History of the Jews

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MEMOIR. 5 create an historical work, at once monumental and popular; embracing thousands of years, the most widely separated regions, and the most diversified fields of human activity; retracing with all the resources of learning and ingenuity the magic, faded, illegible characters of the evolution of Juda- ism, and illuminating them with colors of fairy-like brilliance;—an historical work, which, by reason of the warmth of its narrative style, has come to be a book of edification, in the best sense of the word, unto the author’s brethren-in-faith. Heinrich Hirsch Graetz was born October 31 (Cheshwan 21), 1817, in Xions (pronounced Kshons), a wretched little village of 775 inhabitants in the eastern part of the Province of Posen. In a family of two brothers and one sister he was the first- born. His father, Jacob Graetz, was a man of tall stature, who, dying in 1876, reached an age of over ninety years. His mother, Vogel, of the family of Hirsch of Wollstein, was of average height and robust physique, with lustrous gray eyes. She died in 1848 only fifty odd years old. To her the son showed most resemblance, both spiritually and physically. A little butcher-shop yielded them an honest but paltry livelihood. In the hope of improv- ing their material condition, the family removed to Zerkow, a few miles off, some years after Heinrich’s birth. At the time the village contained not more than 800 inhabitants, among them a single person able to read, a real estate owner, to whom all let- ters were carried to be deciphered on the open street in solemn public assembly.1 But the Jewish congregation consisted of one hundred members, and a remarkable increase in the population of the little town seemed to give fair promise of a pros- perous future. It is worthy of mention, besides, that the scenery of Zerkow, wreathed round with 1 Wuttke, Stadtebuch des Landes Posen, p. 434.

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