1915 Diary of S. An-sky

1915 Diary of S. An-sky

A Russian Jewish Writer at the Eastern Front
S. A. An-Sky
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 03/28/2016
Format: Hardback 18 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02045-1
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S. An-sky was by the time of the First World War a well-known writer, a longtime revolutionary, and an ethnographer who pioneered the collection of Jewish folklore in Russia's Pale of Settlement. In 1915, An-sky took on the assignment of providing aid and relief to Jewish civilians trapped under Russian military occupation in Galicia. As he made his way through the shtetls there, close to the Austrian frontlines, he kept a diary of his encounters and impressions, written in Russian. His diary entries present a detailed reflection of his daily experiences. He describes conversations with wounded soldiers in hospitals, fellow Russian and Jewish aid workers, Russian military and civilian authorities, and Jewish civilians in Galicia and parts of the Pale. Although most of his diaries were lost, two fragments survived and are preserved in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Translated and annotated here by Polly Zavadivker, these fragments convey An-sky's vivid firsthand descriptions of civilian and military life in wartime. He recorded the brutality and violence against the civilian population, the complexities of interethnic relations, the practices and limitations of philanthropy and medical care, Russification policies, and antisemitism. In the late 1910s, An-sky used his diaries as raw material for a lengthy memoir in Yiddish published under the title The Destruction of Galicia.

Author Bio

S. A. An-sky, pseudonym of Shloyme-Zanvl Rapoport (1863–1920), was a Russian Jewish writer, ethnographer, and cultural and political activist. He is best known today for his play The Dybbuk. An abridged English translation of his Yiddish memoir was published with the title The Enemy at His Pleasure in 2002.

Polly Zavadivker is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Delaware.


“In 1915, An-sky took on the assignment of providing aid and relief to Jewish civilians trapped under Russian military occupation in Galicia. The diary fragments within are vivid firsthand descriptions of civilian and military life in wartime.”

“Compared to his later memoir, An-sky emerges in the diary as more complex person, less doctrinaire, but more sympathetic. Much like Isaac Babel’s wartime diary, An-sky’s diary reveals the tensions that a writer faces in traveling through a landscape of violence, trying to learn, to gather materials for his own writing, to maintain an ethical stance, and to survive.”
 — Gabriella Safran, author, Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator, S. An-sky

“An unforgettable portrait of life, culture, and destruction.”
 — Eugene Avrutin, author of Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia

“This volume shows the intertwined nature of Russian history, Eastern European history and Jewish history. As such, this volume will be welcomed by scholars in all relevant disciplines, and could be used effectively in courses in history, literature and culture.”
 — European History Quarterly

“An-sky's diary is a masterpiece. It not only brings to life one of the most terrible military campaigns of World War I and an often neglected part of eastern Europe, it finds a new kind of writing for describing war at its most inhuman.”
 — Jewish Renaissance

“Both An-sky’s diary entries and the supplemental material written by Zavadivker provide insight into areas of the war narrative that are still largely inaccessible to English-speaking audiences. The book brilliantly does what any annotated primary source should do; it provides context for the event, without diminishing the author’s voice. Zavadivker’s efforts are to be commended, and one hopes that the successful translation and publication of this book will inspire others to undertake and facilitate similar works.”
 — The Russian Review

“As a realistic portrayal of everyday Jewish life in Russia, An-sky's novel . . . provides a welcome contribution to contemporary scholar's ongoing attempts to challenge and revise romantic images of the shtetl as a timeless oasis of Jewish spiritual devotion.”
 — Marginalia

“Beyond adding to the canon of An-sky scholarship, Zavadivker's translation and concise introduction contribute to our understanding of the First World War and European history more broadly. . . . An-sky's unique perspective, and the many voices his text contains beyond his own, offers scholars and students a fuller picture of civilian life in wartime: the horrors, the chaos and the quotidian problems.”
 — History

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Table of Contents

Note on Translation
S. An-sky’s 1915 Diary
1. Winter 1915: Galicia
2. Fall 1915: Petrograd

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