Bernard Wasserstein is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Chicago and a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. Born in London, he now lives in Amsterdam. His previous books include The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln (CWA Gold Dagger Prize for Non-fiction), On the Eve- The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War (Yad Vashem International Book Prize), and Barbarism and Civilization- A History of Europe in Our Time.
A fine and deeply affecting work of history and memoir
This poignant journey of discovery provides some profound insights into how hatred can be incited and manipulated to destroy communities, and is all too relevant to what is happening in the region today.
extraordinarily moving ... Though he has been thinking about the story and researching it for decades, the writing feels immediate. The book is part memoir, part history lesson about 'old Europe' as a battleground between four empires, and part lament for the lost world of European Jewry. Perhaps the most valuable thing about it for British readers is its reminder of how lucky we are to have welcomed refugees to our shores and not to have exported them. Wasserstein has a deep understanding of places where borders have violently changed every couple of generations and whole populations have been massacred as a result of ideology, religion or whim.
This formidable book takes pride of place among the growing corpus of literature coming out of the swampy bloodlands. If you want to understand why hate has been unleashed again in Europe, this is the indispensable guide
Using the lens of his own family's betrayal, Bernard Wasserstein's A Small Town in Ukraine revisits one of the country's darkest moments ... revelatory and dramatic ... [a] noble, nicely detailed enterprise of historical and familial recovery
he employs a microscope to portray the fates of many through an account of very few. Near the scene of his grandparents' murder, he found a memorial to Ukrainian nationalists executed by the Russians after the Second World War more prominent than a plaque commemorating the vastly larger number of dead Jews, "as if to assert that Ukrainians, not Jews, were the true victims of this history and would have the last word". His anger is just, his book a finer monument than any plaque.
This is a deeply moving book, beautifully written, all the sadder now that refugees are again trudging those same roads.
a compelling history, which pays tribute to his ancestors while raising issues that remain tragically relevant today ... alongside this touching personal material, Wasserstein's book vividly traces how what was once a Polish town became 'a predominantly Jewish one' by around 1800 and is 'now almost entirely Ukrainian'. ... among its many other virtues, this book is a sharp reminder of the dangers of turning history into a simplistic morality tale
The personal thread of his own family's experiences lends warmth and tragedy to the facts that he meticulously documents. ... succeed[s] in putting a human face to the suffering of ordinary people trapped in the turmoil of physical conflict and political ideologies ... steadfastly refuse[s] to airbrush the past
We believe that we think with our minds. But a part of us - a deep and important part - thinks with the blood. Our sense of self is deeply entwined with the places we came from and the people who formed us. ... For the historian Bernard Wasserstein, that origin story includes the violence, injustice and trauma suffered by his family at the hands of the Nazis. But A Small Town in Ukraine is more than just a family biography. It is Wasserstein's attempt not just to chronicle the suffering experienced by his parents and grandparents but also to understand it. His method is to examine, in minute and forensic detail, the history of the place from which they came, the small town of Krakowiec - 'a little place, you won't have heard of it', as his father used to say. ... Wasserstein offers an evocative and detailed portrait of the world that formed his grandfather's and ancestors' lives. ... his book is a moving chronicle of a lost world, written with eloquence and emotional intelligence but without bitterness