A Monument to Messianism
This happened exactly twenty years ago, during Passover 1925. I had just come to Warsaw for the first time in my life . . . before I had any connections with the Yiddish press or Yiddish literature. My visit happened to coincide with the unveiling of Peretz’s tombstone on the tenth anniversary of his death. Soon after my arrival we went out into the street to join the procession to his grave. The whole neighborhood was flooded with Jews, and we were swept up in the tide of a huge demonstration. Later, when I lived in Warsaw, I was to see many mass demonstrations of Jewish workers and student youth on May Day and other such occasions—but that first one astounded and moved me.
The many official delegations and representatives disappeared into the crowd, swallowed up by the mass of ordinary Jews wearing caps, hats, and fedoras, young people and old, merchants and workers, a human forest on the move. It looked to me like a slice of Asia—in Lemberg where I lived I had never seen anything like it. All the surrounding streets were black with people waiting to join the massive train. People had already occupied the choice places at the cemetery, and those who now tried to run ahead to secure places among the tombstones were bitterly disappointed. Since early morning the stones and trees around the writers’ section had been heavily draped with Jews, and now in the crush of new arrivals some of the gravestones were overturned.
About the Author
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author most recently of Jews and Power (Nextbook/Schocken).