A growing collection of in-depth interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds, whose stories about the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture offer a rich and complex chronicle of Jewish identity.
David Mazower's Oral History
David Mazower, BBC journalist and great-grandson of Yiddish writer Sholem Asch, was interviewed by Hillary Ossip on February 28, 2011 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Mazower, who was raised and still lives in England, tells of his own background and encounters with Yiddish alongside stories of his great grandfather. Interestingly, on both sides of his family Mazower has strong Yiddish ties. His great grandfather on his father’s side, Max Mazower, was a Bundist active in Vilna at the turn of the 20th Century.
Mazower, who didn’t grow up speaking Yiddish, still has a great sense of the literature and culture through his encounters with those who knew of his great-grandfather as well as through his own personal endeavors. After studying Russian history in college and rediscovering Yiddish through his academic studies, Mazower joined the Jewish Museum in London, where he worked on an exhibition about Yiddish theater in London. The exhibition particularly sparked his interest and drew him more deeply into Yiddish as he met and learned about the many people involved in Yiddish theater in England and additionally his great-grandfather’s work.
Mazower further speaks about his personal “rediscovery” of Asch, recalling going through his grandmother’s collection of Asch’s things. Mazower opens up about Asch, both through a scholarly perspective and through his personal connection and family stories.
He speaks about Asch’s dramatic personality, describing him as “stormy, melancholy, at times the life and soul…” He also recalls stories of Asch being an “appallingly bad driver,” and lights up as he recalls anecdotes such as Asch driving Chagall, as well as an arm wrestling match between Asch and a complete stranger.
Mazower explains the controversies surrounding Sholem Asch and more specifically how they affected Asch, his place within Yiddish literature, and how the accusations personally affected Asch and his family. The interview brings to life a more personal side of Asch, while also shedding light on Mazower’s life experiences relating to his connection to Yiddish, his Jewish identity, and his interests, both Yiddish-related and beyond.
This interview was conducted in English.
David Mazower was born in 1959 in London, England, United KIngdom.
This interview is part of the Beyond the Books: Yiddish writers and their descendants series.
Video highlights from this oral history
"He Was a Hugely Dramatic Personality"2 minutes 53 seconds
Sholem Asch's Work and View of Women1 minute 56 seconds
Controversies Around Sholem Asch's Work1 minute 16 seconds
A Family History of High European Culture2 minutes 27 seconds
"Let Me Shake the Hand of History"2 minutes 35 seconds
Visiting Sholem Asch's Birthplace in Kutno, Poland2 minutes 13 seconds
More information about this oral history
- Yiddish revival and activism
- Yiddish learning
- Family history
- stories about ancestors
- children/grandchildren of Yiddish personalities
- Beyond the Books
- Yiddish personalities
- Yiddish language
- Religion and ritual
- United States
- Eastern Europe
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About the Wexler Oral History Project
Since 2010, the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project has recorded more than 500 in-depth video interviews that provide a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience and the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture.
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