Guest Post by Ira Smith
Published initially in Argentina in 2013, The Murders of Moisés Ville has only now been made available in English with a wonderful translation by Robert Croll.
In 2009, Javier Sinay, an Argentinian author and journalist, received an interesting email from his father. It referred him to an article published in the late 1940s by his great grandfather, Mijl Hacohen Sinay, detailing the murders of Jews committed in one of the first Jewish colonies in Argentina, Moisés Ville. The history of this colony, long forgotten not just by Sinay’s immediate family but by the Jewish community as a whole, prompts him to investigate the crimes that occurred over a century ago, against the backdrop of hardship and violence that afflicted the settlers.
Sinay encountered many obstacles. The first, and foremost, was that he did not read, write or understand Yiddish, in which most newspaper accounts and personal recollections were written, as those who emigrated to Moisés Ville were East European Jews, escaping the pogroms of those times. To overcome this, Sinay enrolled in Yiddish classes but still required translators. Additionally, many records about the colonies were lost in the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center in 1994. Sinay persevered and not only found answers, but relatives he’d never known existed.
What Sinay has written is not just about an investigation into one-hundred-year-old murders. He relates the fascinating history of the colonization effort in the late 1800s, interspersed with family anecdotes, along with events in modern-day Moisés Ville, whose residents are now for the most part not Jewish. He discovers significant information about his great-great grandfather, such as his being the first journalist in Argentina to publish in Yiddish. He ponders how the journalism gene has passed through generations of the Sinay family. He also finds multiple inconsistencies in the stories of the crimes themselves, with accounts in his great-great grandfather’s article not at all similar to those accounts handed down in the affected families, leading him to wonder how to reconcile family legend with presumed fact. Most importantly, the book is a meditation on rediscovering one’s history and religious heritage, and throughout the book, we see what a profound impact it has had on his life. As he writes, “The murders bear upon my history as well: the responsibility of redeeming the dead, of bringing them up from their eroding gravestones, is now mine” (136).
For those interested in a fascinating story of discovering family history, or for those who would like to read about a forgotten chapter in Jewish history, The Murders of Moisés Ville is a must read.
The Murders of Moisés Ville: The Rise and Fall of the Jerusalem of South America by Javier Sinay. Translated by Robert Croll. Restless Books, May 2022.
Reviewer bio: Ira Smith is a retired physician for whom reading has been a lifelong passion. Favorite genres are science fiction, noir, and history.
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