Tuesday, October 4, 2022 -
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The unlikely recurrence of Sitka, Alaska

One of our favorite blog posts was written way back in 2009, after the publication of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. In the alternative history novel, Michael Chabon creates an Alaskan refuge for Jews fleeing Hitler’s Europe.

Chabon said in a Harper’s essay that one of his motivations for the novel was his observation that Yiddish was no longer a regularly spoken language. Chabon was incorrect because of course, Yiddish is the lingua franca among many chasidic Jews. Not to mention that in the past two decades or so, Yiddish has undergone a significant revival in the cultural realm, whether its drawing on food or music, or a resurgence of interest in the language itself, as evidenced by last year’s release of the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary.

Back to Chabon. In an interview with Details, he said he once read about a proposal to resettle Jewish refugees in Alaska during WW II. He banked the idea, cashing it in for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

We did some digging and it looks like Chabon was reference the Slattery Report, proposed by FDR’s administration. Four locations were chosen, among them Baranof Island — bringing us to an article in this week’s IJN.

“It is a peculiar mystery that has endured for more than 120 years in the shadows of Mt. Verstovia on Baranof Island in southeast Alaska,” the article by Dan Fellner opens. Why does the stained glass window of an Episcopal church feature a Jewish star?

You’ll have to read the article to find out — but the window in the Sitka church was placed in 1899. Guess in which city the Alaskan action in Chabon’s novel takes place? Stika.

It seems farfetched to suggest that FDR’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was aware of this stained glass window. But was Chabon? Or out of the four locations proposed by Ickes, did Chabon simply pick one at random? That would be an amazing coincidence. Only Chabon knows.




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