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  • Writer's pictureBecky Neiman

A Brief History of the Jewish People Part 4

The story of a language is inseperable from the story of the people who speak it. The Yiddish language reflects the greatness and the glory of the Jewish experience as well as the blood-soaked, the tear-drenched and tragic. The Yiddish-speaking nation that enriched European civilization for over a thousand years was annihilated under the unprecedented inhuman brutality of the Holocaust, launched by the Germans with the aim of annihilating the world's Jewish population. With the cooperation of many other Christian nations of Europe, this most horrible crime against humanity that ever stained the pages of world history almost succeeded. What the Holocaust of the European Jews did achieve, was the all but total annihilation of the Jews of Europe and the destruction of the heartland of the Yiddish-speaking culture.

Yiddish was the language of the national-cultural-religious entity known as the Jewish People who inhabited large areas of Eastern Europe for more than six hundred years. The Yiddish-speaking population inhabited regions of countries whose territories are included within the latter-day boundaries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Belarusia, Ukraina, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Czechia and Slovakia. The region known as Galitzia, which included parts of Eastern Austria, Moldavia, Ukraina and Southern Poland was also a region heavily populated with Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities. There were also Yiddish-speaking enclaves in isolated regions of Siberia as well as the so-called "autonomous Jewish region" in Biro-Bidjan in the Far-East, which Stalin had established with plans to create a Soviet Jewish Republic in Chinese Turkestan. At its height in the year 1939, the Yiddish-speaking Jewish population world-wide numbered about 11,000,000.

There were, in addition, another 6,000,000 Jews living in lands other than those enumerated above, whose languages did not include Yiddish. These were communities in Central Asia, whose primary languages were Jewish dialects of Turkish and Persian; others in the Moslem-Arab world who spoke Judeo-Arabic; a small community in northern Greece and some of the Greek islands whose vernacular was a Jewish dialect of Greek called Yevannic. A much larger community of Jews of Spanish origin, whose Judeo-Spanish language is called Ladino or Djudezmo, inhabited the city of Salonika in Greece, several centers in the Balkan Peninsula in what was once called Yugoslavia, and the cities of Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey. In addition to these there were the Jewish communities in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Central and South America, who were more or less assimilated to their environments and spoke the languages of the lands of which they were citizens. It is, therefore apparent, that the Yiddish-speaking part of the Jewish national-cultural-religious entity was, in 1939, approximately twice that of the non-Yiddish-speaking third.

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