* Lew’s comments on “There Once Was a World” by Yaffa Eliach
Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 23, 2015
This is an absolutely marvelous compendium of detailed insights into Jewish life in Polish shtetls before the holocaust. Although focused on Eishyshok, much applies to other shtetls as well.
I am well along in my new novel set in Germany and Poland during the Nazi years. Recently, though, in re-reading some of what I had written, and comparing it with scenes from my earlier novel The Heretic, I began to feel that I was not adequately capturing the emotion that is my goal. I realized that I had been (necessarily) immersed in scenes about Hitler’s rise to the Chancellorship and I understood what I was feeling, which I can summarize as “too many Nazis, not enough Jews.” It is the Jews who bring the emotion to my story, as they watch from Poland, fearful, hopeful, uncertain and confused.
Yaffa Eliach’s book is my cure. Its 800+ pages captures the sense of the shtetl, facing the future that was never to be. Without a trace of hyperbole or any hint of the maudlin, Eliach paints a warm and enduring picture of people who did not live to paint it themselves. A vibrant culture for centuries, Polish Jewry struggled with the dilemmas of the 20th century, balancing Haskalah and Zionism, secular studies and Talmud, open lives and closed. So much potential, which we all know was never to be realized.
Eliach captures it all, the mind and the heart. Now my job is to weave aspects of the lives that created that emotion into my story