Shtetl The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews

Review :

This is a short book (258 pages + notes) to cover 800 years of history, but it's focused on one little town in Poland - Bransk - and the Jewish experience over that period of time. Hoffman uses a book, the Yizkor Book that was maintained by the Bransk Jewry down the ages, as well as interviews with residents still living, and archival research to delineate the history.

The author is blatantly honest about what she learns and any reader can gain a perspective on the historic relationship with Poles and Jews - their rivalries for power, jealousies, cooperation, and friendships.

Most enlightening was the end of the book. World War II. Poland had been partitioned between Germany, Russia, and Austria for over 100 years, restored as a country only in 1918 at the end of WWI. When WWII started, Poland was faced the Germans to the east and the Soviets to the west both trying to take control again. Poland had no real army, so the Soviet-German front was back and forth through Poland. 3 million Poles died.

The infamous death camps were built on sites convenient to the Nazis in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland - all across Europe. They were built by the Nazis and forced labor and 11 million people died in them. Many Poles were sent to the camps by the Nazis. Other Poles were sent to Siberia by the Soviet Army.

There were many Poles who harbored Jews and many too afraid of being murdered to do so. As Hoffman says, [Bransk became]..."a zone in which the indigenous population, not very sophisticated or educated was rewarded (poorly) for selling the lives of its neighbors and killed for helping them." And Hoffman further states, "There are Jewish survivors honest enough the say that if the roles had been reversed, they cannot vouch for how they would have acted toward people whom they still call 'the goyim.'"

The book provokes the question: What would you do

PS - this book needs an index


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