FROM A RUINED GARDEN: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry by Jack & Jonathan Boyarin--Eds. & Trans. Kugelmass

FROM A RUINED GARDEN: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Yizker-bikher--memorial books--were a well-established part of the lives of countless eastern-European Jewish communities, small and large; into these volumes went memories (always specific) of normal times and horrendous ones, their purpose to keep at least a complete memory of the fabric of Jewish experience as it was before destruction. Kugelmass and Boyarin, anthropologists at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, have culled from 70 Polish yizker-bikher a selection that ranges from marketplace descriptions to Hasidic politics, from village characters to pogroms--and finally to the unavoidable, compelling reason for these books: the Holocaust. There is humor: the rabbinical student Fishl was ""confused in his youth, from too much study. For years he had studied in various yeshivas, going from city to city and eating at the homes of strangers, until finally his brains addled."" There is pitiable terror: a rabbi's last instructions about how Jews ought to go to their martyrs' death; a man from Vladimirits recounting ""My Escape from the Ditches of Slaughter""; a woman's horrid tale of survival of the Nazi terror--only to be nearly killed by village Poles after the war's end. Some of the writers are renowned--Ansky, author of The Dybbuk; Perush Markus--but most are unliterary townsfolk. And apart from the black stain spread upon the entire collection by the Holocaust material, what may be most touching of all here is the liberal use of names: names gone, most often erased, but not allowed oblivion; from specific friends and neighbors come names of specific people having done specific things; most devastating, of course, there are lists of the local dead--where in a field they were killed, at what hour, their names like the stubby, insistent flames in memorial jar-candles. A moving book.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Schocken