Monday, September 2, 2013

The Enemy at His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I by S. Ansky edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel, published in English in 2002

"Ansky balances his tale among statistics (of depleted populations, refugees and destroyed property, for instance), telegraphed stories told to him by survivors and his own experiences cast in an unflinching reportage." from a review in the Jewish Daily Forward by Alyssa Quint, 2/25/2005

In the Introduction to this compelling memoir, editor and translator Joachim Neugrsoschel writes that S. Ansky, born Shloyme Zanvel ben-Aaron Rappaport in Vitebsk, who is now best known for his play, The Dybbuk, was a Russian Jewish intellectual who became fascinated with ethnographic research. He used that interest to observe and record Jewish customs and folktales as he traveled throughout the Jewish Pale of Settlement. But he had to cut short his research when World War I broke out.

During the war he resumed travel, this time to aid Jewish communities who were adversely affected by the war. He became a driving force in alerting authorities, convening Jewish Welfare groups, requisitioning supplies, and requesting and doling out funds as he traveled back and forth between the countryside and Kiev and St. Petersburg. Ansky based this memoir on his notes from the field during the time he spent mostly in Galicia. He also reports on some locations he visited in Bukovina. He finished the memoir in 1920, the year he died.

Ansky felt deeply the tragic situation of the Jews, especially those in small shtetls with few resources. He notes that their outsider status, wherever they lived, made them vulnerable to all kinds of abuse, and it was easy for many different national and ethnic groups to scape-goat the Jews based on long-held anti-Semitism. In this case they were suspected by the Russians of aiding the Germans and Austrians, and at the same time, the Germans and Austrians suspected them of spying for the Russians. Advancing, occupying and retreating forces ravaged their businesses and set fire to their buildings, including synagogues where Ansky reported seeing desecrated torah scrolls and pages from prayer books littering the floors.

Often, when visiting a town or shtetl, Ansky noted that news of the war's progress had traveled. Aware of the approaching troops, fearing the worst, many Jews were hastily packing up what they could take with them and seeking out safer communities. But they frequently had no choice, and were expelled and resettled  with other Jews in designated locations. Ansky records in vivid detail the conditions he observed: Many displaced Jews were penniless, frequently homeless or living crammed in overcrowded rooms, wearing tattered clothing, starving, and often sick.

A master storyteller and an accomplished prose stylist, he recreates on the page conversations he had with Jews he encountered who told him graphic stories of what they had experienced and witnessed. Ansky was their tireless advocate. He then describes what he tried to do to alleviate their suffering: handing them an allotment of rubles and/or supplies and reporting their dire straights to those who were in charge. He paints vivid pictures of precarious lives lived in the midst of a war where danger was always present, and government administrators often expressed sympathy but did not or could not follow through. Ansky also spent much time and energy trying to work the system of Jewish religious groups, wealthy Jews who were potential benefactors, and Jewish social agencies.

This important memoir, as well as giving readers a window into the world of the Jews living in towns and shtetls in Galicia and Bukovina  during World War I, also provides an overview of Russian governance under the Czar during the war with its attendant bureaucracy, chaos, confusion  and violence. At the end of the memoir Ansky describes the overthrow of the Czar and the beginning of the Russian Revolution.  

To look at posts from a blog called Vanished World of a recent trip through what remains of Jewish Galicia, including artfully taken photos in its cemeteries, click here.

To read an earlier post from this blog about a priest's attempts to uncover Ukraine's Jewish past, particularly as it relates to World War II that is the subject of his memoir, The Holocaust By Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5. Million Jews, click here.

People
Alexander Gintsberg
Oscar Gruzenberg
I. Nayditsh
B.Y. Ratner
Dovid Faynberg
Yekheskl Landa - Brody
Meyer Margolis - Brody
Abba Lev
M.A. Varshavsky - Petrograd
S.A. Grinberg - Kiev
Yisroel Razov
Itzik Rosenberg tells story of Yuzefov
Yekheil Litman - Yuzefov
Itzik Halberstam - Yuzefov
Itshe Fuks - Yuzefov
Leyzer-Yekhiel Englender - Yuzefov
Lippe Shenker - Yuzefov
Leybesh Cohen - Yuzefov
 Mayer Cohen – son of Leybesh - Yuzefov
Dr. Yankev Diamant – Lwow
Srulik Vaisbord - Suchostow
Aaron Savtsits – Malarito
Yitsik Nakht – Tarnopol
Lip Shvager – Khorostkov
Hirsh Rapaport - Czortkow
I.M. Perpikar
Marek Fish – Czernowitz
Yirmiye Sikopant – Czernowitz
Dovid Shekhner - Czernowitz
Shimen Sas - Czernowitz
Hersh Rimer - Czernowitz
Leo Hershman - Czernowitz
Leyb Retter – Sadagora
Aleykim Gastanter – Sadagora
Yitsik Shamatnik Sadagora
Shmuel Zagrebelsky – Sadagora
Shmuel Sender – Czernowki
Aaron Rat – Vaslutsk
H.D. Margolin – Kiev
Shaul Ginzburg - Kiev
Arnold Zaydenman - Kiev
H.B. Veynshlboym - Kiev

Places
Warsaw, Poland
Yuzefov, Poland
Bloyne, Poland
Suchostow, Galicia
Gora, Galicia
Nowomiasto, Galicia
Brody, Galicia
Lwow , Galicia
Zheshov, Poland
Tarnow, Poland
Zolkiew, Galicia
Stri, Galicia
Przemysl, Galicia
Vilna, Lithuania
Kovno, Lithuania
Petrograd, Russia
Kiev, Galicia
Janow, Galicia
Javarov, Galicia
Magerov, Galicia
Mosti-Veliki, Galicia
Kovel, Galicia
Sokal, Galicia
Kristanopol
Poretsk, Galicia
Vladimir-Volinsk, Galicia
Lutsk, Galicia
Vatin, Galicia
Tortshin, Galicia
Lokatsh, Galicia
Malarito, Galicia
Brest-Litovsk, Galicia
Kobrin, Galicia
Pinsk, Galicia
Luninets, Galicia
Homel, Galicia
Tarnopol, Galicia
Skolat, Galicia
Khorostkov, Galicia
Husiatyn, Galicia
Kopetshinyets, Galicia
Probuzhne, Galicia
Czortkow, Galicia
Yagelnitse, Galicia
Tlusti, Galicia
Bukovina
Zaleshtshik, Bukovina
Snaytin, Bukovina
Czernowitz, Bukovina
Sadagora, Bukovina
Kamenyets, Bukovina
Gora-Humara, Bukovina

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