Shtetl Days

Shtetl Days

illustration by gary kelley

Jakub Shlayfer opened the door and walked outside to go to work. Before he could shut it again, his wife called after him: “Alevai it should be a good day! We really need the gelt!”

Alevai, Bertha. Omayn,” Jakub agreed. The door was already shut by then, but what difference did that make? It wasn’t as if he didn’t know they were poor. His lean frame, the rough edge on the brim of his broad, black hat, his threadbare long, black coat, and the many patches on his boot soles all told the same story.

But then, how many Jews in Wawolnice weren’t poor? The only one Jakub could think of was Shmuel Grynszpan, the undertaker. His business was as solid and certain as the laws of God. Everybody else’s? Groszy and zlotych always came in too slowly and went out too fast.

He stumped down the unpaved street, skirting puddles. Not all the boot patches were everything they might have been. He didn’t want to get his feet wet. He could have complained to Mottel Cohen, but what was the use? Mottel did what Mottel could do. And it wasn’t as if Wawolnice had—or needed—two cobblers. It you listened to Mottel’s kvetching, the village didn’t need one cobbler often enough.

The watery spring morning promised more than the day was likely to deliver. The sun was out, but clouds to the west warned it was liable to rain some more. Well, it wouldn’t snow again till fall. That was something. Jakub skidded on mud and almost fell. It might be something, but it wasn’t enough.

Two-story houses with steep, wood-shingled roofs crowded the street from both sides and caused it to twist here and turn there. They made it hard for the sun to get down to the street and dry up the mud. More Jews came out of the houses to go to their jobs. The men dressed pretty much like Jakub. Some of the younger ones wore cloth caps instead of broad-brimmed hats. Chasidim, by contrast, had fancy shtreimels, with the brims made from mink.

A leaning fence made Jakub go out toward the middle of the narrow street. Most of the graying planks went up and down. For eight or ten feet, though, boards running from side to side patched a break. They were as ugly as the patches on his boots. A hooded crow perched on the fence jeered at Jakub.

He had to push in tight to the fence because an old couple from the country were pushing a handcart toward him, and making heavy going of it. The crow flew away. Wicker baskets in the handcart were piled high with their fiery horseradish, milder red radishes, onions, leeks, and kale.

“Maybe you’ll see my wife today, Moishe,” Jakub called.

“Here’s hoping,” the old man said. His white beard spilled in waves halfway down his chest. He wore a brimless fur cap that looked something like an upside-down chamber pot.

Chamber pots . . . The air was thick with them. Shmuel Grynszpan had piped water in his house, as his wife never tired of boasting. Not many other Jews—and precious few Poles—in Wawolnice did. They said—whoever they were—you stopped noticing how a village stank once you’d lived in it for a little while. As he often did, Jakub wished they knew what they were talking about.

Signs above the tavern, the dry-goods store, the tailor’s shop, Jakub’s own sorry little business, and the handful of others Wawolnice boasted were in both Polish and Yiddish. Two different alphabets running two different ways . . . If that didn’t say everything that needed saying about how Jews and Poles got along—or didn’t get along—Jakub couldn’t imagine what would.

He used a fat iron key to open the lock to his front door. The hinges creaked when he pulled it toward him. Have to oil that, he thought. Somewhere in his shop, he had a copper oilcan. If he could find it, if he remembered to look for it . . . If he didn’t, neither the world nor even the door was likely to come to an end.

He was a grinder. Anything that was dull, he could sharpen: knives, scissors, straight razors (for the Poles—almost all the Jewish men wore beards), plowshares, harvester blades. He was a locksmith. He repaired clocks—and anything else with complicated gearing. He made umbrellas out of wire and scrap cloth, and fixed the ones he’d made before. He sold patent medicines, and brewed them up from this and that in the dark, musty back room. He would turn his hand to almost anything that might make a zloty.

Lots of things might make a zloty. Hardly anything, outside of Grynszpan’s business, reliably did. Wawolnice wasn’t big enough to need a full-time grinder or locksmith or repairman or umbrella maker or medicine mixer. Even doing all of them at once, Jakub didn’t bring home enough to keep Bertha happy.

Of course, he could have brought home more than the undertaker made and still not kept his wife happy. Some people weren’t happy unless they were unhappy. There was a paradox worthy of the Talmud—unless you knew Bertha.

Across the way, the little boys in Alter Kaczyne’s kheder began chanting the alef-bays. While Alter worked with them, their older brothers and cousins would wrestle with Hebrew vocabulary and grammar on their own. Or maybe the melamed’s father would lend a hand. Chaim Kaczyne coughed all the time and didn’t move around very well anymore, but his wits were still clear.

Jakub went to work on a clock a Polish woman had brought in. His hands were quick and clever. Scars seamed them; you couldn’t be a grinder without things slipping once in a while. And dirt and grease had permanent homes under his nails and in the creases on top of his fingers. But hands were to work with, and work with them he did.

“Here we are,” he muttered: a broken tooth on one of the gears. He rummaged through a couple of drawers to see if he had one that matched. And sure enough! The replacement went into the clock. He didn’t throw out the damaged one. He rarely threw anything out. He’d braze on a new tooth and use the gear in some less demanding place.

The woman came in not long after he finished the clock. She wore her blond hair in a short bob; her skirt rose halfway to her knees. You’d never catch a Jewish woman in Wawolnice in anything so scandalously short. She nodded to find the clock ticking again. They haggled a little over the price. Jakub had warned her it would go up if he had to put in a new gear. She didn’t want to remember. She was shaking her head when she smacked coins down on the counter and walked out.

He eyed—not to put too fine a point on it, he leered at—her shapely calves as her legs twinkled away. He was a man, after all. He was drawn to smooth flesh the way a butterfly was drawn to flowers. No wonder the women of his folk covered themselves from head to foot. No wonder Jewish wives wore sheitels and head scarves. They didn’t want to put themselves on display like that. But the Poles were different. The Poles didn’t care.

So what? The Poles were goyim.

He sharpened one of his own knives, a tiny, precise blade. He often did that when he had nothing else going on. He owned far and away the sharpest knives in the village. He would have been happier if they were duller, so long as it was because he stayed too busy to work on them.

A kid carrying a basket of bagels stuck his head in the door. Jakub spent a few groszy to buy one. The boy hurried away, short pants showing off his skinny legs. He didn’t have a police license to peddle, so he was always on the dodge.

Barukh atah Adonai, eloyahynu melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi lekhem min ha-aretz,” Jakub murmured. Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who makest bread to come forth from the earth. Only after the prayer did he eat the bagel.

Yiddish. Polish. Hebrew. Aramaic. He had them all. No one who knew Yiddish didn’t also know German. A man who spoke Polish could, at need, make a stab at Czech or Ruthenian or Russian. All the Yehudim in Wawolnice were scholars, even if they didn’t always think of themselves so.

Back to sharpening his own knives. It had the feel of another slow day. Few days here were anything else. The ones that were, commonly weren’t good days.

After a while, the front door creaked open again. Jakub jumped to his feet in surprise and respect. “Reb Eliezer!” he exclaimed. “What can I do for you today?” Rabbis, after all, had knives and scissors that needed sharpening just like other men’s.

But Eliezer said, “We were talking about serpents the other day.” He had a long, pale, somber face, with rusty curls sticking out from under his hat brim, a wispy copper beard streaked with gray, and cat-green eyes.

“Oh, yes. Of course.” Jakub nodded. They had been speaking of serpents, and all sorts of other Talmudic pilpul, in the village’s bet ha-midrash attached to the little shul. The smell of the books in the tall case there, the aging leather of their bindings, the paper on which they were printed, even the dust that shrouded the seldom-used volumes, were part and parcel of life in Wawolnice.

So . . . No business—no moneymaking business—now. Bertha would not be pleased to see this. She would loudly not be pleased to see it, as a matter of fact. But she would also be secretly proud because the rabbi chose her husband, a grinder of no particular prominence, with whom to split doctrinal hairs.

“Obviously,” Reb Eliezer said in portentous tones, “the serpent is unclean for Jews to eat or to handle after it is dead. It falls under the ban of Leviticus 11:29, 11:30, and 11:42.”

“Well, that may be so, but I’m not so sure,” Jakub answered, pausing to light a stubby, twisted cigar. He offered one to Reb Eliezer, who accepted with a murmur of thanks. After blowing out harsh smoke, the grinder went on, “I don’t think those verses are talking about serpents at all.”

Eliezer’s gingery eyebrows leaped. “How can you say such a thing?” he demanded, wagging a forefinger under Jakub’s beaky nose. “Verse 42 says, ‘Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.’” Like Jakub, he could go from Yiddish to Biblical Hebrew while hardly seeming to notice he was switching languages.

Jakub shrugged a stolid shrug. “I don’t hear anything there that talks about serpents. Things that go on all fours, things with lots of legs. I don’t want to eat a what-do-you-call-it—a centipede, I mean. Who would? Even a goy wouldn’t want to eat a centipede . . . I don’t think.” He shrugged again, as if to say no Jew counted on anything that had to do with goyim.

“‘Whatsoever goeth upon the belly . . . among all the creeping things that creep upon the earth,’” Reb Eliezer repeated. “And this same phrase also appears in the twenty-ninth verse, which says, ‘These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth;—’”

“‘ —the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind.’” Jakub took up the quotation, and went on into the next verse: “‘ And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.’ I don’t see a word in there about serpents.” He blew out another stream of smoke, not quite at the rabbi.

Eliezer affected not to notice. “Since when is a serpent not a creeping thing that goeth upon its belly? Will you tell me it doesn’t?”

“It doesn’t now,” Jakub admitted.

“It did maybe yesterday?” Eliezer suggested sarcastically.

“Not yesterday. Not the day before yesterday, either,” Jakub said. “But when the Lord, blessed be His name, made the serpent, He made it to speak and to walk on its hind legs like a man. What else does that? Maybe He made it in His own image.”

“But God told the serpent, ‘Thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast in the field: upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.’”

“So He changed it a little. So what?” Jakub said. Reb Eliezer’s eyebrow jumped again at a little, but he held his peace. The grinder went on, “Besides, the serpent is to blame for mankind’s fall. Shouldn’t we pay him back by cooking him in a stew?”

“Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn’t. But that argument isn’t Scriptural,” the rabbi said stiffly.

“Well, what if it isn’t? How about this . . . ?” Jakub went off on another tangent from the Torah.

They fenced with ideas and quotations through another cigar apiece. At last, Reb Eliezer threw his pale hands in the air and exclaimed, “In spite of the plain words of Leviticus, you come up with a hundred reasons why the accursed serpent ought to be as kosher as a cow!”

“Oh, not a hundred reasons. Maybe a dozen.” Jakub was a precise man, as befitted a trade where a slip could cost a finger. But he also had his own kind of pride: “Give me enough time, and I suppose I could come up with a hundred.”

A sort of a smile lifted one corner of Reb Eliezer’s mouth. “Then perhaps now you begin to see why Rabbi Jokhanan of Palestine, of blessed memory, said hundreds of years ago that no man who could not do what you are doing had the skill he needed to open a capital case.”

As it so often did, seemingly preposterous Talmudic pilpul came back to the way Jews were supposed to live their lives. “I should hope so,” Jakub answered. “You have to begin a capital case with the reasons for acquitting whoever is on trial. If you can’t find those reasons, someone else had better handle the case.”

“I agree with you.” The rabbi wagged his forefinger at Jakub once more. “You won’t hear me tell you that very often.”

Gevalt! I should hope not!” Jakub said in mock horror.

Reb Eliezer’s eyes twinkled. “And so I had better go,” he continued, as if the grinder hadn’t spoken. “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

“And you, Reb,” Jakub replied. Eliezer dipped his head. He walked out of the shop and down the street. A man came in wanting liniment for a horse. Jakub compounded some. It made his business smell of camphor and turpentine the rest of the day. It also put a couple of more zlotych in his pocket. Bertha would be . . . less displeased.

Shadows stretched across Wawolnice. Light began leaking out of the sky. The rain had held off, anyhow. People headed home from their work. Jakub was rarely one of the first to call it a day. Before long, though, the light coming in through the dusty front windows got too dim to use. Time to quit, all right.

He closed up and locked the door. He’d done some tinkering with the lock. He didn’t think anybody not a locksmith could quietly pick it. Enough brute force, on the other hand . . . Jews in Poland understood all they needed to about brute force, and about who had enough of it. Jakub Shlayfer’s mobile mouth twisted. Polish Jews didn’t, never had, and never would.

He walked home through the gathering gloom. “Stinking Yid!” The shrei in Polish pursued him. His shoulders wanted to sag under its weight, and the weight of a million more like it. He didn’t, he wouldn’t, let them. If the mamzrim saw they’d hurt you, they won. As long as a rock didn’t follow, he was all right. And if one did, he could duck or dodge. He hoped.

No rocks tonight. Candles and kerosene lamps sent dim but warm glows out into the darkness. If you looked at the papers, electricity would come to the village soon. Then again, if you looked at the papers and believed everything you read in them, you were too dumb to live.

Bertha met him at the door. Sheitel, head scarf over it, long black dress . . . She still looked good to him. She greeted him with, “So what were you and Reb Eliezer going on about today?”

“Serpents,” Jakub answered.

Pilpul.” His wife’s sigh said she’d hoped for better, even if she hadn’t expected it. “I don’t suppose he had any paying business.”

He didn’t, no,” the grinder admitted. “But Barlicki’s wife came in for her clock. I had to swap out a gear, so I charged her more. I told her before that I would, but she still didn’t like it.”

“And God forbid you should make Barlicki’s wife unhappy.” Bertha knew he thought the Polish woman was pretty, then. How long would she go on giving him a hard time about that? The next couple of days ought to be interesting. Not necessarily enjoyable, but interesting.

He did what he could to show Bertha he appreciated her. Nostrils twitching, he said, “What smells so good?”

“Soup with chicken feet,” she replied, sounding slightly softened. “Cabbage, carrots, onions, mangel-wurzel . . .”

Mangel-wurzel was what you used when you couldn’t afford turnips. Chicken feet were what you put in soup when you wanted it to taste like meat but you couldn’t afford much of the genuine article. You could gnaw on them, worrying off a little skin or some of the tendons that would have led to the drumsticks. You wouldn’t rise up from the table happy, but you might rise up happier.

He stepped past her and into the small, crowded front room, with its rammed-earth floor and battered, shabby furniture. The little brass mezuzah still hung on the doorframe outside. He rarely gave it a conscious thought. Most of the time he only noticed it when it wasn’t there, so to speak. Stealing mezuzahs was one way Polish kids found to aggravate their Jewish neighbors. Not only that, but they might get a couple of groszy for the brass.

Bertha closed the front door behind him and let the bar fall into its bracket. The sound of the stout plank thudding into place seemed very final, as if it put a full stop to the day. And so—again, in a manner of speaking—it did.

This story is part of Dystopia Week: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Yehuda Porath
1. Yehuda
It's dystopian but somehow hopeful. Humanity can escape/survive even its own worst impulses, maybe, somewhat. In Hebrew - Mitoch Shelo Lishma Ba Lishma - do something good for the wrong reason and eventually you'll do it for the right reason. The form becomes the thing.

This may be ridiculous, but it feels like this maybe isn't dystopian enough. Would the Nazis really portray Jews as accurately as they could, rather then in a way that played to their prejudices? I mean more then the prejudices about dirt and cowardice, the ones about greed and lust and hunger for power. On the other hand, I'm not sure we'd want to read that story quite as much.
Jenny Thrash
3. Sihaya
"This may be ridiculous, but it feels like this maybe isn't dystopian enough. Would the Nazis really portray Jews as accurately as they could, rather then in a way that played to their prejudices? "

While the propoganda was certainly ugly, the Nazis kept *hauntingly* accurate records of the life and practices of the Jews whom they slaughtered. They really thought that they would one day be celebrated for what they did, even the "harder" aspects, and were slavishly collecting a history that they intended to hand down. Sick, right?

Turtledove's alternate histories have become subtler and subtler through the years. He used to write sweeping, multiboundary stories that required alot of exposition ("A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!"). Now he writes a character story and just adds the details that matter, leaving us to focus on the familiar parts or suss out exactly what's different. I think I've figured out the exact tipping point for this alternate universe - the Baal Shem Tov is born nearly 600 years later. Historically, his real name was Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer. He was known as the father of Hasidism, and he was also known for performing miracles simply by talking to men. He was Polish. Anyway, our protagonist and "Reb Eliezer" discuss a few scholars, but never him, making me think that maybe the rabbi is the man in question.
Bill Siegel
5. ubxs113
The offensive comments have been deleted, thanks Irene.
Irene Gallo
7. Irene
@4 and @6 deleted by a moderator
Luis Milan
8. LuisMilan
@Ubxs113: trolls are usually vanquished by fire, magic, acid and similar kinds of damage.

Arguing with them over the internet, however, has never done anything else but provoke them into more arguing.
9. Rowanmdm
This was a beautiful story in many ways. I have a feeling this is something that is going to stick with me for a while. The Frankenstein connection at the end was brilliant!

One of the tenants of my faith is that you must live a principle in order to determine if it is true or not, and that seems to be what happened here. It's a really interesting way of looking at it.
11. JeremiahG
Hauntingly beautifully timed with pesach.

However, the only way to make this more real, would be to have also replicated the Jews who are not religious, but who are Jewish nonetheless. Such as myself.

The ethical formation of juadism transcends the religion. And I say "ethics" quite specfically, because while mentioning Voltaire, credit is due the author of "If the Jew didn't exist, the anti-semite would create them," Sartre.
12. JeremiahG
and "John Lennon" was not such a big prick, but maybe you sir are a shmuck.
13. BMunro
Minor quibble re @3: "A Transatlantic Tunnel" - that was Harry Harrison, not Turtledove.

(As for the story itself, well written, but an alternate history in which the Nazis _conquer the whole world_ is too damn improbable for me to take seriously. The murderous putzes were lucky to get as far as they did. Not to mention the Nazis would have eventually turned Germany itself into crap as with everything else they touched.)
14. JH
"but an alternate history in which the Nazis _conquer the whole world_ is too damn improbable for me to take seriously"

If the Nazis hadn't been such vicious socipaths then maybe the many brilliant Jewish scientists and engineers who fled Germany in the 1930s would have worked on the Germany weapons program to develop a nuclear bomb a year or two before the US (together with Jewish, British and Canadian scientists) created the atomic bomb. If so, then then an alternate history with London and Moscow (maybe Washington and NY) still being uninhabitable and the Nazis having conquered the world is not so farfetched.
Jenny Thrash
15. Sihaya
Dang, Munro, you got me on the whole Turtledove/Harrison thing. Mea maxima culpa.

As for the Nazis taking over, it was a close thing, and it really did come down to the atomic bomb. And while the psychology can't be described in a single blog post, I can see how conquered citizens might hunker down until they were desensitized to the institutional horror.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
16. tnh
Yehuda @1:
In Hebrew - Mitoch Shelo Lishma Ba Lishma - do something good for the wrong reason and eventually you'll do it for the right reason. The form becomes the thing.
I understood that from the story, but I didn't realize it was proverbial. Is the English version a literal translation of the Hebrew?
17. BMunro
"If the Nazis hadn't been such vicious socipaths then maybe the many brilliant Jewish scientists and engineers who fled Germany in the 1930s would have worked on the Germany weapons program to develop a nuclear bomb a year or two before the US (together with Jewish, British and Canadian scientists) created the atomic bomb"

Ah, the old "what if Nazis didn't act like Nazis" argument... :)

Liza .
18. aedifica
Amazing story, thank you. It snuck up on me and then all of a sudden I saw where it was going--wow!
19. Gali
TNH - no. The literal translation of the phrase comes out close to "out of not doing it for her, he did it for her," the "her" here referring to the worship of God (Hebrew is gendered, and "worship" is feminine). It refers to the Jewish concept of worshipping God for ulterior motives (reward), vs. worhipping God for its own sake. You're supposed to do the latter, but if you do the former - that's fine because a. it's better than not worhipping God at all, and b. you may end up worhipping for its own sake - mitoch shlo lishma, ba lishma...
20. Makkabee
I wonder if Turtledove means this story to be set in the same universe as the original short story version of "In the Presence of Mine Enemies." Whether it does or not, it makes an interesting bookend for that piece.
Jonathan Baker
22. thanbo
A couple of technical quibbles:

1) In the picnic scene, Turtledove implies that the venison and grouse are not kosher. In fact (if properly slaughtered, which I doubt most of the meat at the picnic was - or did it all come from the shochet in Wawolnice?), venison and (probably) grouse are perfectly fine.

2) Sihaya: I think you're a bit off on the dates. The story apparently takes place in the 2040s (a hundred years after the "War of Retribution" - WW2), while the Baal Shem Tov was born c. 1699, so if you posit him to be the son of Reb Eliezer, it's only 350 years later.

3) tnh: it's an idiomatic proverb. "Lishmah" is the ideal motivation for the performance of a mitzvah (command) - lit. for its own sake, i.e. because God commanded it, not because it makes you feel good to do it, or even because it makes you feel good to fulfill God's word. So "out of not doing for its own sake, one comes to do it for its own sake".

In effect, Turtledove is describing the Jewish conversion process. There are various stages - accepting the commands before a rabbinic court as representatives of the community, immersing in a mikvah (obviously impossible here, absent swimming in a lake - was there a lake in the picnic scene? -- no, but that would have made the image obvious), and for men, getting circumcised with the right blessings. Veit accepts the personal transformation in his last conversation with Reb Eliezer, and gets circumcised. The critical step is accepting the commands as incumbent on oneself - if that is sincere, improper fulfillment of the other requirements is no obstacle.
23. David-Brin
Lovely, thoughtful, moving story. Great work Harry!

I might have wondered though, if some thought was given to by the actors to the occasional tourist, even in lederhosen, who choked back a sudden, unexpected sob, or hurriedly wiped away a tear? Do the actors notice such people, and wonder if they are spreading seeds?

Do they wonder what happens when the Reich gets tired of the Charade... or ups the ante... moving from shtetl to cattle cars?

Hm... the best stories are thought provoking... good un.
24. hmshankman
What a spectacular story. Gave me serious chills. Great timing, too, just in time for Yom HaShoah, this Sunday.
Jenny Thrash
25. Sihaya
thanbo, thanks. I think of him as being born in the 1600s, not at the very last danged year of them, and in my head the story was 100 years from *now,* not from a date that is already seventy years gone.

David-Brin, I don't know about the characters, but the author certainly did a nice job of nestling that thought firmly in our brains by including the employee showers.
26. Jacksprat
What a great start for what I hope will become a fully developed novel. Too much good is going on here not to make it so. Please, let it be happen in the near future.
It's so nice to see the whole thing here instead of many sites where all one gets is to moisten ones lips, and then must search for the rest of the drink. At the same time, now I am thirsting for the afore mentioned fully developed version yet to be written.
27. Zmflavius
Great story, the twist totally took me by surprise.

You know, I just realized the significance of the main characters' names.
Harry Turtledove
28. HarryT
Thanks for kind words, all. Late here, as usual. Well, life is like that sometimes. This one had a crazy beginning, even for me. I live in L.A., as a lot of you know. There was a commercial for the San Diego Wild Animal Park, with its--the commercial said--revised and improved African village. So I got to wondering what a Jew village in a Nazi world might be like, scribbled down the notion on a Post-It, and started writing a few days later.

@BMunro--the essence of a-h is changing one thing. So I changed one thing, by allowing a full-scale Nazi victory. A big thing, yeah, but one thing. It would be possible, not easy. If the Hahn-Meitner experiment hadn't happened till after the war started, so it wasn't published; if the Yugoslavs hadn't backslid and delayed Barbarossa . . . Well, possible.

I was in high school when TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL came out--I read the serial in ANALOG. I wish I had written it then. That would have made me publishable at 16 or so, which, I regret to say, I wasn't anything close to.
29. Henry Thiel
I sat here for about 2 minutes, staring at the empty text field, wondering how to write this. I still don't know how to convey the emotions I'm feeling right now...

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for hte underdog. In this case, I am biased as all hell - I'm Jewish myself. Not in religion, but in culture and by blood. Possibly even more telling, my family came from Eastern Europe (Minsk, specifically) at the tail end of the 19th century.

I'm... I'm not certain how to describe this still. I don't think I've felt this way since the first time I read The Postman, or Inherit the Stars. I came to this website to be entertained - to find a few e-books that I may want to read. I never expected to read something like Shtetl Days.

Lee at the Alamo, the first story I read on here, was a fun read. Vilicamba was an interesting read. This story... is possibly the best I've read in a long time.
30. Fleetlord Atvar
I didn't know what was going on till page two when that Turtledove twist kicked in. It was good.

Hey Harry loved the worldwar series. World war 2 but then aliens invade. Pretty much only you would write something that sounds as crazy as that but written so it seems plausible somehow.

Whats next? WW2 but with dragons? Haha
31. Willi
An excellent story, Mr. Turtledove; the first of your pieces I've read. For a dystopian story it has a remarkably upbeat ending, and it affirms the Jewish belief that we will survive. Even if we are "exterminated" as this story posits, we will still survive!

I'm Jewish, and I loved this story. Judaism is so much more than the anti-Semites profess to see, and I'm glad that it went in depth with our customs but didn't become a caricature.

Anyway, Mr. Turtledove, if you're not Jewish, I applaud the amount of research you did; if you are, mazel tov. If Sholom Aleichem were alive today and wrote alt-history, he might have written something like this.
Harry Turtledove
32. HarryT
@Henry Thiel--Thank you very much. More generous words a writer cannot hope for.

@Willi--Yes, I'm Jewish. I thought everybody knew. Evidently not.

@everybody--Happy New Year, all! And I hope you had a merry Christmas and/or a happy Chanukah, too (this is one of the few places where "and/or" really works).
33. LarryP
One thing to consider about this story -- Hitler's (and hence the Nazis') ant-semitism was racial, not religious in nature. In Mein Kampf, he says something to the effect that sprinkilng a little baptismal water on a Jew doesn't mean he's not still a Jew. In this philosophy (for want of a better word), would the inverse be true? Would it be permissible for people who were racially Aryan to practice the Jewish religion?
34. Keith Snyder
I was beyond knocked out by this story. I'm glad there's a way to tell you.

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