27 January 2010

Tablet: Death of the Polish shtetl

Tablet's Adam Kirsch reviewed Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer's "The Death of the Shtetl."

According to the article, the book focuses on "one under-researched aspect of the Holocaust: the experience of the shtetls of eastern Poland between 1939, when they were occupied by the Soviet Union, and 1944, when the Red Army returned to find the shtetls completely destroyed."

While the story covered the book's premise and history on the ground in some detail, Tracing the Tribe was dismayed to see Kirsch's sentence:
We might add that, unlike other immigrant groups, American Jews can have no living link with their ancestors’ world; there are no old homes to visit or distant cousins to meet (or if there are, they are in Israel or the United States by now).

I believe that many Jewish genealogists can refute those claims rather easily, and I added a comment at the page above.

No living link with our ancestors' world?

No old homes to visit?

No distant cousins to meet?

How many have traveled "home" to our ancestral shtetls? Many have found our ancestors' old homes. Quite a few have indeed located distant cousins - a surprise to everyone involved - around the world, and the media covers these stories.

How many synagogue and cemetery restoration and preservation projects in those shtetls have been undertaken by their descendants?

As I wrote in my comment to the article, the sentence quoted is in the same vein as "our name was changed at Ellis Island." A myth to be sure - as we know not one documented case has ever been found. Unfortunately, that myth is repeated time and again by those who perhaps should be more aware of the giggling in the room when genealogists read it.

Read the complete article at the link above, and feel free to comment on it.


  1. I think genealogist are doing a great job to find out the family history and to know about our ancestors. I think laughing or giggling on genealogist's research is not the way, rather people should come up to search there own history and the people in history.

  2. You misunderstood. No geneaogist laughs or giggles at someone's genealogical research. What does amuse us, however, is the continuing use of the myths of genealogy as fact, such as the Ellis Island name change myth. No matter how much a family believes in this particular myth does not make it fact. My comment on giggling had to do ONLY with the Ellis Island myth, nothing else.

    with best wishes

  3. Genealogy2:54 AM

    Hey Schelly,

    Thanks for your reply. I got your point and i apologies for my wrong interpretation. I think everyone is playing there part well and being into genealogy research, i am quite attached with the topic.

    Anyways, i am following your blog regularly. Thanks for updates.