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The Revolution of 1905 and Russia's Jews (Jewish Culture and Contexts)

jan peczkis|Friday, December 2, 2011

This review is from: The Revolution of 1905 and Russia's Jews (Jewish Culture and Contexts) (Hardcover) This is a very "meaty" book, not for the casual reader, that goes far beyond the 1905 Revolution. Owing to the wealth of information presented, I touch on only a few subjects, and sometimes relate them to other incidents in various contexts outside the immediate purview of this book.

Those who say, "few Jews were revolutionaries" ignore the fact that numbers are hard to reckon. In fact, Vladimir Levin comments: "It is very hard to calculate the number of members in an underground party." (p. 112). [Identical considerations, of course, apply to the Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism).]

Semion Goldin's chapter on Jews and the tsarist Army includes some cited figures. Although Jews had been 5% of the number of soldiers in the Odessa district, they accounted for 9% of enlisted men excused on grounds of illness. In addition: "During the military exercises of 1910 in the Moscow military district, up to 50 percent of the Jews had to be exempted." (p. 72). Russian military commanders recognized the Jews' high intelligence, but contended that this intelligence was used to fake illness, engage in craftiness, escape blame for misdeeds, etc. There were proposals to allow Jews to be exempt from military service in exchange for paying a special extra tax. (p. 71). [The informed reader realizes that "Jews do not make good soldiers" was a common notion in many nations. It stemmed no doubt in part because Jews commonly lacked physical strength owing to having been largely exempt from the heavy manual labor of their gentile counterparts. To some, reservations about Jewish soldierly capabilities were not fully laid to rest until Israel's spectacular victory in the June 1967 War.]

In his chapter on the Enlightenment of Jews, Brian Horowitz writes: "Religious Jews tended to avoid the intensive study of secular subjects, while secular Jews often felt antagonistic towards religion." (p. 91). [The militancy of the atheism of many secular Jews comes up in other contexts--for example, the much-condemned Jews-as-freethinkers statement of Polish Cardinal August Hlond in 1936].

Although few authors in this volume mention the Litvaks (Litwaks), some do allude to it. Thus, Jews came to amount to 15% of the population of the Russian-occupied Kingdom of Poland, (Theodore R. Weeks, p. 279), a figure cited by Dmowski in his 1909 publication on Jews. It also becomes obvious that, contrary to the naysayers, the Litvak migration was in fact very substantial. Thus, "...a large part of this development was due to the influx of newcomers from other parts of the Russian Empire...Warsaw's Jewish population grew from roughly 125,000 in 1881 to almost 340,000 in in 1914. As a result of this movement to the city, approximately one-half of Warsaw's Jewish residents in 1905 had been born elsewhere." (Thane S. Ury, p. 98).

Theodore R. Weeks has a chapter on Jewish-Polish relations that adheres to the usual Judeocentric bias. The tone is as follows: Jews have a right to do whatever they want, and Poles have no right to object to any of this. If they do, they are automatically anti-Semitic.

Continuing this mindset, Weeks presents Dmowski and the Endeks in a superficial manner. [For a corrective, see the Peczkis-reviewed books in my Listmania: "UNDERSTANDING POLISH STATESMAN ROMAN DMOWSKI..."]. Theodore R. Weeks even presents the following unsubstantiated amazing assertion: "Most Jews did not oppose, indeed welcomed, Polish autonomy..." (p. 138). It is a fact, and not just a perception, that most erstwhile Polish Jews had long since come to terms with the Partitions of Poland, and were indifferent if not antagonistic towards Polish national goals. See, for example, the Peczkis review of: Poles and Jews: A Failed Brotherhood (Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry).

Nor is Jewish "otherness" and separatism just a perception of Russian and Polish nationalists. For example, in his chapter, Barry Trachtenberg shows the growing primacy of Yiddish in the Jewish identity. To begin with, there were 5 million Jews in the Russian Empire, and 97% of them spoke Yiddish. (p. 177). In his chapter that touches on Jewish political activism, Abraham Ascher comments: "...the Union for the Attainment of Full Rights for the Jewish People of Russia...called not only for equal rights for Jews but also for cultural autonomy, that is, for the right of Jews to maintain their own schools and their own language, namely, Yiddish." (p. 27). This was in 1905. [By 1918 and the resurrection of the Polish state, Jewish demands, as embodied in the Minorities Treaty, called for mandatory Yiddish not only in government-funded separate Jewish schools, but also in public institutions, such as courts. If enacted, it would have enshrined the Jews as a de facto separate nation living on Polish soil.]

This book frequently mentions pogroms, but only once the fact that violence was a two-way street. Agnieszka Friedrich briefly mentions the work of Julian Unszlicht, a Jew (eventually a convert to Christianity and a Catholic priest), who strongly opposed the 1905 revolutionaries in particular and the Litvaks in general for their anti-Polish attitudes and conduct, including violence against Poles. (p. 144, 283). Owing to the brevity of this citation, I provide a review of Unszlicht's 1912 book, O POGROMY LUDU POLSKIEGO (ROLA SOCIAL-LITWACTWA W NIEDAWNEJ REWOLUCJI) [ON THE POGROMS AGAINST THE POLISH PEOPLE (THE ROLE OF THE SOCIALISTS-LITVAKS IN THE RECENT REVOLUTION.)] I attach my review of Unszlicht as a Comment to this review.
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