Yiddish (ייִדיש, יידיש, or אידיש, lit. 'Jewish'; in older sources ייִדיש-טײַטש, Yidish-Taytsh, lit. ' Judaeo-German', or לשון־אַשכּנז (loshn-ashknaz, "language of Ashkenaz") is a High German–derived language historically spoken by the Ashkenazi Jews. It originated during the 9th century in Central Europe, providing the nascent Ashkenazi community with a High German–based vernacular fused with elements taken from Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages. Yiddish writing uses the Hebrew alphabet. As of the 1990s, there were around 1.5–2 million speakers of Yiddish, mostly Hasidic and Haredi Jews.
Prior to the World War II and the Holocaust, there were 11–13 million speakers of Yiddish among 17 million Jews worldwide. Some 85% of the approximately 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust were Yiddish speakers, leading to a massive decline in the use of the language. Post-war assimilation aliyah, immigration to Israel, further decreased the use of Yiddish both among survivors and among Yiddish-speakers from other countries (such as in the Americas). However, the number of Yiddish-speakers is increasing in Hasidic communities.
Yiddish in "Shtetl Days"
Wawolnice "Jews" Veit Harlan and Kristi Söderbaum had a devotion to their craft which continued even after the work day had done. They used Yiddish off and on around the house, publicly stating their need to keep practicing the language or lose it, should any Nazi officials be listening in. Kristi even used Yiddish words like meshuggeh while conversing with her sister Ilse.
Yiddish in Southern Victory
In 1942, Flora Blackford met with her brother David Hamburger for lunch in Kaplan's Delicatessen. The two talked in Yiddish, when Flora realized the language was dying out. Her brother suggested that she bring forward legislation mandating all young Jews be forced to reply to their elders in Yiddish and to set up a Yiddish speaking national park in the Lower East Side to protect the language, the way Yellowstone National Park was set up to protect the buffalo.
- Drive to the East, pg. 442, hc.