Jews. Poland. Autobiography vol. VII

“Jewish Youth Counterculture, Rebellion, and Politics in Bielsk Podlaski during the Interwar Period. An Autobiography Submitted to the YIVO Competition and Benjamin R.’s Letter to Max Weinreich”

This volume is a translation of an autobiography and diary submitted anonymously by a young man from Bielsk Podlaski to a competition organized by the Institute for Jewish Research (YIVO) in 1934, as well as a letter written by the same young man a year later as his commentary on a book published by Max Weinreich, a well-known Jewish philologist, linguist and social psychologist and the main organizer of the competition on autobiographies of Jewish youths. Benjamin R.’s autobiography, replete with multiple detailed themes, is among the most insightful of the entries sent to the YIVO competition. It sheds an exceptionally piercing light on many of the key problems of the history and culture of Jews in interwar Poland in the last decade before the Holocaust. His very personal work touches with unusual urgency on generational conflicts; on religious and secular, Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish education; on the reading habits, youth culture and Jewish politics of a small Polish town, as well as on Polish-Jewish relations.

Important world events come alive on the pages of Benjamin R.’s work: the murder of Chaim Arlozoroff and the conflict within the Zionist movement in Poland and Palestine, the election of representatives to the 18th Zionist Congress in xx , and the campaign to boycott Jewish trade in Poland in the 1930’s. Accounts of the visit of the young Menachem Begin to Bielsk and of Chaim Nachman Bialik’s visit to the Hebrew teachers seminary in Grodno bring us into the midst of Benjamin R.’s world. By thoroughly corroborating Beniamin R.’s account against primary sources such as the Jewish Remembrance Book of Bielsk Podlaski and other materials, the editors of this volume succeeded in deciphering the author’s true identity and the names of many of the characters mentioned in his work.

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