The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

Yiddish Policemens Union

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a 2007 novel by American author Michael Chabon. The novel is a detective story set in an alternative history version of the present day, based on the premise that during World War II, a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees was established in Sitka, Alaska, in 1941, and that the fledgling State of Israel was destroyed in 1948.

The novel is set in Sitka, which it depicts as a large, Yiddish-speaking metropolis. As a result, two million Jews are killed in the Holocaust, instead of the six million in reality.

The lands bordering Sitka are populated primarily by Tlingit Alaska Natives, and there has been a history of friction between the Jews and the Tlingit, but also of intermarriage and cross-cultural contact; one of the novel’s characters, Berko Shemets, is half Jewish, half Tlingit. Sitka’s independence has been granted for only sixty years, and the novel is set at the end of this period, as an evangelical Christian United States President is promising to go through with the ‘Reversion’ of Sitka to the United States.

In the novel, the State of Israel is destroyed after only three months in an alternative version of the Arab-Israeli War. Without Israel, Palestine is described as a mosaic of contending religious and secular nationalist groups locked in internecine conflict; Jerusalem is described as ‘a city of blood and slogans painted on the wall, severed heads on telephone poles.’ The United States president believes in ‘divine sanction’ for neo-Zionism, a movement seeking for Jews to reclaim Israel once again. Chabon describes the rest of world history only elliptically, but hints at enormous changes. Germany crushes the Soviet Union in 1942 and World War II continues until 1946, when Berlin is destroyed with nuclear weapons.

Chabon refers to a ‘Polish Free State’ existing in 1950, and describes some characters as veterans of a lengthy ‘Cuban War’ in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy was not assassinated and married Marilyn Monroe; Orson Welles succeeded in making his film of ‘Heart of Darkness.’ And when describing the modern world, Chabon refers to a ‘Third Russian Republic’ and an independent Manchuria that has its own space program.

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