The most important historical event of the last century was World War II. Central to an understanding of it and the world that came from it is an understanding of what happened to the Jews of Eastern Europe. The holocaust was the greatest attack on the reading life the world has yet seen. Never has there been a culture more respective of the reading life than that of Yiddish speakers.
In Yiddish a shtetl refers to a small largely Jewish community.
Included in the excellent anthology A Shtetl and other Yiddish Novellas edited by Ruth Wisse is an excellent overview of the origins of modern Yiddish literature. I was fascinated to see that the short story was the form which first gained popularity. Just like in Australia, Japan, and the USA the Yiddish short story blossomed along with the start of magazines aimed at the growing middle class of educated people who wanted stories about "real life" they could read in one setting.
"A Shtetl" by Isaac Meir Weissenberg (1881 to 1938, Poland) is, according to Ruth Wisse, a leading
authority in the field, an important classic of Yiddish literature. Weissenberg, rather than romanticizing
the shtetl as many earlier and later writers did, tried to give a completely accurate worthy of Zola portrait
of real life in the community. He brilliantly portrays how organized crime begins to develop and its
very ugly consequences for the community. In one devastating scene, a casual word to a "fixer"
about and old unpaid debt has the completely unwanted consequence of murder. Three big concerns
dominate the lives and thoughts of most of the residents of the shtetl, making a living, getting good
marriages for your children, and wondering what the Gentiles will do. 1906 in Poland was a period of
great prejudice against Jews. Vicious bands of Christian thugs, often Cossacks, would rampage through
Jewish communities, killing and destroying as they wished. Weissenberg makes one such pogrom
come terrifyingly to life.
There is a very comprehensive background article on the author here http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Vaysenberg_Itshe_Meyer
There are five novellas in the collection from which this comes. Here is the publisher's (Wayne State
University Press) description