- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Indiana University Press; 2 edition (April 15, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0253214181
- ISBN-13: 978-0253214188
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #735,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Century of Ambivalence, Second Expanded Edition: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the Present 2nd Edition
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From Library Journal
Through a remarkable collection of photographs from the YIVO Institute and private sources, this book traces the uncertain relationship of the Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union with their state and society. It shows how Jews have remained torn between a love for the land of their birth and loyalty to their own heritage, while contending with both the prejudices of the majority population and the continually shifting policies of the government, tsarist and communist. Well written, well documented, and unique as a pictorial record, this is appropriate for general collections and an important addition to those devoted to Jewish history and life. Quality Paperback and History Book Club selections. Rena Fowler, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of Russian Jewry will want to own this splendid ... book." Janet Hadda, Los Angeles Times "... illuminated by an extraordinary collection of photographs that vividly reflect the hopes, triumphs and agonies of Russian Jewish life." David E. Fishman, Hadassah Magazine "Wonderful pictures ... An uplifting [book] for a broad and general audience." Alexander Orbach, Slavic Review
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Trotsky was born 17 years after my grandma on his father's farm near Elizavetgrad. Trotsky's father was one of the Jewish colonists from the Pale whom the Russian government recruited to fill the southern Ukraine after its conquest from the Ottoman empire. Most Jewish agricultural colonists failed. Having been beggars and petty trades and craftsmen, they made lousy farmers. Given my family history I found the pictures and descriptions of the era fascinating. The elegant synagogue in Elizavetgrad defies the family stories of the town as a stettl of mud hovels. And the Shul in Odessa, with its organ and choir, compares to German reform temples. It was Orthodox whom I thought prohibited instruments out of mourning for the destruction of the Second Temple. Although I could find none, I scrutinized the pictures for my mishpochah. After Jews were tied to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the pogroms of the 1880s began in Elizavetgrad. Family stories claim our only defense against the Cossacks was garlic?
My confusion comes from what I consider a general problem with ethnic histories. When the focus is on groups in a complex society, it is often hard to tell how much of what a group experiences is part of a more widespread historical trend or peculiar to that group. Many ethnic histories fall into what has been called by the Genocidal Olympics by the Native American writer Alexie Sherman. "Do you want to participate in the Genocidal Olympics? Whose tragic history has more breadth and depth and length?" This is not to diminish suffering or to deny its historical importance, but it requires the ethnic historian to put their group in the context of what else is going on at the time. Yes, Russia/the Soviet Union and the "Jewish Problem" are important but looking at that alone gives little sense of the significance of that problem within its historical context. On this score Gittleman gets a B+ among histories of Jewish suffering, most of which deserve D's, because they assert Jews are gold medalists in the Genocidal Olympics and use that assertion as justification for compensation and a rationale for injustices which Jews in turn impose. Even in Gittleman's book, I could not help thinking, what other choice had the Jews but Zionism. But as the author of a recent book on temples in Hungary and southern Poland (Upon The Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today) notices when talking with an young Israeli Holocaust tourist being indoctrinated, for her co-respondent Jewish history began with the Holocaust. The tourist could not conceive of the fact that Jews had lived in Europe for two thousand years before WWII. After slavery in the New World in which Africans survived hundreds of years in death camps, (c.f. The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies) they still had a life---with prejudice, yes but they haven't chosen leaving. So Aliyah need not be the only option.
The Jewish experience in Russia and the Soviet Union was very much within the context of their history. Before the Revolution Jews were subject to both traditional Christian anti-Semitism and the particular virulence of Tsar Nicolas I. Russia's acquisition of eastern Poland left it with millions more Jews. Nicolas couldn't understand why these low class people's wouldn't assimilate. They were frozen in the only livelihoods they were allowed, migrant peddlers, petty craftsmen, merchants, and beggars. He restricted their residence to the Pale. His successor loosened the bonds somewhat but the reaction to his assassination unleashed terrible revenge on the Jews not only by Cossacks, but by locals, particularly Ukrainians. And here is where we begin the challenge of putting what happened to Russian Jews in the context of general ethnic conflict. Gittleman only casually mentions other ethnic conflicts which are taking place. Ukrainians often suffered at the hand to both the state and Russian overlords. Peter and Catherine's extension of the Russian empire came at the expense of conquered peoples. Before, and especially during, the Crimean war Muslims were brutally driven from the Caucuses and other groups were forced to submit. Russian immigrants were given land and privileges. Ukrainians were pushed around especially by the Soviet state. And Stalin first supported then suppressed nationalities. During WWII he exiled the Tatars, Chechens, people of German ancestry, etc..
In the 19th century, enlightenment from the West began to infiltrate Russia. Jews picked up socialists ideas, and secular education allowed by Alexander II liberated Jews from the narrowness of tradition and ritual. Yiddish secularism and Hebrew Zionism began to compete among the educated. Jews became socialists and revolutionaries and some saw agriculture as the road to Zion, were it to be somewhere in Russia or Palestine. Uncle Teva was picked up in a railway station with a pistol after the 1905 Revolution which precipitated a terrible reaction and more pogroms. His imprisonment and escape led to the emigration of the family to Canada, but by then he and some of his siblings had received secular education in Yiddish or Russian high schools. Odessa was the most radical city in Russia. Was it there they were transformed? I don't know or why my grandfather was totally cynical about traditional Jewish religion. Of the hundred of thousands of Jews that left after the 1880s' pogroms most went to the US, Canada, and South America, very few to Zion.
The Russian Revolution liberated the Jews and led to their assimilation even more rapidly than had happened in Germany in the late 19th Century which Amos Elon claims was the most rapid assimilation and upward mobility of any peoples. Gittleman thinks that Jewish identification with the Revolution was not because of its ideology but because the pogroms initiated by White counter-revolutionaries and Ukrainian nationalists gave the Jews no options. The Communists rejection of anti-Semitism to the point of punishing its own troops for such acts made the Revolution the only refuge for the Jews. Of course we are talking piecemeal here starting with educated Jews. The triumph of the Revolution and its bias against mercantile occupations was followed by large migration of Jews into cities, education and the Party. Communist repression of all opposition forced the Jewish Bund into the Party. Such charismatic Bundists as Esther Frumkin joined the Party as a way of temporizing only to be swallowed by it. Only 4% of the total population, by the late 30s Jews made up 20% of higher education and a similar percentage of the Party. Jewish religion suffered from Communist anti-religious drives but not as much as did other religions. The few synagogues destroyed or converted to state institution compared to thousand of Russian Orthodox churches. As Party members Jews took an active part in anti-Christian campaigns but because of restrictions on anti-Semitism non-Jewish Party operatives restrained from attacks on Judaism. Yiddish secular culture waxed and waned according the changes in polices towards Nationalities.
Gittleman does not discuss the hostility towards the Communists that grew from collectivization beginning in 1933 or the suppression of Poles and Ukrainians in the Great Terror before WWII. A weapon in the first was starvation and the second execution. The first chance that these peoples had to get their revenge came with the German conquest. Since Jews were very visible among Party operatives who condemned people, seized crops and carried out murders, they were hated by those who were being oppressed but who also had a history of anti-Semitism.
In post-Revolutionary Russia Jews advanced rapidly and were urbanized, Many identified with the goals of the Revolution. Some Jewish Communists were the most aggressive in wanting to repress traditional Jewish culture. So to be a Jew in the pre-WWII Soviet Union was to become a professional, a factory worker, a Party operative and even an army officer. They identified themselves as Soviet citizens, some wanting a distinct Yiddish identity. There were also a few collective farmers. The photos of Jewish Kolkhozes in the Caucuses show happy, healthy peoples. Part of the ambivalence in the title of the books comes from the welcome of Jews into Soviet society. This history is often left out by Zionists and others who claim victory in the Ethnocidal Olympics. As the author points out Jews suffered disproportionably in the ideological swings from left to right and Party purges because they occupied those offices (including "the dreaded secret police") disproportionately, not because they were Jews.
So what went wrong. Stalin blew it. Here you had a powerful people who were enthusiastically melting into Soviet society. From intermarriage to disinterest in tradition, Jews were active members of the Communist revolution and, as in America today, were less interested in Jewish identity. For Gittleman Jewish alienation began in WWII. But I think it began earlier. It may have been in anticipation of conflict with Germany that Stalin, justifiably unsure of the loyalties of some Nationalities, came down hard on Ukrainians and Poles in the West. And possibly wanting to appease the Nazis began to remove Jews from Party positions. Nonetheless Jewish commissars were complicit in the Great Terror visited upon Ukrainians and Poles. Hundreds of thousands were killed or exiled.
In Nazi occupied Soviet territories the Holocaust was truly horrendous. With the Molotov-Ribbentropf treaty the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland and the Baltic which they began to swallow by killing officers, political opponents, cultural figures and entrepreneurs. Jews in these countries often regarded Soviet invaders as liberators from local fascism and anti-Semitism. This added to the locals' hatred. When the Germans conquered these countries, some locals participated in the elimination of Jews. During the war in the East, Jews were part of the Soviet army and participated in the Resistance. There is debate whether, knowing of Nazi anti-Semitism, the Soviets gave Jews priority in evacuations. Besides those evacuated as professionals, industrial laborers and Party members, the rapidity of German advance caught many Jews in towns like Minsk. The Soviets also sent some Jews from occupied eastern Poland to Siberia as unreliable. This ironically saved their lives. Unmentioned by Gittleman, after Soviet reoccupation of Nazi conquered areas, the Soviets restrained Jews from reclaiming their houses etc. in the Ukraine and White Russia, not wanting to upset the local populations who because of their cooperation with the Germans were also regarded as having only tentative loyalty to the returning Soviet state. In fact underground resistance to the Soviets existed into the 1950s. Starting in the late `30s and accelerating during the War Stalin identified Sovietness with Russian nationality. During the War there was almost no mention of the special cruelty the Nazi visited upon the Jews or of Jewish heroism.
It was Stalin's anti-Semitic paranoia after WWII that drove Jews out of Soviet society and into the arms of Zionists. Between 1948 and Stalin's death in 1953 attacks on Jews ending in the Jewish doctors' plot gave Jews no place to hide simply because their nationality of Jew was stamped on their identity card. Being loyal members of the Party made little difference. When it became clear that Israel was an outpost of Western imperialism, being a Jew in the Soviet Union became synonymous with "Cosmopolitanism," a cardinal offense. With Khrushchev's expose' of Stalin, things eased up but acceptance of Jews never went back to what it had been. Alterations of the Party line and changes in geopolitics around Israel and the Arab world led to opening and closing of emigration which became more and more an option as Jews were excluded from advancement in Soviet society. Internal emigration as it was called, retreat into private life, led some Jews to seek solace in religion. Khrushchev was succeeded by Brezhnev who reacted against the loosening of Soviet society, and Brezhnev's senility along with that of the Party gave way to Gorbachev. Unfortunately Gittleman's book was published just before the collapse of the Soviet Union when opportunities for the Jews had not significantly expanded although by then a few hundred thousand had already been allowed to emigrate. Many chose the West rather than Israel. What happened after the collapse and what percentage still remain, I don't know. Certainly the Soviet Jews who were heretofore non-religious became reactionaries in Israel.
Except for those of the Holocaust, I love the pictures in Gittleman's book. I entertained a 93 year infirmed friend of mine with them. The Mountain Jews and those of the Caucuses and Central Asia fascinate me. They led a completely different existence than Russian and European-Soviet Jews. They also massively emigrated to Israel having never assimilated into Soviet society. They looked like the locals among whom they lived. How they got along with Soviet Jews and now get along with secular Soviet-Israelis would be interesting to know.
I loved reading Gittleman's book. The pictures make the people more real. Thank you, especially for the balance of your text. Others would have tilted the history in a more Jewish-centric, self-justifying way. And except for the Holocaust executed by the Nazis, of the massive cruelty that Stalin visited upon various Soviet peoples the Jews got off much lighter than some others.
Charlie Fisher author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World
Tsarist Russia acquired a huge Jewish population after inheriting the Jews of eastern Poland after the Partitions. (p. XIV, 5). In fact, the Pale of Jewish Settlement ended at the former border of Poland and Russia. In a map, the author includes the Congress Kingdom (central Poland) as part of the Pale (p. 3), even though some other authors do not do so. By 1897, out of 5.2 million Jews in all of tsarist Russia, only 300,000 lived outside the Pale. (p. 39). Obviously, the vast majority of "Russian" Jews were the descendants of Polish Jews.
Zvi Gitelman describes the fate of Jews in tsarist Russia as ones whose fortunes waxed and waned in a cyclic manner. Some Jews sought to escape anti-Semitism by withdrawing further into Judaism, while others went the opposite direction--assimilation and conversion, or in finding solace in utopian movements. Zvi believes that tradition-minded Jews were more inured to anti-Semitism because they reckoned goys as Esau--always an enemy of Jacob. (p. 17). Jews had a derogatory term for Russian gentiles--FONYE GANEV. (p. 81).
The author notes that many Jewish converts were neither Marranos nor the products of a changed religious conviction. They disbelieved all religion. (p. 15). [This trend helps explain the later Endek suspicion of the motives of assimilated and converted Jews.]
Although Gitelman does not mention this, the problems related to poor, unemployed or underemployed Jews of post-1918 Poland were inherited from tsarist Russia (as pointed out by Dmowski). Earlier, in tsarist Russia, there were already the LUFTMENTSHN ("men living on air") that is, Jews without a definite occupation. Many were artisans, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and petty traders that had become dislocated. (p. 19, 75).
On the other hand, Jews were also successful. One major factor in Jewish success, over the centuries, had been widespread Jewish literacy pitted against widespread gentile illiteracy. In tsarist Russia, 80% of the population was illiterate as late as the eve of WWI (1914), while nearly all Jewish males and most Jewish females were literate in their own language (Yiddish). (p. 41). In addition, by 1900, over 30% of Jewish men and 16% of Jewish women could also read Russian. (p. 41). [This no doubt reinforced Jewish-Russian bonds, which could only be at the expense of Polish national aspirations (e. g, the Litvaks or Litwaks), thus provoking Endek hostility to Jews, especially after about 1900.]
The Zionists were a major force in the Judaism of late tsarist Russia. Gitelman points out that they aspired to a Jewish state SOMEWHERE, and not necessarily Palestine. (p. 92). [Obviously, Polish fears of a Judeopolonia had some rational basis.]
Jewish Marxists faced a paradox. The exploited proletariat was supposed to rise up against the bourgeoisie. For this to happen, capitalist society was predicated as having a large peasantry and/or proletariat, aristocracy at the top, and bourgeoisie in the middle. Jewish society in tsarist Russia was very different--hardly any peasantry, no aristocracy, [also hardly any agricultural proletariat, and only a small factory proletariat], and a large class of petit bourgeoisie consisting of the likes of small shopkeepers and LUFTMENSHN. To overcome this incongruent situation, the Yiddish linguist Ber Borochov engaged in "Talmudic reasoning". He synthesized Marxism and Zionism, and thus the Poalai Zion [Poale Zion] Party was formed in 1906. Poor Jews were supposed to emigrate to Palestine, where they would eventually become oppressed by the bourgeoisie, and thus would now go through the normal course of events that culminates in the revolution taught my classic Marxist ideology. (pp. 27-28).
Among relatively large Jewish political parties, the Poale Zion was not the only one that had Communist roots. The Bund incorporated several Marxist groups, including the one with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. (p. 20). The Bund was anti-religious, disguising its hostility by professing to respect private religion and only opposing "undue influence" of religion in public life. (p. 116). [This is very reminiscent of the go-into-the-closet tactics of today's anti-religionists, as in USA and Poland.]
Fast forward a few decades. In assessing Jews and Communism, Zvi points to them as both victimizers and victims. He writes, (quote) The Great Purge of 1934-1939 was not directed specifically at Jews. Indeed, a high proportion of the purgers---most of whom were eventually purged themselves--were Jews, employees of the dreaded secret police. As members of a highly urbanized, educated nationality, Jews were overrepresented in the party, government, military, academia, and police, all of which were more thoroughly purged than the general population. For every Genrikh Yagoda, the Jewish head of the secret police from 1934 until he himself was purged in 1936, there were countless former Zionists, clerics, EVSEKTSII activists, or highly assimilated Jews who were purged." (unquote)(p. 171). It was Khazanovich [Kaganovich?], a powerful Jew in the Soviet Union, who summoned leading Polish Jews Victor Alter and Henryk Erlich to a meeting in 1941. They were executed. (p. 226).
A good read.