What Kind of Past
The Story of a Balkan Sephardic Family

By: Joe Youcha

Published by the JewishGen Press

232 pages, soft cover
Cover design: Irv Osterer

Available from for $24.00


Based on four years of research, this book tells the story of a Balkan Sephardic family split between Ottoman Monastir (now Bitola, North Macedonia) and New York City. It traces, clarifies and expands family stories of a grandfather witnessing murder, seeking refuge at an Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) agricultural school in Tunisia, emigrating to Canada, vanishing, and eventually ending up in New York.

The story also follows the grandfather's father. The secular leader of a Jewish neighborhood under the Ottomans, he remained in Monastir, remarried, raised a second family, and lived through the Illinden Uprising, the Balkan Wars, World War One, as well as the German conquest and Bulgarian occupation of World War Two. Only 60 members of his community of over 3,000 souls survived the War and the Holocaust.

Remarkable archival documents and photographs provide letters from family members, photographs of those same people, as well as the discovery of forgotten relatives and their fate.

The book also traces a personal story of the author's research and discovery, as well as the impact of the discoveries on his family, especially his 95-year-old father. The research and its results demonstrate the possibility for a family to change what had been black and white caricatures into more well-rounded characters altering the family's perceptions of those people and finding in their turbulent story great relevance to today.

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