The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century
The author of the The Children’s Blizzard delivers an epic work of twentieth century history through the riveting story of one extraordinary Jewish family
In tracing the roots of this family—his own family—Laskin captures the epic sweep of the twentieth century. A modern-day scribe, Laskin honors the traditions, the lives, and the choices of his ancestors: revolutionaries and entrepreneurs, scholars and farmers, tycoons and truck drivers. The Family is a deeply personal, dramatic, and emotional account of people caught in a cataclysmic time in world history.
A century and a half ago, a Torah scribe and his wife raised six children in a yeshivatown at the western fringe of the Russian empire. Bound by their customs and ancient faith, the pious couple expected their sons and daughter to carry family traditions into future generations. But the social and political crises of our time decreed otherwise.
The torrent of history took the scribe’s family down three very different roads. One branch immigrated to America and founded the fabulously successful Maidenform Bra Company; another went to Palestine as pioneers and participated in the contentious birth of the state of Israel; the third branch remained in Europe and suffered the onslaught of the Nazi occupation.
With cinematic power and beauty, bestselling author David Laskin brings to life the upheavals of the twentieth century through the story of one family, three continents, two world wars, and the rise and fall of nations.
the ghetto. A survivor described what ensued: “When a large number had assembled, Moka sent most of them back to the ghetto. He imprisoned the rest in the cinema hall. From there he took groups of ten people at one time, conducted them to the neighboring sports ground and killed them.” Two hundred Volozhin residents died in this action, including Jacob Garber, the Judenrat head. After the shootings, Belarusian police were called in to despoil the bodies: “[They] stripped the clothes off the
History, p. 1548. “same old story”: Isaac Babel, 1920 Diary (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 12. the Tarbut Gymnasium: Tarbut, the Hebrew word for culture, was an interwar network of Hebrew-language schools that prepared students for life in Palestine through a grounding in modern spoken Hebrew and a mainstream Zionist curriculum; Chaim’s older brother Yishayahu was one of the founders of a Tarbut school in Volozhin in 1925. He felt not the slightest twinge: Some of
as they were called: ‘Mechanikers’) were drafted into the army; others left Rakov and were spread all over the globe. As a result, factories were shut down, and the end came to the industry of which Rakov was famous for generations.” By January 1916, with the front line more or less fixed, the flow of refugees ceased and Rakov surrendered to its winter torpor. Occasionally a convoy of ambulances careered through town bearing wounded or frostbitten soldiers; then the frozen silence closed in
of the British Mandate for Palestine, Britain became the de facto governor of the Holy Land, and the Balfour Declaration became state policy. Zionist claims and aspirations remained controversial, even in the Jewish community, but they would henceforth play a part in all negotiations over the future of the region. The Balfour Declaration marked a turning point with immense consequences for the lives of millions of people, including two of Shimon Dov HaKohen’s grandchildren. Balfour’s brusque,
always been more hard-nosed than her brothers when it came to the bottom line. If a relative showed promise, she’d find a place, but she had zero tolerance for deadwood, no matter where it grew on the family tree. Though Maiden Form had a raft of Rosenthals and eventually a couple of Cohen cousins and nephews on the payroll, the company never adopted A. Cohen’s open-door policy for family. Once the Depression hit, relatives had an even tougher time getting hired at Maiden Form, because they