In his three-volume history, Antony Polonsky provides a comprehensive survey—socio-political, economic, and religious—of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe from 1350 to the present. Until the Second World War, this was the heartland of the Jewish world: nearly three and a half million Jews lived in Poland alone, while nearly three million more lived in the Soviet Union. Although the majority of the Jews of Europe and the United States, and many of the Jews of Israel, originate from these lands, their history there is not well known. Rather, it is the subject of mythologizing and stereotypes that fail both to bring out the specific features of the Jewish civilization which emerged there and to illustrate what was lost. Jewish life, though often poor materially, was marked by a high degree of spiritual and ideological intensity and creativity. Antony Polonsky recreates this lost world—brutally cut down by the Holocaust and less brutally but still seriously damaged by the Soviet attempt to destroy Jewish culture. Wherever possible, the unfolding of history is illustrated by contemporary Jewish writings to show how Jews felt and reacted to the complex and difficult situations in which they found themselves. This first volume begins with an overview of Jewish life in Poland and Lithuania down to the mid-eighteenth century. It describes the towns and shtetls where the Jews lived, the institutions they developed, and their participation in the economy. Developments in religious life, including the emergence of hasidism and the growth of opposition to it, are described in detail. The volume goes on to cover the period from 1764 to 1881, highlighting government attempts to increase the integration of Jews into the wider society and the Jewish responses to these efforts, including the beginnings of the Haskalah movement. Attention is focused on developments in each country in turn: the problems of emancipation, acculturation, and assimilation in Prussian and Austrian Poland; the politics of integration in the Kingdom of Poland; and the failure of forced integration in the tsarist empire. Volume 2 covers the period 1881–1914; Volume 3 covers 1914–2008.
'Polonsky's sweeping study offers an illuminating, accessible view of Jewish life in eastern Euope since the end of World War II. In elegant prose, the author engages major historiographical issues while analyzing important cultural, religious, social, and political trends among eastern European Jewry. He carefully frames each section with a chapter-long overview of the relevant historical context for the following chapters . . . Throughout, Polonsky masterfully navigates the different realms of a turbulent eastern European Jewish world, conveying both the richness of its history and the tragedy of its destruction. Highly recommended.'
J. Haus, Choice
'Succeeds admirably. Simply put, these volumes are required reading for
anyone with a serious interest in East European history or for anyone looking
for a scholarly assessment of a particular feature of Polish or Russian Jewish
history. Handsomely produced, with extensive maps and tables, and a glossary .
. . will remain a standard work in the field for some time . . . a body of work
that, in summarizing the current state of our knowledge, effectively sets the
agenda for future scholars. Polonsky is perhaps the scholar most responsible
for the growth of Polish Jewish studies in the late twentieth century . . Very few historians could write a series of
volumes like this . . . [he] has armed scholars with a formidable tool that
will help them dispel stereotypes . . . Just as these volumes are destined to
become the starting point for the work of many students, they will be the
touchstone for scholars working in the field at all levels.'
Sean Martin, European History Quarterly
'Combines a masterful grasp of Jewish history with that of eastern
Europe. While underlining the unique features and achievements of the Jewish
communal experience he authoritatively integrates them into the history of the
countries in which Jews lived . . . Incorporating current, ground-breaking
scholarship from North America, Israel, and Europe these beautifully narrated
volumes should not only be seen as a staple of university courses, but also as
a must-read for anyone attempting to understand any aspect of modern Jewish
history and religious tradition, wherever it may be playing out . . . With this
extremely important book, Antony Polonsky not only writes history but,
following the example of his illustrious predecessors, makes it.'
Katarzyna Person, European Judaism
can only commend Antony Polonsky for his massive effort to explain seven
centuries of Jewish history in a mere 2,000 pages . . . Polonsky's strength
lies in his ability to illuminate intellectual and cultural developments . . .
Because of the excellent bibliographies, extensive annotation, and wonderful
maps included in each volume, any reader wishing to read in greater detail
about Polish and Russian Jewry will have plenty of resources to enable the
Alexandra S. Korros, Jewish Quarterly
. . . all three volumes, but particularly Volume 3, should be of special
interest to Polish Americans and all Americans interested in the history of the
Jews in Poland, Lithuania, and Russia.'
Anna M. Cienciala, Polish Review
'Definitive . . . The scope is immense and the author does an impressive
job of synthesizing a vast literature . . . This trilogy will no doubt serve as
a standard history of east European Jewry for a long time.'
- Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review
and formidable . . . Polonsky, as much as anyone else, has created the field of
modern Jewish history as a subject to be considered and understood rather than
simply a tragic past to be mourned. He is too good a historian to confuse the
history of Jewish life with the German policies that brought Jewish death . . .
The barely visible commitment in these three wonderful volumes is to rescue a
world from polemic, for the sake of history.'
- Timothy Snyder, Wall Street Journal
first serious, and most successful, effort thus far to summarize the history of
the Jews of “Eastern Europe” . . . the first book to synthesize the vast
research that has emerged since the seventies . . . comprehensive and
multidisciplinary . . . there is no book today that can compare to its scope
and to the vast and new materials that he brings forth and analyzes with a
broad imagination, an intensive approach, and a moderate style.’
- Moshe Rosman, Zion