting for an invitation, they entered my room through the window.

A youthful circle of maskilim was established. But it was discovered. Fortunately, the copy of H . atot ne’urim was bound with a story by Judah Leib Gordon, which could not be regarded as heretical, and the threat of excommunication against An-Ski was lifted. But on the [next] fast day, the rabbi in his sermon demonstrated how I, and such as I, were the only ones to blame for the pogroms. He demanded that I be discharged as tutor. Besides, he issued rulings which were posted that same day in all the prayer houses. Of these rulings, I remember only four: 1. All males, from thirteen years up, must wear skullcaps and not remove them at night; 2. Girls and, especially, married women must not sing in the presence of a man, or even when alone; 3. At weddings, women and girls must not appear immodestly exposed; 4. A search should be made in all homes and in all attics; all books, except religious books, that might be found were to be brought the next day to the synagogue courtyard for burning so that evil should be purged from the town. About six or seven Hebrew books, quite innocent ones, were turned up, including also Gordon’s story, which the young man had not returned to me. To this, they added about a dozen Yiddish novels, mostly by Shomer. They made a pyre in the synagogue courtyard and set it afire. From the distance I could see only the smoke of the auto-da-fe. It reeked of the Middle Ages.

19

Introduction

The next day, Saturday after havdala, a townsman came and in a calm businesslike tone ordered me to leave town—unless I wanted to be marched out by the police. Besides, why did I have to stay? I would not have any more lessons anyway. In answer to my question as to how someone as innocent as I could be sent out with a convoy of prisoners, he said quietly, with a smile, ‘Can’t you understand? You’re not a child. Two pounds of tea to the police commissioners, and tomorrow you march out with the prisoners.’ I do not know if they would really have carried out the threat. But since there was no longer any point in my staying in Liozno, I left. 38 For a long time I kept the tattered H . atot ne’urim as a memento.

In this volume, aspects of the life of Jewish small towns in the nineteenth century are examined by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, John Klier, and Ben-Cion Pinchuk. Even after 1918 the Jewish small town remained a major focus of Jewish life, both in Poland and in the Soviet Union. According to the census of 1931, 43.3 per cent of Polish Jews lived in towns with more than 20,000 inhabitants, where they made up 26.4 per cent of the population as against 29.8 per cent who lived in towns with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants (28.8 per cent of the population) and 23.1 per cent who lived in villages and in the countryside (3.2 per cent of the population).39 For this period we have a number of valuable descriptions, both of individual small towns and of towns in specific regions of Poland.40 We also have a number of analyses of the attempts of the Soviet government to revive the economy of the shtetl. Perhaps most importantly, we have detailed accounts of the ethnic conflict which became much more evident after 1935, taken above all from court records. In this issue Konrad Zielin´ski gives an account of the impact of the First World War on the life of the shtetl in the Kingdom of Poland, while Alina Cal a and Regina Renz describe the situation in these towns between the two world wars. Anna-Maria Orla-Bukowska discusses relationships between Jews and non-Jews generally, while Rosa Lehmann shows how in the small town of Jas´liska, near Kraków, a nexus of patron–client relationships developed between the Jewish inhabitants of the town and their Polish neighbours. This nexus was stable in times of order, but it was at odds with the social hierarchy in the country as a whole, where the Jews, particularly after 1935, were at best second-class citizens. In times when the coercive apparatus of the state was removed, this inevitably made the position of the Jews precarious and exposed them to the violence of resentful former clients, something which goes far to explain why the Jews in eastern Poland sought the re-establishment of an orderly authority after the collapse of Polish rule in 1939 and why they were the /

38 S. An-Ski, ‘I Enlighten a Shtetl’, in L. Dawidowicz (ed.), The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe (New York, 1967), 307–11. 39 F. Beranek, ‘Das Judentum in Polen’, in W. Markert (ed.), Osteuropa Handbuch: Polen (Cologne, 1959), 120. 40 Note particularly S. Kassow, ‘Community and Identity in the Interwar Shtetl’, in Y. Gutman, E. Mendelsohn, J. Reinharz, and C. Shmeruk (eds.), The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars (Hanover, NH, 1989), 198–220.

20

Antony Polonsky

target of murderous violence here. We devote the whole of one section, ‘The SixtyFifth Anniversary of Events in Przytyk: A Debate’, to the recent controversy in Poland over the character of the outbreak of such violence in the town of Przytyk on 9 March 1936. Certainly, both in the Soviet Union and in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s there was a widespread sense that the shtetl and its way of life were doomed. The contrast between the decaying shtetl of Opoczno and the more lively metropolitan centre of L ódz´ emerges clearly in the letters of Wolf Lewkowicz, which are analysed and presented in this volume by Mirosl aw Wójcik. In the case of some Soviet Jewish writers, the decline of the shtetl was seen as a positive development. Thus Hershl Orland’s novel Aglomerat (‘The Agglomeration’, 1935) describes the conflict in a shtetl in southern Ukraine over the building of a blast furnace. The older generation is opposed, but the young men and women of the shtetl flock to the factory. More frequently, both in the USSR and in Poland, the disappearance of the shtetl evoked nostalgia. In an untitled poem of 1926 the Soviet Yiddish poet Izi Kharik regrets that he cannot speak of the shtetl with the same natural filial attachment that is to be found in the verse of the Russian poet Sergey Esenin, who called himself ‘the last poet of wooded Russia’.

/

/

Here I bend my young head and am still, And my heart’s unable to find peace. Ah, withered twig, dear shtetl, shtetl, I know that you desire to green again; I move, a silent guest, and I keep still. And I am touched by grief; by so much sorrow— And I’m so envious of Esenin. I too would like to come to you And, singing, call you mother. I’m so sorry, shtetl, oh, so sad. Often, it seems to me I stand at your border; And it seems to me that you Would rather not be bowed and that your huts Like round-eyed, newly wakened sheep Want to start up from their summer sleep. Shtetl, shtetl of my long-gone childhood. There was a time I wished to see you burning, But he who cursed you once upon a time Must learn to know that you have been accursed, Shtetl, shtetl of my long-gone childhood.41

This nostalgia is even more strongly expressed in Polish Jewish literature. The novels written in Polish by Maurycy Szymel, Stefan Pomer, and Czesl awa /

41 Izi Kharik, untitled poem, in R. Howe, R. Wisse, and K. Shmeruk (eds.), The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse (New York, 1987), 532.

Introduction

21

Rosenblattowa all recount the experience of having to leave the town in which they were born. Their work is suffused with nostalgia, melancholy, and a sense that the traditional Jewish world is disappearing. In his prose and poetry Szymel evokes the world of the shtetl and, in particular, the shtetl on the sabbath. In his poem, ‘O sobocie utraconej’ (‘On the Lost Sabbath’) he draws it in bright colours: The polished candlesticks absorbed the liquid gold Of the evening glow that flowed down the wet window panes. In the small bes-medresh the sky opened for me, The old Sabbath sky of mother, warm and womanly.

But he is aware that he can no longer fit into this world. In another poem, ‘Sobota’ (‘Sabbath’), All too often we are late on Friday evenings, And keep old woman-Sabbath waiting in the glimmer of candles.42

The sense of foreboding was even more clearly articulated by the Polish Jewish poet Hersz Awrohem Fenster. In his poem ‘Elegia o sobotnim wieczorze’ (‘Elegy on a Sabbath Evening’) he asks his mother to relate to him sabbath legends, but his nostalgic mood is dispelled by his inability to believe. Referring to the Jewish legend of the wild river Sambatyon, which only rests on the sabbath, he is brought back to his own alienation from the world in which this legend was a reality: Tell me why the old and tired Sambatyon does not rest even on the Sabbath. I know that we are the Sambatyon, but why is our path so slippery and steep That our bones never know peace . . .43

There was also another reaction. It saw the decline of the shtetl in Poland as the result of growing ethnic tension and popular and government-inspired antisemitism. In his prophetic poem ‘Unzer shtetl brent’ (‘Our Shtetl is Burning’), which foreshadows both the massacre in Jedwabne and the entire mass murder of Polish Jewry, the Yiddish poet Mordechai Gebirtig wrote: Brothers, our poor town is burning! Raging winds are fanning the wild flames And furiously tearing, destroying and scattering everything. Everything is burning. And you stand by And look on with folded arms. You stand and look passively On while our town is burning. 42

M. Szymel, ‘O sobocie utraconej’ and ‘Sobota’; quoted in E. Prokopówna, ‘The Sabbath Motif in Interwar Polish-Jewish Literature’, in Gutman et al. (eds.), The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars, 429–30. 43 H. A. Fenster, ‘Elegia o sobotnim wieczorze’; quoted in Prokopówna, ‘The Sabbath Motif in Interwar Polish–Jewish Literature’, 432.

22

Antony Polonsky It’s burning, brothers, it’s burning. Tongues of flames have almost consumed the whole town. And the raging winds howl. Our town is burning. The moment is at hand when, God forbid, Our town, along with all of us, Will be turned to ashes by the flames, And only bare, black walls will remain, as after a battle. Our town is burning, And only you can save it! If you love our town Extinguish the fire with your very blood, if you must! Don’t just stand there, brothers, With folded arms. Don’t stand, put out the fire! Our little town is burning!44

The Jewish small town in eastern Europe has gone for ever. It has left behind many memories and continues to exert a powerful appeal as a mythical lost paradise. Can we go beyond this mythical shtetl and build up a more accurate historical understanding of the past? In the introduction to his book The Jewish Search for a Usable Past, David Roskies describes how he meets the Polish schoolteacher who has written a local history of the town of Tyszowce in present-day south-eastern Poland, of which he too had written an account. He finds no common themes in the two histories: There was no overlap between Tishevitz and Tyszowce. Even the map that the mayor produced from the parish archives bore not the slightest resemblance to the one I had drawn on the basis of Jewish memories. No shul, no heders, no house of study, no hasidic shtiblekh, no ritual bath. It was a good thing I had not visited this town twenty years before. The discrepancy between ‘our’ town and ‘theirs’ was simply too great. I did not possess then, nor did I possess at this time, tools adequate to bridge that abyss. All I could do with my books and interviews was conjure up a vicarious and precarious mini-Jewish state called the ‘shtetl’ . . . For my Polish counterpart, still worried about the status of his home, the dead, peaceloving, and powerless Jews posed no immediate threat. The Ukrainians did. That is why he created a seamless and heroic past. Each of us, I realized, had used the past to compensate our losses. Each of us did so by a colossal act of reinvention. The one remaining question was this: Was a three-way competition for this godforsaken piece of real estate really worth the effort? When I left Tyszowce, the romance of the shtetl died within me.45 44

M. Gebirtig, ‘Our Shtetl is Burning’, in E. Mlotek (ed.), Mir trogn a gezang! Favorite Yiddish Songs of Our Generation (New York, 1972), 231–2. 45 Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past, pp. ix–x.

Introduction

23

It is our goal in this volume to prove that this is too pessimistic a conclusion. . Shimon Redlich’s moving account of his return to his native town of Brzezany (today Berezhany) and his description of his attempt to write its history in such a way as to reflect the presence within it of three peoples, Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians, show that it is possible to move beyond a past depicted in terms of narrow ethnic stereotypes. We believe that we can recover a past which is as accurate a depiction as we can make of a world of the different national and religious groups and also of the different social strata, the nobles, artisans, traders, and peasants. It is our hope that our collective effort will contribute to this task.

ccccccccccccccccdxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The Shtetl as an Arena for Polish–Jewish Integration in the Eighteenth Century a dam teller As with much of Jewish history, one of the major problems involved in the historical study of the shtetl is distinguishing between myth and reality—in this case, between the picture obtained from the critical analysis of the historical sources and the image of historical phenomena developed by generations of Jews. As modern research has shown, the shtetl has enjoyed a prominent place in Jewish popular consciousness, which perceives it as a quintessentially Jewish place where Yiddish was the dominant language, life was lived to Jewish rhythms, and the outside, nonJewish world impinged only rarely (and then often negatively, to persecute the Jews).1 This image of the small Jewish town has been bolstered in modern sociological and historical texts, which have uncritically transmitted this popular perception to their readers and thus perpetuated the Jewish collective memory.2 In addition, the fact that Jewish historical research itself has played a key role in the modernization of the Jewish people means that the authors of the historical studies have also had an ideological stake in the way that various phenomena in 1 D. Miron, ‘The Literary Image of the Shtetl’, Jewish Social Studies, 1/3 (1995), 1–43; S. Zipperstein, Imagining Russian Jewry: Memory, History, Identity (Seattle, 1999), 19–36; M. Zalkin, ‘From the Armchair to the Archives: Transformations in the Image of the “Shtetl” During Fifty Years of Collective Memory in the State of Israel’, Studia Judaica, 8 (1999), 255–66. 2 M. Zborowski and E. Herzog, Life Is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl (New York, 1970); A. J. Heschel, The Earth is the Lord’s: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe (Woodstock, Vt., 1995). The myth of the shtetl has been preserved in the large number of memorial books written by Jewish survivors of the various communities in eastern Europe after the Holocaust. There is now a growing literature on these books. See, among others, O. Goldberg-Mulkiewicz, ‘Ksie˛ga pamie˛ci a mit . . zydowskiego miasteczka’, Etnografia Polska, 35/2 (1991), 187–98; id., ‘Itineraria miasteczek zydowskich’, in A. Paluch (ed.), The Jews in Poland (Kraków, 1992), i. 387–403; J. Kugelmass and J. Boyarin, ‘Yizker Bikher and the Problem of Historical Veracity: An Anthropological Approach’, in Y. Gutman, E. Mendelsohn, J. Reinharz, and C. Shmeruk (eds.), The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars (Hanover, NH, 1989).

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Jewish history have been portrayed.3 Since modernization is widely perceived as involving the processes of urbanization, economic development, and Jewish integration into the surrounding society, scholars (as well as publicists and others) have had a vested interest in contrasting modern Jewish life—viewed as positive—with a negative past which was neither urban nor integrated into surrounding society. In many respects, the shtetl in eastern Europe was an ideal counterpoint to the values of modernity; its image as a social and cultural backwater with a failing economy and as a place where social conservatism prevented significant connections between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds has thus gained great currency and may be found in Jewish historical writing to this day.4 Scholarly research cannot therefore afford to ignore the development of the images of the shtetl as social and historical constructs that shed light on the cultural development of the societies that gave rise to them. However, this means that it is no longer possible to accept these popular historical images at face value as representations of historical reality, since that would entail accepting the cultural preconceptions on which they were based. Instead, in order to understand the development of the shtetl as a social phenomenon, it is important to re-examine the relevant historical sources, free of the cultural preconceptions of previous generations.5 This study represents an attempt to view the shtetl as a part of the broad social and cultural system that made up Polish–Lithuanian society in the early modern period. Using as a source base not only literary works but numerous archival sources of both Polish and Jewish provenance, I eschew the common assumption that the Jews formed an isolated group. Instead, I will focus on the connections between the Jews and the other strata and groups within Polish–Lithuanian society, and treat religious hostility and violence (so long emphasized in historical research) as only one of a much wider range of relationships.6 In this way it should be possible to examine not only the early development of the shtetl, but also the effect it had on the relationships between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours in the eighteenth century. Three major questions are at the heart of this study. First, what were the economic, social, and political factors at work in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth which led to the creation of the shtetls? Secondly, what role did the I. Schorsch, From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism (Hanover, NH, 1994); S. Feiner, Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness (Oxford, 2002). 4 For the ways in which the Russian maskilim contrasted the city with the shtetl, see S. Zipperstein, ‘Russian Maskilim and the City’, in D. Berger (ed.), The Legacy of Jewish Migration: 1881 and its Impact (New York, 1983). Cf. D. Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 41–66. For cases of the uncritical transmission of the popular image of the shtetl in historical writing, see e.g. J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages (New York, 1977), 35–42; N. Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland (Oxford, 1985), ii. 253–4. 5 B.-C. Pinchuk, ‘Jewish Discourse and the “Shtetl” ’, Jewish History, 15 (2001), 169–79. 6 J. Goldberg, ‘Poles and Jews in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Acceptance or Rejection’, Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, 22 (1974), 248–82. 3

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Jews play in the economic and social development of what were essentially small Polish and Lithuanian towns in the eighteenth century? Thirdly, what form of relations developed between the Jews and their neighbours in the very particular setting of the shtetl? However, before beginning a study of this kind it is important to establish some kind of definition of a shtetl. This is by no means an easy task, since the very concept of the shtetl is as much a cultural construct as a reflection of historical reality. Any attempt to pin it down in concrete and measurable terms will inevitably leave the disappointing feeling that something intangible has been lost.7 Nonetheless, it remains impossible to examine any social phenomenon without a clear idea of exactly what it was, so a definition, however unsatisfactory, must be found. In this case, the characteristics of the shtetl should probably be broken down into three separate categories: the nature of the settlement in question, its size, and the degree of Jewish participation in its social and economic life. Urban status was generally legally defined in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the existence of a weekly market, and sometimes an annual fair, in the town was one of the main characteristics distinguishing a town from a village.8 During the period under discussion many small settlements—particularly those on noble estates—were granted urban status. This was partly because the estate owners wanted to improve marketing facilities, but perhaps more so because, in Polish–Lithuanian society, the larger the number of towns on any given estate, the higher the status of the noble estate owner.9 In reality, too dense a network of small towns seems to have had an adverse effect on economic activity, preventing the development of proper regional and national markets.10 This meant that, once created, most of the small towns were condemned to remain poor and underdeveloped, with little chance of economic or social advancement for their inhabitants (Christian or Jewish). In functional terms, Andrzej Wyrobisz has divided the towns of early modern Poland–Lithuania into two major groups: centres of production and centres of consumption.11 The first produced a significant surplus for their hinterland, whether On the problems of defining what a shtetl was in the context of 19th-century Russia, see J. Klier, ‘What Exactly Was a Shtetl?’, in G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality. Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford, 2000). 18 Z. Kulejewska-Topolska, ‘Oznaczenia i klasyfikacje miast w dawnej Polsce (XVI–XVIII w.)’, Czasopismo Prawno-Historyczne, 8 (1956), 253–68. Kulejewska-Topolska notes that in the first classification of towns (made in 1520) there appears a category of small towns without markets (‘oppida non habentes fora’), but this category is not found again in the sources she cites from later periods (ibid. 262). Cf. H. Samsonowicz and M. Bogucka, Dzieje miast i mieszczan´stwa w Polsce przedrozbiorowej (Wrocl aw, 1986), 393–410. . 19 B. Baranowski, Zycie codzienne mal ego miasteczka w XVII i XVIII wieku (Warsaw, 1975), 12. 10 W. Rusin´ski, ‘O rynku wewne˛trznym w Polsce drugiej pol owy XVIII w.’, Roczniki Dziejów Spol ecznych i Gospodarczych, 16 (1954), 113–49. 11 A. Wyrobisz, ‘Typy funkcjonalne miast polskich w XVI–XVIII wieku’, Przegla˛d Historyczny, 72 (1981), 25–49. 17

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from mining, agriculture, or crafts and industry. The towns in the other group needed support from their hinterland in order to fulfil their economic or social roles as trading towns, administrative and military centres, academic towns, or religious centres. Since Jews, who by definition made up a significant proportion of the inhabitants of the shtetls, were not heavily engaged in production (on average, about 25 per cent of the Jewish population seems to have been engaged in crafts),12 it seems clear that the shtetls would have been centres of consumption rather than production. Moreover, since the social roles of administrative, academic, and religious centres would have required a large, specifically Christian, Polish- and Latinspeaking population to service their needs, the vast majority of the shtetls would have had to be trading towns serving the local market.13 The question of size is obviously relative. A settlement that is considered large in one place and time may well be considered small in another. It is therefore logical here to examine contemporary, eighteenth-century definitions used in the Polish Commonwealth. Perhaps the best of these was drawn up by the Sejm of 1775 in its classification of towns for taxation purposes. It defined small towns (Polish: miasteczka) as those ‘that engage in agriculture and number less than 300 chimneys’.14 A later document classified these as ‘agricultural towns’, defining them as ‘towns with less than 300 chimneys, and which engage in agriculture’.15 The size criterion here is quite clear, indicating a population of under about 2,000 souls.16 It should be borne in mind, of course, that this was the total population, including both Jews and non-Jews. The comment concerning the agricultural nature of these settlements is not to be understood as indicating that they provided an agricultural surplus for their surroundings, but rather that the local market was largely agricultural in nature and that a significant proportion of the townspeople supported themselves, either entirely or in part, from agriculture. The third aspect of the shtetl—its Jewish character—is undoubtedly the hardest to define. There would seem to be two possible criteria: the percentage of Jews in the total population, or the Jews’ prominence in urban life as measured by the density of their settlement around the marketplace. Jewish settlement in the centre of town was common in all but the largest cities in the eighteenth century, and so this does not seem a satisfactory criterion for distinguishing one settlement from R. Mahler, Di yidn in amolikn poyln in likht fun tsifern (Warsaw, 1958), 115–23. Cf. Rusin´ski, ‘O rynku wewne˛trznym w Polsce’; S. Alexandrowicz, ‘Zaludnienie miasteczek Litwy i Bial orusi w XVI i pierwszej pol owie XVII wieku’, Roczniki Dziejów Spol ecznych i Gospodarczych, 27 (1965), 37. 14 ‘. . . miasteczka maia sie˛ rozumiec´ te, ktore samym sie˛ rolnictwem bawia˛, y mniey jak trzysta kominów licza˛’, Volumina legum, viii (St Petersburg, 1868), fos. 133–4, p. 88. 15 Alexandrowicz, . ‘Zaludnienie’, 37. 16 Baranowski, Zycie codzienne, 7. It should be noted that in the 1793 legislation on the towns titled ‘Miasta wolne Rzeczypospolitej’, the size criterion for miasteczka had risen to 400 houses and thus a concomitantly larger population. See Z. Kaczmarczyk (ed.), Konstytucje grodzien´skie z r. 1793 (Poznan´, 1949), 22. 12 13

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another.17 This leaves the percentage of the Jews in the total population, which is at least a clearly quantifiable statistic. An obvious approach, therefore, would be to define as shtetls those towns in which the majority of the population was Jewish. However, in most towns the urban population was divided into two groups: those living in the town proper, and those living in suburbs and settlements around the town. This second group was much more heavily agricultural and played only a minor role in urban life.18 A much smaller proportion of the Jewish population lived in these suburbs than their neighbours, which meant that their role in urban life was often much greater than their proportion in the entire urban population. For example, in Poznan´, one of Poland’s larger cities, Jews comprised only some 10 per cent of the total population of the town in the seventeenth century, but nearly a third of the population lived and worked within the city walls.19 Bearing this in mind, it would seem that a Jewish proportion of perhaps 40 per cent of the total population in Poland’s small towns would have been enough to ensure that the Jews were a truly significant force in urban society. Having reached at least a working definition of what a shtetl actually was in early modern Poland–Lithuania, it is now possible to examine how the phenomenon developed. The move of the Jewish population in Poland from west to east, from large to small towns, and from royal to noble-owned cities began in the midsixteenth century, receiving a boost from the transfer of Ukraine from Lithuania to Poland following the Union of Lublin in 1569.20 However, for the late sixteenth century Horn has calculated a total Jewish population of about 15,000 for the region of Rus´ Czerwona in south-eastern Poland. According to his figures, these Jews made up only about 12 per cent of the total urban population in this region at the end of the sixteenth century. Though he does not have complete data for 1648, he calculates that by then the Jewish population had more than doubled and that the proportion of the Jews in the urban population had also grown significantly.21 17 G. D. Hundert, ‘Jewish Urban Residence in the Polish Commonwealth in the Early Modern Period’, Jewish Journal of Sociology, 36 (1984), 25–34; A. Teller, ‘Tafkidam hakalkali uma’amadam hah. evrati shel hayehudim be’ah. uzot beit radzivil belita bame’ah ha-18’, Ph.D. thesis (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997), 224–30. 18 This seems to have been more the result of lower socio-economic status than of a separate legal status. See T. Opas, ‘Wolnos´ c´ osobista mieszczan miast szlacheckich województwa lubelskiego w drugiej pol owie XVII i w XVIII wieku’, Przegla˛d Historyczny, 61 (1970), 625–7. 19 A. Teller, H.ayim betsavta: Harova hayehudi shel poznan bemah.atsit harishonah shel hame’ah ha-17 (forthcoming). 20 S. Ettinger, ‘H.elkam shel hayehudim bekolonizatsiyah shel ukrainah (1569–1648)’, Zion, 21 (1956), 107–42. . 21 M. Horn, Zydzi na Rusi Czerwonej w XVI i pierwszej pol owie XVII w. (Warsaw, 1975), 42–75. Unfortunately, like most studies on the demography of Polish Jewry in this period, Horn concentrates almost entirely on the number of Jews in each settlement and rarely provides parallel figures concerning the non-Jewish population. /

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Nonetheless, with the exception of the Chel m district, he provides no data suggesting that the Jews had reached close to 40 per cent of the population in any of the cities of the region by 1648.22 Nor does Ettinger, in his study of Jewish settlement in Ukraine, provide figures to suggest the significant formation of shtetls there before 1648. He provides details about the number of Jewish houses in various cities in the województwa of Volhynia and Bracl aw in the first half of the seventeenth century. In the twelve Volhynian towns he mentions, the proportion of houses owned by Jews, according to a 1629 inspection (lustracja), was under 20 per cent in ten cases, stood at 25 per cent in the case of Konstantyn´, and reached 51.4 per cent only in the small town of Kisielin (thirty-seven houses owned by Jews out of a total of seventy-two23). Of the five towns from the województwo of Bracl aw for which he gives details, the proportion of houses owned by Jews did not exceed 15 per cent in any case. This would seem to indicate that in the period of the colonization of Ukraine (1569‒1648) the proportion of Jewish settlement in the towns did not exceed 20 per cent except in the very rarest of cases.24 The creation of a network of shtetls is therefore to be dated to the period following the Khmelnytsky uprising and the Swedish and Muscovite wars, which came to an end in about 1670. More than twenty years of war had left much of Poland’s infrastructure—both urban and rural—literally in ruins: some towns, and even whole districts, had lost over half of their population and a similar proportion of buildings, installations, and crop capacity.25 With the signing of the peace treaty in 1670, Poland entered a period of reconstruction. However, the scale of the task meant that only the richest and most powerful groups within the Polish economy—in effect, the small and closed group of magnate families, as well as King Jan III, himself of magnate stock—were able to take it on with any hope of success.26 The main elements of the strategy of reconstruction included amassing huge estates in order to benefit from the economies of scale in their management. This was done through the absorption of smaller estates belonging to the lesser nobility, /

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According to the figures Horn provides, the Jews made up 36.6% of the urban population in the Chel m district in 1578. However, he himself casts serious doubt on the accuracy of these data, arguing that the real proportion of Jews in the urban population must have been significantly less (ibid. 64–5). 23 This town became an important centre for the Arian schismatics in the early 17th century until their expulsion in 1644. In 1764–5 there were some 185 Jews in the town. In 1870 Jews made up 73% of the total population. See S. Stampfer, ‘The 1764 Census of Polish Jewry’, Annual of Bar-Ilan University: Studies in Judaica and Humanities, 24–5 (1989), 130; Sl ownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego, 4 24 Ettinger, ‘H.elkam shel hayehudim’, 120–4. (1883), 109. 25 J. Topolski, Gospodarka polska a europejska w XVI–XVIII wieku (Poznan´, 1977), 125–66. 26 On the roles the Jews were given to play in the . development of Jan III Sobieski’s personal estate in . these years, see A. Kazmierczyk, ‘The Jews in Zól kiew, Domain of Jan III Sobieski’, in Paluch (ed.), The Jews in Poland, i. 121–6. 22

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whose members found positions and incomes as clients of the magnates, and through dynastic marriages.27 Economic subsidies of various kinds, such as reductions in the feudal services (pan´szczyzna) and the granting of various tax breaks to new settlers, were used to attract people to these latifundia.28 These incentives were given not only to peasants and those who would work the land, but also to those who would repopulate the towns and revitalize the urban markets.29 Finally, following the downturn in the international market in grain, the magnates decided to exploit the home market by selling their produce in the form of alcohol. The Jews were well placed to take advantage of these new economic possibilities. There were a number of reasons for this. First of all, as a study of the Jews of Pin´sk has shown, they had proved better able than their neighbours to recover from the destruction of the wars—perhaps because they kept more of their wealth in cash and moveable property.30 Another of their strategies is described in a letter from one of the administrators of the Radziwil l estates in Lithuania: //

A number of Christian families in the towns [on our estates] do not have the means to repair their houses, to build new ones [in their place], or to put up [entirely] new ones on empty plots. The Jews agree to do the repairs and build the new houses, but in return for their costs they demand possession of the property until the Christian owner can repay them.31

Many Christian townspeople abandoned trade and crafts during hard times, turning to agriculture to support themselves, and they often found it difficult to pay off their debts and reassume their previous professions when peace came. This meant that the Jews were in a much better economic position in the towns after the wars than they had been before. 27

A. Pos´ piech and W. Tygielski, ‘Spol eczna rola dworu magnackiego XVII–XVIII wieku’, Przegla˛d Historyczny, 69 (1978), 215–37; Z. Anusik and A. Strojnowski, ‘Radziwil l owie w epoce saskiej: Zarys dziejów politycznych i maja˛tkowych’, Akta Universitatis Lodziensis: Folia Historica, 33 (1989), 25–57. 28 Cf. the ten-year exemption granted to new settlers of all faiths in the small town of Nowy S´wierzen´ in 1701: ‘ktokolwiek chcial by sie˛ budowac´ i domy porza˛dne stawic´ , pozwalam wszelkiej religii ludziom . wolnos´ci na lat 10 od daty tego uniwersala mego, przez który czas zadnej powinnos´ci z gruntów i z . placów dworowi memu nie powinni beda˛ czynic´ ani zadnych czynszów wypl acac´ ’ (Archiwum Gl ówne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD), Archiwum Radziwil l owskie (AR) 15, 24, 4, k. 1). 29 Cf. the decision by the noble Matuszewicz family to invest in Jewish merchants coming to their . town of Rasna in order to improve the market there; M. Matuszewicz, Diariusz zycia mego, ed. B. Królikowski (Warsaw, 1986), i. 85, 395. 30 M. Nadav, ‘Kehilat pinsk betekufah shemigezerot tah. -tat ad shalom andrushov (1648–1667)’, Zion, 31 (1966), 153–96. 31 ‘Niektórzy gospodarze chrzes´ cianie po miastach . cale nie maja˛ sposobu do reparacyi domów, do erekcyi nowych i do zabudowania placów pustych. Zydzi zas´ podejmuja˛ sie˛ reparowac´ i nowe stawiac´ domy. Za ten zas´ expens pretenduja˛, aby takowe posiadowali domy, póty póki aktor tych placów . chrzes´ cianin nie wróci zl ozonego na zabudowanie wedl ug pomiarkowania ekspensu’ (AGAD, AR V, 12424, n.p., 2 May 1753). /

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An even more important factor in the improvement of the Jews’ situation was the attitude of the nobility towards both Jews and townspeople (viewed here as two separate groups). Traditionally, the nobles had been hostile to the townspeople, and particularly to the urban trading monopolies that had adversely affected the terms of their trade in the Polish cities.32 On the other hand, even before 1648 the nobles had found in the Jews economic agents willing to help them evade and undermine the hated urban monopolies. In addition, the Jews had played a major role in helping to establish and finance the rural economy that had greatly benefited the nobility in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, so it was quite natural that they should play a similar role in its restructuring after 1670.33 Thus it was that, during the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century, the nobility invited Jews to settle on their estates, and Jewish settlement in the towns of Poland–Lithuania greatly increased. As noted above, many nobles founded new towns on their estates, believing that the more small towns there were, the greater the market activity would be and the richer they would become.34 In turn, this led to the formal establishment of dozens of new Jewish communities, as the Jews negotiated the terms of their settlement with their noble patrons. To illustrate this, it is worth noting that of the 128 privileges granted to Jewish communities that have been collected and published by Jacob Goldberg, over a half were granted in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.35 Many of these privileges, which emphasize the Jews’ exemption from municipal jurisdiction in almost all cases, state clearly that they were granted with an eye to the benefits that Jewish settlement would bring to the town in the period of reconstruction. According to the privilege granted by Stefan Bidzin´ski, starosta of Che˛ciny, to the Jewish community there in 1668: [The Jews,] having been burnt and scattered by the Cossack and Swedish invasions . . . and taking into account . . . the further ruin of the town and . . . [the fact] that the Jews were previously settled here and particularly the benefits that will accrue to the common good [from 32 On the nobles’ attitude towards townspeople, see the text written in the mid-18th century by Hieronim Florian Radziwil l on the educational principles he would pass on to his children (were he to have any): ‘Mieszczan´czukom z miast swoich nie pozwolic´ sie˛ szkól uczyc´ , z bardziej jeszcze wychod. zic´, pod konfiskowaniem ojców dobra i ruchomos´ ci. Gdyz na co ta chl opowi biegl os´ c´, ktorej nigdy . . chamski naród na dobro nie uzyje, tylko na szkode˛ i zdrade˛ samego pana. Niech sie˛ tegoz cham, co i ojciec, uczy rzemiosl a, by cechy onych zawsze byli okryte, miasto zas´ sta˛d handlowne i profit panu przynosza˛ce. Magdeburia bowiem onego, by z ludzi umieja˛cych sprawiedliwos´ c´ byl a, wybrac´ kilku z nich bystros´ c´ rozeznania porozumiawszy, dac´ onym dobra edukacja . . .’ (M. Brzezina (ed.), Hieronima . Floriana Radziwil l a Diariusze i pisma rózne (Warsaw, 1998), 196). Though these sentiments are extreme, they do reflect the general contempt that the nobility felt for the townspeople. 33 A. Teller, ‘Hape’ilut hakalkalit shel hayehudim befolin bemah. atsit hasheniyah shel hame’ah ha-17 uvame’ah ha-18’, in I. Bartal and I. Gutman (eds.), Kiyum vashever: Yehudei polin ledoroteihem 34 See above, n. 9. (Jerusalem, 1997), 209–24. 35 J. Goldberg (ed.), Jewish Privileges in the Polish Commonwealth, 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1985–2001). //

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them], and in order that the Royal incomes (from which the starostwo too benefits) should not be lost, [I grant them the following rights] . . .36

This wording is typical in a number of ways, especially in the emphasis it places on the economic benefits of Jewish settlement not only for the king and the starosta, but also for the town itself (‘the common good’). In addition, though Bidzin´ski justified his decision by noting that the Jews had previously been settled in the town, the granting of the privilege marked a sea change in the Jews’ situation in Che˛ciny. In 1602 there had been 36 Jewish families settled there (11 householders and 25 paying rent). By 1629 the number had decreased to 24 (11 householders and 13 paying rent) out of a total of 327 families. However, by 1765 Jews owned 65 houses in the town, including 17 on the market square. By 1775 Che˛ciny had a total of 250 houses, of which just over 30 per cent were owned by Jews. Jews were thus a significant proportion of the urban population.37 Che˛ciny was one of many towns to see this change in Jewish fortunes. For exam. ple, the Jewish community of Lezajsk, which would later become famous as the home of the hasidic leader Elimelekh, renegotiated its 1635 privilege with King Jan III in 1682. While the earlier privilege had allowed the Jews to live on one street in the town, the king now permitted them to settle on the market square—the town’s commercial centre.38 It is worth noting here that this improvement in the terms of Jewish settlement was not limited to private, magnate-owned towns. Both of the cases described above involve royally owned towns where nobles had significant influence as local office-holders. It was this combination of support from the nobility and the Jews’ success in keeping urban life alive when the non-Jewish townspeople preferred to support themselves from agriculture that led to the increased Jewish settlement in Poland– Lithuania’s small towns.39 In fact, within a relatively short time the Jews began to . . ‘. . . Zydzi . . . przez szwedzkie i kozackie inkursyje spaleni [i] . . . Uwazywszy . . . dalsza ruina . samego miasteczka a maja˛c wiadomos´ c´, ze z dawna tu osadzeni zostaja˛, osobliwie jednak wzia˛wszy przed sie˛ dobra pospolitego augment aby tak znaczny Jego Krolewskiej Mos´ ci Pana Mojego Mil os´ciwego i Rzeczpospolitej, ktory od nich i teraz starostwu przychodzi, nie zgina˛c´ . . .’ (Goldberg, Jewish Privileges, i. 69–72). . . 37 Z. Guldon and K. Krzystanek, Ludnos´´c zydowska w miastach lewobrzeznej cze . ˛s´ci województwa sandomierskiego w XVI–XVIII wieku (Kielce, 1990), 24–7, 188; J. Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach województwa sandomierskiego i lubelskiego w XVIII wieku (Kielce, 1998), 76–7. Though there are no precise population figures to determine whether Che˛ciny was a shtetl according to the criteria established here (bearing in mind that Jewish houses were generally much more crowded than those owned by Christians), the heavily Jewish nature of its population was certainly perceived by contemporaries. See . 38 Guldon and Krzystanek, Ludnos´´c zydowska, 26–7. Goldberg, Jewish Privileges, i. 148–50. 39 The expansion of Jewish life in the period when the Polish towns—and to a greater extent the nonJewish townspeople—were in decline was discussed in the inter-war period by the historian Roman Rybarski, who was known for his antisemitic views. Rybarski argued that the decline of the towns was caused by the Jews. In fact, the data would seem rather to support the opposite conclusion; i.e. that it was the decline of the towns and the townspeople that opened the way for the Jews to expand their role in urban life. It might even be argued that the Jews’ economic activity prevented further urban decline. See R. Rybarski, Handel i polityka handlowa Polski w XVI stuleciu (Poznan´, 1936), i. 226–7. 36

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form a significant part of the population, sometimes even constituting the majority. By the time of the 1764‒5 census most of Poland–Lithuania’s Jews were living in communities with less than 1,000 members.40 Unfortunately, too few comparative studies have been done to allow us to determine what proportion of these communities were situated in towns of under 300 houses, or in which of these the Jews formed at least 40 per cent of the total population during the eighteenth century. It is therefore difficult to determine precisely how many shtetls existed in Poland in this period, though there were undoubtedly many.41 The Jews’ predominance in shtetl life was not solely a function of their demographic weight in the urban population. Equally important, if not more so, were the economic roles they played in shtetl life. Perhaps most importantly, they controlled the arenda propinacyjna or the monopoly on the sale of alcohol—a staple of daily life.42 Since the sixteenth century the right of propinacja had formed an important part of the estate owners’ income from their lands, particularly in those regions where the export of grain to the international market of Danzig was not practical. However, in the second half of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, the terms of trade for exported grain were not favourable, so the estate owners decided to make more intensive use of the home market.43 This led them to invest heavily in developing the network of taverns on their estates. For example, there were three taverns on the Kopys estate in eastern Belarus in 1684, and thirtynine some ninety years later; while on the estate around Newel in Lithuania there were six taverns in 1712 and no less than forty-eight in 1764.44 These taverns were almost exclusively run by Jewish arendators, who thus provided a range of economic and social services to the local population. First and foremost, the tavern provided a place of recreation (of which there were none too many in the small Polish towns). Here, the population would sit, drink, talk, argue, and sing—all under the tutelage of the Jewish tavern-keeper, who soon became an integral part of the social landscape.45 In addition, the tavern might also fulfil the functions of a local shop, and the tavern-keeper would sometimes lend money to those in need.46 All of this would have been impossible had there not been at least a Mahler, Di yidn, 58–66. A random sampling of materials drawn from my study of the Jews on the Radziwil l estates in Lithuania in the 18th century suggests that over half of these small communities might qualify as shtetls, though much more detailed comparative research is required to clarify the demographic processes at work. See . Teller, ‘Tafkidam’, 39–53. 42 J. Goldberg, ‘Zyd a karczma wiejska w XVIII wieku’, Wiek Os´wiecenia, 9 (1993), 205–13. 43 On the basis of figures from Mal opolska, Rychlikowa calculated that by the second half of the 18th century, the income from propinacja made up over 20% of the owners’ income on average (though the . figures could vary greatly from estate to estate); I. Rychlikowa, Produkcja zbozowa wielkiej wlasnos´ci w Mal opolsce w latach 1764–1895 (Warsaw, 1967), 217–28. 44 AGAD, AR XXV, 1774, 1791, 2619, 2626. 45 By the 19th century the Jewish tavern-keeper had become a familiar figure in Polish belles-lettres; M. Opalski, The Jewish Tavern-Keeper and his Tavern in Nineteenth-Century Polish Literature (Jeru. 46 Goldberg, ‘Zyd a karczma wiejska’. salem, 1986). 40 41

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degree of social intercourse between the tavern-keeper and his clients.47 In fact, in the smallest of the shtetls, where there was only one tavern—which in effect had a monopoly in the town—the tavern-keeper must have known everyone in town and been familiar to all. Thus, the economic services that the Jewish arendator provided to both the estate owners and the local population made him an indispensable part of the socio-economic framework of small-town life. Likewise, the Jews’ role in trade was so dominant that it too became something of a monopoly.48 As mentioned above, one of the characteristics of post-1670 Jewish settlement in the small towns was the movement of Jews from a separate street or quarter to the houses around the central market square. This phenomenon was so widespread that there was hardly a small town with a Jewish population in which all (or nearly all) of the houses around the market square were not owned by Jews.49 Another sign of the Jews’ control of the market was the proportion of market stalls they owned. To cite a few examples: in Sieniawa in south-eastern Poland during the first half of the eighteenth century all the stalls were in Jewish hands;50 in the Belarusian town of Korelicze nine of the ten market stalls were owned by Jews;51 and in Kopys in eastern Belarus (later a centre of hasidic printing) 75 per cent of the town’s stalls in 1747 were owned by Jews.52 Finally, in Kopyl outside Slutsk, one of the very few small towns for which full demographic details of both the Christian and the Jewish populations in the mid-eighteenth century have been preserved, all of the town’s twenty-eight merchants were Jewish.53 In the realm of crafts, too, the Jews played a key role, though they were by no means predominant: only 7 per cent of Kopyl’s 243 craftsmen, for example, were Jewish.54 However, a very interesting phenomenon can be observed here, as in some larger towns such as Slutsk and Opatów. With the exception of the fields where Jewish law demanded that they function, Jewish craftsmen tended to avoid those crafts that would place them in competition with their non-Jewish neighbours. Thus, of Kopyl’s sixteen Jewish craftsmen, only three had Christian competition.55 In practical terms this meant that for some items everyone had to go to a Christian craftsmen and for others they went to a Jew.56 The thorough integration of the Jews into the small-town economy in the eighteenth century did not, however, turn the towns themselves into ‘Jewish towns’, as has been claimed.57 On the most basic level, urban life continued to be run by the municipal councils, on which the Jews had no representation, and in 47

On the knowledge of Polish among Polish Jews, see D. Stone, ‘Knowledge of Foreign Languages among Eighteenth-Century Polish Jews’, Polin, 10 (1997), 200–18. 48 G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century 49 See n. 17 above. (Baltimore, 1992), 50–61. 50 M. Rosman, The Lords’ Jews: Magnate–Jewish Relations in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth 51 AGAD, AR XXV, 1811. During the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), 45. 52 53 54 55 Ibid. 1788. Ibid. 3837, 3838. Ibid. Teller, ‘Tafkidam’, 64–7. 56 57 Ibid. Cf. Hundert, Jews in a Polish Private Town, 46. Ibid. 68.

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whose election they only rarely played a part.58 Though the privileges granted to Jewish communities had freed them from municipal jurisdiction, it was the municipal councils that represented the towns, remained responsible for their administration, and collected taxes from the Jewish population. Thus, while the Jewish communities were responsible for administering Jewish life and economic activity, and were often treated by the noble or royal administration as parallel to the municipal councils, they never managed to attain complete independence.59 On the other hand, in the noble towns in particular, the support of the town’s owner could put the Jews in a position of strength in relation to their non-Jewish neighbours. By insisting that all court cases involving Jews came before the town owner’s court, the Jews could be sure of a fair (if not a favourable) hearing; this would sometimes deter non-Jews from bringing a case in the first place. Maria Zofia Czartoryska’s administrator in the town of Jarosl aw wrote revealingly: ‘Jews are entitled to justice from Christians, but Christians cannot make a case against a Jew. Who is able to travel to My Lady to complain about every single matter? . . . As the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, soon the people of Jarosl aw will be enslaved to the Jews.’60 This is a particularly interesting comment as it emphasizes both the strength the Jews drew from noble support, and the resentment that this aroused among the non-Jewish population. On a day-to-day basis, however, it seems to have become clear to many inhabitants of the small towns that the success of the local economy was entirely dependent on the Jews. This realization sometimes tempered their desire to remove the . Jews from urban life. The townspeople of Zagory (Zˇagare) in Lithuania wrote to Michal Kazimierz Radziwil l in 1746: ‘Though we were determined not to allow Jews to settle in town . . . yet since we are concerned to improve both our own and your Lordship’s income . . . and to improve both the town and its markets . . . we humbly beseech your Lordship to take the honourable Jewish merchant Ber son of Meir under your protection . . . and allow him [to settle in town].’61 Such a request would have been unthinkable in the larger towns, but in the shtetls, where the Jews played such an integral role in the economy, it was perhaps not as uncommon. The wide range of economic contacts that developed between the Jews and their neighbours inevitably led to a broadening of social contacts and a degree of social integration—though not of course to the integration of the Jews as individuals into non-Jewish society. This social ideal would develop only during the period of the /

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Goldberg, Jewish Privileges, i. 27–8. Cf. G. D. Hundert, ‘The “Kehilla” and the Municipality in Private Towns at the End of the Early Modern Period’, in A. Polonsky, J. Basista, and A. Link-Lenczowski (eds.), The Jews in Old Poland, 60 1000–1795 (London, 1993). . Quoted from Rosman, The Lords’ Jews, 72. 61 ‘Lubos´ my dota˛d mocne przedsie˛wzie˛cie mieli . . . Zydow do miasta zagorskiego . . . nie dopu. szczac´, atoli jednak zwazywszy dobra dla nas i skarbu JOWKsM konsekwencyj a ska˛d ozdoba mogl a byc´ miastu i targów polepszenie, suplikujemy pokornie . . . za starozakonnym Berem Mejerowiczem kupcem sl awnym . . . aby. JOWKsMci wzia˛wszy w swa˛ . . . protekcyjá pozwolic´ mu . . . tu . . . i mieszkac´’ (A. Kaz´mierczyk (ed.), Zydzi polscy, 1648–1772 (Kraków, 2001), 222–3). 58 59

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Enlightenment; in the previous period the corporate structure of all European society clearly defined and limited the connections between individuals belonging to different social groups. However, co-operation in business could lead to friendships and social connections between Jews and non-Jews. The eighteenth-century Jewish memoirist Dov Ber of Bolechów writes proudly of his wide range of friends and connections in the non-Jewish world, particularly among the aristocracy.62 On the other side Roch Sikorski, a non-Jewish townsman in Bielsko Podlaskie, tells in his diary of a close friendship he developed with a Jewish shopkeeper.63 On another level those Christians who served Jews in business, in the home, or in the synagogue as the shabbes goy must have come to a much more intimate understanding of Jewish life and culture. They undoubtedly passed this knowledge on to their friends and neighbours, and at the same time introduced their employers to aspects of their own life and culture. It might be argued that relationships of this kind could develop in large towns as well, but it would seem that the Jews’ deeper penetration into life in the small towns meant that they must inevitably have been more intense there. However, though the pressure brought by town owners or royal administrators may have acted as a significant force for the Jews’ economic and social integration into Polish small towns, it was unable to neutralize the religious basis for the hatred of Jews.64 Church legislation had traditionally frowned on social relationships of the kind that seem to have developed in the shtetls. Christian service of Jews, particularly in the home, was banned.65 The eighteenth-century bishop Soll tyk (known for his antisemitic views) referred to the shabbes goy in one of his letters as the man who ‘wiped the noses of the Jews’ candles’.66 Beyond that, the shtetl became the arena for a number of infamous blood libel accusations during the eighteenth century, in which the Christian townspeople’s attacks won an increasing degree of support from the local clergy, including Bishop Sol tyk.67 Thus it was that in the shtetls, as elsewhere in Poland–Lithuania, the Jews were the victims of violence, both verbal and physical, on the part of their neighbours. /

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The Memoirs of Ber of Bolechow (1723–1805), trans. M. Vishnitzer (London, 1922), passim. Quoted in Goldberg, ‘Poles and Jews’. 64 ‘The Jews enjoy [in Poland] a perfectly free exercise of their religion and all other civil liberties. . . . On the other hand, however, religious hatred goes so far, that the name of Jew has become an abomination’ (Solomon Maimon: An Autobiography, trans. J. Clark Murray (Urbana, Ill., 2001), 4–5). 65 A. Kaz´mierczyk, ‘The Problem of Christian Servants as Reflected in the Legal Codes of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth During the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century and in the Saxon Period’, Gal-Ed, 15–16 (1997), 23–40. . 66 Cf. Sol tyk’s letter to Michal Kazimierz Radziwil l dated 15 Dec. 1760: ‘Zydzi . . . namówili sobie . jednego czl eka katolika do swoiej posl ugi w Boznicy na dzien´ i noc, do ucierania nosów swieczkowych . . .’ (AGAD, AR V, 14847). 67 For a fairly comprehensive list of trials held on Polish lands because of the blood libel in early modern times and brief descriptions of the more prominent cases, see Z. Guldon and J. Wijaczka, Procesy o mordy rytualne w Polsce w XVI–XVIII wieku (Kielce, 1995). On Sol tyk, see ibid. 63–4. See also J. Kalik, ‘Hayah. asim bein hakenesiyah hakatolit layehudim bemamlekhet polin-lita’, in Bartal and Gutman (eds.), Kiyum vashever, i. 193–208. 62 63

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However, a close examination of the sources reveals that the Jews were able to give as good as they got, and often did so.68 Violence in the shtetls and towns of Poland was by no means one-sided. The court records contain many cases of Jews attacking townspeople, peasants on their way to market, and even nobles and priests who tried to interfere in their daily lives.69 This violence, which was endemic to Polish society in this period, should therefore be understood not so much as signifying the Jews’ weakness in the face of non-Jewish society, or their excessive self-confidence in light of noble protection, but rather as a sign that the Jews were well integrated into urban society and acted, mutatis mutandis, just like their neighbours. While this economic and social integration, supported by the nobility, undoubtedly suited the Jews, it does not seem to have satisfied the townspeople. Though they were unable to do much about it during most of the eighteenth century, when discussions of possible improvements in the status and functioning of the towns began during the reign of Stanisl aw August, the question of noble interference in urban life and the Jews’ economic and social role became burning social issues. A Sejm constitution of 1768 stated, among other things, that the Jews should win approval for their settlement and economic activity in the form of agreements (pacta) from the municipal councils, and that these agreements should form the basis of their privileges.70 During the Four-Year Sejm urban representatives, particularly from Warsaw, mounted vicious attacks in the press (as well as physical attacks) against the Jews, with the goal of removing them from all positions of influence in urban society and the urban economy.71 However, even during this period it was possible to observe different emphases among different groups. While the Warsaw delegation was vehement in its attacks on the Jews as the source of all the towns’ problems, the representatives of the Lithuanian towns—which were mainly small towns and shtetls—were much more moderate, demanding only that the Jews receive no special treatment and, in the royal cities at least, fall under municipal rather than noble jurisdiction.72 A document drawn up in 1789 by representatives of fifty-four royal towns did not mention the Jews at all, concentrating rather on the question of noble prerogatives in the towns.73 /

M. Nadav, ‘Ma’asei alimut hadadiyim bein yehudim lelo-yehudim belita lifnei 1648’, Gal-Ed, 7–8 (1985), 41–56. 69 See e.g. the sources from the ksie˛gi grodzkie lubelskie recorded in H. Gmiterek (ed.), Material y . z´ródl owe do dziejów Zydów w ksie˛gach grodzkich lubelskich z doby panowania Augusta II Sasa, 1697–1733 (Lublin, 2001), nos. 51, 567, 899, 1164, 1596. 70 Volumina legum, vii (St Petersburg, 1860), fo. 755, p. 352. 71 J. Wolin´ski, J. Michalski, E. Rostworowski, and A. Eisenbach (eds.), Material y do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego (Wrocl aw, 1959), ii. 32–57. K. Zielin´ska, ‘ “The Jews Have Killed a Tailor”: The SocioPolitical Background of a Riot in Warsaw in 1790’, Polin, 3 (1988), 78–101. Cf. A. Eisenbach, ‘Wokól s´wiadomos´ci i roli politycznej mieszczan´stwa polskiego na przel omie XVIII i XIX w.’, Kwartalnik Historyczny, 95 (1988), 173–96. 72 Gmiterek (ed.), Material y z´ródl owe, ii. 96. Cf. A. Eisenbach, The Emancipation of the Jews in 73 Gmiterek (ed.), Material y z´ródl owe, ii. 339–57. Poland, 1780–1870 (Oxford, 1991), 67–73. 68

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This significant difference between the burghers of Poland’s great metropolis and the representatives of a range of lesser towns would seem to indicate that, even at this time, the townspeople—particularly in the small towns—remained in the same bind that they had been in throughout the eighteenth century: they did not want to live with the Jews, but they were unable to live without them. Nonetheless, all of the proposals were aimed at limiting noble influence in the towns and so transferring the Jews to municipal jurisdiction. The upshot of this would have been that the towns would be allowed to deal with their Jews in their own time and in their own way. Within a short time, however, the final partitions of Poland put an end to these proposals and opened a whole new chapter in the history of the shtetl. In conclusion, it is necessary to distinguish between the study of the shtetl as a sociocultural construct and the study of its social and economic history. As a first step towards the latter, I have proposed a definition of the shtetl (in the conditions of the eighteenth century) as a small settlement of less than 300 houses, which dealt mostly in agricultural produce, and at least 40 per cent of whose total urban population was Jewish. On this basis, it is clear that the Jewish shtetl came into existence as a result of Poland’s economic reconstruction following the wars of the midseventeenth century. Owing to their hostility to non-Jewish townspeople and their profitable use of Jewish economic activity in the previous period, magnates and nobles were interested in encouraging Jewish settlement in their towns. They used the Jews as agents in revitalizing the market for grain, through both the sale of alcohol and the small urban markets. This encouragement, together with their ability to recover more quickly from the vicissitudes of war, led the Jews to assume a much more prominent position in Polish urban life than they had held previously, particularly in the small towns where the townspeople were relatively weak. Within a generation or two the small town had become the dominant form of settlement for Polish Jews, and in many of them they had, with noble encouragement, begun to achieve a majority. The Jews’ contribution to the economy in these settlements was often crucial; they leased the monopoly on alcohol sales and held what amounted almost to a monopoly on trade. Certain branches of crafts, too, were almost exclusively in Jewish hands. As a result of this economic penetration and the consequent flowering of Jewish life, the Jews developed a broad range of contacts with their non-Jewish neighbours. These relations were marked by a pronounced duality: since the magnates and nobles—the dominant force in society—were interested in the Jews’ success and did much to free them from municipal jurisdiction, the townspeople had little choice but to acquiesce. At the same time it became clear that the small-town economy would suffer without Jews. Thus it was that, in many cases, more or less close social relationships developed between Jews and non-Jews in the small towns, with the Jews feeling themselves to be and (at least de facto) becoming an accepted part of small-town life. On the other hand, religious hatred and the feeling that the

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Jews were interlopers who had become integrated only through unfair noble intervention never disappeared. As a result, the Jews in the small towns became the victims of religiously motivated violence. In addition, when their status began to improve towards the end of the eighteenth century, the townspeople began to agitate for a reduction of noble influence over the towns and for direct jurisdiction over the Jews. Thus, the Jewish shtetl would seem to have been, in the eighteenth century at least, not really Jewish at all. Created in response to Poland’s economic, social, and political environment, and the arena for a broad range of contacts between nonJews and Jews, these always remained Polish towns with a large and well-integrated Jewish population. This being the case, it is worth returning to the issue of the shtetl as cultural construct and looking for the roots of the Jews’ feeling of isolation and their perception that the shtetls were truly Jewish towns. Though the answer to this question should probably be sought in the social, economic, political, and cultural developments of the nineteenth century, it does seem possible that this feeling might have had its roots in the eighteenth century. The Jews had often during their history felt superior to their non-Jewish neighbours, but they had rarely portrayed their own lives as if the non-Jews did not exist at all.74 If they began to do so in the eighteenth-century shtetls, it was as a result of the Jews’ identification with the nobility, the dominant cultural group in the Polish Commonwealth. The nobles despised the townspeople, whom they did not view as Poles in the true sense of the word.75 The Jews, for their part, were well aware of their own economic dominance and the political power over the townspeople that noble support gave them.76 It was perhaps only natural that they would adopt the attitude of the nobility towards the townspeople and imagine for themselves an environment in which they could live without interference from their neighbours. Of course, in imagining this, they were only doing intellectually what the townspeople attempted to do politically during the period of the Enlightenment—to create an urban environment without their hated competitors. The perception of the shtetl as a Jewish town, therefore, had its roots firmly in the social and cultural relations of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and is itself another clear sign of the Jews’ integration into the life of the small towns in Poland and Lithuania during the eighteenth century. 74 R. Ben-Shalom, ‘Dimui hatarbut hanotsrit batoda’ah hahistorit shel yehudei sefarad uprovens (hame’ah hasheteim-esreh ad hame’ah hah. amesh-esreh)’, Ph.D. diss. (Tel Aviv University, 1996); M. Kohn, ‘Jewish Historiography and Jewish Self-Understanding in the Period of the Renaissance and Reformation’, Ph.D. diss. (University of California at Los Angeles, 1979). 75 Cf. J. Tazbir, ‘Polish National Consciousness in the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries’, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 10 (1986), 316–35. 76 ‘The inhabitants of Poland may be conveniently divided into six classes or orders: the superior nobility, the inferior nobility, the half-noble, burghers, peasantry, and Jews. . . . The burghers are the most wretched of all the orders’ (Solomon Maimon, 1; my emphasis).

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Inter-Religious Contacts in the Shtetl: Proposals for Future Research mi chal galas /

M any studies of the history of the Jews in Poland and Polish–Jewish relations stress the lack of inter-religious contacts between Jews and Christians. For example, in his work Relations between Jews and Poles in S. Y. Agnon’s Work, Shmuel Werses wrote: ‘The total alienation and distance between the two cultures was particularly marked in inter-religious contact. The inimical Christian world overtly expressed its presence in religious rituals. Jews were sometimes forced into encounters with Christian processions or even libelous accusations of desecration made by the priests, representatives of the Church.’1 According to Mark Zborowski’s definition of the shtetl in the Encyclopaedia Judaica: ‘The market was the area where the shtetl came in direct contact with the goyim, whose life patterns were alien and often hostile to the shtetl mores.’2 In this chapter I would like to draw attention to new research on shtetls as a subject related to the history of Judaism and the broader history of religion in Poland and the Polish lands.3 Many books and articles on the history of particular towns, published both in Poland and abroad, present one-sided views, describing the history of the towns from the point of view of either the Polish Christians or the Jews. In many cases these studies appear to be presenting the histories of two completely different cities that happen to share a name. The present study is not intended to resolve this issue, but will examine examples of possible contact points between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, with special attention to interreligious contacts. There are already some positive exceptions to the standard approach to this subject; among them are Jacek Krochmal’s study of Przemys´l, . Stefan Ga˛siorowski’s doctoral dissertation focusing on Zól kiew (Zhovkva), and the socio-anthropological studies of Alina Cal a and Annamaria Orla-Bukowska.4 /

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(Jerusalem, 1994), 75. M. Zborowski, ‘Shtetl’, in Encylopaedia Judaica, 16 vols. (Jerusalem, 1972), xiv. 1473. 3 I should like to thank Professor John Klier and Dr Annamaria Orla-Bukowska for sharing with me their studies on shtetls. . . 4 J. Krochmal, Krzyz i Menora: Zydzi i chrzes´cijanie .w Przemys´lu w latach .1559–1772 (Przemys´ l, 1996); S. Ga˛siorowski, ‘Relacje mie˛dzy chrzes´ cijanami a Zydami na tle dziejów Zól kwi w XVII i XVIII 1 2

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the shte tl i n the phy s i ca l ur b an sp h e r e The definition of the shtetl is itself problematic.5 As Professor John Klier has noted, most popular studies present the shtetl as a ‘ “state of mind”, an idyll, an exercise in nostalgia, or an artistic construct. . . . [This image,] which has surrounded the shtetl, is much harder to locate . . . in physical reality.’6 A significant reservation regarding the standard image of the shtetl arises from simple visual observation. Having been born in a locality that before the Holocaust would have been called a shtetl, I know well what such towns look like. Tuchów, Tarnów, Bobowa, Grybów, Jodl owa, Pilzno—these are towns that I have visited often. In most cases, studies on shtetls that include photographic materials concentrate on individuals, streets, and market squares, and very rarely include panoramic photos of ‘the Jewish town’, as the shtetl is often called. The books Image Before My Eyes and Yiddishland (a collection of Jewish postcards) are examples of such works.7 Several panoramic photos and postcards from various historical periods of the towns of Widze, Tarnopol, and Buczacz—all of which surely can be called shtetls—are therefore included here. Church towers and a belfry that dominates the landscape are clearly visible in these photographs. They tell us that there had to be a space for non-Jews in the shtetls as well. There were churches even in towns where Jews constituted the majority, and in many cases there were churches of more than one Christian denomination. Some towns were regional centres of religious worship; for example, in Dukla 80 per cent of the population was Jewish, but the town was also—and still is—an important Catholic centre for the worship of St Jan of Dukla.8 The situation . was similar in other shtetls, such as Lezajsk, L an´cut, Kazimierz Dolny, Berdyczów . (Berdychiv), Brzezany (Berezhany), Radomys´l, Stary Sa˛cz, and many others. Unfortunately, no history of any of these towns has been written taking into account both the Jewish and the Christian points of view. /

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. wieku’, Ph.D. diss. (Jagiellonian University, 1998); A. Cal a, Wizerunek Zyda w polskiej kulturze ludowej (Warsaw, 1992); A. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities: Another Image’, Polin, 8 (1994), 89–113; see also ead., ‘Coexistence: Polish Jews and Polish Catholics, Jewish Shtetl and Catholic Villages’, Ph.D. diss. (Jagiellonian University, 1995). /

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J. Klier, ‘What Exactly Was a Shtetl?’, in G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality. Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford, 2000). 6 Ibid. 23. 7 L. Dobroszycki and B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (eds.), Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (New York, 1977); G. Silvain and H. Minczeles (eds.), Yiddishland (Paris, 1999). 8 On Dukla, see A. Potocki, Podkarpackie judaica (Brzozów, 1993). Other books on the history of Dukla practically omit the Jewish presence in this town. See J. Michalak, Dukla i okolice (Krosno, 1997); E. Swieykowski, Studia do historii sztuki i kultury wieku XVIII w Polsce, i: Monografia Dukli . (Kraków, 1903); B. Szczurek, Dukla: Miasto moje w fotografii i poezji (Dukla, 2001); Zycie i kult bl ogosl awionego Jana z Dukli (Dukla, 1993). /

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Inter-Religious Contacts in the Shtetl As Klier has stressed,

In shtetlekh the Jews were never isolated from the non-Jewish population. Even those townlets which had a Jewish majority existed to serve the non-Jews who flocked to them on a weekly basis. Many more Jews lived side by side with the Christian population in the towns or countryside. . . . The shtetl might better be envisioned as the center of an economiccultural zone, linking Jews to Christians and Jews to Jews.9

I would like to add that it was also a religious zone. Thus the shtetl can be seen in broader perspective; a simple glance at photographic records provides clues about the inter-religious relations and contacts that must have existed in those towns. It is these relations that constitute one of the most interesting areas for prospective research on the shtetl.10

t ypes of inte r-re li g i o us co nt a c t i n t h e s h t e t l s Religious Contacts in Everyday Life Contacts resulted naturally from proximity. ‘There was no shtetl without its church, there was no shtetl without its synagogue,’ Annamaria Orla-Bukowska writes.11 In some towns there were churches of different denominations; in his memoir about S´niatyn´, Joachim Schoenfeld writes that there were three churches there: a Roman Catholic church, an Armenian Catholic church, and a Greek Catholic church.12 For centuries Jews and Christians lived side by side on Polish lands. Despite barriers and mutual prejudices, religious contacts were not completely eliminated. From Alina Cal a’s studies we learn that there were two modes in the relationship between Jews and Christians in small towns: the mode of everyday life, when those relations were correct, and the crisis mode, during times of war, plague, or other disasters. Crises such as pogroms have been the subject of many studies, but as yet there has been little research on contacts in everyday life.13 In general, historical studies dedicated to particular shtetls devote little attention to inter-religious contacts. In Schoenfeld’s memoir, for instance, we find just a few contradictory sentences on this subject. In his chapter on antisemitism Schoenfeld writes: ‘Antisemitism spread in sermons was the heart and soul of Jew-hatred. The Teachings of the New Testament paved the way for pogroms, autos-da-fe, ghettos, massacres, and so forth. Religious indoctrination, full of hatred against Jews, was force-fed into the brains of Christians from childhood and throughout their lives.’ But elsewhere in the book he describes examples of positive relationships between /

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Klier, ‘What Exactly Was a Shtetl?’ It is fascinating to compare a map of hasidic centres (G. D. Hundert (ed.), Essential Papers on Hasidism (New York, 1991), pp. viii, ix) with centres of the Catholic cult of the Holy Virgin (A. Jackowski (ed.), Miejsca ´swie˛te w Rzeczypospolitej (Kraków, 1998) ). Many places can be found on both maps. 11 Orla-Bukowska, ‘Coexistence’, ch. 3. 12 J. Schoenfeld, Shtetl Memoirs: Jewish Life in Galicia Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and . 13 Cal a, Wizerunek Zyda, 181. Reborn Poland (1898–1939) (Hoboken, NJ, 1985). 10

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Fig. 1. Drohobycz, c.1840

Fig. 2. Buczacz, c.1847

Inter-Religious Contacts in the Shtetl

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Fig. 3. Tarnopol

Fig. 4. Widze, Belarus, 1988. From M. Zowczak, Biblia ludowa: Interpretacje wátków biblijnych w kulturze ludowej (Wrocl aw, 2000) /

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Jews and Christians in the shtetl: ‘The relation between Jewish and non-Jewish students in our school was a friendly one. Jews and non-Jews visited each other’s homes.’ He goes on to say: ‘On Pesach [Passover] the Jewish students gave their non-Jewish colleagues some matzot and received from them pisanki [decorated eggs]. At Christmas time the non-Jewish students treated their Jewish colleagues to kutyiah (a traditional meal) made from boiled wheat with honey, nuts, and poppy seeds.’14 A few studies have been conducted on religious relations between Christians and Jews on Polish lands from the seventeenth century to 1939, that is, in the period when the shtetl was formed and developed. In her studies of Poles’ view of the Jewish religion in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Judith Kalik stresses the fact that knowledge about Judaism in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, as presented in the published works of Catholic theologians, was rather poor and came mostly from foreign-language sources. She writes that in intercultural contacts the most important role was played by servants: ‘Christians who worked for Jewish households. . . . deserve special attention because they maintained the closest contacts with Jewish families and their style of life.’15 Contacts of this type were possible above all in the shtetls. Direct contacts remained the primary source of Polish knowledge about Jewish religious tradition in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when works on Judaism written by Jews in Polish began to appear. The shtetl can thus be seen not only as an economic hub but also as a place of inter-religious contacts. In her case-study of the shtetl of Frysztak, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska finds that ‘Gentiles living with Jews knew their holidays very well, and what they need for them. Catholics and Jews went to each other’s place of worship, bathed in the same mykvah, and shared the same holiday treat.’16 So perhaps the Roskieses are right in stating that ‘what Jews wanted in particular shtetlekh was not isolation from Christians but isolation from Christianity’.17 It seems, then, that religious contacts in the shtetl were much better than religious authorities of various denominations had described them in official or literary documents. But in order to generalize these findings we need more of such local studies—using both historical and anthropological approaches.

Conversion Conversions, the most radical consequence of inter-religious contacts, occurred infrequently in the shtetls. In his article on Jewish converts in Polish society Jacob Goldberg writes that, because of a lack of sources, ‘one cannot calculate even Schoenfeld,. Shtetl Memoirs, 116. J. Kalik, ‘Zydowska duchowos´ c´, religia i praktyki religijne w oczach Polaków w XVII–XVIII . wieku’, in M. Galas (ed.), Duchowos´´c zydowska w Polsce (Kraków, 2000), 87. 16 Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 107. 17 D. Roskies and D. G. Roskies, The Shtetl Book (Hoboken, NJ, 1975), 34. 14 15

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approximately the number of neophytes in old Poland who converted to the Christian religion. On the basis of notes in church chronicles, archives, and memoirs, one can conclude only that such cases were relatively rare.’18 However, on the basis of recent studies we .can say more about the instance of conversion in particular shtetls. The town of Zól kiew, near Lwów, . may serve as an example: between 1675 and 1772 there were 8,656 baptisms in Zól kiew parish, including twenty-eight baptisms of Jews (nineteen in the eighteenth century) and twenty-nine baptisms of . persons of other religions. (In 1774 there were 690 houses in Zól kiew, 270 of which were inhabited by Christians and 420 by Jews.19) According to Goldberg, there were several primary motives for conversion: purely religious ones ‘resulting from the neophyte’s conviction about the truth of Christian religion and its superiority over Jewish religion’; intermarriage; social and financial ambition; and those motives connected with difficult life situations— e.g. a desire to avert a severe punishment.20 Jewish converts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were also driven by these motives. However, as Goldberg stresses, from the middle of the nineteenth century the number of converts who were intellectuals rose significantly; this suggests that most converts were from big cities and not from the shtetl. Though they represented a relatively tiny proportion of the Jewish population, converts seem nevertheless to have had a strong influence on the formation of Jewish–Christian relations in the shtetl and in all of Polish society. The case of Jan Serafinowicz, described by Gaudenty Pikulski, serves as an example.21 Serafinowicz was the son of a rabbi from Grodno. He finished his rabbinical studies in Slutsk and then became a rabbi in Brest. When he was 24, he succumbed to mental . illness. While in prison in Zól kiew, he had a revelation and was miraculously healed. That experience resulted in his conversion to Catholicism. After his baptism Serafinowicz began to make accusations against Jews. He was very active and succeeded in causing great confusion among both Jews and Catholics.22 A Jew from Przemys´lany (whose name we do not know) represents another type of convert. This Jew settled down in Pomorzany, where he married and found work in a local mill. At the age of 25, after three years of marriage and with two children, he started an affair with the daughter of a mill owner. In 1756 the daughter bore a child, and when it became known who the father was, the Jew was handcuffed and imprisoned. After six weeks of imprisonment the owner of the mill persuaded him to leave his wife and children and to convert to Christianity and marry her daughter. She promised him that he would also get the mill: /

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. J. Goldberg, ‘Zydowscy konwertyci w spol eczen´stwie staropolskim’, in A. Wyczan´ski (ed.), Spol eczen´stwo staropolskie, iv (Warsaw, 1986). . 19 Ga˛siorowski,. ‘Relacje mie˛dzy chrzes´ cijanami a Zydami’. 20 Goldberg, ‘Zydowscy konwertyci’, 214–22. . . 21 G. Pikulski,.Zl os´´c zydowska (Lwów, 1760). See also Goldberg, ‘Zydowscy konwertyci’, 216–18. 22 Goldberg, ‘Zydowscy konwertyci’, 350. 18

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The Jew agreed and was baptized by a local countryman, receiving the name Iwan. . . . He did not stay in that new relationship for long. After five months he yielded to the persuasion of the rabbi from Pomorzany and arendators Orsza and Jeskiel Bitejka and decided to return to his old faith and customs. He went to Chocim, which was in the Turkish zone, and he served Jews and fulfilled all of the commandments with them. Four weeks later he returned to Pomorzany, but he was caught and imprisoned. On the second of March 1757, he was sentenced for apostasy to perish at the stake—as the law required. Because. he had converted again he was [only] beheaded and buried at the town Orthodox church in Zólkiew.23 /

These cases illustrate two types of conversion with two different motives. This instance of conversion as the result of a love affair is not unique; as Alina Cal a has noted: ‘Unavoidable, frequent contacts with Jews resulted sometimes in love affairs or even marriages.’ Cal a’s interlocutors give examples from Narol, Kan´czuga (two cases), and Tarnogród.24 Much has been written on the subject of the Frankists, the best-known group of Jewish converts in Poland. With their Jewish–Catholic history, they clearly constitute an example of inter-religious contacts. But the question arises: Can one connect Frankism with the history of the shtetl? In my opinion one can, for several reasons. First, Jacob Frank’s followers came from typical shtetls in Podolia and Volhynia. Several people joined Frank at each of the shtetls he visited. In the chronicle of his activities we read: /

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From Jezierzany I went to Kopyczyn´ce (1 January 1756) and two or three people with wives and children accepted the Faith. . . . From there I went to Busko where I was for almost a week and about thirty people accepted the Faith of the Holy Trinity. . . . From Busko through Dawidów, I went to Lwów, where I was for two or three days and returned to Dawidów, where an arendator with all his family accepted our faith. . . . From Dawidów, where I was for about two weeks, I went to Rohatyn, where also a few people accepted my teachings. . . . After a week in Rohatyn I went to Podhajec where also a few people . . . accepted my teachings. From there I went to Kopyczyn´ce.25

The towns mentioned in this paragraph, as well as others cited in Frankist sources, can certainly be called shtetls. Secondly, following Gershom Scholem, one can say that Frankism was the first revolution against the shtetl understood as a ghetto. In Scholem’s opinion, the Frankists’ activity, which earlier had been limited to underground propaganda in the ghetto and to rituals of revolt, began to take a different direction when the Frankists came into contact with an idea of freedom which was positive and which quickly prevailed over the purely negative one. Since there was no positive way to effect a messianic revolt against the ghetto (or one could say the shtetl) from within, Frankism had taken on a nihilistic character. But now historical circumstances opened up another channel, and the followers of Frank became protagonists of the 23 24 25

. Ga˛siorowski, ‘Relacje mie˛dzy chrzes´cijanami a Zydami’, 290–1. . Cal a, Wizerunek Zyda, 54–5. Quoted in A. Kraushar, Frank i frankis´ci polscy (Kraków, 1895), i. 68–9. /

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new ideas in their various shades. After the messianic fire had died down, there remained the sober idea of progress instead of redemption and the new values of liberal enlightenment and reform instead of the vision of a general upheaval and annihilation.26 Thirdly, one of the many paradoxes of Frank’s actions was that he tried to create a shtetl of his own. Before the disputation in Lwów, Frankists had fought to acquire autonomous territory on which they could rule according to their own laws and customs. (It would be interesting to try to reconstruct this hypothetical Frankist shtetl.) Hasidism was another Jewish religious movement that was attractive to both Jews and Christians in the shtetl. The founder of hasidism, the Besht, did not relate only to Jews. As Moshe Rosman has stressed, ‘he lived in a world where Jewish and . non-Jewish strands were inextricably intertwined’. In Mie˛dzybóz (Medzhybizh), Christians were aware of and reacted to Jewish communal and religious institutions, while the Jews were expected to be respectful of Christian sensibilities. . ‘There was no ghetto in Mie˛dzybóz,’ Rosman writes; ‘Christians and Jews would 27 have to come into contact.’ Support for this statement can be found in Shivh.ei habesht, stories about the founder of hasidism. We read there that the Besht was in contact with Christians from many levels of society. According to tradition, the Besht ‘engaged in theological disputes with priests. He was patronized as a miracle worker and healer by some Christians.’28 The image of the Besht was vivid in the memory of Christians for a long time after his death. Legends about the Besht were known among Christians in many places, but above all in the south-eastern part of Poland, even at the end of the nineteenth century. This phenomenon has been described by Helena Grochowska and especially by Hayim Chajes in his 1934 article on the Besht among Christians.29 Likewise, Alina Cal a’s studies demonstrate that the memory of hasidim among people living in former shtetls is still alive. She observes: ‘Poles describe hasidim mostly in a positive way: hasidim were Jews of the strongest faith. . . . They protected people against fraud, they were honest. Hasidim were more pious, they could be seen more frequently with a book—even in the fields. Poles respected them. Chusyci [hasidim] knew how to heal.’30 These studies reveal that it was not hasidism as a Jewish mystical movement that attracted Christians, but rather the religious authority of the Besht and other /

26 See G. Scholem, ‘Der Nihilismus als religiöses Phänomen’, in his Judaica (Frankfurt am Main, 1984), iv. 180–6. 27 M. Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba’al Shem Tov (Berkeley and Los 28 Ibid. Angeles, 1996), 160. 29 H. Grochowska, ‘Srul Rai Bal-Szim’, Lud, 10 (1904), 50–8; H. Chajes, ‘Baal-Szem-Tow u . chrzes´cijan’, Miesie˛cznik Z ydowski, 5–6 (1934), 441–59, 550–65. . 30 Cal a, Wizerunek Zyda, 109–18. /

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hasidic leaders—and that only in certain of its aspects. That is, it was the power of the Besht and later tsadikim in their role as ba’alei shem that appealed to non-Jews.31 Tsadikim did not limit their activities to the Jewish community; people from shtetls and villages turned to them for help in various situations. Many examples of such assistance can be found in hasidic literature. This instance described in Shivh.ei habesht is characteristic: There was a time when there was no rain. The gentiles took out their idols and carried them around the village according to their custom, but still it did not rain. Once the Besht said to the arendator: ‘Send for the Jews in the surrounding area to come here for a minyan.’ And he proclaimed a fast. The Besht himself prayed before the ark, and the Jews prolonged the prayer. One gentile asked: ‘Why did you remain at prayer so long today? And why was there a great cry among you?’ The arendator told him the truth—that they were praying for rain—and the gentile mocked him sharply, saying, ‘We went around with our idols and it did not help. What help will you bring with your prayers?’ The arendator told the words of the gentile to the Besht, who said to him: ‘Tell the gentile that it will rain today.’ And so it did.32

A more recent statement from Sieniawa confirms that the tsadikim enjoyed great respect: ‘In Sieniawa there was a tsadik, a rebbe. . . . He was much respected by Jews; they attributed to him various miracles. . . . Even Catholics said that this rebbe was a holy wonder-worker. Even Poles went to him.’33 We cannot learn a great deal about the doctrine or customs of hasidism itself from these stories, but we can conclude that contacts with the ba’alei shem created a positive image of tsadikim and their activities in the popular opinion of non-Jews. The tsadikim had authority in the eyes of the entire shtetl community—Jews and non-Jews alike. The issues presented here do not by any means exhaust the range of possible subjects for the further study of inter-religious contacts in the shtetl. The various stages in the development of inter-religious relations have been outlined here, but the field could certainly benefit from case-studies of particular shtetls. Further research is needed on the attitudes of different Christian denominations towards the Jewish religious tradition and on Jewish views of Christians—Orthodox, Catholic, Greek Catholic, and so on. Studies on the shtetl—an exceptional place in the history of east European Jewry—should treat it also as a place of contact between many cultures. New research on the shtetl, or local history, should not be one-sided, but should instead emphasize intercultural and inter-religious relations. Only in this way can we memorialize the Jewish presence in the shtetl and in Poland. 31

See K. Groezinger, ‘Cadyk i Baal Szem w chasydyzmie wschodnioeuropejskim’, in Galas (ed.), . Duchowos´´c zydowska w Polsce, 111–22. 32 D. Ben-Amos and J. Mintz (eds.), In Praise of Baal Shem Tov (Shivhei ha-Besht): The Earliest Legends about the Founder . of Hasidism (Bloomington, Ind., 1970), ch. 21. 33 Cal a, Wizerunek Zyda, 109–18. /

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The Hasidic Conquest of Small-Town Central Poland, 1754‒1818 g lenn dy nn er . . . that small and intellectually meagre town, a town which the hasidim conquered and converted and abolished all the old customs, a town whose synagogue was closed and locked during all six months of winter . . . and the liturgy was mixed and muddled with every other liturgy, the doing of the new hasidim, and even the synagogue was looted and the old liturgy completely abolished from there by force— upon my arrival in that town, I too was dragged into the custom of the town’s inhabitants and forced to pray in the beit midrash according to the liturgy of drunks: the Sefarad liturgy.1 (a bra ham b aer g o t t l o b e r , Zikhronot umasaot)

One of the more remarkable phenomena in the east European Jewish past was the triumph of hasidism, a mystical revival sparked during the mid-eighteenth century by the disciples of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov (the Besht, c. 1700‒60). As those disciples began to buttress their master’s doctrine of popular mysticism with palpable social and political power, they discovered that certain spiritual concepts could be expanded to accommodate and justify their roles as leaders in the mundane sphere.2 By the first decades of the nineteenth century, hasidism—now as much a sociopolitical innovation as a religious one—had emerged as a mass movement. It had won such overwhelming support that, in terms of sheer influence, hasidism deserves to be recognized as the most important phenomenon in modern east European Jewish history before the rise of the new Jewish politics at the end of the nineteenth century.3 1 Czerniachów (Ukrainian Chernyakhiv, near Zhytomyr) is the town in question; however, these words might apply to towns throughout eastern and east-central Europe. The hasidic liturgy is a combination of Ashkenazi and Sephardi liturgy. It is, more accurately, the rite initiated by R. Isaac Luria (1534–72), the pre-eminent Safed mystic. As many Safed mystics were descendants of the refugees from Spain, the term nusah. sefarad is often inaccurately applied to hasidic rite. For details, see T. M. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism (Northvale, NJ, 1996), s.v. ‘Liturgy’; L. Jacobs, Hasidic Prayer (New York, 1975), 38–9. 2 I. Etkes, ‘The Zaddik: The Interrelationship Between Religious Doctrine and Social Organization’, in A. Rapoport-Albert (ed.), Hasidism Reappraised (London, 1996), 159–67. 3 Zionism, Jewish socialism, and to an extent, folkism and autonomism.

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For all the scholarly attention dedicated to hasidism’s origins, our understanding of its transformation into a thriving mass movement remains fragmentary4 and highly theoretical.5 While its origins have been well documented, hasidism as an emergent mass movement at the turn of the nineteenth century awaits comprehensive and systematic historical treatment. The scope of Moshe Rosman’s groundbreaking and exhaustive look at the Besht and his circle within their historical context is limited to the lifetime of hasidism’s founder alone.6 While Rosman finally and decisively overturned the dubious conception of the Besht as a folk hero who 4

On isolated aspects of the spread of hasidism, see I. Halpern, ‘H.evrot letorah ulemitsvah vehatenuah hah. asidit behitpashtutah’ and ‘Yah. aso shel r. aharon hagadol mikarlin .kelapei mishtar hakehilot’, in Yehudim veyahadut bemizrah. eiropah (Jerusalem, 1968); D. Kandel, . ‘Zydzi w dobie utworzenia Królestwa Kongresowego’, Kwartalnik pos´wie˛cony badaniu przeszl os´ci Zydów w Polsce, 1/1 (1912); id., ‘Komitet starozakonnych’, ibid. 1/2 (1912); I. Schiper, Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu w Polsce, ed. Z. Targielski (Warsaw, 1992); R. Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, trans. E. Orenstein, A. Klein, and J. Klein (Philadelphia, 1985); Z. Gries, ‘The Hasidic Conduct (Hanhagot) Literature from the Mid-Eighteenth Century to the 1830s’, Zion, 46 (1981), 198–236; id., Sefer, sofer vesipur bereshit hah.asidut (Tel Aviv, 1992); Z. M. Rabinowicz, Bein pshiskha velublin (Jerusalem, 1997); G. D. . Hundert, ‘The Contexts of Hasidism’, in W. Kowalski and J. Muszyn´ski (eds.), Zydzi ws´ród chrzes´cijan w dobie szlacheckiej Rzeczypospolitej (Kielce, 1996); id., ‘Apta vereshit hah. asidut ad 1800’, in R. Elior, I. Bartal, and Ch. Shmeruk (eds.), Tsadikim ve’anshei ma’aseh (Jerusalem, 1994), 59–64; E. Bergman, ‘Góra-kalwaria (gur): Hayishuv hayehudi beh. atsar harabi migor mireshit hame’ah 19 ad 1939’; W. Z. Rabinowitch, Lithuanian Hasidism (New York, 1971); M. Nadav, Toledot kehilat pinsk, 1506–1880 (Tel Aviv, 1973); M. Zalkin, ‘Mekomot shelo matsa’ah adayin hah. asidut ken lah kelal? Bein h. asidim lemitnagedim belita beme’ah ha-19’, in I. Etkes, D. Assaf, I. Bartal, and E. Reiner (eds.), Bema’aglei h.asidim: Kovets meh.karim lezikhro shel profesor mordekhai vilenski (Jerusalem, 2000); H. Gertner, ‘Rabanut veh. asidut begalitsiyah beme’ah ha-19: R. shelomoh kluger vehah. asidut’, ibid.; N. Loewenthal, Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School (Chicago, 1990); D. Assaf, Tsadik ve’edah (Jerusalem, 2001). A more comprehensive study is Y. Petrovsky, ‘Into the Jewish Street: Hasidism and Traditional Jewish Societies’, forthcoming. On a later period, see D. Assaf, Derekh hamalkhut: R. yisra’el meruzin umekomo betoledot hah.asidut (Jerusalem, 1997); trans. as The Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin (Stanford, Calif., 2002). 5 For theoretical approaches to the spread of hasidism, see G. D. Hundert (ed.), Essential Papers on Hasidism (New York, 1991), and Rapoport-Albert (ed.), Hasidism Reappraised, esp. ead., ‘Hasidism After 1772: Structural Continuity and Change’, S. Ettinger, ‘Hasidism and the Kahal in Eastern Europe’, and Etkes, ‘The Zaddik’. See also S. Dresner, The Tsaddik: The Doctrine According to the Writings of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoy (New York, 1964); J. Weiss, Studies in Eastern Jewish Mysticism, ed. D. Goldstein (London, 1985); I. Etkes, ‘Hasidism as a Movement: The First Stage’, in B. Safran (ed.), Hasidism: Continuity or Innovation? (Cambridge, Mass., 1988); A. Z. Aescoly, H.asidut befolin, ed. D. Assaf (Jerusalem, 1998); O. Pritsak, ‘Ukraine as the Setting for the Emergence of Hasidism’, in Israel Among the Nations: Essays Presented in Honor of Shmuel Ettinger (Jerusalem, 1997), 67–85; Ch. Shmeruk, ‘Hasidism and the Kehilla’, in A. Polonsky, J. Basista, and A. Link-Lenczowski (eds.), The Jews in Old Poland, 1000–1795 (London, 1993); D. Assaf, ‘H.asidut behitpath. uto: Diyokno shel neh. emiah yeh. i’el mibikhovah ben “heyehudi hakadosh” ’, in I. Bartal, E. Mendelsohn, and Ch. Turniansky (eds.), Keminhag ashkenaz vepolin: Sefer yovel leh.oneh shmeruk (Jerusalem, 1993). 6 Rosman has discovered the Besht residing tax-free on kahal-owned property and avoiding local conflicts (Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba’al Shem Tov (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1996) ). Notably, Ignacy Schiper’s recently discovered manuscript begins to undertake a historically grounded criticism of the older historiography represented by Simon Dubnow. /

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fomented a popular upsurge in reaction to some major social crisis, his findings cannot be automatically applied to the generations that followed, when hasidism blossomed into a full-fledged movement. A rigorous study of hasidism after the death of its founder is therefore urgently needed, and will be attempted here with respect to the region of central Poland.7 Borne by the charismatic disciples and descendants of the Besht and his preeminent disciple R. Dov Baer, the Great Maggid of Mezerich (Mezhirech, Mie˛dzyrzecz), hasidism spread northwards from its origins in Podolia (Ukraine) through Volhynia into what is present-day Belarus by the end of the eighteenth century.8 Several disciples of the Great Maggid began to make their way westward . into Galicia, the most important centre emerging in the town of Lezajsk.9 Additional disciples of the Besht, including hasidism’s foremost theoretician, R. Jacob Joseph of Polonne, resided in Bessarabia for a time;10 while the Besht’s most prominent descendant, the celebrated R. Nahman, travelled southeastward and settled down in the Bratslav (Bracl aw) palatinate.11 It is increasingly clear that from its inception hasidism appealed across social lines, drawing adherents from rich and poor alike and attracting charismatic male scions of the Jewish elite into the ranks of its leadership.12 After the death of the Besht most of his disciples and descendants received the designation tsadik, marking them as new charismatic leaders who fused pre-existent roles (ba’al shem, rabbi, preacher13). The tsadikim maintained that their ability to achieve a state of devekut, or cleaving to God, empowered them to fulfil the spiritual and physical needs of anyone willing to bind themselves to them as supplicants and devotees.14 For, it was held, the tsadikim were conduits between the upper and lower worlds.15 The tsadikim were therefore much more than other-worldly mystics. Their vocations lay within the material realm as miracle-workers, rabbis, and preachers. Such assumptions of communal leadership by men who might have been content to /

17 Ada Rapoport-Albert, in her insightful but idiosyncratic essay on the emergence of succession in hasidic leadership after 1772, does question the conception of hasidism as an exclusively popular movement of the masses. See ‘Hasidism after 1772’, 85. 18 Hence the nickname ‘Karliners’ for hasidim, found in anti-hasidic bans. See Rabinowitch, Lithuanian Hasidism; Loewenthal, Communicating the Infinite; and R. Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad (New York, 1992). . 19 R. Elimelekh of Lezajsk (1717–87). 10 N. Huberman, ‘Hasidim un hasidut in bessarabia’, YIVO bleter, 39 (1955), 278–83. 11 See A. Green, Tormented Master (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1979). 12 See Rosman, Founder of Hasidism. On the period following the lifetime of the Besht, see my ‘Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewry, 1754–1830’, Ph.D. diss. (Brandeis University, 2002). 13 A ba’al shem was an independent, usually itinerant healer and mystical practitioner, like a shaman or witch doctor, who prescribed physical and spiritual remedies for his customers. 14 On devekut, see G. Scholem, ‘Devekut, or Communion with God’, in Hundert (ed.), Essential Papers; M. Idel, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic (New York, 1995); M. Krassen, Uniter of Heaven and Earth: Rabbi Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zabarazh and the Rise of Hasidism in Eastern Galicia (New 15 Idel, Hasidism, 189–207. York, 1998), 43–93.

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soar permanently in the upper realms were not regarded as self-serving or ambitious in the eyes of the hasidim. Descending from his lofty state of devekut in order to attend the needs of fellow Jews, even undisguised material needs, was a tsadik’s grim responsibility.16 Worldly duties formed part of a mandatory ‘exit rite’, or return to regular life after immersion within the divine. Even if these were rewarded financially, they drew the tsadik away from his sublime state of devekut and were accordingly rendered in a spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice.17 Communal leadership by tsadikim was further justified through the mildly antinomian notion that even the most mundane acts possess profound spiritual potential.18 By contrast, the old-style reclusive mystics who studied and practised kabbalah in exclusive gatherings, without bothering to lead their communities as mystics, were regarded as selfish elitists consumed with their own spiritual strivings.19 Only with the appearance of these tsadikim and their followers, known as hasidim, may one properly speak of a hasidic movement, for it was they who fully realized the social implications of devekut and worship within corporeality, and it was they who disseminated and institutionalized hasidism. Their alleged indispensability for Jewish religious fulfilment was so relentlessly promoted and widely received that the tsadikim emerged as the new supra-communal leaders of east European Jewry at a time when the Va’ad Arba Aratsot (Council of Four Lands) had been dissolved (1764) and the rabbinate was in decline.20 Near the end of the Besht’s lifetime hasidism began to spread into central Poland, the area that became the Duchy of Warsaw (1807‒13), and later, after 1815, with reduced boundaries, the Congress Kingdom.21 The brothers R. Samuel Shmelke and R. Pinhas Horowitz, disciples of R. Dov Baer of Mezerich became rabbis in Ryczywól (1754) and Witków (1760).22 Several of their disciples sustained /

16

R. Elior, ‘Between Yesh and Ayin: The Doctrine of the Tsaddik in the Works of Jacob Isaac, the Seer of Lublin’, in A. Rapoport-Albert and S. Zipperstein (eds.), Jewish History: Essays in Honor of Chimen Abramsky (London, 1988). 17 Ibid. 127–33; G. Nigal (ed.), No’am elimelekh (Jerusalem, 1978), introd., 97–9; ‘Beha’alotekha’, 381–2; ‘Va’eth. anan’, 485–6. 18 Rachel Elior considers ‘worship in corporeality’ (avodah begashmiyut) the decisive component of the tsadik idea. See Elior, ‘Bein “hitpashtut hagashmiyut” levein “hitpashtut ha’ahavah gam begashmiyut” ’, in Bartal, Turniansky, and Mendelsohn (eds.), Keminhag ashkenaz vepolin. 19 For contrasts between the new tsadikim and the older, ostensibly selfish mystics, see Israel Ba’al Shem Tov and Dov Baer of Mezerich, Tsava’at haribash vehanhagot yesharot, repr. in Sipurim kedoshim mitalmidei ba’al shem tov, xci (Brooklyn, NY, 1993), 20; and Nigal (ed.), No’am elimelekh, 261. 20 Only historic Lithuania evaded their influence, owing to the presence of R. Elijah, the Vilna Gaon, and his disciples, known as mitnagedim (opponents). On the decline of the rabbinate, see M. Rosman, The Lords’ Jews: Magnate–Jewish Relations in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth During the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), 198–204; A. Teller, ‘The Legal Status of the Jews on the Magnate Estates of Poland–Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century’, Gal-Ed, 15 (1997), 56–60. 21 Central Poland was unique in its tenuous experimentation with constitutionalism. 22 According to Mordechai Wilensky, the brothers became hasidic in their youth (Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1990), i. 84).

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the hasidic effort in the region upon their departure.23 Central Poland, with its relatively urbanized and cosmopolitan centres amid a largely rural hinterland, represented a true test of the movement’s versatility. For if the movement could prevail in both rural areas and cities such as Warsaw and Lublin, it would prove to be much more than a popular mystical upsurge in small-town eastern Europe. Warsaw, the heart of eastern Europe’s incipient industrial revolution, was home to a Jewish bourgeoisie comprising international merchants and military suppliers who were beginning to make forays into banking and industry. If one subscribes to the economic determinism that informs much of the historiography, these wealthy merchants would seemingly be the least likely to join an anti-modern, anti-secular subculture.24 Within several decades, however, the hasidic message indeed began to resonate amid this proto-banking elite, and some of its most prominent members became patrons of hasidism.25 The involvement of hasidic patrons among the Warsaw mercantile elite, who protected, promoted, and enhanced the prestige of the movement, marks the first half of Polish hasidism’s success formula. At the same time, backed by their big-city patrons, hasidic foot-soldiers in central Poland’s small towns and villages were making bold incursions into local religious life and foiling numerous attempts by their enemies to stem the hasidic tide. The grass-roots activities of tsadikim, emissaries, and local adherents—the second half of the equation—afford us insight into the mechanisms through which hasidism usurped the loci of power in Polish Jewish communities. The process and extent of hasidic infiltration of religious institutions like the study house (beit midrash), synagogue, and local rabbinate, reflected in—but. certainly not limited to—the cases of the towns Pl ock, Kozienice, Olkusz, and Zelechów, will engage us for the remainder of this chapter.26 Instead of abstracting hasidism from its historical context for the sake of analysis, as is usually done, the following discussion rather endeavours to place the ascendancy of hasidism squarely within its Polish Jewish and non-Jewish milieu. Hasidism will prove to have been as much a social and political programme as a theological one. /

pol ish h asi d ic e x pa ns i o n, exte r n a l a n d i n t e r na l By the end of the eighteenth century the hasidic presence in central Poland stretched westward in what is roughly a crescent shape whose furthermost points 23 Among R. Shmelke’s disciples were R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev, R. Israel of Kozienice, and R. Jacob Isaac, the Seer of Lublin. On R. Samuel Shmelke, see Schiper, Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu, 20. 24 Hasidism rejected most forms of acculturation, including secular education. 25 On the role of the Warsaw mercantile elite in spreading and sustaining hasidism in central Poland, see my ‘Men of Silk’, ch. 3; and my ‘Merchant Princes and Tsadikim’, Polin (forthcoming). 26 While the present illustration of the phases of hasidic conquest is limited to the cases of Pl ock, . Kozienice, Olkusz, and Zelechów, the extant sources afford many additional examples. See my ‘Men of Silk’, ch. 2. /

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consist of Lelów and Pl ock.27 In only isolated instances did hasidism make its way further west, and here it simply could not take root. In 1791 the maskil Menahem Mendel Lefin of Satanów was able to proclaim that Wielkopolska was ‘not yet entirely infected’; while the pre-eminent mystical text the Zohar, whose popularity would evidently mean easy reception for hasidism, still lodged in obscurity in Germany.28 The tsadik Nahman of Bratslav, with almost breathtaking candour, essentially corroborates those geographical limits: /

In this land [i.e. eastern Europe], for example, ba’alei shem are esteemed. And in truth, there have been some authentic ba’alei shem and tsadikim. But nowadays fraudulent ba’alei shem have proliferated. And as a rule, anyone who wishes and desires to go into it . . . succeeds even if he is a fraud and really knows nothing except that it is based on his rapture: how he bestirs himself and revels in it. It also depends on where he sets up the venture. If he starts in a place where they believe in it, or if he begins with women—for they are prone to believe in everything—then he succeeds. And after that, it is possible that those who are far from believing in such a thing will also come to believe in him . . . on account of his having ‘succeeded’. But there is another land where such an endeavour is not esteemed at all, for example the German lands, where they do not have any belief in ba’alei shem. And there is no success or foothold for one who wishes to engage in it there. And such is also the case with the exploits and renown of the tsadikim in this land; whereas in another land they do not enjoy the same prestige.29

In his characteristically sceptical manner, Nahman of Bratslav implies that the east European Jewish disposition was particularly receptive to miracle-working—both fraudulent and authentic—in contrast to Jews in western Europe (whether women in western Europe were less ‘prone to believe in everything’ he does not say). A few hasidim temporarily slipped across the east–west divide, apparently as early as 1758.30 In 1773 R. Samuel Shmelke Horowitz accepted the Nikolsburg (Mikulov) rabbinate, while his brother R. Pinhas was offered that of Frankfurt am Main. Several future Polish tsadikim, including R. Jacob Isaac of Lublin and R. Israel of Kozienice, followed Samuel Shmelke Horowitz to Nikolsburg and 27 These geographical contours derive in part from the hagiographic biographies of Polish hasidic celebrities; primary literature (Shivh.ei habesht, memoirs, correspondence, etc.); and archival sources. For a detailed geographical description and documentation, see my ‘Men of Silk’, ch. 1. 28 The Zohar (c.1280) is a standard classic of Jewish mysticism. See [M. Lefin], Essai d’un plan de réforme ayant pour objet d’éclairer la nation juive en Pologne et de redresser par là ses mœurs (Warsaw, 1791), sects. 31–43, pp. 9–11; pp. 30–1 nn. g and h. 29 Nahman of Bratslav, Sih.ot haran (Lemberg, 1901), p. 36, no. 63. 30 About 1758 R. Jacob Emden charged that ‘Now upstarts have arisen, a new sect of hasidim in Volhynia and Podolia, and some of them have even come to this country [Germany]’ (Mitpah.at sefarim (Altona, 1768), 31; quoted in S. Dubnow, ‘The Magid of Mie˛dzyrzecz’, trans. E. Lederhendler, in Hundert (ed.), Essential Papers, p. 59 and n. 2). See also Y. Friedlander, ‘The Struggle of the Mitnagedim and Maskilim Against Hasidism: Rabbi Jacob Emden and Judah Leib Meises’, in S. Feiner and D. Sorkin (eds.), New Perspectives on the Haskalah (London, 2001), 105–9. Emden may be referring to old-style hasidim.

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remained for a time.31 Nevertheless, hasidism could not take root in central and western Europe.32 Any evaluation of the extraordinary expansion of hasidism within eastern and east-central Europe must acknowledge its relatively limited impact on existing political structures. Rather than supplant local organs of Jewish self-government—the kehalim—with newly fashioned institutions, the tsadikim preferred to fill kahal offices with their devotees.33 Hasidism was superimposed upon the remnants of east European Jewish political autonomy in a manner similar to what has been termed the ‘imperial method’—co-opting existing elites and institutions for control and rule.34 While the courts of the tsadikim did constitute institutional innovation, they were much less formal, tangible, and developed at this point than they were to become by the middle of the century.35 Hasidic prayer houses, a second type of institutional innovation, appear to have been intended only as temporary expedients until the beit midrash (communal study house) or main synagogue became the hasidic domain. This conservative approach to social change is one reason why it is inaccurate to describe hasidism as a sect, subculture, or social anti-structure.36 To be sure, hasidism entailed liminal activities like pilgrimage and ritual revelry during sabbaths and holiday gatherings. But the tsadikim and their adherents ultimately strove to appropriate the existing infrastructure rather than undermine or reject it. The memoirist Abraham Gottlober delineates three stages of the hasidic usurpation of local power throughout eastern Europe: [The hasidim] introduced a new combination of Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs, and left the various communities for no reason other than to form special, small houses of prayer, which they called by the name kloyz. And gradually, as their power increased, they brought their customs also into the main beit midrash. And only in small, poor towns did they become strong enough to conquer even the main synagogue.37

The kloyz, beit midrash, and main synagogue, according to Gottlober, were rungs on a ladder of local conquest.38 31 B. Nosek, ‘Shemuel Shmelke, Ben Tsvi Hirsh Ha-Levi Horovits: Legend and Reality’, Judaica Bohemia, 21/2 (1985), 84–9. Another instructive case is that of R. Nathan Adler and his circle of pietists in Frankfurt. See R. Elior, ‘R. Nathan Adler and the Frankfurt “Pietists”: Pietist Groups in Eastern and Central Europe During the Eighteenth Century’, in K. E. Grözinger (ed.), Jüdische Kultur in Frankfurt am Main (Wiesbaden, 1997). 32 Hundert suggests that hasidism was more attractive in eastern Europe because, ‘while Jews elsewhere could persuade themselves that the modern middle classes were permeable or penetrable’, there could be no such thinking in Poland, where Enlightenment ideas were the sole preserve of the nobility (‘The Contexts of Hasidism’, 182). 33 Ettinger, ‘Hasidism and the Kahal’, in Rapoport-Albert (ed.), Hasidism Reappraised, 63–75. 34 ChaeRan Freeze refers to the ‘imperial method’ in her important recent work Jewish Marriage and 35 Assaf, Derekh hamalkhut. Divorce in Imperial Russia (Hanover, NH, 2002), 128. 36 What Victor Turner terms ‘communitas’. See Dramas, Fields and Ritual Metaphors (Ithaca, NY, 37 A. Gottlober, Zikhronot, i. 127. 1964), 45. 38 However, the hasidim did not necessarily accomplish these phases in any chronological order.

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What, precisely, did Gottlober mean by the terms kloyz and beit midrash? The word kloyz originally applied to a small room where elitist, old-style hasidim engaged in kabbalistic study, not prayer. It was often attached to a shtibl, where prayer sessions took place according to the liturgy of the sixteenth-century Safed kabbalistic circle of R. Isaac Luria (the Ari).39 Although the kloyz and the beit midrash were both primarily places of study, the kloyz was independent and privately funded, while the beit midrash was supported by communal funds.40 By Gottlober’s day, however, these terms had evolved in response to hasidism. The terms shtibl and kloyz were now used interchangeably to denote primarily hasidic spaces, still privately funded, for study and prayer.41 Non-hasidim also established unofficial, regular spaces for worship, referred to as ‘prayer houses’ (domy modlitwy) in government documents. The Polish officials were uncomfortable with all such informal places of worship: even a congregation of acculturated Jews (known as ‘Germans’) on 616 Danil owiczowska Street had to petition the government to reopen their prayer house in 1815.42 Two years later Minister Stanisl aw Staszic began an inquiry into ‘prayer services in private houses’, seeking to clarify ‘if the Constitution ensures all faiths freedom of such religious ceremonies’, and ‘if the Treasury has not enacted any law for collection of a fee for this, and accordingly [whether it] should . . . be granted an exemption agreement’.43 But prayer houses proved too numerous and clandestine for government regulation. In Warsaw, which lacked a synagogue at this time, over 100 houses of prayer functioned by 1826.44 But hasidic prayer houses, as concrete and visible /

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39 David of Maków, Zemir aritsim, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, i. 47–8 and 68. The 1772 Brody ban and Leszniów decrees each mention an acceptable shtibl, in which several old-style hasidim have the exclusive right to pray in Lurianic ritual. See also N. Gelber, Arim ve’imahot beyisra’el, vi: Brody (Jerusalem, 1957); Rosman, Founder of Hasidism; and E. Reiner, ‘Hon, ma’amad h. evrati, vetalmud torah: Hakloiz beh. evrah hayehudit bemizrah. eiropah bame’ot 17–19’, Zion, 58 (1993), 287–328. 40 Reiner, ‘Hon, ma’amad h. evrati, vetalmud torah’; Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 29. 41 Wilensky (Hasidim umitnagedim, i. 338) writes, ‘the term shtibl as a house of worship of Beshtian hasidim, as far as I can tell, does not appear in anti-hasidic literature at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries’. In 1827 Peter Beer describes the hasidic place of prayer as a kloyz (A. G. Hoffmann (ed.), Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste (Leipzig, 1827), s.v. ‘Chassidaer’). Gottlober, as we see, also refers to the kloyz as a place of worship. Shtibl and beit midrash were also lumped together occasionally. See E. Dinard, Zikhronot bat ami, pt. II (New Orleans, 1920), 27. 42 Archiwum Gl ówne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD), Centralne Wl adze Wyznaniowe (CWW) 1723, 3–5; letter signed by Israel Rosen, I. Landshutter, R. Guttmann, S. L. Kronenberg, and I. Kohen. The Progressives opened the prayer house in 1802, and established a synagogue in 1843. See A. Guterman, ‘The Origins of the Great Synagogue in Warsaw on Tl omackie Street’, in W. Bartoszewski and A. Polonsky (eds.), The Jews in Warsaw: A History (Oxford, 1991); M. Piechotka and K. Piechotka, ‘Polish Synagogues in the Nineteenth Century’, Polin, 2 (1987), 189. 43 Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Kielcach (APKch), RGR I, 4405. On later attempts to regulate prayer . houses, see J. Kirszrot, Prawa Zydów w Królestwie Polskiem (Warsaw, 1917), 12–13. 44 AGAD, CWW 1441, contains a chart with names and addresses, including that of the hasidic patron Temerel Bergson. See also Piechotka and Piechotka, ‘Polish Synagogues in the Nineteenth Century’; and complaints in Jutrzenka, 6 (1861), 45; 13 (1861), 103. /

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manifestations of the movement, were singled out in official complaints by Jews and non-Jews. Hasidim occasionally erected their own synagogues. The wealthy Warsaw merchants Berek and Temerel Sonnenberg-Bergson founded the first hasidic synagogue in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, in 1807.45 One finds reference to the ‘synagogue of the hasidim of the rabbi of Lublin’ in Warsaw, and a synagogue apparently constructed for R. Israel in Kozienice.46 The latter laid the cornerstone of a new synagogue in Warka in 1810.47 But the hasidic synagogue was less common than the hasidic beit midrash or kloyz/shtibl.48 Moreover, the term ‘synagogue’ is often applied loosely.49 The second arena to be conquered, the beit midrash, continued to be a public prayer and study hall. The maskil Abraham Stern defined the term beit midrash at the request of the Komisja Rza˛dowa Wyznan´ Religijnych i Os´wiecenia Publicznego (Government Commission for Religious Denominations and Public Education) in 1832,50 contrasting it with the synagogue. A beit midrash was a ‘house of religious study, where every Israelite is free to attend at any time and read books having to do with the Israelite religion’. It was devoted ‘not only to the celebration of daily services, but also has this other purpose: that every single Israelite wishing to read books on religious knowledge comes there for that purpose at any time’. The beit midrash was versatile and open to all (male) Jews. The synagogue, in contrast, was ‘devoted exclusively to the celebration of daily prayer services’.51 Gottlober recalls how hasidim attained the second and third phases of conquest. Cantors, sent by tsadikim in order to elevate their prestige, infiltrated the beit midrash and synagogue services and thrust hasidic forms of worship upon the congregants. Gottlober explains, ‘in order to disseminate the hasidic system it was . See the dedication to the . synagogue in ‘Akt darowizny bóznicy przez Berka’, Kwartalnik pos´wie˛cony badania przeszl os´ci Zydów w Polsce, ser. 1, 3 (1912), 180–2. The first such synagogue was not constructed in 1830 by Berek (who anyway died on 19 Nov. 1822), an error repeated. twice by the Piechotkas in ‘Polish Synagogues’, 187, 190; and in M. Bal aban, Zabytki historyczne Zydów w Polsce (Warsaw, n.d.), 54. 46 Yehudah Mosheh of Alexander (ed.), Kedushat yitsh.ak: Yemei h.ayei raboteinu hakedoshim ha’ad. morim mi’aleksander (Jerusalem, 1952), p. 20, no. 13; Z. Guldon, ‘Gminy wyznania mojzeszowego w powiecie radomskim w XVI–XVIII wieku’, in his Radom i region radomski w dobie szlacheckiej Rzeczypospolitej, ii (Radom, 1996), 158. 47 Warka minute book, in S. Huberband, Kiddush hashem, trans. D. E. Fishman (New York, 1987), 307–8. 48 Abraham Rubenstein’s bibliography of hasidic shtibls, batei midrash, kloyzn and so-called yizkor books, in his H.asidut: Reshimah bibliografit lashanah 1965 (Jerusalem, 1972), 353–4. 49 Synagogues were officially sanctioned and physically larger than prayer houses; however, in Warsaw prayer houses were also officially sanctioned (AGAD, CWW 1441). 50 AGAD, CWW 1597, 266. 51 Ibid. 267–8. On Abraham Stern, see J. Shatsky, ‘Avraham Yaakov Shtern (1768–1842)’, in The Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (New York, 1953), 203–11; and Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, 211, 230. 45

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essential to change the old liturgy which was used by all the Jews in the towns, that is the Ashkenazi liturgy, into the Sefarad liturgy . . . And not only the liturgy was essential, but also the melodies of the prayer and their delivery before the public (the fartrag).’52 The special form of delivery is described by the mitnaged R. David Maków, who fumes that during their worship the hasidim ‘begin to shout many great shouts with strange utterances in the middle of the Eighteen Benedictions, like bam, bam, bam, ee, ee, ee, noy, noy, noy, gei, gei, gei, um, um, um . . .’.53 Parodying the honour accorded to the tsadik R. Jacob Isaac, the Seer of Lublin, he quips, ‘he who raises his voice in prayer to a roar [shaon] is called by the name ‘genius’ [gaon] . . . he who claps hand against hand [kaf] is called by the name hasid and rav [rabbi]!’54 Other Polish tsadikim, such as R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev and R. Israel of Kozienice, even dared to insert Polish phrases into their prayer (customarily read in Hebrew) for added effect.55 Hasidic testimony proudly substantiates these charges of eccentric worship. R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev ‘would run from corner to corner and dance with great and quite terrible fervour’.56 Another tradition asserts that ‘it was his custom during prayer to pray with fear and trembling. And he could not stand in one place owing to his awe [of God]. And when one placed him in one corner, he would be found in another corner.’57 ‘And all who were present at the time of his prayer, their hair would stand up on their heads, and their hearts would melt, and all their crookedness would be removed on account of his voice.’58 Hasidic tradition even corroborates the insertion of Polish phrases. On Yom Kippur in the city of Lemberg (Lwów/Lviv), in order to threaten the angelic representative of the Polish nation, R. Levi Isaac cried out the Polish words ‘Ja ciebie naucze˛!’ (‘I’ll teach you!’) during the Musaf prayer. Even his admirers were scandalized.59 From a political standpoint, the aim may have been simply to promote a hasidic mode of worship whose very flamboyance rendered it unmistakable. To Gottlober’s three phases of conquest we may add a fourth: the appointment of communal functionaries by tsadikim. The significance of appointments of hasidic ritual slaughterers has received a great deal of scholarly attention, owing to its 52 Gottlober, Zikhronot, i. 59. On hasidic emissaries, see also Solomon Maimon: An Autobiography, ed. M. Hadas (New York, 1967), 51–2: ‘The heads of the sect sent regular emissaries everywhere, whose duty it was to preach the new doctrine and win converts.’ The emissary Maimon met was the future tsadik Aaron of Karlin. Ettinger, ‘Hasidism and the Kahal in Eastern Europe’, in RapoportAlbert (ed.), Hasidism Reappraised, 67. 53 Shever poshim 64a, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 159. 54 55 Zemir aritsim 3a, ibid. ii. 195. Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, i. 59, no. 15. 56 Kedushat yitsh.ak, p. 19, no. 12. See S. Gutman, Tiferet beit levi (Ias¸i, 1909), 5, on R. Levi Isaac’s clamorous prayer. 57 BT Ber. 31a. The description originally applies to the mishnaic sage R. Akiva. 58 M. Bodek, Seder hadorot hah.adash, ‘Megilat yuh. asin’ (Jerusalem, 1964–5). See also Gutman, 59 Gutman, Tiferet beit levi, 15. Tiferet beit levi, 5.

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economic relevance.60 Gottlober, for his part, stresses the importance of cantorial appointments. (On the strength of R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev’s recommendation, his own father was appointed cantor of Stary Konstantynów over the objections of the mitnagedim.61) But in terms of spiritual authority, the appointment of neither slaughterers nor cantors approaches that reflected in one hasidic tradition: The holy tsadik R. Joseph Kizes travelled to Lublin. And he [R. Jacob Isaac, the Seer of Lublin] said to him, ‘Welcome, Rabbi of Janów [Zamoyski]’. And eight days had not passed before a delegation from Janów Zamoyski came to ask his advice about whom to take on as rabbi. And he answered them, ‘Indeed, your rabbi is already with me.’ And he presented him to them.62

By the nineteenth century Polish tsadikim were beginning to appoint town rabbis— the most powerful religious functionaries before their own arrival on the scene. Occasionally, tsadikim assumed rabbinical offices themselves, as in the towns of . Zelechów, Stopnica, and Opatów. Such rabbinical appointments and assumptions of office are indicative of a major power shift. The hasidim were confronted by opponents—non-Jewish and Jewish—at every turn. In the eyes of many Polish bureaucrats, from local police to district (województwo) commissioners, these Jewish sectarians were a social menace. In the town of Parczew, home to about twenty hasidim of the Przysucha school, one local official complained: They do not attend synagogue, but rather choose to celebrate services in rented houses, where sometimes throughout the entire night they make a great noise and celebrate services, with various songs, jumps, dances. It has frequently been seen that they engaged, in this same place chosen for prayer service, in games in which different drinks are drunk and songs are sung. And they fly out into the street singing, jumping and producing various shouts, which the mayor of the city cannot tolerate, and are punished by the police for disturbing the peace at night.63

One is moved to empathize with the bewildered local police in this case, confronted as they were with such instances of hasidic riot and revelry. Other officials were persuaded to act against hasidim by Jewish proponents of Enlightenment, the maskilim. But in some cases officials actually defended the hasidic right to worship. Perhaps here is the place to caution that historians of Polish hasidism have failed to appreciate the full spectrum of attitudes among Polish bureaucrats, ranging from 60

Ch. Shmeruk, ‘Hasidism and the Kehilla’, in A. Polonsky, J. Basista, and A. Link-Lenczowski (eds.), The Jews in Old Poland, 1000–1795 (London, 1993); I. Kuperstein, ‘Inquiry at Polaniec: A Case Study of a Hassidic Controversy in Eighteenth-Century Galicia’, in Bar Ilan Annual, xxiv–xxv, ed. G. Bacon and M. Rosman (Ramat Gan, 1989); S. Stampfer, ‘The Dispute over Polished Knives and Hasidic Shekhita’, in I. Etkes, D. Assaf, and Y. Dan (eds.), Meh.karei h.asidut (Jerusalem, 1999). 61 Gottlober, Zikhronot, i. 62. The cantorial function is described as a proving ground for aspiring 62 M. M. Walden, Niflaot harabi (Warsaw, 1911), p. 80, no. 229. tsadikim (ibid. 61). 63 AGAD, CWW 1871, 12–13.

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enmity to impartiality to even benevolence. Raphael Mahler’s dismissal of the ‘heavy, dull-witted bureaucratic apparatus’ is not justified in view of many of the documents which are brought to light here. Among hasidism’s Jewish opponents, the traditionalist mitnagedim decried separate hasidic prayer quorums because they very openly implemented ritual modifications that were supposed to be restricted to the elite.64 Separate worship also undermined the local pecking-order, manifested in preferred seating assignments and ritual duties in the main synagogue.65 Finally, the demands of tsadikim for a pidyon (‘redemption’ payment) in return for blessings and other types of services were viewed as nothing more than exploitation.66 As the nineteenth century progressed, however, the mitnagedim noticeably weakened and tended to shy away from involving non-Jewish authorities in their struggle against hasidism. They even occasionally joined forces with hasidim against the more threatening initiatives of the maskilim, whose programmes both groups regarded as secularizing and even Christianizing. The maskilim, for their part, as Enlightenment-based reformers, were less concerned about hasidic religious innovation. They rather reviled hasidism as a barrier to modernization and emancipation, and viewed its leaders as charlatans who preyed on the ignorance and superstition of the Jewish masses. As the mitnagedim began to bow out of their conflict with hasidim by the second decade of the nineteenth century, the maskilim became bolder and more threatening. Their willingness and ability to win the authorities over to their cause rendered them the most dangerous of adversaries. In spite of the multivalent opposition by non-Jews and Jews alike, however, hasidic ascendancy continued undaunted. The following four cases represent the various stages of that seemingly inexorable rise.67

ana to m y o f a h asi d ic c o n q ue s t First Phase: A Hasidic Prayer House in Plock /

The Jewish community in Pl ock, which had 731 members by 1800, almost tripled during the Prussian occupation (1794‒1807) to 1,932. Much of the population /

64 See Reiner, ‘Hon, ma’amad h. evrati’, 287–328; and R. Abraham Katzenellenbogen’s letter of 1784, in Wilensky (ed.), Hasidim umitnagedim, i. 128. 65 See J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis, ed. B. D. Cooperman (New York, 1993); G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1992). Although other groups, such as guilds and h.evrot (societies), also organized separate minyanim (prayer quorums), these groups were sufficiently socially differentiated to avoid disrupting the social hierarchy. 66 On the evolution of the practice of accepting the pidyon, see A. Rubenstein, ‘He’arot lete’udah al geviyot-edut neged hah. asidut’, Tarbiz, 32 (1963), 92–4. 67 These four towns illustrate the phases of hasidic ascendancy in central Poland. Additional towns in each category are presented in my ‘Men of Silk’, ch. 2.

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influx derived from Prussia, understandably enough, where the Haskalah had begun to gain substantial ground. Yet Pl ock was also the north-westernmost point of hasidic convergence. The potential for cultural warfare in this small town was therefore high. R. Judah Leib Margaliot, rabbi in Pl ock from 1798 to 1805, wrote against hasidism in favour of Enlightenment-informed ideas in 1777, and then again in 1796.68 The Pl ock maskilim went further, inducing the district commissioner Florian Kobylin´ski (1774/7‒1843) to attempt a district-wide ban against hasidic prayer houses on 1 June 1818. His anti-hasidic campaign was to last through December and culminate in a surprising defence of hasidism by the central government in Warsaw.69 In defending their right to establish separate prayer houses throughout the Pl ock województwo, the hasidim employed all means at their disposal: bribery, behind-the-scenes influence, relentless requests, and a flowery petition to Kobylin´ski and the central government in Warsaw. Brigadier-General Kobylin´ski had led a unit of Napoleon’s legionnaires and was injured during the French retreat of 1812, losing both legs. The tsar appointed him commissioner of the Pl ock województwo in 1815.70 Now the general decided to wage a campaign against hasidism. His first charge was that, despite the existence of convenient synagogues in the town, several clandestine prayer gatherings were being organized in private homes. He was determined to ban these gatherings because they were not held within designated public buildings, they encouraged the formation of sects, which caused dissent and hatred, they detracted from synagogue attendance and thus obstructed the delivery of government decrees and orders, and they involved unregulated ‘income or secret, hidden contributions, or certain donations [which] result in the diminishing of general funds intended for the head of the public synagogue, and create the opportunity for abuse under the pretence of religious practice’.71 This latter reference to potential exploitation of Jews by the tsadikim, through the pidyon and other fund-raising initiatives, was followed by a reminder of ‘the tendency of the Jewish nation towards negligence’. Here the commissioner’s reproach reached its highest pitch. He mused, ‘Are we to allow rituals performed in honour of the Highest Being to be celebrated in private homes, sordid and defiled, when there are public places dedicated to worship in honour of God, and out of this consideration, at least safe from the usual Jewish uncleanliness?’72 It probably did not occur to Kobylin´ski that unsanitary conditions in the Jewish quarter might be connected to the Prussian decree of 8 November 1811, which had crammed the /

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. I. Schiper, Siedemset lat gminy zydowskiej w Pl ocku (Lwów, 1938), 28–30. Schiper refers specifically to R. Judah Leib Margaliot, Or olam (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1777) and id., Peri tevuah (Nowy 69 Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, 325. Dwór, 1796). 70 Polski sl ownik biograficzny (Wrocl aw, 1967), yearbook 8/2, vol. 57, pp. 157–8. 71 72 AGAD, CWW 1869, 1–3. Ibid. 3. 68

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nearly 2,000 Jews of Pl ock into a ghetto consisting of eight streets.73 In any case, his low opinion of Jews was now openly acknowledged. After this diatribe the provincial commissioner attempted to describe the hasidim, who were ‘known by the name “Men of Silk” [Kitajcy], and notorious for their scandals’. They unnecessarily isolated themselves from other Jews, simply because they wished to engage in lengthier services. This was not a sufficient reason: they might simply oblige the rabbi to extend services, which was by no means against the dogma of the religion.74 In response, the Komisja Rza˛dowa Wyznan´ Religijnych i Os´wiecenia Publicznego in Warsaw requested further clarification.75 After Kobylin´ski’s first report, several Men of Silk approached him and asked not to be prohibited from gathering in private homes for prayer services. Without yet having received word from the central government if this branch was to be respected as a separate sect, Kobylin´ski was not sure how to answer them. But he now wished to inform Warsaw that ‘it is known that certain Men of Silk differentiate themselves from other Jewish Men of Silk, and live in mutual hatred’, an acknowledgement of conflicts between rival tsadikim and their followers. Hasidim were now so numerous, Kobylin´ski warned, that they possessed prayer houses in nearly every town in the województwo. Kobylin´ski was particularly desirous of a final resolution because ‘until now, even despite the great official prohibition, Men of Silk have been able to continue to separate themselves from traditional Jews through payments to lower police officials’,76 a blunt reference to bribery. The time had come to investigate this confession and its general spirit. Did they have harmful laws? Could they be tolerated, particularly in their present state of hatred against traditional Jews?77 Kobylin´ski felt that the Komisja Rza˛dowa Wyznan´ Religijnych i Os´wiecenia Publicznego in Warsaw was competent to answer such questions ‘because the chiefs of this sect are found there [in Warsaw]’. The presence of tsadikim in the capital was apparently common knowledge.78 The hasidic petition which Kobylin´ski enclosed with his report, the first extant document of its kind, requests ‘the support of peaceful secondary houses of prayer for the supplicants, in Pl ock, the 5th day of May, 1818’: /

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By the local synagogue are found two prayer houses—a main one and a second, smaller one. In spite of this, we the undersigned under the name Men of Silk maintain a third, similar school for engaging more in other prayers and spiritual learning, which has peacefully existed already for ten years. And its existence is protected by the local police, according to the copy of the annex attached here. As it has been formed upon good religious principles and perfect spiritual, religious knowledge by especially good people, the existence of the said school, which is not only fundamentally useful, but also not harmful; as we, the undersigned have carried out every public obligation and burden, both spiritual and governmental, and all . J. Szczepan´ski, Dzieje spol ecznos´ci zydowskiej powiatów Pul tusk i Maków Mazowiecki (Warsaw, 1993), 27; A. Kociszewski, Mazowsze w epoce napoleon´skiej (Ciechanów, 1985), 316. 74 75 76 77 78 AGAD, CWW 1869, 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. 73

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public proclamations, only differing by devoting ourselves longer in other services and spiritual learning, for which we need separate schools; as in the main and smaller synagogue where the general Jewish population—among them artisans, merchants, etc.—gather to hold services of short duration and we cannot manage our own devotions in such a short amount of time; and as on the second day of this month, the supervisor of the local police arrived and prohibited our conducting prayer and study in this school, we therefore place ourselves in this petition to the województwo Commission under the highest protection and humbly request for the utmost grace, by virtue of constitutionally guaranteed general tolerance and protection, to maintain peacefully our existing schools. And because our religion obligates us to pray publicly every day, for this reason we request the most speedy gracious resolution, in the hand of Szaie Michel, professing the deepest respect.79

It is signed by ten hasidim on behalf of the hasidic community of Pl ock, an indication of how large that community must have been by then.80 This rare exposition in the voices of hasidim (presumably through a hired scribe) emphasizes their separate liturgy, different types of learning, and duration of their services. The hasidim apparently hoped simply to appear more pious than other Jews, something for which the government officials surely could not fault them. If their prayer house had indeed already existed for ten years, the hasidic movement had been flourishing in this stronghold of Haskalah since 1808, despite what has been claimed.81 In August, Kobylin´ski had still not received a reply from the central government; so he announced that, until otherwise advised, he had prohibited hasidic gatherings in private homes.82 By September he was agitated, complaining that ‘as the Men of Silk reside in many cities in the województwo, they constantly present requests to the województwo Commission on this matter; which for lack of a final decision from the Government, we have no means of addressing’.83 When Viceroy Zaja˛czek finally responded on 10 November 1818, however, it could not have been what Kobylin´ski had hoped for: ‘As there are ceremonial differences between Men of Silk and Jews of the Mosaic persuasion, according to strict tolerance we understand that Men of Silk may be left free to hold their services in homes, and not necessarily in synagogues.’84 Zaja˛czek had sided with the hasidim. Doubtlessly frustrated, Kobylin´ski filled the margins of Zaja˛czek’s decree with refutations based on a report by a local maskil, ‘a Jew who desires the good of his fellow believers’.85 He sent his comments to Zaja˛czek in a more polite form four /

Ibid. 11. Ibid. The hasidic representatives are Samuel Szaja, Szaie Michel, Nathan Cohn, Mendel Salomon, Men[ahem?] David, Fiszel Mons, Mons Samuel, Behr Abraham, Aron (Tabzidiwicz), and Isaiah Abraham, ‘in the name of everyone’. . 81 Cf. D. Kandel, ‘Komitet starozakonnych’, Kwartalnik pos´wie˛cony badaniu przeszl os´ci Zydów w Polsce, ser. 1, 2 (1912), 93. 82 AGAD, CWW 1869, 13. Mahler is mistaken in dating the attempt to ban hasidic minyanim in Pl ock ‘in the spring of 1824’ (Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, p. 395, no. 15). The attempts 83 84 AGAD, CWW 1869, 14. Ibid. 16; my emphasis. occurred in the summer of 1818. 85 No longer extant. Kobylin´ski summarized the arguments of the maskil to Zaja˛czek (ibid. 19). 79 80

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days later.86 Kobylin´ski argued that the desire for longer services was not sufficient reason for separate services. He raised new Haskalah-based objections: ‘If they are permitted to have separate services, this could cause the formation of many different sects among Jews, which would hinder all means of their enlightenment. Then, even rabbinical schools such as the one in Warsaw will not effect the enlightenment of this people.’87 This warning of the hasidic threat to the programme of a hypothetical rabbinical school in Warsaw, whose plan had only been formulated that very year, was not unfounded. When the rabbinical school finally opened eight years later, the tsadikim led a veritable crusade against it.88 Kobylin´ski’s protest was to no avail, for just ten days later Zaja˛czek issued his final decree. Despite ‘various eccentricities and superstitions which accompany the ceremonies of their persuasion’, the hasidim were really only guilty of longer synagogue services and stricter religious observance. They in no way opposed the obligations to the laws and regulations of the land, and were therefore entitled to ‘the enjoyment of the liberty and freedom of every other confession in our land’. The hasidim were not to be obstructed in conducting their services in any way.89 The irony of referring to a constitutional principle in a kingdom which so frequently ignored its constitution should not be missed. More curiously, as a proponent of Enlightenment reform and Jewish acculturation, Zaja˛czek should naturally have supported Kobylin´ski in battling hasidism. One senses that the wealthy patrons of hasidism in the capital, among them a major creditor of Zaja˛czek’s, played a decisive behind-the-scenes role in the affair.90 Notwithstanding a few final retorts by Kobylin´ski, hasidism emerged triumphant.91 R. Alexander Zusya of Hanipole, disciple of the tsadik R. Simhah Bunem of Przysucha, soon became rabbi of Pl ock.92 Of course, his tenure was not free of /

86 AGAD, CWW 1869, 18. The letter is dated 14 ‘lutego’ (February), not ‘listopada’ (November). But, as it is nearly identical in content to the notes scrawled on Zaja˛czek’s decree of 10 November, it appears that the month is an error. In addition, the first report on hasidism was not even issued until 1 June of that 87 Ibid. 18. year. Assigning the letter to February of the next year would not fit the schema either. 88 Schiper, Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu, 115; Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, 198–200. 89 AGAD, Protokol y Rady Administracyjnej 6, 484, Protocol CCLXXIV; second version in AGAD, CWW 1869, 20. The two versions are roughly identical. 90 On the business ties between the hasidic patron Berek Sonnenberg-Bergson and Zaja˛czek, see my ‘Men of Silk’, ch. 3, and ‘Merchant Princes and Tsadikim’. 91 Kobylin´ski protested that banning hasidism did not limit tolerance, because he wished only to prevent the creation of sects and schisms in Judaism and prevent harm to Jewish customs. He saw no reason why the Men of Silk could not hold their services in the regular synagogue, or at least choose one single house for their services. The Commission on Denominations replied that it was a police matter and not in their jurisdiction (AGAD, CWW 1869, 25). 92 In 1816 he succeeded R. Israel Markus, who had been rabbi of Pl ock for twenty-five years (AGAD, CWW 1429). R. Alexander Zusya was, in turn, succeeded in 1832 by R. Aryeh Leib Zinz of Warsaw, a compromise appointee who was a rationalistic mitnaged and former teacher of the tsadik R. Isaac Meir Alter of Ger (Schiper, Siedemset lat, 34–5; Abraham Issachar Benjamin of Powienic, Me’ir einei hagolah (Tel Aviv, n.d.), 14). /

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turmoil. R. Isaac Meir Alter, the future tsadik of Ger (Góra Kalwaria), felt compelled to write a letter to the influential Warsaw mitnaged R. Solomon Posner on R. Alexander’s behalf:93 I beseech His Eminence to grant a small thing on behalf of my friend, the great rabbi, av beit din [chairman of the religious court] of Pl ock, who is in a dispute with ‘wicked people’94 in his city. For they slander him, saying that there are dividing sects among our people, and that no one is fit to be av beit din. And he very much needs His Eminence, may he live, to write a letter there, so that, God forbid, there will be no division among our people . . .95 /

The ‘wicked people’ probably refer to the maskilim who, by asserting that ‘no one is fit to be av beit din’, were challenging the existing Pl ock rabbinate and continuing to influence the Polish authorities. Hasidism, however, had achieved enough accommodation and reconciliation with certain mitnagedim by now to appeal for their help against their common enemies, the maskilim. /

Second Phase: The Beit Midrash in Kozienice The memoirs of the countess Anna Potocka contain an aside about an astrologer who introduced himself in the palace of Stanisl aw Poniatowski, castellan of Kraków and father of the future king of Poland. The astrologer informed his curious hosts that ‘he was travelling in the interest of science; he wanted to interview a famous rabbi who lived at Kozienice, a little town not far from Wolczyn’.96 The famous rabbi was none other than R. Israel, the Maggid of Kozienice. As Poniatowski was castellan of Kraków from 1752 until his death in 1762, R. Israel’s fame had already begun to reach the ears of members of Polish high society during his mid-twenties, assuming the accuracy of the account. In this period Kozienice contained the largest concentration of Jews in the Radom województwo.97 Despite two fires in 1767 (destroying fifteen Jewish houses98) and 1782 (destroying 105 Jewish houses), the Jewish population approached 1,240 /

93 On Solomon Posner, see Mahler, Hasidism, 189–94; Schiper, Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu, 117; E. Bergman and J. Jagielski, Zachowane synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce: Katalog (Warsaw, 1996), 105. 94 ‘Anshei beliya’al’ (Deut. 13: 14), referring to those who tempt the Israelites to serve other gods. 95 Abraham Issachar Benjamin of Powienic, Me’ir einei hagolah, 15. 96 Memoirs of the Countess Potocka, ed. C. Stryienski, trans. L. Strachey (New York, 1900), 21–2. The astrologer tells the fortunes of Poniatowski’s children, saluting an infant, Stanisl aw Augustus, as the future king of Poland. This is not, however, possible. R. Israel of Kozienice (b. 1737) was not yet born when the future king of Poland (b. 1732) was an infant. Moreover, Poniatowski did not become castellan of Kraków until 1752, when the future king was 20 years old. . 97 J. Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach województwa sandomierskiego i lubelskiego w XVIII wieku (Kielce, 1998), 35. 98 According to a Jewish petition of 21 Aug. 1767, in Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Radomiu, WAP, Zarza˛d Dóbr Pan´stwowych w Radomiu, 7, p. 144, the fire destroyed only fifteen Jewish homes, but also thirty-nine Jewish shops. /

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by 1787, comprising 54.9 per cent of the general population.99 Hasidic legend holds that in 1784, after the second fire, R. Israel rebuilt an entire street and donated the houses to the poor.100 On an inventory of Jewish property in Kozienice in 1784, one of the twenty-nine houses left standing after the fire is owned by a certain Izrael Sabsowicz (i.e. Israel, son of Shabetai), indicating that R. Israel was comfortably established by then.101 Kozienice was to be the first of three major centres of Polish hasidism, followed by Lublin and Przysucha. The earliest set of testimonies that capture R. Israel’s political ascendancy in Kozienice, from 1773, was published in the anti-hasidic work Shever poshim.102 While the polemical nature of these testimonies is undeniable, they inadvertently reveal something which the witnesses would not likely have wished to publicize: the weakening of normative rabbinical authority in the face of an ascendant hasidic movement. The first testimony alleges that R. Israel had threatened several distinguished members of the community not to dare to obstruct the hasidic liturgical practice of inserting the passage known as ‘Keter’ in the Kedushah portion of the Musaf prayer.103 R. Israel had reminded his opponents that. another tsadik, R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev, had already burned down the town of Zelechów when he was expelled, ‘so watch out, and protect your wife and children. If you say the phrase “We will sanctify Thy Name” instead of the Keter, it will really be a sanctification of God’s Name [kidush hashem, i.e. martyrdom]!’ R. Israel seemed to imply that if they failed to conform to the hasidic mode of worship, they would bring martyrdom upon themselves.104 While details of this . Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach, 161 (table 12). Other population figures are 1,042 out of a total of . 2,220 inhabitants by 1790 (ibid. 40); Z. Guldon, ‘Gminy wyznania mojzeszowego w powiecie radomskim w XVI–XVIII wieku’, in id., Radom i region radomski w dobie szlacheckiej Rzeczypospolitej, ii (Radom, 1996), 158. 100 D. J. ben Raziel and I. ben Feiga Sarah, Kedushat yisra’el, ‘Pa’ar yisra’el’ (Jerusalem, 1956), 22. The year of the fire is given as 1778, which is an error repeated in Rabinowicz, Bein . pshishkha, 169. The fire of 1782 left one-third of the town’s population homeless. See Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach, 38. 101 D. Wojciechowski, ‘Inwentarz Kozienic z 1784 roku’, Kieleckie Studia Historyczne, 13 (1995), 227. The house is ‘niewjezdny’, meaning one of the twenty-two houses that did not serve as guest houses. 102 According to a letter written by R. Isaac, the av beit din of Kraków. Rubenstein surmises that the letter was probably sent while R. Isaac was still in Chel m since he did not become av beit din of Kraków until 1776 (‘He’arot’, 96–7). 103 On the specific denunciation of inserting the Keter prayer, see R. Abraham Katzenellenbogen’s letter of 1784 to R. Levi Isaac, in Wilensky (ed.), Hasidim umitnagedim, i. 128, and commentary. During the Musaf service the hasidim replace the phrase ‘We worship and sanctify you’ (na’aritsekha venakdishekha) with ‘A crown shall they give to you’ (keter yitenu lekha), perhaps following the Sephardi liturgy. See also Rubinstein, . ‘He’arot’, 85; S. Dubnow, Toledot hah.asidut (Tel Aviv, 1975), 131, 156. According to legend, the Zelechów fire occurred after R. Levi Isaac was expelled from the town, in 1775 (for dating, see Gutman, Tiferet beit levi, 6; Rubenstein, ‘He’arot’, 94). This troubles Wilensky (H.asidim umitnagedim, i. 79), who seems to place too much stock in the legend. 104 Shever poshim 51a, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 138. Yiddish portions of the testimony are rendered in collaboration with Stephen Simons. 199

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testimony are in doubt,105 the gist is that R. Israel was feeling quite defiant at this point. The second set of testimonies involves a controversy over R. Israel’s decision to rule certain meat kosher, which pitted him against the official power structure in Kozienice. The first of the series was related by R. Joseph, who was ‘appointed over the ritual slaughters’. R. Joseph learned that the ritual slaughterer had killed a cow belonging to a non-Jew without his supervision. R. Joseph asked, ‘How dare you slaughter and declare it kosher? This is a sick cow belonging to a Gentile; and the butchers have an agreement with the Gentile that if it stays with him it will become non-kosher, and so they won’t have to pay him. A sick cow belonging to a Gentile is forbidden until she can steadily walk four cubits.’ The slaughterer replied that the Maggid of Kozienice had sanctioned his action. R. Joseph went straight to R. Israel and showed him a passage in the Siftei kohen106 which proved that the cow was not kosher. R. Israel retorted, ‘If it came forth from my mouth, it is kosher. Perhaps there is a soul in the cow, and so God desires that Jews eat the meat in order to redeem the soul.’ R. Joseph replied, ‘I have no business with mystic lore.’ The cow was sold as kosher. Alas, on sabbath eve it was shown that the organ was pierced, indicating that the cow was not kosher, and thus a ‘great damage’ had been done.107 R. Israel’s casual declaration that perhaps a soul required redemption through consumption of the meat in question, a highly contentious use of esoteric lore to justify a legal decision, had paved the way for a serious dietary transgression.108 Perhaps equally grievous in the eyes of the authorities, however, was R. Israel’s attempted appropriation of the supervision of slaughtering in Kozienice.109 The cantor of Kozienice proceeded to confront R. Israel about his stubbornness in refusing to declare the non-Jew’s animal non-kosher, an act which he came to regret. The Maggid called him ‘Evil One’, and claimed that Satan stood at his right hand. As the cantor attempted to reply, R. Israel said, ‘Leave, impure one. You are banned and defiled in this world and the next. You’re still wearing your shoes? Take off your shoes . . .’. One of the hasidim called, ‘Let us distance ourselves from him.’ As the cantor again tried to respond on his own behalf, the Maggid repeated, ‘You are banned, etc. And you will force me to pray that you shall be excluded from the 105

Rubenstein calculates that the Ashkenazi alternative to the Keter formula would have been na’aritsekha (‘we worship you’) (‘He’arot’, 86). 106 A commentary on the legal code Shulh.an arukh, ‘Yoreh de’ah’. 107 Shever poshim 51a, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 139; and Rubenstein, ‘He’arot’, 86–7. As Rubenstein points out, the decision protected the kosher slaughterer, whose livelihood would have been affected by rejection of the meat. On slaughtering a non-Jew’s animal, see Siftei kohen, no. 8, on Shulh.an arukh, ‘Yoreh de’ah’, ‘Sheh. itah’, no. 8. 108 R. Israel is also accused of using esoteric means to determine the ritual purity of his wife (Shever poshim 53b, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 141; Rubenstein, ‘He’arot’, 86–7). 109 See Ch. Shmeruk, ‘Hasidism and the Kehilla’, 186–95.

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cleansing of the Day of Atonement!’110 The hasidim in Kozienice were audaciously placing mitnagedim under bans, as they themselves had been only two years earlier. Soon the kahal was involved. Rather than backing down, however, R. Israel hurled threats at the rabbi of Kozienice and the entire kahal, ordering them to beg him and his hasidim for forgiveness in the beit midrash. He gave them until the recitation of the words ‘Come in peace’, the last verse of the well-known hymn Lekhah dodi recited on sabbath eve, after which there would be no remedy. The messenger was so shaken by this audacity that he asked the rabbi for forgiveness before delivering the message. The rabbi, too, was shocked: ‘Perhaps you are mistaken. Perhaps he said that he and his congregation will come to me to ask forgiveness? Therefore, go to the Maggid and ask him again.’ But the messenger was ordered to return to the rabbi with the same words, because ‘I’m waiting until “Come in peace”. If the rabbi and kahal come and ask forgiveness, all is well. If not, it’s too late.’111 Is such behaviour conceivable for a leader whose movement was under siege? One would expect hasidim to be on the defensive so shortly after the wave of antihasidic bans in 1772.112 R. Israel’s audacity is less astonishing, however, when we consider that he and his hasidim were holding their services in the beit midrash. The hasidim of Kozienice had already attained Gottlober’s second stage of ascendancy. Their behaviour should also be understood in the context of the Jewish political situation in Kozienice, for the local leadership was deeply divided at that time. Three years before the above testimony the former rabbi of Kozienice—Oszyja Józefowicz—initiated a lawsuit against the kahal for 3,000 zlotys. R. Oszyja was a powerful and unscrupulous individual who had been accused of assault and theft in a tavern in 1756 while serving as town rabbi. At that time the kahal elders and nonJewish authorities sided with R. Oszyja, and he easily emerged victorious. But in 1770 R. Oszyja, described as the ‘former rabbi’, was embroiled in conflict with his former protectors, the kahal. The conflict was only resolved through a financial arrangement whereby the kahal repaid R. Oszyja 3,300 zlotys on condition that he pay 2,500 zlotys to an orphan whom he had wronged. As part of that resolution, the kahal emphatically condemned R. Oszyja’s attempts to install his ‘relatives and friends’ as rabbis and judges.113 R. Israel may have been implicitly threatening to side with the powerful R. Oszyja, who had been attempting to install his son Solomon as rabbi of Kozienice against the will of the kahal for the past four years. It is possible to speculate that by 1792 R. Israel and R. Oszyja had indeed forged an alliance, for that year R. Oszyja 111 Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 139. Ibid. Three waves of traditionalist opposition arose. The first occurred in 1772 in response to the establishment of a hasidic prayer house in Vilna. The second, in 1781, followed the publication of the first hasidic book, Toledot ya’akov yosef (Korzec, 1780). The third phase, sparked by the publication of R. Shneur Zalman of century. . Lyady’s Tanya (Slavuta, 1796), extended into the 19th . 113 Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach, 46–8; Guldon, ‘Gminy wyznania mojzesowego’, 157. 110 112

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secured an agreement which left the town’s top rabbinical post to his son Solomon upon his death.114 As late as 1816 the Kozienice rabbi is still recorded as Szlomo Szyjowicze (i.e. Solomon, son of [O]szyja), 86 years old.115 R. Israel, for his part, was by this time the most powerful figure in Kozienice (if not in all of central Poland), and might easily dictate such local appointments. In 1794 he even allegedly built a synagogue of several storeys in Kozienice.116 R. David of Maków alludes to R. Israel’s influence in 1798, warning of ‘frivolous women’ who, ‘during times . of distress flock to build houses for themselves in Kozienice or Neskhiz, 117 [Nesukhoyezhe], and lose their wealth for nothing’. R. Israel’s continued acclaim in Kozienice and environs towards the end of his life is reflected in the memoirs of Leon Dembowski (1789‒1878), a member of Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski’s court. A nobleman named Skowron´ski was robbed of 11,000 ducats on his return trip from Danzig. After several years, when the loss had already been forgotten, Skowron´ski received a letter from ‘the famous Magiet, rabbi in Kozienice, considered to be a saint by Jews’. The letter reported that the money had been recovered and might be reclaimed on condition that the thief was forgiven, that Skowron´ski would be content with 10,000 ducats (the rest having been squandered by the thief), and that he would not enquire of the rabbi how he discovered the thief. The money was returned under these conditions, and Prince Czartoryski decided to visit the Maggid ‘to thank him on behalf of his friend’.118 Dembowski’s account of the visit illustrates R. Israel’s vast popularity in Kozienice and environs. We are first treated to a description of the town itself, which, apart from Dl uga Street, the large market square, and the royal palace, ‘consisted of dirty, narrow, wooden houses, and muddy formations of streets upon which transport was maintained with the help of coaches’.119 The prince and his retinue arrived at the residence of the Maggid, whose house was found amid the dirty streets. They first met the local Jews, who were ecstatic over their distinguished visitors: ‘The first group shouted, the second sang, and others danced. /

114

Ibid. AGAD, CWW 1429, 339. R. Solomon is also noted there as having been rabbi of Kozienice for forty-six years, i.e. since 1770. But we know that the post was to be left to him upon his father’s death, after 1792. Moreover, in that agreement R. Solomon is described as rabbi of Tarl ów. . 116 Guldon, ‘Gminy wyznania mojzeszowego’, 158. 117 David of Maków, Zemir aritsim 15a, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 213. 118 According to a version told among the Polish peasantry, a citizen is robbed of money on the way to Warsaw. The Maggid orders him to wait for three days, consults his holy books, and finds that the thief is among his guests. He asks the citizen to forgive 40 ducats, and the money is returned to him. In another peasant tale the Maggid consults his holy books and discovers the whereabouts of stolen horses. This is an act of revenge against the thief, who had cursed the Jews. See J. Gluzin´ski, Wl os´cianie polscy, in K. W. Wójcicki (ed.), Archiwum domowe do dziejów i literatury krajowej z re˛kopismów i dziel najrzadszych (Warsaw, 1856), 537. 119 L. Dembowski, Moje wspomnienia (St Petersburg, 1898), 53–4. 115

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Jew-boys and little brats cried from happiness.’120 Finally, the noble travellers beheld R. Israel himself: Amid this noisy tumult we entered the Magiet’s residence, straight through a hall and into a big room, where behind a partition-wall lay the saint on a pyramid of bedding. He was a little old man [staruszek] of about 90 years of age, dressed completely in white, with a beard as white as snow reaching all the way down to his belt. His face was full of tiny, narrow wrinkles.121

The prince and his court were disappointed, however. Czartoryski began to speak to the Maggid in Polish, and, receiving no answer, tried German. After receiving no response again, the field marshal in the retinue tried to speak to the Maggid in Hebrew, which ‘he knew very well’, but to no avail. Seeing that no word could be extracted from the saint, the prince and his entourage retired to the inn for lunch. On the way out the same enthusiastic crowd of Jews converged, exclaiming, ‘Our Magiet, what a wise man!’ The bewildered memoirist is not sure if such ‘stubborn silence’ should be considered wisdom. But at the same time, he admits, R. Israel was charitable: ‘From all the surrounding lands baskets of contributions for the saint rolled in. He received it all, and on a given Friday distributed whatever came in among the poor. Besides monetary donations, they consumed from 80 to 200 [quarts] of dry goods each week.’122 By 1814, the probable date of the event, R. Israel had accumulated throngs of admirers in Kozienice and consistent donors from the surrounding towns.123 Kozienice remained a hasidic centre after R. Israel’s death, when his son Moses Eliyakim Briyah succeeded him and remained in the town. Despite the rarity of father–son succession in central Poland, several of R. Israel’s disciples complied with R. Jacob Isaac of Lublin’s order to pass their allegiance on to their deceased master’s son.124 On 26 March 1824 the central government instructed the district Dembowski, Moje wspomnienia, 55. From 1778 to 1780 a traveller named Johann Phillippe de Carosi who passed through Poland recalls being assaulted by crowds of Jewish children in Kozienice. He could only disperse them by pretending to be crazy and potentially dangerous. N. Gelber, ‘Oyslenishe rayznde vegn poylishe yidn inem 18 yahrhundert’, in A. Czerikower (ed.), Historishe schriften, i (Warsaw, 1929), 241. 121 122 Ibid. Ibid.; my emphasis. 123 Pawel Hertz has calculated that Czartoryski’s visit to Kozienice occurred from 1786 to 1787; however, Dembowski had not even been born at that time. It is more likely that the visit occurred after the war of 1812 because, loyal to Napoleon, Dembowski only agreed to re-enter Czartoryski’s service after Bonaparte’s demise. This would place the event slightly before R. Israel’s death in 1814, when . Dembowski was 25 years old. See ‘Rabbi Izrael z Kozienic i ksia˛ze˛ Adam Czartoryski’, W drodze, 9/133 (1984), 3–7. According to hasidic legend, the prince visited the Maggid to obtain a blessing in order that his wife might conceive, which occurred soon after. Prince Czartoryski’s sceptical brother, however, mentioned his healthy son before the Maggid in jest, telling him that he was actually ill. The Maggid instructed him to run home, because his son was on the brink of death. Indeed, the sceptic found his son dead when he returned. Ben Raziel and ben Feiga Sarah, Kedushat yisra’el, Pa’ar yisra’el, 21. 124 Abraham Issachar Benjamin of Powienic, Me’ir einei hagolah, 23. But the most prominent disciples, such as R. Isaac Meir Alter, future tsadik of Ger, soon transferred their allegiance to the tsadik Simhah Bunem of Przysucha (ibid. 259). 120

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commissioners to attempt through ‘knowledge and persuasion to return them [i.e. the hasidim] from their errors’. The order to the Sandomierz commissioner contained an addendum singling out the rabbis of Przysucha and Kozienice, who ‘under some pretext gather contributions or give advice and prophetic opinions for which Jewish folk, particularly masses of sectarians, frequently gather’.125 On 29 September 1826 the Christian missionary W. F. Becker referred to Kozienice as ‘a chief seat of the Chasidim, where they have a famous rabbi’.126 Both accounts attest to the continued prominence of hasidism in Kozienice.

Third Phase: Invasion of the Olkusz Synagogue In 1817 at least five hasidim of Olkusz—Michael Friedman, Isaac Rosenheim, Joachim Nayman, Solomon Hayman, and Jonas Rosenheim—invaded the main synagogue, the third rung on the ladder of local conquest. A brawl erupted in the synagogue, eliciting a formal complaint by the mitnagedim and a government inquiry into the new sect.127 The ensuing investigation only revealed the weakness of the mitnagedim and the power of the hasidim. When brought before the województwo authorities, the mitnagedim retreated from their initial complaints. The Jewish community of Olkusz, a mining town known for its silver and lead deposits, consisted of only 162 members in 1765. But it had substantial influence in the region. After a jurisdictional dispute with the town of Kazimierz in 1779 the Olkusz kahal emerged with a domain consisting of the towns of Czarnowice, Wielka Wies´, Kaz´niowce, Rudawy, and Ml ynki.128 In 1817, in the wake of the synagogue brawl, a formal complaint was lodged against members of a sect called ‘Michal ki’, who would turn out to be hasidim. ‘Michal ki’, bearing the additional meaning of ‘fools’ in old Polish, was derived from the name of one of the hasidim, Michael (Michal ) Friedman. A mitnaged involved in the ruckus, Jacob Brull, lodged a complaint against Friedman and his colleagues, Isaac Rosenheim, Joachim Nayman, Solomon Hayman, and Jonas Rosenheim. It was they who had caused the fist-fight by forming a new religion among Jews called Michal ki, ‘which is causing division among the inhabitants of Olkusz of the Jewish faith’. As only the Jewish religion itself was acknowledged by the Constitution of the kingdom as tolerated, and as Jews did not want their religion undermined by the formation of new sects, Brull requested protection against his oppressors.129 The court requested that the Commission of the Kraków województwo explain whether the formation of such new sects was in violation of the Constitution.130 The police appeared less concerned about the violence in the synagogue than over /

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R. Mahler, Hah.asidut vehahaskalah (Merhavyah, 1961), app. 13g, p. 486. W. F. Becker, in Jewish Expositor and Friend of Israel, 11 (1826), 229. 127 The case is summarized by Salezy Majmon in Izraelita, 40 (Warsaw, 1894), ‘Luz´ne kartki’, 329, but contains errors, omissions, and embellishments. I quote from APKch, RGR I, 4399. 128 M. Bal aban, Studja historyczne (Warsaw, 1927), 151–61. 129 130 APKch, RGR I, 4399, 1. Ibid. 2. 125 126

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the broader question of whether new sects constituted a violation of the protection of the Jewish religion, as Brull and his colleagues maintained. The commissioner ordered an investigation, seeking to establish if the Michal ki sect actually existed; how long it had existed; whether many people belonged to it; how far its branches reached; who founded it; to what extent it differed from the Jewish religion; what its purpose was; and whether it held morally harmful principles.131 Several months later the commissioner of Olkusz informed the commissioner of the Kraków województwo that, owing to serious difficulties, he would have to delay his inquiry into the sects cited in the report. However, the commissioner wished to mention that ‘there is a similar sect called hasidism [Hasuty] which is found in every town where Jews reside, and is merely strictioris observantia’.132 Although the local commissioner was not yet able to set up a full inquiry, he at least noticed a similarity between the supposed ‘Michal ki’ sect and hasidism, which only demanded stricter observance than normative Judaism. The next report contains the startling discovery that ‘no Michal ki sect exists at all—only hasidim, who only differ from other Jews in their use of different books for prayer, with which they pray in separate places. There is no reason to obstruct the hasidim.’133 The hasidim had been labelled ‘Michal ki’ by their local opponent Jacob Brull out of hatred for his assailant Michael Friedman. The hasidim had been prohibited by the past regime, according to the Jew Ziskind Rosenheim; ‘however, this cannot be substantiated’. In addition, according to Rosenheim, a leader of the sect who resided in Stopnica was behaving like a prophet. He attracted less enlightened Jews to himself and commanded them to ‘purchase redemption from him, under the rubric of donations’.134 The authorities now knew that they were dealing with hasidim. Attached to the report are the proceedings of an interrogation of mitnagedim from 29 October 1818. Jacob Brull was the first to be questioned: /

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1. Do you persist in your petition to the Olkusz police court on 6 December 1817 to the protocols that in the town of Olkusz is found a separate sect of Jews under the specific name Michal ki, and do you insist that this sect and its followers exist? Answer: My petition to the Olkusz police court on 6 December 1817 raised in the protocols is acknowledged and insisted upon. 2. What proof do you have that this sect exists in Olkusz, and does it exist in other cities, and what is more, how does it differ from your ancient religion, and do the rabbis not scorn those who belong to the Michal ki sect, and command you to disconnect yourselves from this sect if you do belong to it? Answer: That this sect is found here in Olkusz is proven by other Jews who reside here, because they celebrate one type of service and we another. But I called them Michal because the oldest one of them who lives in Olkusz is named Michal Friedman. But they have always called themselves hasidim, and are found in every city in the district. The main difference between our ancient religion and the hasidim is that they recite the prayer /

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131

APKch, RGR I, 4399, 3–4.

132

Ibid. 12.

133

Ibid. 14.

134

Ibid. 15.

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Twiles swert135 and we according to ancient custom and rites Twiles aschkenas.136 Our rabbis do not have any objection to this sect, within which several themselves are to be found. 3. Do the ceremonies of these Michal ki members, or hasidim as they are called by you, not entail something which might be contrary to the laws of the state? Or harmful to your religion? /

Here, Brull requested a few days to prepare his answer. On 2 November he returned and informed the commission that he knew little more about the hasidim, other than their use of different prayer books, and appealed to the commission to call Meir Blumberg of Pilica ‘who is better informed about this’. The commission then asked Brull if he had anything to add to or change, to which Brull cautiously replied: ‘I would only like to add that you will not arrive at the truth about this sect from rabbis who belong to it. But it would be better to call the local Jew Ziskind Rosenheim, who does not belong to this sect—because he is better informed than I.’ Brull may have been back-pedalling, but he still did not want the commission to hear the hasidic perspective. The commission next called upon Joshua Landau, rabbi of Pilica, who was questioned because ‘no rabbi exists in the town of Olkusz’, owing to the departure of the former rabbi, Samuel Unger.137 No reason is supplied for Unger’s recent departure for Pilica; but he did not assume a rabbinical post there, which had been held by the above-mentioned R. Joshua Landau since 1806.138 Perhaps Unger’s departure was related to the hasidic–mitnagdic conflict, but we cannot be certain. The commission only asked him: ‘Does the sect called Michal ki or hasidism actually exist among Jews?’, to which R. Landau replied: /

Of any sect called Michal ki we are not informed, and if there is I never heard of it. I only know that among us Jews there are certain Jews whom we call hasidim. They use books called Twiles swert in their prayers, which have certain changes and additions, corrected by ancient, enlightened men. But such Jews do not differentiate themselves in so far as religion and laws of the great state—for other laws would not be tolerated. These Jews are, I believe, less enlightened. That is why they pray in separate schools. And this causes them to have certain changes and additions, as I related above. And in order not to disturb others, they pray in separate places. /

The final subject of the interrogation was Ziskind Rosenheim, who was asked, ‘Is it known that the sect called Michal ki or hasidim actually exists among Jews, how /

Sefarad liturgy, a combination of the Sephardi and Ashkenazi. See n. 1 above. Ashkenazi liturgy. 137 This is confirmed in the official register of town rabbis for 1816, which states that the Olkusz rabbi was ‘Samuel Unger, born in Pilica, 54 years old, rabbi since 3 years ago, elected by the kahal Elders and community. But four months ago he left his office and returned to Pilica. The kahal has the responsibility to hold elections, without which there can be no succession’ (AGAD, CWW 1429). 138 Ibid. 167. The name appears as ‘Izyia Lande’, who may be a relative of Joshua’s rather than Joshua himself. But the rendering of such names by the local officials is sometimes not very precise. 135 136

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do they differ from your religion, and are many people in your congregation found among them?’ Rosenheim answered: Of any sect called Michal ki I do not know. I only know that among us Jews there are certain Jews whom they call hasidim. Jacob Brull, out of hatred, called them Michal ki because he is involved in a lawsuit with Michal Friedman, who belongs to the hasidim. This hasidic sect was prohibited by the previous Austrian government’s 具 . . . 典 Cesarz decree; no one was even allowed to let a hasid spend the night with them. But the elders here lost the decree. And truthfully may I say that this hasidic sect is harmful to our community, as some of these hasidim act as prophets. There is one in Stopnica—whose name I do not know—who attracts less enlightened Jews and commands them to pay redemption money under the rubric of donations.139 /

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The ‘prophet’ was undoubtedly the tsadik R. Meir of Stavniz (Yiddish for Stopnica; 1760‒1831), who was the official rabbi of Stopnica in 1814 and formally stepped down in favour of his son in 1817.140 The restrained responses of these mitnagedim and their apparent inability to supply detailed information about hasidism may well astonish those who are conversant with mitnagdic literature. This is a far cry from the scurrilous accounts of the eighteenth century. Brull and Landau were only aware of liturgical differences, instituted by ‘ancient enlightened men’, leading the hasidim to found separate prayer houses ‘in order not to disturb others’—hardly incriminating claims. No mention was made of the five hasidim who assaulted Brull, who acknowledged that ‘our rabbis do not have any objection to this sect, within which several themselves are to be found’. Landau assured the authorities that the hasidim most certainly did not oppose the laws of the state. Only Rosenheim supplied potentially damaging testimony, but undermined his own credibility by referring to an Austrian decree that had somehow been lost, and to a prophet in Stopnica whom he could not even identify. One cannot rule out the possibility that involving the non-Jewish authorities was considered going too far; hence the extremely measured responses. Nor is it impossible that fear of hasidic reprisal dampened the respondents’ zeal. Be that as it may, their timid responses further indicate an overall weakening of mitnagdic resolve in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Landau and Rosenheim’s appeal to Haskalah terminology, depicting hasidim as ‘less enlightened’, only suggests the 139 APKch, RGR I, 4399, 16–21. The omission points in angle brackets represent an illegible portion of the document, but refer to an alleged decree by the Habsburg emperor. According to Mahler (Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, 70–1), the Austrian government merely designated the hasidim as freemasons in 1814. In 1816 the new president of the court police commission accused the hasidim of ‘strange, imaginary offences’ and deemed them ‘enemies of “education” ’. He asked the Galician governor’s office to keep a close watch on the sect and ‘if possible to suppress it altogether’. But this was the extent of Austrian measures to date. 140 AGAD, CWW 1429, 165; APKch, RGR I, 4402, 8–14, 30–2. Also known as R. Meir of Apt (Opatów).

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widening influence of the Haskalah. The authorities were forced to conclude that ‘it appears that there is some sect of Hussyty among Jews’, but it remained unknown when they appeared and what they stood for.141 After a few more exchanges among officials, the matter was dropped.142 The hasidim would now be able to dominate the synagogue unimpeded.

. Fourth Phase: Zelechów

. In the town of Zelechów hasidism reached the most advanced stage of conquest quite early. The controversial tsadik Levi . Isaac of Berdichev, author of Kedushat levi (Slavuta, 1798),143 served as rabbi of Zelechów from 1765 until his expulsion by the mitnagedim ten years later, in 1775. His term was stormy, despite (or perhaps as a result of) his apparent efforts to establish a large synagogue, implement ritual reforms (takanot), and organize study fellowships for tailors, bakers, and simple merchants.144 The rabbi also faced opposition from other hasidic leaders.145 In the available testimony R. Levi Isaac appears not only quarrelsome, but equally given to bouts of depression. According to the tsadik Judah Jehiel Safrin of Komarno, those quarrels ‘used to depress him beyond measure. And in the year 1773, owing to his terrible loss of heart, he fell from his lofty level . . . and prayed rapidly from his small prayer book, and went a little out of his mind, as is known’.146 R. Abraham of Pin´czów recounts, ‘The Holy Maggid [R. Israel] of Kozienice, his disciple, helped him a great deal, and said that obviously in heaven they had not caused him to fall from his lofty level, God forbid, but that in heaven above there was also an accusation that he [R. Levi Isaac] had provoked the supernal angels that year, and that because of this it was impossible to help him.’147 When R. Abraham was with R. Levi Isaac in 1794, after he had ‘returned to his great level in brilliant light’, R. Levi Isaac confessed to him that he was depressed again.148 . The tsadik’s controversial nature finds expression in an event in the Zelechów beit midrash in 1773, which also involved R. Israel of Kozienice. The incident may . have contributed to R. Levi Isaac’s dismissal from the Zelechów rabbinate two years later. According to the testimony of a mitnaged, the hasidim circled with APKch, RGR I, 4399, 23. S. Majmon, in Izraelita, 40, claims that the authorities resolved that the hasidim were ‘harmless’. The assertion does not, however, appear in this collection of documents. 143 This edition contains only portions of the work that subsequent editions contain. 144 W. Jasni (ed.), Yizkor bukh fun der zelekhover yidishe kehile (Chicago, 1953), 22; S. Dresner, The World of a Hasidic Master: Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (Northvale, NJ, 1994), 26–7. 145 In a letter to R. Israel of Kozienice, which has been . dated between 1802 and 1807, the tsadik Asher of Stolin recalls: ‘when I was in the community of Zelechów, I had several mishaps, and with God’s help I steered a middle course’. The mishaps have been identified as disputes with R. Levi Isaac. See R. Asher of Stolin’s letter to R. Israel of Kozienice, in D. Z. Heilman (ed.), Igerot ba’al hatanya (Jerusalem, 1953), 184; Rabinowitch, Lithuanian Hasidism, 49, 68, 71. 146 Alexander Sender of Komarno, Zot haberakhah (Jerusalem, 1999), 23. 147 148 Ibid. 23–4. Ibid. 24. 141 142

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the Torah scroll on Shemini Atseret eve, something which non-hasidim only do on Simhat Torah eve, and mocked a rabbi who was distinguished in Torah learning. R. Israel stood on a table and ‘screamed all sorts of mockery and bad words and bad numerical combinations [gematriyot] against this rabbi who is not of their sect. Words which should not even be put in writing, etc.’ R. Israel and R. Levi Isaac then ordered the sexton to cry, ‘A Gentile does not bless an etrog’, and everyone answered, ‘True!’ and again began to curse the rabbi. The sexton announced, ‘A Gentile doesn’t blow shofar,’ and they all again answered, ‘True!’ The next morning during the circling with the Torah scroll, R. Israel and R. Levi Isaac and the hasidim announced, ‘All is good for one who prays Keter. And upon whomever impedes the recitation of Keter shall be invoked all bans and curses, etc.,’ and everyone replied, ‘True!’149 . R. Levi Isaac, despite his position as av beit din of Zelechów, had participated in R. Israel’s mockery of a respected rabbi and threatened those who would . deny the hasidic mode of worship.150 Having advanced to the highest phase in Zelechów, he and his followers were emboldened to the point of carelessness. They were soon reminded that their conquest was not yet consolidated. R. Levi Isaac was forced to depart in 1775, leading. to a demographic loss of about 300 Jews in the town.151 The fire which raged in Zelechów is claimed by tradition to have accompanied his departure; however, it actually seems to have occurred a few years earlier.152 Nevertheless, the expulsion shook the hasidic world.153 . In spite of this setback, Zelechów did not revert permanently to non-hasidic leadership, nor did R. Levi Isaac’s influence cease there. The. wedding of R. Jacob Isaac’s grandson and the daughter of R. Avigdor, rabbi of Zelechów, as recalled Shever poshim 52b, in Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, ii. 140. Ibid. Wilensky has reservations about identifying the magid. as R. Israel of Kozienice, because considering R. Israel’s well-known physical frailty, travelling to Zelechów and standing on the table would have been difficult. But these are weak grounds for dismissing the identification, especially as Wilensky suggests no alternative. See H.asidim umitnagedim, i. 81. Abraham Rubenstein, on the other hand, posits the above identification (‘He’arot’, 95). Rubenstein dates the testimony to 1773. . 151 According to one count, the number of Jews in Zelechów amounted to 1,464 in 1765,. when R. Levi Isaac began his tenure. By 1790 that number had dropped to 1,165. See Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach, 151 (table 5). 152 Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, i. 79, ii. 138; Gutman, Tiferet beit levi, 6; Rubenstein, ‘He’arot’, 94. . 153 R. Eleazar of Lezajsk turned to his father, the tsadik Elimelekh, for an explanation; he responded: ‘Why do you imagine that this is in any way a new thing? Things of this kind transpired from the earliest times. We find that Nimrod cast our father Abraham, on whom be peace, into the fiery furnace, from which he escaped in safety. . . . [Just as the biblical Abraham was tested] so, too, all the tsadikim who have opponents [mitnagedim] will be justified. These rise against them, speaking falsehoods and determined to quarrel. Yet our eyes see how righteous the tsadikim are, for their prayers are . answered just as the prayers of the righteous were in ancient times’ (Eleazar ben Elimelekh of Lezajsk, Igeret hakodesh, in Nigal (ed.), No’am elimelekh, app., p. 591; trans. L. Jacobs in The Jewish Mystics (London, 1990), 197–200). 149 150

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by Abraham Zusman, demonstrates the authority which the tsadikim (including R. Levi Isaac himself) continued to enjoy in the town around 1804: . When I was 7 or 8 years old, there was a great wedding in Zelechów. For the holy rabbi Jacob Isaac (the Seer) of Lublin . . . married his dear grandson .Moteli (as he was called at that time) with the daughter of the princely rabbi Avigdor of Zelechów.154 . . . And there at the wedding was the holy, old Maggid our pure rabbi Israel of Kozienice . . . and also the aforementioned rabbi of Lublin, and also their great disciples and disciples of those disciples and many hasidim from far and near without number. And all the houses of the city were not enough for them, and they nearly had to sleep outside. And the wedding was on Friday, the evening of the sabbath. And during . the preceding week their great disciples (with many of their own hasidim) had come to Zelechów. And I cannot remember their specific names, except for the tsadik, our .rabbi Jacob Simon, because the aforementioned holy ones made him at this time rabbi of Zelechów on the condition that the genius . and rabbi, the man of God, our rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev, agreed to it, for the Zelechów rabbinate had belonged to him. And the aforementioned holy ones wrote and signed the rabbinical contract and sent it to Berdyczów and asked him to agree with them and forgive him the rabbinate and sign. the rabbinical contract himself, and he did so. And [R. Jacob Simon] remained rabbi of Zelechów many years . . .155

For reasons . unknown, the father of the bride, R. Avigdor, was being replaced as rabbi of Zelechów. The new appointee, R. Jacob Simon, known as R. Simon Deutch, was a prominent disciple of R. Jacob Isaac of Lublin and an arch-opponent of Przysucha hasidism.156 Before appointing him, R. Israel and R. Jacob Isaac felt compelled to gain R. Levi Isaac’s consent. The second .part of Zusman’s account illustrates the vast appeal of the tsadikim for the Jews of Zelechów, including members of the highest social strata: . And on the fourth day before the wedding our rabbi of Lublin came to Zelechów, and all the great ones and many hasidim, and all the great ones of the city went out to call on him in carriages and on foot. And in the evening they arrived at the city with him in great joy and surrounded him with their carriages. In the shops which stood at the centre of the market were many great torches, and there were candles lit in all the windows of the houses. And it is not possible to imagine or describe [in words] the joy that existed then in all the city, still less in writing. And the next day the aforementioned old, holy Maggid of Kozienice came, and they also paid him all of the respect they had given to [the rabbi of Lublin] on the previous day . . .

This resplendent Jewish gathering reminds the reader of the fallacy of characterizing Polish Jews as a ‘minority’, in light of their enormous presence in many . Perhaps . he is the Bigdor Szlamowicz registered as a homeowner in Zelechów in 1789 (Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach, 162, table 13). 155 A. Zusman, Barukh mibanim (Vilna, 1869), 97–8. 156 Abraham Issachar Benjamin of Powienic, Me’ir einei hagolah, 41–7; Walden, Niflaot harabi, in Sefarim kedoshim mitalmidei haba’al shem tov, ii (Brooklyn, NY, 1985), 37. 66. 154

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. towns and cities.157 According to figures compiled in 1787, the Jews of Zelechów amounted to 70.7 per cent of the population and owned almost half the houses of the town.158 At the wedding the great ones made their entrance. R. Jacob Simon was accorded the honour of escorting R. Israel, who proceeded to perform the wedding ceremony with R. Jacob Isaac of Lublin. And on Friday afternoon there was a h.upah [wedding canopy] in front of the synagogue. And I remember that on that same day it was muddy outside, and they placed boards on the ground from the holy Maggid’s house until the entrance of the synagogue. And I saw with my own eyes that the holy Maggid walked on the boards and the aforementioned rabbi and tsadik Jacob Simon, walked beside him in the mud and held onto the holy Maggid’s right hand. And another great one walked on the other side and held the holy Maggid’s left hand. The holy Maggid made the betrothal and marriage blessings. And our holy rabbi of Lublin read the betrothal agreement. (The holy Maggid was a short man and older than our holy rabbi of Lublin.) At the third meal of the holy sabbath the two holy ones did not eat together in one house, but rather each one ate in his own lodging. And where they prayed on sabbath eve and morning I do not remember now. And before the afternoon prayer of the sabbath the holy Maggid of Kozienice came to the synagogue and preached on the podium. And our holy rabbi of Lublin was also there in the synagogue, and heard the sermon.159

These events occurred in the main synagogue, which, in addition to the.appointment of R. Simon Deutch, confirms the hasidic reassertion of control in Zelechów approximately thirty years after R. Levi Isaac’s banishment. Continued hasidic prominence there prior to 1823 is verified in a police report from that year, . which divides hasidim into two adversarial groups: adherents of the rabbi of Zelechów (R. Simon Deutch), who had now moved to Radzyn´, and those of the rabbi of Przysucha (R. Simhah Bunem).160 At least until R. Simon Deutch’s departure hasidim dominated the local synagogue and rabbinate.

c o nc lu si o n The above cases are but four illustrations of the ubiquity of hasidism in Polish Jewish society by the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Much to the dismay of the movement’s formidable opponents, the small towns surveyed—as well as On that faulty. designation, see most recently Hundert, ‘The Contexts of Hasidism’, 177, 182. Muszyn´ska, Zydzi w miastach, 168 (table 17). 159 Zusman, Barukh mibanim, 98. The last portion testifies to the writer’s concern with presenting the affair accurately: ‘And with my own eyes I saw this, may his memory be for a blessing, if it be his will, amen, amen. And even though this event was almost sixty years ago, and now it is 1864, praise God that I remember most of it as well as if it were yesterday. And everything that I have written is true and sure. And just as I merited to see the happiness of this wedding, may the Holy One, blessed be he, merit me and all the children of Israel to see the happiness of the building of Jerusalem and the Temple 160 AGAD, CWW 1871, 12–13. speedily in our day, amen, amen.’ 157 158

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many other towns in the region—succumbed at one level or another to the persistent efforts of hasidic emissaries and adherents despite formidable resistance. In Pl ock, where the maskilim were unusually influential, a lengthy battle ensued over the mere maintenance of a separate hasidic prayer house. In Kozienice the conflict raged after the hasidim had established a presence in the main beit midrash and R. Israel asserted his authority over kosher. slaughtering. In Olkusz the struggle concerned the main synagogue. And in Zelechów the rabbinate itself was the coveted domain. In each case, the hasidim prevailed regardless of the stature of their adversaries, whether Pl ock. maskilim, the Pl ock commissioner himself, the Kozienice kahal, or Olkusz and Zelechów mitnagedim. The outcome nearly always favoured a hasidic advance into a new stratum of the local communal power structure. Where the incursions went far enough, distinctions between the kahal and the hasidic court to which the kahal members owed their allegiance all but disappeared. The town and its kahal were now a hasidic domain. The recontextualization of hasidism, an endeavour first realized in Moshe Rosman’s Founder of Hasidism, forces one to relinquish some of the impressions conveyed in intellectual history, hagiography, and much of the older historiography. The rise of Polish hasidism is not only a story of brilliant doctrinal innovation by charismatic leaders, for the tsadikim were equally effective in the social and political spheres. What distinguished hasidism and practically guaranteed its triumph was its combination of a popular spiritual message with tangible social and political might, accumulated and preserved paradoxically through both elitism and populism. While a consideration of their more mundane pursuits and aggressive political manoeuvrings may demystify the tsadikim, one gains manifold recompense beholding the complexity of their personalities and activities. No less fascinating are the followers of the tsadikim, the ‘hasidim’, who hailed from many social spheres. Hasidism appealed to all types, from humble artisans in the shetl to sophisticated international merchants in Warsaw. Were hasidism really restricted to simple, déclassé Jews, as the older historiography assumes, its survival and success would have been unfeasible in a society as hierarchical as that of east European Jewry. The rise of hasidism must rather be understood as the product of a partnership between a handful of Jewish notables and rabbis and the Jewish masses. The patronage of hasidism by the urban elite and the bold incursions upon local religious life by tsadikim and rank-and-file hasidim were complementary. Together, these disparate social groups unleashed the torrent of hasidism that swept eastern and east-central Europe in the early nineteenth century. /

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The Drama of Berdichev: Levi Yitshak and his Town yohanan petro vsky -shtern In Jewish popular memory Levi Yitshak ben Meir (1740‒1809), the Berdichever Rebbe, is a hero par excellence, the protector of the Jewish people before God, the friend of the simple folk, and ‘a favorite of hasidic folklore’1—as if it were he, and not Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Apter Rebbe of nearby Medzhybizh, who wrote Ohev yisra’el and was given the same title, the ‘Lover of Israel’. Why has Levi Yitshak merited such esteem and popularity? He was not the only tsadik elected chief rabbi of a town. He established neither a hasidic court nor a long-lasting dynasty. Also, he was neither persecuted nor arrested by the Russian police like Yisrael of Ruzhyn. And he did not die a martyr’s death, as his disciple Moshe Tsevi of Savran did while tending to sick Jews during a cholera epidemic. Nor could he boast the pedigree of Ephraim of Sudylków, grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Contemporary minute books from Podolia and Volhynia reflecting the impact of tsadikim on Jewish self-governing societies seem remarkably reticent about him. According to primary sources, Samson of Shepetovka and Abraham Joshua Heschel enjoyed much greater influence and popularity throughout the region adjacent to Berdichev than Levi Yitshak himself. Opponents of hasidism persecuted Ya’akov Yosef of Polonnoe no less than they did the rebbe of Berdichev. Finally, Shneur Zalman of Lyady’s intercession with the Russian government on behalf of Jews and hasidim was much greater than Levi Yitshak’s. Thus, against the background of contemporary hasidic leaders, Levi Yitshak looks commonplace or at least not particularly charismatic. And yet his legendary fame far exceeds that of other tsadikim. This is the puzzle that the historian encounters when conducting research on Levi Yitshak. One way to untangle this problem is to examine Levi Yitshak’s social and cultural environment. Popular memory is influenced not only by the wonders This chapter was inspired by the discussion of Kedushat levi, Levi Yitshak’s book of homilies, at Brandeis University seminars led by Arthur Green in 1997–8. 1 See A. Green, Tormented Master: A Life of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (Woodstock, NY, 1992), 95; S. A. Horodetsky, Leaders of Hasidism (London, 1928), 46; M. J. Luckens, ‘Rabbi Levi Itzhak of Berdichev’, Ph.D. thesis (Temple University, 1974), 95–6; D. Shapiro, ‘Levi Itzhak of Berditchev (Prolegomenon)’, in L. Jung (ed.), Men of Spirit (New York, 1964), 412.

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performed by tsadikim, but also by the social factors that form a dark, almost invisible backdrop against which the tsadik is placed. The darker the backdrop, the more scintillating the tsadik’s holiness becomes. Jewish popular memory has firmly linked Levi Yitshak to Berdichev (Russian: Berdichev; Ukrainian: Berdychiv; . Polish: Berdyczów) and not to Zelechów or Pinsk, his previous rabbinic tenures.2 It seems logical, therefore, to reconstruct Berdichev’s outlook at the turn of the eighteenth century and to examine whether it contributed to the reputation of Levi Yitshak.3

b e rd iche v: f i rs t am on g e q ua l s Contrary to later legends that depict Berdichev as just another filthy, ugly, decrepit, and moribund Kasrilevke,4 between 1780 and 1830 Berdichev was the most 2 Levi Yitshak’s biography, and especially the analysis of his almost twenty-five-year tenure in Berdichev, has yet to be written. Most authors view his life as divided in two, with the first period described as one of continuous persecution, and the second as a stable and happy span briefly interrupted by his depression in 1793, the conflicts around R. Nahman of Bratslav in 1802–3, and the death of his son Meir in 1806. Among the sources on various aspects of his biography there are quite a few worth mentioning. For an analysis of Levi Yitshak’s stance on the polemic between hasidim and their opponents, see S. H. Dresner, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev: Portrait of a Hasidic Master (New York, 1974), 26–8, 36 ff.; H. Liberman, ‘Seder harabanut shel r. levi yitsh. ak miberditchev’, in his Ohel rah.el (New York, 1980), 66–9; G. Nigal, ‘Kehilot pinsk-karlin bein h. asidut lehitnagdut’, in D. Assaf (ed.), Tsadik ve’edah (Jerusalem, 2001), 338–41; W. Z. Rabinowitch, Lithuanian Hasidism from its Beginnings to the Present Day (London, 1970), 25–40; A. Rapoport-Albert (ed.), Hasidism Reappraised (London, 1996), index; M. Wilensky (ed.), H.asidim umitnagedim, 2 vols. (Jerusalem, 1970), i. 122–31; S. Dubnow, Toledot hah.asidut (Tel Aviv, 1944), 151–3, 193–204, 309–12. Levi Yitshak’s social and communal leadership in the context of government reforms targeting the Jews launched in pre-partition Poland and in Russia is discussed in Y. Halpern, ‘Rabi levi yitsh. ak miberdichev vegezerot hamalkut beyamav’, in his Yehudim veyahadut bemizrah.-eiropah (Jerusalem, 1968), 340–7. A preliminary analysis of some pivotal issues in Levi Yitshak’s philosophy is provided in Shapiro, ‘Levi Itzhak of Berditchev (Prolegomenon)’, 405–14; see also Luckens, ‘Rabbi Levi Itzhak of Berdichev’, 58–96; S. A. Horodetsky, Hah.asidut vehah.asidim (Berlin, 1923), ii. 73–96. For an analysis of Levi Yitshak’s role in introducing hasidic prayer rituals, see G. Dynner, ‘Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewry, 1754–1830’, Ph.D. diss. (Brandeis University, 2002), 58–60. Among traditional hagiographies containing important data, the most noteworthy are I. Erlich, Rabi levi yitsh.ak miberdichev (Tel Aviv, 1986); Y. Shostik, Melits yosher: Fun dem heyligen tsadik mefursom der groyser mamlits toyv af yedn yidn rabi leyvi yitshok fun bardichuv (Lviv, n.d.); S. Gutman, Tiferet beit levi (Ias¸i, 1909). Additional biographical material is scattered among the hasidic primary sources. For the description of Levi Yitshak’s depression, see Yitshak Ayzik of Komarno, Otsar hah.ayim veheikhal haberakhah (Lviv, 1864), 50–2; for Levi Yitshak’s . understanding of hasidic prayer, see Igeret hakodesh, in Elimelekh of Lezajsk, No’am elimelekh (Jerusalem, 2001), 455–67. 3 Methodologically, this chapter follows Rosman’s portrayal of the Ba’al Shem Tov as a man of his time and place. See M. Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba’al Shem Tov (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1996), 63–82. 4 For an analysis of literary images of Berdichev, see M. Krutikov, ‘Berdichev in Russian-Jewish Literary Imagination: From Israel Aksenfeld to Friedrich Gorenshteyn’, in G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality. Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford, 2000).

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developed trade and economic centre in eastern Poland, equalled only by Warsaw.5 In terms of its Jewish population Berdichev was not significant: it had one-sixth of the number of Jews in Brody and Lviv, half the number of Jews in Lublin, and twothirds of the number in neighbouring Medzhybizh and Shargorod. Of the twentyfour Polish towns with 1,500‒2,000 Jews, Berdichev occupied twenty-first place, surpassing only Krotoszyn, Komarno, and Korczyn. However, before the railway network made it irrelevant in the 1860s, the town had been a major junction of trade, connecting Poland with Turkey and Austria with Russia. Together with Grodno, Vilna, Shklov, and Bial ystok, it played a pivotal role in foreign trade. Berdichev’s annual fair, established in 1765, was the largest in the Polish borderlands (the kresy), with a heavy wholesale trade in ironware, textiles, leather, flock, and wood. Jews controlled 85‒94 per cent of this trade. In addition to this main fair, in 1765 ten other fairs were established in the town. The volume of trade at Berdichev’s annual fair grew steadily, and reached its peak of 5,833,000 roubles in 1832.6 Major banks and trading firms such as Efrussi, Gurovich, and Trakhtenberg moved to Odessa from Berdichev.7 In a word, before the 1850s, when Odessa became the capital of east European trade in general and Jewish trade in particular, Berdichev had been its own Odessa. At the end of the eighteenth century Berdichev also became a stronghold of manufacturing, especially textiles. The town’s artisans were organized into semiofficial Jewish guilds centred in the professional synagogues, brotherhoods, and prayer groups.8 In 1781 some 30 per cent of the local Jews were in trade. Seven Jewish merchants retained an absolute monopoly on Berdichev’s cloth trade.9 As early as the seventeenth century, tailors, united in a guild, obtained a privilege (privilegia) from the town’s owners; this fostered their economic success to the point that they were outside the control of the kahal.10 Berdichev, like Warsaw, was a key location for Russian army purveyors, notable among whom was one Bernshtein, in charge of textile supply. The first Russian Jewish banker, Izrail Yakovlevich Galperin (Yisrael Halperin), whose contemporaries loved and respected him /

. I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu zydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (Warsaw, 1937), 314, 423. Ibid. 259, 289, 314, 338, 340–1, 381, 421–6. Horodetsky mentions the importance of the town but fails to mention its unparalleled role in east European commerce and trade (see Hah.asidut vehah.asidim, 78). 17 M. Polishchuk, Evrei Odessy i Novorossii: Sotsial⬘no-politicheskaya istoriya evreev Odessy i drugikh gorodov Novorossii, 1881–1904 (Moscow, 2002), 23. 18 See A. Zederbaum, Di geheymnise fun berditshuv (Warsaw, 1870), 45–52. See also the collection of ten pinkasim (minute books) belonging to different professional guilds active in 19th-century Berdichev located at the Natsional⬘na biblioteka Ukrayiny im. V. I. Vernads⬘koho (NBU), Kiev, Orientalia Division, Pinkasim Collection, nos. 15–21, 29–31. For more detail, see the list in Y. Petrovsky, Newly Discovered Pinqasim from Ansky and Harkavy Collections (Moscow, 1996). An electronic version is available at . 19 M. Osherovich, Shtetl un shtetlekh (New York, 1948), 95–6. 10 M. Wischnitzer, The History of Jewish Crafts and Guilds (New York, 1965), 252–72. 15 16

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so much that they called him by his patronymic, Izrail Yakovlevich, also established himself in Berdichev. As a result of the town’s economic growth between 1789 and 1849, its population increased fourteenfold, from 1,951 in 1781 to 28,637 in 1849. Moreover, it appears that in the first decade of the nineteenth century to move away from Berdichev was considered deplorable. For instance, when Nathan Shternhartz, the future court scribe of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, moved his family to Bratslav around 1802, his decision caused a prolonged family uproar.11 We can only speculate about the Berdichev kahal’s motives in offering Levi Yitshak the position of chief rabbi, but the significance of their invitation was selfevident. The fact that the Jewish community of the most prosperous and dynamic town in Ukraine, if not in all of eastern Europe, invited him to serve as its religious leader could only serve as a striking example to other towns and townlets in Ukraine. If the hasidic master was accepted by the best and wealthiest, should not ordinary Jewish communities strive to establish a hasidic authority in their midst? It is therefore easy to imagine how the prestige of hasidism in late eighteenthcentury Ukraine rocketed after Levi Yitshak’s arrival in Berdichev. Nevertheless, the fact that he had reached a relatively safe haven did not mean that the stormy period of his life had ended. Most scholars, however, assume that it had, and substitute analysis of Levi Yitshak’s theology for further study of his life; thus, most studies divide into two parts, the first being biographical—‘before Berdichev’— and the second theological—‘after Berdichev’. Such mechanical historiography completely ignores an aspect of Berdichev’s history that had a definite impact on the last twenty-five years of Levi Yitshak’s life. Like many other towns in the Pale of Settlement, Berdichev was a shtetl; that is, a private Polish town owned by a magnate. The Polish system of private ownership of towns survived four Polish uprisings against Russian domination and was dismantled only in the late 1860s. Throughout most of the nineteenth century Berdichev remained under the magnate’s control, as did eight other larger towns and 347 shtetls in the region. The town Jews obtained their first privileges from the entrepreneurial Barbara Radziwil l (1521‒51), who has been called ‘Talleyrand in a skirt’.12 In 1793, as a result of the second partition of Poland, the town was transferred to Russian authority but did not lose its private status. It remained in the family’s possession until it was acquired by the Tyszkiewicz family in the midnineteenth century and later by the Russian nobleman Rukavishnikov. Ilya Grigorevich Orshansky, the first scholar of Russian Jewish legislation, called Berdichev a ‘serf town’ (krepostnoi gorod) among other private towns. This charged description was accurate. Conflicts between magnates and the kahal were part and parcel of the private town economy, yet the case of Berdichev was particularly tense. In the late eighteenth century the magnate and his subjects failed to settle the //

11 Sto evreiskikh mestechek Ukrainy: Istoricheskii putevoditel⬘. Podoliya, 2nd edn. (St Petersburg, 12 A. Sajkowski, Od Sierotki do Ryben´ki (Poznan´, 1965), 158. 2000), 162.

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conflict amicably. Prince Maciej (Matvey) Radziwil l (1749‒1821), Berdichev’s owner in this period, was unable to control the crisis, and the local Russian administration became involved.13 The case reached the chambers of the provincial court and ultimately triggered senate commission hearings in St Petersburg. The conflict had serious repercussions for all sides. In fact, the struggle between the town’s owner and the townspeople symbolized the separation between the pre-modern— if not feudal—system of control and the early modern economy. In the midst of this crisis the Jews of Berdichev hired and dispatched to St Petersburg a shtadlan, or intercessor, by the name of Tsevi Hirsch Shimanovich, with a serious complaint against Radziwil l . The pleas from the Jews, supporting documents of the Russian bureaucrats, the reports of the local inspectors, and self-justificatory notes from Radziwil l shed light on the day-to-day realities of Berdichev at the end of the eighteenth century.14 //

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the s hte tl ve r s u s i ts m a gn a t e On 26 June 1798 Tsevi Hirsch Shimanovich submitted a formal complaint to the authorities in St Petersburg denouncing Prince Radziwil l ’s arbitrary rule. The figures in Shimanovich’s plea were impressive, testifying to the exorbitant economic burden that had been imposed on Berdichev’s Jews. Shimanovich argued that before 1761 Jews had paid to the treasury of Princess Radziwil l a tax of something between 0.5 and 2.5 zlotys for a fixed quantity of brewed wine, vodka, and beer. However, Prince Radziwil l had increased this tax to 8.5 zlotys. He also forbade the town’s Jews to pasture their cattle on their fields, demanding 2.5 zlotys for the use of his own pastures, and prohibited them from buying bread and candles from anyone other than the arendator, his chief lessee. He introduced a one-off police tax of 1,200 zlotys, and a 6,000 zlotys annual tax that had never been imposed on the town before. He also demanded an additional 2,000 zlotys for his court doctor, whom nobody had ever seen. He stopped paying fees for communal needs to the kahal treasury, and taxed guild merchants trading outside Berdichev twice as much as their established custom tax dues. Using bribes, he persuaded Boruch Moshkovich and Ya’akov Lisyansky, two wealthy lessees, to stop paying their taxes //

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Maciej Radziwil l did not belong to the cream of the Radziwil l family. He is hardly mentioned in the books devoted to the genealogy and history of the Radziwil l s, one of the most prominent families among the szlachta. For the relations between the Radziwil l s, their trade agents, and their subjects in 18th-century Lithuania (and Belarus), see A. Teller, ‘Tafkidam hakalkali uma’amadam hah. evrati shel hayehudim be’ah. uzot beit radzivil belita bame’ah ha-18’, Ph.D. thesis (Hebrew University, 1997). 14 See Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv (RGIA), fond 1374, opis⬘ 2, delo 962 (Senate, Prosecutor-General: ‘A Disputation between Count M. Radziwil l , the owner of the town of Berdichev, and the Jews inhabiting this town, who complained of excesses of tributes and oppression on the part of Count Radziwil l ’, 1798–1802). I consulted the microfilm at the Central Archive of the History of Jewish People (CAHJP), Jerusalem, HM 7779.1–14. I should like to thank Binyamin Lukin for his generous bibliographical assistance. //

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to the kahal and to function as Radziwil l ’s puppets. To enforce his decisions he dispatched his ‘home Cossacks’, who acted as if they were local police or provincial authorities, at one point arresting the local tax collector and imprisoning members of poor families unable to pay the tax.15 The Russian authorities who received the complaints responded in various ways. The provincial prosecutor, Poltavtsev, took the Jewish side and supported the pleas presented to the capital. Conversely, the Zhitomir police chief, Baranov, demanded that the Jews respect the will of the town’s owner. When they refused, he called them rebels16—a term which, used just a couple of years after the Polish revolt, was an unambiguous threat. However, the senate committee in St Petersburg initially adopted a resolution favourable to the Jews. Radziwil l was furious. On 26 June 1798 he sent a sharp letter to General Gudovich claiming that all the decisions of the committee and of His Excellency Gudovich himself would soon be overruled. He clearly hinted that the privy councillor Count Aleksey Borisovich Kurakin would defend his interests. However, he also asked Gudovich for merciful protection from the Jews and the province prosecutor, Poltavtsev, ‘their zealous guardian’.17 In addition, he demanded that all those who disagreed with his policy leave town at once and move to state towns (kazennye goroda).18 But Shimanovich did not sit idle. On 4 August 1798 he sent Kurakin another strong and well-argued plea claiming that Radziwil l treated Jews as if they were his serfs (krepostnye) and not free residents of his estate. He explained that Jews had been invited to settle in Berdichev as colonists. They had built their houses and owned them for at least two centuries, and had never paid taxes for leased property. But after the partitions Radziwil l had decided to reverse this practice, arbitrarily imposing new taxes and increasing old ones. He also demanded that Jews pay additional taxes for the leased property (which in fact belonged to them). He forbade them to grind flour on home handmills and demanded that they pay taxes even for lighting their own rooms.19 His total income from over-taxing local Jews was 433,000 zlotys.20 Memoirs from the period corroborate these complaints; for example, one observer argued that the town’s tax policy greatly benefited the Radziwil l s.21 In addition to the established tax, Jews in Berdichev had to pay taxes on some twenty-eight types of consumer product. Another observer recalled an exorbitant tax on alcohol imposed on the town’s Jews.22 Later, in the 1830s, another conflict testified to the ongoing tension between the Berdichev kahal, on the one hand, and the lessees and Radziwil l , on the other.23 //

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16 RGIA, fond 1374, opis⬘ 2, delo 962, fos. 10v–14. Ibid., fos. 18–19. 18 19 Ibid., fos. 2–3v. Ibid., fos. 29v, 34, 42v. Ibid., fo. 5r–v. 20 21 Ibid., fo. 170v. M. Morgulis, Voprosy evreiskoi zhizni (St Petersburg, 1903), 432. 22 To avoid paying this tax Jews went to town with their family and returned with bottles of vodka popping out of their pockets. See I. G. Orshansky, Russkoe zakonodatel⬘stvo o evreyakh: Ocherki i issledovaniya (St Petersburg, 1877), 389. 23 See e.g. court and senate documents on the case of Rubinshtein, who leased the production of 15 17

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After another year of hearings, in early 1799, the court decided to grant Radziwil l ’s requests and protect him from ‘Jewish accusations’. All of the court’s members, with the exception of the chairman, Kryzhanovsky, voted in favour of this resolution. ‘It would have led to an enormous number of complaints had the Jews had won the case,’ the judges concluded.24 The Jews appealed, but it appears that the decision was left to stand. However, the case was not closed. St Petersburg established new commissions and obtained new information. Radziwil l ’s further explanatory notes and his more moderate tone indicated that he was now on the defensive. Between 1800 and 1802, making any number of excuses, he refused to go to St Petersburg for a personal hearing, dispatching instead his chargé d’affaires, Ivan Kalentsky. In his note to the prosecutor-general he argued that he had every right to tax Jews for the land on which synagogues and prayer houses stood, as well as for rabbinic positions. Yet, citing a 1764 privilege, he clearly circumvented any discussion of the level of taxes, including the one on rabbinic positions, which he had arbitrarily quadrupled.25 He also implied that, since he was responsible for keeping the town in proper order, he had an innate right to tax the Jews according to his whim. This self-justification was in response to the strong tone taken by the prosecutor-general and his deputy, who reiterated that Radziwil l should once and for all stop over-taxing his subjects.26 //

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r abbi ni c l e a d e rs hi p cha l l e n ge d In 1785 Levi Yitshak left his rabbinic position in Pinsk to become the head of the rabbinic court (av beit din) in Berdichev.27 Thus, a persecuted rabbinic leader, who had . been expelled almost physically from similar posts he had occupied in Ryczywól , Zelechów, and Pinsk, Levi Yitshak was invited to preside over one of the most prosperous and rapidly developing communities in eastern Europe.28 The importance of this event for the history of hasidism is difficult to overstate. The Berdichev period was so important in Levi Yitshak’s life that oral hasidic tradition sanctified it with a quotation from Psalm 19: 11: ‘more to be desired [are the judgements of the Lord] than fine gold’; the last three words are rendered in Hebrew as ‘mipaz rav’, and were read as an abbreviated list of the towns where Levi /

alcohol in Berdichev and was supported by the town owner, and the kahal and the town Jews, who refused to buy alcohol from the lessee (‘On the complaints of the nobleman Radziwil l and the lessees of alcohol production [pit⬘evogo otkupa] A. and G. Rubinshtein about the refusal of the Berdichev petty urban dwellers to purchase the lessee’s vodka’, 25 May 1833, Tsentral⬘nyi derzhavnyi istorychnyi arkhiv Ukrayiny, Kiev, fond 442, opis⬘ 1, delo 1499). //

25 26 RGIA, fond 1374, opis⬘ 2, delo 962, fo. 265 Ibid. 291–294v. Ibid., fos. 47r–v, 300. On the dramatic circumstances causing Levi Yitshak’s resettlement in Berdichev in the context of the hasidic-mitnagdic controversy, see Rabinowitsch, Lithuanian Hasidism, 25–7. 28 The real reasons why Levi Yitshak was invited to the town as a legal authority are still unclear. Horodetsky’s attempt to depict Berdichev as a hasidic town before the arrival of Levi Yitshak seems unsubstantiated (see H.asidut vehah.asidim, 79–80). 24 27

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. Yitshak had held a post: ‘PaZ RaV’, denoting Pinsk, Zelechów, Ryczywól , and Berdichev (the last letter in the word rav is beit, as in Berdichev).29 In other words, the posting in Berdichev was God’s true and merciful decision (according to the previous line, in Ps. 19: 10), and for Levi Yitshak it was better than pure gold. Indeed, his impact on the town’s Jews was so strong that after his death in 1809 they decided to leave the post of chief rabbi empty.30 Amazingly, because of his stay in Berdichev, the very name of the town acquired a connotation of redemption: Yisrael of Ruzhyn, for example, claimed that to soften God’s judgement before the Day of Atonement it was enough to concentrate on the name of the town.31 Though Berdichev was not a typical hasidic town, after Levi Yitshak’s appointment it became one of the major centres of the spread of hasidism in central Ukraine, and it established ties with surrounding hasidic centres. For example, in the 1800s hasidim from Berdichev went on a regular basis to pray in Medzhybizh, the seat of the late Ba’al Shem Tov. In 1802 the famous rabbinic council was held in Berdichev, and it was at this council that Levi Yitshak defended Nahman of Bratslav from attempts to excommunicate him.32 Perhaps because of Levi Yitshak’s continuing protection of Nahman of Bratslav, Nahman’s followers established their voluntary society in Berdichev as early as the 1820s.33 In 1803 Yisrael Friedman, a young tsadik from Ruzhyn, arrived in the town for his engagement to Sara, the daughter of R. Moshe Efrati; Levi Yitshak blessed the couple and took part in the festivities, which were celebrated more extravagantly than the visit of the tsar.34 In the 1820s Meshulem Natan Margoliot, who replaced the late Levi Yitshak’s son as head of the local rabbinic court, accepted as binding all communal fasts proclaimed by Abraham Joshua Heschel intended to avert the new regulations promulgated by Alexander I.35 Finally, not without the influence of the town rabbi, Ber Segal’s printing press, which was established in Berdichev in the early 1800s, became pivotal in hasidic publishing.36 Indeed, the conflict between Radziwil l and the kahal could have rendered Levi Yitshak’s tenure in Berdichev unlucky and brief if not for the town’s support of its rabbi. In every plea and complaint of the Jews of Berdichev, whether brief or detailed, the most painful issue is that of the freedom to practise Judaism. One may assume that Shimanovich’s voice conveys the unanimous feeling of the town Jews: /

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30 Shostik, Melits yosher, 19. Luckens, ‘Rabbi Levi Itzhak of Berdichev’, 55–6. 32 Gutman, Tiferet beit levi, 30. Rapoport-Albert (ed.), Hasidism Reappraised, 16. 33 See Pinkas deh.asidei bratslav [Bratslav Hasidim Society], n.d., copy by Avraham Rechtman, c.1912, NBU, Orientalia, Pinkasim Collection, fond 321, opis⬘ 1, n. 11 (o. r. 21). 34 D. Assaf, ‘Yisra’el miruzhin umekomo betoledot hah. asidut bemah. atsit harishonah shel hame’ah ha-19’, Ph.D. thesis (Hebrew University, 1992), 38. 35 I. Alfasi, Harav miapta: Ba’al ohev yisra’el (Jerusalem, 1981), 49 ff. 36 Between 1808 and 1815 Berdichev’s printing press published Degel mah.aneh efrayim by Moshe Haim Ephraim of Sudylków, Magid devarav leya’akov by Dov Ber of Mezerich, Kedushat levi by Levi Yitshak of Berdichev, Tsiva’at rivash by Ba’al Shem Tov, and Shivh.ei habesht, the first edition of the stories about the founder of hasidism. See Y. Vinograd, Otsar hasefer ha’ivri (Jerusalem, 1994), 106–8. 29 31

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Our religion is leased by the [town] owner. In order to conduct our own religious service we are obligated to pay money to those who have leased our creed from the prince [Radziwil l ]. Even the conscience of each of us is not free to express its religious needs.37 //

And in a different plea: Radziwil l has appropriated the boxes for alms and for orphans.38 //

And again: Even our religion and rabbinic positions are leased.39

And in greater detail: The rabbinate itself is leased so that when a rabbi is elected we are obligated to pay to the lessee. Jews have repeatedly complained of this to the authorities but they have obtained no protection.40

Further correspondence confirms that the issue of taxing the position of the rabbi was second only in the minds of the Jews to the liquor tax. Despite an old privilege allowing Jews to elect rabbis and requiring rabbis to pay the town owner some 1,000 zlotys annually, Radziwil l repeatedly tried to appoint his protégés to the post. In the 1790s he appointed Ya’akov Lisyansky as town rabbi, but the Jews dismissed him as ‘harmful’. Radziwil l commanded the town rabbi—that is, Levi Yitshak—to pay at least 500 zlotys or risk imprisonment. In 1793 he appointed four Jews— Borisovich, Lisyansky, Moshkovich, and Tatarinovsky—as ‘judges’, purportedly to settle the issue of the tax on the rabbi’s position; the real purpose was to lease to them the 4,000 zlotys tax for the post, thereby enabling them to choose the town rabbi who best suited their interests.41 In fact, Radziwil l did his best to establish a new type of court that was absolutely independent of the chief town rabbi.42 In 1794 he accused the town rabbi—apparently Levi Yitshak—of inciting local Jews against the town owner. He demanded that the rabbi immediately sell his property and leave town. After another strong protest on the part of the local community, Radziwil l acquiesced and allowed the rabbi to stay, though he claimed that the 4,000 zlotys tax was the price of his benevolence.43 What do we learn from the conflict between the magnate and his town? Obviously, this conflict reflects tensions and shifts in the triangular relationship between the szlachta (Polish nobility), the Russian authorities, and the Jews. Despite Berdichev’s well-established status as a private Polish town, the Jews perceived the town’s owner as their primary oppressor, and the Russian government, whose subjects they had quite recently become once again, as their long-awaited protector. In //

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38 39 RGIA, fond 1374, opis⬘ 2, delo 962, fos. 14v–15. Ibid., fo. 279. Ibid., fo. 279. v 41 Ibid., fo. 5 . Ibid., fos. 164–5. 42 See the whole text of Radziwil l ’s 1793 regulation on the local court in Regesty i nadpisi: Svod materialov dlya istorii evreev Rossii (1780 g.–1799 g.), 3 vols. (St Petersburg, 1899–1913), iii. 308–10. 43 RGIA, fond 1374, opis⬘ 2, delo 962, fo. 223. 37 40

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this sense, the conflict reflects early Russian Jewish sensibilities, if not the rise of Russian Jewish identity. In the context of ‘Russia’s gathering of her Jews’ (to paraphrase John Klier), the various responses of the Russian authorities to the conflict and the clear tendency to protect Russian Jewish subjects from Polish noblemen are telling. They reflect the government’s perception of Jews as Russian subjects as early as the reign of Paul I. And they probably reflect the government’s sense of responsibility to its subjects—if not an attempt to win them over. On the Polish side, Radziwil l ’s behaviour demonstrates that the partitions had no effect on the sense of security of the szlachta. Moreover, the partitions appear to have created a legal vacuum that increased the autocratic nature of the szlachta. Still, Radziwil l seems to have been much more confident under Paul I (1796‒1800) than under Alexander I (1801‒25). The case also illuminates a rift between the lessees; that is, between Radziwil l ’s court or puppet Jews, on the one side, and the kahal elders and the town merchants and artisans, on the other. To be sure, Berdichev became a battlefield on which the early modern Jewish middle class and business elite tried to bolster its own growth, while the town’s owner relied heavily on his feudal system of economic control to try to stop them. Finally, let us examine the repercussions and implications of this case for the town’s rabbi. The fact that the post of town rabbi had been transformed into another lucrative source of income for a nobleman was no novelty: the position was ‘leased by the town owner’, to use the language of the complaint, perhaps in every Polish private town.44 Also, the tax imposed on the town rabbi, confirmed in the times of Princess Barbara Radziwil l and later fixed at 1,000 zlotys, was not enormous. R. Avigdor, who very likely was behind the expulsion of Levi Yitshak from his position in Pinsk, had to pay a similar amount in advance for his ten-year rabbinic tenure in the town.45 At the same time, in the far less developed town of Starokonstantinov, for instance, the arendator obtained 6,000 zlotys in 1778 from the sale of alcohol alone, whereas the overall annual income from all lessees and sub-lessees in that town was 44,600 zlotys.46 Naturally, the salary of the town rabbi in a private Polish town was only part of his income. He earned further income from overseeing the operations of the selfgoverning town societies (h.avurot), presiding over the rabbinical court (beit din), giving sermons (derashot), issuing wedding and divorce documents (ketubot and gitin), and overseeing the work of the ritual slaughterers (shoh.etim).47 Even so, 4,000 //

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M. Rosman, The Lords’ Jews: Magnate–Jewish Relations in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth During the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), 200–3. 45 Luckens, ‘Rabbi Levi Itzhak of Berdichev’, 42. 46 See the pioneering research that has unfortunately been overlooked by Western scholars: A. I. Baranovich, Magnatskoe khozyaistvo na yuge Volyni v XVIII v. (Moscow, 1955), 121, 131; on arenda in general, see ibid. 117–37. 47 G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1992), 94–5.

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zlotys for the rabbinic position annually, if the complaint is accurate, might have been too much. Unlike other towns, where the kahal had to accede to the decisions of the magnate-supported lessees, the Berdichev kahal, supported by middleranking merchants and artisans, decided to oppose the town’s owner.48 The ensuing conflict placed Levi Yitshak against the local lord and his two or three little-known but influential chief lessees, who responded by doing their best to dismiss him from his post. Radziwil l ’s own language in accusing Levi Yitshak is eloquent testimony to the seriousness of the conflict. This kind of social conflict was otherwise unheard of. Elsewhere hasidic leaders were persecuted either as individuals—Ya’akov Yosef of Polonnoe being the best example of this—or as representatives of a religious group suspected of schism— karlintsy, as hasidim were dubbed in Russian documents, or kat (sect), as they were scornfully identified by mitnagedim. The most notorious case involved the incarceration of Shneur Zalman of Liady, the founder of Habad–Lubavich hasidism, who was denounced as a leader of a sect, arrested, taken to the Petropavlovsk fortress in St Petersburg, interrogated, found not guilty, and released. But the case of Levi Yitshak was different: he was oppressed neither as an individual pietist (hasid) nor as a representative of the hasidic movement, but rather as a communal figure. Apparently, he retained his post by relying on strong and unanimous communal support. The conflict between the town and its owner transcended the limits of the hasidic–mitnagdic controversy and created a remarkable bond between the town’s rabbi and the Jewish townspeople. Berdichev’s economic and trade elite, the kahal elders, local artisans, hasidim and mitnagedim, orphans and beggars, as well as Levi Yitshak himself, found themselves in the same boat. Had he triggered any opposition from the town’s elites, Levi Yitshak would not have been able to retain his post, but because his position was unstable, he had to associate himself with all of the town’s Jews. The Jews of Berdichev protected, justified, and defended him before the town’s owner no less than he defended them before God. If Radziwil l ’s efforts to get rid of Levi Yitshak imply that the latter refused to join Radziwil l and the town lessees, siding instead with the town’s merchants, then the overwhelming admiration and gratitude of the town’s residents, and not only of his hasidic followers, becomes self-explanatory. Dubnow’s and later Dinur’s somewhat naive understanding of hasidic rebbes as popular social leaders in opposition to the regime is indeed an exaggeration, but it might hold a grain of truth in the case of Levi Yitshak. //

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Is there any hint of the conflict between Radziwil l and Berdichev in what is known about Levi Yitshak from ‘hagiographical’ sources? To answer this question, let us consider the story ‘Hamokhsan shenishar al kino’ (‘The Lessee Who Retained his Name’), which has been attributed to Levi Yitshak. The plot is simple. Haim, from //

48

Cf. Rosman, The Lords’ Jews, 189–93.

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a village near Skvira, is a modest and trustworthy Jew who leases an inn from a certain childless magnate. The magnate dies and bequeaths all his possessions to his nephew, who had studied philosophy in Paris. The nephew turns out to be an evil person who oppresses the villagers and banishes a number of them from the village. An unnamed and wealthy Jew from the village of Belilovka, unscrupulously violating the law of h.azakah (rights of possession) and promising a better income, offers the new magnate his services as a lessee. Haim appeals, but to no avail. Pushed out by the magnate, Haim goes to the tsadik of Berdichev, complains to him, and asks him to intercede, but the rival lessee does not agree to settle the matter amicably and does not come to the tsadik. Thus Haim loses his only source of income, which had provided for his father and grandfather, and he becomes penniless. Following the advice of the tsadik, Haim goes to a nearby village and leases a small inn from another magnate. Subsequently, the Jew from Belilovka, who does not know how to brew good wine, ruins himself and his magnate, whereas Haim, a skilled brewer, finds favour in the eyes of the peasants and his new master. The story ends with his new magnate praising Haim’s wine, and a formal apology from his previous master; Haim returns to his previous position, and the Jew from Belilovka, utterly defeated, following the advice of the tsadik of Berdichev, asks for Haim’s mercy and is accepted as his sub-lessor or partner.49 This hasidic story, whatever its true authorship, effectively combines a theological and a social message. A version of a hasidic story about a lessee, a tsadik, and a magnate, not uncommon in hasidic literature, this tale could be read as a reflection of contemporary Berdichev. Many details apparently refer to real life in Berdichev: a childless magnate, his nephew studying in Paris, the oppression of the villagers, expulsions, tricks with arenda, and violation of the rules of h.azakah. The name of Belilovka (Belilevke), a real Ukrainian village in the province of Kiev, is associated linguistically with beliya’al, the biblical embodiment of evil.50 If Levi Yitshak or anybody else had told this story, its message would have been immediately clear to its audience. On the most superficial level the tsadik is far from omnipotent: the ‘bad’ lessee does not care about him, the laws of h.azakah are not binding, the tsadik does not intercede directly with the magnate and so forth. However, on the hidden level, the tsadik is an axis mundi, to use Arthur Green’s excellent metaphor: no one but the tsadik embodies the final truth; no one but the tsadik, acting behind the scenes, punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous, thus finally restoring justice. Whatever the consequences of the conflict between Radziwil l and Berdichev, the audience of this story knew that, thanks to the tsadik, the magnate and his lessees would be punished, the tax burden lifted, and the townspeople relieved— hence the paramount significance of the tsadik as the highest authority in the realm of social justice. //

49 50

G. Nigal (ed.), Rabi levi yitsh.ak miberdichev: Sipurim (Jerusalem, 1997), 144–8. See e.g. Prov. 16: 12; Judg. 19: 22; 2 Sam. 20: 1.

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Although the stories about tsadikim (sipurei ma’asiyot) are modelled on folk tales, some are more embedded in history than others. Perhaps the story of Levi Yitshak’s visit to Lviv, where he inserted a Polish curse into his prayer, refers to Prince Maciej Radziwil l , whom he dubbed—if our hypothesis is accurate—‘the princedemon of Poland’.51 Levi Yitshak’s bitterly sarcastic attitude towards both Jews and non-Jews occupying positions at the top of the social ladder might also reflect the conflict in Berdichev.52 It is tempting to see his depression or ‘loss of spirit’ in 1793, concerning which vague testimonies have been preserved,53 as an oblique reflection of the new challenges by Radziwil l , who in the same year forbade the chief rabbi to head the local court.54 And Levi Yitshak’s desire to compose and publish his homilies in the first edition of Kedushat levi (Slavuta, 1898)—which was rare among tsadikim of his generation, who generally preferred an entirely oral message to a printed one—can be seen as his attempt to secure his position by publishing a book of major importance. Levi Yitshak’s sharp criticism of the authorities, including his reproaches directed towards the God of Israel, which have been preserved in folklore, should probably be read not only as paradoxical hasidic theodicy but also, to use Saul Ginzburg’s words, as a reflection of the drama of Berdichev. This drama highlights one of the most characteristic features of Levi Yitshak’s personality: his non-sectarian approach to social and theological issues. He always preferred to rely on popular support, whether by rejecting the idea of establishing a group of followers and disciples, or by seeking the town’s help in his conflict with the magnate. Thus, before he became part of the collective Jewish memory, he was firmly embedded in collective Jewish history, together with the townspeople, as the opponent of Radziwil l . Ultimately, the drama of Berdichev suggests a sophisticated and subtle interaction between the theology and the social history of hasidism. //

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51 Justifying his act, Levi Yitshak replied: ‘I managed to down my other enemies, but this was the only way I could get the better of the prince-demon of Poland’ (M. Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters (New York, 1973), 210). 52 For example, see the stories ‘The True King’, ‘Abraham and Lot’, ‘Envy’, ‘Charity’, and ‘The Greatness of Pharaoh’, ibid. 209, 219, 224–6, 228. 53 See Luckens’s rendering of Yitshak Ayzik of Komarno’s testimony in his ‘Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev’, 50–2. 54 I believe that this regulation was a much more serious blow to the chief rabbi’s prestige than the transfer of the town to Russian rule, which also occurred in 1793.

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Polish Shtetls Under Russian Rule, 1772‒1914 john k lier On 24 Heshvan 5561 (11 November 1800), the parnasim, or communal elders, of the Minsk kahal voted to send a delegation to Vitebsk ‘to see how things are done there’.1 At first, this may appear a curious decision. What could the Jews of Minsk, a large and respected community, learn from their ‘little brothers’ in Vitebsk? The answer has to do with chronology: since 1772 Vitebsk had been under the power of Russia, serving as a laboratory for the implementation of policies designed to regulate a newly acquired Jewish minority for whom there were no existing legal provisions. Russian policy had brought Belarusian Jewry greater statutory rights than any other contemporary Jewish community in Europe. The Jewish denizens of Minsk, having fallen under Russian control only in 1793, wished to learn how to deal with their new rulers. This incident may serve as a salient reminder that the Jews of the Russian empire were in fact Polish Jews—or, more accurately, subjects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the state that was devoured by Russia, Prussia, and the Habsburg empire in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. As its name implied, the Commonwealth was a multi-ethnic state, inhabited by peoples of diverse ethnicities, religions, and traditions. Even the Jews of the Commonwealth were a diverse lot: there were mitnagedim, hasidim, Karaites, and even a few maskilim—as the partisans of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, the Haskalah, were known. The Yiddish that they spoke was not uniform across regions. Their political traditions differed, especially between the Jews of the Polish ethnic heartland and those of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Nor were political boundaries a bar to communications across frontiers; the boundaries between the lands of (Russian) Ukraine and (Austrian) Galicia were especially porous. Y. Brafman, Kniga kagala, 3rd edn., 2 vols. (St Petersburg, 1882-8), ii. 75. As is well known, the commentary that Yakov Brafman provided for this Russian translation of the pinkas, or record book, of the Minsk kahal was extremely tendentious and misleading, and led to charges that it was a forgery. As Isaac Levitats has demonstrated, however, the pinkas is almost certainly authentic, whatever Brafman’s misuse of it. See I. Levitats, ‘Levikoret “sefer hakahal” shel brafman’, Zion, 3 (1938), 170–8. 1

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In response to the question ‘did Russian Jewry exist prior to 1917?’, Eli Lederhendler has answered in the affirmative. He has argued that the factors uniting the Jews of the empire were greater than those dividing them.2 One may accept Lederhendler’s assessment with one major caveat: we must differentiate clearly between Jews in the provinces of the Pale of Settlement and Jews in the Kingdom of Poland. This in turn suggests another theme for scholarly examination: the extent to which the transformation of ‘Polish’ Jews into ‘Russian’ Jews was not a one-way process. Polish Jews brought a number of traits, structures, and relationships into the empire, including communal organizations, political relationships with the ruling power, diverse socio-economic relations, and a set of mutual stereotypes, prejudices, and attitudes that divided Jew from non-Jew. The transformation of these features of the Jewish community entailed a complex process of both accommodation and rupture that eventually produced ‘Russian Jewry’ within the Pale of Settlement and ‘Polish Jewry’ in the Kingdom of Poland. This chapter will explore the aspects of Jewish life that the Jews brought with them into the realm of the tsar, and examine how they contributed to the shaping of what would become Russian Jewry. The main focus will be not so much on the shtetl itself, but rather on the wider world of which the shtetl was an important component.

c o m mu nal o r g ani z a t i o n Before 1772 Jews had been barred from settlement anywhere in the territory of the Russian empire.3 Thus, there was no existing precedent on the basis of which they might be organized or governed once the decision to accept them as Russian subjects had been made. The path of least resistance was simply to leave in place the existing institution of Jewish autonomous self-government, the kahal. A decree of 1780 required all Jews to register in the nearest kahal. The state always treated the kahal as an urban entity, a reflection of its desire to use Jews to strengthen the weakly developed urban trade centres of the empire. As a consequence, the archetypal model of Jewish settlement, the shtetl (Russian: mestechko; from the Polish miasteczko), where the kahal was invariably based, was always considered an urban phenomenon. This categorization was of vital importance when the government resolved to resettle Jews from the ‘countryside’, where they were thought to exercise an invidious influence on the peasantry. The attempt at resettlement began with the Statute (Polozhenie) for the Jews of 1804, and reached its culmination in the May Laws (Temporary Laws) of 1882, which barred ‘new settlement’ of Jews in the countryside, ‘outside the towns and shtetls’. The failure of the Russian state to provide a satisfactory definition for the term ‘shtetl’ made instances of caprice and 2 E. Lederhendler, ‘Did Russian Jewry Exist Prior to 1917?’, in Y. Ro’i (ed.), Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union (Ilford, 1995). 3 J. D. Klier, Russia Gathers her Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Question’ in Russia, 1772–1825 (DeKalb, Ill., 1986), 28–30.

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abuse by Russian officials possible, but it also increased the possibilities for the evasion of regulations on place of residence, given the venality and incompetence of the rural police in the empire. Having described the shtetl as the ‘archetypal’ model of Jewish settlement, I hasten to add that it was first and foremost a model of diversity. There was no average size for a shtetl: they might range from villages of a few hundred Jewish residents to fair-sized towns. In the immediate aftermath of the first partition, reflecting Empress Catherine II’s desire to stimulate urban growth, a number of shtetls suddenly found themselves metamorphosed into ‘district towns’. This categorization had its advantages under Catherine’s 1785 Charter for the Towns, which provided extensive rights of election and participation in town councils and courts to ethnic and religious minorities (which were often coterminous) in all towns. Jews began to exercise these rights immediately. This provoked the anger of their Christian neighbours, who complained that Jews were being given special privileges that they had never enjoyed before. Equally upset were strictly Orthodox rabbinic leaders, who complained that Jews were ‘drawing close to Gentiles’. Thus, one variant of the shtetl was transformed into something quite different, from a political-administrative view, under Russian rule. Yet there were other shtetls that remained more closely linked to their Polish past. The private Polish town, a settlement particularly associated with Jews, made the transition to Russian rule relatively unchanged. The relationship between the Jewish residents and the magnate or szlachta owner of the town was essentially feudal, with residence rights tied to the performance of certain economic functions on the estate of the landowner. While those involved in this relationship may have assumed that it had existed from time immemorial, in fact it was largely the creation of the ‘second serfdom’ in the Commonwealth in the sixteenth century. Most significantly, this system ensured that the relationship remained contractual, with both parties free to change the terms of an agreement after its expiration. For the landowner, this might mean a new contract with a different party; for the Jews, it meant departure. In fact, the kahal system evolved an elaborate codex, enshrined in talmudic law, designed to protect the rights of contract-holders. The institution of h.azakah (rights of possession) was the defensive weapon of the Jews against the power of the Polish landlords. The annals of the Commonwealth are dotted with accounts of the struggles of Jewish communities against capricious landlords. What is less well known is that these conflicts continued under Russian rule until the abolition of serfdom in 1861 (and somewhat later in the ethnically Polish lands). Thus, the archives of the Russian governor-general of Kiev, Podolia, and Volhynia are filled with Jewish tenants’ complaints that their local lords had capriciously demanded money (ostensibly for the use of areas of the estate), violated contracts, and even been physically violent.4 4 See Tsentral⬘nyi derzhavnyi istorychnyi arkhiv Ukrayiny, Kiev (TsDIAUK), fond 442, opis⬘ 136, delo 167 (1833), fos. 1–7v, from the Jews of Verba, Dubno district.

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Another type of feudal relationship that existed in some shtetls—permanent chinshevoe ownership—outlived even the abolition of serfdom. Chinsheviki were granted permanent possession of land (with rights to sell or mortgage) belonging to a feudal landowner, upon payment in cash or in kind (chinsh). The chinsh was linked to the price of land and could be increased. A special payment was due upon transfer of the holding to another person. The chinsheviki also paid fees for keeping gardens, possessing market stalls, and many other economic activities. Any repairs or new construction also required the permission of the landowner, which was seldom given gratis. Clearly, the landholder had great latitude and could impose additional payments capriciously. The Russian state sought to eliminate this category of ownership, the chief beneficiaries of which were Poles, by providing for mandatory sale of holdings under a law of 9 June 1886. However, this was also a time when the government was especially keen to eliminate Jewish influence in the countryside, so a number of restrictions kept Jews from benefiting from the forced liquidation. For some Jews this feudal relationship endured right up until the outbreak of war in 1914.5 (We will return to the question of discriminatory legislation directed against Poles that had repercussions for Jews.) The introduction of Russian rule had other effects, both positive and negative. The rise of hasidism polarized many communities, and made the control of ritual life especially contentious. Although the Russian state had only the foggiest idea of what the struggle between the hasidim and the mitnagedim was about, it sought to placate both sides by providing for the existence of rival synagogues in every community under the provisions of the Statute for the Jews of 1804. Whatever peace this may have brought to the shtetl was more than negated by Russian taxation policies. The Russian state lacked the large and professional bureaucracy required to collect all duties and taxes: before 1865 and the creation of the post-emancipation system of local self-government (the zemstva), it resolved this problem in two ways. The first expedient was tax-farming, most notably of the state monopoly on the production and sale of vodka in the Great Russian provinces. The second was the system of krugovaya poruka, or collective responsibility for taxes imposed on liable communities. The Jewish kahal constituted the taxpaying unit. However grudgingly, the Jewish community always made an effort to pay its taxes, recognizing the importance of maintaining the goodwill of the state. (This does not mean that there was no tax evasion, of course; only that it was concentrated at the communal rather than the individual level.) The communal rich bore the brunt of taxation, and this was part of the process that legitimized their domination of the community; he who pays the taxes governs the non-taxpayers. The kakhal’niki, or communal leaders, possessed the right to levy taxes, of course, and were richly detested for their decisions. But there was only so much blood to be Evreiskaya entsiklopediya, 16 vols. (St Petersburg, 1906–13), xv. 670–2. See also Y. Grushevsky, ‘Polozhenie evreev chinshevykh’, Nedel⬘naya khronika Voskhoda, 7 (14 Feb. 1902) and 8 (21 Feb. 1902). 5

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squeezed out of the stone that was the Jewish poor; ultimately it was the rich who had to carry the community’s fiscal burden. The introduction of personal liability by Jews for military service in 1827 changed this relationship. The impact of the rekrutshchina is well known. The need to secure recruits discredited the communal leaders, particularly after it became obvious that the Russian army was carrying on missionary activity among the young recruits. The secondary literature—like Jewish legend—often claims that the Russian state purposefully recruited under-age boys in order to convert them more easily to Christianity. This is simply not true: the Russian state did not demand under-age recruits (ages 11 to 17); it merely permitted the Jewish communities to provide such recruits for the socalled Cantonist regiments (which essentially trained young recruits for specialist activities as military clerks, musicians, etc.). It was the leadership of the Jewish community itself, under the provisions of collective liability, that chose such young recruits. (My own research tentatively suggests that it was the influx of young recruits for the first recruitment of 1827‒8 that prompted the Russian army to initiate its missionary programme.6) The consequences of these policies for the Russian Jewish community are well documented: the leadership lost its moral authority and the community became deeply divided along class lines, since it was the lower classes that provided the majority of recruits (in lieu, essentially, of providing revenue for taxes).7 Other important changes have been largely neglected by the historical literature. One consequence of the internal turmoil, I will tentatively posit, is that it led the Russian state to abolish the kahal system in 1844. Another is that it triggered a determined effort on the part of larger communities to extend their reach to other, smaller communities. This practice did not begin in 1827; large Jewish communities had always sought to widen their tax base through the ‘annexation’ of smaller ones.8 But now the consequences were even more significant. A smaller, and probably poorer, community would see the kakhal’niki of the larger centre selecting their children and relatives for the tsar’s army. Thus, after 1827 the archives are filled with petitions and complaints from smaller communities in danger of being gobbled up—administratively, of course—by a neighbouring community. The petitioners urgently needed to demonstrate a long tradition of autonomy and independence from the claimant.9 6 See J. D. Klier, ‘State Policies and the Conversion of Jews in Imperial Russia’, in R. Geraci and M. Khodarkovsky (eds.), Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, NY, 2001). 7 M. Stanislawski, Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1825–1855 (Philadelphia, 1983), 13–34. 8 This tendency also underlies the phenomenon of ‘hasidic conquest’ described by Glenn Dynner in this volume. Such conquest enlarged the revenue base of the rebbe’s court. 9 For a typical protest by a small community (Tarkova) about ‘annexation’ by a larger neighbour, see TsDIAUK, fond 442, opis⬘ 149, delo 602a.

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Incidentally, the fact that Jews in the Pale of Settlement were required to turn to the authorities in St Petersburg for assistance provides us with a useful indicator of levels of acculturation. In 1870 the Ministry of Internal Affairs complained to the regional authorities that it was being flooded with petitions written ‘in Jewish’. The petitioners were to be informed that ‘nobody here reads the language’. If they wished action to be taken on their petitions, they needed to submit them in Russian—and on stamped paper!10 No sooner said than done: one can see how Jewish communities—the learning curve of individuals was slower—soon mastered the tricks of the trade. Petitions arrived on properly stamped paper, neatly written in clear Russian, no doubt by a professional scribe. It is also noticeable that, with time, some of the signatures on communal petitions began to appear in Cyrillic rather than Hebrew or Latin characters.

po li ti ca l re l ati on s h i p s Another transformation of Polish Jewish life under Russian rule involved the introduction of political skills mastered under the Commonwealth to the relationship between the Jews and the Russian government. Although the supra-national Jewish bodies, the va’ads (the Council of Four Lands and the Council of Lithuania), had been abolished by the Polish government in 1764, the Jews of the Commonwealth retained their traditional skill in negotiating with the authorities at every level, including the level of national government. This is confirmed, for example, by the vigour with which a number of communities and prominent individuals petitioned the king and ministers at the time of the reform-minded Four-Year Sejm (1788‒92). Far from becoming an inert and passive mass, the Jews of the Commonwealth attempted to continue their pre-partition activities under Russian rule (as the tale that began this chapter reveals). This was more than acceptable to the Russian state, which was eager to gather as much information as possible in order to exploit its new territories effectively. The imperial order of 1780 requiring that all Jews join a kahal is evidence of this. There is no question that organized Jewish lobbying ensured that the provisions of the Charter for the Towns of 1785 were extended to the Jews, which meant that in many municipalities they enjoyed greater rights than they had under Polish rule.11 The Jews acquired other rights through such activities as well. In an attempt to reproduce the hierarchical national structures of the Polish republic, Belarusian Jewry under Russian rule secured the right to create a ‘provincial kahal’ that would TsDIAUK, fond 442, opis⬘ 49, delo 271 (1870), fos. 1–2v. For lobbying efforts, see E. K. Anishchenko, Cherta osedlosti: Belorusskaya sinagoga v tsarstvovanie Ekateriny II (Minsk, 1998), 92–3. Under Polish rule the Jews were subject to Magdeburg law, with its provisions of de non tolerandis Judaeis—which barred Jews from residence, to say nothing of political participation in urban affairs. 10 11

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have legal permission to meet and consider matters of interest to the Jews.12 The creation of such bodies accustomed Russian officials to consult official Jewish representatives over matters of mutual concern. In 1802, when Emperor Alexander I created a committee to consider a statute for the Jewish population, the drafting committee permitted Jewish communities, on a provincial basis, to provide information and to comment upon drafts of the proposed law. There is evidence that these consultations did lead to some modifications in what became the Statute for the Jews of 1804.13 So accustomed did the Russian state become to this kind of activity that it gave the Jewish communities the right (and obligation) to elect deputies to represent them before the tsar. These officials, the so-called deputies of the Jewish people, were of necessity wealthy and well-connected men. It is easy, therefore, to place them in the much misunderstood category of shtadlanim—the central European ‘court Jews’. These were members of a small economic elite of ‘accidental people’ who were willing and able to intervene with the non-Jewish authorities on behalf of their Jewish co-religionists. The role was transitory, and entirely dependent upon external factors such as the goodwill of the ruler.14 The position of the ‘court Jews’ in no way resembled that of the shtadlanim in Poland, who were formally designated representatives of their communities and who had the legal right to petition the central authorities of the state. There was nothing ‘accidental’ about their status.15 With such ‘Polish’ political traditions behind them, Jews in the Russian empire were well prepared to engage in political activity in pursuit of specific goals whenever the opportunity presented itself, as in the case of the creation of the deputies of the Jewish people. The deputies had a formal brief, and were supposed to be officially chosen by their communities. There is sufficient evidence to show that two deputies, Leizer Dillon and Zundel Zonnenberg, were quite determined to ensure that elections did in fact take place.16 Their desires were not entirely altruistic or democratic in nature: they wanted the communities to contribute to the upkeep of their rather expensive mission, and they sought replacements so that they did not have to carry the burden themselves. The selection of deputies highlights another feature of Jewish political life in Russia. Those communities that had a tradition of holding elections and putting Ibid. 35–40. J. D. Klier, Rossiya sobiraet svoikh evreev (Moscow, 2000), 215–16. This is an expanded version of the book cited in n. 3. It draws on archival materials that became available only after the publication of 14 See S. Stern, The Court Jew (Philadelphia, 1950). the English-language version in 1986. 15 For an excellent summary of the nature of Polish Jewish communal representatives (Polish: serwitorzy), see J. Goldberg, ‘The Jewish Sejm: Its Origins and Functions’, in A. Polonsky, J. Basista, and A. Link-Lenczowski (eds.), The Jews in Old Poland, 1000–1795 (London, 1993), 161–2. Such activity lends weight to David Biale’s contention that Jews engaged in meaningful political activity even before the modern period. See his Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History (New York, 1986), 71–2. 16 Natsional⬘nyi istoricheskii arkhiv Respubliki Belarus⬘ (Minsk), fond 332, opis⬘ 1, delo 1 (1817), fos. 26–7. 12 13

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forth representatives under Polish rule were the most energetic in responding to electoral and representative opportunities. It is telling that the Jewish communities in Ukraine and especially New Russia, which were outside this tradition, failed to appreciate the implications of having official representatives at court. Thus, the relatively small and newly founded kahal of Odessa was reluctant to elect deputies or to pay for them.17 As Commonwealth territories were gradually Russified through the erosion of rights and the removal of pre-partition institutions, special representative bodies for Jews were also eliminated; the deputies of the Jewish people were dispensed with after 1825. The Russian state certainly did not consult the Jewish communities about the introduction of military service. Quite the contrary; it ordered would-be communal emissaries out of the capital. This did not mean that Jews were no longer consulted, but such consultation was on the government’s terms and in pursuit of quite different objectives. Thus, in the reign of Nicholas I, when the government began to pursue a policy of state-sponsored Haskalah, the so-called rabbinical commissions were created to advise the government on matters of Jewish religious practice. These bodies were completely undemocratic, however; their members were appointed by the government and they operated on an ad hoc basis.18 Under these conditions, Jewish political life began to decay. The kahal and the last vestiges of Jewish autonomy were formally abolished in 1844, with only gradual reconstruction thereafter. National representation began to resemble stereotypical shtadlanut (the practice of intercession) more closely, as the leadership of Russian Jewry fell into the hands of plutocrats in St Petersburg and Warsaw. Even then, the memories of past practices occasionally surfaced in the activities of a group I have called the ‘Gintsburg Circle.19 Whatever the situation on the national level, within the Pale of Settlement Jewish political life was increasingly Russified. For example, a new Statute for the Jews of 1835, while restricting somewhat the positions that Jews could hold in municipal government and the number of electors to which they were entitled, issued a formal guarantee that Jews were to have representation in the courts and the city council—all of which operated under Russian rather than Polish law.20 Klier, Rossiya sobiraet svoikh evreev, 281–2. E. Lederhendler, The Road to Modern Jewish Politics (Oxford, 1989), 68–83. I agree with Lederhendler that Jewish political life needed to be reconstructed after the abolition of the kahal in 1844, but argue that Jewish political activity was active and effective between 1772 and 1827, and that it reappeared well before his starting date of the Vilna Commission of 1868; see his argument at pp. 111–44. 19 See J. Klier, ‘Krug Gintsburgov i politika shtadlanuta v pozdnei imperatorskoi Rossii’, Vestnik Evreiskogo Universiteta v Moskve, 3/10 (1995), 38–55. I have revised the position that I first took in this article, in which I described the activities of the Gintsburg Circle in terms of stereotypical shtadlanut. I now argue that already by the late 1850s this group was acting as the de facto leadership of Russian Jewry and pursuing a sophisticated political agenda aimed at the securing of civil rights for Russian Jews. See J. D. Klier, Imperial Russia’s Jewish Question, 1855–1881 (Cambridge, 1995), 22–5. 20 For a description and discussion of the Statute of 1835, see Stanislawski, Tsar Nicholas I, 35–8. 17 18

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so c i o -ec o no m ic re l a t i o n s Jews were an integral part of the economy of the former Polish Commonwealth and vital participants in the feudal economy of the ‘second serfdom’. They were the mediators between the landowners—be they the great magnate families or the middling szlachta—and the peasantry. This, in fact, was the very premiss for the existence of the shtetl. It is worth recalling here that the shtetl was never a purely ‘Jewish space’; it was first and foremost a marketplace where Jews and non-Jews mingled on a daily or at least a weekly basis. One might find a shtetl that lacked a church or a synagogue, but never one that was without market stalls.21 Another place where Jews and non-Jews met was the tavern. By the time of the first partition the production of distilled spirits—vodka—had become completely identified with east European Jewry. When the demand for Polish grain in European markets declined in the seventeenth century, the landowning class devised new means to exploit the peasant population more effectively. The distillation and sale of spirits became a noble monopoly, called the propinacja, in the countryside. The nobles did not oversee this monopoly themselves, preferring to lease it, in the main, to Jews.22 Jews thus played an important role in the development of largescale distillation techniques (skills that had a knock-on effect so that Jews also served as pioneers in the development of the sugar-beet industry in the nineteenth century in the Russian empire). They also developed distribution skills, culminating in the ubiquitous Jewish tavern, a quintessentially Jewish space. When the Polish lands fell under Russian rule, the noble monopoly—with its Jewish agents—was left in place. Two systems emerged: private monopolies in the so-called ‘free provinces’, and a state monopoly in the provinces of the Russian heartland. This state monopoly was organized through a system of tax-farming whereby the right to manufacture and sell spirits in a particular district was sold at periodic auctions in St Petersburg. The liquor monopoly was a major source of state revenue in the nineteenth century, generating almost one-third of the total tax revenues. It also created vast personal fortunes. Given their association with the vodka trade in old Poland, it was predictable that Jews should enter into taxfarming in the Great Russian provinces.23 A number of Jewish families made their fortunes as tax-farmers, or otkupshchiki, the classic example being the Gintsburg family, which parlayed its fortune in the trade into the foundations of a great Jewish Franco-Russian banking dynasty. 21

See J. D. Klier, ‘What Exactly Was a Shtetl?’, in G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality. Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford, 2000). 22 For a study of this process, see H. Levine, Economic Origins of Antisemitism: Poland and its Jews in the Early Modern Period (New Haven, 1991), 145–54. 23 See D. Christian, Living Water: Vodka and Russian Society on the Eve of Emancipation (Oxford, 1990), for an excellent study of the vodka tax-farming system, except for the author’s eccentric decision to ignore the system’s Jewish aspects.

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The tax-farming system was open to many abuses, and a number of major efforts were made to reform it, not least on the eve of peasant emancipation. The state liquor monopoly was extremely problematic for the Russian state. It was notoriously corrupt at every level, with bribery used extensively to secure contracts and to evade the regulations governing the quality of the alcohol produced and the manner in which it was sold. More than one observer noted that the health of the state coffers was in inverse proportion to the health of the Russian peasantry, with its culture of heavy drinking during times of celebration. Rather than sort out the problem at its foundation, the government found it convenient to blame the Jews. This tradition of scapegoating began early in the period of Russian rule over Polish Jews. In 1799 the government grew concerned about the endemic poverty and misery, exemplified by periodic famines, in the provinces of Belarus. The local Polish landowners were invited to submit their opinions on the causes of the peasants’ destitution. The landowners’ reports blamed the laziness of the peasants themselves above all, but also the depredations of the clergy and the Jews’ conduct of the liquor trade. This was a bizarre accusation, since no Jew could trade in vodka without the contractual agreement of the landowner. The liquor trade was thus entirely within the landowners’ control.24 The government accepted this accusation, however, and translated it into the most negative provision of the Statute for the Jews of 1804: the call to relocate Jews from the countryside to the urban areas of Belarus in order to protect the peasantry. These efforts, renewed periodically throughout the reign of Alexander I, did little more than disrupt the local economy and cause widespread suffering among the resettled Jews. Not surprisingly, any attempt at relocation was soon followed by a lengthy hiatus in order to permit the countryside to recover.25 The association of the Jews with the evils of the liquor trade persisted throughout the nineteenth century, with numerous unsuccessful initiatives devised to move the Jews into other occupations. The liquor trade was controlled by Jews through leases, and there were many other types of Jewish leaseholding—all linked to various feudal prerogatives on the feudal estate, such as milling, timbering, tolls, and so on. Jews frequently served as foremen or agents overseeing estates for absentee landowners. The Jewish shtetl served as the link between the countryside and the larger urban markets. Thus, thousands of shtetl-based Jews purchased the small part of the crop that actually belonged to the peasantry, as well as items such as eggs and poultry, for resale. In return, they offered those few urban retail goods that reached the village. Two things put an end to many of these relationships: the abolition of serfdom (and the attendant modernization of the countryside) and the Polish national movement, which led to the uprising of 1863. The abolition of serfdom in Russia (and in the Kingdom of Poland after 1863) released the serfs from bondage to the landowners and made possible the penetration 24

Klier, Russia Gathers her Jews, 85–94.

25

Ibid. 147–69.

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of market forces into the Russian countryside. A state-sponsored modernization programme included the construction of a rail network linking the interior of the empire with its ports and major trade centres. Many landowners began to manage their estates themselves. Peasants were freer to enter the market directly, without the use of Jewish intermediaries. As many contemporary observers noted, the coming of the railways threatened the livelihood of many Jewish hauliers, petty traders, and pedlars. Even the liquor trade was threatened by proposed state reforms and restrictions on Jewish participation. The cities, whose appeal would eventually doom the shtetl, were still unable to absorb the Jewish refugees of the decaying feudal economy. In an attempt to promote stability and order during the perilous process of emancipation, the Russian state sought to placate dormant Polish revolutionary nationalism with a number of concessions and reforms associated with the name of Aleksander Wielopolski. These efforts failed, culminating in the Polish uprising of 1863. Before and during these events the Russian state remained ambivalent about the Jews, especially in the Pale of Settlement. One school, associated with Count I. I. Vasilchikov, the governor-general of Kiev, Podolia, and Volhynia, advocated a policy of winning over the Jews, and the economic power that they represented, as a counterweight to the Poles.26 This tendency was exemplified by an imperial edict of 1862 that permitted Jews to acquire unsettled land in the Pale. In the Kingdom, Wielopolski effected the virtual emancipation of the Jews, hoping to use them as a potential engine for economic growth. Thanks to its economic logic, the Wielopolski emancipation survived the defeat of the uprising.27 In the Pale, on the other hand, repressive policies directed against the Poles encompassed Jews as well, because they were widely seen—correctly in many cases—as the economic allies of the Polish landowning class. The state feared that the anti-Polish programme of ‘Russification’ would be undermined by the Poles’ ability to hide behind Jews—for example, by leasing or selling their estates to them. A law forbidding the sale of confiscated Polish estates to Poles was enlarged to include Jews as well. The right of Jews to acquire estates also proved short-lived. An enduring feature of Russification policies, therefore, was their anti-Jewish aspect—a feature that must be considered in evaluating the sources of Russian Judaeophobia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

ste re o t y pes a nd at t i t ude s Polish attitudes towards the Jews were among the most enduring legacies bequeathed by the Commonwealth to Russia. The Polish discourse on Jews had been in transition at the moment when Jews came under Russian rule. Before the 26 27

Klier, Imperial Russia’s Jewish Question, 152–3. See A. Eisenbach, The Emancipation of the Jews in Poland, 1780–1870 (Oxford, 1991), 443–75.

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mid-eighteenth century Polish attitudes had blended the tradition of tolerance, the militant Catholic intolerance of the Counter-Reformation, and the commercial antagonisms of the nascent Polish urban middle-class. To these elements was now added the discourse of the European Enlightenment movement, which was ambivalent towards the Jews, but included elements of Jewish emancipation. The Polish Four-Year Sejm met almost simultaneously with the French National Assembly, and the ‘Jewish question’ was debated in both. The Enlightenment discourse on the Jews included the premiss that Jews were victims of religious prejudice who deserved humane treatment and basic human rights, and the fear that Jews had been corrupted by centuries of persecution into an intolerant, fanatical people, content to evade productive labour and to exploit their Christian neighbours. Both accepted the idea of a ‘Jewish question’, and both tended towards emancipation as a resolution—though through very different paths.28 These debates were transposed from Poland to Russia after 1795. The pragmatically tolerant Catherine II was content to use Enlightenment values as guidelines; the reforming emperor Alexander I sought to put them into force through legislation; and the reactionary tsar Nicholas I pursued Enlightenment through diktat. All accepted the basic Enlightenment assumption that the Jews were badly in need of reform, but that they were reformable. By eroding Jewish ‘fanaticism’ through education, and preventing ‘Jewish exploitation’ through legislation to protect the peasantry and programmes to make the Jews more productive, the Jewish question could be resolved. This was a far cry from the ‘traditional Russian religious antisemitism’ that has often been seen as the chief motivator of Russian Jewish policy.29 Where does the shtetl fit into all of this? It was the Jewish world of the shtetl that was the ultimate target of Russian policy (just as it would have been the target of Polish statesmen had the partitions never happened). The narrow world of Jewish religious orthodoxy, be it exemplified by the hasidim or the mitnagedim, was targeted as the fortress of ‘Jewish fanaticism’. The shtetl economy, with its feudal relics, was the inevitable victim of modernization, for the Jews suffered its economic consequences before they received its economic benefits. Whether they viewed these changes as poignant or long overdue, contemporaries of these transformations all recognized that the shtetl, and all that it encompassed, was doomed. 28 For contemporary debates about the Jewish question at the time of the Four-Year Sejm, see J. Wolin´ski, J. Michalski, et al. (eds.), Material y do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, vi (Wrocl aw, 1969). See also Eisenbach, Emancipation, 102–12. 29 For a brief overview of this problem, see J. D. Klier, ‘Traditional Russian Religious Antisemitism’, Jewish Quarterly, 174 (Summer 1999), 29–34. /

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How Jewish Was the Shtetl? ben- cion pinc huk The image of the shtetl, the quintessential small town of Jewish cultural and political discourse, is that of a small Jewish world imbued with ethnic culture and norms. Even today the shtetl remains one of the more prevalent and popular symbols of Jewish life in the Diaspora.1 Many people conceive of the shtetl as representing the typical habitat and particular way of life of east European Jewry. Of the many factors that combined to impart to the shtetl its prominence in Jewish discourse, the most important is probably the fact that a significant part of the Jewish people in the last two centuries either had lived in a shtetl or were descendants of people who had. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Jewish literature, both in Yiddish and in Hebrew, played a central role in propagating the image of the small east European town as a uniquely cohesive Jewish world. Mendele Mokher Seforim, Y. L. Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem, together with a long list of less famous authors, made a major contribution to the popular conception of the shtetl. The influence of their literary images was so pervasive that one could wonder whether discussions of the shtetl were dealing with literary stereotypes and myths or with a real historical and geographic entity. The question of the existence of a stereotypical shtetl could be raised as early as the beginning of the twentieth century, when much of its traditional structure had already disintegrated and many of its sons and daughters had gone overseas. By finally destroying the shtetl, the Russian Revolution, and subsequently the Holocaust, provided the added incentives of nostalgia and guilt to intensify what may be described as the mythical elements in the image of the small town. The notion that the shtetl was a Jewish town is widely accepted, to the point that it is treated as if this were common knowledge and needed no proof. However, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no scholarly treatment of what in reality constituted the ‘Jewishness’ of those small east European towns. This chapter 1 Striking proof of the persistent vitality of the image of the shtetl in Jewish discourse could be found recently in a review of a new translation of Sholem Aleichem. The reviewer, E. Shai, maintains that ‘Sholem Aleichem is relevant now more than he was in the past for the Israeli reader. He was read in the past out of nostalgia for the shtetl. Today he reads like a post-Zionist text, frighteningly relevant to the realities of the Jewish state at the end of the second millennium. . . . [Israel] had lost its pioneering and revolutionary Zionist guise and appears as the political entity of Kasrilevke’s offspring, a shtetl masquerading as an empire’ (Ma’ariv, 28 Aug. 1998).

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represents an attempt to define the historical reality and the concrete manifestations that would justify the assertion that these numerous settlements were indeed Jewish towns, and thereby to clarify the role of the shtetls as the territorial base for the culture and history of east European Jewry. In his study Der imazh fun shtetl (‘The Image of the Shtetl’), the literary critic and historian Dan Miron proposed an intriguing hypothesis about the classic image of the small east European town as portrayed in Jewish literature. According to Miron, ‘the image of the classical shtetl was determined [by the author’s intention] to create an ideal Jewish world, an island of unadulterated Jewishness. There [in Kasrilevke], Sholem Aleichem constructed a small Jewish state. Though tiny and weak, this statelet was completely autonomous.’2 The idealized literary small town had few non-Jews and only a token presence of the Russian bureaucracy, Miron maintained. In describing the structures associated with the Jewish religion and way of life, such as the central synagogue and the smaller prayer houses (batei midrash), the ritual bath (mikveh), and the old cemetery, as the prominent sights of the shtetl, the authors were not portraying reality but repeating a preconceived ideal construction. Miron viewed the use of the Jewish rather than the Slavonic names of the towns in Jewish literature from Mendele in the first half of the nineteenth century to Shai Agnon in the second half of the twentieth as evidence of an ideological approach. (It should be noted at the outset that in this multi-ethnic region, where Russian and Pole, Ukrainian and Lithuanian, German and Belarusian lived side by side with a large Jewish population, each group had its own name for its place of residence. One should not look for elaborate ideological reasoning behind this quite ordinary occurrence.) Miron asserts that the shtetl in Jewish literature not only had a Jewish name, but also represented an ideal Jewish kingdom—a metaphor for heavenly Jerusalem. This literary critic strongly objected to the identification of the historical with the literary shtetl. Such identification was pervasive from the start of the twentieth century and was reinforced after the Holocaust, as Miron correctly maintains. However, going beyond literary analysis and hypothesis, the thrust of Miron’s argument is directed against the essence of the literary portrait of the shtetl, namely the idea that it is an autonomous, integrated, and unique Jewish world. Miron contends that this type of shtetl, which is strongly implanted in popular imagery and attitudes, is no more than a creation of the long tradition of Jewish literature—in other words, a myth.3 A similar approach is adopted by Benjamin Harshav, the poet, literary expert, and historian of Jewish culture. ‘The shtetl was not the real background of all Yiddish speakers’, Harshav claims, ‘but it was their proverbial, mythological “space”, a collective locus of a network of social and ideological relationships wrought in the phraseology of Yiddish folklore and literature.’4 In his study The 2 4

D. Miron, Der imazh fun shtetl (Tel Aviv, 1981), 23. B. Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish (Berkeley, 1990), 94.

3

Ibid. 29.

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Meaning of Yiddish Harshav notes the enormous power of the shtetl as a symbol in modern Jewish life. The relationship between the real shtetl and its literary and cultural presentations is of no interest to these two critics. Both Miron and Harshav are concerned with the image of the small town as refracted through the prism of cultural discourse, and they make no attempt to evaluate the extent to which the myth was removed from the hard facts of history and geography. Quite clearly, for these two literary critics the shtetl is a myth of an ideal Jewish world, and as such a non-reality—an image that suffered the distortions of cultural mediation and hid a different reality. My purpose here is to try to unearth the hard facts that served as the basis of the cultural constructs and assess their mutual relationship. To this end, it would be worthwhile investigating the history of the term ‘shtetl’, which, though ill defined, is both a part of the Jewish cultural and ideological discourse and a concrete geographical and historical entity. The shtetl evolved and existed on the plains of eastern Europe roughly between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. Small towns of a similar nature could be found all over the Yiddish-speaking regions of Europe. However, most were located on the territories of what until the last quarter of the eighteenth century was the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and were annexed to the Russian empire at the end of the eighteenth century.5 The term itself was derived from the Yiddish and means simply ‘small town’. Since we are dealing here not with a purely geographical term but with a cultural phenomenon as well, the shtetl should be studied in its cultural and historical context. No clear-cut criteria regarding the number of residents and the size of the shtetl were established; hence the difficulty in compiling a single list that would include all of the settlements in this category. However, in the majority of cases there is little doubt about the historic classification of the settlements. Between 1772 and 1795 the Polish–Lithuanian state ceased to exist as an independent political entity. Its territories were divided among its neighbours, Prussia, Austria, and Russia.6 The majority of the Jewish population and most of the shtetls of the former Commonwealth were located in the territories annexed by Catherine the Great. The traditional tsarist policy of excluding the Jews from Russian territories had to be abandoned or at least redefined. The administrative solution to the undesirable presence of Jews in the Russian empire was the formation of a special territorial entity, the Pale of Jewish Settlement, which consisted largely of the newly annexed area (though its boundaries changed over time).7 Almost until the end of the nineteenth century the majority of the Jews in this area resided in small towns. 5

On the origin of the shtetl on private lands, see G. D. Hundert, ‘Jews in Polish Private Towns’, in E. Mendelson and C. Shmeruk (eds.), Studies on Polish Jewry (Jerusalem, 1987). 6 N. Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland (Oxford, 1981), i. 511–46. 7 R. Pipes, ‘Catherine II and the Jews: The Origins of the Pale of Settlement’, Soviet Jewish Affairs, 5 (1975), 3–20.

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In its dealings with this area, the bureaucracy of the Russian empire recognized the existence of a special urban category: the mestechko or small town.8 When a census was conducted in 1897 (the only full-fledged modern census carried out in the empire), a separate listing was made for the mestechko. Although not all of the shtetls were included in this official category, those included do represent the bulk of the shtetls in the region; the census thus provides us with important statistical data for the study of the shtetl. The Pale of Settlement during this period should rightfully be known as ‘Shtetlland’. It was here, primarily during the nineteenth century, that the ideas, images, stereotypes, and clichés that came to be associated with the shtetl took shape. The Pale gave rise to the novels, satires, and articles that shaped and propagated the image of the shtetl as the cultural and geographical entity with which we are familiar today. This image of the shtetl played a prominent role in the Jewish cultural and political discourse of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In literature, in the Yiddish or Hebrew languages, as well as in the daily and periodical press, the shtetl frequently served to designate Jewish life in eastern Europe in general. For novelists, journalists, ideologues, and political activists, the shtetl became a catchword, a symbol—although it represented different things to different groups. At the end of the nineteenth century the shtetl came to represent east European Jewry as a whole among the modern ideologies and political movements that had evolved since the beginning of the Haskalah (Enlightenment). For Zionism, socialism, and their many permutations, the shtetl was a Jewish town; a whole and cohesive—but mostly negative—Jewish world. For the Zionist parties in particular, the small towns were identified with what they viewed as the generally negative life of the Jews in the Diaspora. The image, or rather images, of the shtetl came to be among those most frequently associated with Jews and Jewish history in the minds of Jews and non-Jews alike. Novelists, visual artists, and ideologues all contributed greatly to the image of the east European ‘townlet’. However, those Jewish images were firmly planted in the realities of the life of the Jewish people. What were the main characteristics of the historical shtetl? Though the shtetl often had residents who engaged in agriculture, it should nevertheless be considered an urban settlement because the majority of the town’s inhabitants derived their livelihood from non-agricultural pursuits. The small town served as an economic centre for the immediate agricultural vicinity and engaged in providing services and commodities to the peasant population in the countryside.9 Since the end of the eighteenth century this area had been part of the Pale of Settlement of the Russian empire, and until the last quarter of the nineteenth century the small towns constituted the main urban element in the territories between the Baltic and the Black Sea. What made these numerous small towns shtetls was their Jewish Gorodskiya poseleniya v Rossiiskoi Imperii (St Petersburg, 1860), i. 7–11. A. Ruppin, Hasotsiologiyah shel hayehudim (Berlin, 1931), i. 87–96; G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1992), introd. 8 9

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populations, which usually constituted not only the largest ethnic group but often an absolute majority. The significance of this demographic preponderance for the character of the towns of the region was manifold, as will be shown later. The small town of the Pale of Settlement, like any other urban entity, reflected the culture of its inhabitants. The demographic composition of the shtetl was of primary importance in determining its urban character. In the western provinces (guberniyas) of the Russian empire there were hundreds of small towns with Jewish majorities. According to the 1897 census, the five provinces of the original Pale of Settlement that were selected for this study had the following ethnic make-up: the province of Volhynia had 60 small towns with an absolute Jewish majority, and of these, 23 had a Jewish majority of between 80 and 100 per cent. In practice, the latter could be considered Jewish towns because of their ethnic composition. Volhynia had the largest number of shtetls with a Jewish majority. The province of Grodno had 50 shtetls with an absolute Jewish majority, 9 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. The number of towns with a Jewish majority in the province of Vilna was 28, 5 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. Kovno had 59 shtetls with a Jewish majority, 10 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. The province of Mogilev, the last in our sample, had 41 with an absolute majority, 10 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. In sum, the five provinces had 238 shtetls with an absolute Jewish majority, and in 57 of these over 80 per cent of the population was Jewish.10 The provinces included in the sample were among those with the highest proportion of towns with Jewish demographic preponderances. At the end of the nineteenth century, a time when many were mourning the rapid decline and even disappearance of the shtetl as a distinctly Jewish settlement, the 1897 census found in the combined provinces of the Pale and Poland 462 small towns with an absolute Jewish majority, and 116 with a Jewish population of over 80 per cent.11 Thus, of the hundreds of shtetls that existed in the western regions of the Russian empire during the nineteenth century, more than 100 had an almost exclusively Jewish population. The non-Jews in these towns, who lived mainly on the periphery and were not engaged in the urban economy, had a limited impact on the towns’ character. The shtetl or Jewish town was thus a significant and widespread phenomenon with far-reaching implications for Jewish culture and history. The people who shaped the images and ideas of the Jewish masses through their literary and political writings, whether they lived in the Russian empire or abroad, were aware of the existence of many hundreds of shtetls. These small Jewish worlds were part of their everyday knowledge and experience. The data are taken from the respective entries in Evreiskaya entsiklopediya, 16 vols. (St Petersburg, 1906–13) for the provinces of Vilna (v. 557–62), Volhynia (v. 736–7), Grodno (vi. 793), Kovno (ix. 579–82), and Mogilev (xi. 153). 11 Based on the results of the 1897 census as recorded for the different provinces of the Russian empire in the Evreiskaya entsiklopediya. 10

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In addition to the census data, maps, and photographs attesting to the Jewish character of the shtetl, we have available to us the records and impressions of people who were personally acquainted with the small east European town. The autobiographies of shtetl residents frequently provide a vivid portrait of life there that is not to be found in statistics.12 To these rather subjective and highly partial sources we can add the observations found in the diaries of foreign travellers to the region. These too are of a subjective nature, often with pronounced anti-Jewish undertones. Altogether these sources provide the basis for an attempt to understand the nature of the shtetl and to outline its central features. The composite portrait that emerges is, in its broad contours, one of a Jewish settlement. An analysis of several hundred autobiographies and memoirs written by people from various walks of life, from different regions and different times (from the nineteenth century until after the Holocaust), reveals that the Jewish character of the shtetl is one of the most prevalent themes. Whether it is dealt with specifically or as part of the general description of the physical landmarks and prevailing atmosphere, the predominant and tangible Jewish presence is striking. Non-Jews are present, physically and culturally, on the periphery—if at all. Such descriptions might be expected from those who came from small east European towns, and their tone could easily be attributed to nostalgia for home even in the pre-Holocaust years. However, we encounter similar—though less positive—views in travellers’ descriptions of the region and its inhabitants. Many travellers to the western regions of the Russian empire noted the prominent Jewish presence in the numerous small towns there. Even for foreigners, these were ‘Jewish towns’ and were clearly distinguishable from the ‘Russian towns’ nearby.13 Hundreds of Jewish towns dotted the map of the Pale, and this was the reality that the Jewish novelists portrayed. The presence of several million Jews living in the western regions of the Russian empire during the nineteenth century thus bestowed a special urban character on the area and gave the shtetls their distinctively Jewish features.14 One may rightly wonder what is meant by such terms as ‘Jewish character’ or ‘Jewish features’ as 12 I drew the information for this portrait of the shtetl from several hundred accounts contained in the memorial books of shtetls in the area and of the period investigated here. About 160 autobiographies by shtetl residents who emigrated to the United States before 1914, located in the YIVO archives in New York and assembled as the Collection of American-Jewish Autobiographies, were another source of data. Since this is an interpretative essay, I have refrained from drawing attention to any particular item. 13 See I. Lifshits, ‘Englishe un amerikaner raizender fun 18tn un ershter helft 19tn yh. vegn yidn in poyln un rusland’, YIVO bleter, 3: 313–29. Also F. H. E. Palmer, Russian Life in Town and Country (London, 1901), 110–25; G. Reinbeck, Travels from St Petersburg to Germany in the Year 1805 (London, 1807), 137–46; A. Sokolova, ‘Shtetl: Evreiskie aktsenty v organizatsii arkhitekturnogo prostranstva’, Yevreis⬘ka istoriya ta kul⬘tura v krayinakh tsentral⬘noi ta skhidnoyi Yevropy (Kiev, 1998), 418–22. 14 According to Isaac Levitats, at the end of the 19th century over 33% of the Jewish population in the Russian empire, or 1.61 million Jews, lived in ‘townlets’ (I. Levitats, The Jewish Community in Russia: 1844–1917 (Jerusalem, 1981), 1–2).

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applied to towns. Demographic preponderance should be the starting point for the answer. The hundreds of small towns with absolute Jewish majorities represented, in general terms, Jewish material and spiritual culture as it evolved in eastern Europe.15 Jews of the shtetl, like their brethren in the villages and larger towns in this region, were distinguishable in external appearance from the surrounding population. In his physical complexion and clothing the shtetl Jew—with earlocks and an attire similar to that worn today in hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities— looked different from his peasant neighbour. The language heard most often in the streets of the shtetl was Yiddish; the Jews knew Slavonic languages of the surrounding population at a level barely sufficient for economic dealings with the non-Jews, but they did not use them in their internal communications. To the nonJew, the Jews seemed to be from another country—strange and incomprehensible, living in a world of their own. The shtetl resident was surrounded by public buildings associated with Jewish religion and customs. The central synagogue, which was usually impressive and occasionally even fortified, served both as the main prayer house and as the site of important general meetings. Many smaller houses of prayer (batei midrash), whose numbers varied with the size of the town, served as centres for study and prayer for the members of various occupations and sects. In every shtetl there was a Jewish cemetery, and often more than one. The cemetery was always among the town’s earliest Jewish sites, dating from the beginning of the Jewish presence there. Surrounded by legend and myth, the cemetery occupied a special place in Jewish literature, symbolizing the continuity of organized Jewish life. Among the other Jewish communal buildings in any shtetl were the ritual bath (mikveh); the hospice (hekdesh), which provided shelter and care for the sick and destitute; and the slaughterhouse, which provided kosher meat. The h.eders, which filled the shtetl with sounds of young people chanting, were also ubiquitous in the shtetl. All of these places imparted a tangible Jewish character to the town. In most towns there was a church serving the Christian population of the environs, and this acted as a stark reminder of the wider realities surrounding this island of Jewish life. It was not only the communal Jewish structures that gave the shtetl a unique quality; the urban landscape and the courtyards, shops, and streets reflected the attitudes and values of its largest ethnic group. Photographs of buildings and streets in numerous shtetls convey a certain rickety quality—an absence of solidity and soundness. The ‘airiness’ captured and popularized so vividly in Marc Chagall’s paintings reflected the basic attitudes of the shtetl Jews towards life in general and towards the physical urban environment in particular. Life was considered a 15 The idea that the town is the reflection of the civilization that produced it is developed by F. Braudel in Capitalism and Material Life, 1400–1800 (London, 1973), 68.

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transient experience and external beauty was deemed of low value. This ephemeral quality emphasized in particular the sojourn away from the historical homeland. Combined with the poverty and the poor building materials of the region, it produced what has been called by Jew and non-Jew alike the ‘Jewish look’ of the shtetl. Buildings were unadorned, fences unpainted, and gardens drab. This lack of any attempt to decorate the Jewish surroundings was particularly conspicuous when contrasted with the elaborate efforts of the non-Jewish population. The shtetl market square, and the streets leading to it—that is, the economic centre of the community and the neighbouring villages—were lined with stores, workshops, and taverns run by Jews and bearing their imprint. To the outsider and local resident alike, whether Jewish or not, the small settlement looked distinctly Jewish. As I have said, the Jews hurrying about their daily chores in the usually unpaved and poorly drained streets, in the shops, taverns, and the market, looked different from their non-Jewish neighbours. Moreover, they imbued the structure and rhythm of daily life with the spirit of customs, norms, and values based on Jewish law, thus imparting to the small town a distinctly Jewish air. The traditional Jewish community lived according to a strictly prescribed daily routine and lifestyle. Even the many Jews who lived in extreme poverty offered daily prayers, and on the sabbath—shabat—stores and workshops were closed; the shtetl rested from its work, and daily life took a different turn. The entire weekly cycle of shtetl life centred on the sabbath. All economic activity came to a standstill on that day, and time was devoted to prayer, study, and recreation. Numerous accounts describe the day of rest not just as an ideal but as a reality in the life of the town. Preparations started early; by midweek people started to buy provisions for the festive sabbath meals. Cooking, baking, and cleaning in the following days were followed by a visit to the mikveh with bundles of clean and festive clothing on Friday. The walk to the synagogue and back, the candles seen through the windows, all were sights that dominated the shtetl, intensifying the sense of its Jewishness. The major Jewish holidays served as additional occasions for expressing the temporal dominance of Jewish culture in the small town. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Passover regulated the flow of the shtetl’s economic life. They meant not only a pause in the regular commercial bustle but also a change in the sights and sounds of the town. The preparation of food, clothing, and decorations, according to custom, could be observed many days in advance, and these were tangible expressions of the shtetl’s Jewishness. At Purim children and adults roamed the streets in fancy dress in celebration of a miraculous delivery from hardship. Candles glowing on window sills for the eight days of Hanukkah commemorated ancient victories and served as yet another reminder of the Jewish character of the shtetl. The internal organization and autonomous structure of the Jewish community contributed to the shtetl residents’ sense of separateness. The institutional structure

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of the shtetl was similar to that of other Jewish centres of the Diaspora.16 To maintain a distinct identity on alien soil and in a hostile environment, the Jewish communities had created an elaborate system for managing all aspects of communal and individual life. The relatively small size of the community, its cohesiveness, and above all the fact that the Jews constituted an absolute majority imparted a uniqueness to the autonomous shtetl organization. The community was headed by a single elected body, which was in charge of its internal affairs and represented the Jewish residents to the outside world. This was the kahal,17 which in the Polish period had been responsible primarily for tax collection and other services on behalf of the authorities, as well as for administering the overall functioning of the community. An intricate network of permanent and ad hoc organizations dealt with every conceivable aspect of the life of the community and the individual. From the age of 3, boys attended one of the many h.eders (literally, ‘rooms’ where classes were conducted by a teacher). Each shtetl had some form of public educational system, a Talmud Torah, financed by the community, where children of the poorer families and orphans were provided with an elementary Jewish education. Only a small number of the shtetls could afford a yeshiva, an institution of higher education in Judaism. However, what might be called part-time yeshivas were found in many towns, where teenagers and even older members of the community continued their study of Jewish religious law supported by a network of benefactors who provided food and shelter. Even poor families shared their meals with yeshiva students; it was considered an honour in the community to support students. The study of the Torah and the rabbinical literature was not limited to the young. All sections of the shtetl Jewry studied: young and old, rich and poor, the learned and the ignorant. Many groups, the so-called h.avurot, met regularly to study various parts of the accumulated Jewish religious literature. One of the more impressive and lasting values inherent in the culture of the shtetl was the high esteem for learning and for people who devoted their lives to its pursuit. From cradle to grave the individual was cared for by the community. The tenets of Jewish religion and practice, translated into concrete actions and organizations designed for their implementation, formed the foundation of the system. Charity, or tsedakah, was a symbol of high moral standards and served as the basis for mutual help and welfare. Since poverty was endemic, particularly in the nineteenth-century shtetl, many Jews needed one form or another of community assistance from time to time. A deeply felt commitment to the needy and destitute and a sense of mutual responsibility was central to the positive self-image of the shtetl community. Societies were organized to care for the sick and visit the ailing; to provide poor brides with dowries and pay for their weddings; to provide aid and loans to the 16 On the internal structure of the shtetl community, see M. Zborowski and E. Herzog, Life Is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl (New York, 1963), 191–239. 17 On the changing role of the kahal, see S. W. Baron, The Russian Jews Under Tsars and Soviets (New York, 1964), 119–25.

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impoverished; and to arrange for food and lodgings for the poor visitor. These are just a few examples of the intricate network that bound the shtetl Jews into a closely knit community. As noted above, the basic structure of the community was similar to that of other Jewish population centres. However, the intimacy resulting from the shtetl’s small size imparted a particularly strong sense of Jewish solidarity and identity to its residents. The shtetl was a real Jewish town, not a mythical Jewish world. There was nothing mythical about its portrayal as such in literature and in Jewish cultural and political discourse. But life there was not idyllic, as it might have appeared to be in popular and some literary presentations. The shtetl, when presented as a domain of innocent religiosity, mutual help, community care, social stability, and devotion to learning and ‘good deeds’, became a powerful myth. These were demographically Jewish islands, not enclaves of ideal Jewishness. Life in the real east European Jewish small towns was far more complex. The poverty of much of the population engendered tension and strife with the few who were better off; class and status divisions abounded and frequently poisoned interpersonal relations, as did differences in education. The high esteem for learning was accompanied by a disrespect for physical labour; community care and neighbourly assistance also meant strong social controls; and the intimacy of large families and caring neighbours could easily become stifling intervention in the individual’s freedom. Beneath the popular images was the real shtetl, which was fraught with tension, discontent, and frustrated energies. Only thus can the massive emigration from the shtetls to the farthest corners of the globe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries be explained. The portrait presented here is a composite picture of the shtetl as it existed at its peak—at the time when it entered as a symbol into Jewish discourse before becoming mythologized. Of course, not all east European small towns corresponded to the portrait drawn above, but many hundreds did possess the essential features outlined here. What clearly emerges from the data, though, is not a mythological Jewish world but a small Jewish town with all its complexities. In their sights and sounds, in their daily pulse and economic rhythm, in the internal organization and in the way they were perceived by their inhabitants and contemporary outsiders, the numerous shtetls of the Pale of Settlement constituted uniquely Jewish worlds.

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The Changing Shtetl in the Kingdom of Poland During the First World War konrad zielin´ ski Sa m u e l D. K assow has argued that the shtetl should not be studied in a vacuum, but rather should be seen in its specific historical and legal context.1 Indeed, in the case of Polish Jewry, the First World War and especially the three years of German and Austro-Hungarian occupation created a very specific context. What did this turbulent period bring to the Jewish community in the shtetl? Catastrophe or inspiration? This chapter represents an attempt to answer this question. At the beginning of the First World War, Jewish communities adopted a waitand-see attitude. But soon it became clear that, despite the declarations of Grand Duke Nikolay concerning the ‘morning star of liberty’ that was supposed to shine upon the Jews of the Russian empire, the tsarist army remained a pillar of antisemitism.2 In reality, everything depended on the local army headquarters. Jewish This chapter attempts to describe the impact of the war on the shtetl in the Kingdom of Poland. It is based on material from Polish archives in Warsaw, Kraków, and Lublin, and from a few collections in the Kriegsarchiv and the Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv in Vienna, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. I also used memoirs, diaries, and newspapers published before the outbreak of the First World War. Last but not least, I used memorial books (sifrei zikaron, yizkor bikher). We must be cautious in relying on memorial books. Although they provide much vital information, we must be aware of the fact that they may contain unconscious myth-creation about the shtetl. Moreover, since our focus here is on the years 1914–18, the events described in these books took place at least thirty years earlier. I have limited my study to the Jews of the Kingdom of Poland. There were shtetls elsewhere, of course, above all in Galicia and the former Pale of Settlement, but their character and experience during the war were significantly different. See e.g. W. O. McCagg, Jr., A History of Habsburg Jews 1670–1918 (Bloomington, Ind., 1992). 1 S. D. Kassow, ‘Community and Identity in the Interwar Shtetl’, in Y. Gutman, E. Mendelsohn, J. Reinharz, and C. Shmeruk (eds.), The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars (Hanover, NH, 1989), 199. The Polish term for shtetl, miasteczko, is used in Russian literature too. See e.g. W. E. Kelner (ed.), Rossiya w memuarakh: Evrei v Rossii, XIX vek (Moscow, 2000). This book is reviewed by M. Mogilner in the journal Ab Imperio: teoriya i istoriya natsional⬘nostei i natsionalizma v postsovetskom prostranstve (Kazan, 2000), 2: 308–13. See also Irving Howe’s classic work World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made (New York, 1976), 10. . 2 P. Wróbel, ‘Przed odzyskaniem niepodlegl os´ ci’, in J. Tomaszewski (ed.), Najnowsze dzieje Zydów w Polsce (Warsaw, 1993), 111–15. /

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communities suffered more in some regions of the country than in others. Fears that the Jews might collaborate en masse with the central states’ armies surfaced early in the war. As a result, the Russian military authorities began mass deportations of Jews. According to data from May 1915 from the Jewish rescue committees in Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa, some 160,000 Jews had been expelled from the Polish provinces of the empire (not all Jews affected by expulsions left the territory of the Kingdom).3 Maurice Paléologue, the last ambassador of France in tsarist Russia, wrote that, for the Polish and Lithuanian Jews, the experiences of the first months of the war were among the most traumatic ever. For the Jews of Poland and Lithuania the war is one of the greatest disasters they have known. Hundreds of thousands had to leave their homes. . . . Almost everywhere the prelude to their lamentable exodus has been the looting of their shops, synagogues, and houses. Thousands of families have taken refuge in Warsaw and Vilna; the majority is wandering aimlessly like a flock of sheep. It’s a miracle that there have been no pogroms—organized massacres. But not a day passes in the zone of the armies without a number of Jews being hanged on a trumped-up charge of spying.4

The period 1914‒18 was one of terrible suffering for the Jews. In the YIVO Institute archives there are many documents describing atrocities by soldiers as well as robberies, rapes, and murders committed against Jews.5 However, this was also a period of great significance and a source of inspiration for Polish Jewry. Marked changes could be observed in towns where the lifestyle had not changed for decades or even centuries. Moreover, these changes occurred within a matter of months. Clearly, the outbreak of the war, the Russian evacuation, and, later, the economic policy of the occupiers caused a decline in the local economy. On the other hand, the policies of the Germans and Austrians were much more liberal than the ‘official’ tsarist antisemitism. In addition, the development of local autonomy, the establishment of rescue committees, and the upsurge in Polish political activity contributed to the changes in lifestyle. The period saw a noticeable rise in the intensity of the social and political life of the Polish Jews. It was during and just after the war that such political movements as Agudat Yisrael, Zionism, and various socialist factions appeared in shtetls of the Pl ock and Kielce regions. At the same time a non-Orthodox system of education was established and new forms of social and cultural life appeared. Although war as a rule does not stimulate such processes, there was a significant revival of the intellectual sphere. However, there was a considerable imbalance between the more urbanized regions, such as L ódz´ and its environs, and the tiny shtetls in the eastern part of the Kingdom. Often the changes were instigated by only a handful of enthusiasts, who welcomed new ideas and views. Even so, they were significant. /

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3 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, Papers of Lucien Wolf and David Mowschowitch 1865–1957 (WM), no. 59, fo. 4854. 4 M. Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs (New York, 1925), i. 173. 5 See e.g. YIVO, WM, no. 109, fos. 13345–6, 13350; no. 121, fo. 22188.

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Invariably, the Orthodox Jews strongly influenced the life of the shtetl. For them, the ideal lifestyle for a Jew was to live as Jews had lived for centuries, according to the Torah and tradition. The shtetl was a highly formalized society.6 But the war was a special catalyst for change. Many of those who had been displaced, such as grammar school students, clerks, salesmen, workmen from evacuated factories, soldiers, and other refugees, returned eventually to their home towns. They sometimes found it difficult to resettle in the hierarchical ‘old world’. They ‘infected’ the youth with the new ideas that they brought—among them the idea of Zionism. The social structure of the shtetl was broken. Socialist ideas attracted young people in larger towns, too. New cultural and educational societies and political movements fascinated them. These new movements quickly won over young people, and this led to clashes between the younger and older generations. In many cases the conflict was between parents and children. The older generation, in general, did not accept ‘modern’ activities, and rejected the changes introduced by the young. Many older Jews perceived any non-religious activity among the younger people as a symptom of the decline of tradition and morality; for some traditional Jews this change meant ‘the end of the world’. In a report from Chel m, a medium-sized town in eastern Poland, we read: ‘Young Jewish people gave up the medieval style of living, and the abyss that had grown between parents and children was so great that no one could believe that the difference between them was only of one or two generations.’7 Another author labelled the cultural and educational activities of young people in Chel m ‘the Jewish Renaissance’. A resident of Zamos´c´ wrote about the ‘spring epoch’.8 New political organizations opened secular libraries and organized dramatic performances, lectures, and courses. Women became involved in such undertakings. Chaja Herz Laterstein, for example, was one of the first activists of the Zionist organization Kadimah (Progress) in Markuszów, a small town close to Lublin. She wrote in her memoirs that ‘a true war took place between parents and their offspring’. Some Orthodox families went into mourning after a son or a daughter joined Kadimah.9 Nathan Hodes, a member of Po’alei Zion (Workers of Zion) in Hrubieszów on the River Bug, tells us about his role as the tsadik Levi Isaac of Berdichev in a play produced by a local drama circle. Nathan’s father reacted severely: he said that his son had offended the famous hasidic leader and stopped speaking to him. The conflict lasted for a long time and ended only a few years later with Nathan’s decision to go to Palestine.10 In 1908 a Jewish public library was founded in Pul awy, a town situated between Lublin (which in 1915 became the capital city of the Austrian occupation) and De˛blin (Ivangorod). One of the activists involved in this initiative /

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16 17 18 19 10

Howe, World of Our Fathers, 13. M. Bakalczuk-Felin (ed.), Yizker-bukh zamshch; yizker-bukh khelm (Johannesburg, 1954), 75. M. Bernstein (ed.), Pinkas zamos´´c (Buenos Aires, 1957), 589. Hurbana ugevurata shel ha-ayara markushov (Tel Aviv, 1955), 63–5, 78, 87–8. B. Kaplin´ski (ed.), Pinkas hrubieszów (Tel Aviv, 1962), 338.

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mentioned that they had to hide the books and newspapers because of the local hasidim; for this reason the collection came to be known as ‘the wandering library’.11 Thus parents and children often found themselves in opposing camps. Rightly or wrongly, the young people said that the older generation offered nothing but prayers and psalms. It sometimes happened that the most active Zionists and activists of cultural and educational life came from Orthodox families. In 1906 a letter to the local newspaper Echo Kieleckie argued that the hasidim had made it impossible to open a craftsmanship school in Che˛ciny, a tiny shtetl close to Kielce.12 The war did not change the views of the hasidim, but new ideas appealed in other Jewish circles .and, over time, those new views sometimes prevailed. In September 1916 Mys´l Z ydowska, a Lublin Polish-language weekly associated with so-called neo-assimilationism, published an article entitled ‘Education Among the Jews’. It stated that independent social and educational work was beginning in almost every town under the Austro-Hungarian occupation. Jews living there set up officially recognized rescue committees and welfare organizations, established libraries and reading rooms, and organized amateur drama troupes and choirs. However, in some places, using the threat of h.erem (ban), rabbis prevented the opening of libraries and closed women’s charity organizations.13 According to the . article in Mys´l Z ydowska: A prolonged and bothersome struggle with the Orthodox follows every such attempt. Those circles are hostile to anything new and young that gives any hint of an association with culture. . . . The majority of Jewish townships have already gone through that baptism of fire. Every victory gives young Jewish people a new shot of enthusiasm, consolidates and deepens its aspiration for education. Regrettably, the young people have no leaders from the intelligentsia.14

The movement for emancipation was under way throughout the territory of the . Kingdom of Poland. In Gl os Zydowski, a Piotrków weekly connected with neoassimilationists and Zionists, we read that, despite the strong opposition of the local Orthodox Jews, the young people of Busko, a town situated about 50 kilometres from Kielce, had managed to organize a theatrical performance.15 In 1918 the Orthodox newspaper Jüdisches Wort noted that the number of yeshiva students in Poland had decreased significantly.16 Marta Pawlina-Meducka reports on an incident in Gniewoszów in the province (guberniya) of Kielce: /

M. Bernstein (ed.), Izkor buch pulav (New York, 1964), 108–9, 141, 148–79. . K. Zielin´ski, Zydzi Lubelszczyzny 1914–1918 (Lublin, 1999), 241. 13 Even during the 1920s and 1930s, in many towns of the Kielce voivodeship, local activists of Agudat Yisrael forbade the establishment of secular libraries, amateur theatres, or sports associations. They tried to limit their children’s contact with secular schools and. attempted to use the rabbi’s authority to halt modernization. See M. Pawlina-Meducka, Kultura Zydów województwa kieleckiego . 14 Listy do redakcji, Mys´l Zydowska, 25 (1916). (1918–1939) (Kielce, 1993), .23. 15 Listy do redakcji, Gl os Zydowski, 14 (1917). 16 Archiwum Akt Nowych w Warszawie, Gabinet Cywilny Rady Regencyjnej Królestwa Polskiego 1916–1918, no. 88, p. 53. 11 12

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There have never been any societies other than religious ones in that tiny township: the psalm society, whose members dealt with restoration of the holy books, and the society of diligent readers of the six volumes of the Mishnah. Therefore, the first secular library and a Hebrew course that had been started by teenage boys of the local beit midrash around 1916 were organized in secret. As a reason for their frequent meetings, the boys would use the excuse that they were collectively studying the Talmud. Only after they had let girls from hasidic families participate in this activity was their secret revealed; their parents began to exercise strict control over them.17

Over the course of the war it became clear that at least some Jews felt that secular education should supplement religious education. Indeed, the percentage of students from Orthodox families attending secular schools grew, at least in larger towns.18 A growing number of parents began to feel that secular education and the professions of lawyer or doctor were as attractive as a means of social advancement for their children as study in a beit midrash and a career as a rabbi. However, joining a political party or establishing a literary society or theatrical troupe remained, particularly in the shtetl, an act of considerable courage. And even if the number of people involved in such undertakings was small, the fact that they initiated these activities demonstrates that secularization and the emancipation of Jewish society from the long-unchallenged influence of the Orthodox was under way. Some social groups tried to mix ‘the new’ and ‘the old’, religious tradition and secular education or political activity. In focusing on the shtetl during the war, we have to take into consideration the presence of many Jewish soldiers and officers in the ranks of the armies and administrations of the Central Powers. The presence of soldiers and officers of the occupying authorities was one of the most important stimuli to the development of national and secular culture among the Polish Jews. There is no doubt that the Jews welcomed the seizure of the whole territory of the Kingdom of Poland by the central states.19 This is not surprising if we recall that in many regions of the country, beyond the scorched-earth tactic and the forced migrations, the Russian treatment of the Jews was especially severe. Many Jews were accused of espionage and sabotage. In addition, the Germans and Austrians hired the Jews as interpreters because they could easily communicate with them in their own language. This alone was enough to trigger repression by the Russian authorities after they recaptured a town or village. The Cossack troops earned the worst reputation for themselves. There were many instances of looting and burning. Warnings against such acts as destroying telephone lines, poisoning wells, and spreading disquieting rumours . Pawlina-Meducka, Kultura Zydów województwa kieleckiego, 75. . 18 Zielin´ski, Zydzi Lubelszczyzny, 233–4. 19 Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv, Vienna (HHStA), Ministerium des Äussern 1848–1918 (MA), P.A. I 899a, 406–7; Diverses über Polen, HHStA, MA, P.A. I 522, 774–5; Zarismus und Antisemitismus, HHStA MA, P.A. I 1051, 240–1. 17

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about the military situation in the war-zone were often directed exclusively at the Jews.20 In addition, the non-Jewish population, at least at the beginning of the war, favoured the Russians. This attitude was not just the result of tsarist propaganda, but was also due to the fact that their fathers, husbands, and sons served in the ranks of the tsarist army. However, there were times when the local Polish population accused the Jews of espionage simply because it was an excellent pretext for getting rid of unwelcome neighbours. In one such incident in Kras´nik, a town about 60 kilometres from Lublin, an Orthodox priest and a few Russians interceded with the military authorities on behalf of local Jews who had been wrongly accused by their Polish neighbours. But help came too late and a few Jews were hanged.21 In a memorandum of 1915 from the Anglo-American Jewish Conjoint Committee we read that ‘the Polish nationalists, recognizing an opportunity for “eliminating” the Jewish element that forms so large a proportion of the population of the Kingdom, and thus for assuring a greater national homogeneity for the new Poland, have everywhere and systematically been denouncing Jews as spies’.22 Neither the sometimes hysterical reactions of foreign—mainly American— newspapers, nor the interventions by the German Jewish Komitee für den Osten (Committee for the East, KfdO), calmed the tense atmosphere or eased the situation of the Jews in Poland. In fact, the sometimes unjustified reactions and opinions of the Jewish committees in the West alarmed and irritated public opinion in Poland.23 The KfdO collected reports on atrocities against Jews committed by Russians with the complicity of the Poles. The Jewish press in Poland agreed with and reprinted the protests of some Polish groups against the publications by Georg Brandes and Herman Bernstein.24 Indeed, sometimes these authors based their articles on rumours. In addition, the fact that the KfdO believed that the Jews inhabiting the Polish territories shared a German cultural background provoked 20 Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Krakowie (APK), Archiwum Naczelnego Komitetu Narodowego 1914–1921 (NKN), no. 147, pp. 122–5. See also M. Siedlecki, Z ziemi lubelskiej (Kraków, 1916), 15–16. 21 YIVO, WM, no. 58, fo. 4741. 22 YIVO, WM, no. 67, fo. 7575. See also YIVO, WM, no. 129, fo. 15969. 23 Below is a fragment from The Report of the President of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America for the Year Ending December 31, 1914, issued in March 1915: ‘Economic misery, their usual lot, has become intensified beyond description: want and starvation stalk familiar spectres through the Jewish ghettos. As if this were not enough, the bloody Russian massacres have been repeated on a smaller scale in the Polish provinces. Drunk with the promise of autonomy made to them by the Czar, and forgetful of the loyal hand of friendship held out in the many decades of oppression, the Poles have displayed an unspeakable cruelty towards their Jewish compatriots, and have not even stopped at pogroms in their vindictive and treacherous hatred’ ( Jewish Immigration Bulletin, 3 (1915) ). See also Report of the Work of the Copenhagen Office to the Zionist Organization from February 1915 to December 1919 (Copenhagen, 1920), 13–17. 24 Hatsefirah, 115 (1915), in ‘Protest of Polish Editors’, YIVO, WM 129, fo. 16021. See e.g. H. Bernstein, ‘Israelitisch Tragödie im Polen’, YIVO, HB 713, box 32/69, fo. 766; ‘George Brandes und die Polen’, Die jüdische Presse, 47 (1914).

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astonishment and hostility on the Polish side.25 For all of these reasons, the Polish– Jewish relationship deteriorated and the Jews became scapegoats. In this context, the German and Austrian occupations seemed promising in the beginning. One of the first decrees of the Austrian authorities was to grant equal rights to the Jews. Noting the extreme discrimination against the Jewish population in ‘Russian Poland’, the Austrians recognized that the Jews expected to be granted rights equal to those of the Poles after their liberation from the tsarist yoke. The Jews also expected to be able to continue and expand their trade.26 In March 1915 the commander of the Austro-Hungarian army decreed that citizen’s rights and obligations did not depend on any particular religious affiliation. All the churches and religious groups legally recognized within the empire and the territories under the occupation would have equal rights and obligations.27 The Germans announced similar legislation regulating the status of the Jews in Poland. After the Russian local administration ceased to exist in the summer of 1915, the German and Austrian authorities created their own administration. During the initial period of its activities its primary goal was to keep the peace and enforce the law. The new authorities controlled social, political, and above all, economic activities, and they began to exploit the occupied territories to the advantage of Germany and Austria. Ruthless requisitions, forced contributions, and special war collections, the introduction of monopolies on the trade of many goods, and, last but not least, the organization of civilian labour troops beginning in the autumn of 1915, created resentment within the population.28 Many of these regulations had a powerful effect on the Jews, who dealt mainly in retail, small trade, crafts, and services. Jews who possessed no property were less affected. But the entire population felt the impact of the prohibition on trade and the monopolization of many sectors by the occupants. The economy of the shtetl was seriously affected, and this made many Jews reluctant to accept the new regime.29 On the other hand, some Polish Jews found their way into the official administration. Jewish soldiers and officers were often employed in supply departments. Also, Jews obtained coveted trade licences. Jewish firms and companies in Poland Wróbel, ‘Przed odzyskaniem niepodlegl os´ ci’, 106–7, 118, 122–3. A. Hausner, Die Polenpolitik der Mittelmächte und die österreichisch-ungarische Militärverwaltung in Polen während des Weltkrieges (Vienna, 1935), 4. See also ‘Die staatsbürgerlichen Interessen der Juden im okkupierten Gebiet Russlands’, Neue Freie Presse (1916), no. 18530, p. 1. 27 ‘Rozporza˛dzenie Naczelnego Wodza armii z 7 marca 1915, dotycza˛ce spraw wyznaniowych’, Dziennik Rozporza˛dzen´ c. i k. Zarza˛du Wojskowego w Polsce, 2 (1915), 3–5. 28 See e.g. the text of a labour contract for Polish Jewish workers during the First World War concluded by the Deutsche Arbeiterzentrale in Warsaw, and the depositions of two Jewish workers, in N. L. Green (ed.), Jewish Workers in the Modern Diaspora (Berkeley, 1998), 58–61. 29 A similar situation was observed in Bran´sk, near Bial ystok, under the German occupation. See E. Hoffman, Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews (London, 1998), 156–7. See also M. Zborowski and E. Herzog, Life Is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl (New York, 1952). 25

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were often associated with German or Austrian capital. But even where the supply departments or quartermaster’s divisions consisted entirely of non-Jewish soldiers and officers, it very often happened that Jewish merchants obtained most of the trade licences. From this we may conclude that the Jews’ greater experience and extensive connections, as well as their readiness to be content with a smaller profit, were decisive factors for the German and Austrian authorities. The fact that the German and Yiddish languages were closely related may also have played a role. However, one can say that the absence of strong antisemitic prejudice among the new military authorities made it possible for them to favour Jewish merchants and businessmen.30 Those who managed to adapt themselves to the situation grew rich quickly, and this in turn annoyed many Poles.31 Nevertheless, only a small proportion of the Jewish population managed to obtain licences and contracts to supply the army, while the rest experienced all the harshness and adversity of life under occupation. Here is what a resident of Chel m had to say about the first few months of the new regime: ‘Under the German–Austrian occupation the Jews cherished great hopes, but these hopes quickly diminished. The tsarist nagaika [Cossack whip] was exchanged for the German horsewhip.’32 However, the newcomers brought with them more than horsewhips. There were many Jews among the occupying authorities, and the confrontation of their lifestyle with the one typical of Polish Jews—who were used to locking themselves away in the shtetl and in the Jewish quarters of the cities and to being discriminated against by the non-Jewish authorities—constituted a very important experience for the latter. For example, during the period 1914‒18 about 300,000 Jews served in the Austrian army. The Austrian historian Erwin Schmidl estimates that about 25,000 of the Jews in the military (approximately 10 per cent of the professional and reserve officers of this army during the war) were commissioned.33 Some 100,000 /

30 On the staffing of military commands and other administrative units of both the military and civil Austro-Hungarian administration, see e.g. Archiwum Gl ówne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD), K. u. k. Militärgeneralgouvernement in Polen/Lublin 1914–18 (MGGL), MGK 1712; Norm. 20; Präs. 1, 4, 102, 225; ZLK 5. 31 Mieczysl aw Markowski observes: ‘An additional factor increasing the antagonism was the fact that the Germans would grant the monopoly for supplying the army to Jewish merchants. In Be˛dzin, for instance, such a licence, with an exception for meat only, was granted to D. Erlich. He made a fortune thanks to the licence. Likewise, only Jewish merchants managed to obtain licences from the Austrians on the territory under their occupation. That is how the Jews managed to monopolize the wholesale and a considerable part of the retail food . trade..This situation gave rise to resentment towards the Jews among the Poles’ (M. B. Markowski, ‘Zydzi . w zyciu gospodarczym województwa kieleckiego w okresie . mie˛dzywojennym’, in F. Kiryk (ed.), Zydzi w Mal opolsce: Studia z dziejów osadnictwa i zycia spol ecznego (Przemys´ l, 1991), 309). Such opinions are also documented in different regions of the Kingdom of Poland under German and Austrian occupation. See . e.g. I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu . zydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (Warsaw, 1937), 571–5; Zielin´ski, Zydzi Lubelszczyzny, 86–7. 32 Bakalczuk-Felin (ed.), Yizker-bukh zamshch; yizker-bukh khelm, 75–8. 33 E. A. Schmidl, Juden in der K. (u.) K. Armee 1788–1918 (Eisenstadt, 1989), 122. /

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Jewish officers and soldiers served in the German army during this war.34 Jewish professional and reserve officers of the central states’ armies served most often in the administration and the medical corps.35 The ‘modern Jews’ from Germany and the Habsburg empire played an important role in the social and political life of the Jewish population in the Kingdom of Poland. Among such Jews were the well-known historian Majer Bal aban, who worked for the General Government in Lublin as a desk officer for matters relating to the Jewish population; Nathan Loewenstein, a member of the Austrian State Council and the Galician Sejmik; Judah L. Magnes, a delegate of the American Relief Committee for War Victims; and many members of the German Rechtsschutzverein (Association for the Protection of Laws) and charity committees and organizations who stayed in Poland during the war. But it was not only these leading lights who went to Warsaw, Lublin, L ódz´, and Kielce. There were a few Jewish Kriegsmaler (war artists) in the Austro-Hungarian army; Jewish motifs were printed on postcards issued by the Austrian Kriegspressequartier (War Press Office).36 Many foreign artists were involved in theatrical circles in cities and larger towns, and many foreigners also joined the audience. Soldiers and officers of the local garrison often participated in the performances. For example, in Lublin performances by Izso Steinberg, a ‘light stage artist’ from Budapest, evoked ‘sheer delight’. The orchestra of the Lublin garrison took part in charity concerts organized by the local Jewish rescue committee; Jewish theatrical troupes from many parts of the Habsburg monarchy, Germany, and the Russian provinces occupied by the central states performed in Poland. Many well-known—and not so well-known—virtuosos went on concert tours. Some of them travelled beyond the city limits and performed in small towns.37 Undoubtedly, politics was the catalyst for many artistic undertakings. It is enough to note that Zionists of all stripes organized amateur drama circles, finding in them an excellent political campaign tool. The same can be said of people connected with the workers’ movement in larger towns. Indeed, theatre turned out to be a highly effective propaganda tool, but in many cases the theatrical was more important than the political in these performances. Many ‘foreigners’ found themselves among the animators and pioneers of local theatrical life.38 /

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J. Segall, Die deutschen Juden als Soldaten im Kriege 1914–1918 (Berlin, 1921), 38–48. See e.g. I. Deák, Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848–1918 (New York, 1990), 171, 174–8; id., Jewish Soldiers in Austro-Hungarian Society (New York, 1990), 17–18, 21–2. See also Leo Baeck Institute, New York (LBI), Kahn Bernhardt, Memoirs 1914–1921, HPC, ME 344, 59–60. 36 Kriegsarchiv, Vienna (KA), Kriegspressequartier 1914–1918 (KPQ), 47 nnp. See also L. Hesshaimer, Miniaturen aus der Monarchie (Ein k. u. k. Offizier erzählt mit dem Zeichenstift) (Vienna, 1992), 103–4; V. Trubel, ‘Die Künstler und der Krieg. Der Erste Weltkrieg und die Maler der Kunstgruppe des . k. u. k. Kriegspressequartiers’, Master’s thesis (University of Vienna, 1996), 116. 37 Zielin´ski, Zydzi Lubelszczyzny, 300, 316. 38 The question of the participation of front-line theatre artists in the cultural life of local communities deserves further research. They did perform for local audiences (KA, KPQ , 50, 51). 34 35

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The local population’s interactions with the new government and army officials, delegates of foreign rescue committees and Jewish organizations, artists, lecturers, and soldiers, were interesting for both sides. The newcomers introduced new values and bolder patterns of behaviour into local Jewish communities. For their part, the German and Austrian Jews, as well as those from Bohemia and Hungary, encountered an Orthodox religiosity and many folk customs that had long been forgotten in their own countries. Dave Weiler, a captain in the German army, remarked: ‘I have not attended a Sabbath service for years. I miss it.’39 In fact, many assimilated Jews wearing German or Austro-Hungarian uniforms in Poland or Lithuania ‘discovered’ not only contemptible, backward, and ignorant Ostjuden, but also the key elements of Judaism and became fascinated with the local Jewish culture, believing that it could contribute to the ‘spiritual renewal’ of world Jewry.40 An equally important factor was the inflow of refugees from provinces outside the Kingdom of Poland. During the war years views advocated by so-called Litvaks (Lithuanians) became increasingly popular among Polish Jews.41 Some of these ideas provided answers to questions about the future of Jews in Poland. To a certain extent the mini-‘melting pot’ that characterized the Polish territories during the First World War resulted in the establishment of trade unions and schools, the free circulation of the press (although subject to censorship), and mass participation in local elections. Co-operation between Polish and Jewish town councillors was the most important point of contact between the two groups. (The participation of Jews in the municipal administration was a source of conflict as well.) Though the Jews had served on municipal councils in tsarist times, it was only under the occupation of the Central Powers that the proportion of the Jews and non-Jews there was altered in favour of the former. Even so, the proportions were not equal to the proportions of Jews and non-Jews in a given town; the Germans and Austrians had to take into consideration the opinions and attitudes of the Polish majority.42 Despite all the limitations, including those of the general municipal ordinance promulgated by the German occupying authorities, the local Jewish communities LBI, A. Weiler-Wolf, ‘Notes from an Extinct Species 1855–1936’, HPC, ME 910, 95. A. Carlebach, ‘A German Rabbi Goes East’, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, 6 (1961), 67–8; J. Matthäus, ‘German “Judenpolitik” in Lithuania during the First World War’, ibid. 43 (1998), 162. 41 See e.g. E. Mendelsohn, Zionism in Poland: The Formative Years, 1915–1926 (New Haven, 1981), 21–2; M. Opalski and I. Bartal, Poles and Jews: A Failed Brotherhood (Hanover, NH, 1992), 104–5. 42 For decrees concerning elections to the local government in the Kingdom of Poland under Austrian occupation, see Dziennik Rozporza˛dzen´ c. i k. Zarza˛du Wojskowego w Polsce, 25 (1916), 1–2; 26 (1916), 1. For local government in the powiat (administrative district), see ibid. 27 (1917), 1. For smaller towns, see ibid. 5 (1918), 1. In practice, without any important changes regarding the Jewish population, the legal acts concerning the rural community were left intact. See Das Russische Gemeindegesetz für die Gouvernements des Königreichs Polen (Piotrków, 1916), 18–19, . 29–31; see also APK, NKN, 86. On the German occupation, see e.g. P. Wróbel, Zarys dziejów Zydów na ziemiach polskich w latach 1880–1918 (Warsaw, 1991), 90. 39 40

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had been given an opportunity to govern their cities. While it is true that the ordinance favoured the wealthy social strata, the left-oriented political groups were able to agitate among the population. For example, in Wl ocl awek, which was under German occupation, the Zionists, folkists, and socialists appealed to the local Jews to take part in the election which, they exhorted, ‘should be done in the national spirit’.43 The Jews entered the political scene during the first elections in 1916. In fact, the results of these elections and nominations did not reflect the real political affiliations of the broader Jewish population. The assimilated Jews and the Orthodox won the greater part of mandates. In the next elections, in 1918, the Zionist and socialist parties were able to win Jewish votes from the assimilationists and the Orthodox. Many Poles perceived the relatively high percentage of Jews in town councils as an unpleasant surprise. During the central states’ occupation, the average proportion of the Jews on the councils was 25‒35 per cent.44 These elections thus made possible the common rule of cities and towns by both non-Jews and Jews. Despite the fact that in many cases the two groups could not agree, and at times Jewish representatives in the municipal authorities encountered strong animosity, the elections served as an excellent civic education for the Jews. Indeed, this is one of the most important factors determining the significance of the First World War period in the history of Polish Jewry. Jewish participation in the local administration was limited to larger towns and did not concern the typical shtetls. Such participation was not the only way to gain a prestigious position in the community, however. Trade and financial connections with the German and Austrian authorities also created a new elite. Financial aid from Germany, Austria, western Europe, and the United States made it possible for new leaders to come forward and take a prominent role in the community. Among those responsible for aid distribution there appeared Zionists, folkists, and socialists. The war had an effect on the position and authority of rabbis as well. At times it seemed that they had to beg the communities for their salaries. But in other cases they served as charity organizers. Although we cannot generalize, one thing is certain: the authority of the rabbi, the tsadik, and the wealthy merchant was seriously undermined. We should add here a few words about Jewish women, many of whom were in a difficult situation. Some turned to prostitution out of a desperate need to feed themselves and their dependants. Sometimes their husbands or fathers forced them into prostitution. In September 1916 in Lublin the congress of rabbis from the territory of the Austrian occupation strongly condemned ‘those Jews who use the bodies of their wives or daughters in business’.45 But many women without husbands or fathers became the breadwinners in their homes. Some women became /

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YIVO, Poland . (Vilna Archives) 1850–1939, RG 28, box 24/24, 1047. Zielin´ski, Zydzi Lubelszczyzny, 90–2. . . 45 K. Zielin´ski, W cieniu synagogi: Obraz zycia kulturalnego spol ecznos´ci zydowskiej Lublina w latach okupacji austro-we˛gierskiej (Lublin, 1998), 44. 43 44

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active in charity committees or even political organizations. It is impossible to say whether the war and related events made the task of establishing women’s rights more or less difficult. However, in many cases, the men’s authority was threatened.46 Of course, no two shtetls were alike. The conditions for the development of politics and secular culture in Pul awy, for example, were relatively favourable. Because of migration from 1914 and the forced Russian evacuation in 1915, many people from Warsaw and elsewhere sought refuge in Pul awy. Among them were experienced political activists and many teachers from secular schools. No less important was the influence of refugees from Russia. Though Litvaks—generally wealthier and better educated than the average shtetl dwellers in Poland—had long been present in the economic life of Pul awy, their views (on Zionism in particular) began to gain recognition among local Jews. In addition, there were a few Jewish students at the Agricultural Institute. Most of them came from Russian and Lithuanian provinces, and some were Zionists. Even before the war they had started to distribute books, brochures, and newspapers to the local young people.47 Each shtetl had its own economic background; regional differences were reflected in institutional and educational patterns as well as in the political topography. Yet the main differences arose not from economic or social factors but from the personalities involved.48 This can be the only explanation for the fact that, for example, in Czemierniki, near Lubartów in the province of Lublin, the left wing of Po’alei Zion was very influential, while in the neighbouring shtetl of Kock the socialist Bund had gained substantial popularity.49 In any case, the very fact that modern political movements based on class or nationalist ideology appeared in the Polish shtetl was evidence of tremendous change. Moreover, the Orthodox circles did not remain passive. To defend their values, they founded a Polish version of the German Agudat Ha’ortodoksim (Orthodox League).50 They also tried to reorganize the religious educational system and make it more compatible with the spirit of those times. They wanted to preserve their spiritual leadership. Although popular branches of Agudat Yisrael began to appear on a larger scale after 1918, the earlier period had created the right conditions for establishing parties and creating the organizational structure for Orthodox groups. The activities of the Orthodox were no less important a symptom of change than the development of the Zionist and Bundist movements. /

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46 Peter Gatrell deals with the problem of gender and refugeedom in A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During World War I (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 115–17. 47 J. Schatz, The Generation: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Communists of Poland (Berkeley and Los 48 Kassow, ‘Community and Identity in the Interwar Shtetl’, 206–7. Angeles, 1991), 23. 49 Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Lublinie, Urza˛d Wojewódzki Lubelski 1919–1939, no. 455, p. 306. 50 Gershon Bacon writes: ‘Thus the founding of Agudat Haortodoksim had significant local causes that the German rabbis catalyzed and used for their own interests. . . . The Polish Agudah quickly developed an independent style and stance that had as much in common with its Zionist and Bundist opponents as it did with Frankfurt Orthodoxy’ (G. C. Bacon, ‘Agudat Israel in Interwar Poland’, in Gutman et al. (eds.), The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars, 21–2).

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The basis of all of these changes was the economy of the Kingdom as well as the social and occupational structures specific to the Jewish population in Poland. A very important factor was the growing Polish–Jewish conflict, which was stimulated by the difficult economic situation, and the so-called kazennyi (official) antisemitism of the tsarist authorities. The catalysts for change were the migrations initiated by the war, the economic policy of the central states, and the deteriorating living conditions under the occupation. No less important was the relative liberalism of the new authorities as well as world events such as the Balfour Declaration and the revolutionary movements in Russia and Germany. One result of all of this was the secularization of the Jewish community, or at least of the most active and mobile part of it, and its emancipation from the long and steady influence of the Orthodox as well as from Polish domination. The changes that were observed in the Polish lands are difficult to quantify statistically. However, the multitude of new forms of cultural life, and the attitudes towards their manifestations—from the negation of h.eder teaching to the attempts to block every form of non-religious education—emphasized divisions within Jewish society. The emancipation of a part of the Jewish population, which had begun in the mid-nineteenth century, became fact as more people ceased to adhere to the old and reached instead for the new. All of this amounted to a peculiar revolution in the shtetl, where, to quote Maurice Samuel, ‘the Bible was a daily newspaper’.51 The years of the First World War thus constituted a catalyst to the development of political life and new forms of cultural and educational activity in Polish Jewish society in the inter-war period. 51

Quoted in Howe, World of Our Fathers, 11.

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The Shtetl: Cultural Evolution in Small Jewish Towns alina cal a /

The territory of Poland has changed considerably over the course of history. From the sixteenth century on it was called the Republic of Two Nations, though in fact it was a federation of four lands: Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and a large section of Ukraine (including Bessarabia). The densest settlement of Jews in Europe was in these territories. When the Polish Commonwealth lost its independence in the partitions of 1772, 1792, and 1795, the greater part of the Jewish population inhabited central Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine, with a much smaller population in Lithuania. The Jews then became subjects mainly of Russia and Austria. Russian restrictions on Jewish settlement resulted in the establishment of the Pale of Settlement. The legal status of the Pale’s inhabitants differed from that of the Jews in central Poland and in the Polish lands under Austrian rule. The long history of coexistence between Jews and Slavs in the Polish Commonwealth involved the emergence of many cultural centres specific to each of the ethnic groups. Until the nineteenth century it was rare for a city or town to serve as a cultural centre for more than one group. The political and administrative significance of Warsaw in the pre-partition period was obvious to the Poles, but for the Jews the city’s importance was exclusively economic. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Brody and Berdyczów were important centres of Jewish culture, but not of Polish or Ukrainian culture. As Zamos´c´ rose in significance for Jews, its status in Polish eyes was reduced to that of a provincial town. This situation was due as much to legal restrictions (some cities or regions had de non tolerandis Judaeis privileges until the mid-nineteenth century1) as to the isolation of the Jews as a group from Christians. The process of urbanization was different for the two groups. The economic decline of medium-sized cities in the eighteenth century brought in its wake a reduction of the number of Christian inhabitants and led to their agrarianization. On the other hand, the Jewish populations grew in the towns. Following the partitions, the expulsion of Jews from the lands under Prussian rule, and their eviction 1

See J. Goldberg, Jewish Privileges in the Polish Commonwealth (Jerusalem, 1985).

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from villages under the Russian administration, the Jewish population of many towns of central Poland and the Pale of Settlement reached 50 per cent or more. Only in Galicia, under Austrian rule, were there Jewish peasants—and from the second half of the nineteenth century, after emancipation, a number of Jewish landowners. The Yiddish term ‘shtetl’ means not just a town but a Jewish community with unique customs and patterns of social stratification. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the distinguishing feature of the Jewish community was autonomous, ethnic self-government. Besides jurisdiction over religious life, the kehilot had wide legal and administrative prerogatives, albeit only locally. They provided legitimization for customs, organized education and welfare, and administered justice (though not in capital cases). In the pre-partition era kehilah officials had a wide range of tools of punishment at their disposal. They included the pillory, flogging, and imprisonment in the cellar or tower of a synagogue.2 Still, social ostracism, with a ban on admittance to synagogue, usually sufficed to exert the desired influence. The utmost punishment was h.erem (ban), which involved total exclusion from the community and, consequently, civic death. In some private towns of the former Polish Commonwealth (such as Tykocin, in eastern Poland), the kehilah, acting on the owner’s behalf, supervised many matters relating to the Christian population as well. The traditional community of Ashkenazi Jews was united not only by religion, but also by local ties. Each community was a closed entity. Until the early nineteenth century one needed the kehilah’s approval to settle in a town, set up a workshop, or marry someone from a different locality. Similar restrictions (not to mention regulations concerning the peasants) were in place in the medieval cities founded upon German law. Life in an enclosed community provided a sense of security, as long as the individual was able to conform to the group’s code. Personal experiences of all kinds were subject to communal discussion; in the case of a divorce, for example, everyone in the community felt free to offer advice and to deliberate about the custody of the children. A wise rabbi usually resolved such matters in accordance with local public opinion. The life space of those who were under a h.erem was severely limited. The outcasts were for the most part treated ruthlessly, and the excommunication was all the more traumatic because of the very limited social mobility that resulted from the feudal caste system dominating the Christian society. The life of every member of a Jewish community was closely scrutinized, and attempts to protect one’s privacy were regarded with suspicion. The code of morals ordained in 1595 by the Kraków kehilah proclaimed: ‘When someone comes to a chamber or room and knocks, and there are people inside, but they do not open to him, they 2 At Przysucha in central Poland one can still see a pillory attached to the synagogue wall. In the synagogue in Lesko in southern Poland there is a tower that was used as a prison.

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should be punished and no justification will help them.’ The explanation for this ruling was that only adulterers wanted privacy.3 All three of the partitioning powers—Prussia, Austria, and Russia—attempted to restrict the kehilah’s powers to religious matters but, with the exception of Prussia, to no avail. Under Russian and Austrian rule the kehilot, though deprived of their judicial powers, retained their normative functions of setting moral standards and regulating the civil law and the everyday life of the Jewish community. Social pressure substituted for the pillory, flogging, imprisonment, or excommunication. The informal power of the kehilah determined the specific conventions of the shtetl well into the twentieth century, and was resented as an encumbrance by the young people of the inter-war period. Jews were by no means the only inhabitants of the shtetl. Even where they constituted 90 per cent of the local population, there was always a group of Christians living alongside them. The population was divided along class and ethnic lines. There was a small group of elites in every town, including the mayor, the chief of police, and the chemist, doctor, or assistant surgeon. Until the end of the First World War these were Poles or Russians, never Ukrainians, Lithuanians, or Belarusians. In the second half of the nineteenth century an assimilated Jew could insinuate himself into the elite, usually as a doctor or a surgeon, but this was rather rare. Of course, there were also Christians (in some places a minority, elsewhere a majority) who did not belong to the elite. The Jewish population, which formed the shtetl, found itself in the middle of the town’s social hierarchy. The Christians did not recognize the inner social stratification of the Jewish community; in the eyes of the elites, all Jews were of low status. While they noticed that there were ‘more respectable’ Jews as well as poor ones, this fact had little meaning for them. For lower-class Christians, on the other hand, all Jews were ‘rich’, regardless of the fact that they must have observed that some were in reality very poor. Thus ethnicity and class stratification were conflated. A Polish diarist and local official wrote before the last war: ‘There are three nations in our town: officials, Jews, and peasants.’ Moreover, the pejorative Jewish stereotype of the ‘goy’ referred not so much to the elite as to the Christian lower classes. Poor Christians often earned their livelihood as servants, washerwomen, doorkeepers, and porters for middle-class Jews. Nor should we overlook the peasants, who did not reside in towns but flocked to them on market days and were more dependent on Jews than on the Christian townspeople. Altogether, these economic ties formed a specific client system that helped to maintain peaceful coexistence but was also a source of potential social conflict. The Jewish communities of even the tiniest towns included an intellectual elite, whereas the elites of Christian society were confined to big cities like Warsaw and Kraków, or to country estates. Throughout the nineteenth century the . . A. Teller, ‘Warunki zycia i obyczajowos´ c´ w zydowskiej . dzielnicy Poznania w pierwszej pol owie XVII wieku’, in J. Topolski and K. Modelski (eds.), Zydzi w Wielkopolsce na przestrzeni dziejów (Poznan´, 1995), 67. 3

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culture-generating role of the province in Polish society was gradually diminishing. Following the emancipation of the Jews and the abolition of serfdom in 1861‒7, Jews as well as peasants and déclassé nobles poured into the cities. Industrialization, too, resulted in the growth of cities, with several ethnic groups developing their culture simultaneously. Owing to the social transformations of the second half of the nineteenth century, the nobility became mere gentry (landowners), losing their privileged position in the sphere of culture. The intelligentsia began to emerge as a city-based class. While many assimilated Jews contributed to that class, Orthodox Jews managed to preserve their own traditional intellectual elites, who acted as social and religious authorities. The rabbi, and particularly the hasidic rebbe, enjoyed a kind of respect that the scholarly or wealthy assimilator could never hope to earn. Such reverence was grounded in the religious functions as well as in the intellectual powers of the person revered. There were more and less educated rabbis, including some of international renown. There were also educated merchants and craftsmen, some of whom lived in dire poverty; but the esteem they enjoyed resulted from the Jewish social tradition, according to which wealth was not the only criterion of success. The power of the local authorities, even if they were not associated with any legal jurisdiction, seemed unshakeable in the nineteenth century. Public scrutiny and conventional sanctions were enough to enforce docility. Nakhum Sokol ów wrote about Jewish provincial towns in the assimilationist weekly Izraelita in 1880: /

Individual will has perforce to succumb to the powerful will of a rebbe. . . . He opens his reign with a series of bans. . . . The ill-mannered rebbe, hostile to the fair sex, becomes at once brutal and cynical; standards of decency are no longer valid for him. He intrudes on the secrets of marital and domestic life. . . . Rumour, calumny, and punishments are a daily routine. . . . The rebbe, however focused on the spiritual, does not relinquish the material and profits and therefore takes possession of some community revenues, previously designated for the charities. . . . The subjugated and bullied community cannot muster up enough courage to break free of that tyranny. Some have their mouths sealed with fear, some with fanaticism.4

The editor of the weekly, Samuel Hirsh (Tsevi) Peltyn, quoted various instances of Orthodox fanaticism: one rabbi forbade Jews from his congregation to walk in the park;5 another banned Jews from entering the fire brigade.6 A wedding was called off and the engagement broken because of the bride’s refusal to have her hair cut.7 In one shtetl a matsevah (tombstone) was overturned because of its ‘profane’ German inscription;8 in another hasidim tore up copies of the Hebrew Bible published by 4 5 6 7 8

N. Sokol ów, ‘Gospodarstwo rabinów: Szkice z prowincji przez N.S.’, Izraelita, 41 (1880), 335–6. [S. H. Peltyn], ‘Kronika’, Izraelita, 41 (1875), 335–6. S. H. Peltyn, ‘Fal szywa opinia religijna’, Izraelita, 38 (1875), 303–4. E. K., ‘S´wiekra i synowa’, Izraelita, 1 (1876), 6. S. H. Peltyn, ‘Z tygodnia’, Izraelita, 41 (1880), 335. /

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the Anglican Bible Society.9 In spite of an administrative interdiction, corporal punishment was sometimes executed and h.erem proclaimed against dissidents.10 The number of the enlightened was growing nevertheless, and it was no longer possible to exclude them from the community altogether. Still, their life in provincial towns was by no means easy. In one of his short stories Isaac Leib Peretz describes his native Zamos´c´ with a mixture of claustrophobia and hopelessness: Old walls, the grating sounds of raised bridges, iron gates, guards, and patrols; the hoarse and angry ‘Who’s there?’ and the false and servile ‘a friend, a local’; the eternal trembling of clay-like faces, the frightened, half-asleep eyes, the market square with its last, lazy and trembling shadows—all this weighed down my soul like lead, did not let me breathe freely or rid myself of the weight.11

Though nothing seemed to threaten the power of the leaders of the town, it was in the late nineteenth century that the disintegration of traditional Jewish culture began. The increasing migration to large cities (where the restrictions on Jewish settlement were lifted) spurred this process. Cities like Warsaw soon became centres of both modern and Orthodox Jewish cultures. Naturally, in a big city, even in a Jewish quarter, traditional authority carried less weight because it could not rely on meddlesome social pressure to enforce its will. The power of conservative leaders was endangered by modern tendencies and above all by the political activity of the assimilators, who were much more effective in the cities than in the provinces. Still, tradition had a strong enough hold in Poland for its defenders not only to oppose modernization, but to make use of modern forms of organization to increase their own power. Along with Polish and Jewish mass political parties, Jewish religious parties also originated in the late nineteenth century (much earlier than was the case with Catholicism12). Throughout their history Jews have felt linked by religion to their co-religionists in even the remotest corners of the world. With the passing of centuries, however, the bond has weakened. The Ashkenazim did not have a sense of religious kinship with the Sephardi Jews living in Asia and the Near East, despite occasional contacts and mutual interchange (the Sephardi school of kabbalistic thought had considerable influence on the development of the ideology of both the Frankist movement and the early hasidic rites). Upon settling in the Western countries, Spanish and Portuguese Jews continued their traditions in their own independent synagogues and communities. But the group of Sephardi settlers in Zamos´c´, for example, soon lost its cultural distinctiveness in the surrounding Ashkenazi ‘ocean’, leaving only some traces in family names (e.g. I. L. Peretz, Rosa Luxemburg) and, as some [N. Sokol ów], ‘Na widnokre˛gu’, Izraelita, 22 (1897), 218. Sokol ów, ‘Gospodarstwo rabinów’, 335–6. 11 I. L. Perec [Y. L. Peretz], ‘Czasy Mesjasza’, in Wybór opowiadan´ I. L. Pereca (Warsaw, 1958). 12 The hierarchy of the Polish Catholic Church was afraid of political activity among its flock. This probably explains in part the weakness of the Christian Democratic movement in Poland. 19 10

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historians believe, in the intellectual ferment that resulted in the emergence of a centre of Haskalah in the town.13 The Ashkenazim were by no means a homogeneous group. There were variations even within the territory of a given state, and these regional differences were not confined to clothes and music but involved ritual and customs as well. The physical mobility of the Jews thus served as a unifying force in their culture, but the strengthening of cultural ties within the territory of a state was a counteracting tendency. In the second half of the nineteenth century Polish Jews found themselves at the crossroads of these two contradictory processes. Regional differentiation was decreasing in the lands within a given partition (that is, under Russian, Prussian, or Austrian rule), but differentiation between the partitioned lands was growing, as was the enmity between the Orthodox and the progressive Jews. Nineteenth-century Polish Jews held many derogatory stereotypes about the ‘Litvaks’ (Russian Jews), the ‘Dayches’ (German Jews), and even the ‘Galitsianer’ (Jews of Galicia). The Litvaks who settled in central Poland were treated with reserve by the local Jews, and lived in isolation; ‘mixed’ marriages met with disapproval. The new trends—Haskalah, assimilation, and then the nationalist movements— brought in their wake a striving for broader perspective, for reflection on the relationship between individual and society (or the nation). No traditional Jew, and likewise no peasant, troubled himself over his connection to broader society. It was enough for him to ‘belong here’. An Orthodox Jew lived within his own community, while his contacts with non-Jews, no matter how commonplace, did not ‘matter’. Such contacts did matter, however, for an assimilated Jew, because they provoked questions of identity ensuing from the idea that Jewishness and Polishness were mutually exclusive. These questions led to the search for a far more wideranging community of co-religionists, and sparked the development of national consciousness. Ironically, the expulsions, evacuations, and mass migrations of the First World War accelerated the process of modernization. One young Orthodox Jew fleeing the Russians was evacuated to southern Bohemia. Recalling this wartime ‘excursion’ he could not hide how impressed he had been by provincial civilization: We see clean, paved streets and beautiful houses decorated with flowers, built in the newest architectural style. . . . We step on stairs and go to the marketplace. We see the most beautiful town hall, with a variety of shops in it. We also see beautiful monuments and a stone man who spits water out of his mouth. . . . On our way back [to the village where we stayed], we are accompanied by electrical lamps, for even in the village there is electric light.14

13

See e.g. B. D. Weinryb, The Jews in Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100–1800 (Philadelphia, 1972). 14 ‘Damaszek’, Autobiografia (Kal usz, 1934), YIVO, New York, MS 3819. /

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The process of modernization continued through the inter-war years, leaving its mark on the shtetls, too. The process was not painless. The antagonisms not only isolated the Orthodox from progressives; the dividing lines went through families as well, splitting apart the generations. The young began to set up their own political parties and organizations, which were mainly Zionist (the Bund did not have a large following in the province). Young Jews were eager to participate in political life in order to overcome the apathy of the small town, to compensate for the lack of prospects (especially during the Great Depression, which lasted from 1930 to 1936 in Poland), and to satisfy their need for self-education. These non-political reasons for entering politics made their choice of political affiliation rather random: leftoriented youth might join, for example, the rightist Betar. Jewish political life was very rich; Jews were more active than Christians in election campaigns, whether parliamentary, municipal, or to the kehilah. Political sympathies were tested in the elections to the kehilah, and all the legal parties—even the anti-religious ones— took part.15 In some small towns the local Jewish press was incomparably more active than the Christian one. In the tiny border town of Baranowicze several Yiddish periodicals were published, in Kal usz the Yiddish press was supplemented by two Jewish weeklies published in Polish (both Orthodox), and in Kolomyja there were ten Jewish periodicals either in Polish or in both Polish and Yiddish.16 The libraries set up by various political groups played a significant role in small towns. They served as community centres, offering lectures and musical performances, and as recruitment centres for the political parties. The leading lights of Jewish art and journalism met their audiences there. In the small and backward village of Klimontów near Kielce, the Peretz Library organized a series of lectures in the 1930s on futurist art. This alarmed the local police, who suspected that the strange-sounding term was a cover for ‘revolutionary’ activities. Such initiatives enabled young people to acquaint themselves with the most modern trends in art; thus the towns of the province could hardly be perceived as entirely backward.17 Sport clubs deserve a separate mention here, as they were also founded and sponsored by political parties. The traditional authorities did not relinquish their position without a fight. They put pressure on their congregations, or resorted to making denunciations to the Polish authorities to prevent the emergence of secular political parties or youth organizations. The usual charge was communist activity, which had a humorous /

15 E. Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars (Bloomington, Ind., 1983); J. Tomaszewski, ‘Niepodlegl a Rzeczpospolita’, in J. Tomaszewski (ed.), Najnowsze dzieje . Zydów w Polsce. (Warsaw, 1993), 179–87, 238–42. 16 A. Cal a, ‘Zydowskie periodyki i druki okazjonalne w je˛zyku polskim: Bibliografia’, MS. 17 Bruno Schulz (1892–1942), the Polish avant-garde writer and artist of Jewish origin, lived in Drohobycz (now in Ukraine) for most of his life, whereas Polish avant-garde artists usually flocked to big cities like Warsaw, Kraków, or Lwów. /

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aspect when the charges involved a revisionist group, but sometimes the local administration gave the charges a hearing. Equally effective was the coercion exerted by Orthodox parents on their children, who were forbidden to engage in politics or sports or even to visit a library. Elementary education was generally accepted, even if the schools were Polish, but many objected on religious grounds to their children attending high school since this might require writing on the sabbath, and so on.18 The traditional culture of the small town was becoming modernized as well. Religious schools were established for girls, and women began to teach Polish or arithmetic in h.eders, where the very presence of a woman had previously been unthinkable. The Orthodox were establishing political parties with affiliated youth sections. The author from Kal usz mentioned above wrote in his autobiographical sketch: /

In 1925 we had an eminent visitor in our town: the celebrated orator Reb Hirschhorn of Lwów, summoned by the Orthodox fraction to found the organization Agudas Yisroel. Following several beautiful lectures and a discussion with the antagonistic Zionist camp, the founding of the party was initiated and carried out. . . . The youth organization Tse’irei Agudas Yisroel was set up. . . . We were collecting donations for the Palestinian Fund [Keren Hayishuv] as well as for the poor.19

The story of a young Gerer hasid from Sulejów who was caught reading I. L. Peretz’s Di shtrayml 20 in a beit midrash illustrates how much more quickly modernity infiltrated traditional culture in the cities than in the towns. The hasid was punished by his father for reading secular books and, consequently, sent to a yeshiva in Warsaw. The Warsaw hasidim tried to re-enact the traditions of the shtetl in the city, but the young man found the very books that had placed him in conflict with his parents in a hasidic home where he was employed as a melamed.21 Jewish culture flourished along with modernizing processes, making the shtetl less provincial than the Polish province. It must be noted, however, that modernity coexisted with stagnation, poverty, and lack of prospects. The eruption of cultural and political activity was, paradoxically, the result of the stagnation that blocked social mobility. The pre-war Polish Jewish hit song ‘Rebeka’ clearly illustrates the hopelessness of a Jewish girl whose only escape was to dream about a rich man who would lead her to ‘the palace door’.22 Similar sentiments can be found at the end of the 1934 autobiography of a woman from Kol omyja: /

18

19 Such restrictions did not apply to younger children. ‘Damaszek’, Autobiografia. Y. L. Peretz, Di shtrayml (Warsaw, 1890); this short story was especially critical of hasidic customs. A shtrayml is a fur-edged hat worn by rabbis and hasidic Jews on the sabbath and holidays. 21 ‘Jafet’, ‘Sulejów’ (1939), YIVO, MS 3782. 22 This song was written in Polish by the Jewish songwriter Henryk Wl as and the composer of popular music Zygmunt Bial ostocki; it was translated into Yiddish and was very popular in the 1930s. 20

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I realized that my father would never manage without me, that he has to have me at the shop, that it is out of the question for me to go to the hakhsharah.23 That is why I stopped visiting the Hehaluts [Pioneer] organization. For a year I just worked at the shop, going for a walk in the evenings, sometimes to a movie or to a theatre. But I did not go to the dances; the charm of dance is lost without a beloved person. Besides I was disturbed by the emptiness—not of the party itself, but when it is over.24

After the First World War the role of the shtetl lifestyle declined. The town community became more diverse owing to the plurality of coexisting (though often conflicting) political and cultural options. Group control over the individual was also decreasing; the repressive sanctions at the disposal of the religious authorities were purely symbolic, and less and less effective. Traditional authorities were losing their power over people. Political leaders and secular intellectuals were now esteemed. The security of group isolation was also fading. The individual’s privacy was less threatened, but everyone had to depend on his or her own resources, no longer sharing in the everyday life of the neighbours or in an extended family embracing many generations. 23

The hakhsharah was a training camp for young people who were preparing to leave for Palestine. The classes included vocational training, usually farming. Such camps were organized by Zionist parties, whose activists . applied for emigration certificates . .for hakhsharah graduates. 24 R. Glaser, ‘Zycie wspól czesnego ml odego Zyda (Zydówki)’ (Kol omyja, 1934), YIVO, MS 3816. /

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Small Towns in Inter-War Poland reg ina renz Po l is h Je w i s h provincial towns in the first half of the twentieth century deserve our attention for several reasons. Many factors contributed to the disappearance of these small towns, with their unique ethnic, cultural, and occupational structure. Antoni Sl onimski commemorated their disappearance in a touching elegy: /

No more will you find those little towns, where the cobbler was a poet, The watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour. No more will you find those towns where biblical psalms Were linked by the wind with Polish laments and Slavonic ardour, Where old Jews in the orchard, under the shade of cherry trees, Wept for the sacred walls of Jerusalem.

Small towns were common in the Polish territories. As Ryszard Kol odziejczyk remarks, ‘Their numbers, their continuity—virtually up to the present—as well as their economic and civilizational significance are, in a way, derived from a centuries-long process of development, with its belated urbanization, the dominance of the village over the town, negligible industrialization, and all that we find in the countries of central and eastern Europe.’1 Considering the diverse character of these small towns, it is not easy to specify which settlements, from an economic and social point of view, should be included in this category. In inter-war Poland there was a considerable discrepancy between the number of chartered towns and the number of settlements that could be counted as towns on the basis of their social and economic characteristics. There seems to be more than a grain of truth in Pierre George’s remark that it is impossible to define the term ‘town’ in simple and universal terms; and yet the straightforward measures of size and appearance remain the best criteria.2 In previous studies several factors have been used as criteria for categorizing a settlement as a town—among them the settlement’s economic function, its production and processing of raw materials, and the number of its inhabitants (under 10,000 people). In 1937 Wanda Rewien´ska included in the category of small /

1

R. Kol odziejczyk, ‘Spol ecznos´ci mal omiasteczkowe w Polsce XIX i XX w.: Zarys problematyki badawczej’, in R. Kol odziejczyk (ed.), Miasteczka polskie w XIX i XX wieku: Z dziejów formowania sie˛ 2 P. George, Miasto (Warsaw, 1956), 40. spol ecznos´ci (Kielce, 1992), 35. /

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towns all settlements that enjoyed civic rights; all settlements that had been classified as towns in the past; all settlements with railway stations; and all settlements with more than 2,500 inhabitants. Using these criteria, she arrived at a figure of 1,300 towns within the 1939 Polish frontiers. Of these, 730 settlements did not possess civic rights but met the economic and social criteria for inclusion in the category of ‘town’.3 Small towns served as the link between the industrial economy of larger towns and the agricultural economy of villages. This function arose not only from the strictly economic characteristics of small country towns, but also from tradition. For several decades small towns had developed an autonomous internal life and a unique culture of their own. The townspeople maintained their own system of values, as well as traditions that preserved their individuality and prestige. It was not the law, but their involvement in crafts, trade, and services, that guaranteed their membership of the middle class. Each town lived in accordance with its own rhythm, arising from its own distinctive origins and history. Stefania KowalskaGlikman is right in stressing that the development or decline of a town was determined not by one but by a number of factors affecting the region as a whole.4 This issue constitutes a separate problem to be researched. The process of the decline and agrarianization of smaller country towns, which began as early as the nineteenth century, intensified in the twentieth century. Stagnation, and—more often— depopulation were, to a considerable degree, the results of urbanization. People who left villages and deteriorating towns headed mainly for towns or cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Small towns did not provide the young with adequate prospects for the future and were therefore not attractive to them.5 One characteristic of Polish towns was their overwhelming wooden construction. The majority of houses were single-storey, made of wood, and shingle-roofed; some were adorned with arcades. Houses were situated along unpaved lanes that became cart-tracks on the outskirts of the town. The houses consisted of a spacious entrance hall and one or two rooms, with a small shed. They would often include a small shop or a craftsman’s workshop, a storeroom for materials and supplies, and provisions for the residents and fodder for the livestock. Behind the house there was a back yard with outbuildings, separated from neighbouring homes by a fence.6 In 1917, at a convention of town representatives in Lublin, the appearance of an average small town in central Poland was described thus: 3 W. Rewien´ska, Ge˛stos´´c sieci miejskiej w Polsce (Warsaw, 1937), 241–9; S. Rychlin´ski, ‘Socjologia miast’, Przegla˛d Socjologiczny, 3 (1935), 567. 4 S. Kowalska-Glikman, ‘Mal e miasteczka w publicystyce drugiej pol owy XIX w.’, in Kol odziejczyk (ed.), Miasteczka polskie, 82. 5 A. Jelonek, Ludnos´´c miast i osiedli typu miejskiego na ziemiach Polski od roku 1810 do 1960 (Warsaw, 1967), 6–57; R. Renz, Spol ecznos´ci mal omiasteczkowe w województwie kieleckim 1918–1939 (Kielce, 6 I. Tl oczek, Polskie budownictwo drewniane (Wrocl aw, 1980), 105–8. 1990), 34–6. /

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Generally, these are bigger or smaller housing complexes; in the Jewish district, they usually have no back yard, or so little of it that there is no room to put up an outside toilet or a sink, unless it is to be placed under somebody’s window. Obviously, the inhabitants are forced to dispose of dishwater, household refuse, and even all sorts of excreta of the healthy and the sick alike, straight onto unpaved streets and squares. In these small towns, therefore, the upper layer of soil is constantly covered with rotting organic material.7

In inter-war Poland the appearance of a country town changed little. In a monograph on one country town we read: ‘The Che˛ciny of the inter-war period is a neglected town, with overcrowded housing facilities, no basic municipal amenities, and a low level of hygiene, with disease spreading and outbreaks of epidemics occurring at intervals.’8 The appearance of one industrial country town, Kon´skie, was not far removed from this description. The town had a chaotic, careless architecture consisting for the most part of one-storey wooden houses.9 In typical small towns, whose names never found their way into the handbooks of art history, most buildings were of one or two storeys, architecturally unattractive, clustered along cramped lanes, and situated on parcels of land built over with sheds and outbuildings. These country towns were termed contemptuously ‘the provinces’ or ‘the holes’ by the inhabitants of larger towns. The life of a small town was centred around the marketplace and its neighbouring streets. The wealthiest craftsmen and merchants had their shops here, and it was here that the denizens of the town and its environs sold their produce, purchased necessities, transacted business, met at inns and restaurants, exchanged local gossip, and listened to news from afar. The most important public institutions were located on the marketplace, and it was here that the municipal authorities held their sessions and citizens argued their cases in court. Traditionally, cultural and educational institutions were situated here as well. Typically, small towns did not extend very far beyond the marketplace: in the smallest towns the marketplace was not just the commercial and cultural centre, but was in fact the entire municipal organism, for just beyond it lay fields.10 In the centre of a small town houses tended to be compact and cramped. The streets leading to the marketplace were somewhat less so. On the outskirts, along the roads leading out of the town, settlement was more dispersed. Churches figured prominently in the panorama of every small town. Their high roofs, with one or two steeples towering over the other buildings, became the emblem of these small country towns and accentuated their uniqueness. The churches in some of these towns were excellent specimens of ecclesiastical architecture. In the vicinity of the 17

59.

S. Klarner, ‘Higiena miast’, in Pamie˛tnik zjazdu przedstawicieli miast i miasteczek (Lublin, 1917),

18 J. Skrzypek, ‘Stosunki spol eczno-gospodarcze w Che˛cinach w latach 1918–1939’, in Z. Guldon (ed.), VII wieków Che˛cin: Material y z sesji naukowej 24 V 1975 (Kielce, 1976), 142. 19 J. Brzozowski, Kon´skie wczoraj i dzis´ (Warsaw, 1978), 73. 10 K. Wejchert, Miasteczka polskie jako zagadnienie urbanistyczne (Warsaw, 1947), 22. /

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church there would be accommodation and outbuildings for the church staff, as well as the presbytery, the vicarage, and the organist’s house. The Jewish quarter gave the town its special appearance. The shtetl was primarily a distinctive locality with respect to culture and customs. Within a few centuries of their arrival in the region the Jews in the small towns had created a culture of their own. Numerous instances of Jewish architecture, both congregational and secular, such as the beit midrash, the mikveh (bath house), the kirkut (Jewish cemetery), the h.eder, the hospital, and the old people’s home, were essential elements of the small-town landscape. The most Jewish of geographical points was the synagogue—the centre of religious and social life in the Jewish community.11 Unlike the places of worship of other religions, the synagogue was not a place for offerings, nor was it a holy place in the Christian sense. It was rather a place in which to gather for prayer and study. In contrast to the half-wooden, single-storey dwellings of the small country towns, the synagogue was, together with the church and possibly the town hall, one of the most splendid buildings in the small-town panorama. Another important centre of religious and social life was the beit midrash, where the Jews used to gather—rich and poor, scholars and simpletons alike. It was here that acquaintances were introduced and the foundations of Jewish solidarity were established. Any Jewish traveller, upon arriving at the town, could call at the beit midrash and count on the assistance of the local Jewish community. It is difficult to imagine a Jewish country town without an inn or a restaurant. These gathering places constituted a unique type of public forum, and were the focus of everyday life for the inhabitants not only of the town itself, but also of the nearby villages—especially on Sundays, holidays, and market days. Nor would the picture of the town be complete without buildings such as mills, windmills, brickyards and stonemasons’ workshops. In the landscape of every country town the cemetery occupied a special place. Its area was consecrated according to the appropriate ritual, and funerals were taken by a priest. The church oversaw the maintenance of its holy places. No wonder then that, in a country as traditionally Catholic as Poland, every cemetery was cared for; parishioners perceived their cemeteries as sacred places deserving special attention. It was a deeply rooted assumption that whatever was found within the cemetery walls belonged to the dead, just as whatever was found inside a grave belonged to its occupant. Such beliefs may be part of the distant echoes of pagan cults, but they also contributed considerably to the preservation of cemeteries.12 A small-town cemetery held the graves of family members, neighbours, and friends whose funerals one had witnessed; each grave had its own individual character. The most magnificent tombstones—sometimes in the form of small mausoleums—belonged to parish priests and more distinguished citizens. The majority, however, consisted 11 12

. M. Piechotka and K. Piechotka, Bóznice drewniane (Warsaw, 1957), 21. T. Rudkowski (ed.), Wies´ i miasteczko u progu zagl ady (Warsaw, 1991), 129. /

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of a wooden or cast-iron crucifix stuck into the ground. The cemetery would be shaded by trees, and surrounded by a painstakingly maintained fence. Jewish cemeteries displayed an exceptional variety of tombstones (matsevot) and tombstone inscriptions, as they generally survived untouched for centuries. According to the Talmud, ‘Jewish tombstones are more splendid than royal palaces.’13 Jewish gravestones varied in their height and the type of stone of which they were made. Some, dating back to the Renaissance, baroque, rococo, and neo-classical periods, have been preserved, the latter with characteristic sloping cornices. A religious prohibition forbade the depiction of human beings, so such representations were extremely rare. Their ornamentation mostly took the form of motifs showing plants or animals, or objects associated with worship or with the occupation of the deceased. On the graves of kohanim, or descendants of the priests, arms outstretched in a gesture of blessing would be carved; the graves of rabbis, scholars, and those who read the Torah in the synagogues were denoted by books and bookshelves; a collection box would symbolize generosity, a virtue highly valued in Judaism. Women’s graves would have candlesticks carved on them, as it was the women who lit the sabbath candles on Friday nights.14 We cannot know whether the ban on the depiction of human beings impoverished or enriched sepulchral art. Clearly, it led to creative solutions based on allusion and metaphor. The small town was not just a smaller version of the larger ones; it was an independent urban organization whose inhabitants were frequently far removed in their opinions, morality, and code of conduct from those of big towns. The burghers of small towns were united, despite internal divisions, by their mentality and lifestyle as well as by patterns of speech and behaviour. The dominant groups were the craftsmen, the merchants, and the market gardeners. The presence of other social strata, such as the intelligentsia, the bourgeoisie, and the working class, was conditioned by the administrative and economic character of the town. An intelligentsia was present in every small town, generally clustered in district centres. It was made up of clerks, teachers, clergymen, and—to a lesser extent— freelancers of various kinds. Because of the economic underdevelopment of the small towns, the bourgeoisie were few in number. Factory workers, similarly, constituted a small proportion of the population, although as a group they were characterized by a roughly homogeneous structure with regard to occupational and material status.15 In the social and occupational structure of the small town there were quite a few grey areas. Many people combined two or more sources of income. Many craftsmen and merchants, mainly Christians, owned their own houses and pieces of land. The . M. Krajewska, ‘Cmentarze zydowskie—mowa kamieni’, Znak, 2–3 (1983), 397.. . D. Muszyn´ski and L. Muszyn´ski, ‘Cmentarze zydowskie’, in Kalendarz Zydowski 1991/92 (Warsaw, 1991), 169–70; M. Krajewska, Czas kamieni (Warsaw, 1982), 3, 5. 15 J. Hoff, ‘Stosunki wyznaniowe i struktura spol eczno-zawodowa mal ego miasta galicyjskiego w dobie autonomii’, in Kol odziejczyk (ed.), Miasteczka polskie, 135–42. 13 14

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additional source of income they derived from the sale of produce is documented in Franciszek Kotula’s monograph on Gl ogów and in Jan Skl adzien´’s recollections of Pilzno.16 The practice of taking on additional jobs, within various social and vocational groups, assumed various forms. Physicians, midwives, and other medical workers employed by clinics and hospitals supplemented their income by treating people on the side. Similarly, teachers increased their earnings by tutoring privately. Approximately 10 per cent of the professionally active population of the small towns supplemented their income in some way.17 Many small country towns, both in Galicia and in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, could be described as shtetls—localities dominated by a Jewish community, organized according to their own rules in their own unique manner. The Jews constituted an integral part of the material and spiritual landscape of small towns. Poles and Jews living in the same town formed two separate environments. Rose Price recollects: ‘I was born in a small Polish town. In our district, everyone knew everyone else: grandparents, aunts, friends, neighbours, merchants, and craftsmen. The strangers were the non-Jews—the Poles.’18 That there was such fundamental closeness and such great psychological alienation is astounding. Both the Polish and the Jewish side harboured grievances and prejudices, although these had different sources and disparate natures. The model of bilateral contacts accepted by both sides was one of peaceful isolation, of a life devoid of conflict, but also of closer friendship. The Jews were an ethnic community with a marked consciousness of their cultural distinctiveness, which had been strengthened through the centuries by their common history, and which manifested itself in the cult of tradition and religious ties. Apart from tradition and religion, other important factors binding the Jewish community were the Yiddish language, clothing, customs, and communal institutions. In the small-town environment the gap between social strata was readily apparent. In descriptions of small towns the authors frequently draw attention to the fact that the wealthier citizens shut themselves off from the poor and the intelligentsia distanced themselves from the petty bourgeoisie (l yki) and obscurants (kol tuny); they also point to the reciprocal isolation of Poles and Jews. Zbigniew Gruda writes in his memoirs: /

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For centuries, until the Second World War, the inhabitants of Pin´czów had been divided into four ‘strata’: citizens, colloquially known as gulony; the intelligentsia; the poor, i.e. baniaki; and the Jews. The order of this enumeration . . . reflects accurately the position of each group in the social hierarchy, as perceived by the community. Each group occupied a quite specific part of the town, mixing with other groups reluctantly and infrequently.19 16 F. Kotula, Miasteczko na przykl adzie Gl ogowa Mal opolskiego i jego sa˛siadow: Próba biografii (Rzeszów, 1981), 15, 21; J. Skl adzien´, Za ciasnym wydawal mi sie˛ ten zaka˛tek: Pamie˛tniki (Kraków, 17 Renz, Spol ecznos´ci mal omiasteczkowe, 59. 1982), 39. 18 R. Price, ‘Odnalezienie Mesjasza’, Znak, 2–3 (1983), 325. 19 Z. Gruda, ‘Miasteczko nad Nida˛’, in J. Wyrozumski (ed.), Pin´czów i jego szkol y w dziejach (Warsaw, 1979), 267. /

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The various strata lived separate lives, and although their members met one another daily, they almost never met socially. Marriage between young people from two different strata was extremely rare, and was always treated as inappropriate. A great majority of country townsfolk were convinced of the permanence of this system. A cautious attitude towards the new went hand in hand with distrust of and a certain resentment towards those who broke the pattern. In his monograph on Kunów, Aleksander Bastrzykowski claimed that ‘country townspeople are characterized by a habit of lording it over everyone else, by conceit and vanity; in brief, by all that had long ago been reflected in comic characters’.20 Unflattering opinions concerning the inhabitants of small towns found their way into literature. For example, Pacanów, popularized by Kornel Makuszyn´ski, became synonymous with seediness, while small-town life was supposed to be characterized by the low intellectual standards of the locals. Obviously, townspeople had positive characteristics as well, such as diligence and thrift. A great deal of importance was attached to material wealth. Townsfolk therefore saved to purchase a piece of land or to open a workshop or a store. Not infrequently, in order to realize this lifelong ambition, they had to economize on food and clothing, not to mention cultural needs. Relationships between neighbours varied considerably, depending of course upon the parties’ personalities. Usually relations were proper, or even friendly, but arguments and disputes were also common. Generally, people would help one another in times of need. Assistance was granted particularly willingly to those afflicted by misfortunes such as fire, theft, or illness. These close neighbourly ties contributed to the persistence of the custom of spending leisure time at social gatherings. The natural need for entertainment was to a great extent satisfied by professional organizations as well as by cultural and educational associations. Country townspeople usually spent their spare time at social occasions organized by guild or merchant associations. At Christmas and Easter everyone shared the traditional wafers (opl atki) or eggs that had been blessed for the occasion. Because guilds were often something of a church brotherhood, whose duty it was to provide candles for church celebrations, the candle-making (lanie ´swiec) was itself the occasion for a gathering of the guild members. Great care was taken to ensure that the entire guild participated in the festive occasions of its members, and, by the same token, that a deceased master or apprentice was accompanied to his final resting place. Occasionally, guilds and merchant associations had their own chapels or altars in churches. Religion played a vital role in the everyday life of the small town. Small-town parishes functioned as the centre of social life. Even youths of a more radical religious orientation did not avoid the church on Sundays, as that would have /

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A. Bastrzykowski, Monografia historyczna Kunowa nad Kamienna˛ i jego okolicy (Kraków, 1939),

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meant social isolation. It was the communal experience of singing and prayer that mattered. Church buildings themselves, as well as their interiors, influenced the human consciousness. Some places of worship, roadside crucifixes, or shrines were unique monuments of collective national memory. The locals were careful not to neglect the crucifixes erected on the graves of former insurgents.21 Correspondingly, within the Jewish community Orthodox Jews predominated. Thus, from birth through marriage to the grave, ritual sanctified every significant moment of Jewish life. Holidays and rituals constituted the essential elements of the Jewish world: the sabbath, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and other holidays. On Friday evenings the streets and squares of the small towns were deserted; the sabbath was beginning. According to an old saying, ‘It was not Israel that kept the sabbath, but the sabbath that kept Israel’. Tsadikim (miracle-workers) enjoyed considerable respect among the Jewish population. By the turn of the nineteenth century, within the Polish territory, several dynasties of tsadikim had come into being. As Eugeniusz Duda notes, ‘Some towns and country towns, even the incon. spicuous out-of-the-way Polish settlements such as Bobowa, Lezajsk, Opatów, Kozienice, Bel z, Kock Aleksandrów, Góra Kalwaria, Mszczonów, and others, became famous hasidic centres precisely during this period, thanks to the local tsadikim.’22 At least once a year, around the autumn holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followers of a particular tsadik made a pilgrimage to his court. Religion was a source of hope and joy for the Jewish population. A pious Jew knew that he was in exile so it was no wonder that misfortunes befell him. He also expected his lot to improve, but only if, and as far as, God desired. Levels of education were not high in the country towns. From the 1931 census data we learn that every sixth inhabitant of a small town was illiterate.23 The smalltown population was dominated by those with an elementary education. For example, in the early 1920s in the Kielce province only 4.6 per cent of the small-town population had completed secondary education, 0.6 per cent had finished vocational school, and a mere 0.5 per cent were university graduates. Unfortunately, data for the subsequent years on the educational levels of country townspeople are insufficient. It seems that the percentage of the population with secondary and vocational education was on the increase. Data from 1936 show that in Kielce province 13.6 per cent of craftsmen had master’s qualifications and 27.7 per cent were in possession of an apprentice’s certificate.24 Craftsmen and merchants were not normally interested in occupational self-improvement; the majority assumed that a master’s certificate would not provide them with any actual benefits as their clientele came only from the closest surrounding areas and would not demand such qualifications. /

. J. Marian´ski, Religijnos´´c w procesie przemian (Warsaw, 1991), 151, 187; H. Bl azkiewicz, Dzieje 22 E. Duda, Krakowskie judaica (Warsaw, 1991), 27. parafii Pilica (Kraków, 1988), 75–82. 23 Mal y Rocznik Statystyczny (Warsaw, 1939), 28–9. 24 Renz, Spol ecznos´ci mal omiasteczkowe, 116. 21

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Research on the small-town environment demonstrates that the probability that children would receive an education depended greatly upon their parents’ financial resources and level of cultural awareness. Thus the greatest educational progress was made by the children of the intelligentsia; the merchants’ and craftsmen’s children came second, and the children of country-town farmers came third; with the sons and daughters of day labourers in the last place. The attitude of day labourers towards children’s education was characterized by the authors of a study on small-town education as follows: ‘Day labourers do not approve of schooling; when urged to see to their children’s education, they say, “But this daughter of mine won’t be no governess or teacher, so it’s enough for her to know how to sign her name.” ’25 The same study shows that the attitude of the craftsmen, merchants, and country-town farmers towards education was totally different. These groups fully appreciated the role of education and made great efforts to provide for their children’s schooling. However, in a small town there was little opportunity to climb the social ladder. The farmers’ children most often became farmers or craftsmen; the craftsmen’s children became craftsmen or merchants. For the children of the poorer townspeople or day labourers, learning a trade represented great advancement. The activities of political parties as well as cultural and educational institutions effected a change in the mentality and lifestyles of small-town communities in the inter-war period. Jewish children were less inclined to seek the guidance of the parents and their rabbis; they took their cues rather from one or another social or political organization. In his sociological and historical study of young Jewish people in the 1930s Max Weinreich concluded that the young were increasingly departing from the traditional forms of Jewish life, and that this in turn triggered exceptionally sharp criticism on the part of the older generation.26 Orthodox parents generally viewed their children’s social and political leanings as a misfortune threatening their hearths and homes and loosening the bonds between the generations. In 1933 the rabbi of Szydl ów, Mejlech Rabinowicz, wrote to the starosta of Stopnica: /

On behalf of the complaining parents and the entire Jewish community, I would be greatly obliged if you would kindly put an end to the impudence of the young, and not allow them to enter the Hehaluts [Pioneer] organization, which is undesirable for the Szydl ów settlement, as it leads to the corruption of the youth, which is prohibited by our religion.27 /

Admonitions and prohibitions did not suffice in this case; in the inter-war period many changes were taking place in Jewish family life. Similar changes, slow as they were, could also be observed in Polish families. Z. Mysl akowski (ed.), Wychowanie w ´srodowisku mal omiasteczkowym (Warsaw, 1934), 123. . . M. Weinreich, Studium o ml odziezy zydowskiej (Poznan´, 1935), 18. 27 Letter from M. Rabinowicz, rabbi of Szydl ów, to the Stopnica district administrative officer, 26 June 1933, Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Kielcach, microfilm 2598. 25 26

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Jewish Patrons and Polish Clients: Patronage in a Small Galician Town ro sa lehmann They all marched past before Martin’s eyes: the grandparents, parents, children. He knew them all by name . . . There is the old rabbi, and at the home of Rabbi Segal, Martin was quite one of the family. He brought water several times a day, cut wood, and each Saturday he ate sabbath bread with fish in the rabbi’s kitchen. And who could compare with Martin on the morning of Passover when the rebbe asked him to enter the rabbinical court? The rebbe, the judge, and the sexton waited for him. The rebbe spoke Yiddish and Martin understood every single word. The leavened bread from all over the town was sold to him, even the bread which the Jews from Melawe had not yet brought to the rebbe but which they did not trust. And he, Martin, bought the leavened bread and paid in cash. And when he left with his purchased ‘wealth’, he would bend before the court and speak in Yiddish: ‘Martin, the shabbes goy, wishes you a kosher and happy Passover.’ The face of old Martin cleared with joy, his eyes brightened, and his lips muttered Yiddish words that he had not heard in years. That there were no more Jews in Melawe, no single person to speak Yiddish with, was bad for Martin. ( j. op a t os h u, ‘The Jew Legend’)

W hen I first began research on Poles and Jews in Poland and their mutual relationship I did have preconceptions about what this relationship entailed. Through both my Dutch and my academic background I had learned of a troubled relationship. Poles and Jews lived isolated from one another in separate communities, and contacts between them were hostile owing to the virulent antisemitism of the Poles. I was still a teenager when I watched the documentary Shoah on Dutch television. For me, and the people watching with me, Claude Lanzmann’s documentary established a permanent association between Poland and the Final Solution of European I wish to thank E. Gebhard for his translation of the eyewitness account used in this chapter (J. Litwak, ‘Oral Testimony’, Mar. 1970, Yad Vashem, 03/3350, Oral testimony of Israel B. relating to the murder of the Jewish community of Jas´ liska recorded by Jósef Litwak). I am also grateful for the valuable comments and suggestions of Jeremy Boissevain, Daniel Meijers, David and Rudo Niemeijer, and Hans Vermeulen on earlier versions of this chapter. I am especially indebted to the Poles and Jews from Jas´ liska who were willing to share with me their private memories.

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Jewry—concentration camps, memorial sites, concealed facts, painful memories, peasant backwardness, sorrow, resentment. In 1992, when I left for Poland to carry out my research, I was fully prepared to meet with resistance and hostility on the part of my Polish hosts and informants. However, my experiences and research findings did not meet my own expectations. During the regular visits I paid to a number of peasant households in Jas´liska, a former town, now village, in south-east Poland, my peasant informants were more than willing to tell me stories about their former Jewish neighbours—‘their Jews’, as they would call them. The affection and commitment that were displayed in these stories were similar to those shown by grandfather Martin in Opatoshu’s story ‘The Jew Legend’, which opened this chapter.1 Even if there was hatred and hostility between the Polish and Jewish communities in Jas´liska, it was other qualities that prevailed in the relationship: affection, commitment, admiration, surprise about the Jewish customs and observances, and dismay about the sudden and violent death of the Jewish residents. These findings inspired me to focus on the issue of reciprocity and co-operation between the Polish and Jewish communities in the research village, rather than on the issue of conflict. This chapter attempts to contribute to a more accurate understanding of the relationship between Poles and Jews at the micro level by way of combining an anthropological perspective with an analysis of sources that are connected to each other both in time and in space. Drawing on archival documents and interviews with Polish residents from Jas´liska and with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust originating from this village, I show that in the case of Jas´liska, even after a difficult beginning and continued sources of tension between the Polish and Jewish communities, a certain measure of stability was achieved, in which Poles and Jews lived in close, but strained, interdependence. The chapter begins with a historical outline of the Polish–Jewish relationship in Jas´liska and addresses two questions: first, what were the conditions that gave rise to the mutual dependence between the Polish and Jewish communities? and secondly, to what degree can this mutual dependence be characterized in terms of patronage? Other studies have pointed to the aspect of patronage in the relationship between Poles and Jews in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Poland, when Jews functioned as intermediaries between the Polish nobility and the peasant serfs.2 In this context Jews were clients of the wealthy landlords who leased out to them the management of feudal estates. For the peasant serfs the Jews were powerful middlemen who had access to the goods and services they needed. This chapter argues that, while with the collapse of feudalism the Jews largely lost their role as brokers J. Opatoshu, ‘The Jew Legend’, in his The Jew Legend and Other Stories (New York, 1951). A. Hertz, The Jews in Polish Culture (Evanston, Ill., 1988); M. J. Rosman, The Lords’ Jews: Magnate–Jewish Relations in the Polish Commonwealth During the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1990); G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1992). 1

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between the landlords and the peasant serfs, they increasingly gained a new role as patrons providing access to first-order resources (such as jobs, funds, and specialized knowledge) to their peasant clients. It goes on to show that the measure of cooperation that characterized magnate–Jewish relations in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth can be extrapolated to the peasant–Jewish relations that developed in the towns and villages of early twentieth-century Poland.

ec onomi c co m pe ti ti o n: f r o m e x c l us i o n to se ttle m e n t During the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries Jews from Germany, Bohemia, and Moravia were attracted to the growing towns and cities of Poland and filled the commercial and entrepreneurial niche. Compared to those in western Europe, the Jews in Poland enjoyed a favourable legal and economic status. The 1264 charter on Jewish liberties in Poland defined the Jews as serfs of the state treasury (servi camerae) and subjects of the king, and at the same time secured the Jews’ economic and religious inviolability. Despite these basic rights, the legal and economic position of the Jews depended to a considerable degree on the policy of the owner on whose lands they resided: the king, the Roman Catholic bishop, or the (magnate) landlord. Progressively, as the position of the king weakened, the petty nobility and the royal patriciate became more successful in eliciting official restrictions on Jewish settlement and economic rights in royally chartered towns.3 Such was the case in Jas´liska when, in 1608, the residents4 persuaded the ruling bishop to grant their town a privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis, a privilege which they successfully defended for centuries.5 The first written record on the exclusion of Jews from Jas´liska is in the town book dated 1593. It tells of a secret meeting of ‘ordinary townsmen’ who after serious deliberation agreed that ‘whoever rents a room in his house to the Jew Lazur, who takes in toll, then such a man owes a 10-grzywna fine to the populace and to the gentlemen councillors’.6 In 1608 the bishop decreed that ‘for the safety of Rosman, The Lords’ Jews, 38. A large section of the town’s population consisted of Hungarian merchants, who organized the import and trade of Hungarian wine. Another important part of the town’s population was involved in handicrafts. In the second half of the 16th century four large guilds (wielkie cechy) were established, embracing various industrial specializations, including blacksmiths, tavern-keepers, tailors, shoe. makers, furriers, coopers, and weavers (Z. Orlik, ‘Dzieje Jas´ lisk’, Master’s thesis, Wyzsza Szkol a Pedagogiczna w Rzeszowie, 1979). The Hungarian merchants as well as the Polish artisan guilds feared the competition of the Jewish merchants. 5 See also F. Bostel, Naukowy Literacki, 18/7 (1890), . ‘Przyczynek do dziejów Jas´ lisk’, Przewodnik . 801–19; M. Horn, ‘Zydzi ziemi sanockiej do 1650r.’, Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 71 (1970), 3–30; A. Prochaska, ‘Jas´ liska, miasteczko i klucz biskupów przemyskich obrza˛dku l acin´skiego (cia˛g dalszy)’, Przewodnik Naukowy Literacki, 17/3 (1889), 263–70. 6 Bostel, ‘Przyczynek do dziejów Jas´ lisk’, 805. 3 4

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the townsmen’ Jews were forbidden to buy a farmstead, shop, or lot in Jas´liska, or to lease houses or to engage in trade, except during fairs or markets.7 This privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis met the interests of both the bishop and the townspeople: while the townspeople considered the Jews to be their main economic rivals, the Church aimed at preserving religious uniformity by restricting the settlement rights of all non-Roman Catholics.8 However, the communal records show that the interests of the bishop and the townspeople clashed at times. When, in 1611, the Jews brought a charge against the authorities of Jas´liska who kept them from taking up residence and buying wine even during fairs and markets, the bishop gave his . vote to the Jews.9 Likewise, in 1630 the bishop and the leaseholder (dzierzawca) of the manor to which Jas´liska belonged partly lifted the ban on Jewish settlement and decreed that ‘no single townsman is allowed to admit a Jew into his house to pass the night or store his merchandise, except for the current Jewish arendator’.10 Indeed, sources show that the first Jewish settlers were tax-farmers (pisarze poborowi) on behalf of the leaseholder of the customs of Jas´liska.11 Thus, even during the period of de non tolerandis Judaeis the attitude of the wealthier ruling stratum towards Jewish involvement in the town’s economy was fairly ambivalent. For the bishop and the leaseholder (respectively de jure and de facto owner of the town) the economic activities of the Jews held several attractions. First, the role of the Jews as intermediaries between the town and the countryside stimulated trade as well as crafts in the town and in the region. Secondly, Jewish involvement in the arenda (particularly tax-farming) provided the town’s rulers with cash.12 Finally, taking into account the important contribution of the Jews to the local economy, and the general economic decline in the region since the seventeenth century, the exclusionary policies proved counter-productive. When, after the first partition of Poland in 1772, Jas´liska was placed under the jurisdiction of the Bostel, ‘Przyczynek do dziejów Jas´ lisk’, 805; Prochaska, ‘Jas´ liska’, 269. This is clear from the fact that during the 17th century the town authorities of Jas´ liska more than once appealed to the privilege which was granted to the town by the ‘forebears of the present bishop’ and which says that ‘Ruthenians’ (rusznaczy), elsewhere denoted as ‘people of the Greek Catholic faith’ (ludzie greckiej religii), ‘are forbidden to have houses in the town or to . take up residence in the town’ 9 Horn, ‘Zydzi ziemi sanockiej do 1650 r.’. (Bostel, ‘Przyczynek do dziejów Jas´ lisk’, 806). 10 Bostel, ‘Przyczynek do dziejów Jas´ lisk’, 806; my emphasis. . 11 Horn, ‘Zydzi ziemi sanockiej do 1650 r.’. 12 Rosman (The Lords’ Jews, 107) defines an arenda as a lease of property or rights, transferred from the lessor to the lessee, in exchange for a pre-set rent. In practice the term ‘arenda’ referred to a lease of monopoly rights mostly held by Jewish arendators. The best-known and most often exploited right available for the arenda was the right to propination (propinacja), meaning the exclusive right of the landlord to produce and sell alcoholic beverages within his domain. Besides the liquor monopoly, Polish landowners enjoyed the exclusive right to operate grain, fulling, tanning, and sawmills on their territory. In addition, an owner often leased out his rights to collect tolls or excise taxes in a given locality. Other kinds of lease included fairs, saltmines, tobacco sales, fishponds, and dairy production (ibid.). The fact that noblemen were reluctant to engage in an occupation that they considered undignified kept the field of arenda almost exclusively Jewish. 17 18

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Austro-Hungarian empire and the ‘enlightened’ Austrian policies weakened the power of the Polish gentry and the bishops, the true influx of Jews into Jas´liska began. The first two Jewish families settled in Jas´liska as early as 1808.13 The larger influx started in the second half of the nineteenth century.14 By the early 1920s Jas´liska numbered 224 Jewish residents, who made up a quarter of the town’s total population.15 By the time the Jews set foot in Jas´liska, the town had lost much of its earlier grandeur. The numerous wars which marked the end of the Polish Kingdom (1650‒1772) and the ‘colonial policy’ which was consistently promoted by the subsequent Austrian rulers (1772‒1918) had turned Jas´liska into a feudal agrarian community of secondary importance. The abolition of serfdom in 1848 hardly improved the conditions of Polish town dwellers. The destitute peasants now paid ground taxes for plots too small to ‘pasture a goat on’.16 The local inheritance system, the outdated rotation system (trójpolówka), as well as the poor mountain soils resulted in crop yield below subsistence level. Hailstorms, pestilence, and a series of epidemics further affected agricultural production and led to heavy losses among the town’s population.17 The diminishing opportunities to sell crops and handicrafts locally, as well as the low level of industrialization in Galicia, forced many families to leave Jas´liska and emigrate ‘for bread’, particularly to the Americas. Emigration became so widespread that at the turn of the century every peasant household in Jas´liska had at least one member who lived and worked overseas.18 As a result of these economic changes the Jews and Poles were no longer in competition. Austrian election registers of 1870 show that 93 per cent of Poles were active in farming, and that of the sixteen registered Jews, seven earned a living from trade, five from the manufacture and sale of alcohol, and four as farmers.19 Indeed, Jews chose to settle in Jas´liska because of the economic prospects offered by new outlets in a predominantly agrarian area. Also the Poles were likely to profit from the face-to-face interaction with the Jews, as the latter gave them the opportunity to obtain cash and purchase non-farm products locally. However, the complementary interests of the Poles and the Jews in no way guaranteed harmonious integration. The Jews, who during the second half of the nineteenth century, at the height of the agricultural crisis, moved into the town centre in ever growing numbers, were not exactly welcome. Jewish settlement in Jas´liska went hand in hand with rapid colonization of traditional Jewish niches and the acquisition of Polish lands and property. The Jews’ 13

Litwak, ‘Oral Testimony’. Orlik, ‘Dzieje Jas´ lisk’; W. Grzesik and T. Traczyk, Od Koman´czy do Bartnego (Warsaw, 1992). 15 Gl ówny Urza˛d Statystyczny, Skorowidz miejscowos´ci Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej (Warsaw, 1924), 16 17 18 Orlik, ‘Dzieje Jas´ lisk’, 50. Ibid. Ibid. table 23. 19 Wojewódzkie Archiwum Pan´stwowe w Krakowie, Oddzial na Wawelu (WAPK), Lista wyborców . dla wyborów sejmowych (1870); Spis czl onków gminy i przynaleznych do niej, którzy sa˛ uprawnieni do wyboru (1870). 14

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main asset in their attempt to settle in the small town was their economic strength. They owed their economic weight to their predominance (or the Poles’ virtual absence) in the local cash economy. The unequal distribution of capital and land among the Polish and Jewish communities is illustrated by the figures of ground and income tax paid by the two communities to the Austrian treasury. Whereas in 1867 the few Jewish townsmen contributed 61 per cent of the total income tax paid by the town, the Poles contributed 92 per cent of the total ground tax.20 In times of scarcity (e.g. famine or war) cash was an important asset that improved the chances of survival. But also in peacetime the financially strong had an advantage over the financially weak. Since Jews had money available and many Poles were in need of cash, supply and demand easily met: the moneyed Jewish settlers bought up the lands of the mostly impoverished Polish town dwellers, who moved to the outskirts. The predominance of the Jews in the local cash economy worried the Polish community, and especially its leaders. Their worries coincided with a larger movement in Polish society to defend the so-called ‘Polish cause’. In the late nineteenth century factions of Polish nationalists had mobilized to eliminate Jewish commerce and to break the peasants’ dependence on Jewish merchants. Backed by the slogan of the ‘Polonization of trade’, the Polish nationalists established the Towarzystwo Kól ek Rolniczych (Association of Agricultural Circles), which aimed at reducing the alarming poverty of the Polish peasantry and stimulating Polish entrepreneurship in the countryside.21 By 1896 the rural co-operative movement operated some 1,220 country stores, which sold goods and agricultural implements, bought up the agricultural products from the peasants, and gave loans and dividends in support of peasant activities.22 In 1892 the Kól ko Rolnicze (Agricultural Circle) was also introduced in Jas´liska.23 This agricultural co-operative, set up exclusively to serve the economic interests of the Polish populace, cut into the business of local Jewish tradesmen in several ways. First, the rural co-operative plan associations were in powerful competition with the Jewish moneylenders. Secondly, Poles were encouraged to buy at the Kól ko Rolnicze store and boycott Jewish shops. Finally, the number of products which could be purchased and sold by Jews had been significantly curtailed by the state authorities. Although firmly encouraged by the town and Church authorities, Polish contributions to local trade remained limited. Even during the 1930s, the period of nationwide anti-Jewish campaigns and economic boycotts, the total /

/

/

20 WAPK, Verzeichnis der wahlberechtigten Gemeindebürger und Angehörigen (1867); Wählerliste für die Landstagwahlen (1867). 21 F. Golczewski, ‘Rural Anti-semitism in Galicia Before World War 1’, in C. Abramsky, M. Jachimczyk, and A. Polonsky (eds.), The Jews in Poland (Oxford, 1986); R. Mahler, ‘Jewish Emigration from Galicia’, in D. D. Moore (ed.), East European Jews in Two Worlds: Studies from the YIVO Annual (New York, 1990). 22 23 Mahler, ‘Jewish Emigration from Galicia’, 130. Orlik, ‘Dzieje Jas´ lisk’.

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number of Polish private shops in Jas´liska never exceeded four. Most of the time the Poles had little choice but to frequent Jewish shops and did not follow the national attempts to boycott Jewish enterprises; it simply was not in their interest. The limited involvement of Poles in the local and regional market, apart from the activities of the rural co-operative, which from 1918 were heavily protected by the Roman Catholic Church and the Polish national authorities, can be traced to the lack of a Polish trade network to realize an efficient supply and distribution of merchandise and information. One major advantage of the Jewish merchant was that he had access to such contacts and information, and that, as a rule, he knew his customers. The extent and importance of the local Jewish networks is clear from the accounts of Jewish informants. First, through marriage bonds Jews were able to activate a family network that reached far beyond the confines of the local community. Jewish informants gave examples of how, in setting up one business or another, within or outside Jas´liska, mostly relatives were consulted or involved in some other way. Secondly, generations of experience in trade laid the foundation for numerous contacts in the professions and with the main trading centres; hence, for example, the large number of Jewish companies that specialized in exploitation of local forests and that were run by local Jews with expert contacts outside the region, in Kraków, and even outside the country, in Slovakia.

e conomi c i nte rd e pe nd e nc e: on j e wis h c r e di t o r s a nd e m plo y e r s i n i nte r-w a r j a s´ l i s ka Notwithstanding the initial tensions, at the turn of the twentieth century both communities had adapted to the ‘natural’ economic division. The status of the Poles as ‘unfailing peasants’ and the Jews as ‘good traders’ remained unimpaired, in spite of attempts by the state authorities and the nationalists to do away with this division. This is clear from the accounts of the Polish and Jewish informants who even today explain the relationship as a natural outcome of things. In the capacity of peasants and entrepreneurs, Poles and Jews provided important goods and services to each other and occupied reciprocal and therefore different niches in close interdependence. In fact, Polish informants explain the peaceful coexistence in pre-war Jas´liska by the complementary interests of the Polish and Jewish communities. Comments like ‘We respected each other because we bought products from them’ or ‘We lived on good terms, because the Jews always needed milk and eggs’ illustrate this point. As a result of the abolition of serfdom in 1848 the Polish peasants became increasingly dependent on the market with respect to both the purchase of basic products and income. The First World War in particular, which brought considerable material losses to the peasant households, had raised the level of need of the Polish peasants. Increased dependence on the market, however, coincided with a

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decline in opportunities to generate farm income other than by selling agricultural produce. During the inter-war years opportunities for work, which had never been high in the region, declined with the establishment of new national borders in 1921. The closure of the borders put an end to centuries of prosperous trade with, and seasonal migration to, Slovakia and Hungary. At the same time the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s reduced the opportunities for peasant migrants in the United States and decreased remittances from abroad.24 With this increased dependence of the Polish peasants on the market, the significance of the Jews in the local peasant economy rose. Whenever a Polish peasant was short of cash or goods, he went to a Jewish shopkeeper, who would grant him limited credit. This could take two different forms: the Jewish shopkeeper either lent him the money necessary to purchase goods, not necessarily at Jewish shops, or he sold his goods on credit (na borg). The practice of private moneylending had become particularly widespread among Galician Jews (especially among the village shopkeepers) after the abolition of serfdom.25 This is confirmed by Polish as well as Jewish informants, who explained that the practice of moneylending (which in most cases would take the form of buying on credit) was prevalent in Jas´liska until the outbreak of the Second World War.26 While Jews had always acted as creditors to Poles, from the second decade of the twentieth century they also became the main providers of jobs. During the 1920s and 1930s two Jewish sawmills employed over a hundred Polish men and women. In a witness account Israel B., a former inhabitant of Jas´liska, recalls: ‘In 1912 two sawmills were opened, one after the other, of which the owners were Jews. The clerks and foremen were Jews, whereas the ordinary workers were Christians. The sawmills were a source of prosperity for the small town.’27 The role of Jews as clerks and foremen in the sawmills contributed to their comparatively high social standing in the local community. Such is confirmed by the account of the Jewish informant David I., who remembered Alter S., the foreman of the wood-drying section in the local sawmill. Alter S. lived in Daliowa (some 2 kilometres from Jas´liska) and was loved by the villagers of Daliowa because he was the man who ‘hired and fired people’. Likewise, the people from Jas´liska remember the successful entrepreneur and proprietor of the local wood industry, Abraham B. 24

Orlik, ‘Dzieje Jas´ lisk’. On this, see Mahler, ‘Jewish Emigration from Galicia’; Orlik, ‘Dzieje Jas´ lisk’. 26 It should be noted that during the inter-war years Poles also entered the sector of moneylending. Mortgage deeds in the real-estate registers show that debtors and creditors were Poles as well as Jews. However, in contrast to Poles, who often were indebted to Jews (with debts sometimes exceeding 200 zlotys), the Jews themselves were rarely indebted to Poles as richer relatives or co-religionists were quick to help them out. Names of ‘fortunate’ Jews often appear in the mortgage deeds buying land and selling or giving it to the indebted Jews. As a result, Jews were indebted to ‘richer’ Jews rather than to Poles (R. Lehmann, ‘Conflict or Harmony? Poles and Jews in a Small Galician Town’, International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 4 (1996–7), 323–9; id., Symbiosis and Ambivalence: Poles and Jews 27 Litwak, ‘Oral Testimony’, 3. in a Small Galician Town (New York, 2001) ). 25

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As a benefactor of the Jewish community who slipped money to the house of prayer and to the h.eder, Abraham B. commanded respect among the local Jews. But for the local Poles he was no less important. Polish informants recalled him as a devout and important man. By way of showing their respect to him they submissively called him ‘Mr Owner’. Indeed, in 1935 the high social standing of Abraham B. was sealed with a seat on the town council. In this capacity he followed other prominent Jews who had been elected to the town council in earlier years (at least as far back as 1879). The high reputation of the Jews in Jas´liska is also confirmed by Israel B., who made the following observation: During the first years of the First World War representation depended on the amount of taxes one paid. Since the Jews paid the highest taxes, they obtained six of the twelve seats, in spite of their proportionally low numbers. This situation changed in 1923, when the number of seats was reduced by half. The political status of the Jews, however, remained unimpaired, and the people took full account of their opinions. In business matters they [the Jews] were renowned advisers and Christian intellectuals would go to them for advice.28

Besides employing Poles as peasant workers in the sawmills, the Jews hired Poles as servants to clean their houses and look after their children, as shabes goyim, who performed light domestic tasks on religious holidays, as timber-cutters in the forest, as carters who transported merchandise and wood, and finally as day labourers who cultivated the land owned by Jews. As one informant put it: ‘When a farmer had two strong horses, he used to work in the forest, and carry wood or merchandise to the town; and the Jews paid him for that.’ The extent to which the Polish residents depended on employment mainly provided by the Jews is especially telling in the recollection by a number of Polish informants that on Sundays, after morning service, a large number of Polish peasants would gather in the market square and wait for the Jews to call them and give them some kind of job. It was on these Sundays that Jews would replenish their shops with merchandise and make the necessary preparations for the week. The peasant who happened to be selected by a Jew as a carter or a porter was lucky, for ‘he was paid for his job’. Likewise, on the sabbath Polish boys and girls got ready to light the candles and the ovens in Jewish homes, to carry the prayer books for the Jewish men, and to fetch water or perform other light domestic tasks, for on the sabbath ‘Jews were not even allowed to light a match’. In return for their work the children received sweets or bread, and occasionally were given money. Jan S., who was affectionately called Yankele by his Jewish patrons, acted as a servant on such occasions: When the sabbath began, they [the Jews] prayed from night-time until the first meal at eleven in the morning. On the sabbath one Jewish woman used to go to my grandmother and would say to me: ‘Yankele, go and fetch me the kugel’—it was some kind of dough made from potatoes, a dish made from mashed onions and fresh potatoes. I used to take all the pots 28

Ibid. 4.

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to all the families, and I had five families. The oven was in the wall of one Jewish house. A Jew stood there on guard so that nobody would enter. It was well guarded. When I came to take one of these pots, they gave me a hot piece of material. In that way I could transport two pots. And I had to be careful not to fall down or to spill food, because it was their holiday meal. In return I got as much as they wanted to give me. Some 10 or 20 groszy per pot. So I was always waiting for the Jewish Saturday, and for this sabbath. I sometimes collected 1 zloty in this way—a worker at the sawmill had to work ten or twelve hours for this money. Sometimes, when I visited these families, Jewish women offered a piece of their special sabbath bread to me. They said: ‘Here you are, take this.’ And grandmother always asked me if I had fetched her another piece of bread and I told her: ‘Here, you have one, granny.’ And I had money for my exercise books, and my grandmother had money for flour. Because I went to school. I was very happy because of that. Sometimes I saved money to buy shoes. If I managed to save 4 zlotys, I had enough to buy high-quality shoes, which I could wear the whole year through.

pol ish c li e nts a nd j e wi s h pat r o n s : c o - o p e r a t iv e sy m bi osi s rathe r th a n c o n f l i ct In the long term the economic interdependence of Poles and Jews provided the basis for stable and symbiotic relations between the two communities in Jas´liska. Their close interdependence, as well as the competition for scarce resources, created the need for close political and economic relations. Of crucial importance in the maintenance of the political and social equilibrium were the strict ethnic boundaries between the Polish and Jewish communities, as well as the patron–client relationship that had developed between the members of the two communities.29 The perspective of patronage, here defined as a set of relations in which two parties unequal in status, wealth, and influence form a dyadic, particularistic, selfregulating relationship of asymmetrical commitment and face-to-face contact,30 sheds a different light on the quality of the relationship linking Poles with Jews in inter-war Poland. It offers an alternative to those studies that analyse Polish–Jewish interaction primarily in terms of conflict or that analyse Jewish and Polish communities in isolation. Where a social group has control of the means of production utilized by another group, a relationship of inequality and stratification emerges. This was still the case for Poles and Jews in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Poland. During the period of the Second Serfdom (1550‒1850) the Polish nobility had monopolized the means of production employed by both the Polish peasants and the Jewish merchants. After the abolition of serfdom in 1848 the Poles and Jews took control of the means of production associated with the economic sectors in which they traditionally operated; that is, Polish farmers took control of land, while Jewish 29 30

Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence. V. Burkolter, The Patronage System: Theoretical Remarks (Basle, 1976), 7.

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tradesmen took control of capital and capital goods. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries farming increasingly failed to provide a living for many peasant households. As a consequence, Polish peasants became increasingly dependent on the capital resources that were monopolized by the Jews. Indeed, to be able to make a living, many had to turn to Jewish creditors, and, from the second decade of the twentieth century, to Jewish employers, to gain the necessary cash or goods. A crucial aspect of the post-feudal relationship between Poles and Jews is not so much the asymmetry it implied—this had already been the case in the relationship between the Jewish middlemen and peasant serfs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—but rather the types of resource that were exchanged. Here it is necessary to make a distinction between first- and second-order resources. Jeremy Boissevain defines the former as resources that are directly controlled, such as land, jobs, scholarship funds, or specialist knowledge. The latter are strategic contacts with people who control such resources directly or who have access to such people. According to Boissevain, those who dispense first-order resources may be called patrons; those who dispense second-order resources are brokers.31 After the abolition of serfdom Jews lost their preferential access to law and order, which meant that their role as brokers between those who owned land and those who worked on it lost significance. Meanwhile, because of their former activities as brokers, the Jews gained access to a number of first-order resources—jobs, funds, and specialist knowledge—that were in short supply and on which the peasants depended heavily to make a living. In this context a relationship developed between the Polish peasants and Jewish entrepreneurs that bears elements of a patron–client relationship. Theoretically, the patron–client relationship distinguishes itself from other social relationships in a number of ways. To begin with, the asymmetry between the two partners in the relationship is more distinct than in other relationships, which is implicit in the goods and services that they exchange.32 In the patron–client relationship the patron is loyal to his client as long as this is in his interests: he may furnish the client with some basic means of subsistence, be a ‘subsistence crisis insurance’ for him, protect him in various fields, or act as a broker and exert influence for his benefit. The client, for his part, is loyal to his patron: he is willing to offer basic labour services, as well as supplementary services, which are desired by the patron. In addition, he shows deference to the patron, serves as a loyal member of the patron’s faction, leads new clients to the patron’s clientele, and agrees to maintain the status quo, which implies a hidden promise to give up all claims to autonomous access to resources.33 The difference in power between the patron and J. Boissevain, Friends of Friends: Networks, Manipulators and Coalitions (Oxford, 1974), 147–8. On this, see V. Burkolter and E. R. Wolf, ‘Kinship, Friendship and Patron–Client Relations in Complex Societies’, in M. Banton (ed.), The Social Anthropology of Complex Societies (London, 1966), 33 Burkolter, The Patronage System, 9. 1–22. 31 32

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the client therefore largely depends on the degree to which the patron monopolizes the flow of information, goods, and services to and between his clients.34 Another important aspect of the patron–client relationship is that it extends beyond the confines of membership of the family or group. From this it follows that entry into this patron–client relationship is mostly voluntary. A relationship may be initiated by the patron or by the client, both with the help of the same strategy. A patron who is looking for a client helps someone generously and apparently unselfishly through some economic calamity, in the courtroom, or in other difficulty. Thereafter that person may be obliged to reciprocate. A client who seeks to establish relations with a powerful person will perform voluntary services for him in order to get the stronger party into some sort of debt relation.35 This links up with another important feature of the patron–client relationship: that the exchange of services between the patron and the client is seldom predictable. Ideally, neither the content of an equivalent service is defined nor a specified time is set when the return service has to be undertaken, as ‘it is in the interest of both parties to keep the channel open, either by underpaying or overpaying at a later date’.36 The question remains to what extent Poles and Jews in Jas´liska were linked by patterns of patronage. Considering the close interdependence of the Poles and Jews and the relatively strong economic position of the latter, one important characteristic of patron–client relations—the asymmetrical commitment of two parties— certainly obtains. Many peasants in one way or another depended on Jews, who represented the most vital economic sectors of trade and industry. Likewise, many Jews maintained relations with more than one Polish client. Moreover, the small size of the peasant community, as well as the prevalence of feudal relations and certain cultural values in the countryside, all contributed to the climate in which patron–client ties flourished best.37 The small size of the community increased face-to-face contact, while the measure of informality of the relationships was high. In addition, group solidarity among the peasants was low, meaning that they employed individualistic strategies to further personal, rather than group, needs. The following story told by a Polish informant reveals the different attitudes of Poles and Jews in matters of neighbourly concern and help: One neighbour cut his leg with an axe, up to his knee. So he was taken to the hospital in Krosno. My own brother carried him on his vehicle. One would wake up at 11 p.m., feed the horse, and at 12 p.m. one would leave in order to be in Krosno at the hospital at 8 a.m., which were the opening hours. My elder brother took him [the injured man] there and left him 35 Boissevain, Friends of Friends. Burkolter, The Patronage System, 11. Boissevain, Friends of Friends, 159. 37 See Hertz, The Jews in Polish Culture, who stresses the authoritative role played by the Jews in the village community, which he traces to the legacy of feudal society, in which the peasants had limited freedom and in which the Jews on behalf of the landed nobility took on the role of intermediary. Hertz beautifully unravels the cultural values and ideologies that underpinned this relationship and that, being firmly grounded in the society’s value system, survived the feudal system. 34 36

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there. The head of the hospital in Krosno looked at him and said: ‘Cut off this leg.’ And he [the injured man] said: ‘I will not allow you to cut off my leg.’ ‘Then you will die, so go home!’ He went home. At home the leg was aching terribly. There was no doctor here and he had no medicine. So he went to a second hospital, in Sanok . . . In Sanok they said: ‘Cut off his leg.’ [The injured man answered:] ‘I will not allow you.’ So he went back home again. And the leg was aching. So I went to Krosno with him. I parked my horse and vehicle on the verge. There was no big traffic then. I helped him to go there and they said: ‘You have already been here. We will cut off the leg or you go home.’ So he went home and people, farmers, the cleverer ones, they decided to go to Lwów, because we had the Lwów district here, and there [in Lwów] were specialists . . . But how to reach that place? One needs money for the train . . . Our people [Poles] said: ‘Let him die. What will we do with him?’ But the Jews collected money among them. They collected 17 zlotys. That was an enormous amount before the war. It was the price of a ticket to Lwów. Jews collected money and gave it, and he went to Lwów to the clinic and his leg was cured. He did not need to have his leg cut off.

Patterns of patronage can be discerned in the example of the Polish peasant who brought a chicken to Abraham B. or occasionally worked in his fields. By voluntarily giving presents to the owner of the local sawmill the peasant was in fact applying for a job. After Abraham B. had accepted these services and employed the peasant as a carter, timber-cutter, or domestic help, the peasant would be symbolically indebted to the owner, who provided him with the basic means of subsistence, and would have to continue to supply these services. It is clear from the informants’ accounts that his employees, at the sawmill and elsewhere, were at Abraham B.’s disposal. In return for the extra labour given by his employees, and to ensure the continuation of such services, Abraham B. granted his employees certain privileges and acted as their ‘subsistence crisis insurance’. In like manner, Jewish families who had Poles working for them as domestic helpers (cleaning, serving, babysitting), porters (carrying water or merchandise), or carters (transporting merchandise or wood) would grant their employees certain favours in addition to paying their regular salaries. The outstanding example of ‘subsistence crisis insurance’ was the Jewish creditor. Whenever a Polish peasant was short of cash or goods, he went to a Jewish shopkeeper, who in turn granted him limited credit. A proverb directly relating to this service says, ‘When things are bad, go see the Jew’.38 However, a Jewish shopkeeper not only granted credit when his client was short of money. To grant credit was to employ a strategy which tied the Polish client to his Jewish creditor, and vice versa. The ensuing debt relation enabled both parties to profit from the services and return services that went beyond regular and formal transactions. Polish debtors and Jewish creditors forged a tighter link by presenting each other with gifts or by doing each other a favour every once in a while. Peasants were not supposed to pay off their debts unless they were becoming overstretched, since continuing rather than paying off debts ensured that the dependency relation could be maintained. 38

. ‘Jak bida, to do Zyda.’

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However, if the debts became too great to be repaid, the relationship would no longer be profitable and the partnership would collapse, and, if the worst came to the worst, the debtor would be taken to court and this property sold at auction. Mortgage deeds witness numerous cases of land transfers from Polish debtors to Jewish creditors.39 Although this was rarely the case, settlement of debts sometimes meant bankruptcy for a Polish family, as a Polish informant recalls: A Jew had a shop, so my aunt went to him and asked him for credit . . . The Jewish shop owner asked her: ‘What do you want?’ [She said:] ‘I want some flour because the harvest was not good, and I want sugar and salt too.’ . . . So the Jew gave and gave and gave. And she could not write. When she bought 1 kilogram he wrote 2 or even 3 kilograms. And that was it, and so it ended. The Jew went to court and had a look at their mortgage in order to check how many fields they had. From that time on he knew the value of the land. So the Jew made a calculation and sent a warning to this person. He sent all the documents. Then she came the second time—it was my aunt, Czesllawa, the mother of Grzesiek—and he [the Jew] said: ‘Oh neighbour, you cannot get credits from me any longer, because the value of your land is less than the value of the goods you took.’ And he [the Jew] said: ‘You must give me the money back.’ She answered: ‘I don’t have money to pay you back.’ Her husband was a shoemaker—he was mending old shoes—better shoes are thrown in the rubbish nowadays. So she had no money to repay her debts. Then the Jew brought the case to court. They called an auction. ‘Who will give more for this farm?’ And then he [the Jew] sold it. . . . So the Jew sold this field. If it was a house, people were thrown on the street. But there was also another way out. They [the debtors] kissed the Jew on his feet, and begged him to leave them in peace, to let them stay in their homes. They promised to find a job somewhere, so that they could earn money and could live in their houses. So there was a case in court and this woman, my aunt, said to the judge: ‘Judge, this Jew wrote me more. He wrote me more, so he swindled me.’ [The judge said:] ‘But Mrs. M. how can you prove it?’ So the aunt brought a stick with her which they called ‘paliczka’. She told him that she had made some notches on her stick: ‘Here I had 1 kilogram of flour and here I had 2 kilograms, and here I had pepper and here I had sugar.’ She had made signs for herself, and she knew which one was for sugar and how many pounds she had bought . . . Then the judge told her: ‘Mrs. M., you know what? You can paint these notches on your backside.’ How could he have told her differently? People didn’t go to school during the Austrian times. One did not have to. It was not compulsory. /

While it is clear that the Jews were powerful in the economic arena, it is harder to assess their political influence. In the absence of data regarding the formation of political alliances (including voting behaviour) among the Poles and Jews in Jas´liska during the inter-war years, the extent to which Jewish patrons were able to win the support of their clients against rival patron–client groups remains unclear. However, both Polish and Jewish informants hinted at the special prestige and authority enjoyed by the Jews in Jas´liska. Abraham B., who was held in great respect by Jews and Poles alike, and who in addition was active in local politics, is a perfect example of a powerful local leader with apparent political aspirations. On the Jews’ political 39

Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence.

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power Wojciech M. (aged 78), who had been active in local politics, commented: ‘When the elections took place in Jas´liska, they [the Jews] were always the most important, because they were the richest, they had money, and in fact it was they who decided on everything. There were also poorer ones among them, but the Jews were better organized.’ If this statement reveals one thing, it is that the Jews had considerable influence in local politics. However, there were limits to the relative power of the Jewish patrons. As is argued in the literature on patron–client relationships, the relative bargaining position of patrons and clients may depend on outside forces, that is, the degree to which a patron is able to secure backing from the bureaucracy, the police, or the courts in his local domination of resources. If the patron is able to secure such backing, he will be able to use coercion at little cost, and, as a result, will be more successful in the political manipulation of his clients.40 In spite of the relatively strong economic position of the Jews in Jas´liska, as members of an ethnic minority they had not had preferential access to law and order since the abolition of feudalism. This means that higher political goals were probably of less interest to a Jewish patron than to his non-Jewish counterpart. Hence the capital of the Jewish patron, that is the network he had activated, and the goodwill he had earned, though proper political instruments, were primarily a means to an end—to serve his economic interests. Thus, the Jewish patron was mainly interested in economic transactions with his client. Similarly, the Polish client was primarily interested in the economic protection of his patron, the latter having access to scarce resources. The Jewish patron therefore committed himself to the Polish peasant when he needed a loyal customer or an efficient worker. The Polish client, on the other hand, went to the Jew when he needed economic support. Indeed, entry into a patron–client relationship was voluntary, and once a relationship was established a number of strategies were pursued which aimed at getting the other party into a debt relation. First, the return service was postponed for an unspecified period. Secondly, the content of an equivalent service remained unspecified. And thirdly, the channels were kept open by underpaying or overpaying at a later date. It was particularly between Jewish employers and creditors and Polish employees and debtors that such unconditional transactions took place. Patron–client ties characterized the relationship between Poles and Jews in Jas´liska only to a degree. Not all Jews maintained potential patron–client relations with the Poles. Most Jewish families were poor and were themselves involved in patron–client ties with their wealthier co-religionists. Moreover, not all Poles lost their autonomy in dealings with the Jews. While most Polish families needed the local Jews in one way or another, some, especially the wealthier families, could afford to operate independently of the Jews. Unlike the classical patron who is at 40

On this, see Burkolter, The Patronage System.

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all times able to win the support of his clients, the Jewish patron was unable to maintain a certain measure of political independence. In fact, the Polish peasants depended on the Jews as individuals, but the Jews as a group depended on the political goodwill of the Polish community. The weak political position of the Jews is illustrated by the fact that the ‘hidden promise’ to give up all claims to autonomous access to resources, which is described as a significant obligation of the client towards the patron, was openly contested by the Poles with the establishment of the Kól ko Rolnicze in Jas´liska. The conclusion that Jews had limited political power brings us to another aspect of the patron–client relationship. It should be stressed that, besides the profitable economic returns, the social returns of patron–client ties were also considerable. The socializing of Poles and Jews turned out to be especially instrumental in reducing social conflict. Polish and Jewish informants confirm that the Jews invested carefully in social relations with their Polish neighbours and clients, regularly helping out Polish townspeople in times of need; no evidence was presented of such Polish support for the Jews. As a minority with limited political power, engaged in stressful activities and exposed to enmity from the national authorities, Jews had good reason to stay on good terms with the surrounding society. Hence, they supported their Polish neighbours in time of need, rewarded the services performed by their Polish clients, and finally, expressed their gratitude towards local authorities by giving them presents and inviting them to participate in Jewish celebrations. In this way, social interaction served to strengthen and stabilize the ties between the Polish and Jewish communities. /

c o nc lu si o n Recent studies on the issue of coexistence between Jews and Poles conclude that, while it is true that Jews and Poles periodically found themselves in confrontation, most of the time they lived in co-operative symbiosis.41 The field research I carried out in Jas´liska supports this notion for the inter-war period.42 In this rural setting, in which the level of industrialization was low, as was the degree of social mobility, the mutual dependence of Polish peasants and Jewish entrepreneurs fostered a relationship that was characterized by reciprocity and co-operation rather than conflict. Indeed, the accounts of both Polish and Jewish informants show that Poles and Jews met on numerous occasions and that socializing was the rule rather than the exception. These meetings were not just chance encounters; they were an integral part of daily life and were approved of by both ethnic communities, as long 41 On this, see the work of Rosman (The Lords’ Jews), as well as A. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities: Another Image’, Polin, 8 (1994), 89–113, and E. Hoffman, Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews (London, 1998). 42 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence.

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as it did not harm the economic and political interests of the group. Hence, the numerous examples of Polish and Jewish children who became friends in school, of Polish and Jewish neighbours who shared the care of their common courtyard, of Polish clients and Jewish patrons who exchanged services on a regular basis, and of Jewish laymen and Polish authorities, secular and religious, who debated their views on religion, life, and politics. A certain level of co-operation, however, does not mean that tension between the two communities was absent. Throughout the period of coexistence the two communities struggled for superiority in the social hierarchy in terms of economic success, control over the means of production, religious supremacy, and political power. However, while competition and hostility between the two ethnic communities was reduced considerably by the often close personal links of patronage connecting Jews with peasants, it was precisely these links that signalled the peasants’ dependence on Jewish entrepreneurs, and that gave rise to their ambivalent attitude towards the Jews. Hostility and distrust on the one hand, affection and respect on the other, can be explained by the peasants’ position as underdog and dependant of the local Jews. In fact, the widespread joke about the Polish squire who hated all Jews with the exception of his broker, his lawyer, his doctor, his banker, and so on,43 also applies to the Polish peasant, for the joke illustrates the tendency towards ambivalence that is inherent in the Polish–Jewish relationship. 43

Hertz, The Jews in Polish Culture, 54.

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Maintaining Borders, Crossing Borders: Social Relationships in the Shtetl annama ria orl a-bu kowska b ack wa rd and f o r w a r d In the twenty-first century scholars debate a phenomenon that represented the absolute antithesis of postmodernity. ‘Represented’ because, though lasting for centuries, it was made abruptly extinct in the mid-twentieth century and is swiftly escaping living memory. Why does one study shtetl communities today?1 As Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog wrote in their Preface to Life Is with People, ‘It is a culture that is not remote. On the contrary, it is one with which many have had direct or indirect contact, through its representatives or their descendants.’2 One might even venture to guess that the majority of those researching the topic have had just such contact, in Jewish as well as non-Jewish families. Increasingly there is a desire to return to one’s memories or roots; individuals scattered over various continents are visiting places that were home for themselves or close kin. A new non-fiction genre—from Theo Richmond’s Konin to Diane Armstrong’s Mosaic to . Shimon Redlich’s Together and Apart in Brzezany—serves as partial evidence of this. Accompanying the nostalgia, however, is a desire to analyse a model of multiculturalism glaringly different from the one popularly propagated today—one in which, paradoxically, segregation instead of integration was the rule. In examining the shtetl, we find ourselves puzzled. Inconclusive are the debates in which historical methodology and thinking are applied to determine whether the shtetl was (to paraphrase Ezra Mendelsohn) good for the Jews or bad for the Jews, good for the Christians or bad for the Christians, or (to paraphrase Joel Berkowitz) a dystopia or a utopia. 1

In this chapter the word ‘shtetl’ will refer not exclusively to the town, but inclusively to the whole community formed by the localities ascribed to it by custom and law. 2 M. Zborowski and E. Herzog, Life Is With People (New York, 1952), 22.

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Arguments for calling the shtetl ‘backward’ abound, of course, if one compares its living conditions to those of the Western world. Who would see as ‘forward’ the rarity of indoor plumbing, the dominance of dirt roads and dirt floors, or the nonexistence of mechanized public transportation? Moreover, these unenlightened folk seem to have been content with the way things were and seem not to have wanted to ‘progress’. This was a ‘traditional’ culture: a conservative society in which upholding and safeguarding the status quo was an ideal towards which all members of the group strove. In it all realms of social life were very much mutually and intricately intertwined. Religion and language, socio-economic status, lifestyle, and ethnic identity—all constituted components of one whole; religious life was home life was social life, and so forth. The public and private spheres of individual lives could barely be distinguished: quite the contrary, this was a world in which ‘everyone knew everything about everybody’—something considered unnecessarily intrusive by modern standards. Still, confusion in judging the shtetl community is aroused more by another aspect: not only fiction, but non-fiction accounts as well, often open with an implication, at minimum, that there was ‘harmony’, that ‘those were wonderful times’, that ‘all was well until the Germans came’.3 In fact, as Rosa Lehmann points out, ‘Recent studies have come to address the issue of coexistence between Jews and Poles and conclude that, while it is true that Jews and Poles periodically found themselves in confrontation, most of the time they lived in cooperative symbiosis’.4 Is this pure idealization? Underlying the debates is an imperative: how can one reconcile memory of the peaceful symbiosis of the shtetl with memory of the horrifying conflagration of the Holocaust? In the wake of that trauma, scepticism is inevitably aroused when shtetl residents recall peace rather than pogroms. Yet if mutual hatred and animosity was the norm, then how was it that Jews and Christians lived side by side for so many centuries in so many different places under so many different rulers? Moreover, how was it that—instead of assimilating— their cultural differences remained strong, grew deeper, and even flourished? How is it that what looms before our twenty-first-century eyes as a retrograde dystopia could have been a romantic utopia? If we do not immerse ourselves in this world and look out through its eyes, we cannot comprehend how groups that should have lived in conflict according to the prevalent theories of the social sciences built one universe together and lived instead in coexistence. It took the exported and imposed urban and modern ideology of Nazism, executing a premeditated mission with Western technological 3 See e.g. J. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton, 2001), 37–8, 40; R. Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence (Oxford, 2001); and cases cited in S. Redlich, Razem i osobno (Sejny, 2002), 86–95. 4 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, p. xxi.

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advancement, to bring this to an end. That fact alone speaks much in favour of perceiving a societal progressiveness among the residents of the shtetl.

to ge the r and a p a r t Nonetheless, one justification for assessing the shtetl as aberrantly regressive has been the observation that it was not only exclusive with regard to outsiders, but also exclusive between groups of insiders. As described by the title of Shimon Redlich’s . latest work, Together and Apart in Brzezany,5 the groups were, indeed, together in one sense while quite apart in another. And it is especially this ‘apartness’ that bothers the contemporary Westerner. In the post-assimilation era, with the scorning and shedding of the ‘separate but equal’ motto, no positive value can be perceived in segregation, even voluntary self-segregation. Yet the Jewish and nonJewish residents of the shtetl are seen as having eschewed each other completely— nothing less than impermeable bubbles rebounding away from contact. The smaller the community of the shtetl and its villages, the more distinct appear to have been the boundaries subdividing it within. Their worlds were two (or more, depending on the number of different groups inhabiting the area), but these were simultaneously superseded by the one cosmos that they created together. ‘What conception could a group have of itself and others, if it never even meets any? Of course, it is clear that the small world of their community is the entire world for them, that they will attempt to encompass and comprehend it wholly . . . it is their world . . . their social group.’6 More precisely, the entire universe extends only as far as their community: ‘If you live in Shinohata’, wrote Ronald Dore, ‘the “outside world” begins three hundred yards down the road . . .’.7 We do not have to construe community just in terms of locality, but more properly, in the sense which Dore expresses so lucidly . . . the sense of a primacy of belonging. Community is that entity to which one belongs, greater than kinship [my emphasis] but more immediately than the abstraction we call ‘society’. It is the arena in which people acquire their most fundamental and most substantial experience of social life outside the confines of the home. In it they learn the meaning of kinship through being able to perceive its boundaries . . .8

A strongly emotional and psychological bond with a specific place (something eliminated by modern mobility) is founded upon the significance with which a specific natural landscape is endowed, the edifices built by its residents or their forefathers, and, above all, the people who are born, live, work, and die there and all the extraordinary and ordinary events they experience individually or together. Of . S. Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany: Jews, Poles, Ukrainians (Bloomington, Ind., 2001). J. Bystron´, Megalomania narodowa (Warsaw, 1995), 15. See, too, Zborowski and Herzog, Life Is With People, 158. 7 R. Dore, Shinohata: A Portrait of a Japanese Village (New York, 1978), 60. 8 A. P. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (London, 1985), 15. 5 6

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such a connection is made a Heimat, a mal a ojczyzna (‘small homeland’) or ojczyzna prywatna (‘private fatherland’).9 Its borders become the ones that enclose ‘all the world’ for all its residents, bringing them together. At the same time, it also allows for perception of kinship or other boundaries that enclose smaller groups within, keeping them apart. /

c om m u ni ty and boun d a r y How is it possible for identity to be at once durably connected to the same home town and yet to a different group than represented by one’s neighbours? As Anthony Cohen points out, ‘community’ implies ‘simultaneously both similarity and difference’.10 Furthermore, ‘Organic solidarity is society constituted by individuals, where differences which distinguish them from each other become also the bases for their integration and collaboration in a solidary whole.’11 Hence, a single community of place not only permits, but actually requires and thrives on, various sets of similarities and differences. Marek Ziól kowski observes how neighbouring groups each have separate natural correlates (lakes, hills, etc.) and constructed ones (monuments, buildings, art and literature, etc.) that function meaningfully for each group alone; shared correlates which, nonetheless, evoke disparate reactions for each; but, finally, shared correlates which evoke identical reactions.12 The first two sets comprise the differences upon which their exclusive boundaries will be built; this last set is what comprises the similarities around which their inclusive, common boundary will be built. Nevertheless, /

The important thrust of this argument is that this relative similarity or difference is not a matter for ‘objective’ assessment: it is a matter of feeling, a matter which resides in the minds of the members themselves. Thus, although they recognize important differences among themselves, they also suppose themselves to be more like each other than like the members of other communities.13

Hence, as Ziól kowski elucidates, /

A neighbour is someone found in spatial proximity, but concurrently someone with whom one has a certain kind of contact, about whom one has certain knowledge, and with whom one enters into varied interactions. A neighbour is not one of ‘us’ and though he may be treated as ‘foreign’ in the sense of being ‘other’ or ‘emotionally distant’, still he is not completely ‘foreign’ in the sense of being ‘unknown’. A neighbouring ethnic group, its products and culture, and the land on which it lives are to some extent the subject of ‘our’ knowledge (and attitudes).14 S. Ossowski, Analiza socjologiczna poje˛cia ojczyzny (Warsaw, 1967), 203. 11 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 12. Ibid. 25. 12 M. Ziól kowski, ‘Wspólnota przestrzeni i odmiennos´ c´ tradycji: Sa˛siedzkie kultury etniczne’, Kultura i Spol eczen´stwo, 35/4 (1991), 60. 13 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 20–1. 14 Ziól kowski, ‘Wspólnota przestrzeni i odmiennos´ c´ tradycji’, 59. 19 10

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Despite the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious differences which preclude permeation of one another, the foreign can coexist with the familiar, and there can be permanent and constant exchanges between them.15 This feeling is what led Polish non-Jews to speak of nasi, ‘ours’, when referring to the whole population or to the groups of the shtetl community—its Jews, Poles, or Ukrainians, in contrast with some amorphous body of Jews, Poles, or Ukrainians elsewhere. Establishing borders—on the basis of and for the maintenance of the abovementioned differences—is crucial in the building of collective identity. Paradoxically, defining oneself or one’s group is always easiest to do in the negative— stating what one is not. We need the ‘other’ in order to describe and delineate our (collective) ‘self’, and to establish the borders of what comprises ‘us’. All cultural groups on a given territory define and stress who is ‘other’ for it; they need this mechanism like oxygen, for without it they vanish. ‘A certain level of xenophobia is necessary for the very survival of a community, for this protects it from dissolving away: the liquidation of any and all distance with regard to others must automatically mean the liquidation of an attachment to one’s own group, i.e. its liquidation.’16 As Eva Hoffman points out, ‘among their fellow Jews . . . their most important task was to maintain the continuum of their laws and beliefs, to uphold the faith that made them who they were, that constituted their very selves’.17 In order both to include and to exclude, the community must have ‘a sense of discrimination, namely, the boundary. . . . [which] encapsulates the identity of the community. . . . Boundaries are marked because communities interact in some way or other with entities from which they are, or wish to be, distinguished.’18 Some borders do exist physically, but more crucial here will be those that exist psychically. ‘At this level community is more than oratorical abstraction: it hinges crucially on consciousness.’19 Part of this is a compelling sixth sense regarding all the borders—which ones cannot be crossed or can, but only under certain circumstances. All this is dictated by religion, tradition, and customs, by the geography, and by the group(s) residing in one locality. Everyone knows his or her place within this landscape because it has been designated from birth and should remain so. ‘The matter of xenophobia becomes particularly sharp where parallel communities overlap on each other territorially. . . . both sides, for the right and proper arrangement of mutual relations, must meet specific mandatory and demanding conditions.’20 The incontrovertible priority is to preserve and uphold the given order through the strict maintenance of set divides. Ironically, the more rigorous this is, and the 15 M. Grekowa, ‘Bliskos´ c´ przestrzenna bez sa˛siedztwa: O stosunkach bul garsko-tureckich w Bul garii’, Kultura i Spol eczen´stwo, 35/4 (1991), 118. 16 Z. Musial and B. Wolniewicz, ‘Ksenofobia i wspólnota’, Arcana, 43 (2002), 5. 17 E. Hoffman, Shtetl (New York, 1998), 85. 18 19 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 12. Ibid. 13. 20 Musial and Wolniewicz, ‘Ksenofobia i wspólnota’, 6. /

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more partitions there are, the more separate identities can exist concurrently. This is of the utmost consequence for the community: without the borders the longstanding order of its cosmos would spin out of control. So as not to disturb the ‘natural’ and preordained order of things, crossings had to be limited and controlled, and crossing over had to incur severe sanctions. From our modern point of view much of the above, though still at the core of modern nationalisms, constitutes unreasonable restriction on individual freedom and the right to pursue individually defined happiness. Yet, for the people living in such a society, a divinely ordained stability rules the world. Close contact with God and nature leads to a ‘divine community’ and ‘unity’ on earth.21 The modern individual operates relatively alone and uncomfortably in the grey area between mythology and fact, between imagination and reality, and between what is within limits and what is taboo. Individuals, things, and phenomena that are opposites, mirror images, ambivalent, or renegade, will always and within any group arouse tensions. However, in the traditional community the means to resolve these are available—through ritual22 or by conferring specified and special status upon those people or phenomena kindling disquiet and anxiety.23 Alongside the hard and fast boundaries are equally hard and fast rules taming contrasts, contradictions, and the in between. Community and boundary reign comfortably over both similarity and difference.

so m e cave a t s In recent years a wealth of literature—memoirs, biographies, historical accounts, and anthropological research—has appeared, disclosing more and more of the prewar social life of shtetl Jews.24 This material is overwhelmingly from a Jewish perspective; in contrast, the non-Jewish perspective is extremely under-represented. Though research in this area has been and is being done, it should be borne in mind that the majority of surviving non-Jewish shtetl community residents are semiliterate people who continue to maintain a lifestyle not far removed from their prewar existence. Though referring to general trends throughout the region of central and eastern Europe, most examples provided in this text will be from Galician Polish Jewish culture and its counterpart, the Roman Catholic one. Though several groups might cohabit with them, these two constituted the paramount, mutually complementary 21 K. Wie˛cl awska, ‘ “. . . tajemnicze wne˛trze ludnego miasteczka . . .”: Obraz sztetl w prozie Szaloma Asza i Izaaka Baszewisa Singera’, Obyczaje: Magazyn mie˛dzynarodowy, 8 (2002), 6–9. 22 Cf. A. van Gennep, Rites of Passage (Chicago, 1960). 23 Cf. M. Douglas, Purity and Danger (London, 2002). 24 Often, unfortunately but understandably, as a prelude to Holocaust literature. Cf. M. Steinlauf, Bondage to the Dead (Syracuse, NY, 1997); Hoffman, Shtetl; H. Gryn, Chasing Shadows (London, 2001). /

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‘other’.25 Further, it is recognized that the situation in the Austro-Hungarian empire differed substantially from that in the Prussian, Russian, or Ottoman empires. Nevertheless, changes of political borders and/or regimes in distant capitals usually brought little if any change to the shtetl community. Finally, Jews are stereotypically seen as having been ‘urban’, but the territory they inhabited in central and eastern Europe was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural, towns were generally neither large nor modern,26 and communities were still compact and isolated enough to be encompassed by a network of interpersonal connections. Even in larger localities such as Konin, Jews found themselves in the same types of relationship, and operating under similar restrictions, with their nonJewish neighbours as in smaller ones.

ma inta i ni ng bo rd e rs, cro s si ng b o r de r s The borders separating the two communities were tangible and physical, as well as psychosocial and imagined. They were shaped in the collective imagination over the course of centuries and intimately known to all the residents. This was their mal a ojczyzna, and they knew every corner of it and everyone who inhabited it— who belonged to it and who belonged to which group within it. On the one hand, a strongly perceived apart-ness, or, at best, beside-ness, is stressed in analyses of shtetl life. On the other hand, even in the most biased literature, example after example is found of close interaction. The bubbles appear to have burst, or at least have been much more permeable than is generally given. Hence questions arise: What borders did exist between the Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of the shtetl community? What type of person stood particular guard over them? Who was permitted to cross—how, under what circumstances, and to what extent? /

On Religion and Ethnicity Although crossing the boundary of inter-religious contact is the focus of another chapter in this volume, by Michal Galas, religion deserves special attention because of the central role it played in establishing and reinforcing consequent boundaries. Religion relayed history, dictated traditions and customs, set the sacred language as well as the secular alphabet, framed the group calendar and its holy days, and justified the rules of the community. Both Christians and Jews tended to view their neighbours from perspectives stemming partly from their religious convictions. As Abraham Cykiert notes, ‘The Shtetl was unashamedly Jewish, with life being /

25

Though Roma were also a diaspora group living throughout Poland, their population was never as high in any one locality; also, because their population wandered, Roma could not be a permanent and stable ‘other’. 26 For a description, see A. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities: Another Image’, Polin, 8 (1994), 92–3.

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ordered foremost by orthodox religious observances and then by the rich cultural traditions that developed. The religion was paramount and the Shtetl revolved around the rabbi, the synagogue and the Jewish law.’27 Directly stemming from religious law was the concept of kashrut, which, more strictly than anything else, separated Jews from non-Jews in their daily lives.28 In central and eastern Europe, the land of the shtetl, the concept of separation of Church and State did not take root; but where it did, the goal was to hamper State intervention in the affairs of a Church rather than the reverse. It is more of a social truth that here, under the rule of vast multicultural empires, one’s ethnicity and religion were mutually defining. An ethnic Pole was a Roman Catholic and a Roman Catholic was an ethnic Pole in the same way as a Ukrainian was a Byzantine Catholic and vice versa, a Russian was a Russian Orthodox and vice versa, and an ethnic Jew was a religious Jew and vice versa.29 In most shtetls non-religious people were nearly non-existent before the 1930s. Secular Jews amid the commonly Orthodox communities were few and generally looked upon with disdain;30 both Jews and Catholics saw them as renegades breaking unwritten rules. Members of educated elites who had moved into the area might be exceptions. Such people were always ‘newcomers’, never quite perceived as ‘insiders’,31 but therefore allowed more leeway. The situation of the neophyte convert to Christianity was more complex.32 In the eyes of the Jewish community he or she became wholly excluded, even ethnically, from the old group, while, in the eyes of Christians, a member of the new group would be included religiously, though remaining Jewish ethnically. The latter border was completely impassable from this side. In any case—despite centuries of proximity, and despite numerous non-Jewish men and women remarking upon the perceived general beauty of Jewish women— intermarriage was not encouraged by either side. Nor was proselytizing conducted among the Jews of the shtetl. The extreme rarity of crossovers leads one to conclude that this border in particular—as the cornerstone of all the others—was fearfully respected.33 In fact, more than one instance is found of Christians guarding the 27

L. Wolowski, Memories of the Shtetl: Sculptures by Leon Wolowski, with text by A. Cykiert (Fitzroy, 1982), 13. 28 The segregation was one-way: non-Jews were quite often treated to and consumed kosher food such as matzot, hamentashen (special Purim cakes), and wedding or other delicacies. 29 Here it should be noted that the word ‘Jew’ describes, in most languages, both a believer in the faith and a person of Jewish descent. This equivalence was natural in the traditional world but causes 30 Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 93–4. confusion now. 31 Nor perceiving themselves as fitting in; see Leopold Infeld’s comments in T. Richmond, Konin (London, 1995), 105 ff. 32 The procedure was simpler than conversion to Judaism, and being a member of a Christian group generally offered more advantages. 33 See the case of Felicja, the Jewish convert in Jas´ liska, and the sanctions against her, the priest who baptized her, and her family, in Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 115, 125.

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border of Judaism: ‘Indeed my mother often told me that she and her sisters were taught their first Hebrew blessings and prayers by their Russian Orthodox maid, who also made absolutely certain that her father’s inn was strictly kosher.’34 Likewise, cases were found of Jews guarding the border of Christianity: ‘During the time of the mass, the inns were closed and all the guests chased off to church.’35 Significantly, each group instilled among its own a certain trepidation towards the religious accoutrements of the other. Leopold Infeld, born in Kraków, recollected that ‘He was warned that he would go blind if he gazed at Christian holy images.’36

Language From both sides, another demarcation separating Jews and non-Jews was language. This, on a more daily basis than religion, generally served, purposely or inadvertently, to protect the minority identity against the majority. Minority tongues are something the majority does not generally learn or formally study—out of not only ethnocentric but also practical motivation. As a consequence, however, the minority tongue can serve to keep secrets from the majority. Nevertheless, even in this sphere there was trespassing. Hebrew remained as enigmatic for the peasant as Latin (another mysterious language of pre-war times); these languages were tightly hemmed in by the sacrum sphere and made it out onto the street only on rare occasions. Yet, on the one hand it was not so unusual for Jews to speak the dominant language; non-Jews consistently claim that their peers had no difficulties. For instance, ‘About a third of the population of Vary was Jewish. . . . Many of them knew Yiddish, but all of them spoke Hungarian in and out of the home.’37 Shraga Bielawski recalled that his father ‘spoke Polish and Yiddish fluently, which was necessary for dealing with both the Christian and Jewish populations. . . . Everyone in my family spoke Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and most of us could speak some German and Russian.’38 This opinion is supported by a Carpatho-Rusyn villager who wrote: ‘There was no problem at all in understanding one another because Jews spoke in Lemko very well.’39 On the other hand, Yiddish is Germanic, and in both the Prussian and AustroHungarian empires German was the official language, whose fundamentals were taught or acquired involuntarily, even after the First World War. Knowing some German, one could understand basic Yiddish. Certainly, the marketplace and the Jewish-owned shops gave rise to learning the most important phrases and words— from ganev and zl odziej (‘thief’) to ein, tswei, drei, and jeden, dwa, trzy—in each /

Gryn, Chasing Shadows, 53. . A. Krzewniak, ‘Zydzi na polskiej Orawie’, Pl aj: Zeszyt Krajoznawczy Towarzystwa Karpackiego, 5 (1993), 47; quoted in Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 107. 36 37 Richmond, Konin, 105. Gryn, Chasing Shadows, 63. 38 S. F. Bielawski, The Last Jew from We ˛grów, ed. L. W. Liebovich (New York, 1991), 5. . 39 T. Gocz, ‘Zydzi w Zyndranowej’, Pl aj: Zeszyt Krajoznawczy Towarzystwa Karpackiego, 5 (1993), 89; quoted in Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 108. 34 35

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other’s language. Anyone who conducted transactions needed to be fluent enough to negotiate prices. More interestingly, ‘Even the few Catholics in the village spoke Yiddish.’40 Cases of non-Jews speaking it fluently were perhaps infrequent, but certainly not unknown. A priest, a mayor, a girl apprenticed to a Jewish tailor, and a girl whose best friend was Jewish—all apparently spoke the language well enough that their command of it impressed both Jews and non-Jews.41 Though out of practice for over half a century, Galician peasants recalled words, numbers, or even sentences; some demonstrated Hebrew letters they had learned from friends. Pride was often expressed at having known it, and regret at having forgotten it. Daniel S. (82), when asked to recall the names and professions of the Jews he had known during his lifetime, was visibly disappointed when he remembered only a few of them: ‘I used to know the names of these people, but I have difficulties remembering them. . . . I used to know their names like I know my prayers.’42

This barrier was not so rigid that crossing it was seen as undermining either community.43 Nevertheless, certain subsets of each group were more likely to traverse it. On the Jewish side, Girls, less cloistered in their education, could communicate more easily with the gentile world. My mother spoke an educated Polish and developed an enduring love for Polish literature, while my father spoke the language awkwardly and felt no affection for Poland. In many Konin homes the daughters spoke Polish while their brothers spoke Yiddish. The Koniners I meet are mostly men and women who attended Polish state schools in the Thirties. They spoke Polish among themselves, Yiddish with their parents.44

On the non-Jewish side, the Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party, PPS) in Konin made banners in both Polish and Yiddish.45 In the Carpathian region in which Hugo Gryn lived, ‘virtually everyone spoke both Yiddish and Malorus, or Little Russian, including the non-Jews.’46 When he returned there decades later, both Gryn and his friend still passed back and forth through the language border: ‘We also met Vasily, who remembered me from the time he was a young waiter in my grandfather’s inn. We spoke in Ruthenian . . . He wished me and my family—in a Yiddish that he had barely remembered after a lapse of fifty years—mazel and bracha, good luck and blessing, for the time ahead.’47

I. Beller, Life in the Shtetl: Scenes and Recollections, trans. A. D. Pannell (New York, 1986), 10. Cf. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’; Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence; and Redlich, . Together and Apart in Brzezany. 42 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 61. 43 Crossing by speaking an additional language did not constitute crossover; learning solely the lan44 45 Richmond, Konin, 161. Ibid. 95–6. guage of the ‘other’ did. 46 47 Gryn, Chasing Shadows, 53. Ibid. 60–1. 40 41

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Public Space The modern world abounds with markers which announce to the passer-by where he is located; shtetl community dwellers did not need signs. ‘Town’ was where the most important public and semi-private spaces were located: the marketplace, the places of worship, the school, and the cemeteries. The shops, inns, and teahouses served as local news centres as well. The shtetl’s topography was a landscape imbued with deep meaning which brought its inhabitants together. As Cohen puts it, ‘The “community”, in this regard, is a cluster of symbolic and ideological map references with which the individual is socially oriented.’48 Researchers observe the sentimental detail with which former residents describe each component of a symbolic geography. The precise portrayal, or, rather, a reconstruction of the shtetl in the mind’s eye, has become a key theme.49 It is not odd that this would be the case: physical things bring to mind memories and emotions attached to them. Although markers could be ‘physical’, not all would be evident—and certainly not evocative—to anyone but insiders: an almost dry creek, the bottom or top of a hill, the shrine at a crossroads, etc. These markers also reinforced the psychosocial ones between groups. Long established and long maintained, all residents would be fully aware of the boundaries, and unequivocal in acknowledging them. District boundaries were drawn by official administrations in some distant provincial or national capital (often so as to encompass more Christians), but this had no effect on local knowledge of the ‘real’ boundaries. Roads, buildings, and spaces were divided into those exclusively Christian, exclusively Jewish, or mixed. The sacrum of the synagogues, mikveh, churches, and vicarages had to be respected, as well as the profanum of the cemeteries, and the most treacherous area: the border of the community demarcating the end of the familiar and the beginning of the strange. Some spaces—the synagogue or the church—belonging to one group were taboo for the other; most spaces were shared wholly or partly. The rynek (the market square) was generally a predominantly Jewish space—the chain of Jewish-owned enterprises perhaps interrupted by a smattering of Catholic-owned ones, and the church. All public areas around the centre were shared at nearly all times by all. During a Jewish wedding or a Corpus Christi procession, however, this space was temporarily transformed into the sacrum of one group. Nevertheless, the fact that these were held in the open made observation or even participation in the ceremonies less sacrosanct. At times it meant celebrating together. This pertained to non-Jewish guests or observers at a Jewish wedding, but Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 57. . Cf. opening pages in Richmond, Konin, and Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, or Yehuda Piekarz’s map in Gross, Neighbors. 48 49

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extended to other occasions as well. When, in the summer of 1905, the tsar granted permission for elections, Roman Catholics carried the banners of saints, Jews carried the sefer torah, and members of the socialist party carried bilingual signs.50 While Christian processions might evoke fright (‘we ran away as though from a fire’51) a Jewish informant from Jas´liska recalled the visit of the bishop to the town in a different tone. ‘He spoke of the event as a very rare and special occasion during which the Jewish and Polish religious elites met in public. Within the Jewish community the meeting was a topic of discussion long after the event had taken place.’52 In many places local residents recall joint commemoration ceremonies upon the death in May 1935 of the Polish leader Field Marshal Józef Pil sudski, including stops at both the main synagogue and the church. /

Private Space Those who knew the lie of the land, including the villages, ‘like the back of one’s hand’, also felt an intimate connection to it and the people who lived there. Each home or shop bore not a number, but the name of its owner; residents of former shtetls still refer to a business by its pre-war holder’s name. ‘Invasions’ into more private areas were possible and were even necessitated by normal, recurring situations. As shops were quite often located in the front part of people’s homes, entering meant literally crossing the threshold into the space of the ‘other’. Additionally, on most weekday mornings Jewish merchants and pedlars needed to ride elsewhere for market days. Not possessing a horse and wagon, and not wealthy enough to afford a driver alone, a group of Jews would set out before dawn, saying their morning prayers en route. Hence, the Catholic peasant’s wagon was not only a shared space, but also briefly became a Jewish sacrum. Wandering pedlars crossed the border into village homes to present goods, conduct sales, and relay community gossip. As welcome guests who saved the Catholic villager a long walk into town, these Jews were invited inside and offered tea served in a cup the pedlar brought himself. Jewish homes were, in turn, entered by nonJews on a regular basis; a non-Jew might even be a member of the household. There might be the resident wet-nurse, the shabes goy who came each sabbath and on other holy days, the apprentice who came nearly every day for instruction, and the tutor who came systematically during the school year. Finally, it was not uncommon for cases of genuine friendship to develop, especially between young Christians and Jews, entailing daily visits to each other’s homes. Sometimes parents would discourage contact: ‘ “My father would not let me bring shikses [non-Jewish women; pejorative] into the house,” one woman remembers, “and he would not let me go to their homes in case I ate treyf [non-kosher food].”’53 Precisely for reasons associated with kashrut, the Catholic friend generally 50 52

Richmond, Konin, 95–6. Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 112.

53

51 Ibid. 161. Richmond, Konin, 161.

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went to the home of the Jewish one, though this was not the only direction of crossing borders into private space.54

Social and Political Organizations Exclusivity, however, did appear—sometimes by design, sometimes not—in the founding of institutions, agencies, clubs, etc. serving one group solely or primarily, or to which only its members could belong. Most of these would be more social, some more political, in nature. Boundaries thus shaped were built by non-Jews and Jews alike. Where politicized sentiments and political awareness ran high, Polish nationalism, with a certain bravado once long lost sovereignty had been regained, and Zionism shaped and organized in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair, would serve to reinforce a sense of need for separate structures.55 The traditional shtetl, however, did not prove fertile ground for home-grown activism. Socially or politically engaged individuals and local leaders were always few in number and tended to be members of an imported and transplanted intelligentsia, often teachers. Moreover, Zionists could be disdained and harassed by an Orthodox Jewish community, while nationalists promulgating economic boycott would be ignored or derided by Christians.56 In Poland a Sokól or Klub Strzelecki troop—patriotic, nationalistic, and somewhat paramilitary youth organizations—could materialize even in the smallest of shtetl communities, though they usually appear and disappear with a specific person’s term of residency in the community. In Jas´liska, Jews did not participate in ‘festivals or fraternities organised by Poles. The local Hunters Club and Soccer Club, for example, by the nature of their activities, did not attract a single Jewish member.’57 Yet elsewhere in the former Austro-Hungarian empire there was ‘the Berehovo football and tennis club, BFTC, which had its own semi-professional football team and whose players were both Jewish and Christian’.58 But the degree of actual engagement is illustrated by examples from Jedwabne. A man there ‘usually assisted at ritual slaughter . . . used to speak Yiddish . . . [and] socialised with the family of the Jewish butcher and attended their parties and wedding receptions’. Yet this same person ‘was also a member of Zwia˛zek . Ml odziezy Katolickiej (Catholic Youth Association), which was hostile to the Jews’. When Marta Kurkowska asked him what activities he took part in within that association, he replied, ‘Well . . . we were being taught how to march nicely in /

/

Cf. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 99–101. Elsewhere it could be Czech, Hungarian (cf. Gryn, Chasing Shadows, ch. 8), or other non-Jewish nationalism, accompanied usually, unfortunately, by antisemitism. 56 Cf. Olszan´ski and Schoenfeld, quoted in Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 93–4, and A. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Coexistence: Polish Jews and Polish Catholics, Jewish Shtetl and Catholic Villages’, Ph.D. diss. (Jagiellonian University, 1995), 152. 57 58 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 94. Gryn, Chasing Shadows, 45. 54 55

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fours.’59 In fact, belonging to this specifically non-Jewish organization does not seem to have influenced the stance or actions of its members at all: Another interviewee was Zofia N., born in 1918, who had been head of the women’s section . of Zwia˛zek Ml odziezy Katolickiej. She remembers taking part in amateur theatricals. She also liked to go to social meetings in the Catholic Community House, but at the same time she also went to meetings in the Jewish club room. She said she became fond of Jewish dancing (pla˛sy), and after the war, as part of her job as a community household adviser, she taught Jewish dances to children in the neighbourhood village schools.60 /

. In Brzezany, however, exclusion could be aimed not only at Jews, but at other nonJews. ‘The Polish scouts, the Harcerstwo, hated Ukrainians. They persecuted us and prevented us from speaking Ukrainian.’61 The dominant Poles in fact forbade Jewish or Ukrainian pupils membership in the more politically oriented, and therefore unapproved, minority organizations. But Bela Feld knew that her Ukrainian friend Halyna Dydyk was in Plast while she herself was in Hano’ar Hatsiyoni (Zionist Youth).62 More significantly, however, belonging to apparently rival nationalistic clubs seems not to have precluded close friendship: when Batia Prizand’s close girlfriend, a Polish Christian girl, Wikta Jakielanka, wanted to kill herself, a group of Hashomer Hatsa’ir (Young Guard) members hired a sleigh and rode to her home and successfully talked her out of it.63 Perhaps even more incongruously, the Klub Strzelecki (Shooting Club) in Jas´liska met in a room rented from a Jewish shopkeeper.64

Stratification For many and various historical and social reasons, each ethnic group tended to dominate in a different socio-economic stratum. Irrespective of this, there was a sharp cross-ethnic divide between the tiny elite and the many more poor, and one between the townspeople and the villagers. Among the Jews were to be found sheyne yidn (beautiful or upper-class Jews), balebatishe yidn (middle-class Jews), and proste yiden (simple, lower-class Jews); among the non-Jews there were wealthy landowners, clergy, intelligentsia, middle-class craftsmen, and peasants. Age-old divides existed within the groups themselves: the water-carrier’s son not only knew he would not be a schoolteacher, but did not realistically aspire to become a rabbi; the peasant’s son not only knew that he would not be a shopkeeper, but neither did he aspire to become a postman. . In the Brzezany area, nevertheless, it appears that athletic ability could be a ticket into the local, mostly ethnic Polish elite. Such was the case with Natan Goldman, best known for his boxing talents, as well as Adam Goldszlag, who played tennis in the mid-1930s.65 In Konin there was a Jew known to both Jews and non-Jews as 59 61 64

60 M. Kurkowska-Budzan, ‘My Jedwabne’, Polin, 15 (2002), 403. Ibid. 403–4. . 62 63 Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 65. Ibid. 66. Ibid. . 65 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 97. Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 89.

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dziedzic—‘squire’ or ‘lord of the manor’—who owned a vast village estate. His son spoke perfect Polish and no Yiddish, learned to ride horses, and enjoyed shooting events.66 In the village this family’s contact would be more frequent with peasants and hired labourers; the father’s involvement in the town council and other elite circles also necessitated Polish fluency. Overall, Jews who lived in the villages of a shtetl community—regardless of whether they were innkeepers, landowners, or farmers—crossed borders daily and frequently. Their ties to the Jewish community would be correspondingly weaker: for lack of transport and other reasons, attendance at the synagogues in town was infrequent, limited usually to the highest of holy days; town Jewry also especially looked down upon the dorfisher, the village Jew.67

g ua rd i ans a nd tre s p a s se r s Though all groups maintained their boundaries, majority–minority relations were inevitably imbalanced in favour of the former, which had less to fear from outside influences, subsequent change, or even assimilation. As one might expect, then, the leaders of the cultural minority or minorities would be the most fervent guardians of the boundaries. The rabbi—if he was Orthodox and certainly if he was hasidic—maintained no contact with members of the other group. As sentinel of the minority, he would even protect his brethren from deviation within (e.g. Zionism or Reform Judaism). Likewise the rabbi’s wife would stand guard at the border, serving as a model for all Jewish women. In turn, her children would be expected to play a similar exemplary role and might not attend the public school so as to avoid worldly seductions.

Age and Gender In general—apart from the rabbi and his family—age and gender were the most important factors in guardianship. It was, above all, the elders of the community whose job it was to maintain the borders—especially adult men. They were firm in their convictions and not tempted by any curiosity about each other’s faith and customs; interactions would be restricted to the utilitarian or matters of utmost consequence.68 Furthermore, Christian men served, almost without exception, in the armed services. This not only strained or severed ties with their home community and the Jews in it, but introduced them, if at all, to Jews quite different from the ones they had known hitherto. Among the adults it was the women in the shtetl community who moved about more freely in both worlds, as Judaism placed little restriction upon female members of the group. Many tended shops and businesses while their husbands studied 66 67 68

Richmond, Konin, 51–4. Orla-Bukowska, ‘Shtetl Communities’, 96. Exceptions were made for emergencies such as described ibid. 105–6.

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in shul (synagogue). They chatted with customers, whom they knew very well, and engaged in everyday conversation with Christian neighbours. The younger generation, the adolescents—as befits their role in any society— would simultaneously test the strength of the borders and begin to take responsibility for guarding them. Here, as with the adults, it was the duty of young males to secure the borders between the cultures more than young females. As boys, town Jews had to attend h.eder before and/or after public school, restricting the chance to play with their Christian peers. In their teenage years, after their bar mitzvah, Jewish males were already adults in the eyes of Judaic law. They were expected to delve deeper into religious study (sometimes at the price of the secular), and to marry early and start families. These obligations curbed their liberty, limited free time, and thus precluded daily interactions with their non-Jewish peers. Young Jewish women, on the other hand, could continue to attend public school and play or do homework with non-Jewish girlfriends; along with their mothers they often staffed the family shop, resulting in constant exchanges with the Christian clientele. Overall, Jewish boys carried the symbols of Judaism, as they dressed differently, wore earlocks, were circumcised, and attended Jewish religious school (kheyder). And Jewish boys were the guardians of Jewish norms and values. In other words, the cultural differences that distinguished the two ethnic communities were far more conspicuous with the Jewish boys than with the Jewish girls. This may help to explain why it was the Jewish boys and not the Jewish girls who frequently fell victim to Polish teasing. In like manner, a Polish informant would disapprove of the unfriendly and haughty attitude of her one-time Jewish (male) schoolmates, but at the same time she would judge her Jewish girlfriends as very cordial and sympathetic.69

In general, it was the youngest children of either sex who escaped the burden of any safeguarding duties and were thus freest to make all manner of connections. The younger the child, the greater the liberty to traverse boundaries, even of the most private of spaces. They could approach any and all members of other groups— from the nanny to the priest, from one’s playmates to neighbours—regardless of belonging. ‘Look at me!’ exclaims one Roman Catholic informant, ‘A Jewish woman carried me when I was still a baby!’70 On the other side, Miriam Grossman recollects: We were a [Gerer hasidic] middle-class family and it was a custom that middle-class families had maids. I remember another non-Jewish woman, who was my beloved nanny for maybe ten or thirteen years, and she had her bed in the kitchen, and I slept many times with her because I loved her, and she loved me too.71

It may have been precisely because the children were more naturally curious and likely to break rules that each group instilled in them a little fear towards ‘strangers’. 69 71

Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 102. Richmond, Konin, 261.

70

Ibid. 96–7.

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Tales of, for instance, Jews or Roma stealing them away would serve to inhibit contact and keep the youngest from crossing borders too freely. In fact, time and time again, when asked whether they believed the ‘blood libel’ legend, Catholic informants in Galician Poland laughingly discounted it as just ‘humbug’ intended to frighten children. All things considered, non-Jewish and Jewish youngsters were much more likely to meet informally, at play and at school, than were their adult counterparts. In addition, children were more easily admitted into the social and family life of the ‘other’ than were adults. Finally, thanks to their age, children were able to bypass socially accepted norms without serious risk. More generally, they ‘gave expression to the social tensions between the ethnic communities by teasing and attacking “the other side”. . . . The interaction between Polish and Jewish children, including attempts at provocation and mischief, might very well have stimulated a certain degree of social exchange between both communities.’72

Status and Locus There was another criterion, however, in the granting of passage: the socioeconomic status of a person, and where his or her home was located. These were decisive, too, in whether, how much, and within which circles Jews and non-Jews straddled or cleared the walls erected between them. Most devoted to protecting and maintaining the borders would be the conservative middle-class religious Jews living in the centre of the shtetl (the lower rather than the upper strata), along with the Christian intelligentsia (especially middleclass administrators and teachers) and peasants, especially those living in villages where there were few Jewish families. These men had the least day-to-day contact with their peers from the other group, and such contact as they had was irregular; they had fewer or no social acquaintances among the other group, and were less likely to possess more than a minimal vocabulary in the other language. Different frames of reference applied to the high elites, to the nobility and the affluent. In central and eastern Europe these were always a mix of various ethnicities—German, Austrian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Lithuanian, etc. It was obvious that individuals of this socio-economic and political class were a separate category to which different rules applied. The prosperous and established sheyne Jews were members not only of the kehilah but also of the town council. The non-Jewish elite (few though they were) comprised the other half of the council; hence acquaintances and even cordial friendships became matters of fact. The less populated the community, the more political or economic relationships were inseparable from social and cultural ones. Those who sat on the various councils met informally to play cards or chess or simply socialize: 72

Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 96–7.

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The Jewish informant Josko S. (75), for instance, recalled the evening walks of his father with the priest. While walking, both men would discuss all kinds of subjects. Harmonious contacts between the ‘learned’ priest and ‘lay’ Jews were customary in other towns and villages in the region as well. Pearl O. (82) recalled the long walks and discussions of her father with the priest. She also remembered the weekly meetings at her parents’ home, to which all members of the village elite were invited, among them the priest and teachers of the local primary school.73

The upper classes generally interacted with each other, and were held in esteem by the rest, regardless of religion or ethnicity. The Jewish owner of the quarry and forests in Ste˛pina and Cieszyna was spoken of with the same respect as the Catholic owner of the manor in Kobyle.74 Weddings and other festivities of a religious origin became occasions to strengthen ties, especially with the nearest neighbours: During the summer, Jews organised dancing on the fields, which they first decorated with firewood. They put the wood on the ground and danced on it. This holiday was called Haman. They used to offer food and delicacies to the police, border guard, their neighbours and the mayor. They took this food to these houses. Also during wedding parties they invited some Poles, my uncle and father among them.75

Everyday relationships became very easy and matter of course when Jews and non. Jews lived under the same roof. One non-Jewish family in Brzezany rented out rooms in their building to two Jewish families.76 In Twierdza near Frysztak a wooden domicile was split between a Catholic and a Jewish family.77 Far away in Konin, Miriam Grossman recalled ‘our Gentile neighbour, Mr Wodzinski, the attorney’, who lived next door to her family and discussed various matters with her father, and onto whose balcony she and her sister climbed one evening to be able to watch the stars.78 Shared interests built bridges, and so the upper and lowermost classes of all groups usually enjoyed the most interaction with peers. Hence it was more likely that a sheyner Jew would cross borders and enjoy contact with the local non-Jewish intelligentsia than even with the proste Jews of the same community. The same held for the Christian intelligentsia, where class divisions precluded anything but the most formal relationships with peasant villagers. In Szyja Bronsztejn’s view, ‘Relations were undoubtedly best between the non-Jewish liberal intelligentsia and the Jewish intelligentsia.’79 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 98. F.G. and A. Orla-Bukowska, interview, Cieszyna, 1990; P.L. and Orla-Bukowska, interview, 75 Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 97. Kobyle, 1991. Cf. Richmond, Konin, 50–7. . 76 Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 61. 77 78 Z.P. and Orla-Bukowska, interview, Twierdza, 1991. Richmond, Konin, 260, 262. 79 S. Bronsztejn, ‘Polish–Jewish Relations as Reflected in Memoirs of the Interwar Period’, Polin, 8 (1994), 86. 73 74

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Mixing was more likely if someone’s profession was outside the traditional socio-economic niche: the non-Jewish entrepreneur and the Jewish farmer continually crossed borders by virtue of their milieu and the lifestyle demands of their work. Their contact with the ‘other’ was daily and usually became highly typical and ordinary. On the one hand, When Christian and Jew did try to break down the barriers that separated them, the outcome was not always a happy one, as Jozef Lewandowski relates. Around 1934 his father, an upholsterer in Konin, went into partnership with a Polish upholsterer, his friend Mr Boguslawski: ‘. . . the worthy gentlemen failed to take account of social considerations. Father became unacceptable to the Orthodox Jews, Boguslawski non-kosher to some of his Catholic customers. Both went beyond the limits imposed by unwritten but harshly binding statutes. Rich folk such as landowners and industrialists could join forces, but not the poor masses. After a few years they split up.’80

On the other hand, more successful in their joint ventures, two Polish Roman Catholic brothers in Frysztak recalled card-playing and drinking with their fellow . leather traders who happened to be Jewish.81 Karol Codogni’s father in Brzezany was a blacksmith who worked with Jewish craftsmen; though they needed one another, they also sometimes, naturally, quarrelled and even took each other to court.82 Owing to proximity as well as relative isolation in the physical landscape, fellow villagers bonded with each other rather than with any elite in town. Among other things, Jews here forsook the strict Orthodoxy—impractical in rural life—of those in town; as Eva Hoffman puts it, ‘Culturally, these Jewish villagers cum townsmen were a hybrid species.’83 Less hindered by the social control in town, Jews and Christians in a village were guided more by a sense of belonging to it, and by their own needs and those of their local compatriots. As Henry Kaplan relates: It was a completely different life from the Jews living in Konin. . . . We participated in country life. . . . We were not very religious . . . we did not go to the synagogue every Friday and Saturday, and my father did not lay tefillin. He had seats in the synagogue and Rabbi Lipschitz was a friend of our family. At the same time, my father had seats in the village church near Glinka, for our workers, and his name was on the seats.84

The non-Jewish peasants valued their Jewish equals as good, hard-working people not unlike them; it was only natural that the Jew and non-Jew in Cieszyna would hitch horses and plough their respective fields together.85 Bronsztejn notes how ‘Andrzej Burda described the attitude of the peasants to the Jews from the village of Rzeszotary near Kraków as friendly and says that “in the countryside, good will was something quite natural in the common lives of people bound by the land”.’86 81 Richmond, Konin, 162. J.C. and S.C. and Orla-Bukowska, interview, Twierdza, 1990. . 83 Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 60. Hoffman, Shtetl, 84. 84 85 Richmond, Konin, 54. F.G. and Orla-Bukowska, interview, Cieszyna, 1990. 86 A. Burda, Lata walki i nadziei (Kraków, 1970), 13; quoted in Bronsztejn, ‘Polish–Jewish Relations’, 78. 80 82

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Finally, school brought and kept children together—the border here so permeable that schoolmates of different faith and ethnicity sat next to one another, whispered answers, copied homework, and played, teased, and tussled with one another. There was a difference, too, between the school in town and the one-room schoolhouses in the villages: the latter made any segregation irrelevant and contact continuous. School attendance on Saturday meant a need for Jewish children to make up lessons with their non-Jewish classmates; inclement weather would mean that Christian religious knowledge classes could be overheard by non-Christians. Walking home from school meant more time together—play was always outside more than inside. Israel Ne’eman recalled that he went to school almost solely with Ukrainians. ‘There were, on average, two Jews in each grade, and the relations were good. A Ukrainian boy whose father was a plasterer and a Communist was my close friend.’87 His non-Jewish counterpart Karol Codogni spoke some Yiddish and played with Jewish boys: ‘Living near and close to Jews was a perfectly normal thing for him.’88

c o nc lu si o n Indeed, it was only natural. The Jews and non-Jews of a shtetl community could not and did not live as adjacent forbidding fortresses. To paraphrase Roskies and Roskies, what each side wanted in particular was not isolation from the other, but insulation from its religion.89 As Bronsztejn writes, Jewish distinctiveness and difference ought not to be identified with being foreign. When there are no internal tensions, good material conditions, no professional competition, comfort of life, then distinctiveness forms part of the social scenery, is an accepted condition of unity in variety. Distinctiveness can become something foreign when it is in isolation, when there are no professional and personal contacts and no cultural interaction and diffusion of cultures, and when the economic environment turns hostile.90

Likewise, Shimon Redlich asserts that, ‘Beyond the specific affiliations of culture, language, and religion within each one of these three ethnic groups [Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews], they also shared a tradition of “local” commonness.’91 In shtetl communities distinctiveness was very familiar and present on all sides. As Cohen points out, ‘The community boundary is not drawn at the point where differentiation occurs. Rather, it incorporates and encloses difference and . . . is thereby strengthened.’92 An illustration is provided from Andalusia: ‘The members of a community recognize their common interests and values vis-à-vis those of other communities. But, at the same time, they cherish their differences from each 87 89 90 92

. 88 Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 63. Ibid. 61. D. Roskies and D. G. Roskies, The Shtetl Book (Hoboken, NJ, 1975), 34. . 91 Bronsztejn, ‘Polish–Jewish Relations’, 74. Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 61. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 74.

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other for, to a substantial extent, these provide the very stuff of everyday social life within the community.’93 Groups preserve different religions, different languages, a different style of dress, and some spatial segregation; the distinctions are strengthened and reinforced because this is a mutually desired value. Living primarily in the very centre of the town, Jews were nevertheless able to build and maintain the strongest border possible between themselves and the others, the non-Jews. Under these conditions their separate cultures could and did bloom and grow; ignoring or destroying the boundaries would mean their selfdestruction: Yet, in order to survive for centuries in a foreign environment—among people professing a different faith, possessing different customs—one had to maintain one’s separateness. The guests could not mimic the hosts. They had to create their own community in the community within which they lived, create it with great effort because societal conventions can be austere (stern, uncompromising). And out of necessity they had—in order to exist—to love their own community more than that of the host and give priority to the interests of their own, internal community. And they created that community owing to this astounding strength of their national bonds.94

An unwritten principle dictated that one would and should remain in the community—religious, ethnic, and social—into which one was born. Assimilation of the minority to the majority—or even much acculturation—was neither encouraged nor even desired in the shtetl. Furthermore, as Lehmann argues, ‘the strict ethnic boundaries . . . were of crucial importance in the maintenance of a political and social equilibrium’.95 There was closure and continuity in this neighbouring with one another. Despite political border shifts, migrations, and slighter or greater conflicts, one’s neighbours were generally the same as those one’s parents and grandparents had had. And so the terrain which various compatriots inhabited became ‘our land’, ‘our homeland’, and its residents nasi—‘our people’. The Jews and non-Jews saw their countrymen and women as people who differed in faith, language, and custom, but not in their loyalty, connection, and belonging to the community. In the shtetls a Polish Jew was not primarily a Jew: he or she was primarily someone tutejszy, ‘from here’, a landsman from the same community like all of its other residents. As Cohen describes it, Rural society (‘community’) was small, parochial, stable, and ‘face-to-face’: people interacted with each other as ‘total’ social persons informed by a comprehensive personal knowledge of each other, their relationships often underpinned by ties of affinity and consanguinity. It was a traditional and conservative way of life, in which people valued custom for its own sake and, given a reasonable degree of potential self-sufficiency in the production of their 93 94 95

Ibid. 88. W. Sil a-Nowicki, ‘Janowi Bl on´skiemu w odpowiedzi’, Tygodnik Powszechny, 41/8 (22 Feb. 1987), 5. Lehmann, Symbiosis and Ambivalence, 169. /

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subsistence, felt substantially in control of their lives, subject, of course, to the vicissitudes of nature and the divine.96

Having shaped over centuries a cosmos in which coexistence was possible without blurring and assimilation, preservation of its order and stability was of paramount importance to all its residents. Those of us living in twenty-first-century urban environments find it hard to look beyond the rigid structure of traditional cultures; we see them as limiting. Yet they provided a comforting security not supplied by boundless postmodernity. This sturdy construction was hardly questioned at all until the end of the nineteenth century—and in many shtetl communities not until the 1930s. As Hoffman deduces, ‘Perhaps the main virtue of the shtetl for its inhabitants was the extent to which it was a community—small, closely interwoven, reassuringly familiar. Nobody in these rural enclaves needed to suffer from the modern malaise of uncertainty and nonbelonging.’97 ‘Progressive’ ideas brought with them secularization, the decline of traditional authority, a rejection of inherent group belonging and preordained individual destiny, and heightened geographical and social mobility. Modern social phenomena such as intermarriage, conversion, or non-confessional assimilation would, in time, place more Jews on the cusp between the traditional Jewish and Catholic cultures; class and spatial mobility would also shift non-Jews across the boundary. All of this undermined the age-old balance of power between the Jewish and Christian communities within the shtetl, and began to erode the borders of the small and comfortable ojczyzna prywatna, the private homeland of the shtetl, in favour of the large and unfamiliar ojczyzna ideologiczna, the ideological one of a nationstate.98 Everything that knit the community together unravelled, and insecurity crept in. The price of this progress was a loss of community and kinship. ‘If the members of a community come to feel that they have less in common with each other than they have with members of some other community then . . . the integrity of the “community” they enclose has been severely impugned.’99 Individuals lost their intimate connection to a landscape and to all those who inhabited it. Until new understandings and new networks could be established, ambiguity and anxiety reigned, tensions rose, and conflicts erupted. Referring to the troubles at the dawn of this process, Keely Stauter-Halsted deduces, ‘It is, I believe, this pattern of transitional group identities and parallel but conflicting attempts to bring about economic improvements that confounded relations between peasants and Jews, setting the stage for the violence of June 1898.’100 97 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 25. Hoffman, Shtetl, 12. Cf. Ossowski, Analiza socjologiczna poje˛cia ojczyzny. 199 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 20–1. 100 K. Stauter-Halsted, ‘Priests, Merchants and Political Activists: The Rise of Modern AntiSemitism in the Galician Polish Countryside’, MS, 2002. 196 198

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By the late 1930s, especially in the two years after Józef Pil sudski’s death, and more frequently in the largest metropolises, relations between groups became combustible. Moving up in society was possible after the emancipation of the Jews and peasants near the end of the nineteenth century, especially in the 1930s when the economic depression forced many to consider options outside farm work. It was also then that political and economic antisemitism, rife in the programmes and publications of various conservative parties, began to infiltrate the shtetl. This broad problem deserves separate treatment, but perhaps a few general observations could be made here. For the most part, the peasants were not reading these materials and troubles did not break out in the villages. Rather, anti-Jewish behaviour and actions were apt to take place in town, especially on market day, when crowds appeared and outsiders could incite a riot; the larger the town and the larger the throng, the less social control there was, and the more likely it was that the call would be taken up.101 Nevertheless, antisemitic views did not necessarily mean an absence of good professional and personal relationships with Jews known to a person, since stereotypical attitudes did not relate to those who were ‘insiders’, ‘one of our own’. Furthermore, in a major sociological study regarding antisemitism among Poles, ‘researchers were surprised to find that the oldest respondents (born before 1923) were more well-disposed towards Jews than younger generations’.102 These informants would have had less formal, but much more informal, first-hand knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture, and interpersonal relationships with Jews, than those born later. As Grekowa discerns in her home society, /

In the case of the most general form of the ‘familiar’–‘foreign’ relationship, in . . . a closed traditional community, what was ‘familiar’ was highly significant. And the meaning and value of this in and of itself could neither be destroyed nor even questioned while the traditional community existed regardless of the strength and nature of the contact with the ‘other’.103

The Holocaust was in no way an inevitable consequence of the joint inhabitancy of the shtetl by Jews and non-Jews. Even in the opening months of German occupation Jewish villagers continued transactions and contact with their Christian neighbours. Regardless of the outcome, positive or negative, the fact that many Jews left their valuables in the safekeeping of their non-Jewish neighbours meant that the latter were known well and trusted deeply. The Holocaust, however, for ever put an end to the life that such co-inhabitancy entailed. ‘The further one moves along [the] continuum from “folk” to “urban” society, the greater becomes the loss of community.’104 Where they live together today, . Cf. Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany, 88–9; for an account, however, of the ineffectiveness 102 I. Krzemin´ski, Czy Polacy sa˛ antysemitami? (Warsaw, 1996), 301. of a boycott, see p. 92. 103 Grekowa, ‘Bliskos´ c´ przestrzenna’, 120–1. 104 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 27. 101

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Jews and Christians find themselves primarily anonymous residents of urban areas; what they know about one another’s culture (e.g. customs, religion, language) is superficial and derived primarily from infrequent lessons about groups, not from daily contact with individuals. Connections are more often utilitarian and relationships easy to end. As scholars and public discourse focus on discord, living memory of accord fades ever more quickly into the distance. How did people so different live so closely and know each other so intimately for so long in relative (though admittedly not perfect) harmony? No matter what the faith or ethnicity of the author, accounts of a shtetl community in memoirs, yizkor books, or histories are most often penned in the absence of the ‘other’. This fact is a reflection of the boundary between Jews and non-Jews but does not at all indicate lack of a local community, nor lack of border-crossing. Both sides strongly marked themselves off from the other. Borders—visible as the eruv (the boundary constructed to permit Jews to carry on the sabbath) and as invisible as the middle of a stream, and built at the levels of religion, history, tradition and customs, language, and geography—were known to and maintained by everyone. It was known who possessed the most unrestricted passport, and who should be the strictest of sentries. Yet numerous people on both sides crossed over—at various levels, by various means, and to various degrees. All in all, however, the golden rule was ‘Good fences make good neighbours’. Why did they live so apart? Because they needed to, they wanted to, and because they could. First, without a strong sense of difference, group identities and the groups themselves would dissolve. Secondly, and paradoxically, the more dissimilar and separate the groups are, the more easily they maintain the boundaries between them; in turn, the more strongly those partitions are protected, the more easily can cohabiting communities feel safe and secure. Cohen has said: The most striking feature of the symbolic construction of the community and its boundaries is its oppositional character. The boundaries are relational rather than absolute; that is, they mark the community in relation to other communities. It has been suggested that all social identities, collective and individual, are constituted in this way, ‘to play the vis-à-vis’.105

The purpose was to preserve a vital sense of different communities simultaneously: the ethnic, religious, and/or linguistic community to which one belonged from birth, and the community of tutejszy to which one also belonged from birth. Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, and other groups were thus able to speak of ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when referring to those who believed as they did and spoke the same language as they, and of ‘us’ and ‘ours’, too, when referring to those they saw as their compatriots from the same shtetl community. Jews trading horses in a small market town, speaking in haphazard Polish—that was the shtetl. Poles gradually picking up a few words of Yiddish and bits of Jewish lore—that was 105

Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, 58.

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also the shtetl. Jewish bands playing at Polish weddings and local aristocrats getting financial advice and loans from their Jewish stewards—all that went into the making of the distinctive, mulchy mix that was shtetl culture.106 The very realm of neighbouring proximity is one of a true celebration of differences; it is a realm in which that which is ‘familiar’ and that which is ‘foreign’ mutually grant each other the right to differ. As a consequence, human dialogue is made possible and real.107

A peasant born in 1902 who completed his fourth-year education in a one-room village schoolhouse before the First World War made reference in an interview not only to the rabbi and the cantor but also to the shames (synagogue sexton). As a hen and her chicks perambulated across the dirt floor of his wooden cottage, I asked him if the Jews were guilty of killing Christ: ‘No,’ he answered, ‘it was the Sanhedrin.’108 No teacher or priest had provided him with such information and insight; it had come from close relationships and crossing borders with his Jewish friends and neighbours. Without access to formal modern instruction on multiculturalism, the community had found a way to live it: ‘In the shtetl, pluralism was experienced not as ideology but as ordinary life.’109 The very fact of physical and geographic neighbouring inevitably leads to some cultural contact, diffusion, and exchange.110 The Jews and the non-Jews created a ‘forward’ model of coexistence through (not despite) conservative traditionalism, creating something—at least in this sense—closer to utopia than dystopia. 106 108 110

107 Hoffman, Shtetl, 12–13. Grekowa, ‘Bliskos´ c´ przestrzenna’, 117. 109 J.C. and Orla-Bukowska, interview, Twierdza, 1990. Hoffman, Shtetl, 12. Ziól kowski, ‘Wspólnota przestrzeni i odmiennos´ c´ tradycji’, 60. /

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The Soviet Shtetl in the 1920s genna dy estra ikh the re v o lu ti o n w ri te s of f t h e s h t e t l Bo lshev ik apparatchiks, most notably functionaries of the Evsektsii (Jewish sections of the Communist Party), began to deal seriously with the shtetl only in 1920‒1, after the civil war. In the previous post-revolutionary years, when the shtetl was bleeding under the yoke of various armies and gangs, the Soviet apparatus was cut off from the bulk of the Jewish population. During the course of the civil war there were 1,520 pogroms; perhaps 200,000 Jews were killed, about 1 million became refugees; and 300,000 Jewish children were orphaned; one-third of all Jewish property was destroyed. In the words of the Soviet anthropologist Vladimir Tan-Bogoraz, the Jews ‘endured the revolution rather than making it’; they ‘paid more for the revolution and got less than other peoples’ of Russia.1 The Central Bureau of the Evsektsii reported in 1922 and 1923 that in Ukraine, the epicentre of anti-Jewish atrocities, the victims of the pogroms numbered 600,000, including 150,000 killed and 200,000 injured. In the provinces (guberniyas) of Odessa and Nikolaev 40 per cent of all skilled Jewish clothing-industry workers died of starvation.2 The decrease in the Soviet Jewish population in the Soviet territories as a result of the First World War, the civil war, pogroms, and emigration has been estimated at 500,000.3 The shtetl Jews’ enthusiasm for the revolution was thus undoubtedly apocryphal; it was perhaps a canard of the counter-revolutionary propaganda that equated Jewish Bolsheviks—a tiny minority of the Jewish population—with the masses of ordinary shtetl inhabitants. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how the new regime, with its anti-religious slogans and expropriations, could appeal to an ordinary Jewish householder. This is not to say that no one in the shtetls supported the Bolsheviks; local supporters were usually recruited from among young people, who staffed the local Soviet institutions and were active in the requisitions that became an integral part of early Soviet Jewish life.4 Also, many shtetl-dwellers who V. G. Tan-Bogoraz, Evreiskoe mestechko v revolyutsii (Moscow, 1926), 10–11. Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial⬘no-politicheskoi istorii (RGASPI), fond 17, opis⬘ 60, delo 1005, fos. 5, 43–6. 3 I. I. Veitsblit, Di dinamik fun der yidisher bafelkerung in Ukraine far di yorn 1897–1926 (Kharkov, 4 Ibid. 9. 1930), 112. 1 2

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had suffered at the hands of the counter-revolutionary army saw the Bolsheviks as the lesser of two evils. Although the Red Army also sometimes carried out pogroms, the main perpetrators were recent defectors from the Ukrainian or White armies. The Soviet command quickly took demoralized units in hand.5 The shtetl had been hit hard by the post-1917 devastation, and its impoverishment ‘exceeded in its economic effects the worst periods of economic slumps of the tsarist times’.6 In addition, the state struck a grievous blow against the shtetl when it encouraged its most adventurous denizens to plunge into ‘the primary accumulation of capital’ under the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921‒9). Reckless in their desperate need to find a means of supporting themselves, these Jews often had no scruples about smuggling, bribing, embezzling, or other kinds of illegal activity.7 It is no coincidence that the only contemporary ballad featured in a folklorist study of Yiddish ballads conducted in the 1920s and 1930s is about a Jewish smuggler who was shot and killed while trying to run away from a GPU (Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie, Soviet secret police) officer.8 There were two possibilities for the shtetl: either a new role in the Soviet economy would be found for it or it would be doomed to extinction. The authorities originally chose the latter approach. The disappearance of the shtetl (Russian: mestechko) from all Soviet administrative-territorial maps signalled that the new regime did not see a place for such a unit in the economy or society. The country was divided into settlements for the two valued categories of workers and peasants alone. The shtetl, on the other hand, represented a throwback to the feudal world, where—in the poetic words of the influential Soviet Yiddish literary critic and writer Yekhezkel Dobrushin—‘es shloft oykh der luyekh un der zeyger’ (‘even the calendar and the clock are asleep’).9 Virtually all Jewish activists staffing the Evsektsii rejected the shtetl. The prominent Yiddish poet Izi Kharik was one of those who condemned the shtetl to death: A letster roykh hot tsugedekt mayn shtetl, un letstn roykh hot tsugeshikt der vint. Oy, biz van, um oy, biz vanen betn zikh: shtetele, farshvind.10 (The last smoke had covered my shtetl, and the last smoke had been sent by the wind. Oh, how long, oh, how long should I ask: my shtetl, disappear.) N. Gergel, ‘Di pogromen in Ukraine in di yorn 1918–21’, in Y. Leshtshinsky (ed.), Shriftn far ekonomik un statistik (Berlin, 1928), i. 111. 16 Arcadius Kahan, ‘Observations on Jewish Policies Toward the Jews’, Canadian–American Slavic 7 I. Veitsblit, Vegn altn un nayem shtetl (Moscow, 1930), 5, 9–10. Studies, 17/4 (1983), 508. 18 S. Magid, ‘Ballada v evreiskom folk⬘lore’, doctoral diss. (University of Leningrad, 1938), 381–6. Jewish smugglers appear also in David Bergelson’s novel Mides-hadin (‘Severe Judgement’) (1929). 19 Y. Dobrushin, ‘In shtetl’, Eygns, 1 (Kiev, 1918), 16. 10 I. Kharik, ‘Shtetl’, Nayerd, 1 (Moscow, 1925), 36. 15

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The communist Kharik was hardly an iconoclast. Rather, he was a talented disciple of pre-1917 Yiddish writers. As David Roskies notes: ‘When judged by West European standards of culture and civility, the verdict on the shtetl was unanimous: the sooner this small, homogeneous, insular, and linguistically distinct provincial backwater deconstructed, the better for all concerned.’11 The derogatory Yiddish term kleyn-shtetldikayt and its Russian equivalent, mestechkovost´, were slurs on the provincial, traditional Jewish lifestyle associated above all with shtetls in the western, Polish areas of the Russian empire. Characteristically, Shmuel Niger, the master Yiddish literary critic, argued that the forced Jewish migration during the First World War, which had brought great hardship upon the refugees, had also benefited the backward Polish Jews by giving them the opportunity to come into contact with the modernized Russian (i.e. Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian) Jews.12 In 1922 Abram Bragin, a Bolshevik intellectual best known as an enthusiastic agriculturist, wrote a memorandum on the economic catastrophe of the shtetl. He wrote inter alia: The economic future of the USSR is a future exclusively of the hammer and sickle; therefore, all the components of Jewish economy will certainly be eliminated. Even now there are clear results, rather than just signs, of this elimination. Private trade in the shtetls and district (uezd) towns has been killed, as has brokerage. Handicraft is dying away. A number of specific minor professions—local merchants, middlemen, and artisans—will have to be liquidated anyway.

Bragin also emphasized that the millions of embittered shtetl-dwellers had no representation in the existing Soviet apparatus, especially as the Evsektsii functioned only in the domain of propaganda and culture.13 In 1923, following this memorandum, some economic functions were assigned to the Evsektsii. Chief among these functions was the supervision of artisans (kustari).14 Jewish artisans began to be treated according to plans originally developed for peasants, whose impoverished majority was seen as the principal ally of the revolutionary proletariat.

s o c i al e ngi ne e r i n g In the class-conscious, Manichaean world-view of the Bolsheviks, the proletarian– non-proletarian dichotomy was the most fundamental division in society. The people were seen as biological material, only part of which—primarily the proletariat and its allies, the peasants—could be tolerated in socialist society. Soviet D. G. Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 48. Sh. Niger, Shmuesn vegn bikher, pt. 1 (New York, 1922), 22–3. 13 Bragin’s memorandum was first published by V. Khiterer in Vestnik Evreiskogo Universiteta v Moskve, 1 (1995), 212–16. 14 Alfarbandishe baratung fun di yidishe sektsyes fun der al. k. p. (b) (dekabr 1926) (Moscow, 1927), 4–5. 11 12

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social engineers thus stigmatized a large part of the population, categorizing them as lishentsy, or ‘disfranchised’ persons. For political and economic reasons, disfranchisement was introduced in June 1918 as a constitutional measure intended to protect society against various ‘class-alien’ groups of the population, including ‘exploiters’, clergy, and ‘people not engaged in labour’.15 The introduction of this caste system was catastrophic for hundreds of thousands of Jews, many of whom had been involved in trade. In the mid-1920s Jews constituted about 45 per cent of Ukraine’s lishentsy.16 In addition to losing their voting rights, lishentsy and their offspring were discriminated against in access to education, rations, housing, and other social privileges. While the proportion of lishentsy was generally higher in smaller towns, the former shtetls, particularly in Ukraine, stood out as the areas with the highest proportion of disenfranchised inhabitants. If the average percentage of lishentsy in Ukraine was 1.9 in 1925‒6 and 4.6 in 1926‒7, the corresponding figures for the shtetls were 23.6 and 39.1 per cent.17 Young Jews invented various devices for cleansing the stain of non-proletarian origins from their biographies. One oral testimony describes one such escape from disenfranchisement: My older brother disowned my parents in the newspaper, because it was impossible to get jobs if your parents were disenfranchised. He announced that he did not recognize them as his parents, because they belonged to the clergy. Of course, my father permitted him to do so, otherwise he would have never ever done anything like that.18

My own father, born in the Ukrainian shtetl of Krasilov, was almost thrown out of the Yiddish department of the Zhitomir Teachers’ Training Institute because a vigilant student, a native of a nearby shtetl, remembered a shopkeeper by the name of Estraikh. Fortunately, my father was able to demonstrate that the shopkeeper was his cousin many times removed—sufficiently removed to save my father from the purge. Education became an imperative for young shtetl people. Beyond the Jews’ proverbial—and often exaggerated—stress on learning, university or technical school education was seen as the only route to social advancement. Young people had virtually nothing to do in their impoverished, stigmatized shtetls. Local artisans, wary of being categorized as exploiters, were reluctant to keep apprentices. 15 A. I. Dobkin, ‘Lishentsy: 1918–1936’, Zven⬘ya: Istoricheskii al⬘manakh, 2 (1992), 600; S. Fitzpatrick, ‘Ascribing Class: The Construction of Social Identity in Soviet Russia’, Journal of Modern History, 65/4 (1999), 755. 16 Z. Y. Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972), 354. 17 E. Kimerling, ‘Civil Right and Social Policy in Soviet Russia, 1918–1936’, Russian Review, 41/1 (1982), 24–46. 18 A. Shternshis, ‘Soviet and Kosher in the Ukrainian Shtetl’, in G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality. Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford, 2000), 145.

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Many artisans were themselves on the dole—particularly those among them who worked in towns, where they faced strong competition from the growing state sector. Conditions were better for artisans working in the rural market, because peasants could pay them with agricultural products.19 All artisans were burdened with taxes so excessive that they were often unable to eke out a living. In order to survive, they were forced to unite in co-operatives, or artels (associations for common work). The Soviet authorities saw these as a rather progressive mode of production, an intermediate stage on the way to mechanized manufacturing.20 Co-operatives were able to gain access to some scarce raw materials, and their members could acquire voting rights relatively easily. Not surprisingly, many artisans’ co-operatives existed only on paper, as an economic and social expedient. In some places Jewish shtetl inhabitants acquired plots of land attached to the shtetl and found salvation in farming. This practice was not strictly legal, because the 1920 agrarian code permitted the allocation of land only to those categories of citizens who had had the right to own land before 1917. In other words, it had been formulated—wittingly or otherwise—as an anti-Jewish Act, and was repealed only in 1923, first in Belarus and then in Ukraine and Russia. In the meantime, a loophole in the law allowed groups of Jewish shtetl inhabitants to acquire land if they organized as agricultural co-operatives. In fact, these Jews were generally eager to co-operate with each other because they lacked individual experience in agricultural work. In the late 1920s about 20,000 Jewish families in Ukraine and about 10,000 Jewish families in Belarus were involved in shtetl farming.21 By the mid-1920s three strata had emerged in the Soviet Jewish population. The first group, the ‘Soviet allrightniks’, consisted of members of the party, the Komsomol, and trade unions who had access to the most prestigious and lucrative positions in society. This group was growing rapidly; the number of Jewish communists quadrupled during the years 1922‒30 to 76,000.22 Still, the ‘allrightniks’ remained a minority of the general Jewish population. The second group was made up of the temporary beneficiaries of the NEP and included numerous fly-by-night profiteers. The third and largest group, the ‘losers’, consisted of people, notably shtetl inhabitants, who could not or did not want to adapt to the new regime professionally or ideologically. During his visit to the Soviet Union in 1926 Joseph Roth learned that ‘Of the 2.75 million Jews in Russia, there are 300,000 organized Tan-Bogoraz, Evreiskoe mestechko v revolyutsii, 19–21. A. F. Chumak, ‘K voprosu o vovlechenii kustarei i remeslennikov v sotsialisticheskoe stroitel⬘stvo’, Voprosy istorii KPSS, 11/7 (1967), 59; E. G. Gimpelson, NEP i sovetskaya politicheskaya sistema, 20e gody (Moscow, 2000), 185. 21 L. Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze (Moscow, 1932), 119, 126; Y. Leshtshinsky, Dos sovetishe yidntum: Zayn fargangenhayt un kegnvart (New York, 1941), 158, 191–3; Hersh Smolyar, Fun ineveynik: Zikhroynes vegn der ‘yevsektsye’ (Tel Aviv, 1978), 202. 22 N. Gergel, ‘Yidn in der ruslendisher komunistisher partey un in komunistishn yugntfarband’, YIVO bleter, 1/1 (1931), 63–9. 19 20

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workers and employees; 130,000 peasants; 700,000 artisans and self-employed. The remainder consists of (a) capitalists and “déclassé” individuals, who are described as “unproductive” elements; (b) small traders, middlemen, agents, and hawkers, who are seen as unproductive but proletarian individuals.’23 Shmuel Godiner, a leading Soviet Yiddish writer, portrayed the typical déclassé Jew as a formerly affluent accountant from Shklov who had lost everything and ended up as a street trader in Moscow.24 Symptomatically, Godiner’s character, formerly a rather secularized semi-intellectual, became a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Joseph Isaac Schneersohn.25 Many Jews, hit hard by the revolution, turned to religion—among them the shtetl artisans, who were the favourites of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.26 In general, religious Jewish communities—which in Ukraine, for instance, numbered 1,003 in 1926 with a total of 137,437 members— competed successfully with the Jewish communists. The local rabbi’s influence was often very strong, especially as he was usually the distributor of the relief packages that came from the landsmanshaftn—the societies in the West (mainly America) for former residents of the shtetls. In addition, many communities introduced their own dues and used them to help the most destitute inhabitants.27 In the eyes of Soviet functionaries, the shtetl was a disgrace to the new society. Moshe Rafes, a former leading Bundist who became a deputy head of agitprop on the Comintern’s executive committee, wrote about this disgrace in a letter of 17 January 1925 to another former Bundist, Moshe Olgin (who was now editor of the New York communist Yiddish daily Morgn-frayhayt). Asking Olgin’s advice on how to choreograph the forthcoming visits of American left-wing delegations in order to ensure their positive opinion of the Soviet Union, Rafes expressed particular concern about the shtetl, many of whose petit bourgeois inhabitants were hostile to the Bolsheviks.28 For Rafes and other Jewish functionaries, it was an open secret that the devastated shtetl had scores to settle with the revolution. Indeed, in 1926, during a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Shimen Dimanshtein, the first commissar in charge of Jewish affairs in Lenin’s government, admitted that the revolution had brought misfortune to the majority of Jews.29 J. Roth, The Wandering Jews (London, 2001), 107. S. Godiner, ‘A shklover levone af arbat’, in his Figurn afn rand (Kiev, 1929). 25 Schneersohn headed the underground Sovet ravvinov v SSSR (Committee of Rabbis in the USSR). 26 See D. E. Fishman, ‘Religioznye lidery sovetskogo evreistva (1917–1934)’, in I. Krupnik (ed.), Istoricheskie sud⬘by evreev v Rossii i SSSR: Nachalo dialoga (Moscow, 1992); id., ‘Judaism in the USSR, 1917–1930: The Fate of Religious Education’, in Y. Ro’i (ed.), Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union (Ilford, 1995). 27 Alfarbandishe baratung, 58, 79; A. Shternshis, ‘Passover in the Soviet Union, 1917–41’, East 28 RGASPI, fond 445, opis⬘ 1, delo 85, fos. 61–4. European Jewish Affairs, 31/1 (2001), 68–9. 29 RGASPI, fond 17, opis⬘ 60, delo 832, fo. 27. 23 24

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pro d u c tiv i z ati o n In the early 1920s the ‘productivization’ of the Jews, or the transformation of shtetl tradesmen into workers and peasants, gripped the imagination of some Soviet leaders as well as that of the architects of the Evsektsii. The idea of productivization received powerful backing even from certain circles in the western Jewish Diaspora that were taken with the romance of the Jewish man with a hammer and sickle. In the Soviet Union two organizations were responsible for carrying out this romantic plan: KOMZET (Komitet po zemel⬘nomu ustroistvu trudyashchikhsya evreev, the Committee for the Rural Placement of Jewish Labourers) and OZET (Obshchestvo po zemel⬘nomu ustroistvu trudyashchikhsya evreev, the Association for the Rural Placement of Jewish Labourers). The official Soviet policy, spelled out in 1926, was to use a few hundred thousand Jewish peasants, compactly settled, as the critical mass for the preservation of the Jewish nation.30 Importantly—and ironically—the shtetl, where Jews had been living for centuries, was never considered as the locus of national consolidation. Also in 1926 Esther Frumkin, a former leader of the Bund turned influential Soviet functionary, unveiled her programme for the social transformation of Soviet Jewry. According to this programme, which was approved by the Central Bureau of the Evsektsii, proletarians and other productive cohorts of the Jewish population could take a short cut to socialism and all but certain assimilation. As for the ‘nonproductive elements’ who could not eke out a living in the economically ruined shtetls, many were to be settled in rural areas, where they would eventually consolidate to form a socialist Jewish nation.31 This strategy for dealing with the Jewish problem was formulated during the course of the campaign to build a Jewish republic in the northern part of the Crimean peninsula. After 1928 the plan for Jewish nation-building in the Crimea was curtailed, but the same strategy was applied to the plans for Birobidzhan. Ironically, this nation was to be created mainly from rather dubious biological material—the former lishentsy.32 In fact, young and active members of the shtetl population usually opted to migrate to industrial centres rather than to the rural reservations where the Kremlin and its Jewish officials wanted to breed the Soviet Jewish post-shtetl nation. In all, during the first decade following the revolution, at least 1 million Jews left the shtetls of Ukraine and Belarus.33 Zvi Preigerson, the Moscow-based Jewish writer, has described this process: ‘In the beginning, young people moved one after M. Kalinin, ‘Evrei-zemledel⬘tsy v soyuze narodov SSSR’, Izvestiya, 25 Nov. 1926. G. Estraikh, ‘From Shtetl to the City of the Sun Calling at the Schools of Communism: Yiddish in Soviet Ukrainian Trade Unions of the 1920s’, East European Jewish Affairs, 29/1–2 (1999), 55–6. 32 Y. Golde, Evrei-zemledel⬘tsy v Krymu (Moscow, 1931), 26; Kh. Sloves, Sovetishe yidishe melukheshkayt (Paris, 1979), 144–9. 33 Y. Larin, ‘Territorial⬘naya peregruppirovka evreiskogo naseleniya’, Revolyutsiya i kul⬘tura, 15 (1928), 35. 30 31

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another from the shtetls into the big world. Legions of Komsomol members with sparkling eyes dispersed over the vast expanse of the Soviet Union, joining the ranks of its builders. Then the old people followed them, and the shtetls, now completely deserted, have been buried in oblivion.’34 Many of the remaining inhabitants depended for their survival on parcels and money sent by their relatives and charitable organizations overseas (most notably the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). There was no lack of volunteers to move to rural settlements. As early as July 1925 over 110,000 Jews registered as potential settlers.35 M. Daniel (Daniel Meierovich), a talented Soviet Yiddish writer, portrayed one such volunteer in his story ‘Tsvey vyorst hinter kharkov’ (‘Two Miles from Kharkov’). Daniel’s hero decides to join a Jewish agricultural commune because he is afraid of losing his children, especially after two of them—pupils at the Yiddish school—leave their parents’ home and write a letter to the shtetl soviet requesting that it ‘liberate them from their capitalist father’.36 The resettlement project stagnated, however. In 1928 the chairman of KOMZET, Petr Smidovich, and its secretary, Abraham Merezhin, reported to the Central Committee that the latter’s resolutions on mass resettlement of Jews had not been realized owing to lack of finance. (In fact, the bulk of the credits—16.7 of 22.5 million roubles invested in Jewish resettlement during the previous four years—had come from abroad.) The number of Jewish proletarians, too, had been increasing extremely slowly. Before the revolution there were 152,000 Jewish workers in the territory of what was to become the Soviet Union; and in 1926 there were 203,000 Jewish workers. During the same period nearly 700,000 Jews lost their income as traders. As a result, 600,000, or 23 per cent of all Soviet Jews, were without means of subsistence. The 1926 Soviet census revealed that unemployment was much higher among Jews than among the general population: 8.9 per cent compared with 1.8 per cent in Ukraine; and 7 per cent compared with 0.8 per cent in Belarus.37 Also, Jewish industrial workers had on average only 1.5 dependants, whereas Jewish artisans averaged 3 dependants. Another index illustrating the economic situation was the ratio of breadwinners among Jews to those among the general population. While in such centres as Moscow and Leningrad the Jewish and the general population had more or less the same share of breadwinners, this ratio was 38.9 to 61.8 in Ukraine and 37.1 to 63 in Belarus.38 A poor artisan would earn 20‒25 roubles a month, and had to spend 15‒20 roubles for his family’s accommodation and taxes. This left him and his family in grinding Z. Preigerson, Bremya imeni (St Petersburg, 1999), 82. Y. Golde, ‘Itogi registratsii evreiskogo naseleniya’, Evreiskii krest⬘yanin, 1 (1925), 38. 36 See G. Estraikh, ‘A Touchstone of Socialist Realism: The 1934 Almanac of Soviet Yiddish 37 RGASPI, fond 445, opis⬘ 1, delo 86, fos. 35–6. Writers’, Jews in Eastern Europe, 3 (1998), 34. 38 Z. Mindlin (ed.), Materialy i issledovaniya statistiko-ekonomicheskoi komissii pri pravlenii Vserossiiskogo ORT, v (Moscow, 1930). 34 35

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poverty. A shopkeeper, too, could scarcely keep his head above water. The following stock was typical for a private shop: three chimney-lamps, two earthenware pots, eight combs, one tin-plate grater, half a pound of paint, six tin-plate tankards, twelve sheets of rice-paper, one plate, six dozen buttons, six pounds of laundry soap, one mirror, two strings of glass beads, and four watering-cans.39 Towards the end of 1928 a group of students from the Jewish Department at the Moscow-based Communist University of the National Minorities of the West, headed by Esther Frumkin, was sent to Ukraine to investigate the conditions in various shtetls of the republic.40 In all of them there was a very high percentage of Jewish lishentsy. For instance, in Zatonsk, with a population of 1,935 Jews and 75 Ukrainians, over 35 per cent of the Jews were lishentsy, compared with the average 2.2 per cent in this region. The number of traders was declining everywhere. Thus, in Zinkov, where there were 3,100 Jews and 200 Ukrainians, the number had fallen by more than half, during the past year. The students were not happy with the social and cultural features of the shtetls they investigated. Everywhere the older generation tended to keep the sabbath, and many of the children had private religious tutors, melamedim. The conversion of synagogues into Jewish artisans’ clubs was a hot topic in that period. (It became the central topic in Perets Markish’s much-discussed 1928 story ‘Khaveyrim kustarn’ (‘Comrade Artisans’).41) In Zinkov the rebetsin (rabbi’s wife) threatened that if the synagogue was converted into a club, she would write to America asking the charitable organizations to stop providing aid. In Novo-Ukrainka many artisans voted against such a conversion. In all, the shtetl remained ‘the stronghold of the old way of life, where rabbis wielded more authority than Communists’.42 The shtetl problem was of greater importance in Ukraine than in Belarus: in the mid-1920s almost 30 per cent of Ukrainian Jews lived in shtetls; in Belarus less than 25 per cent of the Jews were shtetl dwellers.43 In addition, the Ukrainian shtetl had been much more devastated during the civil war and needed more help than did the Belarusian shtetl. Not only was the shtetl problem different in the two republics, it also was seen differently by the local Jewish functionaries. Belarus was a stronghold of the proletarian, internationalist traditions of the Bund, whereas Ukraine, with its smaller proportion of urban and proletarian Jews, had a social basis for hybrid currents that were more nationalist than Marxist, such as labour Zionism and territorialism.44 40 Alfarbandishe baratung, 55, 57. RGASPI, fond 529, opis⬘ 1, delo 329, fos. 1–36. P. Markish, ‘Khaveyrim kustarn’, Di royte velt, 10 (1928), 26–42; 11 (1928), 10–34. 42 Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics, 355. 43 Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze, 14. 44 Cf. M. Mishkinsky, ‘Regional Factors in the Formation of the Jewish Labor Movement in Czarist Russia’, in E. Mendelsohn (ed.), Essential Papers on Jews and the Left (New York, 1997); see also G. Estraikh, ‘From Yehupets Jargonists to Kiev Modernists: The Rise of a Yiddish Literary Centre, 1880s–1914’, East European Jewish Affairs, 30/1 (2000), 23–5. 39 41

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The proletarian and internationalist traditions in Belarus, on the one hand, and the Jewish particularism in Ukraine, on the other, developed further after the revolution. Jewish activities became part of mainstream Soviet work in Belarus, whereas in Ukraine they were much more compartmentalized. Thus, in April 1922 the Central Bureau of the Evsektsii reported to the Politburo that the party committees in many provinces of Ukraine regarded local Jewish communists’ activities as ‘a kind of exclusive, sometimes even nationalist work’ rather than as ‘a constituent part of the general party work’.45 In Belarus, where over 20 per cent of all workers were Jewish (as opposed to Ukraine, where only 9 per cent were Jewish), the ‘Jewish work’ had a much more proletarian character. In some professions Jews dominated. They made up 76 per cent of all clothing-industry workers (62.7 per cent in Ukraine); 73.3 per cent of all printers (42.1 in Ukraine); 70 per cent of all tobacco workers (58.5 in Ukraine); and 69.3 of all tanners (38.4 in Ukraine).46 While in Ukraine Yiddish was the main language used by some district, town, and factory trade union organizations, in Belarus the trade union for the entire clothing industry (with 93.3 per cent of Jewish trade unionists) and many a local organization of other trade unions conducted their activities in Yiddish only.47 Moreover, only in Belarus was Yiddish one of the official languages of the republic. Thanks to the stronger position of the Jewish communists there, more was accomplished towards the reconstruction of the shtetls. For all that, the shtetl did not disappear in either Belarus or Ukraine. In the mid-1920s about a quarter of all Soviet Jews lived in the shtetls, compared with 40 per cent before the First World War.48 The first Soviet census, conducted in 1920, revealed that the most significant decrease in Jewish population had occurred in the smaller shtetls.49 After 1923‒5, however, the mass outmigration stopped; the NEP opened the possibility of earning a livelihood in shtetl-based small production and trade, whereas the larger urban centres were plagued with unemployment and intensifying antisemitism. According to some analysts, the population even began to grow in some shtetls.50 Soviet Jewish scholars, writers, and functionaries continued to operate with the accepted—albeit never rigidly defined—concept of the shtetl.51 They generally defined it as a semi-urban locality, which had formerly been called mestechko, and where Jews had been living for generations, represented a significant part, if not the majority, of the population, and made up the majority or even the totality of some RGASPI, fond 17, opis⬘ 60, delo 1005, fo. 25. Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze, 42–3. 47 Estraikh, ‘From Shtetl to the City of the Sun’, 51–60. 48 Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze, 116. 49 Z. Mindlin (ed.), Materialy i issledovaniya statistiko-ekonomicheskoi komissii pri pravlenii Vserossiis50 Veitsblit, Vegn altn un nayem shtetl, 14. kogo ORT, iii (Moscow, 1928), unpaginated. 51 M. Altshuler, Soviet Jewry on the Eve of the Holocaust: A Social and Demographic Profile (Jerusalem, 1998), 40–4; see also J. Klier, ‘What Exactly Was a Shtetl?’, in Estraikh and Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality. 45 46

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professional and social groups. The irony of Soviet-era statistics on the shtetl is that the analysts selected those settlements that they themselves regarded as shtetls. The Moscow demographer Leyb Zinger, for example, argued that Soviet shtetls had about 600,000 Jewish inhabitants in 1926.52 The chairman of OZET, Yury Larin, on the other hand, wrote that in the shtetls of Belarus and the western part of Ukraine, i.e. along the borders with Poland and Romania, there were about 800,000 Jews, 400,000‒500,000 of whom were ‘absolutely redundant’.53 In any case, the shtetl persistently posed a serious problem, and the strategy of dealing with it altered in the second half of the 1920s.

the tra ns f o rm ati o n o f t h e s h t e t l Among the people who originally staffed the Soviet Jewish apparatus, the internationalist type of Jewish socialists dominated. They tended to reject any specifically Jewish objectives of the apparatus, emphasizing its generally revolutionary, class character.54 One such internationalist, Moshe Altshuler, headed the Ukrainian Evsektsii in the early 1920s. Altshuler saw the devastation of the shtetl as an inevitable concomitant of the proletarian revolution. In 1924, however, the Central Bureau of the Evsektsii forced the Ukrainian Party authorities to replace him with Motl Kiper, who was much more sympathetic to the shtetl. This reshuffling mirrored a general change in approach towards Jewish-related work. This change was brought about by two factors: the introduction of the NEP, which supported private enterprise, including cottage industry; and the strong pressure—in the form of numerous letters and delegations sent to the authorities—from the hungry shtetls. Characteristically, the new Jewish boss was sent to Kharkov, then the capital of Ukraine, from Belarus, where practical rather than purely propagandist forms of activity had been developed by the local Evsektsii from the very beginning.55 Kiper provides an authoritative explanation of the change in policy towards the shtetl: according to him, many Soviet functionaries originally believed that mass migration to industrial centres and to rural areas would once and for all solve the problem of the shtetl. The shtetl as such was to disappear completely, to be erased from geographic maps. Experience in the real world, however, proved that this idea was utopian. Although the resettlement played a significant role, its scale was not sufficient to accomplish the stated goals. In some shtetls the natural growth of the population almost compensated for the outmigration. As a result, reconstruction, or ‘bringing the shtetl into a healthy state’, began to be seen as an additional resolution to the problem of the shtetl.56 Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze, 115. Yu. Larin, Introd. to I. Veitsblit, Derazhnya: Sovremennoe evreiskoe mestechko (Moscow, 1929), 3. 54 See the materials of the Conference of the Jewish Commissariats and Jewish Sections (20–24 Oct. 55 Smolyar, Fun ineveynik, 157–9, 161. 1918), Zhizn⬘ natsional⬘nostei, 1, special issue (1918). 56 M. Kiper, Evreiskoe mestechko Ukrainy (Kharkov, 1930), 85–7. 52 53

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In 1925 the Moscow-based Central Bureau of the Evsektsii came out with the theory that the Jewish population was about two years behind in its postrevolutionary transformation. For instance, the Bolsheviks had found mass support among the Jewish population only in 1919, i.e. two years after the revolution; the NEP had taken root in the Jewish surroundings only at the end of 1923 or the beginning of 1924 rather than in 1921, when it was first introduced. This happened, the Jewish Marxists argued, because the Evsektsii, afraid of undermining its internationalist stand and of being accused of pursuing a labour Zionist programme, originally steered clear of all non-propagandist work. But even after the function of the Evsektsii had been transformed, the Jewish apparatchiks were reluctant to lobby openly for the vital interests of the Jewish population. Rather, they preferred to emphasize the need to support the shtetl poor as part of the party’s general strategy in the NEP period, and regarded the pursuit of any programme that could be seen as ‘nationalist’ or as an attempt to develop a Jewish economy as unacceptable.57 For all that, while the Jewish apparatus turned its ‘face to the shtetl’,58 in keeping with the party’s decision in 1924 to turn its ‘face to the countryside’,59 some of the Jewish communists tried to preserve the shtetl as the primary Jewish habitat. A remarkable figure among such ‘preservationists’ was Elie (Ilya) Veitsblit, head of the Department of Social and Economic Studies at the Institut far Yidisher Proletarisher Kultur (Institute for Proletarian Jewish Culture) in Kiev. He became known as a vocal opponent of the resettlement of Jews to rural areas, rejecting it as a recurrence of Jewish nationalism and, in general, an impractical project. In his effort to find a new role for the shtetls Veitsblit suggested revitalizing them. According to his blueprint, the shtetls that became district centres in Ukraine and Belarus should also become centres of local, primarily agricultural, industry. Veitsblit argued that in the rural areas shtetls represented the main reservoir of qualified labour. In his vision of the linking (smychka) between the new shtetl and the socialist village, Jewish artisans complemented the peasant contingent of the district’s ‘integrated agricultural complex’ (agrokombinat). As for the unqualified Jewish inhabitants of the shtetl, they should join local collective farms, especially as this process was already under way. Furthermore, those shtetls that for various reasons (such as remoteness from railway stations) could not become hubs of local industry had to become villages, and their qualified workers were to be resettled either in the district centres or in industrial centres outside the district.60 In the early 1930s Veitsblit became a victim of the Stalinist repression. He was the first victim at the Kiev institute, which would be devastated twice later on— 57 58 59 60

Alfarbandishe baratung, 6–7; Smolyar, Fun ineveynik, 195–8. Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics, 355. E. H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924–1925, ii (Harmondsworth, 1970), 342–3. Veitsblit, Vegn altn un nayem shtetl, 8, 18–23.

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first in the mid-1930s and then in the late 1940s.61 We can only speculate about the real motives for Veitsblit’s arrest. Judging by Zinger’s criticism, Veitsblit wrongly suggested that the Soviet Jewish agencies concentrate all their efforts on the shtetldwellers, leaving the Jewish proletarians and peasants to general Soviet organizations. This would have limited the functioning of KOMZET and OZET, or even led to their liquidation. The idea was deemed a ‘leftist deviation’ in the early 1930s.62 Even more incriminating was the fact that Veitsblit’s theory could be seen as an echo of the publications in the Polish labour Zionist press, which argued that ‘educational and economic mobility, whatever [its] positive aspects, was dispersing the previously compact communities of the former Pale of Jewish Settlement in the Russian Empire and weakening the basis for Yiddish culture’.63 The mainstream approach to solving the Jewish problem in the Soviet Union combined further resettlement of Jews to Birobidzhan and various other industrial centres with the ‘productivization’ of the shtetl proper. State support for the shtetl was provided for in a series of decrees. On 3 November 1927 the Belarusian government issued a decree on the transformation of the shtetl’s economic structure.64 On 15 December 1928 the presidium of the Nationalities Council of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union adopted a resolution calling for, inter alia, the construction of new factories in the towns and shtetls inhabited by Jews and recommending that assistance be provided to Jewish artisans in organizing their co-operatives.65 On 26 February 1929 the Ukrainian government issued a decree on assisting the poor Jews of the shtetls by developing co-operatives.66 The local Yiddish soviets, whose deputies and employees were concerned with administrative, social, and cultural matters, played an important role in the shtetls’ reconstruction.67 Many of those involved in Yiddish culture realized that the transformation of the shtetl meant the end of their way of life. The shtetl backwater was the main habitat of Yiddish speakers. As the poet Perets Markish put it in 1927 in a letter to a Warsaw-based fellow writer, ‘the bit of Yiddishkayt [Jewishness] that we have depends only on backwardness. The less backwardness remains, the less Yiddish remains.’68 In 1929 Itsik Fefer, the leading Yiddish poet in Ukraine, included in his Selected Works a section scatologically entitled ‘Bliendike mistn’ (‘Manure in Full Bloom’).69 E. Rosenthal-Shneiderman, Af vegn un umvegn, iii (Tel Aviv, 1982), 73. Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze, 144. 63 S. D. Kassow, ‘The Left Poalei Zion in Inter-War Poland’, in G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), Yiddish and the Left (Oxford, 2001), 121. 64 Prakticheskoe razreshenie natsional⬘nogo voprosa v Belorusskoi Sovetskoi Sotsialisticheskoi Respub65 66 Ibid. 102–6. Ibid. 97–101. like, pt. II (Minsk, 1928), 117–18. 67 Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics, 352–3. 68 M. Ravitch, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn: Yorn in Varshe, 1921–1934 (Tel Aviv, 1975), 412. 69 I. Fefer, Geklibene verk (Kharkov, 1929), 329–56. 61 62

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Presented as a poetic travelogue, the section is dedicated to the author’s visit to his home shtetl of Shpola, whose 5,000 Jews made up 95 per cent of the local population. Shpola also boasted one of the first Yiddish soviets.70 Fefer notices many signs of change in his shtetl: Young Pioneers, members of the Komsomol, a club for workers of the clothing industry, new houses, and a tannery that provides jobs for local workers. The former tavern-keeper trades in needlework rather than in liquor and women, and her only son is in the Red Army. The poet’s former melamed had died, and his daughter had run away with a goy. The shames (synagogue sexton) dreams of a job as a courier at the local office of the Evsektsii. Not much is left of the old shtetl, of the ‘synagogue, goats, shops, and mud’. Fefer is happy to see the transformation: Shtey ikh yontevdik un ze, vi in rash fun yorn ot-o-do in mist, in vey vert a velt geborn. (I’m standing in a festive mood, seeing how in the noise of years here, in the manure, in pain, a world is being born.)

All in all, the reformed shtetl was granted an amnesty in the 1920s. Significantly, by 1929 the shtetl problem looked different from how it had looked a decade earlier. First, outmigration had helped to marginalize the shtetl problem: the shtetl Jewish population decreased to 530,000 and accounted for less than 20 per cent of all Soviet Jews.71 Secondly, the NEP programme allowed shtetl Jews to find earnings in small producers’ co-operatives (artels) and collective farms (kolkhozes) and various other co-operatives. Educated people could work at the schools and other educational or cultural institutions—both Yiddish and non-Yiddish—at the hospitals, and in the state apparatus. Thirdly, the industrial development of some of the former shtetls created new jobs. Contemporary Yiddish novels, such as Hershl Orland’s Hreblyes (‘Dykes’, 1930) and Tsodek Dolgopolsky’s Zayd (‘Silk’, 1933), describe the shtetl’s industrial transformation through, for example, the establishment of a drainage system or the encouragement of shtetl workers to work in neighbouring factories. ‘It is wrong and harmful to dream of the shtetl Jewish environment’, lectures one of Dolgopolsky’s characters, happy with the transformation of the former shtetl into a residential district for workers in the new silk factory. In the meantime, a hybrid Soviet–traditional Jewish lifestyle took root in the Ukrainian and Belarusian shtetl. This was a predominantly Yiddish-speaking world, where a former ritual slaughterer (shoh.et) could work in an all-Jewish co-operative producing chicken products. But the only method of slaughtering 70 71

See Leshtshinsky, Dos sovetishe yidntum, 353. Zinger, Evreiskoe naselenie v Sovetskom Soyuze, 116.

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chickens that he and his colleagues knew was in keeping with the laws of kashrut. Thus, ‘Soviet meat turned out to be kosher.’72 Granted, after finishing at the local Yiddish school, the children of these kosher Soviet butchers would leave the shtetl in droves, forsaking the parochial world of their parents for the industrial and cultural hubs of the country.

th e shte tl ’s d e ath and af t e r l i f e On the basis of pre-war Soviet Jewish statistics, Mordechai Altshuler argues that at least 247 shtetls inhabited by over 440,000 Jews still existed in Ukraine and Belarus in 1939. He concludes that: the Soviet regime had not managed to uproot completely historical continuity, even though the authorities had dismantled most of the organizational frameworks of the Jewish collective. . . . Even while the proportion of metropolitan Jews continued to grow, the persistence of the shtetl influenced Jewish life in the Soviet Union prior to the war. World War II, and particularly the Holocaust, changed forever the residential and demographic profiles of Soviet Jewry.73

Although the Second World War devastated most of the former shtetls, many Jews in the areas occupied by the Romanian army survived. It was these survivors who, together with the Jews who had managed to evacuate to the east and then return to their war-ravaged homes, formed the post-war Soviet shtetl Jewry. Pesakh Novick, the editor of the New York Yiddish communist daily Morgn-frayhayt (‘Morning Freedom’), was given the following population figures during his postwar visit to Ukraine: Korosten 11,000 Jews; Balta 8,000; Zhmerinka 3,500; Bershad 2,500; Shargorod 1,500; Malin 1,200.74 From the 1960s to the 1980s the Moscow Yiddish literary journal Sovetish heymland (‘Soviet Homeland’) was virtually the only forum interested in the destiny of the Soviet shtetls. In the 1960s the writer Shmuel Gordon wrote a number of travel stories about his visits to the Podolian part of Ukraine. In Medzhibozh he found thirty or so Jewish families, and approximately the same number of Jewish households remained in Derazhnya. Hirsh Reles, another Yiddish writer, published a number of stories based on his travels to the former Belarusian shtetls.75 Since the late 1980s a few enthusiasts from Leningrad have been conducting field studies in the former shtetls of Ukraine, particularly in Podolia. In a number of localities they have found sizeable groups of Jews who, in the atmosphere of late Soviet and post-Soviet democratization, have managed to create organized forms of Shternshis, ‘Soviet and Kosher in the Ukrainian Shtetl’, 148. Altshuler, Soviet Jewry on the Eve of the Holocaust, 44–6. 74 P. Novick, Eyrope - tsvishn milkhome un sholem (New York, 1948), 295–6. 75 See G. Estraikh, ‘The Shtetl Theme in Sovetish heymland’, in Estraikh and Krutikov (eds.), The Shtetl: Image and Reality, 152–68. 72 73

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Jewish life. For instance, in Bershad (whose Jewish population in 1959 was 2,200; in 1993, 400; in 1998, 140) a Jewish cultural society was registered in 1988 (the local Jewish religious community had been registered as early as 1946). In 1991 the society began to publish a newspaper called Shabat (‘Sabbath’) in Ukrainian and Russian. In Gaisin (whose Jewish population in 1959 was 1,400; in 1993, 280; in 1998, 150) a Jewish cultural society, which later opened a Jewish Sunday school, was registered in 1993. In Shargorod ( Jewish population in 1992, 700; in 1994, 200; in 1998, 100) both a Jewish cultural society and a religious community were registered in the early 1990s. In Yampol (Jewish population after the war, 1,500; in 1998, over 100) a religious community was registered in the early 1990s.76 In other words, there are still people—perhaps a few thousand—in the former Soviet Union who can be called shtetl inhabitants, or, to be more precise, inhabitants of the former shtetls. Perhaps one day a comprehensive history of the Soviet shtetl will be written, with particular focus on the policies of the 1920s that enabled the preservation of some forms of east European shtetl life until the end of the twentieth century. It would be wrong, however, to look for the heritage of the shtetl only in situ. The ‘shtetl spirit’, or the spirit of enterprise under virtually any conditions, often survived despite migration and suppression. Thousands of shtetl entrepreneurs managed to acclimatize to the Soviet environment and to find semilegal (or completely illegal) outlets for their ventures. Many of them had spent years in labour camps or even faced the firing squad. Children of such veteran black- and grey-marketeers were usually law-abiding white-collar workers, but in some of the doctors, academics, and engineers their latent enterprising tendency became active either in the West or under perestroika.77 76 V. Lukin, A. Sokolova, and B. Khaimovich, 100 evreiskikh mestechek Ukrainy, ii (St Petersburg, 2000), 137, 140–1, 199, 202, 435, 443, 481–2. 77 It certainly was not in the genes of the vast majority of Soviet Jews, including myself; one of my grandfathers was the personification of Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Milkman, another of Y. L. Peretz’s Bontche the Silent.

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Shtetl and Shtot in Yiddish Haskalah Drama joel ber ko witz Perh aps the most intriguing characteristic of Yiddish drama of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) is that it tended to be written more for the page than for the stage. To put it another way: since there was no stable Yiddish theatre during most of the Haskalah period, it may strike us as curious that the ‘enlighteners’, or maskilim, chose to write dramas at all. The radical break in modern Jewish politics represented by the Haskalah was a necessary condition for the flourishing of secular Yiddish theatre and drama, but before that began in earnest, maskilim had been writing plays that were distributed among intellectuals, performed in schools, read in salons, and occasionally published. Considering that the maskilim themselves had little or no formal training in the craft of playwriting, their dramas are, more often than not, remarkably attentive to just the sorts of details that would work on stage, with distinctive characters marked off from or grouped together with each other by clothing, social class, speech, mannerisms, and point of view. Haskalah drama also relies on a pronounced sense of place. The characters hail from, and reside in, a wide spectrum of locations on the central and east European Jewish map. Plays written and set in late eighteenth-century Germany feature visitors from England, France, and Poland. Dramas written in eastern Europe in subsequent decades present characters from cities, towns, and villages that are sometimes real, such as Kraków and Lemberg [Lviv], and sometimes fictional, such as Israel Aksenfeld’s Nibevole or S. Y. Abramovitsh’s Glupsk. Haskalah plays are set primarily in the shtetl, but take us to the city and the countryside as well, and all of these settings carry symbolic weight. Émile Zola once defined drama as ‘a fragment of nature seen through a temperament’—a notion that his contemporary Jean Jullien transformed into the more famous formula ‘A play is a slice of life placed on the stage with art.’1 The plays of the Haskalah show us a corner of east European Jewish life through the temperaments of a group of writers who collectively paint a vivid, grotesque portrait of shtetl society. Even without reading these works, anyone familiar with the central tenets of the Haskalah might venture some guesses as to how this geographical symbolism might 1

Quoted in M. Carlson, Theories of the Theatre (Ithaca, NY, 1984), 279.

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manifest itself. Because Berlin was the cradle of the Haskalah, we might expect the maskilic dramatists to see Germany as a model of civility, education, culture, and of course good manners. The shtetl-dwellers, by contrast, will be much in need of guidance by the few characters who have learned of the advances that German society has to offer. Such education might be acquired through visits to Berlin or other metropolises—even Berdichev will do at a pinch—or at a greater remove, from reading the latest literature from the West. We might expect the shtetl to be under the thumb of unscrupulous, barely literate hasidic rebbes in conspiracy with what Abramovitsh dubbed the shtot baley-toyves2 (literally, the city benefactors): an assortment of shady characters with their grubby hands on the town’s purse strings. Finally, we might expect to find young lovers trapped by their fanatical, unfeeling parents’ desires for familial prestige (yikhes) and fortune at the expense of their children’s happiness. Such situations are the norm throughout the drama of the Haskalah, though, as we shall see, playwrights frequently complicated the situation by departing from this basic formula. Although the earliest Haskalah comedies are set in Germany rather than in the shtetls of eastern Europe, the dramatic depiction of the shtetl that begins to take shape in these late eighteenth-century works would continue to develop throughout the period of Haskalah drama, which (at least in terms of typical subject matter) overlaps with the first half-dozen years of professional Yiddish theatre in the 1870s and early 1880s. While most plays within the relatively small body of Haskalah drama touch on the shtetl in some way, this chapter will focus on a handful of historically significant works that represent several phases and geographic areas of Haskalah dramaturgy and provide meaningful commentary on Jewish life in the shtetl. Over the course of almost a century, for most of which no stable venues existed for the performance of Yiddish drama, Haskalah playwrights created a symbolic geography that would serve the later professional Yiddish theatre as a template—in terms of subject matter, character types, plots, and even specific lines of dialogue—for depicting the shtetl.

t he ge r m ans: w o lf ss o h n an d e u c h e l Significantly, our story begins far from the shtetl, in terms of both the writers and their subject matter. The first Yiddish Haskalah plays were written in the 1790s by two close friends who were members of the German maskilic elite. Aaron HalleWolfssohn (1754‒1835) and Isaac Euchel (1756‒1804), both disciples of Moses Mendelssohn, populated their plays with German Jewish characters, centred them around German Jewish issues, and located them primarily in respectable yet troubled German Jewish households. In the works of both playwrights, visitors from outside the country add spice to the comic stew and offer us a picture of the cultural influences streaming in from both East and West. The large cast of Euchel’s 2

Di shtot baley-toyves is the subtitle of Abramovitsh’s drama Di takse (‘The Tax’) (1869).

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Reb henokh; oder, Vos tut men damit? (‘Reb Henokh; or, What Can Be Done About It?’, 1792) includes an Englishman whose presence prompts native characters to try out their imperfect English, with lines like ‘He is dressed in his sadur days Closh’ (‘He is dressed in his Saturday clothes’) and ‘J whist you much Plinsurd’ (‘I wish you much pleasure’), and a French immigrant who speaks broken German with a strong accent; for example, ‘Toyzend dank mayn er [Herr] leytnand. Voilà la veritable Noblesse’ (‘A thousand thanks, Herr lieutenant. This is true nobility’).3 Reb henokh may be the least theatrical and most rambling of all the extant Haskalah plays. Wolfssohn’s Laykhtzin und fremelay (‘Frivolity and False Piety’, c. 1794), on the other hand, pre-empts any notions we might form of a Darwinian development of Haskalah drama from simple to complex, from 1790s amoebas to 1870s mammals. Although Wolfssohn was almost completely uninterested in character development, his didactic comedy focuses its creative energy on a tightly crafted plot in which hardly a line is wasted. Like Euchel, Wolfssohn lambastes the excesses of religious fanaticism, but also warns of the dangers of embracing German secular culture at the expense of yidishkayt. The former is embodied in the play in the Polish hasid Reb Yoysefkhe, a Jewish Tartuffe living in Reb Henokh’s house and tutoring his teenage son. Reb Yoysefkhe’s origins would have resonated with Wolfssohn’s audience, for as the literary historian Max Erik explains, the Berlin maskilim saw in the Polish melamdim ‘the fundamental reason for distorted Jewish education’.4 Wolfssohn cleverly keeps us from meeting the son Shmuel, thereby keeping the focus on the hasid’s talent for manipulating the wealthy but unsophisticated father by twisting Jewish texts to suit his lascivious and avaricious plans. By citing Scripture to suit his purpose, Reb Yoysefkhe manages to plant the idea in his master’s head that the hasid would make a perfect match for Henokh’s daughter Yetkhen, thus establishing the central conflict of the comedy. And what a pronounced conflict it is, for Yetkhen represents the other end of the play’s moral spectrum: a self-hating Jew enamoured of all things German, and therefore modern. We see her having her hair coiffed, flirting with a non-Jewish admirer through the window of her bedroom, and becoming bored with the ocean of pulp fiction littering her chambers. The ‘frivolity’ of the play’s title comes across in such moments as Yetkhen’s reading aloud of a billet-doux from a suitor: Charming girl! I have taken the liberty of enclosing herein some music I admire: several arias from the opera Oberon that I just got from the music shop. As thanks, all I ask of you—my dear!—is permission to hear you sing and play them. In any case, take this little token as a sign of my undying esteem and affection, and with that I remain with admiration, Yours sincerely, Von Schnapps.5 3

I. Aykhl [I. Euchel], Reb henokh; oder, Vos tut men damit?, in J. Shatsky (ed.), Arkhiv far geshikhte far yidishn teater un drame (Vilna, 1930), 104, 106. 4 M. Erik, Etyudn tsu der geshikhte fun der haskole (Minsk, 1934), 116. 5 A. Halle-Wolfssohn, Laykhtzin und fremelay (trans. as ‘Silliness and Sanctimony’ by J. Berkowitz and J. Dauber, unpub.). All further references will be cited in the text.

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With a skilful use of potent symbols, Wolfssohn has clearly drawn the play’s battle lines. Reb Yoysefkhe, wearing the costume of the hasidic shtetl-dweller and speaking a Yiddish laced with Hebrew and Aramaic, wins his employer over to his point of view. Yetkhen has been seduced by forces in direct counterpoint to Yoysefkhe’s influence: her dialect is heavily Germanized and her cultural vocabulary marked by the trappings of middlebrow German culture. Surely the worlds of these two figures could never interact comfortably, though for a brief moment it seems that they might. When told by her servant that Reb Yoysefkhe is on his way to her chambers, Yetkhen initially brushes it off as a bad joke; after all, she has never seen the hasid so much as look at a woman, much less address her. He does indeed pay her a visit, though, and she is astonished to find him adept at the pleasantries so central to polite conversation, such as complimenting her piano-playing: yetkhen. Are you also a music-lover, then? r e b yo y se f kh e . What do you mean? Music is my life! I let food and drink go untouched while I hear singing and dancing, and especially when someone plays the piano. Believe me, I have spent many an hour standing outside your door listening to you sing. yetkhen. Really? If I had known that, I would have practised more diligently. r e b yoy s e fk h e [to himself]. That’s quite a good sign. [Aloud] May I possibly be permitted to trouble you to ask you to sing something? You have such an incredibly beautiful voice. yetkhen. I’m not in the mood to sing today, but I will play something for you. [She plays. Reb Yoysefkhe draws himself very close to her.] You must not sit so near to me . . . you’ll get powder on your clothes, you see? r e b y oy se f k h e . Don’t worry, you can get me all powdery if you like. (Act II, scene 4)

Despite first impressions, Reb Yoysefkhe turns out to be a master of drawing-room flattery—at least until Yetkhen crosses him. The encounter turns sour when she learns his true agenda. Since her father has not had the chance to tell her yet, it is left to Reb Yoysefkhe himself to inform Yetkhen that her father has chosen him to be her husband. When she realizes that he is not joking, and rejects the idea with similar earnestness, he erupts in violent anger, which he vents upon her piano, one of the most powerful (and expensive!) symbols of the family’s sociocultural status: r e b y oy s e f k h e . What an impudent woman she is! Her father can’t force her—is that the way for a child to talk about her father? Shame on you! You’re impudent! If I were your father, I would make you take me, even if you said no a thousand times. [Strikes the piano with his fist so that the sides shake yetkhen [claps her hands together and cries]. This would sadden God himself: mein schönes Klavier is ganz kaput! [Sinks powerlessly (Act II, scene 4)

Although Reb Yoysefkhe can mimic the mores of German bourgeois society up to a point, his default setting is the boorishness of the shtetl; when he loses his cool, he reverts to being the Beast from the East.

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The cultural clashes between East and West, religious and secular, come to a head in the brothel where the third and final act is set. After fleeing the tyranny of her unreasonable father, Yetkhen turns to her suitor Von Schnapps, who shows his true colours by betraying her to a brothel-keeper. The sharp-talking madam who runs the bordello is in the midst of giving her new charge a tutorial when Yetkhen’s uncle Markus arrives, just in time to prevent his niece from being tainted. During the play’s final scenes Markus brings his brother-in-law to the brothel to see the results of his rigid behaviour, only to have other scales fall from Reb Henokh’s eyes as well. The men find the hasid in the brothel, and learn that he is a regular customer who has established a line of credit based on his vaunted prospect of marriage into Reb Henokh’s family. This final plot twist tidily summarizes the play’s message: blind adherence to either extreme in modern Jewish life—either of religious fanaticism or of secular excess—can lead to calamity. The measured middle ground of Markus the maskil is the only proper solution. Wolfssohn pulls off a final theatrical coup that puts the treacherous visitor from the shtetl in his place in more ways than one. The moment Reb Yoysefkhe is discovered by his employer, ‘his profound embarrassment robs him of speech, and this embarrassment and anxiety last throughout the scene’ (Act III, scene 11). The supposed rabbi who distorted language to suit his own lecherous purposes is ultimately denied access to language, and must mutely endure his embarrassment and punishment. His mimicry of bourgeois behaviour has been similarly disastrous, as the madam herself confirms. Just as he exploited holy language and texts, he transgressed the rules of the unholy brothel, and, having been exposed, he can no longer remain there. The madam, left to guard Reb Yoysefkhe until Markus and Reb Henokh can return in the morning to mete out justice, now refuses to keep him inside the house: Look how the rascal stands there, rooted to the spot! Ha ha ha! You see, Jew—that’s what happens to all rogues! But if you think I’m keeping you in my house overnight, you’ve got another think coming. You’ll have to sleep in the woodshed tonight. It’s plenty cold there, but you’re full of hot air. March, march, get a move on. [She drags him out of the door (Act III, scene 11)

With these lines, the play emphatically concludes that the shtetl sensibility has no place in enlightened German Jewish society.

the g alic ia n s: ak s e nf e ld a n d go t l o b e r Although episodes such as the conversion of Mendelssohn’s daughters to Christianity might seem to have borne out the worst fears of critics like Wolfssohn, the Galician and Russian maskilim of subsequent generations tended to be far less guarded in their championing of the Enlightenment and in their condemnation of

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the forces they felt to be in its way. In a twist of literary history, we find writers as entrenched in the origins of the Jewish Enlightenment as Wolfssohn and Euchel managing to be critical of the movement’s potential excesses, while their successors to the east often painted a black-and-white view of German utopia versus shtetl dystopia. Nowhere is the dichotomy more striking than in the novel Dos shterntikhl (‘The Headband’, 1861) by Israel Aksenfeld (1787‒1866), in which the hero, Mikhl, makes a simultaneously geographical and intellectual journey from the fictional shtetl of Loyhoyopoli (or Nosuchville) via Berdichev to Breslau, where he is dazzled by the civility, clothing, and culture of the city’s Jews. A pivotal experience is his visit to a beer garden, which he finds to be a modern Garden of Eden: Mikhl couldn’t get over all these great wonders. Just think! For one Polish gulden, he was in Paradise among gentlemen and such lovely, radiant ladies! He had drunk beer and treated Avrom Zaks and his lovely wife to coffee. He was listening to musicians, and they were playing a thousand times better than Itsikl Litvak in Nosuchville. He strolled about Paradise for two whole hours. And it all cost only one Polish gulden. That was what life was all about, wasn’t it! ‘Back home, the people live like pigs!’ said Mikhl to himself.6

Both Aksenfeld and his contemporary Avrom-Ber Gotlober (1810‒1899) turned their backs on their hasidic upbringing with all the bitter zeal of the convert, and this led them to carry their critiques of religious fanaticism to gleeful excess. It is in their plays that the grotesque becomes a central device of Haskalah dramaturgy and the symbolic geography of the shtetl again manifests itself in familiar but sometimes ironic directions. The shtetls of both playwrights are run by rebbes, bal-shems, and fraudulent wonder-workers who have the superstitious populace in their thrall. They bleed their constituents dry while writing talismans and issuing blessings that clearly have no effect and are often self-contradictory. Yet there is a telling difference in how these two writers, as opposed to earlier and later maskilim, handle outrageous rabbinical misconduct. The German maskilim wrote plot lines in which reason and honesty would inevitably triumph over chicanery, as a natural byproduct of enlightenment. Wolfssohn, for example, gave his Polish hasid a long enough line of rope—or more precisely, a line of credit at the local brothel—to hang himself. This does not work in the shtetls of Aksenfeld and Gotlober, where the rebbes’ followers are too ignorant to see through their leaders’ shenanigans without some outside assistance. The favoured device for exposing the corruption and backwardness of the shtetl’s religious authorities—one that Avrom Goldfaden would later use to great effect—is to have maskilim out-rebbe the rebbes. Rather than try to counter superstition with logic, as Wolfssohn’s and Euchel’s raisonneurs do, Aksenfeld and Gotlober have the maskilim triumph over the hasidim by beating them at their own game. In Aksenfeld’s Di genarte velt (‘The Duped World’) the maskilic hero masquerades as a creature called Epes (Something), who grows and shrinks in an 6

Y. Aksenfeld, The Headband, trans. J. Neugroschel (Woodstock, NY, 1989), 103.

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instant with the help of stilts, which the hero keeps inside his trouser legs and with which he scares peasants into doing his bidding. Gotlober’s Der dektukh, oder tsvey khupes in eyn nakht (‘The Bridal Veil; or, Two Weddings in One Night’, 1838) also features a hero who disguises himself as a ragtag monster. During the confusion caused by this device, he and his beloved manage to get together under the wedding canopy, preventing her forced marriage to a noseless simpleton and the hero’s marriage to the blind daughter of a stuttering rabbi. However outlandish some of these events may be, there is always a logic to where they unfold. Regardless of the details of the plot, Aksenfeld and Gotlober frequently present a similar scenario in the opening scenes and chapters of their dramas and fiction: a shtetl under the thumb of incompetent and corrupt religious authorities, and badly in need of a rational being to outsmart them so that order can be restored. To a certain extent, this resembles the plot line of the classic Western: there are bad hombres in the shtetl, which is waiting (whether it knows it or not) for a good maskil in a white yarmulke to ride into town and save the day. He also comes heavily armed, though of course with reason and cunning rather than a Colt .45. The maskil rarely comes to town on horseback, but the cowboy analogy is apt in another way as well: almost always, the maskil is either new to these parts or has spent a formative period away from the shtetl and in the big city (a common motif in Yiddish fiction as well).7 During his time away he has developed talents that would almost certainly have lain dormant had he never left, and which he uses to great effect once he returns. The hero of Di genarte velt, for example, uses linguistic skills such as his knowledge of Church Slavonic in order to exploit the superstition of a simple Russian neighbour, setting off a chain of events that will undo his hasidic foes. Elsewhere, characters who have been to bigger cities try to pass on what they have learned there to their fellow shtetl-dwellers. A character in Aksenfeld’s Der ershter yidisher rekrut in rusland (‘The First Jewish Recruit in Russia’) remarks, I come from a small shtetl, from Tityev. But when my father was still alive and I was younger, I spent years in Berdichev among the most important people, and learned how to read and write Russian and Yiddish. I spent plenty of time listening to the people of Brod and to other capable people who had been to many countries, besides St Petersburg and Moscow. We poor shtetl Jews can’t do anything and don’t know anything, so I can tell you that you don’t understand what is happening here.8

This character’s exposure to the wider world gives him the sophistication to make the case for the rabbinic principle of dina demalkhuta dina (‘The law of the land is your law’), thereby fighting the uphill struggle to get his neighbours to accept that 7

Dan Miron discusses the ‘visitor motif’ in Yiddish fiction in ‘The Literary Image of the Shtetl’, in his The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination (Syracuse, NY, 2000), 25–32. 8 Y. Aksenfeld, Der ershter yidisher rekrut in rusland, in Y. aksenfelds verk, ed. M. Viner (Kharkov, 1931), 154.

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they must comply with the tsar’s recent decree ordering each town to put forward a recruit for the Russian army. The enlightened cowboy’s campaign to bring reason to the shtetl usually succeeds, which is hardly surprising, since he is the spokesman for a playwright who shares all or most of his world-view. When unfeeling parents, blinded by the desire to extract a maximum of prestige from their children’s marriages, try to arrange preposterous matches, the youngsters who belong together generally manage to turn the tables and get their way. Such efforts often have broader implications for the community, for the same elements that can force people into disastrous marriages tend to be responsible for other injustices. But when the focus of the play is not romance but some wider social principle, such as military conscription in Der ershter yidisher rekrut or the meat tax in Abramovitsh’s Di takse (‘The Tax’), the maskil’s prospects for success are far less predictable.

th e f i rs t j e w ish re crui t i n r us s i a The action of Aksenfeld’s Der ershter yidisher rekrut unfolds in the shtetl of Nibevole. The townspeople initially express their resistance to the new decree ordering each community to provide a conscript for the Russian army, until Pinkhes, the character from another shtetl quoted above, points out that they do not have a choice; the document they were given to sign is simply for the purpose of acknowledging receipt. It is not, as the community had initially believed, a referendum to be voted on. Pinkhes and the other main voice of reason in the play, Reb Aaron Kliger, repeatedly argue that until the Jews accept that the government has their best interest at heart and follow all its laws—even when doing so requires painful sacrifices— they will never be fully integrated into Russian society. This plea is seen as so reasonable—and so unavoidable in any case—that the shtetl-dwellers quickly acquiesce. The hitch, however, lies in the choice of a recruit, for while all agree that someone must enlist, of course no one wants it to be their own son. Again, the maskilim hit upon what seems to be a foolproof plan, as they concoct a scheme to enlist the services of a fiery, impudent, self-confident vagabond named Nakhmen. Although he is an only child without a father, and therefore automatically exempt from the draft, Aaron and Pinkhes devise a ruse to reel him in like a big fish, and get him to sign up voluntarily. He does, and the shtetl is seemingly saved. In rational and utilitarian terms, this outcome is an unqualified success. The emotional core of the story, however, runs in precisely the opposite direction. If Aksenfeld’s play works at all as drama rather than merely as a civics lesson written in dialogue, it is because Nakhmen becomes increasingly sympathetic as the action unfolds. His first appearance in the play is unlike anything else in Haskalah drama. It takes place in the local tavern, which is not unusual. What does depart from the norm is an extraordinary song—a ten-minute rap to the accompaniment of a solo

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violin—in which Nakhmen, not unlike the Tupac Shakurs and Puff Daddys of a later era, boasts of his disregard for authority, his charm, his physical prowess, his living according to a natural law far more real than anything stuffy society has to offer. While he does not call for violence against the authorities, he does mock their foibles, and since we readers have seen the subjects of his derision in action, we know how much they have earned his contempt. However charming his rap may be, it does not necessarily raise the reader’s esteem for Nakhmen above the level of that of a lovable rogue. Indeed, even the play’s cast of characters introduces him as ‘a no-goodnik, a troublemaker. He has his good points—is handsome and clever—but is not fit for good company.’9 Aaron and Pinkhes clearly agree with that assessment, which allows them to rationalize their designation of him as the town’s recruit. To get him to comply, they exploit his feelings for Aaron’s beautiful, intelligent daughter Frume (whose name, fittingly, means ‘pious’). Aaron and his wife have been wary of Nakhmen’s clear interest in their daughter, but now they send the town’s matchmaker to the tavern to tell Nakhmen that, first of all, his feelings for Frume are mutual, and secondly, her parents will not resist the match—that is, as long as he enlists in the tsar’s army. Nakhmen’s transformation in everyone’s eyes, which sets off a violent and at times far-fetched shift in the main characters’ fortunes, occurs offstage, as if related by the messenger in a Greek tragedy. It is initially described comically, as the matchmaker laughs uncontrollably while describing how gullible the boy was in agreeing to the plan. But Nakhmen’s gullibility suggests an innocence that belies his swagger, and in the matchmaker’s report, we (together with Frume) begin to see just what an innocent he is. The situation is made all the worse in that it is built on a cruel irony: since entering the army and marrying Frume are in fact incompatible, the more suitable Nakhmen seems as a husband, the more it becomes apparent how misguided and immoral is the scheme to dupe him into becoming a soldier. Frume’s dismay only deepens when her father returns home to describe Nakhmen’s behaviour before the army officials. All the onlookers were struck by his cheerfulness on what so many others would have considered a dire occasion; clearly his elation at thinking that he had won Frume’s hand in marriage made the ordeals of military life seem trivial to him. Even when the local Count invited him to drink a toast to his new military calling, Nakhmen demurred, keeping his promise of the night before never to touch another drop for Frume’s sake. Hearing all this, Frume can no longer stand the torture of hearing of her would-be husband’s nobility just as his future apart from her is assured. She drops dead on the spot. The rest is chaos: Frume’s mother, who has been anxious about the draft situation to begin with, goes out of her mind, and then Nakhmen’s mother seizes control of the action. Makhele is blind—or more precisely, has no eyes—and is led in by a neighbour as she calls for the head of the matchmaker. There is the air of a biblical 9

Ibid. 148.

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prophet about her, and indeed her language is explicitly biblical as she asks for her son to be returned to her: ‘Gib mir op mayn kind, mayn eyn-eyntsik kind, mayn zun, mayn Nakhmen’ (‘Give me back my child, my only child, my son, my Nakhmen’).10 Makhele’s wording is a striking echo of the prelude to the binding of Isaac, in which God commands Abraham, ‘Kah.-na et binh.a, et yeh.idkha, asher ahavta, et yitsh.ak’ (‘Take your son, your only son, the one you love, Isaac’, Gen. 22: 2). Her language drives home the point that this is a modern version of the binding of Isaac, testing the town’s faith in its government. This time, though, no angel descends to stay the hand that is about to dispatch the human sacrifice, which throws into question the maskilic confidence in the power of reason. Indeed, Reb Aaron ultimately confesses, in the wake of his daughter’s death and wife’s madness, ‘I acted only with reason, and forgot that in affairs of the heart, reason fails.’11

a bram o v i tsh ’s

DI TAKSE

The maskilim who try to combat evil forces in Di takse (‘The Tax’, 1869) by Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (1835‒1917) are emotionally sensitive as well as reasonable, yet will not necessarily prove any more effective for all that. Certainly they have a daunting task before them: once again to rout the forces of corruption. But this form of corruption is different from that depicted by the earlier maskilim, for Abramovitsh dispenses with the formula of clever charlatans hoodwinking an ignorant populace. In Di takse the people know they are being cheated, but lack the power to do anything about it. Perhaps they are more aware because Di takse is set in the city rather than in a shtetl or village. This is not Breslau, however, but rather the Mendelesque creation of Glupsk, his city of fools, modelled on Berdichev. Glupsk plays a central role in the symbolic geography of Abramovitsh’s fiction, and although it is not a shtetl, it adds to our understanding of the shtetl outlook. As Dan Miron observes, Abramovitsh ‘insisted on exploring the shtetl mentality as it manifested itself in a larger, less intimate, and even deceptively semi-modern place such as his Glupsk’.12 Di takse is set in the big city not just to show that one need not live in a kleyn shtetl (small town) in order to have a kleyn-shtetldik (provincial) mentality, but because neither its plot nor its impact would be possible in a smaller community. The play presents a sequence of schemes by which the Jewish leaders of Glupsk—the ironically named shtot baley-toyves, or city benefactors, of the subtitle—find new and increasingly devious ways to raise the tax on kosher meat and line their own pockets with the proceeds, rather than funnelling them back into the community’s Aksenfeld, Der ershter yidisher rekrut in rusland, 195. Ibid. 194. 12 D. Miron, ‘Sh. Y. Abramovitsh and His “Mendele” ’, in his The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination (Syracuse, NY, 2000), 108. 10 11

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desperately underfunded social support institutions. The city is large enough to allow its greedy leaders in effect to launder the money they pretend to collect in the name of charity, as one of them suggests: I wouldn’t worry about the money. The city is large, thank God, one can make a rouble, especially for a mitzvah like this. . . . It will seem that the city is collecting money for the city’s own sake; so I ask you, who won’t give money? I would get out there and start gathering money right away—it’s a sin to waste any time!13

In Di takse, unlike the dramas of virtually all of Abramovitsh’s predecessors, the city is depicted as no better for the ordinary Jew than the shtetl. In some respects, it may be worse. Di takse bombards us with a dizzying array of dramatic devices that offer vivid proof of the hypocrisy, cruelty, and pettiness of the men who choose to steal from the community rather than to lead it. The first is their names, a Jonsonian catalogue of vices and virtues of the sort that Aksenfeld had employed time and again. The ‘band of city benefactors’ includes Reb Yosele Shinder, from the Yiddish verb shindn (to fleece); Rev Ruvn Piavkin, from the Russian for leech; and Reb Aaron Knekhtbarg—literally, ‘slave mountain’. The heroes are just as clearly delineated: Reb Gedalye Pikholts, or woodpecker, and Reb Shloyme Veker, or awakener, will act true to onomastic form and attempt to rouse the citizens to action against their oppressors. Much of the effect of Di takse relies on sharp juxtapositions, often visual versus verbal, which require a sense of the action as placed on a stage rather than simply described on a page. An early scene shows a city elder picking up a charity box and addressing it in a perversion of the sacred words of the wedding ceremony: ‘Akh, kestele, kestele, harey as mekudeshes li, harey as mekudeshes li’ (‘Ach, little box, little box, behold how you are consecrated unto me!’).14 Act II brings the entire gaggle of civic leaders together, paying lip-service to the hardships of the poor while they stuff themselves with food and drink, and ultimately reach the unsurprising decision to raise the people’s taxes once again. The opening of the fifth and final act shows a very different spectacle: a number of the people who are being crushed by the taxes are onstage plucking feathers from a variety of fowl: geese, ducks, turkeys, chickens (one rooster even has a line of dialogue). We know by this point in the play that if the tax is raised once again, all of this activity will be in vain; the people plucking the feathers will be unable to afford the slaughtering that will put food on their own tables. Apparently cutting against these theatrical moments is a familiar but curious feature of the text—familiar because it is the signature voice of Mendele Mokher Seforim (Mendele the Book-Pedlar) as intermediary in Abramovitsh’s narrative, but curious because the text purports—at least on some level—to be a work for the 13 Mendele Mokher Seforim [S. Y. Abramovitsh], Di takse; oder, Di bande shtot baley-toyves, in his 14 Ibid. 164. Geklibene verk, i (New York, 1946), 191.

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stage. Di takse opens with a prologue by Mendele, who claims to have received the ‘story’ (he does not call it a ‘play’ or a ‘drama’) from an anonymous writer who has documented the ‘true’ events of one city’s experience of corrupt leadership: The manuscript was not written neatly [writes Mendele], was flecked with ink in places, many scenes were transposed, it was not arranged in order, and at a few points was even missing several pages—the writer was apparently in a hurry. . . . I couldn’t restrain myself and threw in a few words of my own based on things I’ve seen and heard in my travels.15

Mendele’s prologue stakes a claim to a double measure of accuracy—the writings of ordinary people supported by his own observations—as it sets out a clear goal: ‘May my efforts not be in vain, so that God will have mercy and deliver soon— indeed, in our time—a miracle, that the Jews in every city will get rid of their benefactors until the coming of salvation.’16 The prologue itself need not distract us from the play, though Mendele does not step aside once the action of the play begins. We run into him a number of times in the text he claims to have edited, as he points out gaps in the manuscript, agrees or disagrees with characters, reports that he has left out scenes for the sake of our enjoyment, promises to restore them in a future volume, and sometimes supplements characters’ remarks with examples from his own experience. When Pikholts describes a certain Reb Treytl, for example, Mendele notes, ‘On my travels to Bessarabia I met such a Treytl in a shtetl on the Dniester, a few versts from Yampele. I heard terrible things about him there; he is a devil in a long talis-kotn.17 People have had to endure no small share of troubles on his account—may God Almighty watch over and protect all Jews from such Reb Treytls.’18 Mendele’s periodic appearance in the play’s footnotes presents a new twist on the question of the performative quality, or lack thereof, of Haskalah drama. Earlier Haskalah plays can be placed at various points on the spectrum from purely literary to essentially theatrical works. Some might be seen as polemical tracts that just happen to take dramatic form; others, even if not intended for full-scale performance, exploit the dramatic genre more effectively. But how are we to respond to a work of dramatic literature that displays flashes of theatrical brilliance, yet whose narrator repeatedly inserts himself into the text, thus continually reminding us that we are readers, not potential viewers? The answer to this question depends on whether we approach it via the historical development of Yiddish drama, or by conceptualizing Di takse simply as a work of modern theatre, open to all the theatrical possibilities that that concept allows. In the first category Mendele as a fictional narrator and sometime participant follows in the distinguished tradition of such commentators as Tristram Shandy and 15 17 18

Mendele Mokher Seforim, Di takse, 157. A four-cornered fringed undershirt worn by Orthodox Jewish men. Mendele Mokher Seforim, Di takse, 158.

16

Ibid. 158.

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Tom Jones, who frequently subvert and intrude upon their own narratives. These characters appeared in novels, however; in dramatic literature Mendele’s involvement is much more radical. Had the professional Yiddish theatrical tradition begun a couple of decades before Abramovitsh began writing, rather than over a decade into his literary career, perhaps it would never have occurred to him to involve Mendele in such a text-bound manner; perhaps Mendele would have appeared as an onstage narrator instead, like Thornton Wilder’s Stage Manager in a dystopian ur-text of Our Town. If we momentarily set aside what we know about the tradition of salon drama in Yiddish culture, we might see Di takse not as an old-fashioned play, but rather as an extraordinarily modern one. Mendele constantly breaks the so-called ‘fourth wall’, that bane of twentieth-century directors and writers who try constantly to pull the audience back into the action from the distant, darkened audience space. The play contains numerous instances of what we would now consider expressionism: the broad speech patterns and gestures of characters, the greater interest in social commentary than in individual psychology. But the modern theatrical movement that is perhaps most compatible with Di takse is Bertolt Brecht’s concept of Epic Theatre. To begin with, Brecht would have been quite at home with the play’s focus on the impact of economic forces on the lives of ordinary people. This emphasis could be effected in a variety of styles, but Abramovitsh’s approach in many ways illustrates Brecht’s discussion of key ‘shifts of accent’ between dramatic theatre and epic theatre: d ramat i c t hea tr e plot implicates the spectator in a stage situation wears down his capacity for action suggestion . . . the spectator is in the thick of it, shares the experience eyes on the finish feeling

e p ic th e atre narrative turns the spectator into an observer, but arouses his capacity for action argument the spectator stands outside, studies eyes on the course reason19

Even on the page, Mendele’s participation is a tour de force, quite capable of being transformed into effective theatre by a director with a Brechtian or other nonnaturalistic sensibility. One other change in approach sets Abramovitsh apart from all other Haskalah drama: his refusal—or is it inability?—to resolve the problems set out in the play. The final scene of Di takse is a long soliloquy spoken by Veker as he prepares to 19 B. Brecht, ‘The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre’ (1930), in Brecht on Theatre, ed. and trans. J. Willett (New York, 1964), 37.

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leave Glupsk, having concluded that the injustice rampant there is more than he can combat. As he prepares to leave, the city catches fire, leading him to exclaim: ‘Akh, Glupsk! God has rained down his wrath upon you. He afflicts you with his four terrible punishments. He afflicts you berav, with hunger; bedover umageyfe, with disease; b’eysh, with fire, with conflagrations; ubekhayes roes (literally, “with wild beasts”), with city benefactors.’20 It sounds as if Veker has been reading Abramovitsh’s fiction, for Mendele in his prologues revels in strikingly similar juxtapositions. Veker’s grim conclusion also brings to mind the long literary tradition of decent people driven to despair and self-imposed exile—in particular the misanthropic Shakespearian quartet of Titus Andronicus, Lear, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens. Veker practically paraphrases Titus’ ‘Rome is a wilderness of tigers’ by equating the city elders with wild beasts, and in his decision to pick up and leave, his action says what Coriolanus puts into words: ‘There is a world elsewhere.’ Brecht might have applauded Abramovitsh’s unresolved ending, which preserves the corrupt activities of the city elders as an ongoing process rather than as a completed action with a known outcome. Abramovitsh, ever the modernist, parts company with his maskilic predecessors by refraining from answering the questions his play has posed. Written at the end of an era, Di takse closes with the reasoning cowboy riding out of town, his work unfinished. The final stage direction reads, ‘He gives the horses a crack of his whip and rides onward.’ Abramovitsh leaves matters in the hands of the people; whether they choose to put out the fire is up to them.

g oldfa d e n’ s u ne nli g hte n e d a n t i - h e r o es In one sense, Avrom Goldfaden (1840‒1908) does not belong with the other playwrights mentioned here. Unlike them, he made his living as a dramatist, so he needed to make his plays commercially viable, not just ideologically compelling. As we have seen, the lack of a commercial venue for earlier Haskalah plays did not necessarily eviscerate their theatricality, but Goldfaden had to work from the opposite direction: first put bodies on seats, as the theatrical dictum goes, and then worry about the message. A number of his extant early plays fall solidly in the entertainment rather than the Enlightenment camp—among them farces, musical interludes, and character sketches that make no attempt whatsoever to engage in the social criticism and campaign for education so central to the Haskalah. Most of Goldfaden’s predecessors among the maskilim were also one-hit wonders as playwrights, which is not astonishing given their lack of financial incentive for writing plays. Goldfaden, on the other hand, was sufficiently successful at his craft to turn out a corpus of dozens of plays of varying lengths, from short vaudevilles and 20

Mendele Mokher Seforim, Di takse, 250.

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burlesques to the six-act transcontinental epic Meshiekh’s tsaytn?! (‘The Messianic Era?!’, 1891). The length and fruitfulness of Goldfaden’s career make it possible to catch an extended glimpse of how his dramaturgic as well as his political vision evolve. Before we look at the way in which Goldfaden ultimately transported his audiences beyond the shtetl, thus for ever changing the geography of Yiddish drama, it is important to see how he recapitulated and refined the shtetl vision of his predecessors. His major early plays continue the attack on religious insularity carried out so vehemently by earlier dramatists like Aksenfeld and by Goldfaden’s own teacher at the Zhitomir rabbinical academy, Avrom-Ber Gotlober. Gotlober’s Der dektukh, more than almost any other Haskalah play, exerted an enormous impact on Goldfaden’s early farces. The monstrous quality of its noseless bridegroom, Leml, clearly inspired Goldfaden with the possibilities it provided for the theatricality of ugliness. Other maskilic playwrights, like Aksenfeld, depicted their share of spiritual monsters, but Gotlober embodied this monstrosity in a freakish body that would inspire the creation of two of Goldfaden’s most famous anti-heroes, Shmendrik and Kuni-Leml. Goldfaden did not just recycle his teacher’s device, though, for he saw that Gotlober had not fully exploited the comic potential of his own creation. Not only does the audience hardly ever see Leml, but we never even see his nose—or rather, the space where his nose was supposed to be. He is thus nothing more than a human prop, but Goldfaden saw the possibility for turning such a creature into a character. He thus made the physical traits of the title character of Shmendrik (1877) less severe, but more plentiful, and brought them out into the open where the audience could laugh at them. Shmendrik is ‘15 years old, not tall, a yarmulke on his head and two long, straight earlocks, in red underwear that buttons at the back. Over the underwear a talis-kotn, and a long string of lead amulets, parchments, and wolf’s teeth hangs around his neck, and a silver hoop in one ear.’21 Goldfaden shows not just a deformed central character, but one whose motley costume gets immediately to the point of the drama by trumpeting the superstition that the playwright suggests is rife in the shtetl. Leml resurfaces even more obviously in Di tsvey kuni-lemls (‘The Two KuniLemls’, 1880). Even the name Kuni-Leml, which would enter everyday Yiddish vocabulary as a byword for great foolishness, half-derives from Gotlober’s Leml, a noseless youth whose deformity is covered by a veil, an ironic parallel to the bridal veil of the title. To the name ‘Leml’ (‘Lamb’) Goldfaden tacks on a prefix that accentuates his character’s stutter, sending a machine-gun spray of ‘k-k-k-k’ throughout the play—in stereo, in fact, for the second Kuni-Leml referred to in the title is an impostor who seeks to usurp the original Kuni-Leml’s place under the wedding canopy. The student Goldfaden went so far as to pay his teacher the compliment of recycling specific lines of dialogue. When Gotlober’s heroine learns that she has 21

A. Goldfaden, Shmendrik (Odessa, 1879), 3.

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been betrothed to Leml, her true love, Yosele, makes light of the situation: ‘Would your father embarrass that holy man, the Kanaver rabbi [Leml’s father], over such a trivial matter, a bit of nose, and turn him away with his precious only son? “Disgraceful!” he would say, “Where is it written that every Jew must have a nose? What, one can’t be a Jew without a nose?” ’22 Both Gogol and a body of Jewish humour lie behind Yosele’s teasing. The shadkhn, or matchmaker, turns up time and again in Jewish folklore, the subject of endless jokes about his penchant for exaggerating his clients’ assets and glossing over their shortcomings. In fact, in Di tsvey kuni-lemls Goldfaden places an echo of Yosele’s line in the mouth of Kalman the Matchmaker: Are you going to make a big fuss over such nonsense? So what, one of his eyes doesn’t see, and he limps on one leg. Show me, Reb Pinkhesl, where it’s written in the Shulkhen orekh [Shulh.an arukh, code of Jewish law] that a Jew has to see with both eyes, or walk equally well on both legs. He speaks with a bit of a lisp. Well, do our holy books say that a Jew has to speak perfectly? A Jew must know that he is a Jew; beyond that, nothing matters.23

In this and a number of other instances Goldfaden takes an idea from Gotlober and heightens its comic value. Here he does so by playing it deadpan rather than having a character explicitly acknowledge the absurdity of the comment. Goldfaden also recognized Gotlober’s failure to exploit some of his own devices for theatrical purposes. A fundamental illustration of Goldfaden’s use of the germ of an idea from Gotlober emerges from the cast of characters itself. Der dektukh includes a stuttering rabbi, the rabbi’s blind daughter, and of course the nasally challenged Leml. Gotlober, however, makes little use of the stutter, never even brings the blind daughter on stage, and does not give Leml a single line. Goldfaden would not let such potential go unexploited. By folding all these traits into the single character of Kuni-Leml, humanizing that character, and placing him in the spotlight, Goldfaden greatly heightened the comic theatricality of his farce. While the pro-Haskalah message in works like Shmendrik and Di tsvey kuni-lemls was nothing new, Goldfaden achieved something that writers like Aksenfeld and Gotlober had not: he humanized the opposition. However deformed Kuni-Leml was, and however much his physical and mental shortcomings were meant to symbolize his spiritual backwardness, he became the beloved property of Yiddish audiences everywhere, and the drama that surrounded him became ubiquitous on Yiddish stages around the world. Goldfaden’s early plays, then, differ from their predecessors’ depictions of the shtetl more in the refinement of their theatrical technique than in their content. Over time, though, Goldfaden would further distance himself in both regards. The rupture in Goldfaden’s career—indeed, in Yiddish literature more broadly— brought about by the pogroms of the early 1880s would ultimately create a shift in 22 23

Avrom Ber Gotlober, Der dektukh, oder, tsvey khupes in eyn nakht (Warsaw, 1876), 20. A. Goldfaden, Di tsvey kuni-lemls (New York, n.d.), 10.

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not only the ideology but also the geography of his works, and consequently of Yiddish drama as a whole. Goldfaden’s movement beyond the Enlightenment message of his early plays would bring with it a move out of the shtetl itself. It was a shift already under way near the start of his professional career, when he began experimenting with a device that would become part of his artistic signature: tableaux representing a supernatural or far-off scene injected into the main playing space. The last scene of Di bobe mitn eynikl (‘The Grandmother and her Granddaughter’, 1877) features almost cinematic intercutting between the dying grandmother’s house and pictures from afar: first of settlers in Palestine, then of her granddaughter, who fled the grandmother’s religious severity to marry her modern, secular, German-speaking tutor. Goldfaden’s geographic sweep would gradually grow more ambitious. The change begins to become more apparent in Di kishefmakherin (‘The Sorceress, 1879). In a sense this operetta carries on the maskilic campaign, but it quickly moves away from the details of contemporary communal politics to present a less obviously didactic—even seemingly escapist—shtetl portrait that nonetheless rides profound currents of Jewish life. The maskil in Goldfaden speaks most directly in this play through one of his villains: the Bobe Yakhne, an ancient aunt of the heroine’s evil stepmother, Bashe. As the two women concoct a plan to have Bashe’s husband framed and arrested, and her daughter Mirele kidnapped by the Bobe Yakhne and sold into white slavery, the old woman reveals the key to her power as she puffs on her pipe: ‘You’re still convinced that I can do magic? You still think that when I boil cauldrons, singe hair, turn my wand in chimneys, or stick a knife in the ground, that all that actually does something? I do these tricks only to swindle the fools who believe in them, but in reality it’s absolutely worthless.’24 With little variation, such could be the thoughts of a hasidic rebbe or wonder-worker in a classic Haskalah farce—except that a maskil would be loath to make the hasid so candid about his methods. On the whole, however, Di kishefmakherin does not focus on this familiar theme of exposing the gullibility of the masses. It also omits another beloved maskilic plot device: the misguided arranged marriage. In the play’s exotic array of characters, a matchmaker is nowhere to be found, nor is Mirele confronted with any freakish candidates for a husband. Nevertheless, Goldfaden finds a way to maintain the classic storyline of the dashing young maskil coming to the rescue of his beloved— this time to try to rescue her from the clutches of the sorceress, and when that initially fails, to go on an international search to save her. These changes in the classic plot line show Goldfaden continuing to expand the boundaries of Yiddish drama—not only the geographical boundaries, but also the conventions that tend to accompany them.

24

A. Goldfaden, Di kishefmakherin (Warsaw, 1930), 17.

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o u t o f the sht e t l Within a couple of years historical events led Goldfaden to move more decisively away from the conventions he has inherited. The outbreak of pogroms in Russia in the early 1880s seems to have caused a change of heart in the playwright, for shortly after writing the enormously popular Di tsvey kuni-lemls he shifted his modus operandi from satires advocating Jewish religious and communal reform to nationalistic spectacles that reinforce ideas of Jewish heroism and solidarity. For our purposes, what is most noteworthy about these works is that most of them take place long ago and far away: in reworkings of biblical legend, such as Akeydes Yitskhok (‘The Binding of Isaac’, 1887) and Kenig Akhashveyresh (‘King Ahasuerus’, 1887); in ancient Palestine, as in Shulamis (1881) and Bar Kokhba (1883); or in the Middle Ages, in melodramas like Doktor Almasado (1881) and Rebbe Yozelman (c.1894). After refining the theatrical depiction of the shtetl, Goldfaden helped lead Yiddish drama to broader vistas encompassing the full length and breadth of the Jewish experience.

c o nc lu si o n One wonders how the shtetl would have looked had the masters of the hasidic tale added dramatic literature to their repertoire. Instead, they ceded that particular piece of literary turf to the maskilim, who revelled in creating a rogues’ gallery of corrupt rebbes, fake miracle-workers, and their fanatical, gullible followers. Such characters are counter-Promethean, bringers of darkness wherever they go. Wolfssohn’s Reb Yoysefkhe brings his brand of darkness westward, where his spiritual and sexual corruption threaten to destroy a respectable German Jewish family—until of course a maskil intervenes and sets things right. We might expect Markus, living in the cradle of the Haskalah, to have an enormous advantage over his counterparts in eastern Europe. This is not necessarily the case, however. It is true that he ultimately prevails by using reason, that cherished Enlightenment faculty, but maskilic characters in the shtetl often do just as well by resorting to the opposite: by taking the backwards beliefs of their opponents to even greater extremes, the maskilim often expose the worst abuses perpetuated in the name of God and tradition. We might also expect the maskilim, waging a bitter ideological battle with hasidim and traditionally religious Jews (mitnagedim) alike, to paint their heroes in the most flattering light possible, but that does not always happen either. Many maskilic protagonists are clearly meant to be unambiguously admirable, but a strain of ambivalence begins to creep into Haskalah drama from the very beginning, and never entirely disappears. Wolfssohn gives us a glimpse of what happens if one moves beyond a certain degree of secularization and abandons one’s Jewishness completely. Aksenfeld has maskilim implement a plan that makes sense for most of

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the community, but brings death, madness, and heartache to the play’s central characters. Abramovitsh’s maskilim ultimately give up on reforming the shtetl at all. This is perhaps an unwitting premonition of Goldfaden’s eventual path as a playwright: not because the internal social problems are too intractable, but because those issues seem to pale in comparison to the onslaught of a new, bloody wave of antisemitism. By this time, the specific set of conditions that had given rise to Haskalah drama had largely disappeared. No longer was Yiddish dramaturgy the domain purely of intellectuals writing plays in the margin of careers as fiction-writers, lawyers, journalists, and teachers. No longer, for that matter, were enlightenment and modernization necessarily the first things on such playwrights’ minds. The same external threats that would alter the subject matter and settings of Yiddish drama would eventually change the milieu in which those plays were performed. Not only the Yiddish theatre, but Yiddish drama itself, followed the Jews of eastern Europe out of the shtetl and on to new centres of Jewish life in Europe, South Africa, and the Americas. In drama, as in other genres, the shtetl would continue to exert its influence on the imaginations of the writers and audiences who had left it behind, even as these emigrants came to terms with their new surroundings.

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Kazimierz on the Vistula: Polish Literary Portrayals of the Shtetl eugeni a prok op-j aniec In Polish literature the shtetl has been presented most frequently as a landscape: as the setting for events.1 It is less often perceived as a community, and more recently it appears as a form of east European Jewish culture. This pattern can be seen in the literary history of Kazimierz nad Wisl a˛ (Kuzmir). However, in the case of Kazimierz, there were some real and significant reasons for placing landscape at the forefront of representations of the town since it marked the unique character and attractiveness of Kazimierz. The ruins of historic buildings and the hilly landscape—culture and nature—were combined there in an integrated whole of exceptional beauty. The authors of the entry for Kazimierz in a geographical dictionary of the Polish Kingdom published in 1882 describe the town as follows: /

There are probably few towns in Poland that have such a number of curiosities within such a limited area. On the one hand, there are mountains covered with abundant vegetation; on the other, the Vistula flowing just at the foothills of the town. In the middle, the walls of the townhouses and abandoned ruins of old granaries emerge from among the trees. The high church roofs tower above them, while the castle stands even higher. And above the latter, a round, lonely watchtower stands on the highest mountain. All this makes this a landscape worth painting.2

The town’s picturesque quality and the strong relationship between history and nature found there made Kazimierz an ideal subject for romantic art. As far back as 1841 romantic historicism and a love of ruins began to dominate descriptions of the town. The landscape is presented as both fascinating and mysterious: A strange sight met my eyes. . . . I was in the most romantic area. . . . I found myself among the walls . . . of an ancient city and it seemed to me that I had gone back to the fourteenth century, to the times of the Peasants’ King [Kazimierz the Great]. . . . The Gothic crumbling townhouses surrounding the marketplace and the gloomy edifices scattered in the 1 Here I refer to the findings presented in my chapter ‘The Image of the Shtetl in Polish Literature’, Polin, 4 (1989), 129–42. 2 ‘Kazimierz’, in F. Sulimarski and B. Chlebowski (eds.), Sl ownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów sl owian´skich (Warsaw, 1882), iii. 925. /

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mountains above the town stirred some strange feelings in the soul. The pale light of the night hid the ruins from the eye, leaving the wanderer much to imagine in this enchanted sight.3

The presence of the Jews was barely mentioned in such descriptions. For instance, the author of this piece mentions only in passing that the ancient townhouses in the marketplace in Kazimierz ‘have nowadays become the property of the sons of Israel’ (p. 639). Jewish elements found their way into the tales of Kazimierz through local legends and stories, however. The founding of the town was commonly attributed to King Kazimierz the Great, and, according to an oral tradition still popular in the twentieth century, the castle nearby, in the village of Bochotnica, used to belong to the king’s mistress, the ‘beautiful Esterka’ (p. 644). The legend of Esterka, which appeared in many versions and was sometimes accepted as true, introduced the issue of the Jewish past in Poland into nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature. The story reminds us of the Jews of Kazimierz, who until the inter-war period were proud to be known as the ‘royal Jews’.4 Historical perspective is another special feature of depictions of Kazimierz. Medieval and Renaissance relics testify to the former glory of the town, whose history—like that of Poland—followed a pattern of recession and adversity. Once called Little Danzig, this rich and influential port on the River Vistula was devastated by war and plague. History thus transformed it into a poor provincial town. In the inter-war period, among reminiscences from journeys through Poland, the following description can be found: In the times of King John III, merchants from Danzig and Elbla˛g were replaced by the Jews. Their wooden houses with shingle roofs, with outhouses and porches, their butchers’ stalls [yatkes], shops, and synagogue, appeared among the overgrown ruins of former prosperity. Since 1771 they have traded here in bread, herrings, and fruit, and the rights they have 3 K. Balin´ski, ‘Wspomnienie jednego dnia we˛drówki po kraju’, Biblioteka Warszawska, 4 (1841), 635–6. Further references are in the text. 4 The legend of Kazimierz and Esterka as reflected in Jewish and Polish literature is discussed in Ch. Shmeruk, The Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature: A Case Study in the Mutual Relations of Two Cultural Traditions (Jerusalem, 1985). In the 19th century, among the writers concerned with Kazimierz, Karol Balin´ski was sceptical of the legend. He rejected the tradition according to which Esterka once lived in Bochotnica. In the 20th century this attitude was shared by Wacl aw Husarski (‘Pradzieje Kazimierza Dolnego’, Wiadomos´ci Literackie, 2 (1939), 1). Some local legends of Esterka are quoted by Konrad Bielski in his memoirs Spotkania z Kazimierzem (‘Encounters with Kazimierz’; Lublin, 1965). The king’s mistress is also the heroine of Helena Platta’s poem ‘Esterka’, in Zielony choral (Lublin, 1968). Tadeusz Breza wrote a humorous treatment of the legend on the occasion of the construction in the town of the monument to Kazimierz the Great (‘Oddac´ to malarzom i . ml odozen´com’, Kurjer Poranny, 230 (1933), 4). In ‘Miasto naszych snów’ (Wiadomos´ci Literackie, 2 (1939), 5) Anatol Stern wrote about the theatrical parodies of the legend staged by painters visiting the town. /

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enjoyed have been equal to those of the remaining population. . . . Old Kazimierz was already then a poor, ruined Jewish town.5

Thus Kazimierz was not a shtetl from the very beginning, but became one over time. As the years passed, it gradually grew poorer and fell into decline. In general, Polish literature in the last two centuries has portrayed Kazimierz as both Polish and Jewish. (This is also true of the literary portraits of other Polish towns, both real and fictitious.) The Jewish world has been represented fragmentarily and episodically, and most often as background or as part of the general environment. However, some literary works feature it as a town that is exclusively Polish. Such representations can also be found in the literature of the second half of the twentieth century, primarily in adventure and historical novels whose stories are set in the seventeenth or eighteenth century.6 Interestingly, the same is true of prose concerning the German occupation of the Lublin region and the rebuilding of that region after the war.7 The description of Kazimierz’s Polish and Jewish neighbourhoods is characteristic of inter-war literature, in which the popularity of the town as a literary topic reached its apogee. This trend was particularly notable in the 1930s. Among the literary factors enhancing the fascination with Kazimierz was an increasing interest in the provinces and in the atmosphere of their sleepy towns. One publication that showed such an interest was the January 1939 issue of Wiadomos´ci Literackie (‘Literary News’), at the time the most popular and influential literary magazine. The issue, devoted to Kazimierz, contained memoirs, essays, and reminiscences on the town by more than a dozen writers. Among the contributors were some whose work would also keep the legend of Kazimierz alive after the war.8 Through their selection of characters and places, most of the texts introduced both the Polish and the Jewish worlds as they existed in the town. The two worlds are also present in the best-known inter-war portraits of . Kazimierz, Dwa ksie˛zyce (‘Two Moons’, 1933) by Maria Kuncewiczowa and ‘Lato’ (‘Summer’, 1938) by Adolf Rudnicki. In her rich and diversified literary output Kuncewiczowa created a unique, personal variant of the legend of Kazimierz.9 In 5 H. Mortkowicz, ‘Powis´ le’, in her Na drogach Polski (with 50 linocuts by Tadeusz Cies´ lewski, Jr.) (Warsaw, 1934), 297–8. 6 T. Lopalewski, Strachy na Lachy (Warsaw, 1964); E. Paukszta, Stracen´cy: Powies´´c historyczna z XVII wieku (Warsaw, 1985). 7 J. N. Kl osowski, Ziemia bez skarg: Powies´´c (Warsaw, 1956). 8 Among the authors published in that thematic issue of Wiadomos´ci Literackie were Maria . Kuncewiczowa, Adolf Rudnicki, Hanna Mortkowicz, Adam Wazyk, Antoni Sl onimski, Anatol Stern, Ewa Szelburg-Zare˛bina, Wanda Melcer, Tadeusz Breza, Tymon Terlecki, and Andrzej Wolica. 9 See T. Kl ak, ‘Legenda Kazimierza w twórczos´ ci Marii Kuncewiczowej’, in W. Wójcik (ed.), . W strone˛Kuncewiczowej: Studia i szkice (Katowice, 1988); I. Paprocka, ‘Kazimierskie fascynacje w zyciu i twórczos´ ci Marii Kuncewiczowej’, in L. Ludorowski (ed.), O twórczos´ci Marii Kuncewiczowej (Lublin, 1997). /

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. Dwa ksie˛zyce, a series of novellas, she portrayed both Poles and Jews, inhabitants of the town as well as newcomers: ‘The church bled pink in the tangle of acacias bending like the Baroque saints; the wells resembled little shrines; the villagers would go about in circular robes and huge, flat straw hats; on Friday evenings the windows shivered with the warmth of candlesticks, with the madness of beards, prayer shawls, and the fragrance of spices.’10 This description of the town emphasizes its dual ethnic and cultural character. . However, the Jewish porters, boatmen, and merchants in Dwa ksie˛zyce are seen from the Polish perspective, and mostly in the context of their contacts with Poles. The Polish perspective is also apparent in the style of the work, where the words of the Jewish characters are quoted exclusively in Polish as spoken by the Jews, with traces of Yiddish vocabulary and intonation.11 Their Yiddish speech, on the other hand, is referred to as gibberish (pp. 48, 51, 54, 86). This dismissive attitude surfaces in one scene, when one of the characters alternately ‘gibbers [in Yiddish] or utters slow, beautiful Polish words’.12 The Polish perspective is particularly noticeable in the presentation of Jewish . culture. Thus, in Dwa ksie˛zyce prayers at the synagogue are seen through the eyes of Poles whose curiosity has led them surreptitiously to enter the synagogue. However, their interest in the ritual soon gives way to the shame they feel about observing ‘secretly . . . the most intimate relationship of the strange people with their cruel God’ (p. 172). As they observe the praying Jews, the Poles’ most intense feeling is that of alienness: Everything was so strange—the sound, the smell, people’s eyes and mouths—that Krystyna descended into the fourth dimension; things lost their sense, they became denaturalized and monstrous. She shook her arm with a start as something imperceivable rested on it. She had to look and think for quite a moment before she realized that it was a hand. The withered hand of an old woman immersed in prayer. (p. 171)

This estrangement has an obviously religious character. The awe-inspiring, passionate, and ecstatic tone of the Jewish prayers, reverberating with demands and despair, expresses the desire for the Messiah to come. On the other hand, in the church, where the heroes seek to soothe themselves after leaving the synagogue, there prevails an atmosphere of peace stemming from the thanksgiving prayers worshipping Christ. The contrast between the synagogue and the church is the contrast between the Old and the New Testament, between the impatience of waiting and the joy connected with the fulfilment of the messianic prophecies. Kuncewiczowa records one more aspect of the strangeness manifest in Polish– Jewish relations: the Jewish characters’ sense of alienation and homelessness. . M. Kuncewiczowa, Dwa ksie˛zyce (Warsaw, 1977), 22–3. See such expressions by the story’s characters as ‘Ja kaz˙e˛ i jus´’ (‘I have ordered it and that’s that’) (ibid. 84); ‘Szi git! Cynamonowe ciastko dla mojej dobrej Gitli’ (‘Be quiet! A ginger cookie for my good Gitel’) (p. 85); ‘Stul pisk dz˙yka s´ wynio’ (‘Shut up, you wild pig’) (p. 85). . 12 Kuncewiczowa, Dwa ksie˛zyce, 86. 10 11

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Szymon Goldman, who went to Kazimierz from Warsaw for a plein-air painting session, wished ‘that the wet winds would turn his woolly curls into hemp; that the cool air would make his eyes grow colder and narrower. He longed for a natural place for himself in some nook of the vast Slavonic lands’ (p. 89). He considered his painting of the Slavonic landscape false and his own ‘Judaean’ features (p. 92), as he described them, ‘improper’ (p. 90). In order to ‘outwit the antisemitic prejudice’ and to win favour with the Polish woman he loved, he initiated an oriental masquerade; in this way he turned the ‘loathsome strangeness’ into a ‘charming strangeness’, and Jewish features into Arab ones (p. 94). Nevertheless, in writing about the forms of strangeness and the reasons for it, Kuncewiczowa does not focus on Polish–Jewish conflict. Unexpectedly, and sometimes perversely, she studies the similarity between the fate of the Poles and that of the Jews. The novella in which the religious motifs appear concludes with a scene in which the two groups unite after the death of the town’s beggarwoman: ‘In their ardent sympathy for the corpse, the Catholics would fraternize with the Jews. . . . May the father of Jesus and the God of Israel look after the great matters, but here is the body that has to be washed and buried with due care’ (pp. 176‒7). . The Polish perspective in Dwa ksie˛zyce becomes even more apparent when the story is juxtaposed with Adolf Rudnicki’s ‘Lato’. Although the narrator of this holiday report from Kazimierz shows equal interest in both communities of the town, he himself is one of those whom assimilation has placed in the Polish–Jewish borderland. He is at home in the Polish language, but the Jewish world, with its cultural diversity and ideological schisms, is close and important to him. ‘Lato’ distinguishes itself by its perception of the Jews as a community and by its comments concerning the community’s current problems within the broad social and cultural context. Antisemitism is one of these problems. It runs rampant outside the town, but its ominous echoes manifest themselves here as well in acts of ill will, in reprimands, and in accusations. Other important questions concern the bankruptcy of assimilation, the ‘triumph of the ghetto’, and linguistic Polonization. In ‘Lato’ the observation that ‘the Jewish masses speak mostly Polish’13 and the characterization of their use of Polish are coupled with the eulogizing of Yiddish as a language ‘reverberating . . . with the echo of the holy books, prayer verses, and proverbs’ (p. 169). It is also a language full of wisdom, grace, and ‘a metaphysical weakness hiding an indestructible, powerful life instinct—the role of lasting [rola trwania]’ (p. 169). The speech of some of the Jewish characters is undoubtedly the Polish equivalent of the Yiddish; yet the narrator points out that Yiddish is practically untranslatable into any non-Jewish language. The description of a group of characters on their way to Ger (Góra Kalwaria) to pray with the hasidim on Yom Kippur plays a prominent role in the report. For the narrator, this pilgrimage is not just a religious act, but is rather a quest for unity 13

A. Rudnicki, ‘Lato’, in his Sto jeden (Kraków, 1984), i. 169.

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with the Jewish world. Rudnicki transforms the story of that visit to the tsadik into a rumination on the nature of Jewish spirituality and the metaphysical significance of ‘the great autumn holidays’ Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as on the power and beauty of the Jewish religious tradition.14 Of the Jews who move away from Jewish tradition but observe Yom Kippur, the narrator says: ‘Anything they could compare with these forms, marvellously developed through the centuries-old tradition, seemed pale and insignificant. So they yielded and . . . during this period they preferred the religious songs, which brought them a great deal of sublime happiness’ (p. 161). On another occasion he stresses the significance of the cultural rootedness of the heroes for their feeling of spiritual unity, and for their consent to the existing order of the world and their own place in it. Such comments make the Jewish world presented in ‘Lato’ appear not as a local peculiarity, but as a part of Jewish life in Poland, in due order of continuity and change. Descriptions of the two communities of Kazimierz can also be found in post-war literature, but mostly in the form of memoirs and documentary prose. One of the most interesting depictions of this kind appears in Kobieta z prowincji (‘A Woman from the Provinces’, 1987) by Waldemar Siemin´ski. The author, who was born in Kazimierz, is interested in the literary legend of the town,15 and, referring to it, formulates a programme for a literature which would cultivate local values.16 In the story he builds on the memories of a simple Polish woman from the provinces who used to live among the Jews before the war. She is well acquainted with Jewish customs, rituals, and prayers, and she even speaks Yiddish. Her reminiscences have exceptional sociological value not only as a record of the everyday life of the shtetl, but above all as a document on Polish provincial mentality. Closeness and attachment intermingle in Anna’s statements with an envy generated by poverty and the feeling of being disadvantaged, as well as with unfavourable stereotypes of the Jews. At one point Anna declares: ‘The Jews were my second family.’17 At other points, however, she recalls: ‘The Jews would eat good things only, while for the poor Catholics there was only wholemeal flour left’ (p. 126); ‘The factories were Jewish and so were the shops’ (p. 127); ‘A Pole who owned a shop could not keep it, since he had to buy from Jewish wholesalers at high prices’ (p. 127); ‘We feared the Jews a bit. The Jews have money, the Jews are cunning and they make matzah from Catholics. Although no one treated that seriously and no one had ever said they saw it with their own eyes, one could say exactly how the Jews did it’ (p. 128). But it is this Polish woman who expresses the pain felt over the absence of the Jews from Kazimierz: ‘I was sitting on the porch indulging in . . . the silence. And then I felt that strange, intense longing for the Jews. . . . In the silence of Easter I suddenly felt a great absence of something. I was listening and listening and that 14 15 16 17

Rudnicki, ‘Lato’, i. 160. W. Siemin´ski, ‘Sztuka zwia˛zana z Kazimierzem’, Literatura, 9 Aug. 1979, 5. Id., ‘Wartos´ c´ miejsca w literaturze pie˛knej: Lokalnos´ c´ i uniwersalizm’, MS, 1989. Id., Kobieta z prowincji (Warsaw, 1987), 121.

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silence, yes, that silence was dead. It was the absence of their voices . . .’.18 It is also she who mourns Jewish Kazimierz using a paraphrase of the Christian prayer for the dead: ‘And may the light eternal spread over the murdered Jews.’19 In his work Spotkania z Kazimierzem (‘Encounters with Kazimierz’, 1965), Konrad Bielski describes the atmosphere of the town in the 1920s and 1930s from the point of view of a holiday visitor. He attributes the fact that the local Jews were ‘unlike other Jews’20 to their status as ‘royal Jews’. Thus his story focuses on the distinctive features of the town and the old tales of King Kazimierz and Esterka. He treats the stories favourably, remarking that they are ‘full of poetry and based on a special mythology’.21 One of the reasons for the author’s idealization of the Jewish world is the memory of the Holocaust: ‘Someone who saw and knew [the Jews of Kazimierz], so rooted in that town, is looking at Kazimierz today with a dead eye, as if it were an empty town’, he writes about the post-war years (p. 10). The novels written during or soon after the war by Maria Kuncewiczowa, Zmowa nieobecnych (‘A Plot of the Absent’, 1946), and Hanna Mortkowicz-Olczakowa, S´wiatl ocienie (‘Chiaroscuro’, 1957), provide an additional dimension to the works about Kazimierz begun during the inter-war period. Although referring either directly or indirectly to the Holocaust, both continue to write about the town in pre-war style. The distinctive features of this style are clear references to the life of the artistic circles connected with Kazimierz, autobiographical elements, and a particular self-referential aspect. The focus on the town’s intimate relationship with art in the pre-war literary style faithfully reflected the local colour, since, after all, Kazimierz owed its popularity in the twentieth century to art. After hundreds of years of oblivion it became famous thanks to the painters who towards the end of the nineteenth century ‘discovered a poor town on the Vistula . . . reduced to the role of a shabby estate’22 and began to make it a subject of their art. Kazimierz appears in the inter-war works of Kuncewiczowa and Rudnicki as an object of fascination for both Jewish and non-Jewish painters. Both are concerned with the question, discussed by other writers as well, of whether art has the right to discover picturesque qualities in destruction and poverty. A recurring scene in their works is one of artists, charmed by the exotic character of poverty, asking poor . Jews to sit for them. The plot of one of the novellas in Kuncewiczowa’s Dwa kie˛zyce revolves around the conflict between a painter who comes to the town and his relative who lives there and is indignant at the artistic ennoblement of dirt and ugliness. In one of her pre-war essays the author analysed the arguments in favour of maintaining the town, against the interests of tourists, as ‘an experimental place for art, an arena of embarrassing eccentricities’.23 Kuncewiczowa revisits the issue of Kazimierz art in her later work, where it becomes ironic and tragic. A portrait of a /

18 22 23

19 20 Ibid. 74. Ibid. 75. Bielski, Spotkania z Kazimierzem, 10. A. Lauterbach, ‘Przyszl os´ c´ Kazimierza Dolnego’, Wiadomos´ci Literackie, 2 (1939), 3. M. Kuncewiczowa, ‘Rezerwat dzikos´ ci’, in her Odkrycie Patusanu (Warsaw, 1983), 97. /

21

Ibid.

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Jewish pauper, which once marked the amorality of artistry, becomes after the Holocaust a remembrance of the murdered people and a testimony to their lives.24 The relationship between art and the Holocaust is represented symbolically in a novel that Mortkowicz-Olczakowa started writing before the war had ended. Although its plot focuses on a pre-war plein-air painting session, premonitions of the catastrophe appear in the ghastly visions of one of the Jewish painters: [Jews], hunched and crooked, walked in circles on the canvas. In their robes, which had turned russet, they trotted among the black trunks of trees, on white snow stained with longish footprints. Under the visors of their flat caps they would lean towards one another with their sharp, greenish profiles and fiery, bloodshot eyes. . . . And through the sky rolled the red and violet sun, the spectral sun of mad paupers. In other places the black Jews were starting up and flying under the sky like crows over the crooked roofs of towns. The arms of trees would wind and interlock like octopuses, while the snow would blow with a bloodgreen geyser of sparkles.25

These ‘bitter and provocative’ works, permeated with an aura of weirdness (p. 129), did not find buyers; the audience had a taste for solid, realistic portraits and sentimental ritual scenes. Even the non-Jewish characters in S´wiatl ocienie, wandering through the town on a Friday evening looking through windows at the Jews at their sabbath prayers, discuss the value of realistic art concerned with the theme of rituals. Mortkowicz-Olczakowa introduces into her novel one more motif related to art—one that is absent from the works of other authors. This is the motif connected with the influence of art on the life of the shtetl and the changes in the lives of simple people brought about by the artists and their works. After modelling for painters, a Jewish girl from the town finds herself briefly in these artistic Bohemian circles. Afterwards, rejected and disappointed, she returns to her Orthodox home and without protest accepts the traditional role of the Jewish daughter. Bohdan Czeszko’s novel Przygoda w kolorach (‘An Adventure in Colours’, 1959) represents probably the last echo of the inter-war stories of the artists of Kazimierz. However, this partly autobiographical work describes a different epoch in the history of Kazimierz.26 Rebuilt after the destruction, depicted by a new generation of artists and visited by Jewish painters who survived the Holocaust, the town looks quite unlike the Kazimierz of the past. Its lost character cannot be restored even by the most detailed reconstruction. The carefully reconstructed building of the kosher yatke is ‘blind like a coffin and quite useless’ (p. 7), and the marketplace is cobbled with ‘gravestones that were taken from the Jewish cemetery on Nazi orders’.27 /

M. Kuncewiczowa, Fantomy (Warsaw, 1982), 241–2. H. Mortkowicz-Olczakowa, S´wiatl ocienie: Historia jednego pleneru (Kraków, 1957), 128. 26 Czeszko’s autobiographical text entitled ‘Moje Kazimierze’, published in his collection of short stories Nostalgie mazurskie (Warsaw, 1987), can serve as a commentary to the novel. 27 B. Czeszko, Przygoda w kolorach (Warsaw, 1959), 7. 24 25

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In summary, it should be emphasized that the literary pictures of Kazimierz recalled here partly comply with and partly transcend Polish conventions of writing about the shtetl. The Jewish world of the town is presented from a Polish perspective, the culture is recorded fragmentarily and selectively, and the characters are seen in the context of their participation in Polish life. This perspective, focused on difference and otherness, is sometimes overcome, at least partly, by those authors who reside in the Polish Jewish grey zone and who show this world from within. On the other hand, the selectively presented culture is commonly considered an integral element of the former character of the town, a part of the whole that today no longer exists. In the development of the unique picture of Kazimierz, elements taken from the local historical and, in particular, artistic traditions have undoubtedly played the most important role. And it is this alliance of artistic Bohemia and the shtetl that seems to be the most original feature of Polish portraits of Kazimierz. Translated from the Polish by Ewa Basiura

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Imagining the Image: Interpretations of the Shtetl in Yiddish Literary Criticism mikh ail k rutikov The real shtetl may not be easy to define in historical, social, or geographical terms, but as a symbol the shtetl is a constant feature of the Jewish literary imagination. The first modern Yiddish critic, Bal-Makhshoves,1 made this observation in the opening statement of his seminal essay ‘Dray shtetlekh’ (‘Three Shtetls’, 1913): ‘As one can sense the scent of the grass of the Russian village that comes from Russian literature, or hear the voices of big industrial and commercial cities that fill European literature, so one can perceive in our Yiddish literature the hushed, subdued, and muffled sound of life in a small Jewish shtetl.’2 Although the shtetl served as the primary backdrop in nineteenth-century Yiddish literature from Israel Aksenfeld to Y. L. Peretz, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that Yiddish critics became aware of its existence as an aesthetic phenomenon. Until then, literary representations of the shtetl were usually perceived as ‘true to life’ depictions, realistic representations of Jewish life in its most concentrated form. The realistic conventions of shtetl fiction were broken most obviously by Sholem Asch in his romantic poem in prose, A Shtetl (1904), which not only brought fame to its young author but also initiated a critical discussion that continues even today. Ironically, the work that provoked so much insightful criticism has fallen into complete disregard. By contrast, the inevitable counterpart to Asch’s poem, the naturalistic novella A Shtetl by Yitzhak Meir Weissenberg, has acquired canonical status among contemporary critics and scholars of Yiddish because of its appeal to modern critical sensitivities. Bal-Makhshoves’s essay deals with the image of the shtetl in the works of three leading Polish Yiddish writers: Asch, Weissenberg, and Peretz. Acknowledging the centrality of the shtetl as the primary locus of Yiddish literature, Bal-Makhshoves 1 Bal-Makhshoves was the pen-name of Israel Isidor Elyashev (b. Kaunas, 1873; d. Kaunas, 1924), medical doctor and literary critic, supporter of cultural Zionism, and champion of Yiddish–Hebrew bilingualism in modern Jewish culture. 2 Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk (New York, 1953), 262.

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points out that the real shtetl is rapidly losing its dominant position in Jewish life. The decline of the shtetl across the entire territory of the Pale of Settlement in the Russian empire is evident to him, although in Congress Poland this process moves somewhat less speedily than in the western provinces (guberniyas) of Russia (which now constitute, roughly speaking, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania); the slower pace there is due mainly to the strong attachment of Polish Jews to their hasidic leaders—tsadikim—who are usually based in small shtetls. The stream of life flows no longer through the shtetl but through the city instead. As a result, the shtetl is dying away, gradually turning into a stagnant swamp, so that within a few generations the old shtetl will be relegated to historical memory. This is the diagnosis pronounced by a literary critic whose way of thinking and expression was informed by his background in medicine. And yet even those Yiddish authors who are fully aware of the deterioration of the real shtetl are unable to liberate themselves from its spell, Bal-Makhshoves continues. He finds the new, estranged attitude to the shtetl of Peretz, Asch, and Weissenberg particularly remarkable. Peretz is the first Yiddish writer to look at the shtetl as an outsider, in contrast to Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh or Sholem Aleichem. Asch’s romantic portrait of the shtetl can only make sense in a situation where the shtetl has ceased to be a living reality and is transformed into a sweet memory, ‘like a beloved grandfather who has already parted with the world’. Weissenberg shows how the new radical revolutionary ideas penetrate the shtetl and tear apart its already threadbare social fabric. In his naturalistic representation, the powerful ‘general stream of life’ washes away the specifically Jewish meaning of the shtetl, leaving behind an empty vessel that is fully dependent for its existence on the politics and economy of the big city.3 What Bal-Makhshoves detects in the writing of his contemporaries is an artistic effect that Russian formalist critics called ostranenie—‘making it strange’, or defamiliarizing the habitual and presenting it as if it were seen for the first time. The use of this device ‘enables us to see things instead of merely recognizing them’, explains the historian of Russian Formalism Victor Erlich.4 Thus, the deliberate ‘estrangement’ of the shtetl achieved through the variety of literary techniques employed by Peretz, Asch, and Weissenberg enables the modern urban reader to see the shtetl anew, as an aesthetic object rather than as a piece of reality. The narrator in Peretz’s series ‘Bilder fun a provints-rayze’ (‘Impressions from a Journey through the Tomaszów Region’, 1891) is a member of a statistical expedition who comes down to the Tomaszów powiat (district) like a ‘wealthy and educated relative’ from Warsaw for the purpose of investigating ‘what is really going on in small shtetls—what people hope for, what they live from, and what they do there’.5 He arrives there with a desire to help backward shtetl Jews, but his well-meaning 3 4 5

Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk, 263–4. V. Erlich, Russian Formalism: History, Doctrine (New Haven, 1981), 76. Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk, 266.

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disposition quickly evaporates as he realizes that an abyss separates him from them. Peretz’s shtetl ‘decays in the sun like a dead horse’,6 Bal-Makhshoves tells us. Whereas Abramovitsh depicted the shtetl as a community imbued with a rich old culture that the narrator, Mendele Mokher Seforim, shared with his characters and his readers, Peretz depicts the shtetl-dwellers as a collection of disoriented and ignorant individuals united by common misery rather than by common values. Unlike those of Abramovitsh and Sholem Aleichem, Peretz’s attitude towards the shtetl is objective and detached, free of specifically Jewish sentiments. He experiences the mixture of pity, concern, and frustration that a ‘civilized’ person experiences when he encounters a mass of ‘primitive’ people who are condemned by the cruelty of history and society to a slow death. Both Peretz, who wrote his series of travel sketches in 1891, and Asch, who composed his ‘poem in prose from Polish Jewish life’ thirteen years later, approach the shtetl as outsiders. Asch’s romantic shtetl (based on the picturesque old town of Kazimierz nad Wisl a˛—Yiddish: Kuzmir—and Kutno, the writer’s native town in central Poland) is already a fantasy, a dream, a childhood memory. While Peretz comes to the shtetl as a realistic observer, Asch appears there in the person of an imaginary wanderer. This wanderer wants to hear only of harmony, not of discord. His poetic imagination has no room for any serious conflict. In Asch’s shtetl Jews live in harmony with nature (which encompasses peasants as well as fields, woods, and rivers), and hasidim peacefully coexist with mitnagedim. Only in this utopia could a hasidic rebbe move into a shtetl and peacefully depose the established rabbi, allowing this normally sharp social conflict to be depicted as child’s play. Here again, Bal-Makhshoves makes good use of his experience in neurology and the advanced theories of his time, detecting in Asch’s idyllic characters a juvenile, ‘halfplayful, half-awoken’ erotic desire that finds its expression in hugging and holding hands. This is not a serious spiritual unity of adults; Asch’s shtetl is, as BalMakhshoves puts it, ‘a shtetl of children with beards and peyes [sidelocks]’, a sweet childish dream that is offered to the adult reader.7 Unlike his predecessors, Weissenberg focuses neither on the misery and poverty nor . on the beauty and harmony of the shtetl. His shtetl (based on the author’s native Zelechów) is no longer an autonomous community, a centre of Jewish life and local trade, but is rather a production outlet for distant city markets. The shtetl is increasingly dependent for its sustenance on Warsaw, from which local tanners receive raw leather and to which they deliver finished products. This economic dependence affects the shtetl’s way of life, so that it is determined not so much by the cycles of the seasons and the Jewish calendar as by the cycle of supply and demand. The changes have a particularly powerful effect on the younger generation, which falls under the spell of radical socialist propaganda, an ideological by-product of proletarianization. The attention to generational conflict also distinguishes Weissenberg from his predecessors: /

6

Ibid. 267.

7

Ibid. 273–5.

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Peretz shows us the complete degeneration of the shtetl, with no sign of any conflict between old and young. Asch presents an idyll where everything flows quietly like light-gilded clouds in the clear sky on a summer evening. By contrast, Weissenberg demonstrates to us, perhaps involuntarily, that the only kind of life still possible in the shtetl is a life under the city’s control, in both the material and the spiritual sense.8

The only way the young people can survive is by leaving the shtetl for the city. This analysis leads Bal-Makhshoves to conclude that in future Yiddish literature, as in life, the prominence of the shtetl will gradually fade away. Medical metaphor dominates Bal-Makhshoves’s criticism: he interprets Peretz’s sketches as an amnesia of the terminal illness of the shtetl and Asch’s fantasy as a childish dream produced by awakening sexuality. In this scheme Weissenberg is the only author who not only describes the symptoms, but also suggests an operational cure: the healthy, young elements can be rescued by severing all their material and spiritual ties with the dying shtetl organism. A sympathizer of cultural Zionism, Bal-Makhshoves was also a moderate optimist with regard to the future of European Jewry and believed that it could develop its own cultural and social identity within the framework of urban European civilization. The shtetl, however, belonged entirely to the past. Bal-Makhshoves introduced the idea of the binary opposition of the idealistic (Asch) and the naturalistic (Weissenberg) visions of the shtetl, and this idea was further elaborated by following generations of Yiddish critics according to their times and ideological orientations. Thus, Shmuel Niger saw the artistic strength of Asch’s representation precisely in the fact that it was a beautiful fantasy divorced from grim reality.9 He praised Asch for placing the idealized shtetl not in a fictional Jewish past, but in the here and now, in a parallel reality, whose imagined existence defied the misery of the shtetl as the naturalistic school saw it. In his review of the poem Niger especially emphasized the communal character of Asch’s shtetl: The shtetl that looks so peaceful, so sabbath-like, is not just an idyll; it is a family idyll. All inhabitants of the shtetl—the poor and the rich, the old and the young—are relatives, and they form one community and one family. They have one Heaven over their heads and one Father in that Heaven. Even the Gentiles who live there belong to the shtetl; they do not disturb the peace of the idyllic home.10

Asch ‘chased away the shadows that were not necessary for the artistic picture’, Niger wrote later in his book on Asch, celebrating the writer as the harbinger of change from the old literature of ‘doubt’ to the new literature of ‘faith’. Asch rejected the ‘old medical maskilic’ approach of nineteenth-century writers—who saw Jewish Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk, 279. Shmuel Niger was the pen-name of Shmuel Charny (b. Minsk province, 1883; d. New York, 1955), who was a Yiddish critic, journalist, and scholar. Charny was close to the revolutionary movement in Russia. In America (to which he emigrated in 1919) he became an advocate of traditionalism in Jewish 10 S. Niger, ‘Sholem asch’, in his Vegn yidishe shrayber (Warsaw, 1914), ii. 9. culture. 8 9

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life as one big ‘hospital in the time of plague’ and in desperate need of radical remedies—in favour of a ‘present-day romanticism’.11 Yet Niger agreed with BalMakhshoves that A Shtetl was still artistically and ideologically immature because it lacked a central character. This problem was solved in Asch’s next shtetl poem, Reb Shloyme Noged, in which the shtetl received an appropriate patriarchal hero. Niger’s anti-positivist and anti-maskilic stand was part of his ideological project of regenerating Jewish Diaspora life through cultural creativity nurtured by hasidism, Jewish folklore, and romantic aestheticism. Niger’s view was echoed, although in a less idealistic tone, by Nachman Mayzel, who emphasized the ‘elemental’ aspect of Asch’s image.12 According to Mayzel, the shtetl was the natural habitat of the Yiddish writer and the eternal source of his artistic inspiration. Contrary to BalMakhshoves, Mayzel found the ‘wanderer’ figure pretentious and alien to Asch’s style. He read the poem not as ‘an observation from above, but rather [as] a perception from within, a song, a poem born from the depths of one’s heart. The shtetl is Asch’s elemental core, his soul lives there.’13 In this interpretation the shtetl appears as part of the aesthetic and ideological complex of the Jewish primitiv, the source of inspiration for poets, artists, and critics associated with the Kiev group and Kultur-lige. Not surprisingly, Soviet critics took a strongly critical attitude towards Asch in general and towards his Shtetl in particular. This position was most forcefully articulated by Max Erik,14 whose book on Asch remains one of the most powerful examples of Marxist Yiddish criticism. Erik focused not on the natural beauty and idyllic harmony of Asch’s image, but on his deliberate misrepresentation of the economic and social reality of the time: The entire poem is a statement against the sociopolitical reality of 1904. Trade is dead, big industry is in a fix, middle-sized and small businesses are desperately struggling with need and a severe crisis—and Asch opens wide the doors of Yekhezkl Gombiner’s house, and there comes out the steam of the red beet borscht, which is offered to everybody who comes in. Banks collapse, credit runs out, people die for want of a penny—and Yekhezkl Gombiner generously divides his money among the children, takes out a big pack of hundreds from his back pocket, and every Passover eve they sum up the big profits.15

Erik’s analysis mercilessly exposes the capitalist ideological message projected by Asch’s celebration of absolute unity and stability based on the natural economy: S. Niger, Sholem ash: zayn lebn, zayne verk (New York, 1960), 58–62. The Yiddish critic and journalist Nachman Mayzel (b. Kiev, 1887; d. Kibbutz Alonim, 1966) was one of the organizers of Kultur-lige and a leading Yiddish left intellectual. He was editor of the Warsaw weekly Literarishe bleter and of the New York monthly Yidishe kultur (he emigrated in 1937). 13 N. Mayzel, ‘Sholem Asch’, in his collection of essays Noente un vayte (Vilna, 1926), ii. 46. 14 Max Erik was the pen-name of the Yiddish critic and literary historian Zalmen Merkin (b. Sosnowiec, 1898; d. Soviet prison, 1937), who emigrated to the Soviet Union from Poland in 1929 and worked in Yiddish cultural institutions in Minsk and Kiev. 15 M. Erik, Sholem asch (1900–1930) (Minsk, 1931), 31. 11 12

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‘Unity reigns between God’s nature and the Gombiners, and its expression is faith. Faith . . . can be bought and sold. And Yekhezkl Gombiner buys faith for himself, gives a small offering to his God, makes him his third partner.’16 Erik rejects Niger’s view that Asch’s shtetl is a neutral romantic fantasy suspended outside the real time and place of Poland. He points out that the entire economic picture of A Shtetl is, in fact, a specific and consistent denial of the real economic situation on the eve of the revolution of 1905. Erik reads A Shtetl as an expression of the ‘ideology of the middle-class trade bourgeoisie in the period of its final decline’, when it was losing its position as a result of industrialization. ‘Already in the framework of the capitalist society, trade capital is deprived of its former independent existence, and functions as a mere agent of industrial capital,’ he writes;17 it tries to compensate for this loss by representing its class ideology in terms of absolute values, such as nature and God. It was precisely this reactionary ideological position that made Asch so original and different from his predecessors. Erik points out: ‘Asch makes a revision of the dominant type of petit-bourgeois Yiddish literature, which did not spare dark colours for depicting the decline, destruction, and hopelessness of shtetl life.’18 Erik agrees with Niger that no other Yiddish writer prior to Asch had managed to create a positive image of the shtetl, but he interprets this inability as a strength rather than as a weakness. The frustrated attempts of Sholem Aleichem and Mordkhe Spektor to find virtue in the shtetl led not to the rehabilitation but to the condemnation of the shtetl, and thus ushered in the genuinely critical-realistic trend in Yiddish literature. Yehiel Yeshaia Trunk enriched the Yiddish literary discourse, which until then had revolved around the relativist ideological axes of national and class struggle, with new essentialist concepts of myth and archetype borrowed from Jung’s theory of the collective subconscious.19 The shtetl was reinterpreted as the mitos fun klal, the myth of the community.20 Trunk traced the generic origin of Asch’s shtetl image back to the idyllic elements in Peretz’s Folkstimlekhe geshikhtn (‘Folk Tales’), but with a shift of focus from the individual to the collective. Whereas Peretz, inspired by Nietzsche, believed that a creative personality should liberate itself from the captivity of the mediocre, stagnant environment, Asch saw the main source of creative energy in the idealized community. A Shtetl is located in the depth of the sacred teaching, in the land of the eternal shabes (sabbath). This shabes is a symbolic collective possession, which unites all residents of the shtetl. By contrast, Peretz believed that the drive for redemption was an individual attribute and looked for a heroic character, such as the hasidic Reb Shloyme in the drama Di goldene keyt (‘The Golden Chain’, 1907), who attempts to bring about the redemption—symbolically represented by his desperate effort to keep the sabbath 17 18 Erik, Sholem asch, 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. 30. Yehiel Yeshaia Trunk (b. near Lowicz, 1887; d. New York, 1961) was a Yiddish and Hebrew novelist, memoirist, and critic, as well as an active Bundist. He emigrated to the United States in 1941. 20 Y. Y. Trunk, Idealizm un naturalizm in der yidisher literatur (Warsaw, 1927), 38. 16 19

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for ever—despite the indifference, if not open resistance, of the collective. Asch, for his part, believed that the autonomy of the individual was an illusion. To achieve salvation, one had to abandon individualistic hopes and ambitions and fully subordinate oneself to the will of the collective. This was, for Trunk, the message of many of his works—a message that found its supreme manifestation in Asch’s celebration of the act of kidush hashem, martyrdom on the part of an individual for Judaism and the Jewish people. But where does one find this redeeming collective shabes, Trunk asks. Asch has created an imaginary guide in the figure of an archetypical simple Jew—a wanderer—who leads us into the shtetl utopia. Asch’s narrator is a Jewish Parsifal, a naive poet who simply depicts what unfolds before his eyes without reflection or criticism. He follows the wanderer into the idealized world and accepts poverty with love and understanding, without being shocked and puzzled—as Mendele and Peretz were—by the misery of the Jewish condition. Nothing is ‘real’ in his image; everything is transformed into the ‘subjective’ realm. Even nature is Judaized: ‘a community of Jews—a community of trees’. Jews go about the shtetl as if it were Jerusalem. Trunk agrees with his predecessors that A Shtetl is still the immature work of a young artist, that its characters and images are fragmented, and that, as a whole, it lacks focus or a central theme. A Shtetl is an exercise in collective escapism, depicting a community of luft-yidn (Jews without any clearly defined source of income) who ‘esn kest baym riboyno shel oylem’ (‘receive their sustenance from God’).21 Asch’s second shtetl idyll, Reb Shloyme Noged, is the most accomplished work of the writer’s early period, in Trunk’s opinion. We find here the same idealized shtetl atmosphere, but with a more sustained main character, who introduces form into what had earlier been chaos. Reb Shloyme personifies the quintessential Jewish qualities of gloybn un bitokhn, belief and trust. He is a simple and healthy Jewish old-timer, a stark contrast to Peretz’s weak contemporary types who are incapable of doing more than small deeds. According to Trunk, Asch’s shtetl fiction highlights an important quality of the Jewish race, which can also be found in Sholem Aleichem’s two archetypical heroes, Menakhem Mendl and Tevye: its ability to rise above mundane reality. But whereas Sholem Aleichem represents the bitokhn as a conscious effort, for Asch it is simply a Jewish sixth sense, a natural mode of the collective existence of the shtetl. In the character of Reb Shloyme, Asch unites the individual and the collective. In Trunk’s view, Asch, along with Sholem Aleichem, contributed to the artistic representation of the archetype of bitokhn, which is part of the core of the Jewish collective subconscious. According to Trunk’s dualistic scheme, the idealistic trend represented by Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and Asch had to be offset by the opposite naturalistic trend. Asch’s symbolic shtetl could exist only if dressed in a shabesdike kapote 21

Ibid. 54.

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(sabbath clothing): without its idealistic wrap, it turned into mundane reality and lost its character. Whereas idealism succeeded in producing a festive shtetl fantasy that would compensate for the misery of reality, naturalism—represented by Weissenberg—did not quite live up to the challenge and remained, in terms of creativity, ‘in diapers’, merely fixated with reality, Trunk asserted. Weissenberg did not elevate his representation of the habitual class hatred in shtetl society to the symbolic level of heroic class struggle, which would have endowed both fiction and reality with the higher meanings of hope and faith.22 The genuinely revolutionary achievement was the sustained idealistic image of Asch’s shtetl,23 while Weissenberg’s image remained an isolated island in the sea of the universal revolutionary uproar. His story is ‘merely a series of very weak sketches about what occurred “in those days” in our shtetl’, in which Trunk could not find anything deeper than a chronicle of events from a provincial perspective.24 Weissenberg’s Shtetl is a portrait of Jewish reality devoid of any powerful internal idea and lacking an aspiration to the essential being-in-the-world.25 In other words, Trunk says that Weissenberg’s image of the shtetl, unlike that of Asch, is lacking any existential meaning. It was Oyzer Varshavsky, in Trunk’s view, who expanded the naturalistic trend in shtetl fiction beyond Weissenberg’s limited scope. In his novel Shmuglars, Varshavsky shows us the tragedy of the destruction of the shtetl by the world in its most brutal and animalistic form. Neither the idealistic element of the shtetl nor the naturalistic one is able to withstand the aggressive pressure of the outside world. But the reason for the decline of the shtetl is internal rather than external: ‘The shtetl could not fight for its life: the shtetl simply did not know what to live for.’26 Cynicism is the opposite side of faith, Trunk tells us, and the shtetl, as Varshavsky portrayed it, had long lost its faith and trust in God and turned into a spiritually empty vessel. ‘The Jewish collective is no longer a people [folk] or a race, it is a gang,’ he continues.27 But by rejecting the values of the idealist tradition, Yiddish naturalism effectively denied Jewish life any meaningful future, and Varshavsky’s novel was the best example of this thesis.28 In fact, Trunk argued, the Yiddish idealist tradition could exist only as long as it remained within the self-imposed ‘magic circle’ of the shtetl, which represented the ‘elementary symbol of Jewish historical psychology’;29 the rift between idealist fiction and reality was therefore bound to grow. Trunk believed that the historical mission of the Jews, or, as he put it, ‘the destiny of the Jewish race’, consisted in achieving the existential condition of ‘being-in-the-world’.30 The task of Yiddish literature in this historical project was to portray to the readers the shtetl as the Jewish formative past, an existential and spiritual point of departure rather than a port of call. 23 24 Trunk, Idealizm un naturalizm, 109. Ibid. 120. Ibid. 129–30. There is an interesting possible correspondence between the concept of velt-dozayn and the concept of Dasein developed by Martin Heidegger in his magisterial Sein und Zeit, which was coincidental26 Trunk, Idealizm un naturalizm, 139. ly published in the same year. 27 28 29 30 Ibid. 143. Ibid. 145. Ibid. 163. Ibid. 172. 22 25

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To redress the balance, we should now turn to Yehoshua Rapoport, a contemporary of Trunk’s who carried on the positivist tradition in Yiddish criticism.31 Rapoport’s approach, especially during the inter-war period, was informed by prerevolutionary Russian populist criticism, which paid primary attention to the literary representation of social contradictions. Not surprisingly, Rapoport favoured David Bergelson to Sholem Asch; he praised Penek, the first volume of Bergelson’s autobiographical novel Baym Dnieper (‘At the Dnieper’), as the writer’s best achievement since the post-revolutionary crisis of his Berlin period. The novel was artistically successful because Bergelson returned to the environment he knew best—his native shtetl—but approached it from a new perspective.32 ‘The classical depiction of the shtetl is the idyllic one, the shtetl of Sholem Asch,’ states Rapoport. He elaborates: True, even in Asch’s shtetl there is a deep rupture between the two parts of the population . . . between the ‘synagogue street’ [shul-gesl] and the ‘butcher street’ [koyler-gesl]. But this division is organic. It does not destroy the harmonic wholeness of the shtetl; the partition between the poor and the well-off is a kind of a dimple on the respectable face of the Jewish shtetl [a min kheyn-gribl oyfn laytishn ponem funem yidishn shtetl].33

That is, there is a tension between the rich and the poor in Asch’s shtetl, but it does not rise to the level of class antagonism. In contrast to Asch, Bergelson shows us a shtetl divided along class lines. The artistic novelty of Penek is in its point of view: the division of the shtetl society is seen through the eyes of the autobiographical child protagonist. By endowing Penek with ‘super-childish’ sensitivities and positioning him on the border of the two antagonistic classes—the child of a wealthy family, he is increasingly drawn to his poor friends—Bergelson enables his protagonist to observe the contradictory picture comprehensively rather than as a set of accidental details. Bergelson’s powerful counter-image of the shtetl is far superior artistically to Asch’s flat idyll, Rapoport believes. Bergelson ‘dug up the harmonically embalmed [harmonishbalzamirte] shtetl, tore off the soft veil from its surface, and lit it up with the reflector of class struggle’, he comments.34 This innovative, class-conscious perspective produces new symbolic meanings. Bergelson transformed the well-to-do house of Yekhezkl Gombiner from Asch’s A Shtetl into the ‘nest of robber knights’ of Penek’s family. The reader may not recognize the old, familiar, cosy shtetl in this repellent image, but this is only natural, Rapoport argues, because ‘every new generation needs to re-format [ibergeshtalikn] the life of the preceding generation according to the new concepts and views in order for history to exert a creative influence on our The Yiddish literary critic and translator Yehoshua Rapoport (b. Bial ystok, 1895; d. Melbourne, 1971) was one of the sharpest universalist and analytic voices in Yiddish. He fled Poland and escaped to the Soviet Union; from 1941 to 1946 he lived in Shanghai, and in 1946 he emigrated to Australia. 32 Y. Rapoport, Tsvishn yo! un neyn! Kritik un esey (Warsaw, 1937), 15–27. 33 34 Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. 31

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future life’.35 Thus, Bergelson’s novel satisfied the need of the inter-war generation to see the shtetl from a position shaped by its own ‘pain and hope’. Bergelson made Asch look anachronistic, and from now on the shtetl will be seen only through Bergelson’s eyes, Rapoport asserts. This shtetl is not only part of the past but also a foundation of the future: Penek, together with his poor working friends, will leave the dying shtetl and join the Russian revolutionary movement. Rapoport concludes his essay in Bergelsonian style, with a poignant image that recodes a religious reference by estranging it from its traditional context: ‘Penek will not barge into the revolution like a Russian policeman into a sukkah [Penek vet nisht aropfaln in der revolyutsye vi a yovn in suke] because he comes to it well prepared.’36 That is, the shtetl has been being reconceptualized by Bergelson as a ‘h.eder of the revolution’. In his 1961 article provocatively titled ‘On Weissenberg’s Underrated Shtetl: On Liberating a Masterpiece from its Author’s Biography’,37 Uriel Weinreich called for a revision of the tradition of Yiddish criticism’s engagement with social and national concerns. Until now, Weinreich argues, ‘Our criticism was too preoccupied with social problems and largely ignored the aspects of form, style, and composition.’38 It was unusual for Yiddish critics to analyse one particular text as a work of art; instead they preferred to analyse the entire œuvre of a certain author in a biographical context. In the case of Weissenberg, this approach led to a complete misunderstanding of his early masterpiece. Beginning with Bal-Makhshoves, all critics read A Shtetl as a polemical response to Asch’s idyll. Conceding that historically this might have been true, Weinreich argued that Weissenberg’s novella could be properly understood and evaluated only outside its biographical and literary-historical context.. Neither Weissenberg’s background as an uneducated, boorish apprentice in Zelechów, nor his later trashy literary production, offers any assistance in appreciating this flawlessly composed and meticulously implemented work of art. Weinreich approaches the text by using the analytical methods of Russian Formalism and American New Criticism, which was unusual for Yiddish criticism of his day. Exploring the structure of the text, he discovers three carefully designed ‘springs’ that push the action forward: revolution, nature, and the Jewish religious calendar. The traditional shtetl lives according to two synchronized temporal cycles: that of nature and that of religious observance. The story begins in the spring, coinciding with the eve of Passover, when the river frees itself from its icy captivity, and ends in the late autumn after Sukkot, when nature prepares itself for its winter slumber. Revolution breaks into this cyclical order as a linear force and destroys its stability. The shtetl in this interpretation appears not as the literary representation of a socio-historical phenomenon or a mythological symbol of 36 Rapoport, Tsvishn yo! un neyn!, 22–3. Ibid. 27. ‘Y.-m. vaynsbergs nit-dershatst “Shtetl”: Vegn bafrayen a maysterverk fun zany mekhabers biografye’, Di goldene keyt, 41 (1961), 135–43. The linguist and literary scholar Uriel Weinreich 38 Ibid. 135. (b. Vilna, 1926; d. New York, 1967) was a professor at Columbia University. 35 37

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Jewish existence, but as an elaborate literary metaphor that can be best appreciated when separated from its socio-historical and literary contexts. Weinreich’s line of thinking was developed further by his disciple Dan Miron. The ideological thrust of Miron’s essay ‘The Literary Image of the Shtetl’39 is directed against the sentimental-nationalist reading of Jewish literature, which in his view was informed by the critics’ ‘sense of guilt’ as well as by their ‘growing awareness of the problematic status of Jewish modernity’. Miron’s starting point is his disagreement with the position that he perceives to be dominant in Yiddish criticism: ‘Literature was nominated as the official custodian of the national collective memory, guaranteeing the accessibility of the recent past to those who had drifted away from it. It had to enable one to be in the shtetl and at the same time be away from it, to maintain emotional ties with the past and yet belong to the present.’40 It is easy to discern in this formulation Shmuel Niger’s notion of shtetl fiction as an idealized parallel reality that coexists with everyday life. Following Uriel Weinreich, Miron calls for a new reading of the classics (Mendele, Sholem Aleichem, Peretz) with emphasis on the aesthetic rather than historical aspects: ‘We should not only become more aware of them but also be intrigued and puzzled by them, encountering them as problematic in their own right.’41 The word ‘problematic’ is key in Miron’s approach. He sees the task of the critic in exploring the problems inherent in texts rather than in celebrating their extra-literary significance. Criticism of Jewish literature should engage in the analysis of textual organization and poetic mechanisms rather than in discursive reading (which aims at non-narrative contents) or metonymic interpretation (which focuses on descriptive details and connections rather than style and composition). This analytical approach assumes that each shtetl story is based on ‘a single extended metaphor that consists of many sub-metaphors or partial metaphors’. In his two essays devoted to the image of the shtetl Miron explores three particular ‘submetaphors’ that constitute the comprehensive shtetl metaphor: 1. the fire motif—an everyday danger of shtetl reality that actualizes the historical and religious memory of the destruction of Jerusalem; 2. the motif of departure from the shtetl as a reference to the permanent state of galut (‘diaspora’), the alienation and uprootedness of Jewish people; 3. the figure of the unexpected visitor or symbolic wanderer, which bears messianic connotations. Miron interprets the comprehensive shtetl metaphor in mythological terms: ‘The shtetl was Jerusalem in her fallen state, and yet it was still Jerusalem—the Jewish polity par excellence.’42 The shtetl is remembered in Jewish collective 39 This essay was first published in Yiddish as Der imazh fun shtetl (Tel Aviv, 1981); rev., Eng. trans. as ‘The Literary Image of the Shtetl’, Jewish Social Studies, 1/3 (1995), 1–43; repr. in D. Miron, The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination (Syracuse, NY, 2000). 40 41 42 Miron, The Image of the Shtetl, 8. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 33.

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memory as a living organism, a functioning body. As a polity, the shtetl possessed communal institutions, the three most important of which were the synagogue, the bathhouse, and the cemetery.43 The integrity of this metaphor is safeguarded by special protective mechanisms, one of which is the intentional use of a ‘naive’, childish perspective. The memoirs of Abramovitsh offer an example: ‘When he created the mythical images of Kabtsansk and Tuneyadevke, the author, it seems, decided to draw on what his Shloyme [i.e. he himself] had known prior to his puberty and not on his expanded and more mature vision. He chose to re-create the dream world . . . rather than the wakeful one.’44 As we can see, Miron echoes here Bal-Makhshoves’s observation about pre-pubescent eroticism as a basis of Asch’s shtetl fantasy. This discovery can also help us to appreciate Bergelson’s radical artistic innovation in Penek, in which, as Rapoport noted, the child’s point of view is used not to uphold but to destroy the stereotype of the traditional shtetl. Insisting on the autonomy of the artistic text from the social and ideological context, Miron draws not only on the methodology of Formalism and New Criticism. His conception of the image of the shtetl draws on a variety of critical theories. For example, his use of the Jungian concept of the archetype refers us back to Trunk, as well as to the insights of Soviet Marxist scholars of the 1930s—most notably Meir Wiener. Indeed, like Bal-Makhshoves and Trunk, Miron believes that the myth of the shtetl is a basic feature of Jewish literature as a whole: ‘There actually existed in Jewish literature an influential tradition, a potent norm, that demanded a radical Judaization of the image of the eastern European shtetl; it had to be presented as purely Jewish.’45 The ‘post-classical’ authors, among whom Miron counts Berdichevsky, Weissenberg, and Bergelson, were aware of this principle and deliberately challenged it, albeit, as Miron adds, ‘not for the purposes of historicity but rather in order to highlight, by means of juxtaposition, their own visionary insight’. In their fiction they stressed ‘discontinuity, duality, and internal strife’46—the divided shtetl as opposed to the united one. As the Jewish polis par excellence, the shtetl of the literary classics possessed a myth, a sacred story that explained and justified its existence, legitimized its current conditions and structure, and foretold its future. The post-classical authors sought to ‘demythologize’ the shtetl, which at the artistic level meant the replacement of the metaphorical way of representation with a metonymical one. Miron substitutes for Trunk’s metaphysical opposition between idealism and naturalism a poetic dichotomy between metaphor and metonymy. ‘The metaphoric shtetl waxed hyperbolic’ in Sholem Asch’s poem, he argues; ‘shtetl life was not only idealized but also excessively metaphorized’. To counter this vision, Weissenberg recoiled from metaphor and hyperbole, replacing them with the ‘poetics of metonymy’ in his image of the shtetl: ‘Vaysenberg intentionally described events and actions that were “by definition” metaphorical, such as the Yom Kippur ritual, 43

Miron, The Image of the Shtetl, 35–6.

44

Ibid. 47.

45

Ibid. 4.

46

Ibid. 4–5.

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as if they consisted of aggregates of objects, gestures, close-ups, and fragmentary pictures that had no cultural meaning and no supraliteral overtones.’47 Among followers were Oyzer Varshavsky in Poland and David Bergelson and Perets Markish in the Soviet Union: ‘The antiklasiker lived by metonymy, based their art on metonymic poetics and deliberately deflated the metaphorical shtetl image’.48 But, crucially, they were able to create merely a ‘foil’ rather than convey the whole ‘truth’ about the shtetl. In the end, Miron comes back to celebrating the ‘masters’—klasiker Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, Agnon—who ‘knew that the shtetl was more than what met the eye—that it could not be summed up by the mere accumulation of metonymic physical, social, and behavioral “truths” ’.49 They ‘created an image that combined the observed metonymy with the intuited metaphor’.50 The 1995 English version of Miron’s essay differs from the earlier (1981) Yiddish version in its interpretation of the klasiker’s image of the shtetl: in his Yiddish book Miron attributes to Peretz the crucial role in the ‘breakdown of the classical shtetl image’. More specifically, it occurred in Folkstimlekhe geshikhten, where ‘mythos and ideology completely drove out mimesis, because mimesis was too frightening, and put their existence too much in danger’.51 Whereas Miron concludes the English version of the essay by returning to the comprehensive classical shtetl metaphor, the Yiddish version had a more open, programmatic ending, calling for ‘complementing the shtetl image with a broader study of the system of images that play against each other’.52 However, not much has been done in this direction for the past twenty years, and we are still awaiting a comprehensive study of the role of the image of the shtetl in the poetic system of post-classical Yiddish literature. In his recent book David Roskies explores the myth-making potential of the shtetl image and its use in contemporary Jewish mythology. The opening phrase of Roskies’ essay ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’ resonates with the voice of Bal-Makhshoves: ‘The shtetl . . . is arguably the greatest single invention of Yiddish literature. What the Western is to American popular culture, the shtetl novella is to the Jewish imagination.’53 In his analysis Roskies crosses the methodological borders of the autonomous literary analysis set up by Miron and returns to the traditional perspective of Jewish criticism by asserting that ‘the shtetl would emerge not only as one of the great inventions of the Jewish literary imagination but also as a key to modern Jewish self-understanding’.54 For his case-study, Roskies focuses on the modern phenomenon of American shtetl nostalgia, which he calls ‘memorial production’. ‘The more estranged these Jews became, the more they were drawn back to the shtetl; even to a shtetl they never knew,’ he writes. This nostalgia is rooted in the need to ‘read their individual experience in the light of 47 51 53 54

48 49 Ibid. 43. Ibid. 45. Ibid. Miron, Der imazh fun shtetl, 116. D. G. Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 41. Ibid. 44.

50 52

Ibid. 46. Ibid. 131.

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historical archetypes.’55 Roskies elaborates on the familiar opposition between two literary perspectives on the shtetl, designating one static and synoptic, and the other dynamic and deconstructive. He identifies a paradox at the core of the vision of the shtetl that made the mythologization of the shtetl possible and indeed necessary: ‘Out of its very destruction and long before its end had come, the shtetl was reborn as myth.’56 Contrary to the traditional interpretation of Asch’s Shtetl, which highlights its Jewishness, Roskies reads the poem as an early example of Asch’s ‘ecumenism’, which manifests itself in the ‘emphasis on the cyclical, almost mystical forces of regeneration emanating from within the shtetl’s very soil’.57 Asch’s Shtetl signalled the ecumenical direction of his future writing by creating an imagined ‘earthly paradise’. Roskies elaborates on the familiar Asch–Weissenberg opposition: Adopting the perspective of the Other, Asch and Weissenberg arrive at opposite conclusions. Asch remythologizes the shtetl by turning it into a mutually reliant Holy Community of Christians and Jews. Weissenberg revisits the shtetl and finds nothing to salvage in the present, much less in the past. . . . Once visited from the outside, the Holy Community shatters into fragments, and the Jewish body politic is revealed to be helpless before the potentially deadly alliance of Christian Jew-hatred and Polish patriotism.58

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Bal-Makhshoves’s contemporaneous interpretation of Weissenberg’s Shtetl was somewhat more optimistic and did not dwell on the dangerous aspects of the Polish–Jewish relationship. Roskies takes the vision of the shtetl as a barometer of Jewish political confidence. A bright and optimistic shtetl reflects hope, while a gloomy one augurs ill: ‘so long as writers believed in a brave new world, the image of the shtetl as a small, homogeneous and self-sufficient community could still be very inviting. . . . But once the political horizons began to contract and to split, the very same image underscored how powerless the Jews had become. . . . The presence or absence of Goyim likewise became more fraught with meaning.’59 Two novels by the Polish Yiddish author Mikhl Bursztyn, Iber di khurves fun ployne (‘Over the Ruins of Ployne’, 1931) and Bay di taykhn fun Mazovye (‘By the Rivers of Mazowsze’, 1937), can serve as illustrations. Roskies writes: ‘The more real and pervasive the presence of Poles and Polish culture in these novels, the more the physical and spiritual horizons of the shtetl population were seen to contract.’60 Thus, the literary image of the shtetl turns into a correlative of the Jewish sense of security, a reflection of the Jews’ perception of themselves in relation to the ‘other’. It was in Israel and America that the image of the shtetl, finally and completely separated from reality, received its most perfect artistic treatment in the novels of the two Nobel prizewinners, the Hebrew author Shmuel Yosef Agnon and the 55 57

Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past, 43. 58 Ibid. 51. Ibid. 52.

56 59

Ibid. 54.

60

Ibid. 46. Ibid. 55.

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Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer. In his major works, written during the 1930s, Agnon re-created the shtetl in a variety of ways, now as ‘Canterbury, a dazzlingly rich backdrop for a gallery of disparate, traditional types’ (Hakhnasat kalah (‘The Bridal Canopy’), 1931), now as ‘Middlemarch, a traditional town in a time of intense change’ (Sipur pashut (‘A Simple Story’), 1935), now as ‘The Magic Mountain, where the permanent spectre of death casts its pallor over all social and theological discourse’ (Ore’ah. nata lalun (‘A Guest for the Night’), 1939).61 In the last of these, Agnon restored the ‘shtetl-to-Jerusalem line . . . in the most literal way imaginable’,62 by entrusting the key from the old beit midrash to the narrator, who, in a symbolic gesture, took it with him back to Jerusalem. Bashevis used the ‘reimagined shtetl’ as a repository of old folk life and a playground for religious passions. It was in America that the shtetl was ultimately re-created as the ‘Covenantal Landscape’, Roskies writes; ‘a new covenant was needed precisely because the old one was no longer viable’.63 The transformation reached its culmination in yizkor books. Writing from a privileged, post-mortem perspective, Roskies discovers the teleological evolution of the image of the shtetl: ‘The literary image of the shtetl, as we have seen it, was deliberately fashioned from the very outset to incorporate the shtetl’s demise into its physical landscape, its mythic structure, and its ideological message.’64 All of the concepts of the image of the shtetl outlined above share two major premises: first, that the image of the shtetl is the core feature of Yiddish literature; and secondly, that the image of the shtetl is not a mimetic but a symbolic, metaphorical, or metonymical construction. But different critics treat these aspects of the shtetl image in various ways: while the ‘relativists’, like Bal-Makhshoves, Erik, and Rapoport, highlight the fragility of the image of the shtetl and its dependence on the changing reality, the adherents of ‘essentialism’, which also has roots in Bal-Makhshoves’s criticism and runs through the works of Niger, Trunk, and Roskies, are preoccupied with the search for a stable, archetypal mythological core. Miron endeavours to bring the two trends together, although he seems to be shifting focus from ‘relativism’ to ‘essentialism’ as he translates the earlier Yiddish version of his essay into the later English one. So far, the theoreticians of the image of the shtetl have concerned themselves little with the implications of their ideas for the wider body of Yiddish literature. The problem of ‘the country and the city’, that is the relations between the shtetl and the city, the shtetl and the lands of emigration, remains largely unexplored in Yiddish criticism. Another area for investigation is the nature of the relationships between image and reality. Having established the autonomy of the artistic image of the shtetl, we can now turn to a careful examination of its details, bearing in mind the achievements of historical, anthropological, and ethnographical research, but without confusing reality and image. Such an interdisciplinary approach could 61

Ibid.

62

Ibid. 56.

63

Ibid. 57.

64

Ibid. 64.

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yield an illuminating, multidimensional portrait of Jewish life in and around the shtetl, in which the literary concepts of symbol, metaphor, and metonymy can be used to illuminate and interpret facts of social, cultural, economic, and religious history.

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Shtetl Codes: Fantasy in the Fiction of Asch, Schulz, and I. B. Singer kat arzyna wie˛ c l awska /

The east European shtetl has entered the world’s literature as a symbolic space associated with a specific culture and with specific ideas, traditions, customs, characteristic heroes, and topography.1 It has assumed the status of a myth rooted in writers’ experiences and memories. As David Roskies notes, ‘The shtetl . . . is arguably the greatest single invention of Yiddish literature. What the Western is to American popular culture, the shtetl novella is to the Jewish imagination.’2 As an archetypal literary image, the shtetl theme often encompasses the sphere of fantasy and fairy tale, reshaping the historical image of this place and its people in accordance with the writer’s main artistic aims. This is precisely the case in the works of Sholem Asch, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Bruno Schulz: the element of the fantastic assumes a great variety of forms and fulfils diverse functions. The role of fantasy and fairy tale in literature is at least twofold: it can serve to paraphrase reality, revealing those parts of it that are hidden beyond the reach of reason; alternatively, it can fulfil the magical function of modifying the real world and enriching it with the qualities the author seeks. Whatever the case may be, fantastic elements modifying the image of the shtetl and its community remove the shtetl motif from a mere sociological or historical context and redirect the reader’s attention to the themes and ideas it symbolizes. For Asch and Schulz, the magical function of the fantastic in the shtetl image is the most important, though it has different sources and is demonstrated in different ways. Singer, on the other hand, uses fairy tale and fantasy to highlight certain truths about man’s nature and to supplement the realistic sphere of existence presented in his works. The heroes and background of the shtetl merely place those ideas in a specific ethnic context and lend credence to the stories in accordance with Singer’s dictum, ‘The more a writer is rooted in his environment, the more he is 1 The term ‘shtetl code’ alludes to Hannah Wirth Nesher (City Codes: Reading in the Modern Urban Novel (Cambridge, Mass., 1996) ), who developed a methodology of the literary presentation of city space (referred to as ‘cityscape’). This space can be divided into human, built, natural, and verbal environments. 2 D. G. Roskies, ‘The Shtetl in Jewish Collective Memory’, in his The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 41.

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understood by all people.’3 The explicit implementation of fantasy in the artistic works of each of the three writers provokes some questions: What messages are conveyed by means of fantasy in each case? What impact does the use of fantasy have on the reader? Why does Asch depict the shtetl as Paradise on Earth, while Singer needs demons and dybbuks in his shtetl, and Schulz searches for demigods and magicians in his home town of Drohobycz? Asch’s shtetl is perfectly in keeping with the general mode of presenting this motif in Yiddish literature in the classical period (from the 1870s to the 1920s). Namely, the image of the shtetl was supposed to convey a common Jewish heritage and to preserve the bond between the past, which was associated with a traditional way of life, and the Jewish society contemporary to the author, which was threatened with assimilation on the one hand and social, economic, and cultural isolation on the other. This literary aim obviously requires unity and generalization in the depiction of the shtetl and its community. Asch’s novella A Shtetl (1904) therefore provides the reader with an idealized picture of a small town, probably Kazimierz Dolny (Kuzmir), infused with a spirit of ecumenism and harmony, where the Jews’ and non-Jews’ lifestyles and beliefs are complementary and the communities coexist peacefully. Asch points to the shtetl inhabitants’ intimate contact with God as one of the most important sources of unity. The shtetl world is permeated with prayer and governed by religious laws. The pace of life and the customs of the shtetl-dwellers are determined by religious festivals. It is God who safeguards the shtetl’s peace and very existence: ‘Lord of the Universe, everything about us obeyed and fulfilled what thou hast ordained since the first day of creation. . . . The little birds built their nests upon the old synagogue wall, just above the window of the women’s balcony, and all day long they hopped about in the holy little street of the temple where the voice of Torah echoed.’4 All everyday, mundane activities are dedicated to God, who becomes involved in minor conflicts between the inhabitants of the shtetl and removes obstacles to peaceful relations and productive work. An apparent example of this is the scene of flood, in which Jews and non-Jews fight together to stave off disaster and perceive their ultimate success as a miracle of God. This unification with God gives the shtetl a quality of sacred community, as well as a sense that it has an ancient legacy and is rooted in everlasting truths. Descriptions of shtetl Jews often include references to the mystical atmosphere surrounding them: ‘The rabbi and the plain folk walked a little to one side. They saw how the Chassidim were linked together, how they had become one with heaven and earth. . . . And they could not help the feeling of awe before the Chassidim, who were enfolded in unity, who sang in ecstasy.’5 This idealized contact with the Creator obscures the flat existence of the shtetl inhabitants and their often dull provincial lives. 3 4 5

I. B. Singer, Stories for Children (New York, 1985), 335. S. Asch, ‘The Little Town’, in his Tales of My People, trans. M. Levin (New York, 1970), 50. Ibid. 61–2.

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Another source of unity in the shtetl world is the community’s deep immersion in nature. All aspects of life—work, rest, love, conflict—are related to natural phenomena that closely accompany the events and reinforce their meaning in the plot of the novella. Nature is frequently personified, and is shown in an intimate relation with the people. It shares their feelings, expectations, and even daily activities or prayers: ‘The river observes the Sabbath and the holy days. She is quiet. One wave gently kisses the other, and the ferryman and his wife sit by their door. He recites the Sabbath prayer, and his wife reads from the women’s portion, and they speak of God’s wonders to the waves. And each wave picks up a word and says amen.’6 The shtetl is rooted in the cycle of nature, and can thus be reborn just like the natural world: ‘At last came Lag b’Omer, the day of rejoicing which commemorates the holy Rabbi Shimon bar Jechua. And the good Mother Earth, who bore the entire village, houses, barns, and all, upon her generous breast, now was rejuvenated according to the will of God; she is newly arrayed from head to toe in budding leaves and grass.’7 The deep bond between shtetl and nature emphasizes once again its ancient, almost mythical origins. Asch’s literary vision of the shtetl is likewise full of the traditional metaphors that appear in the classics of Yiddish literature, and which contribute to the fantastic atmosphere surrounding the small town.8 One of those metaphors is that of a fire destroying the local synagogue. This motif recalls the great burning of the Temple in Jerusalem, and is meant to imply a sense of everlasting threat or danger to the Jewish community. Another vision of this kind is the figure of the mysterious wanderer who appears in the prologue and epilogue of the novella, and who might represent the author and his search for inspiration in traditional shtetl culture. The metaphors used in Asch’s novella, like those used in other classical depictions of the shtetl, bring the little town and its people close to the image of Jerusalem. As Dan Miron puts it, the shtetl was ‘a tiny little Jerusalem . . . the low downtrodden Jerusalem in exile as opposed to the lofty, royal, independent ancient capital graced by the presence of God in His Temple. The shtetl was Jerusalem in her fallen state, and it was still Jerusalem.’9 This portrait of the shtetl endows the Jews with a sense of national unity and of their glorious past. The shtetl community of Asch’s novella is presented as a unified group. Asch focuses on the types of people living there rather than on individuals. He presents a picture of a poor yet dignified and pious community, deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and history. But the image is removed from its strictly realistic dimensions. The author diverts the reader’s attention from economic, political, or cultural divisions among Jews at that time and from the conflict between the shtetl world and the world of non-Jews. His excessive use of metaphors and fantastic idealization allows for the creation of the myth of the shtetl. 6 8

Ibid. 18. D. Miron, The Image of the Shtetl (Syracuse, NY, 2000), 32–4.

7 9

Ibid. 50. Ibid. 33.

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The fantastic plays an equally important role in Bruno Schulz’s artistic vision of the shtetl and its inhabitants—especially in his collection of stories entitled Sklepy cynamonowe (‘Cinnamon Shops’).10 However, his image of this place is ultimately completely different from Asch’s. One of the main differences is that Schulz’s shtetl is almost devoid of any direct references to the Jewish character of the town; the shtetl is rather his personal fantastic projection. Singer saw this as a weakness in Schulz’s fiction. In a 1963 article in Forverts, he states that Schulz’s main fault was that he deprived his fiction of a strong cultural and national context. As a result, he felt, the writer paid too much attention to parodying and discrediting literature, and not enough to developing his literary talents to their fullest: ‘A Nazi bullet killed a man who embodied the powers and whims of a master. If Schulz had not been or had not wanted to be alienated from the Jewish environment, uprooted from Judaism, he would not have wasted so much energy on mocking, parodying; he would not have had to create literature on the basis of other literature.’11 Yet this remains a minority view. To most readers, the manner in which Schulz transformed Drohobycz into an imaginary, exotic, mysterious land of strange figures and unpredictable events justifies his unique vision of this place. The ultimate artistic aim of the writer is to return magically to the epoch of childhood. This purpose shapes all elements of Schulz’s fiction. According to Jerzy Ficowski, ‘Schulz manifests his longing; he does not look at childhood from a distance but enters into it.’12 The fantastic is essential in achieving this aim, as it demands that the writer adopt a way of presenting the surroundings that is appropriate to the different stages in a child’s maturation. The child narrator, with his freshness and dynamism, becomes a medium through which the adult reader can observe the miraculous characters, as well as the unpredictability and strangeness hidden in that world. Sklepy cynamonowe therefore lacks generalizations and emphasizes the unique. The narrator focuses on those inhabitants of Drohobycz whose occupation, appearance, or behaviour would fascinate a child. Hence the vision of the cinnamon shops and their old-fashioned patriarchal owners, who attract the attention of the narrator because of the atmosphere of mystery and magic surrounding them. The child narrator perceives certain characteristics that are easy to magnify. Qualities such as Aunt Agatha’s excessive eroticism and motherliness, Uncle Charles’s shabbiness and boredom, Cousin Emil’s perversion, and Aunt Perasia’s fits of anger are what he notices in his relatives. Moreover, a childlike imagination establishes new, incongruous relations between elements of reality and allows for the strange metamorphosis of people and surroundings. For example, the narrator discovers that the inhabitants of Drohobycz’s ugly industrial district, the Street of Crocodiles, are similar to dummies B. Schulz, Cinnamon Shops and Other Stories, trans. C. Wieniawska (London, 1963). C. Shmeruk, ‘Isaac Bashevis Singer on Bruno Schulz’, Polish Review, 2 (1991), 163; quoted in M. Adamczyk-Garbowska, Polska Isaaca Bashevisa Singera: Rozstanie i powrót (Lublin, 1994), 31. 12 J. Ficowski, Regiony wielkiej herezji (Warsaw, 1992), 33. 10 11

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because of their inhuman character and lack of originality. His immediate response is to transform them into dummies. A similar dynamic is at work in the case of the father’s metamorphosis into a cockroach. The boundary between the inner world of the narrator’s imagination and the outside world is abolished. Another example of the combination of two realities, the fantastic and the material, is the scene of the narrator’s return to his former school building, which smoothly connects with the adjacent street while stuffed exhibits populate the school playground. The events approach a fairy-tale imagery in which anything is possible. As a result, the whole world of Sklepy cynamonowe is extremely unstable. As Schulz underlines in one of his essays, ‘Shape does not penetrate the essence, it is only a role adopted for a moment, an outer skin soon to be shed.’13 Another characteristic of Schulz’s writing on the shtetl is his considerable focus on shoddiness, ordinariness, ugliness, imperfection, and deformity. The author poeticizes this aspect of reality, which opens the way for him to introduce fantasy into the stories. He looks for imperfection in people; hence the poetic descriptions of Touya the idiot and the local vagabond, and their metamorphosis into ancient gods—rulers of wild nature. The essence of shoddiness in the shtetl is the Street of Crocodiles, which is presented as a cheap copy of American urban space. First described as dark, gloomy, and impersonal, the street cannot escape the power of the narrator’s imagination. He catches its temporariness, as well as the falseness and fragmentariness that contribute to its surrealistic character. The whole setting— buildings, streets, and vehicles—finally falls apart: ‘At times one has the impression that it is only the small section before us that falls into the expected pointillistic picture of a city thoroughfare, while on the other side, the improvised masquerade is already disintegrating and, unable to endure, crumbling behind us into plaster and sawdust.’14 Thus, Schulz’s shtetl is a unique projection of the writer’s imagination, a picture of the world as he experienced it in his childhood, now returning to him in literature. This is his private homeland, his private shtetl myth, and not a national legend, as in the case of Asch. In Singer’s shtetl the sphere of fantasy and fairy tale complements the material and realistic world. Singer depicts demons and dybbuks, witches and prophets, devils and angels in the same terms as his ‘real’ protagonists. Nevertheless, the fantastic is not aimed at transforming the portrait of the shtetl community; rather, it is used to describe the inexpressible and to symbolize man’s hidden nature—his innermost recesses of mind. Two main patterns of correspondence between the protagonists and the fantastic elements can be traced within Singer’s stories. The first has to do with the motif of the temptation or even possession of characters by evil spirits, and the second involves contact with prophets and angels sent to earth by God. The motif of man’s temptation or possession by the forces of evil recurs in a number of stories, such as ‘Der shpigl’ (‘The Mirror’), ‘Zaydlus der ershter’ (‘Zeidlus the Pope’), and ‘Der roye ve-eyn nireh’ (‘The Unseen’), as well as in 13

Quoted ibid. 115.

14

Schulz, Cinnamon Shops, 99.

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novels such as Satan in Goray. The common theme of all these works is the rejection of values like love and respect and of the search for the true meaning of life by protagonists who are lured by devils’ promises. No matter how vague such a promise may be, individuals and even entire shtetl communities cling to it, seduced by evil. The temptation of the shtetl folk obviously reflects the human inclination to evil, self-destruction, and sin. But the reader may wonder why the author insists on the physical presence of evil forces. Why is it not enough to point to the fallibility of human nature as the source of all these troubles? Why does Singer need demons? One answer might lie in his desire to underline the fact that man is naively unaware of the evil within himself. People do not treat sin as the natural result of their inclinations, but rather as something they are forced to commit. The devils, demons, and imps of Singer’s fiction portray the human tendency to reject the sinful side of their own nature. The inclination to evil is only one part of the truth about the people of the shtetl. The protagonists also seek contact with and guidance from God. This is the case in stories such as ‘Elijah and Slave’, ‘Hershele and Hanukkah’, and ‘A Tale of Three Wishes’. In all of these, the characters experience direct contact with divine figures—prophets, angels, and other mysterious creatures—who are ready to instruct and aid human beings. Undoubtedly, the relations between the shtetl folk and God’s realm represent the human longing for the divine order of the universe, for absolute love, for good and wisdom. However, the question of why the values man dreams of are personified in Singer’s work may be raised again. Why must the prophet Elijah be brought down to the shtetl, where by means of miracles or magic objects he saves people from oppression and poverty? It may be that Singer wants to underline how real—almost tangible—God’s presence is in human life. Such a vision might be quite surprising for the modern reader, who tends to believe in concepts of love or good rather than in the personal existence of God. In Singer’s shtetl, however, God does exist. His presence, as well as that of his servants, is as natural as the presence of the human protagonists. The supernatural freely intervenes in the material world, making the struggle between man’s good and evil inclinations all the more visible. The most original of Singer’s fairy-tale characters is his version of the Wise Fool. Funny and naive as this protagonist seems to be, he fulfils a crucial role in conveying Singer’s system of assessing man. The analysis of a character like Gimpel provokes serious questions about human morality. What should be more important in life: the ability to govern others, the art of suffering without hatred, or the maintenance of naive faith in people despite their weaknesses? Moreover, Singer emphasizes the relativity of what is sane, good, and wise in the context of the entirety of human life. Though the motif of a Wise Fool touches upon serious problems, the fairy-tale grounding of the stories and the humour surrounding the figure allow for some subtlety and distance from the moral issues at hand. While constituting a part of Jewish culture, beliefs, and imagination, the fantastic and fairy-tale elements in Singer’s stories place his works in the sphere of

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concrete tradition. The whole supernatural machinery of Singer—his demons, dybbuks, imps, prophets, and angels—is derived from Judaism and Jewish folklore. Moreover, the fairy-tale characters of his stories, like the Wise Fool or the Fools from Chel m, are also deeply rooted in Jewish storytelling and constitute a recurrent motif in Yiddish literature. This cultural and national background serves as a point of reference for the beliefs and customs of the protagonists. As Singer explains: ‘The tragedy of modern adult literature is that it completely divorced itself from folklore. Many modern writers have lost their roots. . . . They are afraid of being called clannish, nationalistic or chauvinistic. . . . Without folklore and deep roots in a specific soil, literature must decline and wither away. This is true in all literature of all times.’15 Thus, in Singer’s fiction, the shtetl, which is so Jewish and at the same time so supernatural, is not transformed into a new, completely unique and weird place as it is in Schulz’s fiction; nor is it idealized, as it is in Asch’s novella. The fantastic dimension complements the realistic, material dimension of the fictional world. The multiple ways in which Asch, Schulz, and Singer—writers of different artistic, linguistic, and social backgrounds—describe the shtetl demonstrate that the scope for creating one’s own modified world of the Polish Jewish small town is virtually unlimited. Irving Howe’s statement concerning Singer’s fiction can be applied to all three writers: the protagonists of their works move upward or downward, to Heaven or to Hell, stopping for a while in the shtetl, which is simply a locale between the two places.16 The shtetl inhabitants of Asch’s novella are surrounded by a heavenly aura, while Singer’s characters are pilgrims in between, torn by their own opposing desires, and Schulz’s strange figures are never easy to define, with their beauty and ugliness permeating each other. /

15 16

Singer, Stories for Children, 334–5. Quoted in I. Malin (ed.), Critical Views of I. B. Singer (New York, 1969), 109.

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Returning to the Shtetl: Differing Perceptions s himon redli ch The longing to ‘return’ to one’s past, to the sights and smells of one’s childhood and youth, is as old as human culture. The yearning for paradise lost, the homecoming of Odysseus, and the artistic return of Proust to his childhood are some of the most appreciated versions of this universal phenomenon. When speaking of modern Jewish ‘returns’ in particular, Shmuel Yosef Agnon comes immediately to mind. In his autobiographical novel Ore’ah. nata lalun (‘A Guest for the Night’) he dwells on the protagonist’s return to his invented home town of Shibosh—the actual Buczacz in eastern Galicia. Agnon made his own return to Buczacz in the summer of 1930, more than twenty years after he had left it. Not surprisingly, what he encountered there was quite different from what he remembered. Agnon’s stay in Buczacz was both euphoric and traumatic. On the one hand, he experienced the excitement of revisiting the sites of his childhood, and on the other, he endured the trauma of witnessing the disintegration of the Jewish shtetl. Indeed, Agnon’s description of Shibosh–Buczacz captures above all the deterioration of Jewish life in Poland on the eve of the Holocaust. One can also sense in the work the vague and strange presence of an impending catastrophe.1 Emuna Yaron, Agnon’s daughter and the compiler and editor of many of his works, visited Buczacz sixtysix years later. When she arrived, there was nothing left of the bustling Jewish life and culture that had once existed there. Of the thousands of Jews who had lived in Buczacz, only two or three were left, and these were not keen to be identified as Jews. For Emuna, as for her father back in 1930, it was both a sentimental and a depressing experience. However, she did find some solace in locating tangible traces of her ancestors’ lives there; she was satisfied to walk down the streets and recognize the sights that her father had so eloquently described.2 Czesl aw Mil osz has noted that ‘An enormous exodus of populations from East to West occurred as a result of the Second World War.’ Indeed, no previous period in modern history has witnessed such a massive displacement of people from their homelands and birthplaces. The trauma of relocation, whether by choice or by /

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1 2

D. Laor, S. y. agnon: Hebetim h.adashim (Tel Aviv, 1995), 154–74. E. Yaron, ‘Buczacz 1996: Impressions of a Journey’, Ha’aretz, 27 Dec. 1996.

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force, affected many lives, including that of Mil osz himself. Both in his prose and in his poetry Mil osz returned more than once to his native Lithuania. Whether in his essay ‘Miejsca utracone’ (‘Lost Sites’) or in some of his latest poems, published recently in To (‘This’), he often recalls his native Szetejnie (Lithuanian: Sˇeteiniai) as well as Vilnius, the town of his youth. His actual return occurred in the 1990s. In his recently published ‘Mil osz’s ABC’ he wrote: ‘My return after more than half a century to my birthplace and to Wilno was like the closing of the circle. I could appreciate the good fortune that had brought me such a rare encounter with my past.’3 Another Polish poet who comes to mind is Adam Zagajewski, whose poem ‘Jechac´ do Lwowa’ (‘To Travel to Lwów’) is bursting with the sights, sounds, tastes, and emotions that recall pre-war Lwów.4 When I arrived in Lwów (Lviv) for the first time, in the summer of 1991, I remembered a story I had been told some time earlier about a man who burst into tears upon arriving in his native Lwów after many years of absence. Once a jewel in the crown of the Habsburgs, a lively multicultural community, Lwów has been reduced by Communism to a huge, grey provincial town. The longing for and recalling of one’s home and home town are essential elements of the human condition. Individual identities are shaped, at least to some extent, by emotional ties to a ‘native realm’, to the intimate world of one’s childhood, to the place where one’s life has been formed. The changing political situation of modern times has made possible the physical return to areas that were previously closed. Each such return is, of course, unique. There are, however, ‘returns’ that assume a wider social, psychological, and symbolic significance. I have in mind specifically the return of people from central and eastern Europe to their birthplaces following the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the end of the Soviet and Communist domination of the region. Although travelling there had already been possible for some in the 1960s and 1970s, it was only after the collapse of Communism that individual and group pilgrimages to those places became a mass phenomenon. The war, the Holocaust, and the forty-odd years of nearly closed borders turned these places for many into something remote and inaccessible, into an imaginary world of dreams and nightmares. Since eastern Europe was a place where normal and happy lives were once lived, as well as the site of tremendous suffering and loss, human nostalgia assumed in this case a unique and at times conflicting quality. There was often a feeling of simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Decades of physical, political, and cultural distance intensified the emotional encounter with the landscapes, the places, and the signifiers of this past. In most cases, the realities of the 1990s hardly resembled the mythologized images of the 1920s and 1930s. Juxtaposing the present with the real or mythologized past often /

/

/

C. Mil osz, ‘Miejsca utracone’, in his Szukanie ojczyzny (Kraków, 1992), 187; id., To (Kraków, 2000). 4 A. Zagajewski, ‘Jechac´ do Lwowa’, in his Jechac´ do Lwowa i inne wiersze (London, 1985), 35–7. 3

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evokes a sense of alienation, disappointment, sadness, fear, or anger. Still, few of the returnees, it appears, regret their journey to the past.5 Although the return of Poles, Ukrainians, and others to their native lands could be quite ambivalent, the return of Jews is particularly complex. This stems, of course, from the extremely tragic dimensions of their loss, trauma, and displacement. The first Jewish return after the Holocaust to catch my attention and imagination was that of Elie Wiesel in the mid-1960s. One day, while browsing through some journals, I came across ‘The Last Return’, Wiesel’s account of his first postwar visit to his home town of Sighet.6 His persisting desire to go back was mixed with fear. The actual return, twenty years after his deportation from Sighet to the death camps, indeed brought about a sense of nearly total estrangement. ‘The only place where I felt at home’, he wrote, ‘was the Jewish cemetery.’ Wiesel summed up his twenty-four-hour visit to Sighet: ‘My journey to the source of all events had been merely a journey to nothingness.’ Wiesel’s return and his reactions both moved and disturbed me. Sighet somehow reminded me of my home town, . Brzezany. And although at that time I hadn’t even dreamed of returning, Wiesel’s return encouraged me to imagine such a possibility. The first time I became aware of the real prospect of returning to Poland and, . perhaps, to Brzezany, was in the mid-1980s. In January 1985 I read in an Israeli newspaper a short and highly emotional poem by a very unlikely author, Professor Shlomo Avineri. He had just returned from his first visit to his home town of Bielsko-Bial a in Poland. Avineri wrote: ‘To come to the town of your birth and feel like landing on Mars. To come to the town about the existence of which you were never sure. And to discover that it’s not really there, but only in your imagination. It’s not there, even if it once had been.’7 Yehudit Hendel, the Israeli writer whose parents left Warsaw for Palestine before the Second World War, travelled to Poland in the autumn of 1986. She told the story of her visit in a series of radio talks in February–March 1987. Her book Leyad kefarim sheketim: 12 yamim bepolin was to follow. I was fascinated by the description of her torn emotions and the strong urge that ultimately prevailed. /

I was scared [she wrote], and my first impulse was to refuse. But suddenly it all began to move and soon I couldn’t think about anything except going to Poland. Suddenly I felt I had to go to Poland and yet, at the same time, I felt a tremendous hesitation. All the baggage we drag around with us from Poland. Suddenly I was plunged into a vortex of dread and regret, and memory, and longing to forget, and hatred.8 . I. Kabzin´ska, ‘Przestrzen´—Pamie˛c´—Tozsamos´ c´: Elementy przestrzeni (miejsca) we wspomnieniach ekspatriantów z byl ych Kresów Wschodnich’, Literatura Ludowa (Mar.–Apr. 2000), 3–23. 6 E. Wiesel, ‘The Last Return’, Commentary, 39 (Mar. 1965), 43–9. 7 S. Avineri, ‘A Jewish Boy from Poland’, Ma’ariv ( Jan. 1985). 8 (Tel Aviv, 1987); quoted in J. Kugelmass, ‘The Rites of the Tribe: The Meaning of Poland for American Jewish Tourists’, YIVO Annual, 21 (1993), 396–7. 5

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I should like to discuss the experiences of a few Jews who have returned to their past: Yaffa Eliach to her Lithuanian home town of Eishyshok (Lithuanian: . Eisˇ isˇ kes), Henryk Grynberg to his childhood village in the Mazovian (Mazowsze) region of Poland, and Aharon Appelfeld, who went back to his native village in . Bukovina. I shall conclude with remarks on my own return to Brzezany. All of us are about the same age. Our respective returns took place in the 1990s, when we were in our sixties. It is rather telling, of course, that these journeys took place at a time when most people tend to reflect on their lives and to long for some kind of closure. The journey of Yaffa Eliach to Eishyshok has been almost exclusively a return to her Jewish past. In her voluminous, elegiac, yizkor-like and album-like book, she intended to erect a lasting monument to Jewish Eishyshok and to ‘restore a vanished past’.9 Her ambitious, obsessive book project extended over seventeen years, during which she collected every bit of information on her home town she could find. The numerous interviews she conducted over the years with surviving Eishyshok Jews, who were scattered around the globe, were a major source of information. She was accepted by most of them ‘as an insider and entrusted with material and information’.10 Eliach also created a monument to Jewish life in Eishyshok through her now world-famous ‘Tower of Life’ at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Housed in a three-level, chimney-like structure, it is a photographic exhibit depicting the lives of Eishyshok’s Jews prior to the war and the Holocaust. It is not incidental that on her visit to her home town in 1997 she was accompanied by surviving Eishyshok Jews.11 Yaffa Eliach, then Sheindl Sonenson, was 6 when the Germans occupied her home town in 1941. She left it in 1945, at the age of 9 or 10. In the introduction to her book she remarks: ‘In August 1979 . . . flying south of Vilna . . . I became aware that somewhere beneath the clouds lay the town of Eishyshok, home to the early years of my brief, interrupted childhood.’12 She returned there for the first time in 1987 during a research trip to eastern Europe. ‘As part of my tour of the town’, she wrote, ‘I went to one of the mass graves, which had been both killing field and burial ground to thousands of Jewish women and children.’13 She returned there once more in 1997, this time with her family. It was during this visit that she went to see the house where her family lived immediately after the liberation, in the summer and autumn of 1944. This was where Polish partisans murdered her mother and infant brother in October 1944. Yaffa, her father, and an older brother survived. We may assume that the traumatic event that Yaffa Eliach witnessed as a child must have affected her personal as well as her historical perception of the past. This, together with her strong religious and ethnic ties, is, apparently, the reason 19 10 12

Y. Eliach, There Once Was a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok (Boston, 1998), 3. 11 Ibid. 14. There Once Was a Shtetl (New York, 1999). 13 Eliach, There Once Was a World, 3. Ibid. 4.

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why there is hardly an objective presence of non-Jews in her history of Eishyshok. In most cases, when non-Jews are mentioned, they appear in the context of antisemitism and pogrom-like acts. Eliach’s head-on confrontation with the ‘goyish world’ is clearly rendered in the documented exchange between Eliach and the descendants of Eishyshok Poles during her 1997 visit. Eliach’s perception of the Poles as perpetrators assumes special significance following Gross’s recent findings on the murder of the Jews of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbours.14 In her book Eliach attempts, rather strangely, to detach herself from her own history. The description of the most traumatic event in her life, which she witnessed as a child, is rendered in the third person. This was, perhaps, her way of separating Eliach the person from Eliach the historian and chronicler. Her emotions are clearly revealed, though, in a film sequence documenting her return to the house where her mother and infant brother were murdered. She breaks down and cries.15 The message of both the book and the film is one of Polish and non-Jewish hostility towards Jews and the perennial victimhood of the Jews of Eishyshok. A bitter exchange on Polish–Jewish relations in Eishyshok and in Poland in general during and after the German occupation, centred around Eliach’s opinions, erupted in the media in the United States and Poland in the mid-1990s.16 Henryk Grynberg, born in Warsaw in 1936, survived the German occupation in the countryside of the eastern Mazovia district north-east of Warsaw. His books, both fiction and non-fiction, deal almost obsessively with the Holocaust and with Polish–Jewish relations. Grynberg has been a stubborn and untiring searcher for truth, particularly as it is revealed in concrete deeds and emotions. This is the focus of one of his latest books, Drohobycz, Drohobycz.17 In his unique style, which mixes belles-lettres with the recording of history, he collects and presents information from across the entire spectrum of attitudes and behaviours: the evildoers, the victims, the passive evil-wishers, as well as the very few who cared and helped.18 One of the central events that appears repeatedly in his writings is the death of his father. Grynberg returned to the area where his family hid during the war on a fact-finding mission almost half a century after his father had been killed. Although Grynberg had lived in Warsaw until his departure for America in 1967, he returned to his wartime sites only in 1992. Some time earlier he had spoken to his surviving relatives in order to gather information on his family’s whereabouts during the war. In the afterword to Dziedzictwo (‘Inheritance’), the slim volume in which he documented his search for the past, Grynberg wrote ‘I couldn’t run away. Early on, 14 J. T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton, 15 There Once Was a Shtetl. 2001). 16 Y. Eliach, The Story of Two Shtetls: Bransk and Ejszyszki, pt. 2 (Toronto, 1998); Z. Krasnode˛bski, ‘Przywracanie pamie˛ci: List z Tel Avivu’, Znak, 6 (2000), 19–21. 17 H. Grynberg, Drohobycz, Drohobycz (Warsaw, 1997). 18 J. Brach-Czaina, ‘Kompleks’, Tygodnik Powszechny, 20 Feb. 1994.

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when I distanced myself, time seemed to soothe. Time is, however, circular. Once I’ve completed my circle I had to go back, to return to that hell from which nobody could redeem me.’19 Grynberg’s return was recorded both in writing and on film.20 The reader or viewer is struck by the immediacy and authenticity of the meetings and conversations with the locals, conducted in a somewhat rough and seemingly laconic peasant dialect. Grynberg travels from village to village, knocks on doors, asks to be let in, and interrogates. The most repeated and important question is: ‘Do you remember?’ Some answer with indifference, one or two are friendly, and others are outright hostile. Finally, Grynberg succeeds in establishing the identity of his father’s murderer, a deceased Polish neighbour, and the location of his father’s burial site. A lengthy, dramatic exhumation follows. After many hours the diggers recover bones and a skull, as well as the old milk bottle that Grynberg’s father, a milkman, always carried with him. Dziedzictwo concludes with these significant lines: ‘I cannot forgive. I’m not entitled to. Let the murdered forgive, if they could. I sensed a chilly shudder facing evil. However, in some eyes and words I found some warmth as well. It is essential for life.’21 Aharon Appelfeld was born in 1932 in Bukovina, in the border area between Romania and Ukraine—once part of the multilingual and multicultural Habsburg empire. His life changed abruptly when his mother and grandmother were murdered in the village of Drachinets (Romanian: Dracinet¸; Ukrainian: Drachynets). Appelfeld was 8½ at the time. Appelfeld’s writings, which contain a rich tapestry of biographical materials, do not usually deal directly with the Holocaust. The wound remains mostly untouched while he attends to its periphery. Only in his latest books, such as Mikhreh hakerah. (‘The Ice Mine’, 1997) and Sipur h.ayim (‘The Story of a Life’, 1999), does he give authentic autobiographical details and describe specific Holocaust situations.’22 Appelfeld’s relationship to the past is mostly Jewish-centred. And although he does describe the non-Jewish world surrounding the Jews, he usually does so from a Jewish viewpoint. Even in his most ‘non-Jewish’ book, Katerina, he deals with the unusual and extraordinary life of a Ukrainian woman who identifies with Jews. Appelfeld’s attitude towards non-Jews is mostly negative, though not in the crude, forthright manner of Yaffa Eliach. Appelfeld has been quite ambivalent about his desire to return to the sites of his childhood. He told a journalist in 1986 that he didn’t contemplate going back.23 However, in an account of his actual return, published twelve years later, he wrote: ‘For years, I dreamed about going back to my childhood home.’ Like most, he both 19 20 21 22 23

H. Grynberg, Dziedzictwo (London, 1993), 11. Ibid.; Miejsce urodzenia, dir. Pawel Lozin´ski (Studio Filmowe ‘Kronika’, 1992). Grynberg, Dziedzictwo, 90. A. Appelfeld, Mikhreh hakerah. (Jerusalem, 1997); id., Sipur h.ayim (Jerusalem, 1999). H. Mitgang, ‘Writing Holocaust Memories’, New York Times, 15 Nov. 1986. /

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yearned for and feared such a return: ‘I gradually realized’, he wrote, ‘that returning home after a long period of separation was not a simple matter.’24 In 1998, more than fifty years after he had left, Appelfeld returned to his ‘model’ childhood village of Drachinets and to his ‘model’ childhood town of Czernowitz, as he referred to them. The return, as he had anticipated, was not a simple matter at all. It centred, as in Grynberg’s case, around death, loss, and mourning. ‘In 1996 it became clear to me’, he wrote, ‘that I could no longer put off my return home. An old feeling of guilt, which I had repressed for many years, floated up. Its essence was a mass grave in the village of Drachinets, in which my mother and grandmother were buried. The thought that one day I might stand by that grave in silence would not leave me.’25 Appelfeld’s first reaction upon approaching his childhood village was near-total estrangement: ‘For years, that village lay within me, and now I was approaching it. I couldn’t find anything recognizable about it.’ He insisted, first and foremost, on locating the burial site of his murdered kin. ‘Suddenly the sob of the slaughter rose within me—the sob I hear at night—and it made me dizzy.’26 The locals didn’t offer information. A sense of mutual suspicion and mistrust between the Jewish visitors and the peasant crowd prevailed for a while. Then one person, who recognized Appelfeld, showed the way. When Appelfeld told him about himself and his present family the man burst into tears. Then an eerie scene followed at the gravesite. Appelfeld, with some others of his Jewish entourage, recited kaddish, the prayer for the dead. ‘I looked at the peasants. They stared back, as if wondering what I was going to say. Some of the women began to weep, but no one approached me.’ There is no question that a certain uneasiness, mixed with possible guilt feelings, affected the crowd. I wonder, however, whether Appelfeld’s own estrangement might have resulted in the distance between them. The only local person with whom Appelfeld could identify and share his emotions with was a Jew from Czernowitz, who as a boy used to live in Drachinets and recalled in detail Appelfeld and his family. ‘He remembered my house and my parents better than I did,’ Appelfeld wrote. ‘Now I stood in front of him like an empty vessel that asked to be filled.’ Appelfeld’s recounting of his return ends with a clear-cut conclusion: ‘Until recently, I had thought that there existed a childhood home far from me and another childhood home within me. Now I know: what there was dwells only within me. Outside is an alien land.’ . I left Brzezany in the summer of 1945, as a boy of 10. I returned there for the first . time in the summer of 1991.27 After leaving Brzezany, I lived for a number of years in L ódz´, and then settled in Israel, where I’ve lived ever since. My own mental and /

A. Appelfeld, ‘Buried Homeland’, New Yorker, 23 Nov. 1998, 48. 26 Ibid. 50. Ibid. 52. . . 27 For my return to Brzezany, see S. Redlich, Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews and Ukrainians, 1919–1945 (Bloomington, Ind., 2001). 24 25

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emotional process of returning was a gradual one. It started sometime in the 1960s or 1970s and was prompted by the Eichmann trial and by my experience in teaching courses on the Holocaust. Then, in the 1980s, I succeeded in tracing and locating Tanka and Karol, the Ukrainian peasant woman and the Polish man who helped us to survive. Both became acknowledged Righteous Gentiles. I invited Karol to Israel . in 1986 and went to see Tanka in Rai, near Brzezany, in 1991. My return was very much part of a massive Jewish return, a kind of pilgrimage to eastern Europe. My perception, however, seemed to differ from the prevailing view, which saw that part of the world almost exclusively as one huge Jewish cemetery. My return was not only to the dead. It was also a return to a landscape, a culture, a language, and, most significantly, to people. I did have some fears about what might happen, and I took my family along. . I was very tense when we set out from Lviv to Brzezany. I had a very strong urge to recover familiar landscapes and architecture, but only a few places really looked familiar. I recognized the Ratusz, the Ukrainian Church, and the half-ruined Great Synagogue. I walked around town and looked for familiar sights. It was impossible to pin them down. I wanted to fly back in time, but there was nothing to hold on to. . The groomed, pre-war Polish Brzezany had become a dilapidated Ukrainian Soviet town, although its former Habsburg grandeur could still be detected in the rundown façades of some of the buildings around the Ratusz. What used to be the ageold Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of town, on the way to Rai, the Okopisko, was now full of weeds and leaning and broken tombstones. This is where my father was shot and thrown into a mass grave on 12 June 1943, following the liquidation of the . Brzezany ghetto. I have often considered writing my memoirs, but my own first-hand authentic memories were too few. After a while I decided that the only feasible way to return to the past would be to weave the bits and pieces of my childhood memories into a . larger tapestry of my home town. A central goal of my return to Brzezany would be to meet and talk with older people from the town. This would be my way of reviving and sharing a common past. My perception of that past wasn’t exclusively Jewish, although a return to one’s roots is, usually, a mono-ethnic experience. My intent was to revive and describe the multi-ethnic community of a town in which Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians lived both together and apart. I wanted to know and understand each community ‘from within’, as well as its attitudes to the other parts of the Polish–Jewish–Ukrainian triangle. The interviews were the most meaningful and moving part of my research. Somehow, an immediate bond emerged with most of the interviewees. Not only with Jews, but also with Poles and Ukrainians. Was this related to Karol and Tanka, my saviours? Perhaps. I have returned several times to the Okopisko cemetery. Thoughts about my murdered family recurred from time to time. However, my private loss and mourning did not become the all-encompassing experience of my return, as was the case for Eliach, Grynberg, and Appelfeld. There is a world of

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difference between recovering the past as death, and recalling the past as life. I have chosen the latter, not least, perhaps, because of a need to incorporate some normality into a life that was so suddenly and tragically ripped apart. An examination of survivors’ testimonies shows that Holocaust memories are different not because every personal experience was utterly unique. Each ‘story’ is affected not only and exclusively by what actually happened. Recollections are modified by actual conditions and by the amount of suffering and loss, as well as by personal and moral attitudes and by the overall Weltanschauung of the survivor.28 This seems to be the case, in my opinion, in the various narrations of return. Each story contains its particular blend of nostalgia and trauma, its exclusively narrow Jewish conclusions or its ability and willingness to understand and have compassion for the others whose lives and behaviour were affected, though to a lesser extent, by the abnormality, evil, and brutality of an unprecedented past. 28 J. E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation (Bloomington, Ind., 1988), 159–60.

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A Jewish Russifier in Despair: Lev Levanda’s Polish Question bria n horow itz Lev Levanda (1835‒88) is commonly regarded as a leading advocate of the Russification of the Jews of the Russian empire, but in fact his ethnic attitudes were far more complex and conflicting than this stereotype allows. One source of internal conflict was his ambivalence towards the Poles—a people unwillingly subjected to Russian rule and, like the Jews, often the object of Russian state oppression. Levanda’s writings on Poland (four novels, one historical study, and more than twenty short essays) appeared after and, I believe, in response to major defeats in his Russification programme.1 They constitute a kind of literary wishful thinking: unable to attain the goal of equal rights for Jews in the Russia of his time, Levanda searched the region’s past for moments of harmony and integration between Jews and non-Jews. At the same time, he had a high regard for Polish literary culture, which had informed his development as a writer. His ‘Polish’ texts are part of a dialogue with his other writings, providing idealistic visions of a world he dreamed of creating but was unable to realize. Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, was Levanda’s home from the time he moved there in 1859 until his death in 1888. In 1875 the city had a total population of 82,668, of which the 37,909 Jews thus comprised nearly 46 per cent.2 In the 1860s Jews and certain non-Jews—mainly Lithuanian peasants, along with the smaller classes of Polish nobles and Russian administrators—were segregated socially. Contact was limited to business and administrative affairs. V. O. Garkavy, a Jewish intellectual, describes his experience as a youth in Vilna in the 1860s as follows: Jewish life was sheltered from the outside world, thanks to the ‘ghetto’ even physically. Of course, there was interaction between Christians and Jews in daily life, but they were often This chapter was written with the support of the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation and the Yad Hanadiv Foundation, Jerusalem. I should like to thank Professor Ezra Mendelsohn of the Hebrew University for his helpful comments. 1 Between 1879 and 1884 Levanda published over twenty articles on Jewish life in Poland in the ‘Privislyanskaya khronika’ section of the weekly newspaper Russkii evrei. 2 Entsiklopedicheskii slovar⬘, 82 vols. (St Petersburg, 1890–1905), vi. 381, s.v. ‘Vil⬘na’. For more on Vilna’s Jewish life during this time, see I. Cohen, Vilna (Philadelphia, 1943), 283–303.

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related to business, and, of course, were restricted to the public sphere by preference. The Christian world appeared foreign and antagonistic, not so much because of the legal constraints upon us that emanated from it, but in particular because it threatened our spiritual world. Therefore, any novelty in dress or habits which came from that world seemed dangerous, and wearing German dress, a short frock, was considered a great sin and permitted only to merchants who had business abroad and in Moscow.3

In this environment, for Levanda to write in Russian in itself implied various political and literary affiliations, symbolizing a conscious alliance with Russian power and with the goal of Russifying the peoples of the territory. In addition, if a writer identified himself as Jewish but wrote in Russian, he was inevitably marking himself out as a proponent of secular knowledge and an enemy of Orthodox Jews. Thus, as can be imagined, during the Polish uprising of 1863 Levanda’s views were considered dangerous; according to the historian Simon Dubnow they even drew death threats from ‘Polish informers’.4 However, by the 1880s the image of Levanda is of a harmless eccentric—the object of gossip. We have the following picture from Mordechai (Max) Rivesman, at the time an aspiring young writer: While he was being shaved, he talked to the men waiting in the queue. He spoke in Polish, Russian, and Yiddish. He spoke really excellent Polish, or so it seemed to me at the time. I already knew that he wrote a column in Vilensky Vestnik and that people considered him a heretic [apikores] and even . . . a Judaeophobe. . . . He earned that reputation after forcing the hero of his best novel, Goryachee vremya (‘Ardent Times’), to preach the need to destroy ‘the fig trees and vineyards’ in order to plant the seed of Russian enlightenment in their place.5

Like his contemporaries, later readers perceived Levanda as a passionate proponent of Russification.6 The Russification programme in the north-west had begun in the 1840s, when the government opened the first Russian-language schools; the state rabbinical seminary in Vilna was founded in 1847.7 This policy of encouraging cultural life to flourish in the Russian language was designed to win over the political allegiance of the Jews to the Russian state. After the suppression of the 1863 Polish uprising the question of what to do with the Jews of the north-west territories became more challenging. But their treatment was only one part of a broader policy towards the region as a whole. V. O. Garkavy, Otryvki iz vospominanii (St Petersburg, 1913), 7. S. Dubnow, Kniga zhizni, vospominaniya i razmyshleniya: Materialy dlya istorii moego vremeni (St Petersburg, 1998), 130. 5 M. Rivesman, ‘Vospominaniya i vstrechi (1877–1915)’, Evreiskaya letopis⬘, 3 (1924), 74. 6 The influential writer Lucy Davidowicz calls him a ‘Russian journalist and novelist who advocated Russification as the solution for Jewish problems’ (L. Davidowicz (ed.), The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe (New York, 1967), 31). 7 Evreiskaya entsiklopediya, 16 vols. (St Petersburg, 1906–13), v. 588–90, s.v. ‘Vil⬘na’. Admittedly, instruction in the seminary was given in German until 1864, but the orientation was pro-Russian. For more on the seminary in Vilna, see Yu. Gessen, ‘Ravvinskie uchilishcha v Rossii’, in Evreiskaya entsiklopediya, xiii. 258–63. 3 4

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In 1863 the Russian governor Mikhail Muravev introduced policies designed to de-Polonize these provinces. Muravev was extremely brutal in his methods and came to be known as Muravev the Hangman, recalling Muravev the Hanged, the Decembrist who was executed in 1826. In addition to mass hangings, Muravev exiled thousands of Polish noblemen to Siberia and confiscated their lands. Russian was established as the official state language. Although the Poles were the primary target of repressive measures, the Jews of the north-west territories were also adversely affected, the government’s policy bringing more restrictions than privileges to the Jewish population.8 Nevertheless, some influential Russian journalists and government officials viewed the Jews as a potentially pro-Russian force in the region and held out the possibility—albeit a slim one—of granting privileges to the Jews as a means of winning their affections.9 Levanda was not alone in siding with Russia. Many Jews in the 1840s and 1850s saw an opportunity for social advancement in the Russian educational system and little room for social mobility within Polish culture. Levanda, who was born into a poor family in Minsk in 1835, entered a state-sponsored school for Jews in 1846, the first year of its operation. Three years later he entered the state rabbinical seminary in Vilna, from which he graduated in 1854. In 1860, while working as a teacher in Minsk, he was appointed to the position of ‘learned Jew’ in the office of Vilna’s governor-general, a post he held until his death. Learned Jews received a government salary and often acted as official censors. In general, they advised the tsarist government on policies towards the Jewish people and religion. Needless to say, their advice was not always heeded. Levanda’s literary career reflects his interest in issues of importance to Russian Jews. A key pioneer of the Jewish press in the Russian language, he was a major contributor to Rassvet (1860‒1), the first Jewish newspaper published in Russian, and to Sion, Rassvet’s successor, and during the 1880s he wrote for Russkii evrei and Voskhod. He also published a large number of novels and stories, among the best known of which are Delo bakaleinykh tovarov (‘The Grocery Affair’, 1860‒1), Goryachee vremya (‘Ardent Times’, 1871‒3), Ocherki proshlogo (‘Sketches of the Past’, 1875), Bol⬘shoi remiz (‘The Big Fraud’, 1880‒1), Lyubitel⬘skii spektakl⬘ (‘An Amateur Performance’, 1882), Gnev i milost⬘magnata (‘The Magnate’s Anger and Mercy’, 1885), and Avraam Iezofovich (1887). At the beginning of his literary career, in the 1860s, Levanda ignored Poland and the Polish theme in his fiction and journalism. Absorbed by his political programme of modernizing the Jews for integration into Russian society, he focused on criticizing Russian Jews for their backwardness and encouraged them to adopt the changes promoted by supporters of the Haskalah: to exchange the traditional Jewish kaftan for modern clothes, to reject the traditional h.eder and enrol in secular schools, and 8 J. Klier, ‘The Polish Revolt of 1863 and the Birth of Russification: Bad for the Jews?’, Polin, 1 9 S. Tsinberg, Istoriya evreiskoi pechati v Rossii (Petrograd, 1915), 116. (1986), 91–106.

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to use a ‘Western’ language, preferably Russian or German. Simultaneously hoping for full emancipation for the Jews of Russia, he praised the tsarist government’s first efforts in this direction.10 Levanda’s first novel, Delo bakaleinykh tovarov, published in Rassvet in 1860‒1, captures his views at the time.11 The novel, which one critic has called ‘a textbook of the Haskalah’, covers the cardinal principles of the movement.12 Levanda uses the plot, which is loosely structured around the attempt of the hero, Arnold, to open a grocery shop in the Belarusian town of N, exclusively as a forum for criticizing ‘Jewish vices’: namely, arranged marriages, isolation from the non-Jewish world, and the greed that goes with speculation for profit. Arnold, by contrast, is the embodiment of progress. He has a German-sounding name and a European university education, dresses in modern clothing, and is clean-shaven. He promises to bring happiness to the town by offering good wages to all the workers, supporting secular education for young people, and fighting for marriage based on love. Levanda’s explicit advice to Russia’s Jews is to emulate Arnold, turning away from the habits and beliefs characteristic of traditional Jewish life. Surprisingly, Levanda does not criticize the government for limiting the Jews’ legal rights, including their right of residence outside the Pale of Settlement and rights to land ownership. Apparently convinced of the validity of the so-called ‘emancipation contract’—according to which the Russian government would extend full civil rights if the Jews modernized and integrated—Levanda concentrates only on the fulfilment of the Jewish side of the bargain. Admittedly, in the 1860s most modernized Jews were convinced of the sincerity of the Russian assurances. Levanda’s earliest treatments of the topic of Poland were written in the 1870s in the context of growing Russian antisemitism. Although critics have perceived Goryachee vremya as an apology for his pro-Russian attitude, the author undercuts that viewpoint in the novel in various ways.13 In particular, by showing the political 10 In 1859 Alexander II permitted Jewish merchants of the first guild permanent residence in the capital, and in 1861 he extended this right to Jews who graduated from institutions of higher education. From 1865 select categories of Jewish artisans were permitted to live within Russia proper. In his work on the reform period Benjamin Nathans calls these reforms ‘selective emancipation’. For more on the reform period and tsarist rule, see B. Nathans, ‘Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Russia, 1840–1900’, Ph.D. thesis (University of California at Berkeley, 1995), 90–160. 11 The first instalment of Delo bakaleinykh tovarov (kartiny evreiskogo byta) v dvukh chastyakh appeared in Rassvet, 10 (1860), and the last appeared in vol. 12 (1861). 12 Sh. Markish, ‘Stoit li perechityvat⬘ L⬘va Levandu? Stat⬘ya pervaya: Posyl’, Vestnik Evreiskogo Universiteta v Moskve, 3/10 (1995), 101. 13 A Russian scholar, Laura Salmon, wrote in 1998 that the book’s ‘ideological direction is beautifully expressed with the words of the main hero, Arkady Sarin: “Our programme consists of extricating our co-religionists from the vicious cycle into which unfortunate circumstances have squeezed them, and setting them on the path towards Russian citizenship. In brief: our programme consists of making the Jews Russians” ’ (L. Salmon, ‘Krizis evreiskoi samobytnosti i roman: Manifesty G. I. Bagrova i L. O. Levandy’, in D. Elyashevich (ed.), Trudy po iudaike: Istoriya i etnografiya, 5 vols. (St Petersburg, 1993–8), v. 287).

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failures of Sarin, the author’s ideological mouthpiece, and by drawing the Poles as fully developed characters as opposed to the one-dimensional Russians, Levanda subverts the positive message of Russification. Set in Vilna in the two years before the Polish uprising of 1863, the novel presents the choice facing the Jews of Poland: to join the Poles, remain neutral, or support Russia.14 While Polish nobles pressure Jews to join the rebellion, Arkady Sarin, a young Jewish intellectual, argues against any solidarity with them, claiming that the Poles have never fulfilled their promises. Sarin, apparently with the narrator’s assent, proposes instead the Russification of the Jews. He is given such dialogue as: We have thought it over and have decided to turn to the right and link ourselves with Moscow. Instinct, considered thought, and finally, feelings of gratitude lead us there. We should never forget that it was barbaric Russia and not civilized Poland that first began to worry about our education and development. We are obliged to Russia and not to Poland for the awakening of our self-consciousness.15

And: We should not concern ourselves with which civilization is higher. . . . For us the issue is not about civilization, but about belonging to a people, i.e. about spirit and language. We live in Russia and therefore we must be Russians.16

Despite such declarations, a countervailing view manifests itself in the structure of the novel itself—in the development of the plot, the characterization, and the viewpoint of the narrator—casting doubt on the author’s commitment to the programme of Russification. For example, the fact that a Russian official sentences Sarin to two months in prison raises questions about Levanda’s attitudes towards Russian rule. In the early pages, when the narrator asks Sarin what he will do if the Russians reject the Jews, he does not answer directly, but reiterates that the Jews should prepare themselves for Russian citizenship.17 And yet Levanda exposes the Russian officials’ negative attitude towards the Jews and his hostile treatment of them. When Poles denounce him to the Russian authorities, Sarin is gaoled for ‘criminal propaganda’, that is, for speaking out in favour of the Russification of the Jews. Sarin’s offence, we learn, is related to the activity itself, not to its message. It makes no difference that he supports the Russian effort; the fact that he acts at all is suspect. The dialogue between Sarin and the Russian official reveals Levanda’s stark awareness of the distance between the Russian and Jewish views: 14

A discussion of Levanda’s treatment of the political views of the Jews towards the uprising can be found in S. Breimann, ‘Hamifneh bamah. shavah hatsiburit hayehudit bereshit shenot hashemonim’, Shivat tsiyon, 2–3 (1952–3), 180–4; Y. Slutsky, Ha’itonut hayehudit-rusit beme’ah ha-19 (Jerusalem, 1970), 95–6. 15 The allusion is to the Russian government’s creation of special Jewish schools, which were opened in the 1840s. 16 L. Levanda, Goryachee vremya: Roman iz poslednego pol⬘skogo vosstaniya (St Petersburg, 1875), 77. 17 Ibid. 78.

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‘Since when have the kikes started to worry about their usefulness to Russia?’ ‘Since they stopped being kikes and started to feel like Russian citizens.’ ‘Citoyens?’ the official became enraged. ‘There are no citizens in Russia, citoyens, but there are subjects, do you understand? What did they imagine—citizens! Do we have a republic? We will beat that literature out of your head. We do not need citizens, we need faithful subjects, and whoever does not understand this, we will make him understand; that is why we are the administrators, in order to make people understand.’18

With this conversation Levanda outlines the conflict between the Russian administrators and the Jewish intelligentsia. The intelligentsia dreamed of emancipation, with the same rights that Jews in the West enjoyed, but the Russian government was not prepared to grant these rights.19 In reality, participation in politics, while not forbidden, held certain dangers for Jews regardless of which side they took. For example, the first Jewish newspaper in Russian, Rassvet, closed in 1861 after only a year because its content did not please Stroganov, the governor-general of New Russia.20 Although Sarin’s prison term does not destroy his faith in Russia, it makes the reader wonder whether Jews would be able to make Russians love them. In truth, Sarin’s experience demonstrates that Levanda was not sure whether Russia would treat Jews any better than the antisemitic Poles had treated them. While he depicts Russians negatively, Levanda offers many positive figures among the Poles.21 He has Sarin fall in love with the Polish aristocrat Julia Staszycka, the niece of Count Te˛czyn´ski, the Polish rebel leader. Not only does she return his love, but she is his equal in every way. Not just physically beautiful, she is morally courageous as well. Having discovered a plot by the Polish underground to kill Sarin, whom the Poles consider to be a Russian agent, she warns him of the danger. Although this might be interpreted as a betrayal of the Poles, the author justifies it as a sacrifice for the sake of love. Here Levanda clearly breaks away from the many novels of the period in which unrequited love develops between a Pole 18 Quoted in I. Sosis, ‘Period obruseniya: Natsional⬘nyi vopros v literature v kontse 60-kh godov i nachale 70-kh godov’, Evreiskaya starina, 2 (Apr.–June 1915), 144. 19 For more on the legal liabilities facing the Jews of Russia during the reign of Alexander II, see Yu. Gessen, Istoriya evreiskogo naroda v Rossii, 2 vols. (Petrograd, 1916), ii. 156–201. 20 Yu. Gessen, ‘Smena obshchestvennykh techenii’, pt. 2: ‘Pervyi russko–evreiskii organ’, in Perezhitoe: Sbornik, posvyashchennyi obshchestvennoi i kul⬘turnoi istorii evreev v Rossii, iii (St Petersburg, 1911). Gessen has convincingly argued that Rabinovich closed Rassvet after a little over a year, not only—or even primarily—because of the small number of subscribers, but also because he resented the fact that the paper’s fate hung on whether New Russia’s general governor Stroganov ‘digested his food well or not’. 21 As John Klier notes, ‘For a novel devoted to the theme of Russification, Russians in the flesh play a very minor role . . . and most of the Russian characters are negative ones. The exception is P. A. Dubov, a young idealist forced into a military career by family pressure, who dreams of devoting himself to public service. He is the only Russian who sees the potential of recruiting Jews to the Russian cause’ (J. Klier, ‘The Jew as Russifier: Lev Levanda’s Hot Times’, MS, 24).

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and a Jew. According to Israel Bartal and Magdalena Opalski, such a successful relationship is meant to symbolize the unity of the two peoples with regard to their co-operation during the uprising, despite their religious differences.22 Nevertheless, Levanda reverses the schema. By having the Pole rather than the Jew sacrifice for love, he shows that a Jew, too, can inspire higher feelings. In giving the Polish characters dramatic depth, Levanda invites the reader’s sympathy for them. Even the negative Polish figures are depicted vividly. The dense descriptions of these characters can be juxtaposed with the portrait of Sarin, who comes across as little more than a mouthpiece for the author’s propaganda. For example, one may contrast the depiction of Sarin with that of Stanisl aw (Stas´), a Polish rebel and a common murderer. In love with the princess Jadwiga, Stas´ had earlier seduced Marcisa, who is now pregnant and threatening to inform the Russians about his participation in the Polish underground government. While Sarin mechanically utters his programmatic lines, Stas´’s psychology is depicted through his body language, snippets of consciousness, and sentence fragments. /

With his head lowered and his hands folded across his chest, Stas´ began to pace back and forth across the room, while Prakseda [a well-known salon hostess], bending over her favourite instrument, strummed several rich chords and started to play a song and then the . hymn ‘Boze cos´ Polske˛’. Having finished the hymn, she rested awhile, tuned her guitar, and began to play again, but Stas´ continued to pace the room. His face was pale, disappointed. It was clear that he was thinking, considering some weighty thought. ‘So’, he said to himself. ‘So. . . . Still, how can that be? Impossible. . . . Meaningless! Stupid! And such selfimportance!’ . . . A moment later, ‘And of course . . . it’s better, than . . . After all, the fatherland . . . the Count . . . Jadwiga . . .’.23

I am not the first to notice the paradox that those characters who embody proRussian ideology are poorly drawn in comparison to the Polish aristocrats. In his article on Levanda written in 1913 the historian Yuly Gessen says, ‘Sarin is too schematic, but alongside him one finds in the novel living images—for the most part from Polish society.’24 22 In their exceptional book on Polish and Jewish treatments of the Jewish issue, Israel Bartal and Magdalena Opalski point to the iconoclastic use of Polish symbols by Jewish authors. Moreover, they note differences in the use of romantic themes by Jewish and Polish authors: ‘Despite striking similarities in their treatment of secondary sociological and psychological detail, Polish-Jewish love stories, in both literary traditions, reflect conflicting worldviews. While the Polish romances are instrumental in illustrating the idea of brotherhood and providing an example of social relations in a more inclusive, democratic society, Jewish love stories focus on prejudice and deception. Whereas Polish authors elevate their Jewish heroes by assigning them a place in the highly exclusive fabric of national history, Jewish writers use interethnic love stories to launch an attack on the romantic value system’ (I. Bartal and M. Opalski, Poles and Jews: A Failed Brotherhood (Hanover, NH, 1992), 96). 23 Levanda, Goryachee vremya, 225. 24 Yu. Gessen, ‘Lev Osipovich Levanda’, in Evreiskaya entsiklopediya, x. 61. In an article on the novel John Klier writes, ‘The Poles, in the midst of the preparations which will culminate in the 1863 uprising, are the most differentiated characters. They provide the most negative actors in the plot: an

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While the conflict between the novel’s message and the depiction of its characters does not require us to repudiate the traditional view that the novel is a defence of Russification, it does raise questions about Levanda’s unconscious intentions. His individual treatment of Poles certainly reflects sympathy for and engagement with them. Furthermore, by having Sarin fall in love with Julia Staszycka, Levanda shifts the novel’s focus from its message that ‘we Jews must become Russians’ to other issues, such as love between enemies and the tragic fate of the Poles. Why did Levanda undermine the main ideological message of the novel? An examination of the historical background against which the novel was written can help us to answer this question. Although the plot unfolds in the period of the Polish uprising of 1863, the novel first appeared in the first three issues of Evreiskaya biblioteka in 1871‒3, and was presumably written about this time. In the years leading up to the novel’s publication Levanda had served on the Vilna Commission, which was set up to elicit Jewish reactions to Jacob Brafman’s plan to turn the Jewish masses from urban dwellers into peasants.25 The commission submitted its final report in 1870, and, to quote John Klier, ‘with the governor-general’s blessing, not only rejected plans to subordinate Jews to the peasant village administration, but also sent a recommendation to the central government that the Pale of Settlement be abolished and Jews permitted to reside throughout the Russian Empire’.26 Unfortunately, in the late 1860s and early 1870s the government shifted its position from support for Jewish reform to open hostility to it, and the Ministry of the Interior rejected the commission’s proposals. Symptomatic of the change in policy was the government-financed publication of Jacob Brafman’s anti-Jewish tract Kniga kagala (‘The Book of the Kahal’), which went through four printings between 1867 and 1881. Arguing that the Jews had actually retained their kehalim (autonomous Jewish administrations) despite the fact that they had been abolished by tsarist law in 1844, Brafman claimed that the Jews were bent on world domination. Furthermore, foreshadowing tragic times to come, the government did not provide aid to the victims of the Odessa pogrom of March 1871 or seriously pursue the culprits.27 intolerant and hypocritical Catholic priest, Father Kwiecin´ski, who runs a home for orphans that supplies employees for a high-class brothel; a variety of debauched and arrogant aristocrats; flighty and dissolute Polish women; and a gallery of drunken and vicious commoners. These negative Polish characters are somewhat balanced by the portrait of the revolutionary circle, the “National Rza˛d”, and its members, Count Bolesl aw Te˛czyn´ski and his niece Countess Julia Staszycka. The Count must pursue the Polish national goal with the assistance of the less than admirable agents described above. He does so with dignity and a modicum of honour, sincerely motivated by patriotism and love of the fatherland. In the mouths of other Polish characters, the expression “love of the fatherland” acquires a satirical effect, being used to justify a whole range of heinous acts, including murder of a mistress and prostitution’ (Klier, ‘The Jew as Russifier’, 19). /

26 Perezhitoe, iii. 385–92. Klier, ‘The Jew as Russifier’, 25. See S. Zipperstein, The Jews of Odessa: A Cultural History, 1794–1881 (Palo Alto, Calif., 1986), 114–15. 25 27

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In this context, Levanda’s contradictory treatment of the ideas of Russification and Russian antisemitism is understandable. While he still hoped for the integration of the Jews into Russian society and gave Sarin the role of sermonizer, he was not blind to the obstacles. Moreover, it is worth noting that he had already displayed admiration for various Poles, and that he invoked the Polish theme to outline the deficiencies of the Russian treatment of the Jews, as well as Polish shortcomings. In his novel of 1880‒1, Bol⬘shoi remiz, Levanda uses the Polish theme to criticize Jewish society in Russia. Setting the plot in the provincial Galician city of N, he chronicles a Jewish merchant’s attempt to cheat his investors by falsely declaring himself bankrupt. The sub-plot, which becomes increasingly important, concerns Jewish–Polish relations and provides a moral antithesis to the primary story. Here we see the Jewish merchant’s son, a violinist, fall in love with a Jewish innkeeper’s daughter, a singer. They meet through the intercession of a music teacher, an elderly Polish aristocrat who embodies wisdom, dignity, and tolerance. Near the end of the story a younger, unscrupulous Polish nobleman tries to steal the innkeeper’s daughter from the young Jew. It turns out that this nobleman had once seduced her and feels that he has proprietary rights. The older Polish aristocrat intercedes, and in a melodramatic confrontation demands that the rogue desist. Although the characters of the nobleman and the music teacher are not of equal weight in the drama and the sub-plot is set in the broader context of the community’s economic ruin, Levanda’s image of the Polish aristocrat is instructive. The values of culture, dignity, and honesty are embodied in the music teacher, who serves as a contrast to the greedy and heartless Jewish merchant, while in his dress and education the Polish rogue also represents high culture. The values of the dignified Pole win out in the end, and the teacher and his students leave for western Europe, where they are certain to find artistic and financial success. The novel, which was written in the late 1870s, touches on important issues concerning Russia’s Jews at the time. Capitalism was taking hold in Russia, and Jews were among the most energetic businessmen in the country. Levanda condemned their swelling ambitions, fearing that their success would lead to increased antisemitism. In two of his other writings of the period, ‘Nashi domashnie dela (pis⬘mo iz severo-zapadnogo kraya)’ (‘Our Domestic Affairs (Letter from the North-West Territories)’28) and the novel Ispoved⬘ del⬘tsa (‘Confessions of a Wheeler-Dealer’, 1880), Levanda criticized the new Jewish youth, who, indifferent to morality, religion, and tradition, threw everything aside in order to become millionaires.29 Levanda’s criticism of capitalism in Bol⬘shoi remiz can be found in his treatment of the Jewish merchant who seeks to become rich by defrauding his fellow Jews. The author offers a positive alternative in his depiction of the two young musicians, who set themselves worthwhile goals. Significantly, the key to their success hinges 28 The first half of the novel was published with the title ‘Pokhod v Kolkhidu’, Evreiskaya biblioteka, 29 Evreiskaya biblioteka, 6 (1877), 113–27. 7 (1879), 1–79.

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on the figure of the Polish teacher. The aristocratic Pole serves as a model for the two young Jews, who are encouraged to rid themselves of their provincial Jewish manners and become cultured. Strangely, the novel features no Russians. The Polish teacher fills the role of patron. Jewish artists, writers, and musicians needed the support of an aristocratic patron in order to succeed in Christian society; as, for example, in the cases of Mark Antokolsky and Anton Rubenstein, who were both befriended and supported by Vladimir Stasov. During the period of the pogroms in 1881‒2 Levanda held up the Polish issue as a mirror to reflect Russia’s deficiencies. When violence against Jews broke out in Warsaw in 1881, he wrote an article in which he contrasted the pogroms in southern Russia with the recent pogrom in Poland.30 While he was enraged by the violence in Russia (which the government defended as an expression of the people’s wrath against Jewish exploitation), he was somewhat heartened by the condemnation of the violence in the Polish press. The Poles, he wrote, behaved ‘in knightly fashion, refusing to kick a man when he was down or to applaud bestial behaviour’. One could live in such a society, he claimed. As for Russia, he wondered whether one could ‘live in a society whose chance leaders and self-proclaimed councillors, dressed in a triple armour of lies, deceit, and unbounded arrogance, overturn the most elementary rules of honour, conscience, justice, and human community, taking this for a highly patriotic feat’.31 Levanda’s conciliatory attitude towards Poland did not last long, however, for in Poland, just as in Russia, the Jews continued to be blamed for the violence directed against them. The change in Levanda’s attitude towards Poland after the pogroms of 1881‒2 can be seen vividly in his shifting views of the writer Eliza Orzeszkowa.32 Before the pogroms Levanda heralded Orzeszkowa’s novel Eli Makower as the first attempt in Polish literature to depict a Jewish character, Jewish daily life, and the attitudes of Jews towards the peoples among whom they live, without the conventional prejudices of the Polish criticisms or contempt for the humiliated and oppressed person of the Jew, but seriously, objectively, and with a very noble aim. This goal is the reconciliation of the two peoples by means of common understanding and respect, the reconciliation of equals with one another not in the name of some archaic tendencies or illusions, but in the name of a more rational economic modus vivendi . . .33 30 L. Levanda, ‘Pis⬘mo iz provintsii’, Russkii evrei, 3 (15 Jan. 1882), 48–50. The pogrom was the result of events that took place in Warsaw’s Holy Cross Cathedral on Christmas Day 1881. Someone falsely cried ‘Fire!’, causing a stampede that led to several deaths. It appears that pickpockets committed the crime in the hope of practising their craft during the commotion. But the event was blamed on the Jews, and the Poles took revenge by conducting a pogrom that lasted two days. 31 Levanda, ‘Pis⬘mo iz provintsii’; quoted in Klier, ‘The Jew as Russifier’, 28. 32 Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841–1910). 33 L. Levanda, ‘Tri pokoleniya (iz romana “Eli Makover” g[ospo]zhi Elizy Orzheshkovoi)’, Russkii evrei, 1 (1880), 32. Orzeszkowa’s two Jewish novels are Eli Makower, 2 vols. (1875), and Meir Ezofowicz (1878).

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Orzeszkowa’s achievement was all the more startling, Levanda writes in his introduction to his own translation of the last part of Eli Makower, because the conventional treatment of Jews in Polish literature was so stereotypical.34 Every Polish author, Levanda lamented, felt the need to include at least one Jew, either a moneylender, an estate manager, or a tavern-keeper. Even the great Mickiewicz could not resist inventing Jankiel, ‘whom he suddenly remembered in the last moment of his wildest leap onto his unbridled Pegasus, who, it seems, had no head or legs, but only wings’.35 Levanda claims that Jankiel was merely an artistic inspiration, a symbol that never came alive as a full character. Orzeszkowa, however, was a happy exception. Levanda’s positive attitude to Orzeszkowa evaporated after the publication in . . 1881 of her article ‘O zydach i kwestyi zydowskiej’ (‘On Jews and the Jewish Question’).36 While Levanda conceded that her proposal that Jews and Poles be forced to study together and ultimately intermarry was not objectionable in itself, he was angered by her accusation that educated Jews were responsible for the failure of Jewish integration.37 He could not help noticing a paradox: only a few decades earlier, when Jews had resisted integration, they had been left alone. As soon as they responded to the call to integrate, the violence began. This paradox revealed the real attitude of Christians towards the Jews.38 But, writes Levanda, Jews should not be fooled by these accusations and threats: They are fake threats aimed at scaring us off the common path . . . so that we will crawl back into the nooks and crannies from which we emerged when we became attracted to the rays of light that shone upon us, too. This only proves that the alarmists are scarcely acquainted with the natural history of our tribe. It is a fact that we are made up in such way that we can only move forward, not backward, and for their part it would be a great deal more sensible if they would reconcile themselves to the indisputable fact of the weakening of our tribal isolation and our acculturation to the civilized world, for they will not achieve their aims: we will not crawl back into our abandoned nooks and crannies no matter what you do, whether you attack us or not!39

In Levanda’s view, Orzeszkowa revealed the same callousness as those who were openly hostile to the Jews. Although she encouraged tolerance, she refused to countenance real Jewish equality; she called instead for further concessions from the Jews as a condition for their becoming full citizens. Levanda’s polemic against Orzeszkowa did not end here, however, as we shall see. Indisputably, the pogroms of 1881‒2 led Levanda into an ideological cul-de-sac. In many articles after 1881 he lambasted Russia for its treatment of the Jews and for refusing to accept the Jews as equal citizens. At times his articles became highly 34 Levanda serialized his translation of part of Eli Makower as ‘Tri pokoleniya’, in Russkii evrei, 1–4, 35 36 Ibid. 31. Published as a pamphlet (Vilna, 1882). 6–8, 11–12 (1880). 37 L.L. [Levanda], ‘Privislyanskaya khronika’, Russkii evrei, 48 (1881), 1906–9. 38 39 Ibid. 1909. Ibid.

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emotional. For example, in 1882 he wrote: ‘The fact is that now our enemies do not demand any proof [of our allegiance], they demand our lives. We are Semites, and with this enough has been said to justify our death sentence.’40 At the same time he began to rethink his views on Jewish integration in Russia. In particular, he was dismayed by the moral disaffection brought out in the younger generation by the achievements of integration: In the education of our children we have straightforwardly pursued a single aim: let our sons become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. . . . We see how the organic bonds tying our children to us and the [Jewish] people become weaker every day. . . . There will come a time, and it is not too far away, when these attenuated home-made bonds will break entirely. Then our children, these cherished, doted-on, and pampered doctors, lawyers, and engineers, for whose education we have worked so hard, given up nights of sleep and crumbs of food, our children, you will see, will become alienated and distant, and will reject us as ‘kikes’ with whom they do not have or want to have anything in common. In truth, what binds our children to us? Religious tradition? They are certainly unacquainted with it. The historical past? But they live in the present, imbued with brilliant hopes for the future. Our experience of suffering? But they haven’t suffered at all and do not suffer. Solidarity with the people’s interests? They are privileged doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and we are uneducated ‘kikes’; it follows, therefore, that there cannot be any talk about a unity of their interests with ours.41

Such reflections on the flaws of integration and the permanence of antisemitism propelled Levanda towards a nationalist position in which Jews would not turn to the Russian government for help in solving the Jewish question, but would look to themselves for succour. He expressed his new views in an article in Palestina, a ‘volume of articles and information about Jewish settlements in the holy land’, which appeared under the editorship of Vasily Berman and Akim Flekser in 1884.42 In ‘Sushchnost⬘tak nazyvaemogo “palestinskogo” dvizheniya (pis⬘mo k izdatelyam)’ (‘The Essence of the So-Called “Palestine” Movement (Letter to the Publishers)’), Levanda expressed his attraction to the proto-Zionist movement, seeing in it a ‘practical solution’ to a ‘vicious cycle’. In fact, he explained that the movement made perfect sense in its historical context as ‘a natural consequence of the preceding causes’ and as a ‘symptom, demonstrating that the process of resolving the so-called Jewish question is entering a new phase’.43 But Levanda wavered in his commitment to the nationalist position. Perhaps Palestine appeared too far away or the possibility of colonizing the land with L. Levanda, ‘Fel⬘eton’, Rassvet, 52 (1882), 324–5. This article was written in response to the first international antisemitic conference in Dresden, which took place that year; quoted in Markish, ‘Stoit li perechityvat⬘ L⬘va Levandu?’, 125. 41 L. Levanda, ‘Russko-evreiskoe religioznoe obrazovanie’, Russkii evrei, 11 (1880), 2031; quoted in B. A. Goldberg, L. o. levanda kapublitsist (Vilna, 1900), 28–9. 42 L. Levanda, ‘Sushchnost⬘ tak nazyvaemogo “palestinskogo” dvizheniya (pismo k izdateliam)’, in V. Berman and A. Flekser (eds.), Palestina: Sbornik statei i svedenii o evreiskikh poseleniyakh v Sv[yatoi] 43 Ibid. 9. zemle (St Petersburg, 1884). 40

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millions of Russian Jews seemed implausible. In any case, ultimately he refused to surrender his ideal of the cultured Jew who combined secular and traditional qualities, hoping against hope that the Jews could find a homeland in the Diaspora: ‘Jewish nationality . . . is such a unique phenomenon in history that, in contradiction to logic and theory . . . a definite territory would likely be more harmful than useful. The Jewish nationality began to harden and crystallize precisely at the moment when the Jewish people lost their territory.’44 In the 1880s, for him a period of ideological disappointment and vacillation, Levanda wrote extensively on the Polish theme. He wrote three novel-length prose narratives and a short history of Poland. As Russia showed itself unwilling to give the Jews rights of citizens (as they were understood in western Europe), he looked to Poland’s past for a model of relations between Jews and non-Jews. Furthermore, in his fiction he depicted an image of the past in which Jews lived happily in a Polish society that, while deeply flawed, reflected the humanist sensibility that was absent in Russia. At the same time he created positive Polish characters—representatives of virtues such as sensitivity to culture, kindness, and lack of prejudice. Equally striking is the absence of Russian figures endowed with these qualities. In 1882 Levanda published Lyubitel⬘skii spektakl⬘ (vospominaniya shkol⬘nika pyatidesyatykh godov) (‘An Amateur Performance (Reminiscences of a Student in the 1850s)’). In what is apparently a roman-à-clef, he features a first-person narrator who closely resembles himself as a young man, and he states explicitly that the story is indeed based on fact, recalling events from his own life.45 In chronicling events surrounding the illegal performance of a student play written by the narrator, Levanda presents a broad description of life at the Vilna Rabbinical Seminary. The government of Nicholas I opened this seminary along with its sister institution in Zhitomir in 1847 as an alternative to the traditional yeshiva. The goal of these schools was to create modern rabbis who would spread enlightenment in the Jewish communities. Although unsuccessful in meeting their narrow practical goal, the institutions played a vital role in the formation of a Jewish intelligentsia that would struggle later for equal rights for the Jewish people in Russia.46 In the novel the narrator confesses that Polish literature serves as the inspiration for his own development as a writer. He praises the senior supervisor of the seminary, a ‘veteran of the former Polish army’ who is ‘considered the best teacher L. Levanda, Nedel⬘naya khronika voskhoda, 38 (1885), 1020–4; quoted in Markish, ‘Stoit li perechityvat⬘ L⬘va Levandu?’, 135. 45 The first instalment of Lyubitel⬘skii spektakl⬘ (vospominaniya shkol⬘nika pyatidesyatykh godov) appeared in Russkii evrei, 11 (1882), and the last appeared in issue 23 (1882). 46 M. Stanislawski, Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1825–1855 (Philadelphia, 1983), 102–5. For information on the Vilna Seminary, see V. Dohrn, ‘The Rabbinical Schools as Institutions of Socialization in Tsarist Russia, 1847–1873’, Polin, 14 (2001), 83–104. 44

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of Polish language and literature’ in the city. Although receiving high fees for teaching in the girls’ boarding school and in the foremost aristocratic homes, the senior supervisor teaches the hero these subjects ‘gratis and with remarkable zeal’, granting ‘free access to his rich Polish library, which he treasure[s] like the apple of his eye’.47 When the authorities find out about the play, the hero is summoned to the senior supervisor. Giving little thought to his own fate, the hero worries about having harmed the one person who taught him to love Polish literature as native Poles love it. Twice a week I was obliged to come to his home, where I was received in his family as if I were one of them, a member of the family—an honour not accorded to any other student. Usually we greeted one another like relatives, i.e. he kissed me on the forehead and I kissed his hand. Just a few days before, he had gone quite out his mind and wept like a child, almost crushing me in his embrace, when I, wanting to give him a surprise offering as my benefactor and knowing what a passionate Polish patriot he was, had recited by heart in front of his family two long passages from Mickiewicz’s Konrad Wallenrod and Malczewski’s Maria. But now, despite what our relations had been, he had to reprimand and judge me, and for my part I felt that I was almost the chief cause of the danger that was threatening my benefactor! You can easily imagine what we both must have felt on that occasion!48

While the performance is ultimately written off as a harmless prank, the hero’s acknowledgement that writing the play contributed to his literary progress makes the story an example of the genre ‘a portrait of the artist as a young man’. If we recall that the story was based on fact, we can understand the powerful effect that Polish literature, as introduced by his Polish mentor, had on Levanda’s development as a writer. In 1885 Levanda published Gnev i milost⬘ magnata (‘The Magnate’s Anger and Mercy’). Setting the story in eastern Poland in the middle of the eighteenth century, he focuses on the life of Jewish peasants living on the estate of the Polish prince Radziwil l . Levanda does not give the prince’s full name, but he resembles Karol Stanisl aw Radziwil l (1734‒90), who was one of the wealthiest landowners in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In Levanda’s story the Jews of the region have been suffering through an economic depression brought about by the fact that the magnate has not visited the town for more than two years. The Jews pray for their benefactor to come with his court and make merry, since his revelries stimulate the local economy. The magnate’s visit, however, yields mixed results. Radziwil l orders his chief of police to have him transported to his castle on a sled, although it is the middle of summer. The Jewish leader and magnate’s bailiff, Rabbi Sakhno, devises a plan to make a road of salt on which the sled can be pulled, and it succeeds. However, things go very badly when the Jews fail to greet Radziwil l on his arrival because they are praying in the synagogue. The magnate calls for the death sentence for //

/

//

//

//

47

Levanda, Lyubitel’skii spektakl⬘, in Russkii evrei, 23 (1882), 888.

48

Ibid. 889.

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those responsible. But Radziwil l has another reason for enacting this extreme measure. Having discovered that the government in Warsaw is planning to interfere with his absolute control over what he considers his Jewish property, he is prepared to demonstrate his unlimited power. The story, however, has a happy ending. Not only does the magnate spare his Jews, but in the novel’s final scene, amazed at the beauty of Rabbi Sakhno’s daughter, he offers to grant any wish she makes. Instead of asking for money, she asks only that the magnate come to her wedding. Radziwil l , touched by her devotion and respect, agrees to come with his entire court. Rather than focusing on the horrible examples of the magnate’s cruelty, the omniscient narrator emphasizes his mercy, as shown in this dialogue between Radziwil l and his servant, mediated by the narrator: //

//

//

‘And another thing,’ added the Prince, already taking up his hat; ‘in the evening send Tramontano to the square with his musicians, actors, magicians, bears, and all the rest of those devils. Let them give a performance under the open sky and let the Jews enjoy themselves, watch, and have fun. Do you hear?’ ‘I hear, your highness.’ ‘And tell them that, just as before, Radziwil l will be their lord in the future. A better lord they will never have for ever and ever. I’ll tell those upstarts from Warsaw where to go and they won’t touch my Jews. Let the Jews live in peace until they die a natural death . . . //

Here the narrator joins in with an allusion to the book of Esther (8: 16): ‘And everything was done as it was supposed to be. “The Jews became bright, happy, joyous, and solemn.” ’49 The reader cannot help but be struck by the idyllic tone of the ending. Such language conveys the view that this is a harmonious world. To be sure, there is a hierarchy, with the magnate at the top, but each member of the community willingly accepts this. At the same time one recalls that the hierarchy consigns the Jews to a low status, with their very lives and livelihood fully dependent on the goodwill of a capricious landowner. Moreover, it is striking that Levanda wrote Gnev i milost⬘ magnata in the year after the publication of Palestina, the collection of articles in support of proto-Zionist ideas in which he spoke out in favour of plans to transfer the Jews to Palestine. The use of the style called byl⬘, which is characterized by mock-epic language, to describe Jewish life in pre-partition Poland seems entirely out of keeping with any proto-Zionist leanings. Gnev i milost⬘magnata reflects Levanda’s historical nostalgia. He gave his imagination a choice and it chose to go back to a time when Poland was independent and the Polish aristocrats and the Jews supposedly lived in a kind of symbiosis. He seems to be saying that Polish rule was better than Russian rule because, although Jews were not always treated well, they nevertheless felt happy and were fully aware of their privileges and liabilities in traditional Polish society. 49

L. Levanda, Gnev i milost⬘ magnata: Byl⬘ XVIII stoletiya (1885; Odessa, 1912), 74.

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Although it might seem paradoxical, Jewish authors of the nineteenth century often depicted the Polish nobleman in warm and sympathetic tones. According to Israel Bartal, the nobleman, despite his wantonness, might be treated positively as a friend of Jewish enlightenment and as an instrument for good.50 In fact, the Polish nobleman’s excesses are two sides of the same coin: the arbitrariness and caprice that presage misfortune in one instance can also bring salvation in another. According to Bartal, the positive depiction of the nobleman emerges from the Jews’ need for an ally in Polish society.51 A year after the publication of Gnev i milost⬘ magnata Levanda continued his ruminations on the history of the Jews in the region with his ‘Sud⬘by evreev v pol⬘skoi Rechi Pospolitoi (istoricheskii ocherk)’ (‘Fates of the Jews in the Polish Commonwealth (A Historical Sketch)’).52 Dividing Jewish history in Poland into three parts corresponding to three different sources of power, he describes the reign of the powerful kings, the rule of the Sejm, and the dominance of the Catholic clergy. In the first period he features the kings’ extension of ‘special’ privileges to the Jews. In the second he describes the rule of the Sejm, lauding this parliament of nobles for its heightened sense of humanism. Finally, he outlines the increasing domination of the Catholic clergy, who manage to roll back the rights and privileges that the Jews had acquired. But this is not an objective history. At several points Levanda’s description becomes an anthem of praise. For example, of the Jewish reforms of the Four-Year Sejm he writes that this was ‘the first legislative act in modern Europe that in principle claimed for the Jews civil and political rights equal to those of the country’s other subjects. This reform preceded by several years the great French revolution, which one usually credits with first proclaiming the equality of all creeds before the law and in the state.’53 In addition, Levanda acclaims the original privileges granted by Kazimierz the Great, who ‘in his enlightened tolerance and amazing humanism was far ahead of his time’.54 What is surprising is not Levanda’s tone but his system of values. While Simon Dubnow and other Jewish nationalists glorify the system of Jewish self-rule in 50

I. Bartal, ‘The Porets and the Arendar: The Depiction of Poles in Jewish Literature’, Polish Review, 4 (1987), 357–8. Bartal writes, ‘Along with a sense of alienation from and revulsion due to the licentious and violent behavior associated with Polish nobility, one also finds strains of identification with this economic and political class with which the fate of the Jews was linked. Thus, one finds side by side deep fears of violence and persecution, and a feeling of affinity and even desire to assimilate to some of the traits of the nobility. Other social classes in the Polish state were not the object of such 51 Ibid. 366. bonds’ (p. 357). 52 L. Levanda, ‘Sud⬘by evreev v pol⬘skoi Rechi Pospolitoi (istoricheskii ocherk)’, Voskhod, 9–12 (1886). According to Simon Dubnow, Levanda’s book is based on Ludwig Gumplovich’s Prawodawstvo Polskie wzgl e˛dem Zydów (Kraków, 1867); S. Dubnow, Ob izuchenii istorii russkikh evreev i ob uchrezhdenii russko–evreiskogo istoricheskogo obshchestva (St Petersburg, 1891), 27. 53 Levanda, ‘Sud⬘by evreev v pol⬘skoi Rechi Pospolitoi (istoricheskii ocherk)’, Voskhod, 11 (1886), 57. 54 Ibid. 9 (1886), 174. /

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Poland—the Va’ad Arba Aratsot and the efficient local kehalim—Levanda is largely indifferent to internal Jewish life.55 He focuses rather on examples of the successful integration of the Jews and on displays of tolerance and generosity on the part of Poland’s rulers. It is not a coincidence that the goal of integration, which is embodied in this perspective, is the original aim of his modernization programme for the Jews of Russia. Levanda saves his most biting criticism for the clergy, who, although they were rulers neither in name nor in law, began to wield power as early as the seventeenth century. Levanda notes sadly that, while the politics of the Sejm and the Crown ‘more or less strove for the integration of the Jews with the Polish people, [the clergy] pursued a diametrically opposite aim: synodal regulations simply struck down the royal and Sejm statutes’.56 With the clergy antagonistic to Jewish emancipation, the Jews were ultimately left as alienated and isolated from Polish society as they had been when they first arrived in the thirteenth century.57 The Polish theme becomes the backdrop for Levanda’s last work of fiction, Avraam Iezofovich, which deals with the growing influence of the clergy in Poland.58 Apparently written at the same time as his historical sketch (it appeared a month later, in January 1887), this novella provides a realistic depiction of Polish rule in the early sixteenth century, at the height of Polish prosperity and might. Avraam Iezofovich, a young and talented Jew, is invited to serve as the king’s financial adviser on the condition that he convert to Catholicism—which he does. The conversion creates an uproar among the Jews of Kraków, who send Moshe Galevi Lando, the chief rabbi of the city and previously Avraam’s personal teacher, to beseech him to return to Judaism. During the conversations between the two men the story takes a psychological turn. Avraam begins to understand what he has forsaken and feels the need to return to the religion of his fathers. Deciding to live in effect as a marrano, he appears to everyone to be a good Christian, but in the privacy of his home he secretly performs the Jewish rites. With Passover nearing, Avraam prepares his home for the seder dinner. The local Catholic clergy, who have been jealous of his success from the very beginning, decide to unmask him. Learning of their intention, he and his brothers succeed in removing any sign of Jewish affiliation before the king arrives. Soon after, he resigns his post and goes to Germany to live openly as a Jew. Sadly, he does not find peace there either, but dies of a tormented conscience. The key passage explaining Avraam’s world-view lies in his repentance of his conversion: 55 See S. Dubnow, ‘Avtonomizm kak osnova natsional⬘noi programmy: Pis⬘ma o starom i novom evreistve, 7’, Voskhod, 12 (1901). 56 Levanda, ‘Sud⬘by evreev v pol⬘skoi Rechi Pospolitoi’, Voskhod, 11 (1886), 65. 57 Ibid. 12 (1901), 15. 58 L. Levanda, ‘Avraam Iezofovich: Istoricheskaia povest⬘ pervoi poloviny XVI-go veka’, Voskhod, 1–2 (1887).

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Ever since I betrayed the holy faith of our fathers, I have not had a peaceful minute. I do not sleep at night, my conscience troubles me, and I am not happy with life. All the honours that have been showered upon me by the king gave me no satisfaction; they burn me and I am ready any minute to give up everything and run to the ends of the earth. One should remain in the religion of one’s birth until one’s last breath. In betraying my religion, I made a mistake for which I will repent until my grave. Here Satan meddled and clouded my reason. And therefore I have to correct what I mistakenly did in an unfortunate hour. Otherwise it would be better not to live at all.59

While the story can certainly be read as a protest against the phenomenon of religious conversion from Judaism, which had grown to serious proportions in Russia, Levanda underscores the dilemma facing the Jew who seeks integration.60 Forced to choose between integration and his religion, Avraam makes a fateful choice that leads to his death. At the same time the image of Poland is ambiguous at best. While Levanda exonerates the king of antisemitism, he portrays the Catholic clergy as an evil force. Pressuring the king to force Avraam to convert, the clergy persecute him, seeking his downfall at every turn. Not surprisingly, the situation portrayed in the novel corresponds exactly to the views about the clergy that Levanda expresses in his article ‘Sud⬘by evreev v pol⬘skoi rechi pospolitoi’. The character of Avraam in many ways resembles Levanda himself. Desiring acclaim at the highest level of his adopted society, Levanda also encountered resistance because he was Jewish.61 He understood that his literary success would be enhanced if he converted, as did his colleague Grigory Bogrov.62 Clearly the psychological dilemma Avraam experienced was one that Levanda could easily imagine. It is also likely that Levanda wrote his novel in response to Eliza Orzeszkowa’s historical epic Meir Ezofowicz (1878). Levanda had good reason to want to correct aspects of her portrayal, especially since Orzeszkowa’s novel had come out before the pogroms and was widely seen as a realistic portrait of Polish Jews. It may be for this reason that Levanda gave the hero of his novel the same surname as Orzeszkowa’s hero. Although the stories treat different historical periods—Meir Ezofowicz takes place in the early nineteenth century—the issue of integration with the host nation is the main theme in both. Orzeszkowa’s hero, Meir, is punished with a h.erem (excommunication) by the narrow-minded religious obscurants who Levanda, ‘Avraam Iezofovich’, 48. Conversions from Judaism were rising in the 1880s. For a short description of this phenomenon, see G. Sliozberg, Dela minuvshikh dnei, 3 vols. (Paris, 1933), ii. 94. 61 Levanda did not have a degree from an institution of higher education and therefore could only gain the right to live in Russia proper by converting to Christianity, becoming a legally certified artisan, or being registered as a servant to a merchant of the first guild. 62 In letters from 1878 Bogrov advised Levanda to move to St Petersburg and write on general themes for a Russian audience—and thereby to escape the unpleasantness associated with journalism on the Jewish question. See Goldberg, L. o. levanda ka publitsist, 19–20. 59 60

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keep the people in poverty and ignorance. In Orzeszkowa’s account the religious fanatics are responsible for hindering the Jews’ progress towards integration. In opposition to Orzeszkowa, who contrasts progress with obscurantism, Levanda treats the issue of Jewish identity in subtle and troubling ways. Instead of progress versus obscurantism, Levanda juxtaposes self-realization and loyalty. Although Avraam would like to be of use both to Poland and to its Jewish citizens, the conditions of his service, set by the Poles, prohibit him from serving without betraying Judaism. In addition, even after he has converted to Christianity, he is still an object of persecution. Thus, it is not the Jews who need to change but the Poles. Polish intolerance harms not only Avraam but also the interests of the Polish state, since it causes Avraam to leave his position in the chancellery, where he had managed to revive the economy. Although Levanda does not give us a consistently positive image of Poland, it seems safe to say that his engagement with Poland as a literary theme in the last years of his life reflects his search for a time when the Jews of eastern Europe were integrated, happy, and well treated. Having rejected Palestine as a potential home for the Jews, Levanda needed something to believe in, somewhere to build a future for the Jewish people. Although this ideal could not be contemporary Poland, as his debate with Orzeszkowa shows, he emphasized the few happy times in Polish history— inevitably contrasting them with the unhappy situation in contemporary Russia.63 It is important to consider, however, that Levanda needed to stretch the truth in various ways to interpret Poland as he did. After all, Karol Radziwil l was in fact one of the most rapacious noblemen in a period famous for aristocratic excesses.64 Moreover, the Polish reform of the Four-Year Sejm, so exalted by Levanda, died stillborn, incapable of overcoming the resistance of the Catholic clergy. And that poignant image in Bol⬘shoi remiz of two Jewish musicians leaving Galicia with their Polish teacher to begin brilliant careers in western Europe is hardly credible. In a study of Levanda’s fiction Akim Volynsky notes ironically: ‘For double effect, the intrigue begins with cruel violence against a Jewish girl who, from a tavern buffet, later lands on a concert stage and wins abundant laurels.’65 But it would be wrong to consider Levanda an incorrigible idealist. After all, he wrote Avraam Iezofovich //

63 Levanda expressed his dismay over the situation of the Jews in Russia following the pogroms in a series of articles published in Voskhod and Nedel⬘naya khronika Voskhoda in 1881 and 1882 under the titles ‘Mimokhodom (letuchie mysli nedoumevayushchego)’ and ‘Mimokhodom (skromnye besedy o proshlogodnem snege)’. 64 According to Professor George J. Lerski, ‘basically uneducated and an excessive drinker, [Karol Radziwil l ] found a place in the Polish national tradition as a symbol of the backward and corrupt magnates, who brought about Poland’s destruction’ (G. J. Lerski, Historical Dictionary of Poland (Westport, Conn., 1996), 493–4). 65 A. Volynsky, ‘Bytopisatel⬘ russkogo evreistva: Kriticheskii obzor belletristicheskikh proizvedenii L. O. Levandy’, Voskhod, 1 (1889), 25. //

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precisely for the purpose of showing the difficulties of achieving Jewish equality in medieval Poland. Although Levanda tried to create various positive images of Poland, the modern reader will probably find Avraam Iezofovich the most realistic depiction of all. And precisely because Levanda’s images diverge from reality, they provoke questions about his motives. If he really felt close to Poland, why did he not write in Polish, a language that he spoke fluently, and devote his efforts to achieving equal rights for Jews there? Or, conversely, why did he not move to St Petersburg and set himself up as a model of integration, depicting in his fiction images of Jews successfully living together with Russians?66 Why did he write in Russian for a Jewish audience about a Poland that no longer existed? Although it is impossible to be sure, the chronology suggests that in the 1860s Levanda was convinced that Russia would embrace its Jews, granting them equal rights. When that did not occur, he turned to historical Poland as a model for relations between Jews and non-Jews. In the Poland of the past he discovered moments when Jews lived in harmony with Poles—although he was careful not to overlook the times of persecution. He also expressed his admiration for Polish mentors, such as the senior supervisor in Lyubitel⬘skii spektakl⬘ and the music teacher in Bol⬘shoi remiz who supported and encouraged Jews in their desire to become creative artists. Similarly, he expressed a love of Polish literature, considering it more highly developed than either the Russian or the Jewish literature of his day. In many ways Levanda’s evolution makes sense in the context of his political programme. His indifference to Poland before 1870 is explained by his faith in Russia. We recall that the promise of Alexander II’s Great Reforms had a spellbinding effect on the Jews. It also makes sense that when the Russian government turned to reaction, Levanda retreated into history, after expressing his anger in a few articles following the pogroms. In the Polish past he discovered unrealized possibilities for relations between Jews and non-Jews. At the same time he saw much that was worthy of acclaim in contemporary Polish culture and its representatives. By telling stories about near-misses in the past, and consoling himself with depictions of Polish Judaeophiles, Levanda tried to lighten the weight of the obvious failure of his political programme—a failure that, according to witnesses, ultimately caused his death.67 66 See the 1861 letter to Levanda from his friend and the former editor of Vilenskii vestnik M. F. de Poulé published in Goldberg, L. O. Levanda ka publitsist, 31–2. 67 ‘The patriotism of Lev Levanda and many other Jewish “Russophiles” significantly grew cold [after 1881]. One has to consider that the crack in his argument in favour of “unity” with the Russian people, who were groaning under the yoke of autocracy, shook his whole spiritual world, and he even became a proto-Zionist, dying from a serious mental illness at the age of 53’ (Rivesman, ‘Vospominaniya i vstrechi’, 75). Dubnow confirms this view with his own description of a mentally broken Levanda awaiting death in a mental asylum in Vilna (Dubnow, Kniga zhizni, 131).

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Like a Voice Crying in the Wilderness: The Correspondence of Wolf Lewkowicz miro s l aw wój ci k /

‘w ho d o esn’t k no w ca n’t un de r st an d’ The portrait of any nation’s history is largely a function of memory. Here I speak not of history understood as a collection of facts connected by a network of apparent interdependencies. Rather, what I have in mind is something that could be called the objective, supra-individual criterion of a person’s identity: the secret place in which the peculiar contradictions of human fate commune, where paradoxes shed their illogicality, and variations turn out to be nothing more than different pages from the same book. Out of this memory individuals may draw the sense of their own existence. During dramatic historical moments this memory may become the ultimate point of reference—the Buberian pegs allowing us to erect a tent out in the open field of earthly existence. Unfortunately, this knowledge often comes too late. Such an idiosyncratic understanding of history is demanded by the reading of an uncommon document that has survived in spite of the logic of history: a collection of letters written between 1922 and 1939 by Wolf Lewkowicz, a Jew from L ódz´, to his sister’s son Sol Zissman (Shlomo Ya’akov Zissman), living in the United States. Apart from its irrefutable historical value, this correspondence from the inter-war years has special significance. It captures the Jewish community of L ódz´ from the perspective of an individual; it paints a picture of the life of L ódz´ Jews as seen through the eyes of someone who, unknowingly, was becoming living history. The drama of a nation read from the perspective of the individual prevents our understanding of the real suffering of concrete people from being dissipated. For this reason it is impossible to treat the letters of Wolf Lewkowicz as just another document on the ignominy of European civilization. Holocaust historians do not complain of a lack of documents. Rather, the problem is how to animate the memory and imagination of people today, and this purpose appears to be served better by the intimate exchange of words between /

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ordinary people than by impersonal statistics and inventories of facts. We are incapable of truly empathizing with the suffering of millions of people—the tenth or twentieth person becomes an emotional abstraction for us. From the information sprinkled throughout the letters of Wolf Lewkowicz the patient reader is able to piece together a precise portrait of the characters in this correspondence, the places in which they lived, the circumstances of their existence, and a psychological portrait of the author. But what is the sense of such a reconstruction? The people described in these letters vanished into the chasm of the Second World War, the places described exist no more or have been changed beyond recognition, and as for the language in which the letters were written, the contemporary world (especially the non-Jewish one) learned about it only thanks to the Nobel Prize awarded to I. B. Singer. The subjects touched upon in this correspondence are often of a personal nature; hence the value of the observations may easily be questioned as too subjective. Paradoxically, this is exactly why Wolf Lewkowicz’s correspondence is an exceptionally valuable document, presenting the sort of personal information that would be impossible to find in historical syntheses. Only this type of document is capable of bringing us closer to the way past events were experienced by the people who lived through them. Just as the best psychological novels are ones in which there is not a word about psychology, the best sources for comprehending the essence of history and penetrating into the consciousness of the participants in past events seem to be those that were not specifically created for the documentation of history. For this reason private letters hold a special place among the many and varied materials on the life of Jews in Poland. The letters of Wolf Lewkowicz are not only an uncommon psychological document; they also constitute a rare lesson in humanity for the modern reader. Contemporary study of these letters takes place under specific circumstances in that today’s reader has historical knowledge at hand that was unavailable to Lewkowicz. Thus the reader looks at the world of inter-war L ódz´ or Opoczno from a double perspective: on the one hand, his or her thoughts accompany the consciousness of the letters’ author; on the other, he or she observes Lewkowicz’s world from a distance created by time and with the memory of the fate of Jews during the Second World War. The reader realizes that, just as in a Greek tragedy, the hero is doomed to defeat. With this knowledge we follow the course of the singular existence of a tragic hero—a person inevitably drawn to his own destruction. Still, Wolf Lewkowicz did not struggle with fate. The factors involved in the tragic fate of the Polish Jews were human ignorance, antipathy, and finally hatred. /

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the co rre spo nd e n c e The compiled correspondence consists of 192 letters encompassing the period from 5 August 1922 to 8 August 1939.1 The vast majority were written by Wolf Lewkowicz; a few were written by members of his family. They are all addressed to Lewkowicz’s nephew Sol Zissman, who had emigrated when he was 11 years old and lived in Chicago. Lewkowicz was 36 years old when he began the correspondence. A few weeks after the last letter was sent to Chicago, he arrived in the Opoczno ghetto, from which, on 7 December 1942, together with other Jews from Opoczno, he was transported to Treblinka. There his fate was sealed. Lewkowicz’s letters were usually more than a dozen pages long. The author was aware that the length of his letters was atypical. He writes: ‘I would consider myself very fortunate if I could leave my devoted nephew alone, not bother him with any long letters, but rather write short, matter-of-fact, American-style letters: “My family and I are fine and all right. How do you feel and how’s business???” ’ (no. 90). For the contemporary reader of this exchange, however, it is truly fortunate that he wrote letters that were long, open, and rich in the details of life in the Jewish community in inter-war Poland.

‘ ev ery t im e i wri te y o u a le tt e r , i w r i t e y o u m y bi o gr aph y i n d e ta i l’ Wolf Lewkowicz was born on 15 April 1886 in Kon´skie, a small town situated midway between Piotrków Trybunalski and Kielce.2 Kinsk—as Lewkowicz called it, using the Yiddish name—was inhabited at the time by a few thousand Jews; in 1921 there were 5,037 and in 1939 about 6,500.3 On 6 February 1909 Lewkowicz married Malke Rotberg. After their wedding he and his wife lived with her relatives in L ódz´:

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I lived in Lódz´; I dealt in barrels and waste; I rented two shops and didn’t open either one; I moved to Kinsk. 1911: I opened a glass shop in Kinsk; went along with a partner to the marketplace with blue dishes; I dealt in panes of glass until 1913. Then I went bankrupt and liquidated everything. I went back to Lódz´. Although the decision was to go to America, fate /

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1 Written in Yiddish, the letters were translated into English after the war and are currently available on the internet (http://web.mit.edu/maz/wolf), in the library of Harvard University, and in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The owners and copyright holders of the letters are Marshall Zissman and Sol J. Zissman, the author’s relatives. A growing selection of the letters may be found in Polish on the internet (http://strony.wp.pl/wp/mswojcik). Letters 8, 36, and 175 were published in the Polish monthly Midrasz, 6 (1997), 40–4. Minor changes to the English translation have been made for publication in Polin. 2 Letter 92, Lódz´, 18 Sept. 1928; in a different letter (no. 143, Lódz´, 7 Oct. 1934), however, Wolf Lewkowicz states that he was born on 7 Oct. . 3 P. Burchard, Pamia˛tki i zabytki kultury zydowskiej w Polsce (Warsaw, 1990), 139. /

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decreed that I remain in L ódz´ and open an oats and food shop. I operated [it] for a year, and the war broke out. 1914: everything is stolen, and all falls into ruin. We become poor; we suffer from hunger and need; we sit in the dark; we live in fear of death. (no. 139) /

Lewkowicz found himself in Kon´skie at the outbreak of the First World War; the famine in L ódz´ had forced him to return to his home town. He became a baker without a licence until the authorities decided to bring an end to the illegal production of rationed bread. For engaging in illegal business Lewkowicz landed in gaol for fifteen days. He was rescued from his hopeless situation by the Hochbergs, the owners of the foundry in Kon´skie, who arranged the licensing of his bakery. Lewkowicz’s clothing when he went to the Hochbergs for aid testified to his need: /

I didn’t find Mr Hochberg in when I arrived, but all his wife had to do was to take one good look at me, and she could see the whole story written in large letters. First of all, I was wearing a pair of boots with wooden soles. Secondly, my coat was made out of a dyed sack. Thirdly, I had bought my pointed hat from my Uncle Yankl for 5 kroner, and it must have looked it. (no. 3)

Lewkowicz summarizes the next few years of his life as follows: 1915: I returned to Kinsk rejected, disowned; I began to do business with partners making panes of glass; I became gravely ill and remained lying in bed in Kinsk until 1916. Then I became a baker, where I had dealings with a very low class of people; I suffered enough from their abuse and shameful acts; I baked matzohs in a partnership until 1921. Then I returned to Lódz´; I went into the trouser business with a brother-in-law of mine. 1922: I became a partner of another brother-in-law. 1923: we all entered into a partnership, i.e. my father-inlaw, my two brothers-in-law, and I. 1924: we become pedlars. In 1926 I became a miller in Opoczno. 1929: I worked as a salesman for my brother-in-law in Opoczno. 1930: I became a worker in a factory, having lost whatever money I had . . . 1931: I return to work in the factory and work there until 1933. At the start of the year I was thrown out of the factory because of the unemployment situation. I wandered about for four months without work, without any way of making a living. Before Passover I went to Opoczno and became a partner in the baking of matzohs. In May 1933 I began to work again, although under very adverse conditions. In July I burned my foot at the factory, lay in bed for seven weeks, and went back to work at the factory, where I continue to work until this very day, although not more than three or four days a week. (no. 139) /

The year 1919 came and Poland reappeared. ‘From that time on, a new epoch started for us,’ Lewkowicz wrote. When he was beaten up by his Jewish competitors as he was entering the synagogue on the sabbath, Lewkowicz withdrew from the bakery profession. It was this incident that he had in mind when he wrote of ‘a very low class of people’. His attempts at bootleg production of alcohol, and then soap production, also ended in fiasco. In the depths of despair Lewkowicz drew on the remainder of his bitter irony: ‘As it turned out, God hadn’t forgotten me completely. He couldn’t stand to let things go as smoothly as all that, and I was struck down by typhus’ (no. 3).

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In 1920, during the Polish–Soviet war, Lewkowicz ended up in the army; the draft included all men between the ages of 19 and 35. The youngest were sent to the front. Lewkowicz was released after two months of service. The following year, with no prospect of earning a living in Kon´skie, and under pressure from his wife and in-laws, Lewkowicz decided to move to L ódz´: /

Not having a choice, I bowed my head in shame and arrived in the big city of L ódz´ with a broken spirit, impoverished, naked, barefoot, blackened by fate, encumbered by a broken dresser, a table with only three legs, an iron cot, some bedlinen, rags, and tatters of clothing, two uneducated girls of 7 and 9, and a nursing infant to top things off. (no. 3) /

The money brought from Kon´skie lasted three months. Wolf tried hard to earn a living selling agricultural goods; later he tried his luck in the tailoring profession. Although he shared cramped living quarters with his in-laws—he lived in the kitchen—life in L ódz´ made him happy. In letters sent to America he gave his address as L ódz´, Wólczan´ska 168, at the Rotbergs.4 His comments on the changes taking place in his life are significant: ‘Here, I send my two children to school, and I am able to dress better. I now wear a short coat, and my wife, Malke, has taken off her shaytl [wig]. Slowly we are becoming Germans—although poor ones’ (no. 3). Lewkowicz hoped that life in the big city would increase his chances of earning money. After all, he now bore the responsibilities of a husband and a father: in 1912 his first daughter, Balcia, was born; in 1916 his second, Rifka; and five years later his son, Joseph. Although he tried many things, his hopes of earning a living were soon dashed. Succumbing to depression, he even considered suicide: /

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At that time, I had a stand in the marketplace with ready-made trousers and suits, where I dealt for a year and accomplished nothing. . . . These were the saddest two years of my life. I didn’t have a place to live, but stayed with my wife’s parents with two iron beds. Life was unbearable, as you already know from my long letters. Therefore, I constantly thought only of either freeing myself of the world or freeing the world of me. (no. 50)

Not for the first time, or the last, a relative in Chicago came to the rescue, sending Wolf $160—the equivalent of 829 Polish zlotys. This made it possible for Lewkowicz to rent an apartment. From 1924 until 1939 the return address on the letters to America reads ‘ulica Lipowa 44’ (‘44 Lipowa Street’). Lewkowicz had to be satisfied with the independent living quarters, because apart from this nothing had changed. His family was still suffering in poverty; Lewkowicz still strove to earn a living: I began to deal with selling on payments, i.e. for example, I would buy a suit for 100 gulden. I would give the merchant 50 gulden in cash and 50 gulden in a two-month note. I sold it to a customer on payments. I earned 30 per cent, i.e. I sold it for 130 zlotys; the customer handed me 20 to 30 zlotys immediately, and the balance was to be paid out over a period of ten to twelve weeks. (no. 50) 4 Wólczan´ska is the street that another Jew from Lódz´, Julian Tuwim, mentions in his long poem Kwiaty polskie (Warsaw, 1977), 147. /

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As Lewkowicz notes, this type of business was eliminated by Wl adysl aw Grabski’s stabilization of Polish finances, which Lewkowicz described pithily as creating ‘a mess of the entire economy’ (no. 50). The year 1926 brought a rare—for Lewkowicz—improvement in his financial situation. Yitshak Eliezer Chmielnicki, his brother-in-law from Opoczno, offered him a partnership in a mill, and Sol in Chicago gave Lewkowicz $200 to invest as his share. The letters from 1926 provide many details of this undertaking. Work in the mill started at the beginning of May 1926. Lewkowicz had counted on earnings reaching 50 zlotys weekly. The partners agreed to divide the profits according to the percentage of their initial investments; Lewkowicz was to get 20 per cent. Wolf summed up the first year of work in the mill this way: ‘Our business is too small for us to be able to produce everything that we require. Seventy-five per cent [of the gross income] is eaten up by wages, taxes, interest, and refurbishing, and four families are supported by the remaining 25 per cent’ (no. 74). The mill went bankrupt at the end of 1927. There were several reasons for this: the grain available in the region was of poor quality and the partners were forced to bring in grain from Poznan´, which raised production costs; high taxes and their meagre investment capital precluded expansion; strong competition held down profits; and their traditional hydraulic mill was unable to compete with the modern steam-powered mills functioning in the area. As Lewkowicz reported to his nephew, ‘We eventually had to shut down the mill completely because from Sukkot to December we lost about $1,000’ (no. 78). In 1929 Lewkowicz worked as a simple labourer in a factory. Although he had often repeated that it was better to earn less and be an employer, he no longer had any choice in the matter. He saw the opportunity to work five days a week as a blessing. His working day began at 6 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. His daily earnings were the equivalent of 80 cents. The year 1930 brought tragedy to his family: on 23 April, at the age of 19, Lewkowicz’s elder daughter, Balcia, died. In 1931 Lewkowicz worked only three days a week and earned 2 dollars a week; at the end of the year he lost this job too. Two years later, on 1 June 1933, he started work in a dye-house. A month later he suffered an accident in which, whether as a result of inattention or perhaps the cruel joke of a Catholic co-worker, boiling hot dye poured over his foot. The sulphuric acid ate deep wounds into it: ‘The doctor removed the skin from my foot just as a calf is skinned,’ he wrote later (no. 135). On 12 March 1935, after three months of enforced unemployment, Lewkowicz started to work four days a week, but the following year he had another accident at work; this time he fell, breaking a rib. He had to spend several weeks in bed. His subsequent unemployment lasted until 15 January 1937. Six years after the death of his daughter Lewkowicz experienced another personal tragedy: after many months of illness his wife, Malke, passed away. /

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In the first days of September 1939, upon news of the encroaching war, Lewkowicz left L ódz´ together with his children, 23-year-old Rifka, for whom he could not provide a dowry (and therefore marriage), and 18-year-old Joseph, who was unable to emigrate to his cousin in Chicago. Lewkowicz’s last surviving letter is dated 8 August 1939. In its final words the author envisions his sad fate: ‘I have a sort of premonition that I will not achieve the age of 75 of my father, may he rest in peace, nor the age of 65 of my mother, may she rest in peace. In Poland these days one is considered an old man at the age of 55, and every year that one lives longer than that is considered a prize’ (no. 178). Wolf Lewkowicz was granted only one year beyond the age of 55. During the war the Lewkowicz family, along with the remaining Jews of Opoczno, was resettled in the ghetto. There they lived for over three years, until 7 December 1942. On that day the inhabitants of the ghetto were transported to Treblinka. /

‘e very word a p earl, e ve ry l e t t e r a di a m o n d’ Jewish letters crossing the Atlantic from Poland were certainly not rare in the interwar period. As we gather from observations in Lewkowicz’s letters, complaints about poverty and pleas for financial support were common: ‘I convinced myself . . . that I should write less in the letters that I write to you, i.e. that I should not conduct myself as all the Polish Jews who always write sad and complaining letters to America’ (no. 88). In one of his letters Lewkowicz cites the opinion of Sol’s former teacher Rabbi Todros of Kon´skie, according to whom 15 per cent of Poland’s Jews were supported by American relatives. Although Lewkowicz, too, requested material assistance in exceptional circumstances, his letters do deviate from this pattern. He often repeated that the words of his American nephew, which were a sign of his care and sympathy, were more precious than the money. Lewkowicz had the opportunity to familiarize himself with many letters written by wealthy American Jews to their poor relatives in Poland. In none of those, however, did he find what Sol’s letters contained: true empathy. Evidence of the importance of his nephew’s letters for Lewkowicz may be found in nearly all the surviving letters. From his reflections we may reconstruct the character of the correspondence: the writing, sending, receiving, and reading of the letters. This was a correspondence not so much realized as celebrated. The composition of Lewkowicz’s letters attests to the literary talent of their author as well as the significance he placed on these words sent across the ocean. He had a talent for description; today’s reader of his letters will gain not only a precise image of Lewkowicz’s circumstances, but also an insight into the state of the author’s soul. We may thus make both intellectual and, more crucially, emotional contact with the contents. Lewkowicz does not conceal his emotions from his

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addressee: ‘I write you this letter not with ink, but with tears,’ he confesses in a letter from 1932 (no. 133). This description is typical: ‘Today, Tuesday, or more correctly Monday night, I am answering. Dear brother, I sit now in the mill, quite alone. It is exactly 2 a.m. The sky is already showing the first signs of day. Tonight is a lovely summer’s night; the air is fragrant, and I am strolling around and standing guard; today is my turn to stand guard. We are four partners; each of the partners stands guard one night to prevent our being burgled’ (no. 72). An enormous amount of information is contained in this seemingly fleeting communication: the temporal, spatial, and personal circumstances in which the author finds himself. All of these elements serve to convey the uniqueness of the moment within the banality of the passing hours. This is the way a person writes who is capable of tasting life, who, in his words, strives to overcome the time and space separating him from his correspondent. As Lewkowicz himself states: ‘I will relate as much as I [can] in a letter so you will be able to picture [everything] just as if you had witnessed the scene yourself here on the spot’ (no. 99). Lewkowicz usually begins his letters with this sort of description. He prefers to write when he can concentrate solely on his letter. This concentration also makes it possible for him to penetrate the depths of his own soul: ‘When I sit down to write a letter to you, my devoted one, I would like to reveal everything to you, not only what troubles me on the surface, but even what the underlying pain is’ (no. 139). In a similar manner, Lewkowicz describes the circumstances under which he receives letters from his nephew in America. Here again we have specifics of time and place and information about the subtler aspects of atmosphere, mood, and the elements of the author’s religious imagination. He approvingly sets forth his brother-in-law’s opinion regarding Sol’s role in his life: ‘It is nothing other than an act of God that you are a messenger from heaven to provide me with food and rescue in my time of need . . . just like the sainted Joseph provided food finally for his father, his brothers, etc.’ (no. 40). It would be difficult to deny the genuineness with which this L ódz´ Jew, standing on the brink of destitution, writes of letters (and often of money) from America in terms of divine intervention. He describes his prayer on Rosh Hashanah in an Opoczno synagogue in 1926: /

engaged in this way with my prayers and my pleas, I think to myself, ‘And who came forward on my behalf in my most critical moments, who was the first to respond to my call, if not you, my devoted Sol?’ I do not know what compelled you to act in this way, my tearful letters or your kind-heartedness, or merely the fact that you are a mensh [decent person]. Perhaps it was decided in heaven that you should be my deliverer. And you are not out of my mind for one minute, for one second. I am praying for you just as I am praying for myself, ‘Our Father, our King, inscribe us in the book of happy life. Our Father, our King, inscribe us in the book of maintenance and sustenance. . . .’ I exert my strength and pray like a small child, ‘Our Father, our King, remember your mercy and withhold your rage and

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avoid problems, sword, and hunger. . . .’ At that moment I heard the postman shout ‘Chmielnicki’.5 I was, as it were, confused. Right away I thought that it is certainly a letter for me from my devoted and beloved one. The letter arrived just as if it were a guest who is awaited. He is talked about, preparations are made to receive him. Believe me, Sol, that not one second passed during the two-day holiday that I didn’t have you in mind, and suddenly your letter was here. (no. 60)

Strikingly similar to the account cited above is one found in a letter from 1928: I received your short letter of 20 August on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. It’s worthy of note how fittingly timed your letters to me are. I remember that I was in Opoczno a year ago. I was reciting the Musaf service. I was in the midst of the ‘Unasaneh tokef’ prayer, just finishing ‘who will live and who will die’, when suddenly I heard the postman call ‘Lewkowicz. A letter from America’. You can imagine how happy your letters made me and my sister. It was exactly the same this year. It was the day before Rosh Hashanah, Friday afternoon. We were about to light the candles, preparing to go to the synagogue, and I said to Aunt Malke, ‘I’m really surprised that Sol hasn’t sent a letter for such a long time.’ It wasn’t five minutes until I heard a shout, ‘Lewkowicz. A letter from America’. So, Sol, you can gather that your letter was on my mind during the whole holiday, both when I was praying and when I was eating. (no. 92)

It is difficult to say whether this is a wishful interpretation of the facts, or an uncanny coincidence. However, even if there is no way of verifying such descriptions, their content sometimes becomes—regardless of intentions of the author—a universal metaphor for the Jewish fate: a sign read only after the facts of a particular situation have become recollections of the past. The fragment below is an example of such a description. In a letter from 1937 describing his son Joseph’s dream, Lewkowicz tries to convince his nephew that a supernatural power reigns over their exchange of letters: It was approximately two weeks after Passover on a Saturday morning when I awoke my Joseph from sleep in order for him to go to synagogue to say kaddish. My Joseph said to me, ‘Father, I happened to be dreaming a pleasant and sweet dream, and it’s too bad that my father woke me up because I would have liked to experience such a dream for as long as possible.’ I anxiously asked him what sort of dream he had been dreaming, and he told me that, while he doesn’t know you personally, nor does he know your wife or your son, nonetheless with his own eyes he had seen the door in our home open one fine morning and you, your Esther and Leonard came into our home. You didn’t find anyone at home except for him, Joseph. You asked whether he recognized you, but instead of answering he embraced and kissed you. He was so excited by the happiness and surprise that he wanted to run to tell me the news of your arrival, but I woke him up in the midst of the dream, and he was very saddened that the dream hadn’t gone on to its end. This was at about 8 a.m., and the postman knocked on the door an hour later and handed me a picture of all of you. Well, Sol, how do you relate my Joseph’s dream to the picture that you sent? Is there a connection, or is 5 During his stay in Opoczno, Lewkowicz used the address of his brother-in-law Eliezer Chmielnicki . for correspondence (ulica Kal uzna 11). /

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it just a coincidence like other coincidences? I note for the second time that everything that I write to you here is the exact and pure truth, not a word of exaggeration. (no. 162)

In Lewkowicz’s metaphors, characterizations of Sol’s letters hold a special place. The sphere of associations is rather broad: sustenance for the soul, nourishment, water for the thirsty, jewels, a mirror. For example: ‘To me, your letters are just like food for the spirit. I nourish myself with your letters just as one who is starved stills his hunger. Your letters satiate me, but the more I read of your writing, the greater my desire to read more’ (no. 62); ‘I read your letter very carefully, and every word is a pearl for me and a mirror for my wife’ (no. 54); ‘Every word a pearl, every letter a diamond’ (no. 73). Evidence that this kind of formulation should be treated as more than just metaphor lies in Lewkowicz’s actual behaviour: he would often forgo breakfast to save money for sending letters to America (no. 130). Lewkowicz found the strength to joke even in the most tragic moments of his life. He himself was well aware of this talent, and considered it a family trait. His mother’s humorous sayings were still being repeated in all of Jewish Kon´skie. Irony served him as a way of expanding the significance of a point. With a joke one can speak of vital matters without arousing pathos: ‘in each of my jokes lies a trace of seriousness’, he wrote (no. 148). He even speaks of God with a gentle irony: ‘it appears that the Master of the Universe hadn’t forgotten about me. He has a great love for me and, because of His love, He punishes me with the sort of pain that even the greatest hero could not bear’ (no. 113). Wolf associates the deeper meaning of the joke with the essence of the Jewish nation, which has also been able to survive because of this skill, despite the adversities of history: ‘Yet, surely, it is always a part of our nature to joke with each other now and then, because if we didn’t laugh out loud once in a while we would long ago have ceased to exist in this sinful little world’ (no. 80).

‘i s tood by the g rav e , sa i d a f e w wo r d s i n y i ddi s h’ On the question of the language used in the correspondence, one important caveat must be made: all my remarks apply only to those linguistic aspects that can be analysed on the basis of an English-language translation and on Lewkowicz’s own reflections on language. Language has become a reliable element in the characterization of human mentality and cultural belonging; it speaks of the psyche, the philosophy, the religious and social convictions of its user, and testifies to the individual means of interpreting reality. This exchange of letters took place on the borders of three languages: Yiddish, Polish, and English. At the start of their correspondence Sol Zissman had lived in the United States for over a decade; English was the language in which he conducted business and spoke with his family. He had left Poland as an 11-year-old boy, but took with him to America a knowledge of Yiddish; however, his Polish was

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poor. Lewkowicz, on the other hand, did not know English; naturally, he knew Yiddish and Polish. His son, Joseph, spoke only Polish, though he started to learn Yiddish a few years before the war. Lewkowicz’s daughter Rifka knew Yiddish, but knew Polish much better; she began to learn English at the age of 19. The relationship between Joseph and Sol was characteristic of the linguistic situation of those days: two Polish Jews were not able to communicate in the same language; one knew Polish too poorly, the other Yiddish. As a result of this linguistic predicament, Wolf Lewkowicz becomes the gobetween in exchanges of information between Sol and his family living in Poland; Sol, on the other hand, keeps his uncle informed about what is happening with relatives in America. The tie that binds Wolf and Sol in this relationship is the language in which they explain to each other two mutually foreign worlds. Sol repeatedly stresses the significance of the Yiddish language, associating it with the issue of Orthodoxy, of faithfulness to the Jewish tradition and religion. He reproaches Lewkowicz for failing to educate Joseph and Rifka in the Yiddish language. The ‘accused’ replies: I beg you, dear Sol, not to blame your uncle because you ought not to think that, during the eighteen-year-period in which you haven’t seen him, your uncle has completely assimilated. No, [he is] the same uncle, with the same Jewish heart, even with the same little Jewish hat. However, the circumstances are completely different. The children go to a public school where Polish, not Yiddish, is taught. I can’t enter my Joseph in a Hebrew school because I don’t want to send him to an old-fashioned school where they teach ‘V’yoymer . . . and he said’, ‘V’yedaber . . . and he spoke’, and a reformed Hebrew school would cost as much as 70 cents a week. Besides that, he doesn’t have spare time to study. So, I teach him something every day. Over a period of time I also want to teach him Yiddish. For example, my Rifkele is already able to write a Yiddish letter, but she is not able to read well yet. In a word, Sol, they are still young children and will be able to speak Yiddish eventually. First of all, they have to be familiar with the language of the country . . . (no. 127)

Knowledge of the Polish language, so the Jew from L ódz´ attempts to explain, is a practical necessity rather than a sign of cultural identification. Nonetheless, among the younger generation especially, fluency in the tongue of Mickiewicz was not always accompanied by fluency in that of Peretz. What is the Yiddish language for Wolf and Sol? It is the language in which they write heartfelt letters, in which they relay not only events but also subtle feelings and moods. Yiddish appears to be a tongue made specifically for prayers for assistance, for accepting complaints, and for expressing pain and despair: /

As to your writing that my last letter, written on the eve of Yom Kippur, touched you to tears, let me make it clear to you that a person experiences moments when he is so bewildered, so pressured, that one’s heart becomes heavy, one’s eyes flow with tears and, at such a time, the pen doesn’t need to wait for material. The pen writes by itself, without any dictation, without any forethought. (no. 39)

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Yiddish is also the language in which one speaks with the dead or marks ceremonial occasions. Recalling his visit to the cemetery in Opoczno, where his mother was buried, Wolf recognizes the necessity of accenting this event: ‘I stood by the grave, said a few words in Yiddish’ (no. 83). In celebrating the Jewish holy days, one cannot use Polish: ‘I am sitting here at the table,’ writes Balcia, Lewkowicz’s eldest daughter, ‘dictating to my father a [Rosh Hashanah] greeting to you. I would write you myself, but somehow Polish is not suitable on such an occasion and I am just now learning Yiddish’ (no. 13). Finally, Yiddish is a language that had the power to save a life. Lewkowicz’s efforts over the course of many years to leave for America came to nothing. A few years before the war the despairing father tried to send his son Joseph to Chicago. Sol could have justified his need for Joseph as an assistant by saying that he needed a translator who spoke fluent Yiddish, and in this way the family could have overcome the many restrictions on immigration. Unfortunately, Joseph did not know the language of his forefathers. A separate issue is Lewkowicz’s use of the Polish language in his letters. I have already noted Lewkowicz’s lack of interest in the non-Jewish community. The language of this correspondence proves, however, that the Polish language and Polish customs were not foreign to him. Polish appears in the letters in various forms. Most frequently, single, phonetically written Polish words are injected: for example, przednówek—‘from the days before Passover until 1 August we have what is known as Pszednowek [the period before harvest when peasants were at their hungriest]’ (no. 73); or months of the year, as in: ‘Paz´dziernik [October], we had to pay for the renovation . . . And this month, Listopad [November]’ (no. 63). More rarely there are Polish sayings and popular phrases, always prefaced with an introduction such as ‘there is a saying going around here’ (no. 87), or ‘there is a popular saying in Poland’ (no. 101). Sayings, parables, quotes, mottoes, aphorisms, and allegories are Lewkowicz’s true passion. Only one Polish saying is relayed in the original: ‘Jak ma byc´ kwas´ne, niech be˛dzie jak ocet’ (‘If it’s going to be sour, let it be like vinegar’) (no. 87). The remainder are translated into Yiddish: ‘You don’t know a person until you do business with him or live with him’ (no. 48); ‘A drowning person will try to save himself by grasping for the sharp end of a razor’ (no. 101). Lewkowicz’s use of Polish in his letters exemplifies the linguistic habits of the traditionally oriented Jew who, nevertheless, lives in a Polish-speaking milieu and works with Poles. Very typical, for instance, is the fact that he uses the Polish names of the months—a linguistic practice stemming most likely from his work at the mill, which was so closely tied to the seasonal labour of Polish peasants. The use of language in Wolf and Sol’s correspondence is a profound sign of the cultural changes that were taking place among Jews on the two continents. As a sign of the new historical, social, and cultural reality, it was reflected in the mirror of language perhaps more accurately than in ideologies, convictions, and aspirations.

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The Yiddish language acted as the last bridge across an ocean dividing a community of one tradition, one language, and one God.

‘le t o po c z no be o p oc z n o ’ I noted at the outset that Lewkowicz’s attention is directed, above all, towards the Jewish community. The towns described in Wolf’s letters are Jewish towns. The people recalled are, as a rule, members of the same faith as the author. ‘Our’ customs, ‘our’ poverty, are Jewish customs and poverty. Certainly, this selectivity is not evidence of a particular aversion on Lewkowicz’s part to the non-Jewish community. Rather, it is a reflection of the actual conditions of the coexistence of Poles and Jews in the inter-war period: Jewish isolation may have been as much an expression of the lack of interest in people on the other side of the cultural and religious divide as of the need to strengthen community ties in the face of threats against the group. In helping his American nephew to envision Polish towns, Lewkowicz devotes a great deal of space to his own home town. His words lead us down the streets that no longer exist in Jewish Opoczno, Kon´skie, or L ódz´. They register facts, names, colours, situations, and jokes; they strive to capture the dynamics of the street in suggestive images, and delve into the etymology of place names. The charm of these descriptions is the emotional involvement of the writer, even where the dominating emotion is antipathy or aversion. Opoczno—currently a city of 20,000 people—lies midway between Radom and Piotrków Trybunalski, and has been inhabited by Jews since its very beginnings in the fourteenth century. At the onset of the Second World War about 3,000 Jews lived in the city. Lewkowicz spent many months, at various points in his life, in Opoczno and its environs; hence this city holds a significant place in his letters. His sister lived there, and, with his brother-in-law, Eliezer Chmielnicki, he conducted business here. Generally speaking, though, Lewkowicz did not accord Opoczno much sympathy. The town was for him almost synonymous with the countryside, with boredom, and with cultural and social backwardness. According to Lewkowicz, even the etymology of the town’s name testified to the aptness of such convictions: /

I have been in a variety of towns and villages, but such a backward town as Opoczno I have never seen in my life. It was no accident that King Casimir III ran off with a Jewess, Esterka, and gave this forsaken town the name of Opoczno, because it was here that they spocznie, rested.6 It is quiet, silent as the inside of an ear. If it weren’t for the fact that once in a while an accomplished speaker comes to the House of Study and makes a good speech, the whole town would fall asleep. (no. 74) 6 Lewkowicz presents here the historically unauthenticated, though eagerly spread, tale of the Polish king’s Jewish mistress Esterka (mentioned in, among other places, the chronicles of Dl ugosz). It is worth noting that this is one of the rather rare instances in which, while writing in Yiddish, Lewkowicz writes Polish words and ponders their meanings. /

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Compared with L ódz´’s busy streets, and for Lewkowicz’s lively temperament, small-town life must have seemed sleepy and stagnant. Lewkowicz put it succinctly: it was a cemetery for living people. He wrote: ‘The life is no life; the people are not people’ (no. 104); ‘95 per cent of the people are poor, naked and barefoot. . . . The town looks like a cemetery; the people resemble corpses; the houses look like tombstones’ (no. 134). Reprehensible behaviour, cheating in trade, and unfair business practices he calls ‘the methods of the Opoczno Jews’ (no. 71). His description of an Opoczno street is tempered with irony—a sign of the writer’s distance from this reality: /

Here in Opoczno the sun has finally come out and we see in the street broken beds, straw, colourless junk, chalk-covered chests. Women are running around helter-skelter. One is scraping a noodle board in honour of Passover. A second is running with a brush in her hand. A third is already carrying matzohs covered with a white pillowcase. In a word, we can see that the beloved, pure kosher Passover is coming, in which all the slovenly dressed women two weeks from today will be queens and their husbands kings. (no. 83)

In a letter penned on 8 October 1926 in Opoczno, Lewkowicz includes the most thorough characterization of this town and its inhabitants. The wealth of detail, the peculiar language, and the bitter irony make this fragment worth citing in full: Your father-in-law, Mr Anker, remarked about the town of Opoczno that it is a cemetery with graves and there is a dead body in every grave, i.e. the marketplace and the streets are dead, like a cemetery, and in each of the shops, that is, the graves, stands a dead body, an owner. I think, Sol, that if you examined the nature of an owner, you wouldn’t laugh, but you would cry at the sort of creature God has in his little world. All week long, not enough is taken in to buy cigarettes, but Thursday, on market day, they wait until the peasants come into town; they take advantage of them however they can. Practically everyone in town is observant; on the other hand, it’s hard to find a good person. The main streets of Opoczno . are named Pudding Street, Mud Street, Shoemaker’s Street, Yiddish [Zydowska] Street. . Kal uzna is also muddy where your uncle lives. The principal businesses here are lime and stones. The fields are stony; the earth is stony; even the people are like stones. They have hearts of stone. For one to inform against his neighbour is of no consequence. One of them observes what another does, and immediately imitates him. One wants to tear the bread out of the mouth of the other. If someone here earns a living, his life is not safe; they talk about him in the chapel of the synagogue, at the ritual bath, at the court, etc. You can imagine the sort of contentment in which the town lives merely from the nicknames by which they address each other, instead of using real names. So, for example, I was able to record several names on my radio memory and write them out for you. Read carefully and perhaps you will remind yourself of the sort of land you were in. Here, in Opoczno, can be found a Shmiel Pipik (Belly Button), an Avraham Maygel (Neck), a Yankel Bochenek (Small Loaf), and a Meyer Petzke (Small Penis); a Nutan Kvoke (Rooster) and a Mordechai Hokeh (Hook); Yisroel Sralash (Defecator) and a Moishe Mik and an Avraham Bik (Bull); Mendel Yak, Shia Mooz, a Yankel Koysa (Drinker), a Nachman Dralik, a Kookeh Bosteh, a Faygel Pesses and Yente Pesses, and so on. There is not one person to be found in the town who is called by his first name; rather, it’s a Moyshe Movches and a Pinya Dovches; a Chaim /

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Latek (Patch), a Shmiel Tramze, a Yarachmiel Grapler (Grabber) and a Pyerge, and so on. It’s simply terrible to live in a town where everyone has a nickname. Only I, for the time being, am called Reb Wolf. Even though I don’t have anything to do with anyone here, nevertheless I have acquired a few enemies. But what do you think, Sol? It seems to me that it’s better to have enemies than friends. . . . Isn’t that so? (no. 61)

Wolf dedicates significantly less space in his correspondence to his birthplace. Kon´skie. He recalls Jewish Kinsk only occasionally, reminiscing about his father’s and grandfather’s graves in the Kon´skie cemetery and recalling the names of local Jews from the end of the nineteenth century: Akiba Freundlich, Itche Przednówek, Yerachmial Zinger, Yosel Tsuker, and Yankel Lewin (no. 145). The description of the approach of Passover in Opoczno cited above is typical of the author’s musings on the forms of culture in contemporary Jewish circles. Generally speaking, in his bond with the past and with strict custom, Lewkowicz is a traditionalist. He does not praise the new world order and does not tie his hopes to the modern movements arising out of Judaism. On numerous occasions he sentimentally recollects ‘the old days’, when religious traditions were observed with piety in Jewish homes. Now the situation looks entirely different: living in constant fear and uncertainty and lacking the means for proper observance cannot foster tradition: I am sitting and remembering what Yom Kippur in a small town used to be like in the old days, twenty-five years ago, when you were still a child. These days, the old-time fear, the terror, the weeping, the fright, the traditional observance are missing, although if you go out in to the street, you can tell that today is the eve of Yom Kippur. (no. 118)

Lewkowicz asks his nephew about the details of holy days spent in Chicago: ‘Write to me about how Purim was there. . . . Do you also eat kreplach [meat-filled dumplings] during Purim? Do you also hit Haman?’ (no. 67). He himself longs for times past as he observes the secularization of life that is taking place before his eyes: ‘Write to me about how Yom Kippur looks there at the time of Kol Nidre [the service on Yom Kippur eve]. In Lodz, it’s also less religious than it once was in the small towns about fifteen years ago. Remember, Shloyme . . . eh?’ (no. 36). In Poland, as Lewkowicz writes, the religious are those with sufficient imagination and those lacking the means for an honourable existence: To your question as to whether we go to Kol Nidre with the same fear that we did fifteen years ago, I can write, my devoted one, ‘No’. It has decreased by 50 per cent. The handful of young people don’t want to pray at all. The only ones who pray are the middle class, the poor, and the aged! As far as that’s concerned, Sol, I’ve heard that the Master of the Universe is a bankrupt. (no. 94)

Some customs are observed, however, in an extraordinarily scrupulous manner. A real problem for Lewkowicz, as the father of the maturing Rifka, is the necessity of ensuring a dowry. He comes back to this topic in his letters with a stubborn

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consistency increasing in direct proportion to Rifka’s age. The wealth of details regarding the dowry is explained by the fact that this custom is entirely foreign to Sol: if a man works, why does he need a dowry? Polish reality looks completely different: ‘Just as was the case thirty years ago, the father of a daughter must provide a dowry for a young man, and it’s very sad for the father or the young woman who has no dowry . . . and what father wants his daughter to wither away and not to make a wedding for his daughter at the right time?’ (no. 170). Lewkowicz notes further that, ‘here in Poland, we don’t yet have a practice under which a young man would marry a poor girl without a dowry’ (no. 174). An exception is those young people who actually fall in love, yet this is not a frequent occurrence: ‘we dare not wait for miracles’ (no. 174), he bitterly admits. The following fragment speaks profoundly on the intricate connection between emotions and money in the age of inflation: Shmiel Lewin, Uncle Yankl’s son, got engaged a year ago in Cze˛stochowa to a decent girl with 2 million marks of her own. It so happened that the value of the Polish mark fell, and the 2 million marks became worthless. He broke that engagement and soon became engaged in Tomaszów to 8 million. Now he’s engaged for the third time to someone with 15 million marks. He’s racing with the commodities market; as the dollar raises the value of all the goods in the country, such as bread, herring, onions, garlic, his value also rises. Our young fellows think, ‘if prices of perishable goods go up so much, how much more so should ours!’ (no. 8)

Three years later Wolf returns to the engagement of his relative: ‘Aunt Breindel’s Shmiel is a shoemaker. He wants a dowry of $300; “If not, let it rot”, he declares’ (no. 56). The wishes of the young would-be groom were fulfilled: ‘Shmiel Lewin entered into an engagement contract [with a family] from Mielec, in Galicia, which is now part of Poland. He received a dowry of $1,000 and the assignment of one-half of a building’ (no. 64). The problem of a dowry for Wolf ’s daughter remained unsolved. In the last of the surviving letters (8 August 1939) Wolf declares, ‘My only wish from life is that I be deemed worthy of giving my only daughter’s hand in marriage’ (no. 178). Despairing and forced to overcome his embarrassment, he asks Sol for money. This request will not be met. The war breaks out three weeks later.

a

MENSH

Typical of the way in which Lewkowicz perceives others is his division of people in two categories—and these categories are not at all connected to national or religious belonging. According to him, a person is either a mensh or a shlimazel. He uses the first to refer to people who are honest, truthful, and loyal. In Lewkowicz’s letters this term is most often connected with his American nephew. The term for a failure in life, however, he applies more than once—and humorously—to himself: ‘I

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consider myself, as my . . . [wife] calls me, a shlimazel, a ne’er-do-well, a good-fornothing lazy bum’ (no. 94). In all certainty Lewkowicz was aware of the traps of xenophobic, racial, and ethnic prejudices. This is understandable in a person who had experienced in his own life the effects of the nationalistic prejudices of those around him. When Sol entered into a partnership with a Greek, Lewkowicz wrote: it makes no difference what his nationality is. The important thing is that he be a mensh and understand what business is. By chance, I have had many occasions in my life to speak to Greeks. The Greek people are very intelligent. Culturally, they are on a par with other European peoples. They have an admirable history. There is less antisemitism experienced among them in Greece than in other European countries. (no. 150)

But Lewkowicz’s enthusiasm waned somewhat when Sol informed him of his Greek partner’s dishonesty. Forgetting his praises of the Greeks, he warns his nephew, ‘be careful because Greeks have a reputation for being clever swindlers’ (no. 162). This amusing inconsistency does not in the least reflect upon Lewkowicz’s open, friendly, and tolerant attitude towards others. The letters reveal much about Lewkowicz’s cognitive culture, his intellectual horizons, and his curiosity about the world (although the books and authors he mentions testify to an interest primarily in the literature and culture of the Jewish world). Among the famous Jewish writers and poets Lewkowicz mentions are Yitshak Leibush Peretz, S. An-Ski, Mordkhe Spektor, and Israel Joshua Singer (he praises the novel Chaver nakhman). He kept abreast of literature and current events by reading issues of Forverts, which Sol sent from Chicago. The fairness and credibility of this newspaper, Lewkowicz asserts, made it unnecessary for him to describe the conditions of the Polish Jews; the editors of Forverts already did this very well. Also thanks to Forverts, Lewkowicz was up to date on American affairs. He asks for Sol’s impressions of the landing of a German Zeppelin in the United States in 1928, bemoans the inability of American forces of justice to deal with the criminal activities of Al Capone, asks about details of a 1927 flood in the United States, and takes an interest in the presidential elections of 1928 and 1932—despite the fact that the election results are of no practical significance in his life: ‘I am certain that neither one of them will let me into the Golden Land’ (no. 88). Wolf Lewkowicz led the life of a pious Orthodox Jew. His traditional connection to the eternal, unchanging course of Jewish life caused him to look uneasily upon the accelerating assimilation movements, the gradual secularization of traditions, and the propagation of Zionist or—‘has v’cholilah [heaven forbid]’—communist ideas among Jewish young people. A sign of antipathy towards converts in his circles can be found in this comment: ‘We feel so lonely in L ódz´. No one ever comes up to visit us, no one in the family, no friend, no neighbour, just as if we were converts, may God forbid’ (no. 115). He is glad that Sol is raising his son in the /

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Jewish spirit. In the first letter he wrote to Sol’s very small son, Lewkowicz justifies the need for the young to preserve Jewish identity: One of the Ten Commandments you are able to grasp, and you will find it in your Khumesh [Pentateuch], i.e. Honour thy father and thy mother. Treasure and honour your father and mother, and you will be treasured and honoured. Remember that you were born a Jew; become familiar with your national background and history. Study and acquire knowledge. The more you study, the more you will know. The Torah makes one wise and opens the eyes of all who study it. (no. 155)

Lewkowicz recollects the past with deep feeling, and sees in it the ideal of a decent, peaceful, and simple life. The rhythm of his reflections on life is marked by the prayers in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah.

‘ lik e clay i n the ha nd s o f t h e p o t t e r’ The letters he wrote to his nephew in Chicago gave Lewkowicz an opportunity for reflection and for posing questions about the future. The anniversaries of his birth and of the deaths of dear ones, visits to family graves, and holy days in particular put him in a reflective mood. In his references to the detailed self-assessment that takes place during the annual prayers at Rosh Hashanah, which Lewkowicz calls ‘a balance sheet’ (no. 157), one can trace the abrupt increase in pessimism among Polish Jews in the 1930s. Lewkowicz undertook his most extensive self-assessment, however, on his fiftieth birthday in 1936. He estimates that two-thirds of his life has passed. With his typical affection for visual metaphors, he writes: ‘I am stuck in the midst of the climb up the mountain, like a horse’ (no. 151). Of his hopes for a better future Lewkowicz writes only in the earliest of the letters: ‘I want to live with the hope that the time will yet come when I will be a person equal to other people, that the time will yet come when I will reminisce on my troubles and sufferings from a position of happiness’ (no. 15). Later he sees his private life in consistently dark shades. In one of the letters written in 1923 he depicts his circumstances as follows: I was an unfortunate and still am. I have become worthless, not respected. I have no initiative, no courage; I am dependent on someone else; I am subordinate to another. I can’t achieve anything better. I can’t reach my goal. To speak plainly, each day I sink a bit deeper, like that other seaman. I stumble about and can’t find the right road in business, and I am also alone, and I have no one to pull me out of the swamp, no one to steer me onto the right path. In a word, I am vanquished and powerless. (no. 37)

Sadly, little would change in Lewkowicz’s future. Along with poverty, oppression, and loneliness, as a sign of his intellectual maturity would come irony and the ability to rise above the piercing pressures of life. In accordance with the saying ‘things will be bad until the 15th of the month . . . and then they’ll get worse’

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(no. 29), he does not expect radical changes in his circumstances. He is conscious of the fact that his life full of sufferings constitutes good material for an epic illustration of human fate. On his twenty-sixth wedding anniversary he writes to Sol: ‘Twenty-six years are not twenty-six days. Twenty-six years is a piece of a lifetime, a piece of history, and such a tragic twenty-six years to boot . . . A writer, a poet, would be able to compose a whole series of books respecting these twenty-six years of life and torment . . .’ (no. 145). Although Lewkowicz does not express hope for a better future in his letters of the 1930s, the way he appraises the torment of his private life and that of his compatriots is significant. The Jewish nation has suffered enough, he states, finally to bring a change of fortune. Moreover, he writes in 1931, the very fact of the existence of Jews despite their misfortunes is the best proof that miracles do happen. A few years before the war Lewkowicz ties his hopes to his children. He feels his life is settled: ‘I still thought about being able to rescue a few years of my life, but I have become convinced that I was in error; my life is played out. My principal concern is that my children will be able to support themselves, that they will not have to struggle and be tormented like me . . .’ (no. 156). In his Rosh Hashanah prayers in 1936 he pleads only on behalf of his family, not for himself: ‘when I stand in the synagogue this Rosh Hashanah and offer an account to the Heavenly Court, I will try not to mention my name, but [only] the children and family. I will pray for my family and friends near and far to be inscribed and sealed for a good year’ (no. 156). A letter from July 1939 brings a dramatic call in which Lewkowicz includes a metaphorical image of his life as a sinking ship: I have been travelling for my whole life on a broken, sinking ship that is constantly on the verge of going under. I would not be terribly sad if the waves swept our ship aground. . . . The problem is that our broken ship, whose name is ‘Life and Torment’, may be able to last for God knows how many years. Therefore, from time to time, it’s necessary to send out calls for help, flares, telegrams, radio messages: SOS. . . . Help is needed as quickly as possible . . . (no. 177)

In one of the last letters, written three months before the war broke out, a yearning for change—change at any cost—takes precedence over fear. In the face of the interminable wait for the worst to happen, which was draining all his strength, even war seems desirable to Lewkowicz: ‘In the event that a war is going to break out, let it break out now. In a word, Sol, I no longer pray or hope for good times. However, if things are to be bad, let them be very bad’ (no. 176). Lewkowicz’s awareness of the oncoming tragedy becomes clearer at the beginning of the 1930s. ‘I feel that the world is closing in on me from day to day and from hour to hour,’ he writes in 1932. Later comes only a momentous profession of faith and acceptance of the incomprehensible workings of God: ‘I am, after all, very much like clay in the hands of the potter. He makes whatever he wants to with the clay . . .’ (no. 134).

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‘ le t m e i n ’ The wealth of subjects covered in the correspondence between Wolf Lewkowicz and Sol Zissman precludes a comprehensive presentation of the material. This exchange of letters encompasses numerous colourful details of life in Poland before the Second World War: an epidemic of cerebral atrophy in Poland (no. 78); an explosion in a chemical factory in L ódz´ (no. 90); a general strike in that city (no. 94); uncommonly cold weather in 1929, with temperatures sinking to ⫺50°C (no. 99); the funeral of the Bund leader Yisroel Lichtenstein, who died in New York but whose body was taken to L ódz´ for burial in 1933 (no. 135); the performances of Lucy and Misha German in L ódz´ (no. 168); and so on. Many themes in this correspondence are worthy of a separate inquiry; among them would be, for instance, the unrealized emigration plans of Lewkowicz, who exhausted nearly all means—legal and illegal—to find a way across the ocean separating him from Sol and a safer world. I close this characterization of human lives set down on paper with an image of a very special nature. On 15 February 1925 Sol Zissman and Esther Malke were married in Chicago. In addition to heartfelt wishes, Lewkowicz sent Sol a letter containing the description of a dream that could be interpreted as almost prophetic: /

/

/

Having read through your letter . . . the image presented itself to me that I, your uncle, was also invited along with the other guests (and why not, indeed?). I mustered all my energies and journeyed forth—I don’t remember the details of the journey to convey them to you— whether with a visa or without. I only know that I grabbed my shabbes [sabbath] suit and a wedding gift and ran, taking one train, then another, and a third; then, finally, I’m in Chicago, I ask directions to your address, 2954 [Lincoln Avenue], but I find the shop closed. I ask a second, a third passer-by, a tenth one. ‘People! Rascals! I’m a stranger! Why won’t you point out where my nephew lives? His wedding is today!’ But no one pays any attention whatsoever; no one has any compassion. I see crowds of thousands of people rushing, running, each one trying to surpass all the others, as I stand and cry out, ‘Have pity on me. Take me to my nephew, who is getting married today.’ One person stops and asks me, ‘Why is it so important for you to be at his wedding?’ I do not answer him a word, but merely point to my heart, saying, ‘See, look in here.’ . . . it is a winter’s day, and it starts to get dark. I walk along and weep. My heart is sad, when suddenly I hear music. Yes, perhaps this is the place. I come closer and listen carefully, and see that it really is here. Yes, my heart trembles with joy. Now, any minute, I will have the honour of seeing you and your beloved before my eyes and be able to give you my blessing. But I wait an hour, two hours, and every minute more guests arrive bedecked with flowers; the cars fly by like demons and none of the guests gives me so much as a glance. I know each one of them, but they don’t know me; or else they do know me, but don’t want to acknowledge me because they’re embarrassed by a poor man—this is an old story. But I grow impatient; too much time is passing. I send word into the hall to you, with one of the people, saying, ‘Your Uncle Wolf is waiting outside and wants to come in; he also has a Kiddush cup for a wedding present that he brought with him; he has come unexpectedly, without a wedding invitation.’

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But I wait an hour, two hours, and I see nothing and hear nothing. I wander around. I turn here and there like a worm. I beg the guests, the doorman, saying, ‘Have mercy, let me in to the simcha [family celebration]; this is, after all, my simcha, my nephew, my . . . my . . .’, and the tears choke me up so that I remain mute. I stand and wonder what, after all, should I do now in order, at least, to set eyes upon my dear, beloved nephew on the most important and interesting day of his life? I look about me; perhaps I’ll see an acquaintance or a familiar person who might take me into the hall. As I looked around, I saw a young woman of about 35 years of age, with a black veil covering her face, and she suddenly embraced me and began kissing me and hugging me. ‘Wolf,’ she said, ‘you are here, too?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ I said. I look closely at her face and discover that I have the honour of speaking to my sainted sister, Sarah. Yes, that’s how it was. Both of us weeping, good and proper. ‘Why aren’t you inside, in the hall?’ she asks me. I reply, ‘The poor are considered as dead.’ I stand and look at her, your sainted mother, my still-unforgotten devoted sister, and notice that she is wiping her eyes. And she says, ‘Never would I have imagined, after so much anguish, until I gave him birth, until I raised him, until I brought him to America . . . and now, to have to stand apart. And do you think, my brother, that I can rest peacefully in my grave? I worked very hard for the orphans I left behind. Especially did I have my heart and soul set on my one and only son, Shloyme, marrying his Esther Malke, whose name was called out in heaven as his mate for a match made in heaven.’ ‘And why did you come here?’ I asked her. ‘In order to give my son my blessing before the chupa [wedding] . . . And you?’ ‘The same.’ ‘But what will come of this? They won’t let us in. If they don’t admit me as the mother, they certainly won’t let you in as an uncle.’ ‘But you’re dead and I’m alive,’ I say. ‘But my spirit is alive,’ was her answer. She takes me by the hand, leads me in through a back door, and says to me, ‘Observe everything, but say nothing whatsoever.’ I am inside; the hall is lit up, the music plays, the guests enjoy themselves. I see you, my child, standing under a canopy, the cantor reciting the El mole rachamim memorial prayer, and with the words ‘may she rest in peace’ your sainted mother gives you her blessing and . . . disappears. Confused, I went back into the hall to convey my blessings to you. I still remember my benediction to you. In the Talmud Berachos there is a passage about a sage who once saw (and benefited from) a beautiful tree. Wanting to bless the tree, he said these words to the tree: ‘O tree, what can I wish you? Your fruit is sweet, your branches widespread, you couldn’t be more beautiful. So, I will wish you this—May it be God’s will that what issues from you will take after you.’ Just about at these words there came a knock at the door, and I awoke. Upon awakening, I felt very weak and covered with sweat. I felt so tired and faint . . . as though I had been on a distant journey, or perhaps at a wedding! Yes, it was merely a dream, but this dream I will long remember. So deeply is it engraved in my memory that I will not forget it soon. (no. 28)

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Sol Zissman was able to read this description of his uncle’s dream on the day of his wedding because his uncle in Poland had taken care that the mail be delivered to his nephew in Chicago precisely on 15 February 1925. In this way Lewkowicz realized his dream of going to America. He had already decided to leave Poland at the beginning of the 1920s. His letters are witness to the difficulties, the dreams, and the hopes tied to that emigration. Sadly, as in the dream, he was able to be a guest among his more fortunate compatriots only as a ghost, a dreamlike apparition. In July 1939 he asked for help for the last time. Did he really think there was still a chance? ‘I had no alternative other than to approach you with my call for help in my time of trouble hoping that my request would not be like a voice crying in the wilderness . . .’ (no. 177).

‘o n the bri n k o f di s a s t e r’ As noted above, Lewkowicz concentrated his attention on the Jewish community, though he certainly did not bear irrational prejudices towards non-Jews. It would be impossible to accuse him of xenophobia or a lack of religious tolerance. His rather unfavourable description of the Jewish residents of Opoczno is the best evidence of the fact that he did not deduce the most essential value of human nature from ethnic, religious, or social belonging. In 1923 Lewkowicz remarks: ‘Living in Poland lately is very difficult’ (no. 14). This comment will reappear often in his letters. At first, the reasons he gives for it are primarily to do with poverty, unemployment, inflation, and lack of housing. It is only later that antisemitism joins this list of woes. Lewkowicz’s observations on the economic situation in Poland in 1925 are bleak: ‘The situation is not good here in Poland. This is a wretched and depressing time’ (no. 29); ‘merchants are jumping off the fourth floors; tradesmen have become beggars’ (no. 36). In 1926 he comments: ‘Ninety per cent of the Jews in Poland find themselves in a difficult situation’ (no. 44). The year 1928 yields these observations: ‘Business is very weak in Poland. There are a great many bankruptcies. L ódz´ is overflowing with goods, but there is nowhere to send it. There is no demand. Competition is fierce’ (no. 86). In 1929: ‘The crisis in Poland is intensifying from day to day. Factories operate two days a week; massive unemployment; no commerce; no income’ (no. 99); ‘Recently the bankruptcies have taken on such a catastrophic character that there’s already talk about such firms as Poznan´ski, Hebler, Gompe, Herman being bankrupt’ (no. 101); ‘L ódz´ is 100 per cent crooked; (no. 104). The following year: ‘Currently, there’s a terrible crisis in L ódz´. The statistics indicate 50,000 unemployed. Ninety per cent of the factories have gone bankrupt, and it’s still going on. There is no business being conducted, no earnings’ (no. 114). In 1932: ‘The suicide epidemic has not halted. . . . Huge companies that have been in business for 80‒100 years go broke and disappear. . . . However, one gets used to /

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all the things that one observes. The most important thing is that it gets worse every day and there is no prospect of improvement’ (no. 131); ‘There are now 150,000 unemployed wandering around L ódz´. Almost 75 per cent of the factories are closed or have gone bankrupt. The economy has gone to hell, and it looks as if the whole world is on the brink of disaster’ (no. 133). In the 1930s Lewkowicz begins to complain in his letters of a rising antipathy towards Jews in Polish society. He now answers Sol’s questions with reports of the multiplying antisemitic incidents. In a letter in 1935 we find a shocking picture of Jews praying in a synagogue, conscious of the threat that has relegated their material worries to the shadows: /

Yes, Sol, this year at Rosh Hashanah Jews in Poland shed more tears than during other years. Somehow, every person came to synagogue to pray with a downcast attitude, and with tight-lipped feeling, and when we came to ‘Our Father, Our King, remember Your compassion and suppress Your anger, bring an end to pestilence, bloodshed, famine, captivity, destruction (iniquity, plague), evil mishap, every illness, every obstacle, every strife, every sort of punishment, every evil decree and baseless hatred from upon us and from upon all the members of Your covenant,’ rivers of tears were shed by the congregation. One could clearly see how our faces were flushed with shame because a world full of enemies has pounced on us and wants to destroy us, to kill us, to push us back to the ghetto of thousands of years ago; a sea of decrees, of antisemitism, storms towards us from every part of the world and will kill us, destroy us. Hitlerism on the one side, Communism on the second side, antisemitism on the third side . . . (no. 149)

Lewkowicz laments the antisemitism spreading throughout Poland at the inspiration of the Nazis. He also sees German interests being served by the pamphlets calling for boycotts of Jewish shops that were distributed on the streets of L ódz´ (he sends two such leaflets to Chicago in 1935). He had already written about a boycott of Jewish goods a few years earlier, but at that time he blamed the Polish press for arousing antisemitic feelings: ‘Surely you read there in the newspapers about what the Polish students wrought, what sort of deeds of mockery they carried out, in Warsaw, Vilna, Kraków, Lviv, etc. The fever of excitement [surrounding] the boycott hasn’t abated to this very day’ (no. 127). Polish Jews cannot count on effective protection from the state: ‘The government is powerless to stand up against the many parties that spring up like mushrooms after the rain in order to do battle against Jews, in order to snatch away the last bit of bread from Jews’ (no. 149). Wolf holds no illusions about the politicians of the front pages: ‘A bunch of bandits. Each one just like the others’ (no. 143). Wolf expresses apprehension about the future as early as 1933:

/

The Inquisition being conducted in Germany by the actions of Hitler is indescribable. The epidemic is slowly spreading to Poland. Violent acts take place, unrest in the streets. Jews are being physically attacked here and there. Thanks to the capable police that we have in Poland, every excess is stopped in its tracks. Nevertheless, people are selling their buildings; businessmen are liquidating their businesses, manufacturers their factories; and they leave

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for the Land of Israel and settle down to a primitive form of life. A new stage in life is now approaching. Jews are going through terrible times. A wholly new epoch in life is arising. Germany threatens the world with war. (no. 135)

Hitler’s actions and his intentions leave no room for illusion: Hitler’s programme is one of ‘purification’, slaughter: ‘. . . for all Jews to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. . . .’ In Poland, Jews are driven out of business, they suppress us, they don’t permit us to work, government jobs are completely out of the question. Hitler’s agents are moving about, footloose and fancy-free, sowing hatred between Jews and Poles. In a word, the economy is paralysed, manufacturing is limping along. (no. 141)

Although Lewkowicz notes that, in the context of escalating antisemitism, ‘to be silent is another way of speaking’ (no. 165), the letters written after 1930 are dominated by descriptions of the activities of nationalist parties, the criminal acts committed by their members, the humiliation of Jews, the economic and social boycott, the development of the political situation in Germany, and the world’s reaction to the endeavours of the modern Haman. In one of his letters Wolf quotes the humour of the streets of L ódz´, reflecting the increasingly threatening situation of the Jews: ‘Shloyme says to his friend: “Moshe, what advantage do I have from being granted the good year that I prayed for . . . when it’s not safe for me to go out of the house?” ’ (No. 165). It seems to Lewkowicz that the most rational Jewish response in the face of persecution is silence—the same silence in which Jews have walked through centuries and through countries, bearing with a pious humility the oppression, pogroms, persecution, and repressions. The incidents cited below are striking proof that Lewkowicz met with antisemitism in his own life—the life of a man who constituted a threat neither to the Polish economy nor to the Polish national character. This was a person who displayed no excessive economic ambitions, and whose moral standards, supported by heroic efforts, should have brought him the title of honoured citizen of the Second Republic of Poland rather than the fear, resentment, and resignation that they earned him in reality. He relays his experiences in a letter from 1938: /

Incident No. 1 [took place] when, several months ago, we went out to the cemetery to set up a headstone for my late wife. Joseph and I were set upon by two knife-wielders who attacked Joseph and me. Seeing that we could become victims, I searched for a place to escape, but one of them stabbed Joseph in the back with a knife. We fled and wound up just being frightened. This is how we saved ourselves from two bandits, by a miracle. The second incident took place when another worker and I went to look for a job. In the centre of the city two [Endeks] approached us and began to attack us for no reason. I fled, but my friend didn’t manage to get away. They tore his overcoat, threw him down to the ground, and beat him up. This time my friend didn’t make a report to the police because in many cases the police are powerless or come too late!!! So we are not able to do anything about the hateful and taunting Haman. Shouting and complaining no longer help. We realize now that we have been abandoned and that they can do what they want with us. (no. 173)

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