Reviews of Books about Eastern Galicia

 Unless otherwise indicated, all books listed below were originally written in, or have been translated into, English.

 Table of Contents

  1. Someone Must Survive to Tell the World, by Tosia Szechter Schneider
  2. 1920 Diary, by Isaac Babel.
  3. Holocaust Memoirs: Jews in the Lwow Ghetto, the Janowski Concentration Camp, and as Deportees in Siberia, by Joachim Schoenfeld.
  4. The Jewish Tavern-Keeper and his Tavern in Nineteenth-Century Polish Literature, by Magdalena Opalski.
  5. The Jews of Barnow, by Karl Emil Franzos.
  6. The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry Under Soviet Rule, 1939-1941, by Dov Levin.
  7. A Light for Others and Other Jewish Tales from Galicia, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
  8. Nationbuilding and the Politics of Nationalism: Essays on Austrian Galicia, Andrei S. Markovits and Frank E. Sysyn, eds.
  9. Ruth's Journey, Ruth Glasberg Gold
  10. Shtetl Memoirs: Jewish Life in Galicia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the Reborn Poland 1898-1939, by Joachim Schoenfeld.



Someone Must Survive to Tell the World
Author: Tosia Szechter Schneider.
Publishing information: Montreal, Canada.: Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada, 2007.
ISBN 978-0-9783014-1-5

Personal reminiscences of a young girl growing up in pre-WWII Poland and struggling to survive during the Nazi occupation. The gradual changes from an idyllic childhood with a loving family to the inferno of Nazi ghettoes and labor camps. The book is the realization of the author's mother's last plea: to survive to tell the world. When the labor camp was finally liberated by the Soviet army, Tosia was the only survivor of her family. The sixteen-year old survivor now struggles to return to normalcy and prepare for the future, but can never forget the horrors of the past. The book chronicles her valiant attempts to acquire an education in Europe and the United States, her home since 1949. This book fulfills her mother's last wish and is also an accounting of her remarkable achievement of rebuilding a family in a free country.

About the Author
Tosia Schneider spent her early childhood in Zaleszczyki, Poland. At the age of six she moved to her mother's hometown of Horodenka. During the war, Tosia was in the ghettoes of Horodenka and Tluste; eventually, she was taken with her older brother to the labor camp of Lisowce. Her life during the war was a chain of unspeakable horrors. All her immediate family was murdered and her extended family as well. Her camp was liberated by the Soviet army in March, 1944. After temporay stays in Poland and the U.S. Zone of Germany, Tosia came to the U.S. in 1949 and married Fred Schneider in 1950. They have three sons and five grandchildren. She was a teacher for thirty years, is now retired and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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A Light for Others and Other Jewish Tales from Galicia
Author: Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von; [translated by Michael T. O'Pecko].
Publishing information: Riverside, Calif.: Ariadne Press, 1994.
ISBN 0-929497-93-7

This book is a collection of five short stories about Jews in Galicia by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a well-known writer in the second half of the 19th century whose best known work is the novellaVenus in Furs (which is also the inspiration for the word masochism). Born and raised in Lemberg (Lviv) and the scion of Austrian and Ukrainian nobility, von Sacher-Masoch was an outspoken opponent of the rising anti-Semitism of the time.

As a non-Jewish man of letters, von Sacher-Masoch's point of view toward the Jews he wrote about may be closer to a modern, assimilated Jew's nostalgic point of view than to the point of view of Jewish writers of the time. While a contemporary Jew would have likely been either an apologist or a critic, von Sacher-Masoch's outsider status allowed him to be both. Respectful, sympathetic, even, at times, indulgent toward his characters and their lives, he nevertheless didn't fail to describe what he felt were Jewish weaknesses as well as strengths.

For example, in many of the stories he portrays observant or Hasidic characters with respect, yet his stories also have characters whose tedious arguments of talmudic minutiae are more ridiculous than admirable.

Another notable feature of these stories is that they all feature strong women. Very often in his stories the male characters are portrayed as weak or foolish, redeemed only by the strength of their wives. Of course, this motif is also a feature of his other, more famous, works.

My personal favorite among the stories, My Tailor Abrahamek, concerns a man who has the soul of an artist, and who expresses that spirit in music, poetry, and painting whenever possible, but who is as indifferent to his tailor's trade as he is to his wife's scolding.

The longest story, a novella that gives its title to the entire book, describes a brilliant young talmudic scholar who discovers modern science and, to be allowed to pursue his scientific studies further (the Jews of the town strongly oppose his new interests), converts to Christianity. Once converted, however, and cutoff from his people, he faces obstacles of a similar type from the Austrian clergy and state officials. The story is not just critical of the anti-scientific Jewish community, it also is highly critical of the Austrian establishment with regard to true scholarship of any sort. What makes it most interesting to a modern reader, perhaps, is its detailed look at the difficult life of a converted Jew in Austrian society.

According to the afterword by the translator, these stories were written not only in conscious resistance to anti-Semitism, but also to tap a market for books among the growing Jewish middle-class in Europe, among whom von Sacher-Masoch was very popular. Modern readers will enjoy these stories as well.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California at Davis. The call number is PT 2461 S3 A6 1994.

-- Mark Heckman (Feb. 1998)

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Nationbuilding and the Politics of Nationalism: Essays on Austrian Galicia
Author: Andrei S. Markovits and Frank E. Sysyn, eds.
Publishing information: Cambridge, Mass..: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1982.

This book is a collection of essays, papers, and previously published articles about nationalism in Austrian Galicia. The papers cover the development of Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish national movements within the empire. Two of the papers specifically discuss the rise of Jewish nationalism.

The chief political players in Eastern Galicia were the German-speaking imperial officials, the Poles, and the Ukrainians. A sizeable minority in the population, Jews were courted by each group in order to gain advantage over the others. Secular Jews, of course, also struggled against the Orthodox Jewish majority, and assimilationist Jews struggled against Zionists.

Jewish Assimilation in L'viv: The Case of Wilhelm Feldman, by Ezra Mendelsohn, describes the history of the Jewish secular intelligentsia in Lviv. At first, influenced by Haskalah leaders like Moses Mendelssohn, the secular Jews had a pro-German cultural bent, which made them natural allies of the imperial officials. While the pro-Germanic influence remained strong until the end of the empire, by the late 19th century many of the younger generation of secular Jews were embracing a pro-Polish orientation. This change was hastened by the development of home rule for Galicia within the empire, which put the Poles in power. There was an assimilationist movement for Jews to become "Poles of the Mosaic persuasion."

Anti-semitism was so strongly engrained among the Poles, however, that it led many of the Polonophiles to abandon their movement and instead embrace Zionism, which was the Jewish nationalist movement.

Wilhelm Feldman was an author, literary critic, and political radical who espoused Jewish assimilation into the Polish nation. Although born and raised in an Orthodox home in Zbarazh, or perhaps because of it, he was a fierce critic of traditional Jewish life as backward and oppressive. According to Mendelsohn, Feldman later moved to Cracow and achieved success in his career as a literary critic, but was separated from Jewish life and never fully accepted by Polish society. He died in 1919, at which time Zionism was the primary political force in Jewish Galicia.

The Rise of Jewish National Politics in Galicia, 1905-1907, by Leila P. Everett, traces the growth of the Jewish national movement, Zionism, in Eastern Galicia. Beginning in the mid-19th century, the Austro-Hungarian empire gradually ceded more and more political autonomy to the provinces. In Galicia, this effectively meant that political control was assumed by the Poles, who controlled almost all local administrative positions and who controlled most of the land. Austrian political "reforms" cemented this power in Polish hands.

Most Jews in Eastern Galicia allied with the Poles against the Ukrainians, both for protection against pogroms and because they feared the anger of Polish officials. Many of the growing number of secular, assimilationist Jews, too, had a pro-Polish orientation (as discussed in the other essay, above).

Everett describes how the the Zionists struggled politically against the assimilationists. Because the assimilationists were allied with the Poles, the natural allies of the Zionists were the Ukrainians. Ukrainian leaders encouraged this alliance, voiced support for Jewish causes, and sometimes even encouraged Ukrainians to vote for Jewish candidates.

Unfortunately, however, the example set by the Ukrainian leadership was not strong enough to overcome ingrained anti-Semitism among the Ukrainian peasantry, who, sometimes goaded by Poles, did not abandon anti-Jewish violence. The political alliance between the Jews and the Ukrainians failed.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California at Davis. The call number is DK 4600 G3475 N37 1982.

-- Mark Heckman (Feb. 1998)

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1920 Diary
Author: Babel, Isaac ; [edited by Carol J. Avins; translated by H.T. Willetts].
Publishing information: New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1995.
ISBN 0-300-05966-3
126 pages.

In Russia at the end of WWI, the Bolshevik Red Army was locked in a civil war with the remnants of the Royalist White Army and with various nationalist groups. In 1920, having finally gained the upper hand over the White armies, the Bolsheviks faced a new threat from the newly reconstituted Poland. Trying to conquer territory that they had last ruled 150 years before, Polish armies marched eastward into Russia. The Poles made rapid advances, eventually taking Kiev in May of 1920.

To counter the Poles in Ukraine, and with an eye toward exporting the socialist revolution westward, the Red Army brought up its powerful Cossack First Cavalry Army. By the summer of 1920, Bolshevik forces managed to push the Poles back through Volhynia into Eastern Galicia (to within five miles of Lvov) and behind the borders of Congress Poland, advancing west of Bialystock.

Polish resistance stiffened, however, and with armaments supplied by Western nations the Poles turned back the Russians. By September the Poles had once more advanced as far east as Rovno.

Isaac Babel was an army correspondent with the Red Army's First Cavalry Army, attached to the Political Department of the Sixth Division, filing stories for the Army's daily newspaper, the Red Cavalryman. In addition to his official duties, Babel kept a personal diary, which was later a source of material for his most famous literary works, a group of short stories collectively titled Red Cavalry.

1920 Diary reflects Babel's simultaneous admiration of the Cossacks' daring and his disgust at their cruelty. Despite the efforts of the political officers, the Cossacks were notorious for slaughtering prisoners, for plundering each town, and for attacking and raping the townfolk.

Another source of unease was the uncomfortable position of a Jew in the Red Army, where anti-Semitism was officially counter-revolutionary, but where deep-seated bigotry still remained -- especially among the Cossacks. While not necessarily keeping it a secret, Babel kept his Jewishness quiet. Sometimes, when asked point-blank if he was a Jew, he would say only that his father was Jewish.

Babel was also troubled by the conflict between his belief in the value of socialism and the brutality of his army toward the people it was ostensibly intended to liberate. A major theme that runs through the Diary is Babel's reaction to the plight of the unfortunate people in each town, primarily Jews, caught between the two armies. In town after town, Jews were robbed, raped and murdered, first by one army and then the other. Babel describes in detail some of the worst of these events that occurred in Komarow and Berestechko.

The value of 1920 Diary for Jewish genealogists who are researching their families from Volhynia and Eastern Galicia is its first-hand account of the conditions endured by the people during a period whose history is not well known in the West. The Diary contains entries that Babel made in a number of towns, including (from Volhynia) Dubno, Khotin, Berestechko, and Kovel, as well as (from Eastern Galicia) Brody, Laskow, Adamy, and Sokal. A true diary, and not a narrative, each entry consists of impressions and shorthand descriptions -- intended to jog the writer's memory rather than to convey complete descriptions to another reader.

Isaac Babel was arrested in May 1939 by the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) and shot eight months later; his papers were burned. The Diary, however, had been left at a friend's house in Kiev and survived. Excerpts were finally published for the first time in 1987.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California at Davis, call number DK 265.7 B28 1995.

-- Mark Heckman (Apr 1998)

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Shtetl Memoirs: Jewish Life in Galicia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the Reborn Poland 1898-1939
Author: Schoenfeld, Joachim.
Publishing information: Hoboken, New Jersey; Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1985.
ISBN 0-88125-075-9
253 pages.

Joachim Schoenfeld was born in 1895 in Sniatyn, a town of about 18,000 people in south-east Galicia, near the border with Bukovina. At this time the Jews of Galicia, while suffering from grinding poverty, enjoyed considerable political and social freedom under the Austrian Kaiser Franz Joseph. Nevertheless, they typically continued to remain in their own communities, separate from the Poles and Ukrainians with whom they shared Galicia, observing their traditional way of life.

Later, during WWI, Galicia was the front line in the battles between Russia and Austria-Hungary, which decimated the Jewish settlements. Post-war, the Jews suffered from state-sanctioned anti-Semitism under Polish rule.

Schoenfeld's book is set during this turbulent time, between Jewish Galicia's tradition-bound past and its ultimate destruction in WWII. The events in the book fall into three distinct periods: Schoenfeld's recreation of life in the shtetl, his experiences as an officer in the Austrian army during WWI, and his experience of Jewish life in the reborn Polish state.

The first section about life in the shtetl is as incredible for its breadth as it is for the depth of its detail. In different chapters he describes political and social life, holidays, religious practices, superstitions, education, family life, occupations, the organization of the Jewish community, anti-Semitism, and the physical characteristics of the shtetl itself. I found this section, essentially the first half of the book, extrememly valuable in learning about Jewish life in Galician shtetls in the 19th century. At times, when the Yiddish terms and phrases got a little thick, I found myself wishing for a glossary, but while I sometimes missed a specific term, I never lost a sense of the affection that Schoenfeld has for his shtetl.

I found the next section, on Schoenfeld's experiences as an Austrian officer during the war, less valuable from a genealogical perspective but interesting in its own right. His is the first account I've ever read of life in the Austrian army in general, and the life of a Jew in the Austrian army in particular. His commission as an officer and his experience in the army, serves, I think, as a good example of how Jews were generally treated by the Austrian officials: official tolerance, access to all the same priviliges as his fellow, non-Jewish officers, yet with some tension due to his ethnicity always in the background.

The last part of the book, on the widespread anti-Semitism in Poland between the wars, concisely summarizes the increasingly harsh attacks and sanctions on Jews. Schoenfeld describes the ambivalence the Poles had toward the Jews: some outspoken against anti-Semitism, many rabidly anti-Semitic, and a large majority someplace in between. While not always encouraging anti-Semitism, officials frequently tolerated or at least ignored abuses by soldiers and civilians toward their Jewish neighbors.

Gradually, however, anti-Semitism became an official goverment policy. and restrictions on Jewish occupations, education, and many other aspects of life grew tighter and more onerous. Schoenfeld tells how the Poles grew enamored with the German-proposed "solution" of forced mass emigration. The Polish Prime Minister, Slawoj-Skladkowski proposed a three-step plan: deprivation of political rights, exclusion from economic activities, and expulsion from Poland.

As Schoenfeld describes it, by the mid-1920s, due to increasing numbers of refugees from all over Europe and, in particular, Jews from Germany, the United States and western European countries had closed their doors to immigration, Jews were barred from entry to Cuba and Canada, and the British had closed Palestine. There was no place for the 3.5 million Polish Jews to go.

Poland tried to find a place, however. It asked France to allow the Polish Jews to be resettled in Madagascar. The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs urged Great Britain to allow Jews into Palestine and urged the League of Nations to expedite the creation of a Jewish state there. The government even negotiated with Zev Jabotinsky, leader of the Zionist Revionist Organization, to find a way to move Jews out of Poland, but without success.

By 1939, of course, when German and Russian armies poured over Poland's borders, it no longer mattered. The shtetl life and its people that Schoenfeld has so lovingly and vividly described were destroyed forever.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California at Davis, call number DS 135 R95 S367 1985.

-- Mark Heckman (Apr 1998)

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Holocaust Memoirs: Jews in the Lwow Ghetto, the Janowski Concentration Camp, and as Deportees in Siberia
Author: Schoenfeld, Joachim.
Publishing information: Hoboken, New Jersey; Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1985.
ISBN 0-88125-074-0
328 pages.

This book continues the story begun by Schoenfeld in his book Shtetl Memoirs. That autobiographical book described Schoenfeld's life in Galicia, up to the late 1930s. This book continues his life story, describing his experiences during World War II.

When the Germans and Soviets divided Poland, Schoenfeld and his family fled to Lwow. Not long after, the Germans attacked the Soviets and occupied Lwow. The bulk of the book describes the desperate attempts by Schoenfeld and his family to survive under Nazi rule, at first in the Lwow ghetto and later in various work camps. One by one his parents, wife, and sons all died. Schoenfeld alone survived to tell their tale.

When the Soviets pushed the Germans out of Lwow, Schoenfeld left the Janowski camp. He remarried, and together he and his wife applied to be repatriated to Poland. This journey was extremely hazardous, as various gangs would stop the trains and rob, beat, and murder the Jewish passengers.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is a chapter called "Survivors Testify:" A dozen or so Jewish survivors from the same region describe how they managed to survive the war. Some of them survived by obtaining false papers and passing as non-Jews. Others fled to the Soviet Union and found difficult refuge there. There are as many unique stories of survival as there are survivors. Almost all of them, however, owe their survival to help from non-Jewish friends or acquaintances.

I was extrememly moved by this book, and was sorry to reach its end. I obtained it from the library at the University of California, Davis, call number DS 135 R93 L897 1985.

 --Mark Heckman (Jan 1999)

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Ruth's Journey
Author: Gold, Ruth Glasberg.
Publishing information: Gainesville, Florida; University Press of Florida, 1996.
ISBN 0-8130-1400-X
293 pages.

Although the main city in Eastern Galicia was Lvov, the towns of southeast Galicia were physically (and in many other ways) closer to Czernowitz, the main city of north Bukovina. Bukovina and Galicia were merged politically under the Austrian Empire until the mid-19th century, and economic ties remained strong even after the two regions were politically separated. For this reason, many people from the areas around Sniatyn, Kolomea, and Horodenka, for example, were frequent visitors to, or became residents of, Czernowitz and other towns in Bukovina.

In WWII, however, unlike Galicia, Bukovina was conquered by the Romanians. And while Romania had an official policy of anti-semitism, the Romanian system of work, concentration, and extermination camps in Transnistria was separate from that of the Germans.

Ruth Glasberg Gold was a young girl when the Romanians began to round up the Jews of Czernowitz. In her book, she describes her childhood in Bukovina, including visits to her grandparents in country towns. She also gives an overview of the progress of official Romanian anti-semitism, and of the Russian invasion in 1940.

Once the Russians were forced to retreat, however, the roundups of Jews began. Some Jews -- skilled workers, the rich or those with influential non-Jewish friends -- were authorized to remain in the ghetto in Czernowitz. The majority of Jews, however, were rounded up and shipped to camps in Transnistria.

Many Jews in small towns, like Gold's grandparents, were not shipped to the camps, but were killed during pogroms.

Gold gives a detailed account of the incredible suffering that she and her family underwent in a camp, including starvation, disease, exposure, and brutality. Eventually she was left sickly, malnourished...and orphaned.

During the war, many Romanians became increasingly uneasy with the decision to exterminate the Romanian Jews, and some Jews over time were able to return to Romania. As a young, double-orphan, Gold was one of these fortunate ones.

The balance of the book describes Gold's journey through Romania, her attempt to journey to Israel and internment on Cyprus by the British, and her eventual arrival in Haifa in 1948. Never completely happy in Israel, Gold married a man from Bogota, Colombia, and moved there with him. In 1972 they emigrated to the United States, settling in Miami, Florida. The final chapters of the book describe her return to the places where her family had lived before the war, and to the camp where many had died.

I found many aspects of this book quite interesting, both generally and specifically for my own genealogical research. I was intrigued by the somewhat half-hearted -- but just as deadly -- brand of Romanian anti-semitism, by the system whereby many Jews were never deported at all, and by the fact that some were permitted to return during the war. I also read with great interest about Gold's experiences as an immigrant to the new state of Israel.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California at Davis, call number DS 135 R73 G654 1996.

-- Mark Heckman (Jun 1998)

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The Jews of Barnow
Author: Franzos, Karl Emil.
Publishing information: Arno Press, 1975.
ISBN 0-405-06712-7
Reprint of the 1883 ed. published by D. Appleton, New York.

The Jews of Barnow is a book of short stories, originally published in the early 1870s. The stories are set in the fictional small town of Barnow, in Eastern Galicia. The point of view of the author is that Jewish life in that region and time was characterized by narrow thinking, enslaved by tradition, and was even shockingly primitive and brutal at times, and that this life was ennobled almost solely by the love of family. The stories also describe a situation where Jews are legally emancipated, but nevertheless both victim and perpetrator of separation between the Jewish and Gentile communities.

Although strongly colored by the author's viewpoint, the book is based on the author's personal experiences and contains many interesting details about Jewish life in Eastern Galicia in the mid 19th century. I recommend it for anyone who is trying to get a better feel for what life must have been like for their Jewish ancestors, just a few years before so many left Galicia for the West.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California, Davis, call number PT 2611 R3 J4 1975.

--Mark Heckman (Jan 1999)

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The Jewish Tavern-Keeper and his Tavern in Nineteenth-Century Polish Literature
Author: Opalski, Magdalena.
Publishing information: Jerusalem; Zalman Shazar Center, 1986.
ISBN 965-227-030-X

This short (100 pages) scholarly work describes the sterotype of the Jewish tavern-keeper as portrayed in Polish literary works between 1820 and 1905. Opalski traces this stereotype over time, showing how it was modified due to historical and artistic trends. Many of the 120 plays and novels on which she based her study were published in Galicia -- both in Krakow and Lvov.

Although a literary historical work rather than a straight history, it is possible to glean something about the situation of Jewish tavern-keepers from the literature that Opalski surveys.

The stereotype, Opalski asserts, was deeply rooted in popular mythology. The tavern in many stories was set next to swamps, forests, or other wild places, in which only the Jewish tavern-keeper could enter due to his knowledge of secret paths, or there were secret tunnels and caves under the tavern. The taverner character was usually portrayed as being disfigured in some way, and as tending to his affairs primarily at night. Furthermore, the tavern-keeper was often shown to have a variety of psychological tricks at his disposal and to be a master of disguise. All of these features, Opalski says, were characteristic of "demonic qualities in folkloric texts."

The right to run a tavern in a village was owned by the local nobility, who leased this right to tavern-keepers. The majority of rural taverns were kept by Jews. The Jewish population was, however, for the most part located in small towns and villages, concentrated in their own shtetlach, so the Jews who ran these taverns and their families were often the only Jews who lived in the village. Moreover, Opalski describes the Jewish tavern-keeper as a middle-class merchant in a land of nobles and peasants, a capitalist in a still largely feudal economy. The tavern-keeper worked as a middleman between the nobles and the peasants, furthermore, and between the outside world and local society.

The stereotype of a Jewish tavern-keeper was influenced by these differences and by the middleman role. The tavern-keeper served the literary role of bridge between "the realm of daily existence versus everything beyond." This outside world was viewed as a dangerous and evil place. Often "good," generous, rural, and Christian values were pitted against "bad," capitalist, urban, and Jewish values embodied by the character of the tavern-keeper. The profit motive at the basis of capitalism, Opalski contends, was alien to the countryside and was the basis for the negative portrayal of the Jewish tavern-keeper.

Despite the stereotype, Opalski finds signs that the reality of relations between the peasants and the Jewish tavern-keeper could not always have been quite as negative as portrayed in literature. In story after story, the tavern and its proprieter are depicted as important -- and trusted -- centers of economic and social life.

Over time, the power of the taverner as portrayed in the literature seems to increase, reflecting the historical increase in legal and economic rights granted to Jews by the Austrian government -- which led to increasing economic strength -- and the simultaneous weakening of the power of the nobility. Stories at the end of the 19th century frequently portray Jewish tavern-keepers helping their landlords in their struggle to retain land, or buying it from them.

Despite the effects of historical and literary trends on the depiction of the Jewish tavern-keeper in Polish literature, however, Opalski says that the basic features of the stereotype, rooted as they were in mythology, remained unchanged.

I enjoyed this book very much. Most of the works surveyed, I am certain, have never been translated into English, and in most of them the Jewish tavern-keeper is hardly a major character. Opalski has summarized a large body of literature, and her analysis and conclusions will be of interest to Jewish genealogists -- particularly those whose ancestors were tenants of rural nobility -- trying to learn more about the relations between Jews on the one hand, and Poles and Ukrainians on the other, outside of the large towns. Because this work is primarily a history of literature, however, one should not depend on it as more than a supplement to a more strictly historical work on social and economic relations between Jews and others in the rural areas of Galicia.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California, Los Angeles, call number PG 7053 J4706 1986.

--Mark Heckman (Apr 1999)

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The Lesser of Two Evils: Eastern European Jewry Under Soviet Rule, 1939-1941
Author: Levin, Dov; translated by Naftali Greenwood.
Publishing information: Philadelphia; The Jewish Publication Society, 1995.

In September of 1939, at the same time as the German forces poured over Poland's western border and began WWII, Soviet troops were advancing into a wide area of Eastern Europe. The Soviets occupied eastern Poland, including parts of Belarus, Volhynia, and Galicia; Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (occupied by the Romanians after WWI); and the Baltic countries. Living in these areas were more than two million Jews. Dov Levin's well-researched book covers the efforts by the Soviets to "Sovietize" the Jews in the occupied areas, and the reactions by the Jews to Soviet rule, until the German invasion in June, 1941 pushed the Soviets out.

For the most part, Jews were treated by the Soviets in the same way as were their Polish, Lithuanian, etc., neighbors. Social, political, military, and other leaders were arrested and exiled. The intelligentsia were given strict guidelines about what was and was not suitable topics for the arts and scholarly research. Wealthy Jews were dealt with just as harshly as were wealthy non-Jews.

When it came to matters of national and religious identity, however, the Jews were treated differently than their non-Jewish neighbors. Although the Soviets trumpeted Polish, Ukrainian, etc., nationalism, (with a very strong pro USSR slant, of course), a Soviet goal was to completely assimilate the Jews by stamping out Jewish nationalistic, spiritual, and cultural life. They did this in stages: first banning any political and religious activities, arresting and deporting or exiling community leaders, banning the teaching of Hebrew and slowly discouraging the use of Yiddish, and so on. As one Rabbi noted at the time, "The Germans will kill us, but the Soviets will kill our souls."

In return, Jews who accepted the new rules were offered educational and career opportunities that had been denied them under the previous regimes. Though many Jews were promoted into official government and Communist Party posts, Levin is careful to note that the percentage of Jews in such positions was not uniform throughout the annexed areas (in Ukraine and Bessarabia, for example, Jews who had been promoted were demoted or transferred, as part of an explicit "Ukrainization" policy) nor did it even approach the percentage of Jews in the local population.

German atrocities created a flood of refugees, which the Soviets attempted to handle, as Levin says, "in a constructive and humane fashion, at least in Soviet terms of the time." Unless they managed to find work, or had some special skill (such as physicians), a large proportion of the refugees were deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan.

A special chapter is reserved for Lithuania, which for a time served as a "Gateway to the free world." 4,000-5,000 Jews managed to obtain transit permits and leave the Soviet Union during this period. Levin argues that this was a conscious policy by the Soviets to filter out and dispose of refugees other than by the politically damaging method of arrest and exile.

This book will be of interest to anyone who is researching their relatives who stayed in Eastern Europe instead of emigrating before WWII.

I obtained this book from the library at the University of California, Davis, call number DS 135 P6 L47613 1995.

--Mark Heckman (Dec 1999)

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