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Where We Came From
What is a "Litvak"?
Litvak is a name that could be given in Ukraine, or Belorussia, or Poland, to a person coming from Lithuania or Western Belorussia (which was also often referred to by Poles as LITWA, because before the Polish-Lithuanian Union Belorussia was part of the Great Lithuanian Princedom). Now Litvak is still not an uncommon name here in Ukraine.
Before the WWI, Galicia and the adjacent (Southern) part of Poland belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while Lithuania, Belorussia and the adjacent (Eastern) part of Poland belonged to the Russian Empire. Between the WWI & WWII, Galicia and Western Belorussia (and even a part of Lithuania, including its present-day capital Vilnius) belonged to Poland. So, "Russian Jews" and "Polish Jews" seem to be rather ambiguous terms.
Concerning the term "Russian Jews," it is also worth noting that before 1917 Jews generally were not allowed to live on the territory of the present-day Russia without special permission -- the so-called "Jewish Pale" included only the Western provinces of the Russian Empire, where ethnic Russians did not constitute a majority (now Poland and the "new independent states" -- Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, etc.)
Date: 18 Sep 1995 From: Grigory A. Naumovets <email@example.com>
Many years ago, my grandmother led to me to the following understanding of the use of "Litvak." This came about after an elderly man referred to my GGF as Szapiro the Litvak. Now my GGF was a scholar (or sorts), well educated (in the traditional sense) and a successful merchant. The family had come to SW Poland from near the Lithuanian border (but, truly, not from Lithuania in any of its historical manifestations since the 18th century. Grandma said she could think of 3 or 4 meanings for the term "Litvak." They included:
My Grandmother was willing to credit the 1st and 3rd as applying to her father.
Date: Jul 2001 From: Lewis P. Orans <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Indeed the question about the insult had struck some nerves, may be very old and forgotten divisions tend to go up. I guess that the origin of the equivalence among "Litvak" and an insult may be found abt. 300 years ago, when the Hasidic movement has begun in Poland, and extended his influence to the SE. Jews that lived in that region occupied by the ancient Lithuanian Kingdom (now Belarus, East of Poland and North of Ukraine) rejected that movement following the way shown by the Vilna Gaon.
From these times we can find the origin of the division among "Litvaks" or "Litvikes" and "Poilishes" (Poles) and each of these words became an insult into the other side, with the seasoning of some direct insult, as stupid, idiot, putz or some resemblance. Most of Jewish divisions were and are religious-philosophical like that one. With the intensity and fanaticism similar as Bull's and Laker's fans.
The "great" divisions among East Europe Jews, like German, Poles, Litvaks and Khersonen there were not based on some special intelligence or knowledge, there were all kind of people among them, stupid and sages all them poor, but different customs due to an extensive geography and local laws, different Yiddish pronunciation and different foods.
Date: 5 Jul 2001 From: Mario Jeifetz <email@example.com>
Many Jewish family names are derived from places of origin or residence. In Slavonic languages, Litvak means Lithuanian.
One of the most important Jewish communities in Europe up to the end of the Second World War was in Lithuania. The country is called Lietuva in Lithuanian, Litwa in Polish, Litva in Russian, Lita in Hebrew, Litauen in German and Lite in Yiddish. All these names have produced Jewish family names.
Distinguished bearers of the Jewish family name Litvak include the 20th-century German film script writer, Anatol Litvak.
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