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In the Shadow of the Shtetl

Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine

Jeffrey Veidlinger

Publication Year: 2013

The story of how the Holocaust decimated Jewish life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe is well known. Still, thousands of Jews in these small towns survived the war and returned afterward to rebuild their communities. The recollections of some 400 returnees in Ukraine provide the basis for Jeffrey Veidlinger’s reappraisal of the traditional narrative of 20th-century Jewish history. These elderly Yiddish speakers relate their memories of Jewish life in the prewar shtetl, their stories of survival during the Holocaust, and their experiences living as Jews under Communism. Despite Stalinist repressions, the Holocaust, and official antisemitism, their individual remembrances of family life, religious observance, education, and work testify to the survival of Jewish life in the shadow of the shtetl to this day.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xxxii

When I first started searching for Jewish life in the small towns of Eastern Europe, the shtetls of Yiddish lore, I thought I would find only cemeteries and dilapidated homes, lifeless remnants of a vanished community. Instead, over the last decade, in dozens of shtetls throughout Eastern Europe, ...

Note on Translation

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pp. xxxiii-xxxiv

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1. The Shtetl: A Historical Landscape

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pp. 1-29

Reading Yiddish literature as a child, I used to imagine the shtetl as a Smurf village, an oasis fantasyland populated with peaceful, joyous, and simple Jews, singing Yiddish songs and humming Hasidic tunes. This blissful flow of life would only be interrupted sporadically by the marauding Cossacks, ...

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2. The Scars of Revolution

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pp. 30-56

When we met Nisen Yurkovetsky in 2009, he was ninety-one years old— still too young to remember the violence of the revolutionary years. But the physical and metaphorical scars of that violence were still very much with him when we sat down with him in his home in Tulchyn, ...

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3. Social Structure of the Soviet Shtetl

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pp. 57-78

In 1924, the Soviet ethnographer Vladimir Bogoraz, better known by his pseudonym V. G. Tan, led an ethnographic expedition to some of the shtetls of Ukraine. Bogoraz’s report on the expedition, published in 1926 as The Jewish Shtetl in Revolution, jubilantly celebrated the victory of socialism during the first decade of the Revolution: ...

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4. Growing Up in Yiddish

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pp. 79-106

Naftoli Shor was born in Bershad in 1922. His father, Pinhas, was a leather worker—“he sewed pelts,” Shor told us. Pinhas was also one of the core members of a Hasidic group of pietists in town that met secretly in the 1920s and 1930s in a private house near the synagogue. ...

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5. The Sanctuary of the Synagogue

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pp. 107-133

The Jewish women’s choir of Vinnytsya meets regularly in the Jewish community center not far from the center of town. In 2002, Liudmila Shor invited us to the community center where this group of fifteen elderly and energetic ladies sings together. We were served a brunch of black bread and cheese, ...

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6. Religion of the Home: Food and Faith

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pp. 134-157

But many of the residents we interviewed a decade or more after the collapse of the Soviet Union remembered the Sabbaths of the 1930s differently: they visualized a pious life full of Jewish ritual. They themselves were often unable to articulate the precise meaning of the rituals they recalled, ...

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7. Life and Death in Reichskommissariat Ukraine

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pp. 158-185

On June 22, 1941, as the first light of the second longest day of the year appeared in the east, over three million German troops stormed across the Soviet border along a line that stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Having ignored the German troops amassing on the border, the Red Army was taken largely by surprise; ...

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8. Life beyond the River: Transnistria

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pp. 186-231

An American immigrant originally from Tulchyn, Manya Ganiyevva, wrote down her recollection of her wartime experiences in Transnistria and deposited that memoir through the Jewish Family Service of Cincinnati with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. ...

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9. A Kind of Victory

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pp. 232-279

Throughout March 1944, the Red Army slowly inched westward across Ukraine, liberating the lands of Vinnytsya Province from German occupation. In Transnistria, Soviet soldiers found pockets of surviving Jewish communities: they liberated 12,000 indigenous Jews and another 40,000 Romanian Jews who had been deported to the region from their homes.1 ...

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pp. 280-290

Prior to 1989, our views of the Jewish experience in the Soviet Union were derived primarily from the memoirs of émigrés and published writings that came out of the Soviet Union. Both sources agreed that the shtetl had been destroyed and with it “traditional” Jewish life had been eliminated. ...

Brief Biographies

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pp. 291-308


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pp. 309-342


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pp. 343-362

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pp. 363-364

This book is the product of a collective effort. I am grateful to all those people throughout Ukraine who allowed us to interview them, often on multiple occasions. I recognize that it is sometimes difficult to speak about the past on camera to strangers, and I hope that all those who chose to engage with us came out of the process gratified with the experience. ...


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pp. 365-386

Image Plates

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pp. 424-439

About the Author

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p. 440-440

E-ISBN-13: 9780253011527
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253011510

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 21 color illus., 15 b&w illus., 4 maps
Publication Year: 2013