Encountering the 'ghetto': Scandinavian writers on East European Jewry in German-occupied Poland, 1915-1918
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionNordisk judaistik. 2021, 32 (2), 3-19. 10.30752/nj.109314
In the history of Western perceptions of Jews and the ‘Jewish problem’, the First World War marks a period of change which was, among other things, influenced by the course of the war on the Eastern Front. The German occupation of large parts of Russian Poland in 1915 brought the difficult conditions of Eastern European Jewry closer to public attention in the West, not only in Central Europe, but also in neutral states. For the Scandinavian writers who travelled to occupied Poland in 1916 and 1917, the direct encounter with East European Jewry was a new and often disturbing experience. Their travelogues represent an illuminating and, so far, unused source for Scandinavian perceptions of Jews in Eastern Europe, focusing on the ‘ghetto’ as the physical embodiment of Eastern Jewish life. Analysing these accounts, the present article discusses the different depictions of Warsaw’s Jews thematically and identifies three interwoven perspectives of the ‘ghetto’: as a site of extreme poverty; as a foreign (‘oriental’) element in Europe; and as an archetype of Jewish life in general.