The Life of Jews in Poland before the Holocaust: A Memoir

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Overview


Ben-Zion Gold’s memoir brings to life the world of a million Jews in pre–World War II Poland who were later destroyed by the Nazis. Warmly recalling the relationships, rituals, observances, and celebrations, Gold evokes the sense of family and faith that helped him through the catastrophe that followed. With him we experience the life and institutions of the time: the heder and hooky playing, his encounter with Hassidism, the courtship and marriage of his oldest sister, and the author’s own first inkling of love. And with him, we recapture the memories that made life worth living in the face of disaster, along with the experience of the human capacity for evil that tested and transformed his faith as it devastated his world. Finally, Gold tells of the fate of his family and of his own escape from that fate.
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Editorial Reviews

Jewish Chronicle

"A memoir by Ben-Zion Gold of life among a million Jews in pre-war Poland. His recollections are rendered all the more poignant for Gold, now 90 and living in the USA, being the only survivor of his family."—Jewish Chronicle
Ruth Anna Putnam

“Rabbi Gold writes with a rare combination of insight and understanding; the result is a fascinating, instructive and uniquely intimate memoir.”

—Ruth Anna Putnam, professor emerita of philosophy at Wellesley College and editor of The Cambridge Companion to William James

Jewish Herald-Voice

“Ben-Zion Gold’s memoir of pre-Holocaust life in Poland is on the right track.”—Aaron Howard, Jewish Herald-Voice
 

Robert Alter

“This book is quite different in character from existing Holocaust memoirs. It is an eyewitness account of a lost milieu and it tells us, as the saying goes, not how European Jews died but how they lived.”

—Robert Alter, professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary

Jewish Journal: L'Chaim
When my colleague, Rabbi Harold Kushner, visited the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, he said: This place describes how the Jews died better than any other place that I have ever seen. Now we need to have a second museum, one that will tell the story of how the Jews lived. If such a museum is ever built, this book will deserve an honored place within it. For Ben-Zion Gold has told the story of the world of Polish Jewry between the wars, as reflected in his own life, with insight and grace. . . . This a wonderful memoir, and I learned much from it.—Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jewish Journal: L’Chaim
Jerusalem Report

“In this moving memoir, Ben-Zion Gold describes how Jews lived in Poland, and not how they died. . . . It took Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold 20 years to complete his spare, powerful memoir, which originated as a message to his daughters, both of them born in the United States after World War II. . . . Poignant as each individual memory may be, taken together they attest to the wide range of religious experiences that Polish Judaism in full flower provided for an ardent, intelligent seeker like young Gold.”—Harvey Blume, Jerusalem Report
Antony Polonsky

“This beautifully written and moving account of his youth as a member of a traditional religious Jewish family in Radom in central Poland, by Ben-Zion Gold, stands out among Holocaust memoirs. Gold lovingly recreates this destroyed world and attempts to convey its deep spirituality, while distancing himself from its fundamentalism and ethnic self-centeredness. This is one of the most uplifting accounts of the resilience of the human spirit I have read in recent years.”

—Antony Polonsky, Walter Stern Hilborn Professor of Judaic and Social Studies at Brandeis University and coeditor of Contemporary Jewish Writing in Poland: An Anthology

Jewish Journal: L'Chaim

“When my colleague, Rabbi Harold Kushner, visited the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, he said: This place describes how the Jews died better than any other place that I have ever seen. Now we need to have a second museum, one that will tell the story of how the Jews lived. If such a museum is ever built, this book will deserve an honored place within it. For Ben-Zion Gold has told the story of the world of Polish Jewry between the wars, as reflected in his own life, with insight and grace. . . . This is a wonderful memoir, and I learned much from it.”—Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jewish Journal: L’Chaim

Antony Polonsky

“This beautifully written and moving account of his youth as a member of a traditional religious Jewish family in Radom in central Poland, by Ben-Zion Gold, stands out among Holocaust memoirs. Gold lovingly recreates this destroyed world and attempts to convey its deep spirituality, while distancing himself from its fundamentalism and ethnic self-centeredness. This is one of the most uplifting accounts of the resilience of the human spirit I have read in recent years.”—Antony Polonsky, Walter Stern Hilborn Professor of Judaic and Social Studies at Brandeis University and coeditor of Contemporary Jewish Writing in Poland: An Anthology
Robert Alter

“This book is quite different in character from existing Holocaust memoirs. It is an eyewitness account of a lost milieu and it tells us, as the saying goes, not how European Jews died but how they lived.”—Robert Alter, professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary
Ruth Anna Putnam

“Rabbi Gold writes with a rare combination of insight and understanding; the result is a fascinating, instructive and uniquely intimate memoir.”—Ruth Anna Putnam, professor emerita of philosophy at Wellesley College and editor of The Cambridge Companion to William James
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803222229
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 154
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ben-Zion Gold was born in 1923 in Radom, Poland, and grew up in a traditional Jewish home. The sole survivor of his family, he arrived in the United States in 1947. For more than forty years he served as the director and rabbi at Harvard-Radcliff Hillel, where through teaching, innovative programs, and unique personal interactions, he inspired and motivated Jewish students, faculty, and the surrounding community to deepen their commitment to, and knowledge of, Judaism.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     ix
Jewish Radom     1
Home and Family     6
My Father's Marriage and Business     12
My Religious Upbringing     16
Heder     43
My Sisters' Education     55
Yeshiva     59
Jews and Poles     75
Rayzel's Engagement     82
Pinye's Death     86
Finding a Tutor     90
The Beit HaMidrash and the Yeshiva     97
Encounters with Hasidism     103
Musarnikes     117
Bathya's Engagement     124
Love's First Glance     126
Escape to Freedom     129
The Encounter     141
After Liberation     144
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