JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Litvaks, Pollacks, Galicianers and whatever #general

haim harutz <yairharu@...>

Hi Jewishgenners,
Issy Fine >from Canada, with his interesting posting on Belarus/Ukraine has
gone and triggered me off again. I feel that I must throw in my
halfpenny's worth about Eastern-Eurropean Jewry. To anyone who may be bored
by my ravings, I beg your forgiveness in advance.

The Jews in Eastern Europe have, apparently, been there for hundreds of
years, and some communities trace their histories back for a thousand
years or more. The origins vary, but it appears that, for the most part,
the basis of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe comes >from Jews who
settled the Rhineland region of Western Germany/Eastern France during the
period of the Roman Empire and, for various reasons, gradually spread
eastwards and northwards into Central and Eastern Europe.

Because of the generally disorganized and unstable nature of European
Society >from the fall of the Roman Empire until recent times, Jewish
community life has not always been too stable either, and one could find,
in parts of eastern Europe, other influences as well (remnants of the
Spanish exile, Jews >from Khazaria, Karaites, and others) who may have, in
one way or another, influenced local communities.
This would on, the one hand, explain the prevalence of Yiddish ( a dialect
of medieval or old German, or what is sometimes called Plat-Deutch - Flat
German), in many ways similar to some German dialects spoken today in
South-West Germany/Switzerland, with a further Hebrew and possibly Slavic
influence, among Eastern European Jews, while, on the other hand, it
might explain dialectical variations within the Yiddish of various regions.

[By the way, I have a very funny anecdote to tell about this. My late
mother, though born in South Africa, spoke a very fluent Litvak-Yiddish,
as well as English and South African-Dutch. Her younger sister, who spoke
Yiddish, but not so fluently, married a Jew >from Switzerland, and went to
live in Zurich in the 1960's. On one visit to her sister, my mother once
got into a conversation with a neighbour who speaks only German (the
local version). My mother, who knows no German, spoke in Litvak-Yiddish,
and managed to get by reasonably well. A few days later, my aunt told my
mother that the neighbour had commented very flatterngly about her, and
that she had been very impressed that "A visitor >from Africa could speak
such marvelous Schwitzerdeutsch. In fact, she speaks it much better than
you do, and you've been living here for years!"]

To cut a long story short, Eastern/Central European Jewry could be roughly
subdivided into three or four groups: i.e. those who where under German
influence, those who were under Russian influence, those who were
Austro-Hungarian influence and, maybe, those who retained some
independence, (at least for some of the time), >from all these influences.
One must remember that the whole area with large Jewish populations (at
least, so it was before the Nazi era), spreading roughly >from the Baltic
to the Black Sea, and >from the Ukraine/Russia border to Western Germany,
has been bouncing backwards and forwards, through a series of wars and
other major upheavals, between various empires for five hundred years or
more. Given the almost anarchic conditions prevailing for much of this
period in this part of Europe, it's amazing that Jews survived at all,
never mind flourish.

All the best,
Chaim Charutz.

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