Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, Volume 17

The Shtetl: Myth and Reality
Edited by Antony Polonsky

The majority of Polish Jews always lived in the villages and small towns known as shtetls. Much of what we know of life in the shtetls comes from literary accounts rather than from historical research. This volume redresses that imbalance, with leading experts investigating the social and economic history of the shtetl as well as the way in which shtetl life has been reflected in Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish literature.

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The shtetl is one of the key concepts for our understanding of the Jewish past in Eastern Europe. Although today most Jews live in big cities, the majority of Jews in Poland historically lived in the villages and small towns known as shtetls; even as late as 1931, only 43% lived in towns with a population of more than 20,000. The shtetl was thus the main context and arena for Jewish life in Poland, but much of what we know of shtetl life still comes from literary accounts rather than historical research.

This volume attempts to redress that imbalance. Among the topics covered are the Jewishness of the shtetl; Polish--Jewish relations and social relations more widely in the shtetl; inter-religious contacts; the hasidic conquest of shtetl life; cultural evolution in the shtetl; Polish shtetls under Russian rule and Soviet shtetls in the 1920s; and a contemporary account of returning to visit a shtetl. Other articles consider how shtetl life has been reflected in Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish literature.

The New Views section analyses the work of the Russian Jewish writer Lev Levanda and the correspondence of an interwar Polish Jew, Wolf Lewkowicz. There are also two articles on the Gesiowka concentration camp established by the Nazis to clear the remains of the Warsaw ghetto. A special section is devoted to whether the incidents in Przytyk in 1936 constituted a pogrom, while another is devoted to discussing two important documents illustrating Wladyslaw Gomulka¹s attitude to Jews.

 

About the editor

Antony Polonsky is Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Chief Historian of the Permanent Collection of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw. Shimon Redlich is Professor of Modern History, Director of the Rabb Center for Holocaust Studies, and Solly Yellin Chair in Lithuanian and east European Jewry, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheba.

Contributor information

Joel Berkowitz, Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, State University of New York at Albany
Alina Cala, Researcher, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
Glenn Dynner, Visiting Assistant Professor, Franklin & Marshall College, Pennsylvania
Gennady Estraikh, Rauch Visiting Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies, New York University
Ryszard Fenigsen
Gabriel N. Finder, University of Virginia
Michal Galas, Lecturer, Department of Jewish Studies, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Lech W. Gluchowski, independent scholar and writer, Hamilton Ontario
Piotr Gontarczyk
Brian Horowitz, holder of the Family Sizeler Chair for Jewish Studies, Tulane University
John Klier, Corob Professor of Modern Jewish History, University College London
Edward Kossoy
Mikhail Krutikov, Assistant Professor of Jewish-Slavic Cultural Relations, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Rosa Lehmann, Researcher, Menasseh Ben Israel Institute for Jewish Social & Cultural Studies, Amsterdam
Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Assistant Professor in Jewish History, Northwestern University
Ben-Cion Pinchuk, University of Haifa
Antony Polonsky, Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC
Eugenia Prokóp-Janiec, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Ksawery Pruszynski
Shimon Redlich, Professor of Modern History, Director of the Rabb Center for Holocaust Studies, and Solly Yellin Chair in Lithuanian and East European Jewry, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheba
Regina Renz, Professor of History, Akademia Swietokrzyska, Kielce
Adam Teller, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), Department of Jewish History, University of Haifa
Katarzyna Wieclawska, Centre for Jewish Studies, Marie-Sklodowska Curie University, Lublin
Miroslaw Wócik, Senior Lecturer, Akademia Swietokrzyska, Kielce
Konrad Zielinski, Assistant Professor, Centre for Jewish Studies, Marie-Sklodowska Curie University, Lublin
Jolanta Zyndul, Head, Centrum Badania i Nauczania Dziejow i Kultury Zydow w Polsce im. Mordechaja Anielewicza, University of Warsaw

 

Contents

Note on Place Names
Note on Transliteration

Part I Jews in Polish Small Towns
Introduction. The Shtetl: Myth and Reality
ANTONY POLONSKY
The Shtetl as an Arena for Polish–Jewish Integration in the Eighteenth Century
ADAM TELLER
Inter-Religious Contacts in the Shtetl: Proposals for Future Research
MICHAL GALAS
The Hasidic Conquest of Small-Town Central Poland, 1754–1818
GLENN DYNNER
The Drama of Berdichev: Levy Yitshak and his Town
YOHANAN PETROVSKY-SHTERN
Polish Shtetls under Russian Rule, 1772–1914
JOHN KLIER
How Jewish was the Shtetl?
BEN-CION PINCHUK
The Changing Shtetl in the Kingdom of Poland during the First World War
KONRAD ZIELINSKI
The Shtetl: Cultural Evolution in Small Jewish Towns
ALINA CALA
Polish Jewish Country Towns in Inter-War Poland
REGINA RENZ
Jewish Patrons and Polish Clients: Patronage in a Small Galician Town
ROSA LEHMANN
Maintaining Borders, Crossing Borders: Social Relationships and the Shtetl
ANNAMARIA ORLA-BUKOWSKA
The Soviet Shtetl in the 1920s
GENNADY ESTRAIKH
Shtetl and Shtot in Yiddish Haskalah Drama
JOEL BERKOWITZ
Kazimierz on the Vistula: Polish Literary Portrayals of the Shtetl
EUGENIA PROKÓP-JANIEC
Imagining the Image: Interpretations of the Shtetl in Jewish Literary Criticism from Bal Makhshoves to Dan Miron
MIKHAIL KRUTIKOV
Shtetl Codes: Fantastic Elements in the Fiction of Sholem Asch, Bruno Schulz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer
KATARZYNA WIECLAWSKA
Returning to the Shtetl: Different Perceptions
SHIMON REDLICH


Part II New Views
A Jewish Russifier in Despair: Lev Levanda’s Polish Question
BRIAN HOROWITZ
Like a Voice Calling in the Wilderness: The Correspondence of Wolf Lewkowicz
MIROSLAW WÓCIK
Jewish Prisoner Labour in Warsaw after the Ghetto Uprising, 1943–1944
GABRIEL N. FINDER
The Gesiowka Story: A Little-Known Page of Jewish Resistance
EDWARD KOSSOY


Part III Documents
Gomulka Writes to Stalin in 1948
Introduction
LECH W. GLUCHOWSKI
Document 1: Wladyslaw Gomulka’s Letter to Stalin
Document 2: Cryptogram from Stalin to Boleslaw Bierut


Part IV The Sixty-Fifth Anniversary of Events in Przytyk: A Debate
If Not a Pogrom, Then What?
JOLANTA ZYNDUL
Pogrom? The Polish–Jewish Incidents in Przytyk, 9 March 1936
PIOTR GONTARCZYK
It was No Ordinary Fight
JOLANTA ZYNDUL
Letter from Ryszard Fenigsen
Przytyk and the Market Stall
KSAWERY PRUSZYNSKI


Part V
Book Reviews

Notes on the Contributors
Glossary
Index

 

Reviews

'This latest volume of Polin fully succeeds in maintaining the scholarly standards set by its predecessors.'   
Lionel Kochan, Jewish Historical Studies