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Lenin's Jewish Question

Lenin's Jewish Question

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Lenin's Jewish Question
    Book Description:

    In this first examination of Lenin's genealogical and political connections to East European Jews, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern reveals the broad cultural meanings of indisputable evidence that Lenin's maternal grandfather was a Jew. He examines why and how Lenin's Jewish relatives converted to Christianity, explains how Lenin's vision of Russian Marxism shaped his identity, and explores Lenin's treatment of party colleagues of Jewish origin and the Jewish Question in Europe. Petrovsky-Shtern also uncovers the continuous efforts of the Soviet communists to suppress Lenin's Jewishness and the no less persistent attempts of Russian extremists to portray Lenin as a Jew. In this fascinating book, Petrovsky-Shtern expands our understanding not only of Lenin, but also of Russian and Soviet handling of the Jewish Question.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16860-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: How and Why This Book Was Written
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  4. I From Nowhere to Zhitomir
    (pp. 1-27)

    In the beginning there was a scandal. It took place in January 1841 in the civil court of Zhitomir, the central town of Volhynia province of the Russian Empire. Finkelshtein, a Jewish woman dwelling in Zhitomir, sued a man named Blank. Or perhaps Blank sued Finkelshtein. An unpaid debt worth several dozen rubles was at stake. In the courtroom the litigation turned into an animated exchange. Blank’s allegations and her own plight as an impoverished Jewish woman drove Finkelshtein mad. She turned to scolding, expressing herself in impeccable Yiddish. First she yelled at Blank, a miserable Jew, who alowed his...

  5. II The Imperial Moshko
    (pp. 28-63)

    Genealogists tell us that Moshko Itsikovich Blank was born between 1758 and 1763.¹ His place of birth is unknown. No doubt he was an Ashkenazic, Yiddish-speaking Jew, born to a traditional Jewish family in the pre-partitioned Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Blank was not a normative Polish-Jewish last name, but not a rarity either. There were a number of Blanks in the vicinity, not necessarily relatives of Moshko Blank from Starokonstantinov, including Faivel Blank, a purveyor to the Russian army from Odessa, and yet another Moshko Blank, a guild merchant from Kamenets.

    Miriam Froimovich, Moshko’s wife and Lenin’s great-grandmother, was a native of...

  6. III Lenin, Jews, and Power
    (pp. 64-99)

    In June 1870, Lenin’s parents, Mariia Blank and Il’ia Ulianov, arrived in the village of Kokushkino with their newborn baby boy. That summer, Alexander Blank’s five daughters, sons-in-law, and multiple grandchildren came together at the family estate. Spending vacations in Kokushkino had long been the family tradition. This visit, however, was a special occasion for Mariia Blank and Il’ia Ulianov. They were coming to the Blanks’ estate to introduce two-month-old Vladimir to his sixty-six-year-old grandfather, an experienced medical doctor and specialist in obstetrics and in naturopathic and balneal medicine. The baptized yet circumcised Alexander Blank examined his uncircumcised and baptized...

  7. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  8. IV Glue for the Vertebrae
    (pp. 100-133)

    In one of his poems Osip Mandelshtam asked,“My epoch, my beast, who will dare look into your eyes, who will glue together with his blood the vertebrae of two centuries?”

    The revolutionary regime had an answer to this question. The Bolsheviks would glue the centuries together with the imperial blood of Russian statehood. The autocracy of the tsar became the autocracy of the party, the iconic symbols of the empire turned into the iconic symbols of communism, and the old tsarist administration merged into the new communist bureaucracy. Furthermore, Soviet identity inherited the all-Russian identity; as under the tsars, Russia...

  9. V How Lenin Became Blank
    (pp. 134-168)

    The communist ideologists who expurgated the Blanks from Lenin’s genealogy and the Russian fascists seeking to banish Jews from the annals of Russian culture converged in the view that Jews had no place in Russian history, either Imperial or Soviet. It is owing to this improbable commonality that Lenin was identified as a Jew after the collapse of communism. To contextualize the Judaization of Lenin by the post-communist far right, one must sketch the conceptualization of the Russian revolution in Russian conservative thought in the twentieth century—a task which in itself deserves a series of solid studies.

    Russian conservative...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-172)

    We are told that history books should ask serious questions and provide serious answers. I followed a slightly different direction by asking an irrelevant question and seeking relevant answers. Some of the answers to Lenin’s Jewish question, how ever, may be more relevant than others.

    By the time Mariia Aleksandrovna Blank became Mariia Ulianova, the Blanks had become spiritually, religiously, biologically, and culturally Russian. A historian calling Lenin’s mother a Jewess should be considered a psychiatric case rather than a racist. Focused on power and centralism, Lenin hardly cared about Jews at all. And Jews had little, if any, place...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 173-174)
  12. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 175-176)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 177-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-198)