Taking a unique, multi-faceted approach to the 1,000 years of Polish Jewish history in this volume, Gary S. Schiff combines academic scholarship with his own family's long history and his insightful travel experiences and candid observations. From its earliest medieval days, to its golden years in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to its subsequent decline and Poland's three-way partition in the eighteenth century, to its ultimate destruction in the Holocaust and its mini-revival today, the Jewish community of Poland - the world's largest for 500 years - comes to life again. Tracing his own family back hundreds of years, he finds that they typify Polish Jewry in its most classic setting, the shtetl or small town. Their names, occupations, family sizes, education, religious, cultural and political affiliations, lifestyle and dress, and their relationship with whatever government they happened to live under at the time (Polish, Prussian, Russian, and so on) all personified the rich and diverse world of the millions of Jews of Polin who are now merely ghosts, figures of memory.
At the same time the rise and fall of the great Jewish communities of the cities of Poland - Cracow, Lublin, Lodz, and Warsaw - are deftly chronicled. Polish Jewry's many great personages and mass movements - influential rabbis and mystic charlatans, merchant princes and secular socialists, heroes and villains, Hassidim and Mitnagdim, Zionists and assimilationists, Yiddishists and Hebraists - are revealed with fresh insights.