Languages and morality in postwar Europe: the German and Austrian abandonment of Yiddish

Tomasz Kamusella*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In postwar Europe the remembrance of the Holocaust (קאַטאַסטראָפע Katastrofe in Yiddish) endows the continent’s societies and politics with a clear-cut moral dimension. All agree that remembering about and researching the Holocaust is necessary for preventing a repeat of the murderous past in the future. Yet, no reflection is really devoted to the most revealing fact that the wartime genocide’s main victims – Jews – exist no longer in Europe as a community with their specific Yiddish language and culture. Due to the twin-like closeness between Yiddish and German, prior to the war, Yiddish speakers ensured a world-wide popularity for the German language. After 1945, Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors and Jewish poets exorcised and reinvented the then-murderers’ language of German, so that poetry could be written in it again. In reciprocation, Germany and Europe – shockingly and quite incomprehensibly – abandoned their duty to preserve and cultivate Yiddish language and culture as a necessary “inoculation” against another genocide. Forgetting about this duty imperils Europe and its inhabitants; the danger now is sadly exemplified by Russia’s ongoing genocidal-scale war on Ukraine. Not a single Yiddish library exists in today’s Europe, which is an indictment in itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172 - 193
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Nationalism, Memory and Language Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2022


  • Yiddish
  • Europe
  • Germany
  • German
  • Yiddish-German language
  • Yiddishland
  • Holocaust
  • Katastrofe
  • Shoah
  • Antisemitism


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