Lenin’s Jew­ish Question

Yohanan Petro­vsky-Shtern 9780300152104
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
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.

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