Aaron Lansky

Outwitting History

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This true story of a quest to save Jewish literature is “a detective story, a profound history lesson, and a poignant evocation of a bygone world” (The Boston Globe).
In 1980 an entire body of Jewish literature—the physical remnant of Yiddish culture—was on the verge of extinction. Precious volumes that had survived Hitler and Stalin were being passed down from older generations of immigrants to their non-Yiddish-speaking children, only to be discarded or destroyed. So Aaron Lansky, a twenty-three-year-old graduate student, issued a worldwide appeal for unwanted Yiddish works.
Lansky’s passion led him to travel from house to house collecting the books—and the stories of these Jewish refugees and the vibrant intellectual world they inhabited. He and a team of volunteers salvaged books from dusty attics, crumbling basements, demolition sites, and dumpsters. When they began, scholars thought that fewer than seventy thousand Yiddish books existed. In fact, Lansky’s project would go on to save over 1.5 million volumes, from famous writers like Sholem Aleichem and I. B. Singer to one-of-a-kind Soviet prints. This true account of his journey is both “extraordinary” (The Boston Globe) and “entertaining” (Los Angeles Times).
“Lansky charmingly describes his adventures as president and founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, which now has new headquarters at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. To Lansky, Yiddish literature represented an important piece of Jewish cultural history, a link to the past and a memory of a generation lost to the Holocaust. Lansky’s account of salvaging books is both hilarious and moving, filled with Jewish humor, conversations with elderly Jewish immigrants for whom the books evoke memories of a faraway past, stories of desperate midnight rescues from rain-soaked dumpsters, and touching accounts of Lansky’s trips to what were once thriving Jewish communities in Europe. The book is a testimony to his love of Judaism and literature and his desire to make a difference in the world.” —Publishers Weekly
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362 printed pages
Original publication
2005

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