Times of Israel: 100 years on, international conferences debate Jewish role in Russian Revolution

I don’t see much debate, just a victimization narrative.

For Jews, the fall of Tsarist Russia meant a new relative freedom: the end to the Pale of Settlement, which had prevented Jews from living in big cities, and the abolition of all other anti-Semitic laws, such as quotas for Jewish children in primary schools and discriminatory military service requirements. Soviet Russia also became the first country in the world to declare anti-Semitism a criminal offense.

But as Communism took root, it ignited a civil war that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews during the bloodiest pogroms the world would see until the Holocaust.

To commemorate the centennial of the revolution, academic conferences around the world are discussing the role Jews played in the uprising and its aftermath — and how they were affected by it.

Here’s a look at some of the events.


Were Ukrainian nationalist leaders responsible for the pogroms that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews during the Russian civil war? This and other subjects were discussed at a October 15 conference in Kiev.

The conference, entitled “Ukrainian Jews: Revolution and Post-Revolutionary Modernization” brought together scholars from Russia, Israel, the United States, Ukraine, Hungary, and western Europe for presentations on topics ranging from the Jewish Communist Party (Poalei Zion) to images of synagogues in revolutionary art.

One of the central topics was whether the leaders of Ukraine, which declared itself independent from Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1921, were responsible for the pogroms that lead to the deaths of between 50,000 and 200,000 Jews – the greatest calamity to befall the Jewish people prior to the Holocaust.

Speaking with The Times of Israel, Vitaly Chernoivanenko, the president of the Ukrainian Association for Jewish Studies and one of the organizers of the conference, said that Ukrainian leader Symon Petliura cannot be held responsible for the pogroms.

“Petliura himself didn’t support the pogroms, but he couldn’t control the situation,” said Chernoivanenko. “Petliura didn’t control the entire territory. I think he would have protected the Jews.”

He also said the Jews were not the only victims of the pogroms. . . .

But outside of Ukraine, historians disagree with this point of view.
In a phone call, Gennady Estraikh, a Jewish history professor at New York University, called this universalist approach to pogrom victims historical revisionism.