The Keidan Memorial Books, and More


It was said that if a Jew from Keidan was traveling, and someone asked where he was from, he would pound his chest hard enough to leave a dent, replying proudly, “Me? I’m a Keidaner!” People even took to calling them “Keidaners with dents in their chests.” 1


Jews were an important part of Keidan for nearly 400 years, but in the late 19th century, social and political storm clouds began to gather that would, 50 years later, cause the community’s annihilation. In the decades before World War I, hundreds of Keidaners emigrated to the U.S., South Africa and elsewhere. Yet even in diaspora, they remained tied to their home community, and over the years they wrote memoirs, essays, and histories, documenting and recalling the life of their historic town.

This website presents this literature, collected from numerous sources, in English translation, as an archive and living commemoration of this once-beloved community.

The first formal anthology about Keidan was published in 1930 in New York. Edited by Boruch Chaim Cassel and Chaim Epstein, it included a history of the town, profiles, humorous reminiscences and much more. Mainly in Yiddish, its tone was nostalgic, with only a slight sense of foreboding about the community’s political and economic condition. Of course there was nothing to hint at the horror that would destroy Jewish Keidan less than a dozen years later.

In the wake of that catastrophe, efforts to commemorate the town became more urgent. The survivors understood that they were the last generation to know the community that was no more, and they attempted to record whatever they could about its life and death. The principal result was the “Sefer Zikaron” – also known as the Keidan Yizkor Book. Published in Israel in 1977, it was mainly in Hebrew, and remained largely untranslated until recently.

A third, smaller collection of essays and histories was published in South Africa in 1950, marking the 50th anniversary of the Keidaner Sick Benefit and Helping Hand Society of Johannesburg. Together with various individual essays and memoirs circulated privately over the years, these sources constitute a rich tapestry, a grassroots historiography, and an invaluable window into our own past.

The original memorial books were organized based on the contingencies of their times. This site attempts to provide a more contemporary structure, adding footnotes and context where appropriate and organizing by chronology and content.


Sections (click to jump)

Overviews  /  Before 1914   /  The First World War  /  Between the wars   /  Notable Keidaners The Approaching Storm  /  War and Destruction The Keidan Diaspora  


Overviews

Before 1914

The First World War

Between the Wars

Education and culture

Youth movements

Religious life

Profiles, memoirs, etc. 

Notable Keidaners

The Approaching Storm 

War and Destruction

Escape and struggle

Embers from the fire

The Keidan Diaspora

Pioneers in Zion

Memories In Song and Verse


 

Footnotes

  1. From the 1930 “zamel bukh” of the Keidaner Assn. of New York.

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