was brought up in a secular Yiddish-speaking environment
and went to a school where the language of instruction was
Yiddish. Yiddish was the language I heard on the streets,
at home, in school, in the theater, and it was the language
spoken by most of my friends. I read works by European authors
in Yiddish translation-- Dickens,
Kipling, Selma Lagerlof, Knut Hamsun, Jack London and others.
The Call of the Wild was the favorite of generations
of Jewish schoolchildren, as was the more horrific The
Sea Wolf. A friend of mine . . . . had all the works
Verne in Yiddish prominently displayed on his bookshelf.
I read them, one by one. . . .
I also devoured books by Polish authors. . . . we were expected
to be good Yiddishists but also loyal Poles. Reading late
nineteenth- and early twentieth- century novels bolstered
our patriotism. . . .
In pre-war Poland, a poor and fairly backward country where
a great many people believed that Jews had killed Christ
and used gentile children's blood for baking matzo
on Passover, lived thousands of Jewish youngsters fervently
dedicated to the liberating truths of socialism, internationalism
and solidarity with the Polish "masses." We were deeply
respectful of the country's history and culture, and passionate
about its unspoilt countryside. Our ideology combined the
belief that Jews had the right to remain in Poland with
the belief that we also had the right to build our lives
and institutions in our own language, Yiddish. It was an
odd melange, this creed, yet it worked.