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Tale of a Vanished Land: Memories of a Childhood in Old Russia by Harry E. Burroughs

By Ira Leibowitz

Related to: Kashovka (Town)Book Reviews

By Harry E. Burroughs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930. 337 pp.

None of the following may be reprinted or republished without permission of the publisher.

The family into which Hersh Baraznik was born in 1890 had stature. Hersh's father, Nathan the Wise, was the first man in Kashoffka to go to America. He returned a rich man, and was not afraid to bring disputes to the authorities. Hersh's virtuous mother was admired by all the townspeople. They called her Hannah the Saint.

Burroughs draws a compelling, many-sided portrait of life in turn-of-the-century Kashoffka (now Kashivka, Ukraine), a Volhynian shtetl split roughly evenly between Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants. Situated 20 miles north of Roshist (now Rozhishche) and 15 miles west of Kolk (Kolki), it contained about 50 Jewish families and three synagogues.

Burroughs evokes a sense of pastoral serenity in recalling the village, musing of the encircling forests of pine and the washerwomen singing by the river. One could hear anthems sung in the Russian church on Sundays. From our perspective (and the author's), Kashoffka had a constricted view of the world as well. Distance was measured in the days a horse could travel. When a Russian newspaper filtered in -- usually several weeks after publication -- one of the literate men would read it to the entire town. What the villagers could see with their eyes "formed their universe."

Burroughs was an intelligent, headstrong boy. At the age of 10, following run-ins with his father and stepmother, he apprenticed himself to a merchant who brought him to a brush factory in Sevastopol. There he witnessed two events he would always remember. The first was the appearance, amid grand pomp, of Czar Nicholas II himself. Burroughs experienced a tremendous letdown: "the man whose name carried terror and authority to every corner of the land . . . was a timid little man . . . His step and bearing were nervous, apprehensive."

And the second incident, marking him more powerfully than the first, was a pogrom. The air was leaden with tension, he writes, as hooligans were brought into town. Burroughs tramped throughout the city and was amazed to discover that as preparations began for what all knew was coming -- and while police and the imperial army looked the other way -- non-Jewish neighborhoods casually continued with everyday activities. He was to witness a fellow Jewish brushmaker club a rioter to death. In 1903 Burroughs joined his brother in Boston. Unlike his father, he never returned to Kashoffka.

Reviewed by Ira Leibowitz [Jan. 2001]

  • Last Modified: 06-08-2012
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