In the early 1930s in Berlin, Germany, a group of leading Eastern European Jewish intellectuals embarked upon a project to transform the lives of millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews around the world. Their goal was to publish a popular and comprehensive Yiddish language encyclopedia of general knowledge that would serve as a bridge to the modern world and as a guide to help its readers navigate their way within it. However, soon after the Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General Encyclopedia) was announced, Hitler’s rise to power forced its editors to flee to Paris. The scope and mission of the project repeatedly changed before its final volumes were published in New York City in 1966.
The Holocaust & the Exile of Yiddish untangles the complicated saga of the Algemeyne entsiklopedye and its editors. The editors continued to publish volumes and revise the encyclopedia’s mission while their primary audience, Eastern European Jews, faced persecution and genocide under Nazi rule, and the challenge of reestablishing themselves in the first decades after World War II. Historian Barry Trachtenberg reveals how, over the course of the middle decades of the twentieth century, the project sparked tremendous controversy in Jewish cultural and political circles, which debated what the purpose of a Yiddish encyclopedia should be, as well as what knowledge and perspectives it should contain. Nevertheless, this is not only a story about destruction and trauma, but also one of tenacity and continuity, as the encyclopedia’s compilers strove to preserve the heritage of Yiddish culture, to document its near-total extermination in the Holocaust, and to chart its path into the future.
About the Author
BARRY TRACHTENBERG is the Michael H. and Deborah K. Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His books include The United States and the Nazi Holocaust: Race, Refuge, and Remembrance and The Revolutionary Roots of Modern Yiddish, 1903-1917.
"One cannot read this work without feeling gratitude toward Trachtenberg for his prodigious research and the clarity of his understanding. One must read it also to understand the audacity of its original self-assigned task and the persistence of those who insisted—even after the destruction, even after multiple exiles and perilous journeys of survival—there was a task that must be completed. Such persistence, such dedication, such determination, and such loyalty to a common task."
— Michael Berenbaum
"A fresh contribution to Jewish studies as a whole and Yiddish studies in particular, this work is especially notable for bridging the prewar, World War II, and postwar periods."
— Cecile E. Kuznitz
"An excellent vantage point for understanding many things associated with Jewish life in the twentieth century. The scope of research and analysis is very impressive. This is a very useful book!"
— Gennady Estraikh
"How a Yiddish encyclopedia became a document of the Holocaust and Jewish culture," by Benjamin Ivry
— The Forward
"Encyclopedic Knowledge: Rokhl’s Golden City: A new look at the story behind one of the quirkiest Yiddish reference books," by Rokhl Kafrissen