EVENT: "The Holocaust & the Exile of Yiddish" author Barry Trachtenberg in conversation with Rokhl Kafrissen

Barry Trachtenberg's picture

The Congress for Jewish Culture presents Barry Trachtenberg, author of The Holocaust & the Exile of Yiddish in conversation with journalist Rokhl Kafrissen

The Holocaust & the Exile of Yiddish (Rutgers University Press, 2022) explores the peripatetic fate of cosmopolitan Yiddish scholarship and intellectual culture through a history of the Algemeyne Entsiklopedye (General Encyclopedia). 

In the early 1930s in Berlin, Germany, a group of leading Eastern European Jewish intellectuals embarked upon a project to transform the lives of millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews around the world. Their goal was to publish a popular and comprehensive Yiddish language encyclopedia of general knowledge that would serve as a bridge to the modern world and as a guide to help its readers navigate their way within it. However, soon after the Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General Encyclopedia) was announced, Hitler’s rise to power forced its editors to flee to Paris. The scope and mission of the project repeatedly changed before its final volumes were published in New York City in 1966.
The Holocaust & the Exile of Yiddish untangles the complicated saga of the Algemeyne entsiklopedye and its editors. The editors continued to publish volumes and revise the encyclopedia’s mission while their primary audience, Eastern European Jews, faced persecution and genocide under Nazi rule, and the challenge of reestablishing themselves in the first decades after World War II. Historian Barry Trachtenberg reveals how, over the course of the middle decades of the twentieth century, the project sparked tremendous controversy in Jewish cultural and political circles, which debated what the purpose of a Yiddish encyclopedia should be, as well as what knowledge and perspectives it should contain. Nevertheless, this is not only a story about destruction and trauma, but also one of tenacity and continuity, as the encyclopedia’s compilers strove to preserve the heritage of Yiddish culture, to document its near-total extermination in the Holocaust, and to chart its path into the future.

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