Remembering a Vanished World

Remembering a Vanished World: A Jewish Childhood in Interwar Poland

Theodore S. Hamerow
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Remembering a Vanished World
    Book Description:

    Theodore Hamerow, a prominent historian, was born in Warsaw in 1920 and spent his childhood in Poland and Germany. His parents were members of the best-known Yiddish theater ensemble, the Vilna Company. They were part of an important movement in the Jewish community of Eastern Europe which sought, during the half century before World War II, to create a secular Jewish culture, the vehicle of which would be the Yiddish language.

    Combining the skills of an experienced historian with the talents of a natural writer, the author not only brings this exciting part of Jewish culture to life but also deals with ethnic relations and ethnic tensions in the region and addresses the broad political and cultural issues of a society on the verge of destruction. Thus a vivid image emerges that captures the feel and atmosphere of a world that has vanished forever.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-887-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Preface (pp. viii-x)
  4. Introduction: Ancestral Faith and Modernist Rebellion (pp. 1-28)

    The half-century preceding the Holocaust was a period of exciting change and promising renewal in the history of the Jews of Eastern Europe. The traditional foundation of their community, the religious faith that shaped their sense of identity for more than a thousand years, had begun to give way to new ideas, beliefs, and allegiances. There was a spreading conviction among them that protection against the persecutions of a hostile world should no longer be left to divine mercy and intervention. They began to believe more and more that only some process of adaptation, secularization, and modernization could achieve for...

  5. Chapter 1 The Patrimony of a Lithuanian Ghetto (pp. 29-44)

    Both of my parents were participants in that youthful rebellion around the turn of the century against the traditional beliefs and pieties of East European Jewry. They both embraced the ideal of a secular Jewish community; they both shared the vision of a new Yiddish culture. More than that, they both decided at an early age to devote their lives to the attainment of that ideal, to the realization of that vision. Yet they were not rigid or dogmatic in their views. They were prepared to tolerate the religious convictions and social values of the older generation. After all, they...

  6. Chapter 2 Those Patrician Rubinlichts of Gesia Street (pp. 45-61)

    Bella Rubinlicht came from a family which at first glance seemed to resemble that of Chaim Shneyer Hamerow. Her father, like his, was a pious Jew with the usual long, gray beard, wearing the familiar black hat and long coat, and reciting every morning, afternoon, and evening those endless prayers and blessings required of the devout. Her mother, like his, was pious as well, modest and respectable in appearance, maintaining order in the household, blessing the candles on Friday night, dutifully sitting in the women’s gallery of the synagogue on the Sabbath, and faithfully repeating the prescribed religious supplications which,...

  7. Chapter 3 Migrations, Metamorphoses, Memories (pp. 62-86)

    Being good parents is much more difficult for people who are in show business than for those who are not. While there are undoubtedly many exceptions to this generalization, both experience and logic support its overall validity. The actor’s way of life is so different from that of other occupations and pursuits that it makes the successful rearing of children very hard. Those who choose it must get ready to go to work when everybody else is coming back from work. They climb into bed when everybody else is climbing out of bed. When their child returns from school, they...

  8. Chapter 4 Living the High Life of Otwock (pp. 87-114)

    The 1920s were a golden decade for the Yiddish theater in America. The restrictions on immigration were still too recent and the pressures to assimilate were as yet too weak to reduce significantly the number of Jewish expatriates from Eastern Europe eager to hear the mother tongue spoken on the stage. The economic prosperity of those years, moreover, made it possible for even the humblest of the newcomers to afford a seat at a performance of a Yiddish theatrical company, if not in the front row of the orchestra, then at least somewhere in the second balcony. Many of the...

  9. Chapter 5 On the Edge of the Volcano (pp. 115-143)

    As I look back in the twilight of life at the vanished world of my childhood, I seem able to recall the events and experiences of three quarters of a century ago with greater clarity than ever before. Perhaps that happens to most people of advanced years, as their prospects for the future gradually become less inviting than their recollections of the past. But in my case there may have been a special reason for my previous inability or rather unwillingness to remember what had been. I may have recognized that remembering would not only bring back memories of a...

  10. Chapter 6 A Reunion at Arm’s Length (pp. 144-171)

    My growing awareness of the prevalence of ethnic prejudice in Polish society did not cause me any serious concern about my own future. I felt confident that I would always be protected against the discriminations and injustices which were such a frequent topic of discussion in our family. There was nothing for me to worry about. First of all, there were those monthly remittances which kept coming from the New World, large enough to provide me with a very comfortable standard of living. They had a highly soothing effect on my perception of the future. But even more important was...

  11. Chapter 7 Leaving the Titanic (pp. 172-199)

    That year which elapsed between my reunion with my parents and our departure for the United States, the last year of my childhood in interwar Poland, seemed to me to drag on endlessly. Almost as soon as they arrived, I began to look forward to packing my belongings—my toys, my books, my tin soldiers, and my newly acquired roller skates—and sailing across the Atlantic. But they appeared to be in no hurry. And so, while they were lingering and dawdling, the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. I just could not understand it. What was...

  12. Index (pp. 200-204)


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