In the Shadow of the Shtetl

In the Shadow of the Shtetl

Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine
Jeffrey Veidlinger
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/01/2013
ISBN: 978-0-253-01152-7
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Winner, 2014 Canadian Jewish Book Awards, history category

The story of how the Holocaust decimated Jewish life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe is well known. Still, thousands of Jews in these small towns survived the war and returned afterward to rebuild their communities. The recollections of some 400 returnees in Ukraine provide the basis for Jeffrey Veidlinger’s reappraisal of the traditional narrative of 20th-century Jewish history. These elderly Yiddish speakers relate their memories of Jewish life in the prewar shtetl, their stories of survival during the Holocaust, and their experiences living as Jews under Communism. Despite Stalinist repressions, the Holocaust, and official antisemitism, their individual remembrances of family life, religious observance, education, and work testify to the survival of Jewish life in the shadow of the shtetl to this day.

Author Bio

Jeffrey Veidlinger is Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. He is author of The Moscow State Yiddish Theater (IUP, 2006) and Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire (IUP, 2009).


“Some 400 Holocaust returnees in Ukraine relate their memories of Jewish life in the prewar shtetl, their stories of survival during the Holocaust, and their experiences living as Jews under Communism.”

“That significant numbers of Yiddish-speaking Jews are still living in the small towns (the proverbial shtetlakh of Jewish collective memory) in the Podolian region of Ukraine will come as a great surprise to many. This vivid and well-documented study gives a moving and fascinating account of how these Jews survived the catastrophes of the 20th century and how some of them live today. It is essential reading for all those interested in the history of the Jews of Eastern Europe.”
 — Antony Polonsky, author of The Jews in Poland and Russia

“A deeply-informed, humane portrait, part-travelogue, but also an invaluable history of a mostly forgotten slice of contemporary Jewish life, this book is beautifully wrought, and singularly interesting. Jeffrey Veidlinger is a first rate observer of topography, language, and politics, an historian whose appreciation of the humanity of his subject-material is acute, and arresting. ”
 — Steven J. Zipperstein, author of Roosenfeld's Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing

“This is a great book; very well written, entertaining, powerful, at times funny, at times sad, and enjoyable.”
 — Anna Shternshis, author of Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939

“This magnificent work merges cutting-edge, archivally based history of the Soviet Union with the richness of original oral history interviews. . . . Through the recollections of these elderly interviewees come forth the bittersweet realities of life and death among Soviet shtetl Jews.”
 — Jonathan Dekel-Chen, editor of Anti-Jewish Violence: Rethinking the Pogrom in East European Jewish History

“In the Shadow of the Shetl is an insightful story of Jewish life in small towns in Soviet Ukraine. . . . It is a remarkable account of individual survival, narrated not by those east European Jews who had left after the war for America or Israel, but by those returners who came back to rebuild their communities and have managed to preserve components of Jewish lifestyle in the region to this day.”
 — European History Quarterly

“In the Shadow of the Shtetl makes an important contribution to the growing body of literature that seeks to treat the shtetl as an object of historical research, joining recent works by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Jeffrey Shandler, and others, just as it also adds to another body of research by scholars such as Anna Shternshis, David Shneer, Zvi Gitelman, Elissa Bemporad, and Kenneth Moss that has reexamined the lives and cultural production of Jews in the Soviet Union.”

“[H]istorian Jeffrey Veidlinger has shown in this new and important study that there remain communities of Yiddish speakers in Ukrainian shtetls even today: Jews born in the first decades of the twentieth century who lived the majority of their lives under Soviet rule. ”
 — American Historical Review

“The many personal depictions make this a fascinating book and the author never loses track of the main issues that he wants to address. It is an extremely valuable addition to the small number of books about popular religion among Jews in twentieth century Eastern Europe and should be relevant to many topics.”
 — Religious Studies Review

“Thanks to Veidlinger’s new monograph, we get a nuanced insight into the 'lost world' of the post-Holocaust shtetl, which remained hidden even from the vast majority of Soviet Jews. At the same time, one has to be careful when extrapolating these important, often pioneering, findings to other Soviet settings. Veidlinger clearly demonstrates such care.”
 — Slavic Review

“This excellent book is remarkable both for its ethnographic fieldwork with a largely forgotten group as well as the quality of its scholarship. Recommended for all libraries.”
 — AJL Reviews

“This sensitively rendered study advances our understanding of the Soviet Jewish experience by shifting the focus from the center to the periphery. It also offers a thoughtful meditation on the use of oral testimony in historical scholarship. ”
 — Russian Review

“Veidlinger . . . is a talented, sensitive guide through the memories of small-town Jewish life, which he compares with an array of published archival research. . . . Recommended.”
 — Choice

“Hitherto the story of the Holocaust in the Eastern European shtetl has been told by those who left—on behalf of those who did not survive. What do we learn from these stories told from the shtetl itself? In the Shadow of the Shtetl restores horror to the setting in which it occurred: at home, among familiar people and places . . . In their accounts the everyday and the extraordinary, the innocuous and the gruesome are continually intertwined. The same people participated in both. The relationship between the normal and the abnormal, the intimate and the alien takes on a different shape in these stories—perhaps a shape that can help us better understand places like Rwanda or Cambodia—or Bosnia.”
 — New York Review of Books

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Table of Contents

Note on Translation
1. The Shtetl: A Historical Landscape
2.The Scars of Revolution
3.Social Structure of the Soviet Shtetl
4.Growing Up in Yiddish
5.The Sanctuary of the Synagogue
6.Religion of the Home: Food and Faith
7.Life and Death in Reichkommissariat Ukraine
8. Life Beyond the River: Transnistria
9. A Kind of Victory
Brief Biographies