A Small Town in Ukraine

The place we came from, the place we went back to

Bernard Wasserstein author


Publisher:Penguin Books Ltd

Published:23rd Feb '23


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A Small Town in Ukraine cover

'A fine and deeply affecting work of history and memoir' Philippe Sands

Decades ago, the historian Bernard Wasserstein set out to uncover the hidden past of the town forty miles west of Lviv where his family originated: Krakowiec (Krah-KOV-yets). In this book he recounts its dramatic and traumatic history. 'I want to observe and understand how some of the great forces that determined the shape of our times affected ordinary people.' The result is an exceptional, often moving book.

Wasserstein traces the arc of history across centuries of religious and political conflict, as armies of Cossacks, Turks, Swedes and Muscovites rampaged through the region. In the Age of Enlightenment, the Polish magnate Ignacy Cetner built his palace at Krakowiec and, with his vivacious daughter, Princess Anna, created an arcadia of refinement and serenity. Under the Habsburg emperors after 1772, Krakowiec developed into a typical shtetl, with a jostling population of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews.

In 1914, disaster struck. 'Seven years of terror and carnage' left a legacy of ferocious national antagonisms. During the Second World War the Jews were murdered in circumstances harrowingly described by Wasserstein. After the war the Poles were expelled and the town dwindled into a border outpost. Today, the storm of history once again rains down on Krakowiec as refugees flee for their lives from Ukraine to Poland.

At the beginning and end of the book we encounter Wasserstein's own family, especially his grandfather Berl. In their lives and the many others Wasserstein has rediscovered, the people of Krakowiec become a prism through which we can feel the shocking immediacy of history. Original in conception and brilliantly achieved, A Small Town in Ukraine is a masterpiece of recovery and insight.

A fine and deeply affecting work of history and memoir -- Philippe Sands
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. -- Adam Zamoyski
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. -- Victor Sebestyen * Spectator *
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 -- Roger Boyes * The Times *
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 -- Julian Evans * The Telegraph *
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. -- Max Hastings * Sunday Times *
This is a deeply moving book, beautifully written, all the sadder now that refugees are again trudging those same roads. -- Lucy Beckett * The Tablet *
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 -- Matthew Reisz * Observer *
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 -- Rebecca Abrams * Financial Times *
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 -- Owen Matthews * Literary Review *

ISBN: 9780241609224

Dimensions: 240mm x 162mm x 31mm

Weight: 575g

320 pages