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1915 Diary of S. An-sky

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1915 Diary of S. An-sky

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1915 Diary of S. An-sky
A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front
By S. A. An-sky
Translation and Introduction by Polly Zavadivker
Indiana University Press, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-253-02045-1

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 1, 2016

2014 - 2018 mark the centenary of the First World War. Just about everyone from entire countries to historians, and various groups from veterans organization to scouting troops, have been holding commemorations, making documentaries and publishing books about World War I. Therefore it is more than fitting that one of S. An-sky's diaries from 1915, during a time when he was working with the Jewish Committee for the Aid of War Victims on the Eastern Front, has been translated into English and published during this momentous period. The English translation of this diary has been published under the name 1915 Diary of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front.

S. An-Sky was a Jewish-Russian author, politician, folklorist, and much more. His real name was Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport (1863 1920) and he was born in Belarus and died in Poland. He was mostly known by his pen name S. An-Sky, which is sometimes spelled without the dash as S. Ansky. Early in his career he wrote primarily in Russian, but later made a name for himself as a Yiddish author. His 1915 diary was written primarily in Russian, and it chronicles his activities as he struggled (along with others) to bring aid to tens-of-thousands of Jews in Galicia.

Many of the Jews in Galicia had been expelled from their homes and they were also the targets of violent antisemitism from both their non-Jewish neighbors and the occupying military forces. The Jews of Russia mobilized to provide aid to their brethren, and this diary chronicles some of these efforts. Although Galicia no longer exists, in today's geography, it would cover parts of both Poland and the Ukraine. The area saw heavy fighting early in the war as Russian forces engaged forces from the Austro-Hungarian army. The Russians won and Galicia became occupied territory. That is until late in 1915 when the Russians were pushed out of the region by an amalgam of central power forces. Later in the war the Russians again retook the area...

Throughout it all, the Jews in the region suffered, not only by the battles but also from the various occupying forces who forced them from their homes, confiscated their belonging, and treated them as enemy outsiders, with the Russians being the worst of a bad lot. Throughout this period, An-sky traveled through countless shtetls, and met a wide assortment of Jews, Russian military personnel, aid workers, and civilians. He documented his experiences and his observations as only a skilled ethnographer and writer could. The end result is a vivid and gripping account of the war and its effects on the population. He also highlights the extreme plight of the Galician Jews, whom the Russians saw as potential 'spies' for the enemy Jews, and therefore turned a blind eye to attacks on Jews carried out by their non-Jewish neighbors. In addition, the Russian army habitually turned entire Jewish communities out of their homes and forcibly deported them to other regions.

This diary does not exist in its entirety, but enough the two sections that remain cover about three to four months, the first part covers the early part of 1915 with the remaining part covering most of September, as well as part of October. Although fragmentary, these tidbits are enough to give the reader a gut-wrenching idea of what life was like for Jews in Galicia and the Pale of Settlement during the war, and the problems that the Jews in the area where having with their non-Jewish neighbors, and the military.

Polly Zavadivker has done an excellent job of translating this work into English, and in providing an edifying introduction that puts the events in the diary into historical perspective. The 1915 Diary of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front will fascinate readers of all ilks who have an interest in Jewish history, the Great War, and the intersections of the two. It is also a must-have addition for academic libraries and Jewish libraries at both the high school and college levels.

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