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 This is an invaluable historical document-though it would have benefited from more comprehensive notes and historical contextualization-presenting us with a more complex and detailed reality than can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.
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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 CohenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved