Russian Jews Between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920

Russian Jews Between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920

Oleg Budnitskii
Translated by Timothy J. Portice
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 544
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    Russian Jews Between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920
    Book Description:

    In the years following the Russian Revolution, a bitter civil war was waged between the Bolsheviks, with their Red Army of Workers and Peasants on the one side, and the various groups that constituted the anti-Bolshevik movement on the other. The major anti-Bolshevik force was the White Army, whose leadership consisted of former officers of the Russian imperial army. In the received-and simplified-version of this history, those Jews who were drawn into the political and military conflict were overwhelmingly affiliated with the Reds, while from the start, the Whites orchestrated campaigns of anti-Jewish violence, leading to the deaths of thousands of Jews in pogroms in the Ukraine and elsewhere. In Russian Jews Between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920, Oleg Budnitskii provides the first comprehensive historical account of the role of Jews in the Russian Civil War. According to Budnitskii, Jews were both victims and executioners, and while they were among the founders of the Soviet state, they also played an important role in the establishment of the anti-Bolshevik factions. He offers a far more nuanced picture of the policies of the White leadership toward the Jews than has been previously available, exploring such issues as the role of prominent Jewish politicians in the establishment of the White movement of southern Russia, the "Jewish Question" in the White ideology and its international aspects, and the attempts of the Russian Orthodox Church and White diplomacy to forestall the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The relationship between the Jews and the Reds was no less complicated. Nearly all of the Jewish political parties severely disapproved of the Bolshevik coup, and the Red Army was hardly without sin when it came to pogroms against the Jews. Budnitskii offers a fresh assessment of the part played by Jews in the establishment of the Soviet state, of the turn in the policies of Jewish socialist parties after the first wave of mass pogroms and their efforts to attract Jews to the Red Army, of Bolshevik policies concerning the Jewish population, and of how these stances changed radically over the course of the Civil War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0814-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    From 1918 to 1920, Russian Jewry¹ suffered persecution and devastation on a scale that had not been seen since the Khmelnitskii Uprising in the seventeenth century. Of all the tragedies in the annals of Jewish History, only the Holocaust would surpass this period in savagery and wanton murder. To this day, experts still differ as to the total number of Jews who perished in the pogroms, the bloodiest of which took place in Ukraine in 1919 and 1920. Literature on the subject places the total number of victims anywhere in the range of 50,000 to 200,000 killed or mortally wounded.²...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Jews in the Russian Empire, 1772–1917
    (pp. 6-33)

    The Jews “arrived” in Russia without having to leave the comfort of their homes.¹ As a result of the three Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795), the Russian Empire suddenly acquired the largest Jewish population of any country in the world. In the year 1800, 22.8 percent of the world’s Jewish population resided within Russian territory, a number that was to increase throughout the nineteenth century (46.9 percent in 1834, 50.0 percent in 1850, 53.4 percent in 1880) before decreasing in the beginning of the twentieth century (39.0 percent in 1914). The number of Jews in the Russian Empire also...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Jews and the Russian Revolution
    (pp. 34-68)

    Soon after the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the famous Russian historian and conservative journalist Dmitrii Ilovaiskii wrote in Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti (The St. Petersburg News): “Now that the body of the martyred Tsar has been given to the earth, we, the Russians, must first and foremost fulfill our holy duty to seek out the very sources of that dark force that has taken him from Russia.” Ilovaiskii expressed the conviction that Russian “nihilists and socialists” were merely “a crude, often unconscious weapon,” that they had been led to commit the crime not so much by the “enemies...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Bolsheviks and the Jews
    (pp. 69-122)

    Soon after the Bolshevik coup, a writer for the “Kadet” publication Jewish Week reported his observations on the civil servant strike then taking place. In particular, he was interested in those who were going to the Labor Ministry in search of jobs replacing the striking workers. The list of those interested numbered more than 300 individuals.

    “I had a distinctly negative impression of those gathered,” wrote M. Levin in an article titled “A Sad Event” (Grustnoe iavlenie), “they were most striking in their lack of intelligence and composure. There were some refugees from the Baltics, soldiers, young women who had...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “No Shneerzons!” The White Movement and the Jews
    (pp. 123-172)

    The White movement drew most of its support from the ranks of the military. Thus, the treatment of Jews in the Russian Army paid a particularly significant role in the formation of the Whites’ response to the “Jewish question.” In a relatively recent study, I. Petrovskii-Shtern claims that “The Russian Army has had a reputation for being one of the most, if not the most, anti-Semitic institutions of pre-revolutionary Russia.” However, he also advises caution, noting, “This commonly accepted opinion, accepted at face value by Russian and Jewish historians, demands serious reevaluation.”¹ In my opinion, the data from Petrovskii-Shtern’s own...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Trump Card: Antisemitism in White Ideology and Propaganda
    (pp. 173-215)

    In the summer of 1921, a minor scandal broke out in the Russian émigré community in Paris. The prominent SR activist A. A. Argunov refused to join a book preservation society that had recently been organized by the historian S. G. Svatikov. The main reason for Argunov’s refusal was Svatikov’s former activity in the Osvag (an acronym for the osvedomitel’no-agitatsionnoe otdelenie, the White propaganda department). In a letter to Svatikov dated July 4, 1921, Argunov writes, “You knew where you were going when you decided to work for the Osvag. It is hardly a coincidence you are trying to distance...

  10. CHAPTER 6 In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Pogroms of 1918–1920
    (pp. 216-274)

    The pogroms that occurred during the Civil War were unprecedented in terms of their cruelty and scale. At various times, historians have proposed various rational explanations for their occurrence. The most commonly cited motivations include: revenge for Jewish participation in the Bolshevik movement and the destruction of Russia, economic factors (which had become all the more keenly felt during the collapse of everyday life), and even the simple base desire to loot and plunder, which many pogromists undoubtedly had. Other more concrete justifications have included the Jewish votes in the Rada that opposed Ukrainian independence, gunshots allegedly fired at retreating...

  11. Gallery
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER 7 Russian Liberalism and the “Jewish Question”
    (pp. 275-295)

    The Russian Civil War proved to be a severe test for the theoretical and moral convictions of Russian liberals. For the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets), the only organized political force that continued to profess liberal values after the events of 1917, the “Jewish question” was particularly trying.

    Often criticized from parties to the right of them for being too “Jewish,” the Kadets were in favor of equal rights for Jews. M. M. Vinaver, one of their leaders, was also the head of a number of Jewish organizations, and a significant portion of their activities (publishing in particular) were financed by...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The “Jewish Question,” White Diplomacy, and the Western Democracies
    (pp. 296-333)

    The attitude of the White leadership toward the Western democracies ranged from skeptical to outright hostile. In the opinion of some (including Kolchak and Denikin), the Western democracies were guilty of meddling in the internal affairs of Russia. Nonetheless, the Whites were forced to take the demands of the Western democracies into account, as the West provided military and material support for the anti-Bolshevik movement. In exchange, the Whites would pay lip service to Western demands that they move toward adopting democratic standards. For the most part, the Whites limited themselves to creating various announcements, declarations, and statements that allegedly...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Battling Balfour: White Diplomacy, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Problem of the Establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine
    (pp. 334-355)

    Huddled in Odessa in February 1919, in the midst of the Russian Civil War, Platon, the Metropolitan of Kherson and Odessa and the representative of the All-Russian Patriarch in the South of Russia, had many problems to ponder.¹ The Patriarch, Tikhon, was effectively under house arrest. The Orthodox faithful were slaughtering one another in terrifying numbers, to say nothing of their depredations against the non-Orthodox. The Metropolitan’s attention was, nonetheless, directed elsewhere: to the fate of the Christian holy places in Palestine.

    On February 2 (15), 1919, Platon wrote to Anatolii Anatolievich Neratov,² acting head of the Department of Foreign...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Jews and the Red Army
    (pp. 356-405)

    In the spring of 1919, the conscription of Jews into the ranks of the Red Army became a pressing issue for the Bolshevik leadership. This was due to two factors. First, the Bolshevik military leadership was under pressure due to the advancement of anti-Bolshevik forces on all fronts. Second, military action had begun to take place in former Pale territories, which contained a substantial Jewish population.

    As the Civil War entered its decisive phase, the Jewish socialist parties changed their stance toward the Bolshevik authorities. This was due both to the advancing counterrevolutionary threat, and to a change in the...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 406-414)

    The Russian Civil War of 1917–20 irrevocably affected the lives of Jews in the former Russian Empire. What had recently been the largest Jewish community in the world now found itself split among the several states that emerged after the conclusion of the First World War. The largest number of Jews now resided in Poland, which had annexed parts of Ukraine and Belorussia in accordance with the Peace of Riga. Large numbers of Jews lived in the newly independent Baltic states, while the Jews of Bessarabia were now Romanian citizens.

    According to various sources, anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 415-488)
    (pp. 489-492)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 493-506)
    (pp. 507-508)