Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919-1945

Article excerpt

Shimon Redlich. Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. xix, 202 pp. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Cloth.

Before the second World War Brzezany, then in eastern Poland now in western Ukraine, resembled many medium-sized towns in the region. Poles and Jews made up nearly eighty percent of the total population but the surrounding countryside was predominantly Ukrainian, and Ukrainians increasingly migrated into the town. The newly-resurrected Poland of the interwar period favored ethnic Poles but also allowed its non-Polish citizens-around a third of the total population-a certain degree of cultural and autonomy. During this period, however, xenophobic and antisemitic streams within the Polish population and government gained strength. Such is the background of Shimon Redlich's memorable account-part history and part memoir-of interethnic relations in Brzezany between the two world wars.

As Redlich makes clear from the start, this book differs radically in scope and approach from his previous works. Historians will know Redlich's respected work on the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR during World War II. The book under review, however, is a much more personal document. Redlich was born in Brzezany in 1935 and begins the book with an account of his return to the now Ukrainian town of Berezhany in 1991. Throughout, personal memories and interviews with survivors-Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish-from that period are interspersed with more impersonal-some would say "objective"-historical data, creating a unique and compelling narrative of that time and place. Redlich, who recalls "growing up in Polish," survived the Holocaust with help from Ukrainians, and has now lived a half-century in Israel, is perhaps uniquely capable of appreciating and reporting dispassionately the different attitudes and behaviors of the three ethnic groups of his native town. Unlike some of his interviewees who remark, for example, that all Poles were antisemites, Redlich manages to portray both vivid individual portraits and plausible reconstructions of events, including the most terrible ones. Obviously a work that touches on issues of mass murder cannot avoid moral questions, nor does Redlich pretend to be an "objective observer" at all moments. But he retains throughout a higher kind of objectivity, one which allows him to discuss motivations-even unsavory ones-with nuance, and appreciation for both positive and negative aspects of human behavior, all the while avoiding cheap moralizing or ethnic stereotyping. …