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National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe Paperback – March 20, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
Ruth Ellen Gruber is a most compelling guide. Her descriptions of specific towns, synagogues, cemeteries, and "evocative remnants of shtetls" are not warmed-over fifth-hand accounts. She is forever scrambling over walls, swimming through weed grown fields, tramping through shin deep snow, knocking on doors, crawling through holes in ruined walls, and striking up conversations with strangers. One trusts her reports utterly. And she knows everything. Why Jews were invited into this area, or driven from that one, and when, and by whom, and who these people were, how they worshiped, how they differed from one another, and what their destiny became. She tells us about their land, their history, their architecture, their persecutors, their champions. She finds their cemeteries, describes their headstones, and reads us the inscriptions. If people were taken by the thousands into the woods outside their towns, shot and dropped into ditches, she tells us that too.
Gruber's narrative style is intriguing. The prose is always crisp and objective with a reportorial attention to detail and an allegiance to fact, but sometimes it rises to pure lyricism.Read more ›
Her introductions to each chapter (the book is organized by country) give readable narratives of each country's history, covering both general history and specifically Jewish history. She is great about giving multiple place names, a particularly useful addition in countries formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Unlike general travel guides (and some Jewish ones as well), which often only list official synagogues in main cities, Gruber lists unaffiliated and independant organizations, giving as much contact information as possible. It's obvious that through her experience as a journalist, she made many contacts with people actually working in the communities listed.
She also lists many sites that are no longer functioning in their original capacity--unused synagogues (or those that now serve different functions), out-of-the-way cemetaries, and former houses and businesses of local notables. Gruber seems especially interested in architecture, and points out particularly interesting examples of synagogue design and decoration.
I especially appreciated Gruber's emphasis on visiting communities that are active and vibrant today. While the Holocaust did irreperable damage to once-thriving Jewish life, and while it can seem that Europe is full of remnants of the Jewish past, this book gives due time to the Jewish present.
To her credit, Gruber keeps local anti-Semitism in perspective, as she writes: "Anti-Semitic incidents are reported from time to time in all countries included in this book, but the region has been little affected by the violent attacks on synagogues, Jewish institutions, and individuals that have taken place in Western Europe in the wake of the Israel-Palestine conflict." (p. 14).
Each nation's entry in this single volume contains a few-page history of the Jews of that nation, as well as a list of books and websites for further study. The cities and town are listed, with descriptions, in regional alphabetical order within each nation. This makes it easy to locate the city or town, but the reader does not get a full sense of the geographic continuity of one location to another. A comprehensive index, with fine print, lists all of the localities mentioned in this book.
Instead of repeating other reviewers, I limit my review to Poland and to areas that had been part of Poland before WWII and the Soviet confiscation of eastern Poland. Poland itself is featured on 50 pages (pp. 14-64) out of the total of 338 pages in this book. Major Polish cities featured in this book include Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, Wroclaw, and Lublin.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'm travelling in Rumania and this book is my constant companion. Not only is it well written and informative but Gruber leads you to fascinating spots off the beaten track. Read morePublished 5 months ago by C.Green
Excellent book. I can't wait to visit and I will have this book with me.Published 10 months ago by David Knopf
Realy happy i could find this book... it gives practical tips for the visit of Jewish sites in Eastern Europe. Read morePublished 13 months ago by filip de sutter
this is an excellent travel guide and fits what I was looking for.Published 14 months ago by Shirley Mae Smith
The book was enjoyable to look through. I used the book primarily to learn about Prague and Budapest. Read morePublished on April 3, 2014 by Chazer
I applaud the existence of this book and the availability of information for many. I was disappointed. I purchased the book because of the chapter on Ukraine. Read morePublished on March 8, 2014 by Pat Rosson
The book contained a great deal of history and was well written in a scholarly fashion. It is something I will again reference in the future.Published on September 22, 2013 by ritam