Lega­cy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms, and Rit­u­al Mur­der in the Lands of the Soviets

January 1, 2013

This book traces the lega­cies of the two most extreme man­i­fes­ta­tions of tsarist anti­semitism-pogroms and blood libels-in the Sovi­et Union, from 1917 to the ear­ly 1960s. Close­ly inter­twined in his­to­ry and mem­o­ry, pogroms and blood libels were and are con­sid­ered cen­tral to the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in late Tsarist Rus­sia, the only coun­try on earth with large scale anti-Jew­ish vio­lence in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. But their per­sis­tence and mem­o­ry under the Bolsheviks‑a chap­ter that is large­ly over­looked by the exist­ing schol­ar­ship-sig­nif­i­cant­ly shaped the Sovi­et Jew­ish experience.

By explor­ing the phe­nom­e­non and the mem­o­ry of pogroms and blood libels in the Sovi­et ter­ri­to­ries of the inter­war peri­od as well as, after World War II, in the new­ly annexed ter­ri­to­ries, Bem­po­rad stud­ies the social real­i­ties of every­day anti­semitism through the emer­gence of com­mu­ni­ties of vio­lence and mem­o­ries of vio­lence. The fifty-year-span from the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion to the ear­ly years of Krushchev includ­ed a liv­ing gen­er­a­tion of Jews, and non-Jews alike, who remem­bered the Beilis Affair, the pogroms of the civ­il war and in some cas­es even the vio­lence of the pre­rev­o­lu­tion­ary years. Bem­po­rad also exam­ines the ways in which Jews react­ed to and remem­bered the unprece­dent­ed vio­lence of the pogroms of the Russ­ian Civ­il War, and how they respond­ed to and which strate­gies they adopt­ed to con­front accu­sa­tions of rit­u­al mur­der. By trac­ing the after­life” of pogroms and blood libels in the USSRLega­cy of Blood sheds light on the broad­er ques­tion of the chang­ing posi­tion of Jews in Sovi­et soci­ety. And by doing so it tells the sto­ry of the sol­id yet ever chang­ing and at times ambiva­lent rela­tion­ship between the Sovi­et state and the Jew­ish minor­i­ty group.

Discussion Questions

Accu­sa­tions of blood libel and vio­lent pogroms not only occurred but also were often encour­aged from above in Tzarist Rus­sia. In Lega­cy of Blood, Elis­sa Bem­po­rad breaks impor­tant new schol­ar­ly ground. Mov­ing past Sovi­et claims of hav­ing erad­i­cat­ed the blood libel and anti-Semit­ic vio­lence, Bem­po­rad traces the con­ti­nu­ities and dis­con­ti­nu­ities of anti-Jew­ish vio­lence and pro­pa­gan­da in the Sovi­et con­text. Draw­ing on a wealth of pre­vi­ous­ly unuti­lized sources, she paints a vivid, fas­ci­nat­ing, and com­plex pic­ture of the sup­pres­sion, and lat­er trans­for­ma­tion, of tra­di­tion­al anti-Jew­ish motifs in the U.S.S.R, with addi­tion­al atten­tion to their after­life over the past few decades. Her work not only trans­forms our under­stand­ing of a dis­turb­ing aspect of mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, but also con­sti­tutes an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to our broad­er under­stand­ing of vio­lence between social and polit­i­cal realities.