A Tale of the Murdered Shtetl

The Image of the Shtetl in Yiddish Literature in Post-war Poland

in European Judaism
Restricted access

This article discusses an ambivalent portrayal of the shtetl presented in the prose works of five Yiddish writers who were creatively active in the communist Poland: Leyb Olitsky, Mendel Tempel, Shlomo Strauss-Marko, Lili Berger and Kalman Segal. The theme of the shtetl is of a particular importance in Yiddish literature of that time since it makes it possible to realize how difficult Yiddish writers' situation was under communism in the post-Holocaust era. The literary image of shtetl in their prose works is conditioned by two contrasting perspectives: ideological critique and a sense of loss. In comparison to the classic texts there is a substantial shift – the continuity of the shtetl life with the cycle of the holy history of the Jewish people is interrupted, and religion is substituted – at least ostensibly – by the ideology of communism. The writers criticize the traditional way of life, known as Yiddishkayt, the mentality associated with it, as well as the crisis of the moral value system. Nonetheless, as if in opposition to communist literary critics, all of them unanimously emphasize the values of the Jewish world that are worth remembering, such as the language, folklore, customs and traditions, and also domestic religious rituals, and even certain aspects of religion.