Anti-Jew­ish Vio­lence: Rethink­ing the Pogrom in East Euro­pean History

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, David Gaunt, Natan M. Meir and Israel Bar­tal, eds.

  • Review
By – December 27, 2011

Inspired by the work of the late his­to­ri­an John Kli­er, who helped reframe how schol­ars now under­stand anti-Jew­ish vio­lence in late Impe­r­i­al Rus­sia and the ear­ly Sovi­et Union, the arti­cles in this book are a prod­uct of an inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic con­fer­ence he helped orga­nize in Stock­holm in May 2005. Kli­er inspired many schol­ars to ques­tion the pre­vail­ing assump­tions about the con­nec­tion between the Russ­ian regime and pogroms, there­by chal­leng­ing the dom­i­nant nation­al nar­ra­tives of East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish cul­ture and mem­o­ry on the issue of Russ­ian anti-Jew­ish violence.

The edi­tors and authors, com­ing from Europe, the Unit­ed States, and Israel, offer analy­sis based on new­ly avail­able pri­ma­ry sources that pro­vide con­text and nuance to the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom regard­ing Russ­ian gov­ern­men­tal respon­si­bil­i­ty and com­plic­i­ty. It turns out that although the pogrom became a cen­tral part of the Russ­ian dis­course of vio­lence, eas­i­ly remem­bered and eas­i­ly invoked, the research also sug­gests that local, nation­al, and transna­tion­al con­di­tions and respons­es often deter­mined how dead­ly and how like­ly they were to occur. There are valu­able con­tri­bu­tions in the book that under­score the need to explore region­al” vari­a­tions in Poland, Ukraine, Belorus­sia, Lithua­nia, Crimea, and Siberia. There is also new research on who the pogromshchi­ki were, who sup­port­ed and encour­aged them and for what pur­pose, and their over­all impact on soci­ety gen­er­al­ly and the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty specif­i­cal­ly. There are par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant chap­ters by Vladimir Levin on pre­vent­ing pogroms, Natan M. Meir on the impact of pogroms on every­day Jew­ish life and self-under­stand­ing, and Claire Le Foll on the miss­ing pogroms of Belorus­sia in 1881 – 2, shed­ding light on the motives for the absence of vio­lence in some regions while they raged in oth­ers. This vol­ume sig­nif­i­cant­ly advances the schol­ar­ship on the roots and nature of pogroms in Rus­sia and will be of inter­est to those who want to learn more about East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish life.

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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