What does Yiddish have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Funny you should ask!
I was aware of Harry Golden’s The Joys of Yiddish when it was first published back in the last century. Although only a lad then, I was already interested in language. Recently I bought the updated edition for research. Later this year I plan to launch a new historical mystery series featuring a Yiddish-speaking vaudeville performer named Professor Ben Sterling.
Professor Sterling (1869-1930) was a real person – a psychic, magician, and ventriloquist. He was also my wife’s grandfather.
Such a silly question! Melanie J. Meyers, M.S., Senior Reference Librarian at the Center for Jewish History, wrote about this on the Center's blog for the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 2012:
Members of the Yiddish-speaking world were also fans of the great detective, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research here at the Center holds several Yiddish versions of Sherlockian adventures in both short story compilations and serial versions.
As the Holmes stories were often printed in periodical form first, the compilations subsequently published in places such as Warsaw were not always the same as the “official” versions. Their titles, for example, present differences. YIVO holds a book by the title of Fantasy and Reality (Warsaw: 1926), which is five of the stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. One of the stories included was “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,” or, as the Yiddish version was called (in translation), “The Case of the Master Builder.” YIVO also holds a copy of a Holmes story from a Yiddish periodical (publication date unknown), which is curiously titled “Holmes and the Circus” and has art depicting a sinister-looking big-top scene. It appears to be the story that Doyle titled “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger,” as that is the Holmes tale in which a circus theme features prominently.
As usual, there is more to be learned from looking at these items than the fact that there was a demand for Sherlock Holmes stories among Yiddish-speakers. One of the Holmes short story translations, which was simply titled “An Interesting Study of Exceptional Human Ability,” was published right here in New York in 1928 . . . The implication is that the Yiddish-speaking population in New York City was hungry for reading material in their own language—enough to have their own local printing company to cater to their tastes.
“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” according to an adage that was popularized (in Yiddish) by the sociolinguist and Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich. Yiddish has neither an army or a navy. But it does have a fascinating story – and it has Sherlock Holmes.