Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917-1920

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After the fall of the Russian Empire, Jewish and Ukrainian activists worked to overcome previous mutual antagonism by creating a Ministry of Jewish Affairs within the new Ukrainian state and taking other measures to satisfy the national aspirations of Jews and other non-Ukrainians. This bold experiment ended in terrible failure as anarchic violence swept the countryside amidst civil war and foreign intervention. Pogromist attacks resulted in the worst massacres of Jews in Europe in almost three hundred years. Some 40 percent of these pogroms were perpetrated by troops ostensibly loyal to the very government that was simultaneously extending unprecedented civil rights to the Jewish population. Henry Abramson explores this paradox and sheds new light on the relationship between the various Ukrainian governments and the communal violence, focusing especially on the role of Symon Petliura, the Ukrainian leader later assassinated by a Jew claiming revenge for the pogroms. A Prayer for the Government treats a crucial period of Ukrainian and Jewish history, and is also a case study of ethnic violence in emerging political entities. This revised edition contains a new Foreword and Afterword by the author.

Praise for the First Edition (Harvard, 1999)

“Abramson provides a serious, thoughtful, and carefully worded work…the most balanced and complete existing account [of the pogroms of 1919] in the secondary literature…it is hoped that future scholars will take his professional spirit and tone to further a productive dialogue about the mistakes, misunderstandings, lost opportunities of this dark chapter in Ukrainian and Jewish history.”

Dr. Erik Lohr, Kritika

“Extremely sober, scholarly, and morally balanced…a model of scholarly objectivity…Henry Abramson has written an important work that deserves a broad audience.”

Dr. Theodore R. Weeks, Nationalities Papers

“Henry Abramson has written a landmark book on Ukrainian-Jewish Relations during the Revolution…Abramson’s book rises above national agendas to provide an objective analysis of the complex revolutionary period…new archival evidence confirms Abramson’s analysis…Abramson’s book deserves praise as an outstanding contribution to the field.”

Dr. Serhy Yekelchyk, The Russian Review

“Abramson’s book opens a new page in the historiography of Jewish-Ukrainian relations; for a change, Jews are not called communists and Ukrainians are not condemned as fascists…Recommended for all college libraries.”

Dr. Andrew Ezergailis, Choice

“Voici un livre à traduire d’urgence de l’anglais. Le double patronage des instituts de Harvard [i.e. the Center for Jewish History and the Ukrainian Research Institute] qui le cautionnent est déjà une garantie, mais la lecture confirme la solidité de la recherche.”

Danylo Karsnowicki, Bulletin de l’Association française des études ukrainiennes

Imperative for any historian to approach the material with clear-headed and sober judgement. Abramson reaches this standard, providing a distinct service to scholarship and to memory.”

Dr. Joshua Rubinstein, H-Net

“Abramson does for the 1918-20 pogroms what other recent scholarship has done for earlier pogroms: he removes the ‘myth’ of the pogrom by conducting extensive research to reveal the ‘facts’…Abramson is joining the chorus of Jewish scholars whose goal is the demystification of modern antisemitism by revealing its political, socio-economic and, in the case of a pogrom, mass psychological sources…At the same time, Abramson’s main story is not Ukrainian violence against Jews, which is all most people remember after Schwartzbard and Babi Yar, but the hope of Ukrainian and Jewish intellectuals that, in a post-tsarist world, Jews and Ukrainians can live in harmony.”

Dr. David Shneer, East European Jewish Affairs

“Few topics in Eastern European history are as complex, emotional, and politically charged as Ukrainian-Jewish relations, all the more so during the troubled times of the Russian Revolution…In his first monograph, Henry Abramson plunges head on into this forbidding swamp. The result is a thoughtful, lucid, and levelheaded study…the most authoritative study to date…one can only hope that this book will soon be translated into Ukrainian and Hebrew. Both Jewish and Ukrainian historians and laymen who have been long accustomed to view each other and this ear in black and white terms will benefit from the nuanced, thoughtful gray that colors Abramson’s study.”

Dr. Amir Weiner, Polin

“Abramson’s impressive command of Ukrainian and Jewish sources lends itself to a critical shift toward the understanding of modern ethnic conflict as a radically contingent phenomenon rather than an escalation of venerable ‘historic hatreds.’”

Dr. Olga Litvak, Association for Jewish Studies Review

This important study takes a new look at a critical period of Jewish-Ukrainian relations that has been at the center of many controversies, both in the politics of the time and in historiography up to the present day. The book is based on a thorough examination of the available published sources and on a host of hitherto inaccessible and unused archival materials. Henry Abramson approaches the different historiographical problems, over which the Jewish and Ukrainian communities are deeply divided, with great care and circumspection. The result is a highly readable book, breaking new ground and attaining a degree of objectivity that might settle most of the thorny issues involved.”

Dr. Heinz-Dietrich Löwe, The Journal of Modern History

In the best tradition of historical scholarship, Abramson transcends the parochial, stereotypical, and apologetic tone which divided Jewish and Ukrainian writings into highly subjective trends of interpretation…What we get instead is a balanced and well researched interpretative analysis of the circumstances that brought about the sudden blooming—and withering—of a “newborn friendship” between Jews and Ukrainians. Viewing this relationship from both perspectives, Abramson’s Prayer is as much a chapter of Ukrainian as it is of Jewish history…A Prayer for the Government is a must for scholars and laymen alike.”

Dr. Erich Haberer, Shofar

“Abramson does a ground breaking job of cutting through the myths…Abramson’s study goes beyond the stale debate of ‘who was the most guilty of pogroms’ to explore the political motives of politically active Ukrainians and Jews in a broader context…Abramson’s study is a major contribution to the field, reminding us of impossibility of understanding the Russian Empire and its Soviet successor without reference to their component nationalities, not the least the Ukrainians and the Jews.”

Dr. John D. Klier, The Historian



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