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S. An-sky: Writing the History of Jews in the First World War
Feb 28 2012


Polly Zavadivker, Ph.D. candidate, Dept. of History, University of California at Santa Cruz

Between 1914 and 1917, the ethnographer, playwright and relief worker S. An-sky spent months at a time on a remarkable mission to assist and document the experiences of Jews throughout Galicia and the Russian Pale of Settlement. An-sky's diary and epic memoir of his solitary journey depicted the human face of the first modern war. They reflected his intense interest in the struggles and perspectives of ordinary people, and a desire to record his encounters with them as a basis for writing the history of the war.

An-sky became the first in a line of Russian-Jewish war correspondents who after 1917 followed his path to document the lives and deaths of Jews in the borderlands separating the Soviet Union from its enemies to the west. An-sky's war writing was important not only in its own right, but also because so many of its features—the authority of the witness, the use of oral testimony, and the perspectives of individuals—anticipated ways that the Holocaust would be written about thirty years later.

S. An-sky Audio