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The Enemy at His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I Hardcover – November 6, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The Jews were killed, the women were raped in the streets, old women's breasts are slashed off, and the people left to die in their agony." Thus wrote a Jewish soldier quoted in this diarylike account by Ansky describing his journeys through the Jewish pale of settlement during WWI. Ansky, a journalist and playwright best known as the author of The Dybbuk, and a socialist revolutionary turned Yiddishist, was engaged in a one-man campaign to bring food, money and medical relief to Jewish communities on the front lines and often under siege from both Russian and German troops. Published for the first time in English, this vivid account charts the course of Ansky's journeys, dramatically conveying a massive amount of material. As he travels between Poland and Galicia (Austrian-ruled Poland, overtaken by the Russians), Ansky creates a Brueghel-like canvas of violence and destruction. His writing has the immediacy of modern reporting, and his in-the-moment view of the circumstances often gives us unique glimpses of unusual and even ironic incidents, such as a 1915 Moscow riot against Germans that left Jews and Jewish stores untouched. But the central theme is the effect of that pervasive German, Austrian and Russian anti-Semitism on shtetl Jews during the war. This is an invaluable historical document-though it would have benefited from more comprehensive notes and historical contextualization-presenting us with a more complex and detailed reality than can be found in most history books.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Ansky (1863-1920), the Yiddish-Russian writer, is best known for his classic play, The Dybbuk. In 1914, Ansky organized a relief operation to help Jews trapped between the armies of Russia, Germany, and Austria during World War I. Jews in the Pale of Settlement suffered the presence of two conquering and retreating forces: the anti-Semitic czar's Russian troops on one side and Germans and Austrians on the other. Ansky recorded a remarkable tale of cruelty: rape, looting, expulsions of villages, humiliations, lynchings, kidnappings, torture, and massacres. Joachim Neugroschel writes in the introduction that one shtetl on Ansky's route, for example, was conquered and reconquered 14 times. Ansky arranged for supplies of food and access to medical treatment, seeking some relief for the Jews. This book, first published in Warsaw in 1925, after Ansky's death, offers both the sweep of history and an intimate portrait of an era of unfathomable evil, a holocaust before the Holocaust. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (November 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080505944X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805059441
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,091,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are interested in the 20th century history of Jews in Eastern Europe, then this is a must-read book. It is difficult to read as we are not familiar with the places, people, or events that Ansky spoke about. And these are not pleasant events to read about. But we need to know this things, if we are to understand what happened to our families during World War I, even before they were annihilated in World War II. I highly recommend this book to historians and genealogists alike.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are three main themes in this book. One -- what the subtitle alludes to -- is a description of the terrible hardships visited on the Jews of Galicia during World War I. Another is a tribute to the tradition of tzedakah, as it was practiced under conditions of great duress: we read about how the Jews of St. Petersburg and Kiev, and community leaders closer to the front, whose own economic condition had become tenuous enough, and at risk of being accused of helping enemy citizens, did what they could to help. The third theme is the author's interactions with Russian officialdom -- the usually hostile, at best mildly concerned army officers whose permission he needed to carry out his mission.

Though there is much of interest in all three themes, I can understand why the first one gets top billing. The Czar's army, whether advancing or retreating, meted out abuse on a grand scale, and if the results were about an order of magnitude less terrible than what came in WWII, that reflected not so much a lack of cruelty as it did the relative organizational skills of WWI Russia versus WWII Germany. And there weren't even twenty good years between the wars; Ansky's story ends in 1917 (and Ansky himself dies in 1920), too soon to describe the horrors of the Russian civil war, which by some accounts exceeded those of WWI, as far as the civilian Jewish population of (eastern) Galicia was concerned. (For further reading, if more literary than historical, I'd recommend S.I.Agnon's A Guest for the Night: A Novel (Library Of World Fiction).)

I have a few complaints.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author can write and the rather long list of his activities, accomplished or attempted and of the various tribulations of the Jewish Communities of Galicia and the Ukraine are certainly useful to read, but get a bit tedious at times. The business might have been cut back into some shorter work of summary that may have made the point as well. As it is, the work is more a memoir than a skillfully edited summation.
Some ongoing illustration of relative geographic location of the sites referred to might interest some, illustrative material of the areas before the war might also have been nice.
One always must consider, as the work of a single figure, if some liberties may have been taken in regards to his role or the local events (whether in moderation or hyperbole).
The work is worthwhile, even if it is only inasmuch as no real competition addresses the events discussed of this time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jewish ethnologist and ex-revolutionary S. Ansky (Shloyme Rappoport) has left one of the most thorough and heart-wrenching accounts of ordinary men and women caught in the meatgrinder of war. Although his focus was on the Jews of the old Pale, his narrative embraces the sacrifice of all human society on the altars of patriotism, while its high priests chant rituals of victory safe in their temples of privilege. Unfortunately for the Jews of Galicia, *their* travails were only beginning: the civil war slaughters of 1918 continued the agonies depicted here, followed by the final flood of genocide in the decades to come.

It was this prior holocaust, the commitment to total war, that gave rise to the totalitarian movements of the interwar years; but here we see that no esoteric ideologies were really necessary. Conventional hatreds and prejudices, militarism and patriotism - with a good dose of greed - were sufficient, uncorked with official sanction to drench the land in blood. Those who rail at Bolsheviks and Nazis for unleashing later horrors in the East (ie, Timothy Snyder, "Bloodlands") conventiently forget the "mainstream" leaders whose noble warmongering for Democracy, Fatherland, and Order set the stage for the rise of beasts.

Thus it's really unfortunate that Ansky's work is largely confined to "Jewish studies," since the tragedy of this time and place is an evocation of trampled humanity still echoing through the following century. Those now embracing "humanitarian intervention" in the name of the same cliches and platitudes should study this work; to know how innocent folk, who merely wish to live, will forfeit their lives for delusions of "justice through strength." "How can you prove that bloodshed is a sin and not a supreme act of heroism?
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