Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 5 (2015), 3 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Nick Underwood


The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937. Ed. by Jörg Schulte / Olga Tabachnikova / Peter Wagstaff. Leiden, Bosten, MA: Brill, 2012. XII, 443 S., 20 Abb. = IJS Studies in Judaica, 13. ISBN: 978-90-04-22714-9.




Born out of several conferences and workshops in the UK and Israel between 2008 and 2010, The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937 attempts to codify the study of the diasporic experience and cultural activity of Russian Jews in Western Europe in the period between the two world wars (p. xi). Employing a transnational approach, the authors in this volume maximize the benefits of this analytic tool by highlighting transnationalism from below”, which Luis Eduardo Guarnizo describes as subversive popular resistance to [and] conscious and successful efforts by ordinary people to escape control and domination from above by capital and the state”. (Luis Eduardo Guarnizo: The Locations of Transnationalism, in: Luis Eduardo Guarnizo / Michael Peter Smith [eds.]: Transnationalism From Below. New Brunswick 1998, p. 5.) In a collection of essays focused on the study of Jewish migration from Russia at its core, this approach bears much fruit. Here, transnational is clarified by focusing on the transnational Russian-Jewish community with its homeland in the Russian Empire, small bases in most central and western European metropolises and a substantial new settlement [during the late nineteenth century] in Canada and the United States(p. 2). Building outward from this base, the authors in The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937 complement their use of the transnational approach with an eye towards evaluating cultural identity and cultural continuity.

According to François Guesnet, in his agenda-setting introduction to the volume, cultural continuity implies an idea of shared religious, cultural, emotional and moral values, realized through practices of social and cultural bonding … [and that] … cultural identity in the context of a diasporic situation is reasserted on a day-to-day basis in a variety of social contexts: being active in a voluntary association, meeting with friends in a coffee house, participating in the deliberations of a political party or the board of a religious congregation, discussing family issues and the prospects for the childrens education (p. 3). In essence, cultural continuity creates what Guesnet calls a fiction”. To borrow a different term, cultural continuity, in the absence of a state-based formula on which to identify, is the axis on which an imagined community is formed within migrant communities. Broken out into four parts, The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937, through both studies focused on individuals, such as Hayim Nahman Bialik and the implications for work he translated, and on broader social and cultural forces, for example Eastern European Communists in Paris, brings together a wide array of scholarship, which all build successfully upon the conceptual relationship between transnationalism and cultural continuity.

Part I, titled Russian Jewish Translators and Writers, includes pieces by Anat Feinberg, Marianna Prigozhina, Glenda Abramson, and Zoya Kopelman. In each contribution, the focus is primarily on an individual (two look at Bialik) and how migration affected a writers aesthetic style, as is the case in Glenda Abramsons study of how David Vogels work changed once he settled in Paris after World War I, or how migration enabled figures such as Bialik to maintain their efforts to create a secular Hebrew culture. These cultural efforts thwarted by Communist Russia, but maintained in diaspora, are Mariana Prigozhinas focus in her study of Bialiks translation of Don Quixote, which he completed and published in 1923 – two years after settling in Berlin. Abramson and Prigozhina both make compelling and complementary claims about how Bialiks decision to translate (and alter vastly though the omission, alteration, and paraphrasing of certain passages) Don Quixote into Hebrew, as Prigozhina argues, transformed a foreign book into a national book (p. 33). In Abramsons work on Vogel, she makes a similar claim about how the contexts of migration and diaspora affect the use of aesthetics for national, social, and cultural reasons. Through a close read of works created in Paris, Abramson argues that It was in Paris that [Vogels] modernist European sensibility was consolidated … as a stylistic innovator [Vogel] made an important contribution to Hebrew modernism through his encounters with the expatriate Jewish artistic community [in Paris] (p. 53). According to Abramson, Vogel balanced European modernism and Hebrew literary modernism, which he learned to do because of his encounter with a variety of Russian-Jewish modernist artists, all of whom influenced and affirmed his diasporic identity built upon sensibilities of a European writer”.

Part II, Interpretations of Past and Present of Jewish Culture, features Albert I. Baumgarten, Jörg Schulte, Olga Tabachnikova, Vladimir Khazan, Olaf Terpitz, and Harriet Murav. Within this set of work, the focus opens beyond the individual focus preferred in Part I to analyze more closely the role that dress, literature, psychoanalyses, politics, and cities themselves have in transmitting a sense of cultural continuity within Russian-Jewish communities in diaspora. Baumgartens study of Elias Bickerman (a twentieth century historian of Jewish antiquity who left Russia in 1922 for Berlin and then Paris at the end of 1933) argues that although Elias Bickerman was writing in German and responding in part to the circumstances of the Jews in the twentieth century … the conceptual framework behind his analysis, the template on which he was constructing his understanding of what happened in the second century BCE, was both Russian and Jewish (p. 76). Put simply, Baumgarten claims that although Bickerman wrote in German, he remained Russian, and that writing about Jewish topics in German was his way of engaging European culture with the goal of highlighting a usable Russian-Jewish past”. In addition to Baumgarten, the essays in this section all, to borrow and generalize Tabach­nikovas claims, place [] [individual case studies] in the broader cultural context of the epoch and to reconstruct a landscape of the cultural-ideological concerns and attitudes with the Russian-Jewish Diaspora (p. 127).

Part III, centers on New Sources on Russian Jewish Influences in Music, Art and Publishing and showcases the work of Agnieszka W. Wierzcholska, Jascha Nemtsov, Serge-Aljosja Stommels and Albert Lemmens, Susanne Marten-Finnis, Boris Czerny, and Christina Lodder. The range of topics covers immigrant Jews in Paris and how daily and weekly Yiddish-language newspapers treated Birobidzhan, Vienna as a new center of Jewish music during the interwar period, journalism, graphic arts in childrens literature publications, reception of and reaction to the Schwartzbard trial, and El Lissitzky – the Belorussian artist whom Lodder claims straddled the worlds of the shtetl and the technologically advanced West (p. 343) and did not, contrary to belief, abandon his Jewishness. Like several other figures in this volume, El Lissitzkys migratory experience gave him the opportunity to balance a wide-range of ethnic, linguistic, and national identities and create new fluid allegiances, and multiple aesthetic identities (p. 344). Wierzcholskas also helps to further claims put forth in The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937 about cultural continuity and Russian-Jewishness created in diaspora. Through an investigation of how the Yiddish press in Paris, such as the dailies Naye prese, Parizer haynt, and the weeklies 7 teg ilustrirt, Pariz, and Ilustrirte yidishe prese, covered developments in Birobidzhan, Wierzcholska highlights how the search for models for a Jewish identity abroad with its problematic issues of change and continuity emerges at different levels in the commentaries of the Yiddish press []. The old home was criticized in regard to the experience of the ghetto and of anti-Semitism, yet the formation of a new society, especially the new model of a labouring modern Jewish life, additionally linked with elements of Jewish culture, fascinated the immigrant Jewish publicists in Paris (p. 233).

Part IV, Repositories of the Russian Jewish Diaspora, includes works by Viktor Kelner, Efim Melamed, Alexander Ivanov, and Leonid Katsis. This final section focuses primarily on institutions and illuminates how transnationalism and cultural continuity with regard to the Russian-Jewish diaspora during the interwar period extends well beyond Jews themselves, but to the archives and support and training organizations they helped develop, such as ORT, YIVO and the Ostjüdisches Historisches Archiv.

The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937 significantly contributes to the field of East, Central, and Western European Jewish history and the overall field of transnational, cultural, and Jewish studies. Sadly, space does not allow for more complete analysis and exploration of the twenty-one contributions to this book, and that some chapters are not discussed here should not be taken to mean that they are any less valuable to the overall success of this excellently edited volume – each of the books chapters will be of great interest to scholars of the field.

Nick Underwood, Boulder, CO

Zitierweise: Nick Underwood über: The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917–1937. Ed. by Jörg Schulte / Olga Tabachnikova / Peter Wagstaff. Leiden, Bosten, MA: Brill, 2012. XII, 443 S., 20 Abb. = IJS Studies in Judaica, 13. ISBN: 978-90-04-22714-9, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Underwood_Schulte_The_Russian_Jewish_Diaspora.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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