Gluckel of Hameln and the Importance of Her Memoir

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Gluckel of Hameln and the Importance of Her Memoir Gluckel of Hameln was a seventeenth century Jewish woman from Hamburg who wrote a lengthy memoir in Yiddish. While she was not a famous person in her time, Gluckel's memoir has been regarded as one of the most important documents for European Jewish history, of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and the earliest autobiography written by a Jewish woman. Beginning in 1690, Gluckel's diary of a German Jewish widow is addressed to her fourteen children, and is written as an undertaking as a kind of therapy after her husband's death, to get her through her sadness and, "melancholy thoughts." She writes to her children reassuring them that she is not writing these memoirs as a book of morals, but rather the memoir is an attempt to include her children into her experiences, memories and life. In her memoir she explains how she directed the financial and personal destinies of her children, how she engaged in trade, while promoting the welfare of her large family. Gluckel's memoir enables a reader to gain an understanding of what a widowed Jewish woman would face in Christian dominated Germany both from a personal and public perspective throughout seventeenth and eighteenth century. Throughout her memoirs Gluckel describes the worries that a mother would have over her children, her relations with both her first and second husband while addressing the responsibilities she faced as a businesswoman. Gluckel arranged her life narrative in seven books. The first four books and the opening section of the fifth book have been written consecutively in the months or year of mourning after Haim's (her first husbands) death in 1689. The rest of Book 5 was written during the decade of the 1690's but given final form after her second marriage. The sixth book was written in 1702 or shortly afterward, during the initial shock of Hirsch Levy's (Gluckel's second husbands) bankruptcy in Metz, and the seventh and final book was composed in 1715, during her second widowhood, with a final paragraph from 1719 before her death. Gluckel has conveniently broken down her narratives in seven books, which help the reader clearly identify with individual aspects occurring in her life. In her memoirs Gluckel thoroughly encompasses a social, cultural and economical perspective about her life as a Jewish woman while contrasting it to Christian ways which dominated Germany during both 17th and 18th century.

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