A History of East European Jews

A History of East European Jews

A History of East European Jews

A History of East European Jews

Excerpt

[I am an East European Jew [Ostjude], and our homeland lies wherever we have our dead.] So speaks the millionaire Henry Bloomfield in Joseph Roth's novel Hotel Savoy as he visits the grave of his father, Jechiel Blumenfeld. This sentence encompasses the entire history of the 'East European Jews' (sometimes referred to simply as Ostjuden). They are not simply 'the Jews in Eastern Europe'—although they developed there as a characteristic type—because they are scattered throughout the world. They have left behind their dead in many countries. Often, memory remained their only homeland.

One of the roots of this remembering lies in the region in which the East European Jews originated in the eighteenth century and took shape in the nineteenth: old Poland. As a result, the history of Polish East European Jews—under different forms of governance after the Partitions of Poland between 1772 and 1815—stands at the center of my account. It is in relation to this that the history of the Jews in Eastern Europe as a whole is concisely and comparatively sketched: the prehistory of East European Jewry, its spread throughout the region, and its encounters with West European Jewry. In this way, its characteristic features and the structures of everyday life emerge more clearly. An account of the circumstances in emigration would have been beyond the scope of this volume. The fate of the East . . .

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