In this wrenching but beautiful history, Bartov follows the Jews of Buczacz, an eastern Galician town in what is now Ukraine, from the sixteenth century to World War II. The Jews were welcomed when they arrived in the area and prospered for many years. But they suffered their first mass slaughter during a Cossack and peasant uprising in 1648. The next massacre took place three decades later, at the hands of Ottoman forces. Despite these atrocities, the Jews remained a dominant group within the town’s elite. Partly for that reason, they were almost never free from the resentment and enmity of their Polish and Ukrainian neighbors. At the heart of the book are the tragic events of the twentieth century. Bartov recounts the fate of the Jews as German and Russian troops marauded through their town in World War I and during the successive German and Soviet invasions of World War II, ending with the final Soviet offensive of 1944–45. His account of this last nightmare is specific and personal. There are moments of humanity in the story, but they appear only as bright specks in a very dark stone.
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