Tag Archives: Eastern Europe

Shtetl Life Reexamined

By Symi Rom-Rymer

A picture is worth a thousand words, so goes the old cliché.  But as Alana Newhouse’s recently published New York Times article on Roman Vishniac demonstrates, what that picture is actually saying is often more complicated than it seems.

Her piece focuses on Vishniac’s “A Vanished World,” a pictorial representation of pre-World War II Jewish life in Eastern Europe.  Or at least, that’s how it was marketed and sold.  But through Newhouse’s piece, we come to learn that the photos used in the book showed only one part (the poor and the religious) of that world.  They did not, as Vishniac claimed, represent the totality of shtetl life.  Instead, these photos were taken so that the Joint Distribution Committee–a committee that worked on behalf of impoverished and persecuted Jews around the world–could fund-raise. Continue reading