The place we came from – the place we went back to.
The revelatory history of Krakowiec – ‘a little place you’ve never heard of ‘ – through which we see life in Eastern Europe as never before.
Decades ago, the historian Bernard Wasserstein set out to uncover the hidden past of the town forty miles west of Lviv where his family originated: Krakowiec (Krah-KOV-yets). In this book he recounts its dramatic and traumatic history. ‘I want to observe and understand how some of the great forces that determined the shape of our times affected ordinary people.’ The result is an exceptional, often moving book.
Wasserstein traces the arc of history across centuries of religious and political conflict, as armies of Cossacks, Turks, Swedes, and Muscovites rampaged through the region. In the age of enlightenment, the Polish magnate Ignacy Cetner built his palace at Krakowiec and, with his vivacious daughter, Princess Anna, created an arcadia of refinement and serenity. Under the Habsburg emperors after 1772, Krakowiec developed into a typical shtetl, with a jostling population of Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews.
In 1914, disaster struck. ‘Seven years of terror and carnage’ left a legacy of ferocious national antagonisms. During the Second World War the Jews were murdered in circumstances harrowingly described by Wasserstein. After the war the Poles were expelled and the town dwindled into a border outpost. Today, the storm of history once again flows through Krakowiec as hordes of refugees flee for their lives from Ukraine to Poland.
At the beginning and end of the book we encounter Wasserstein’s own family, especially his grandfather Berl. In their lives and the many others Wasserstein has rediscovered, the people of Krakowiec become a prism through which we can feel the shocking immediacy of history. Original in conception and brilliantly achieved, Krakowiec is a masterpiece of recovery and insight.
Categories: Biographies, History.
Reading Age: Adult
RRP: Paperback NZ$40
Imprint Allen Lane published in NZ by Penguin Random House New Zealand