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Poyln: Jewish Life in the Old Country Hardcover – November 6, 1999

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"An unforgettable testimony...Poyln is brilliantly evocative of a significant slice of Jewish reality."--Abraham Brumberg, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Exquisitely detailed, haunting portraits of a lost world"--Susan Shapiro, New York Times Book Review
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Alter Kacyzne was born in Vilna in 1894 and died during a Ukrainian pogrom in 1941. A poet, dramatist, journalist, and photographer, he was a central figure in Warsaw's Yiddish cultural world.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (November 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805050973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805050974
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 0.8 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
He was truly a renaissance man and center of intellectual life: essayist, journalist, founder of a left-wing daily, worshipped photographer of the great and humble, and editor of both Peretz and Ansky. He was murdered in a Jewish cemetery by Ukranians in Tarnopol after escaping the Nazi's. His daughter survived, and was instrumental in getting this book published. Unfortunately she died earlier this year prior to publication. This collection is a treasure. My favorites are the famed photo of a Lublin cheder (1924), and the one of Khane Kolski, taken when she was 106, in which she says that her son in America doesnt even believe that she is still alive. To me, the photos create a lost world; but to the readers of The Forward, for whom the photos were taken, it probably reminded them why they fled the shtetls for the Golden Land of America.
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Format: Hardcover
Alter Kacyzne was more than a photographer, recording the life and culture of the Jewish people of Warsaw and the provinces, he was a Poet, Author, Playwright, and after the Nazi invasion, a voice of resistance. His surviving photos, a portion of which are published in this volume, breath life back into small towns and their typical residents: the school teacher, the seamstress, the tinker, the carpenter, the baker, and the day labourers waiting in the square for the next job. The only thing I wished the editors would have done was to provide more context, the introduction is a useful short biography, but left me wanting to know more. I also wanted to know more about the people and places photographed, but there is nothing but the short, often cryptic descriptions subtitles like the one on page 24: A school teacher with his class of 5-6 year olds (probably distracted by Kacyzne and his camera), the subtitle is called "Giving a Hint." It is a beautiful photo but the star of the photo is not the bearded teacher giving the hint, but to the wide eyed boy next to the boy receiving the hint. Your eyes are drawn to his eyes, and you wonder if he survived what came after?

If you have any ancestry from Polyn, the old country, you will want to buy this book, or at least read it and study the photos. In addition to his field work, Kacyzne had a studio in Warsaw. This made me look at my own family albums. The book states that the 700 photos (now in the archives of the Yivo Institute) sent to US for the Newspaper "Forverts" is his sole remaining legacy. However I found in my album a Kacyzne studio picture of my Great Grandfather and his sons (now donated to Yivo}, maybe there are others waiting to be discovered? That is part of the power of this volume.
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Format: Hardcover
Alter Kacyzne was a poet, dramatist, journalist, political activist and photographer. A central figure in Warsaw's Yiddish literary scene and cultural world, Kacyzne began a ten-year journey in 1921 that was to prove much more important than anyone could have conceived. The New York Yiddish daily newspaper, the "Forverts," commissioned him to document images of the Jewish life in Poland he had already celebrated in his writings. In 1921 there were three million Yiddish speaking Jews living in Poland or "Poyln," "the old country" - from Warsaw and Kracow to the remote villages of Ostrog and Brisk. For ten years Kacyzne traveled across the country recording their lives on film.
This collection of never before published photographs is truly a gift from the past. Luminous portraits, haunting images of village squares and primitive workshops, busy marketplaces, street peddlers, beautiful young women embroidering in a circle by a window, prayer groups and children at summer camp. Images of a people, a world, that is no more. Literally thousands of images were made - ten-year's worth of work. Yet the 700 photographs Kacyzne sent back to the "Forverts" are all that survived. His life's work was obliterated by the Nazis, just as millions of lives were obliterated...along with all the families' photographs.
Photographic collections like Roman Vishniac's "A Vanished World," and "Poyln: Jewish Life in the Old Country" by Alter Kacyzne are what remain. They provide a valuable link to the past - to help all of us remember.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book. Alter Kacyzne was an amazing photographer, writer and editor, who came from humble roots (his father a bricklayer and his mother a seamstress) to become one of the powerhouses of Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe. A protege of I.L. Peretz, he later became an associate of modernist Yiddish writers Peretz Markish, I.J. Singer, and the artist Marc Chagall. Kacyzne's literary pursuits aside, his main income came from his photography studio, where he worked on the usual weddings, portraits, bar mitzvahs, etc. During the 1920's, legendary Jewish Daily Forward editor-in-chief Abraham Cahan, hired Kacyzne to document ongoing Jewish life in the "old country". This was to remind the Foward's readers about what life was like back in Poland or Poyln to use the Yiddish name, and to help them appreciate how much better things were in the New World. So, with that in mind, Kacyzne's photographs mainly document the lives of the peasants and poor.

Sadly most of Kacyzne's photographic output was destroyed by the Nazis in the 1940s. We are left with the fraction of his work that was sent to America. This is an amazing collection of photographs, a few are very well known, like "Lublin 1924" with the iconic young boys lined up, heads resting on the table, with their melamed (teacher) standing above them.

The book is divided into 8 sections for the different themes of work and home. These are beautiful and moving photographs, showing everything from market day activities to the 106 year-old woman (in 1925 no less!) in bed thinking of her 80-year-old son in America to rope spinners at work to children exercising to a girl mugging for the camera. Of course, it is all the more poignant to think about the looming catastrophe that 2 decades later would erase this world from the earth.

This book is a treasure house of photographs that has elegantly captured the lost world of Jewish Poland.
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