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A HOLE IN THE HEART OF THE WORLD by Jonathan Kaufman

A HOLE IN THE HEART OF THE WORLD

Being Jewish in Eastern Europe

by Jonathan Kaufman

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-86747-0
Publisher: Viking

 A beautifully written account of two generations in five Jewish families living in West and East Berlin, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter for the Wall Street Journal and author of Broken Alliance: Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America (1988), organizes his accounts around two seminal events: the defeat of Nazi Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall. He writes movingly about the many personal, cultural, and religious resonances of the Holocaust on Jewish life. One of his subjects is a Polish woman who was hidden by a Catholic family during the war, was raised to think of herself as an ``ordinary'' Pole, and learned almost by accident, and in her mid-30s, that she is Jewish. But Kaufman is particularly engrossing on the less well known and complex relationship between Eastern European Jewry and Communism. He provides a balanced account of how and why Jews were disproportionately represented in the leadership of most Eastern European countries; in 1949, for example, 7 of 13 members of the Hungarian Politburo were Jews, although Jews constituted only about one percent of the population. On the other hand, several of his subjects suffered physical and emotional torture under Stalin-like anti-Semitic purges, such as the Slansky trials in Czechoslovakia during the early 1950s. Kaufman seems by far the most engaged by, and offers the most detail on, his two families in West and East Berlin: respectively, a Holocaust survivor and his historian son, and a Communist party leader and his dissident son. And unlike so many accounts that depict Eastern Europe as a kind of extensive cemetery for Jewish life and culture, this book provides real, if modest, evidence of Jewish resilience and renewal. This is a work of exemplary journalistic research and narrative, one highly recommended for anyone interested in either contemporary Jewry or the new Europe.