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Literary Criticism Eastern

Journey to Oblivion

The End of the East European Yiddish and German Worlds in the Mirror of Literature

by (author) Peter A. Stenberg

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1991
Eastern, 20th Century, German
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1991
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Before the Second World War, some 25 million people in Eastern Europe spoke Yiddish or German. Their numbers had grown over 750 years. The two language groups spread and developed in relative isolation from each other, though they occupied much the same territory and experienced similar fates during the Russian Revolution.


In this book, Peter Stenberg uses literature to trace the destinies of these two separate but related language groups. He analyses works by well-known writers such as Aleichem, Singer, and Roth, and by others lesser known, such as Granach and Franzos, to show how the stability of the world of the Jewish shtetl began to erode because of pressures from within and without during the early part of this century. The annihilation of the Yiddish world in the genocide of the Second World War is described in novels by Hilsenrath, Becker, and Steinke. The destruction and expulsion of much of the Baltic-German and Mennonite communities in the Russian Revolution are described by von Vegesack and Neufeld respectively: those events provides a dramatic backdrop for the fate of almost all the East European Germans at the end of the Second World War, as fictionalized in novels by Bobrowski, Wolf, Lenz, and Bienek.


Using epic works of literature, Journey to Oblivion examines the two linguistically related cultures and how their symbiotic relationship ended in a macabre dance of death.

About the author

PETER STENBERG is Associate Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies, University of British Columbia.

Peter A. Stenberg's profile page