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Jewish Responses to Pogroms in Early Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe

Sun, December 18, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Sheraton Boston Exeter 3d Floor

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


The Panel examines Jewish responses to pogroms and persecution in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century from multiple perspectives. With anti-Jewish violence accompanying, and in many respects marking, the regions’ brutal transitions at the end of the Long Nineteenth Century, we ask how Jews thought about the violence and responded to it. The experience of pogroms was fundamental in the shaping of modern Jewish self-identifications, culture, political and social strategies. It led people to reconsider the state and the Jewish community’s relation with it and led them to reconceptualize questions of belonging and the self in a radically changing environment.
The panel takes up three case studies – the pogroms in the wake of the revolution of 1903–06, the Russian Civil War of 1917–22, and the pogroms in Galicia in 1918 – as events that shaped the region and analyzes multiple Jewish ways of conceptualizing and responding to these experiences.
The paper presented by Artur Markowski analyzes the myriad strategies Jewish activists employed during the revolution and pogroms of 1903–06 to organize ZELBSTSHUTS, showing how military planning and encounters, communal relations, and transnational migration played into the formation of individual and collective narratives of Jewish self-defense and heroism beyond the temporal and special frame.
Harriet Murav centers on artistic and documentary texts created in in revolutionary Russia and Ukraine through the biopolitical lens of abandonment, necropolitics, and the Jewish concept of HEFKER. While the technical meaning of this term is “unclaimed property,” it also refers to dispossessed human beings. In English, as in Yiddish, one can act with abandon and suffer from abandonment. The study examines both the conceptualization of violence as abandonment and the imagination of care, the restoration of life.
Finally, the paper presented by Jan Rybak approaches two key Jewish responses to ethnonationalist warfare and pogroms in Galicia in 1918: the formation of Jewish militias and the call for national autonomy. He situates these strategies in local activists’ conceptualization of the violence and argues that they both represented visions for the reshaping of inter-communal relations and the creation of a multinational society.

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