Aharon (Ronald E.) Agus is lecturer on rabbinic thinking at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Karlen charts the beginning of Yiddish as a minor dialect in medieval Europe that helped peasant Jews live safely apart from the marauders of the First Crusades. Incorporating a large measure of antique German dialects, Yiddish also included little scraps of French, Italian, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, the Slavic and Romance languages, and a dozen other tongues native to the places where Jews were briefly given shelter. One may speak a dozen languages, all of them Yiddish.
By 1939, Yiddish flourished as the lingua franca of 13 million Jews. After the Holocaust, whatever remained of Yiddish, its worldview and vibrant culture, was almost stamped out—by Jews themselves. Yiddish was an old-world embarrassment for Americans anxious to assimilate. In Israel, young, proud Zionists suppressed Yiddish as the symbol of the weak and frightened ghetto-bound Jew—and invented modern Hebrew.
Today, a new generation has zealously sought to explore the language and to embrace its soul. This renaissance has spread to millions of non-Jews who now know the subtle difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel; hundreds of Yiddish words dot the most recent editions of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The Story of Yiddish is a delightful tale of a people, their place in the world, and the fascinating language that held them together.
Eastern Europe, 1944: Three women believe they are pregnant, but are torn from their husbands before they can be certain. Rachel is sent to Auschwitz, unaware that her husband has been shot. Priska and her husband travel there together, but are immediately separated. Also at Auschwitz, Anka hopes in vain to be reunited with her husband. With the rest of their families gassed, these young wives are determined to hold on to all they have left—their lives, and those of their unborn babies. Having concealed their condition from infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, they are forced to work and almost starved to death, living in daily fear of their pregnancies being detected by the SS.
In April 1945, as the Allies close in, Priska gives birth. She and her baby, along with Anka, Rachel, and the remaining inmates, are sent to Mauthausen concentration camp on a hellish seventeen-day train journey. Rachel gives birth on the train, and Anka at the camp gates. All believe they will die, but then a miracle occurs. The gas chamber runs out of Zyklon-B, and as the Allied troops near, the SS flee. Against all odds, the three mothers and their newborns survive their treacherous journey to freedom.
On the seventieth anniversary of Mauthausen’s liberation from the Nazis by American soldiers, renowned biographer Wendy Holden recounts this extraordinary story of three children united by their mothers’ unbelievable—yet ultimately successful—fight for survival.