Milton Meltzer Paul Heins - Essay

Paul Heins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In his frankly autobiographical Foreword [to World of Our Fathers: The Jews of Eastern Europe], the author has poignantly stated what impelled him to write this book: "I had too little knowledge of my past." In part a history of the Jews during the Christian era, the account is chiefly concerned with the life and fate of Eastern European Jews before and after the partition of Poland and especially under the restrictive and repressive rule of the Russian Czarist government. Pointing out the Eastern European Jewish social distinction between those who worked with their hands and those who didn't—between the scholars and businessmen and the mass of artisans, unskilled laborers, and factory workers—the author conveys a sense of daily life as well as of the fundamental cultural conflicts among the Eastern European Jews during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Conventional Orthodoxy and Hasidism; the Enlightenment, socialism, and Zionism; the creation of two bodies of literature (one in Hebrew and one in Yiddish)—all are explored and clarified. Many quotations from first-hand accounts give existential reality to the historical and cultural topics of the book.

Paul Heins, in his review of "World of Our Fathers: The Jews of Eastern Europe," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1975 by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. LI, No. 1, February, 1975, p. 60.