Was Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the successful Bolshevik Communist seizure of power in Russia, a Jew or of Jewish origin? Lenin’s Jewish Question, addresses a question that should not really matter, but does for many people. Archival evidence was repeatedly suppressed under the Soviets, beginning in the 1920’s, when Lenin’s sister sought to fight rising anti-Semitism by seeking to reveal the identity of his grandfather, a litigious Yiddish-speaking Jew named Moyshe Blank who converted to Orthodox Christianity. Even the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, took pains to conceal and lock away evidence of the Soviet founder’s partly Jewish ancestry. Since the collapse of the USSR, some Russian nationalist writers and historians have attempted to use the faint Jewish connection to besmirch Communism and Jews. This slim volume is fascinating, as the author skillfully reveals the archival evidence about Lenin’s family origins and describes the fate of the evidence and those who had the temerity to try to reveal it against the wishes of the Soviet leadership, from Stalin to Gorbachev. Illustrations, index, notes.
Robert Moses Shapiro teaches modern Jewish history, Holocaust studies, and Yiddish language and literature at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His most recent book is The Warsaw Ghetto Oyneg Shabes-Ringelblum Archive: Catalog and Guide (Indiana University Press in association with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Library and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, 2009). He is currently engaged in translating Polish and Yiddish diaries from the Łódź ghetto and the Yiddish Sonderkommando documents found buried in the ash pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau.