The discovery of the mutilated body of a young boy in Kiev led to the false arrest of a Jewish laborer named Mendel Beilis. Ignoring the argument of investigating officers, the Russian government under Tsar Nicholas II pressed ahead with the prosecution of Beilis, arguing that the boy was murdered as part of a Passover-related Jewish plot. After two years’ imprisonment, Beilis was freed by a Ukrainian Jewry that could not be persuaded to agree with the Russian prosecutor. Part of the This Week in Jewish History series by Dr. Henry Abramson.
Solomon Mikhoels (1890-1948) was one of the most prominent actors and directors in early Soviet Russia. His career coincides with the brief flourishing of Yiddish culture under the policy of korenizatsiia, or “indiginization,” when the Communist authorities sought to develop folk culture as a means of developing loyalty to the new regime and its ideology. Performing in Shakespeare and Sholom Aleichem with equal grace, Mikhoels was a hero to Jews throughout the Soviet Union until Stalin brought the liberal policy to an abrupt end.
Shimon Dubnow (1860-1941), a noted historian and activist whose theories of Jewish survival in the diaspora were extremely influential in the shaping Jewish identity in the modern world, from the future of Russian Jewry to the establishment of the modern Federation movement in the United States. Dubnow’s scholarship was inextricably intertwined with the effort to establish equal rights for Jews in the Tsarist Empire during a period of phenomenal change. Martyred at the hands of the Nazis, his last words were “shrayb–un farshrayb” (write..and record), a Yiddish phrase that has motivated generations of Jewish historians.
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Nathan of Hanover is best known for his moving chronicle of the Khmel’nyts’kyi (Chmielnicki) Rebellion. Entitled Yeven Metsulah (“The Abyss of Despair”), it records with remarkable fairness the social, political, economic and religious background of the mid-17th century Ukrainian movement against the Poles, along with the horrible pogroms perpetrated in the context of that violent era. His analysis of the overall demographic impact of the attacks has been challenged by modern scholarship, but Hanover’s powerful treatment of the martyrdom of Ukrainian Jewry made a powerful impact on Jewish memory for centuries.
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