Sunday, August 12, 2018

Czortkow Jews on a Sunday in August (1925)

Prewar Poland


Czortkow Jews on a Sunday in August: The shops are closed, so they sit on wooden crates outside the shop window and talk. The YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland writes about this photo: “On the wall behind them is a poster advertising what appears to be a talk by Alter Kacyzne titled ‘Literature: A National Treasure’. Various items are on display in the shop window.” This photo was taken on Sunday, August 9, 1925, by Alter-Sholem Kacyzne [1885–1941], a Yiddish writer, photographer and literary critic, who was born in Vilna (then part of Russia and now called Vilnius in Lithuania). Kacyzne opened a photography studio in Warsaw in 1910; and in the 1920s, he did considerable work for di Forverts (Forward), based in New York City, where, among other artistic and literary pursuits, he documented Jewish life in Poland.
    This photo is part of such a collection. Then the war and the Holocaust disrupted everything, everything, that is, which was good and normal and beautiful. The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe writes: “After the outbreak of World War II, Kacyzne left Warsaw with his wife and only daughter and found refuge in Soviet-occupied Lwów, where he participated in state-controlled theater and radio programs. Fleeing before the German advance, he arrived in Tarnopol and was killed on 7 July 1941, along with thousands of other Jews.”
    His life’s work—decades in the making—including most notably his archive in Warsaw, was also destroyed. Yet, 700 of his photos had thankfully already been sent to New York, where there are housed at the YIVO Institute, from where this photo came. Czortkow is now called Chortkiv and is part of western Ukraine. But between the two world wars it was briefly part of Poland. In 1931, the town had 19,000 people, of whom 30 percent were Jews. In 1939 just before the war, there were an estimated 10,000 Jews, JewishGen writes, and after the war only about 100 Jews remained alive.
    You can read more about the life of the Czortkow Jews [here], which was named Chortkov (טשאָרטקאָוו‬‎) in Yiddish.
Courtesy: YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland; The Forward Association