yiddishing sweden

by tobybee

Sorry for my absence from the blog over the last few weeks, dear readers – I was taking a holiday in (western) Europe. Part of this intended holiday was that I wasn’t going to do anything Holocaust related: I didn’t go to any Holocaust museums, or memorials. And for me (seeing as how I’ve spent the last 5 years thinking and writing about Holocaust representations) that was a pretty major thing. The closest I got to breaking that was in Paris, when I saw a sign pointing to a memorial and followed with, dragging my friends with me. But we couldn’t find the memorial, and instead ended up eating a crepe in the park. A much nicer option!

But, of course, the Holocaust haunts Europe, and haunts me. As we walked through the Marais in Paris, I told the friends I was travelling with (both of whom aren’t Jewish), that this was the former Jewish area of Paris, and was the place made into the ghetto for Jews before being transferred to concentration and death camps. And one of my friends hadn’t heard about my family’s losses from the Holocaust, so I shared their/my story with her.

On the day I arrived in Copenhagen, as we left my friends’ apartment to go wandering around the city, one of the first things I told my friends was that Denmark was one of the few countries which is remembered as being good to the Jews: that the story goes that King Christian – and many other Danes – wore the yellow star when it was demanded that all Jews wear it; and that they sent many away be boat so they couldn’t be deported. And that Denmark and Bulgaria are unusual like that – that they protected so many Jews – but that at schools, and in Jewish collective memories, Denmark is remembered much more than Bulgaria is.

And of course there were the occasional ‘holocaust jokes’, so common and important amongst jews of my generation, which my friends had no idea how to respond to…

But the point of visiting Europe was not the Holocaust.

One of the things I learnt while I was away was that Sweden is incredibly close to Denmark (just a short bus ride away, or one train stop past the airport). And I learnt on returning to Melbourne that Sweden has 5 official minority languages: Finnish, Sami language, Romani, Yiddish, and Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish). Finnish, Sami languages and Meänkieli are named as such because there are significant groups of people in Sweden who speak the languages, they have been spoken in Sweden for a significant amount of time, and the language should be of cultural benefit to the people speaking it. But Romani and Yiddish are included not because they meet these criteria, but it seems as a means of managing guilt for lost populations. The Holocaust haunts.

But it also means that there’s an important yiddishist community in Sweden (there’s a yiddish retreat happening there in August), even if in this video some members of it are charmingly 80s looking (or something)…