A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe

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9780140254532: A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe

Spanning more than half a century, from the years preceding the Holocaust through the Nazi defeat, the rise of Communism, and the fall of the Berlin Wall on to the present day, here are the remarkable stories of five families whose very survival tells us much about the fragile culture of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. A West German cantor and concentration camp survivor crosses the Berlin Wall to minister to Jews in East Berlin. A prominent Berlin family clings to its Communist ideals even after the end of the Cold War. In Hungary a rabbi turns dissident when Communist-controlled Jewish leaders dismiss him. Young citizens of Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest find renewed faith as they uncover a secret heritage buried in the rubble of war. A Polish Catholic woman, a friend to many Jews, discovers a liberating truth about her heritage. Weaving together these stories of old and young, disenchanted and enthusiastic, this luminous cultural group portrait takes us deep into the still-dark soul of Eastern Europe, where we emerge-profoundly moved, and cautiously optimistic about the religious rebirth that is taking place there.

· Author is the recipient of the National Jewish Book Award and the Present Tense/American Jewish Committee Award

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A beautifully written account of two generations in five Jewish families living in West and East Berlin, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter for the Wall Street Journal and author of Broken Alliance: Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America (1988), organizes his accounts around two seminal events: the defeat of Nazi Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall. He writes movingly about the many personal, cultural, and religious resonances of the Holocaust on Jewish life. One of his subjects is a Polish woman who was hidden by a Catholic family during the war, was raised to think of herself as an ``ordinary'' Pole, and learned almost by accident, and in her mid-30s, that she is Jewish. But Kaufman is particularly engrossing on the less well known and complex relationship between Eastern European Jewry and Communism. He provides a balanced account of how and why Jews were disproportionately represented in the leadership of most Eastern European countries; in 1949, for example, 7 of 13 members of the Hungarian Politburo were Jews, although Jews constituted only about one percent of the population. On the other hand, several of his subjects suffered physical and emotional torture under Stalin-like anti-Semitic purges, such as the Slansky trials in Czechoslovakia during the early 1950s. Kaufman seems by far the most engaged by, and offers the most detail on, his two families in West and East Berlin: respectively, a Holocaust survivor and his historian son, and a Communist party leader and his dissident son. And unlike so many accounts that depict Eastern Europe as a kind of extensive cemetery for Jewish life and culture, this book provides real, if modest, evidence of Jewish resilience and renewal. This is a work of exemplary journalistic research and narrative, one highly recommended for anyone interested in either contemporary Jewry or the new Europe. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

This deeply engrossing history, expertly crafted by Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (Broken Alliance: Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America), traces the lives of five Holocaust survivors who continued to live in Eastern Europe after WWII. Four of the survivors were Jewish and, in addition to being hunted by Nazis during the war, they and their children endured intermittent waves of postwar anti-Semitism. Kaufman's research took him to Berlin, where in the East, Klaus Gysi became a powerful member of the Communist government, while Greek refugee Estrongo Nachama served as cantor for West Berlin's Jews. The author also details the life of Tamas Raj, a dissident Hungarian rabbi, Sylvia Wittman, imprisoned as a "Zionist agent" in 1950s Czechoslovakia, and Barbara Asendrych, daughter of a Polish Catholic family who learns that her biological mother was Jewish. Kaufman predicts that the collapse of Eastern Europe's Communist governments will help the resurgence of Judaism in that part of the world.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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