Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 17

BookPolin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 17

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 17

The Shtetl: Myth and Reality

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, 17


November 25th, 2004



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The shtetl is one of the key concepts for our understanding of the Jewish past in Eastern Europe. Although today most Jews live in big cities, the majority of Jews in Poland historically lived in the villages and small towns known as shtetls; even as late as 1931, only 43% lived in towns with a population of more than 20,000. The shtetl was thus the main context and arena for Jewish life in Poland, but much of what we know of shtetl life still comes from literary accounts rather than historical research.

This volume attempts to redress that imbalance. Among the topics covered are the Jewishness of the shtetl; Polish--Jewish relations and social relations more widely in the shtetl; inter-religious contacts; the hasidic conquest of shtetl life; cultural evolution in the shtetl; Polish shtetls under Russian rule and Soviet shtetls in the 1920s; and a contemporary account of returning to visit a shtetl. Other articles consider how shtetl life has been reflected in Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish literature.

The New Views section analyses the work of the Russian Jewish writer Lev Levanda and the correspondence of an interwar Polish Jew, Wolf Lewkowicz. There are also two articles on the Gesiowka concentration camp established by the Nazis to clear the remains of the Warsaw ghetto. A special section is devoted to whether the incidents in Przytyk in 1936 constituted a pogrom, while another is devoted to discussing two important documents illustrating Wladyslaw Gomulka's attitude to Jews.

‘This latest volume of Polin fully succeeds in maintaining the scholarly standards set by its predecessors.’ Lionel Kochan, Jewish Historical Studies


Author Information

Antony Polonsky is Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw. He is the author of the three-volume History of the Jews in Poland and Russia, published in an abridged paperback version as The Jews in Poland and Russia: A Short History.