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Blood and Ink: Russian and Soviet Jewish Chroniclers of Catastrophe from World War I to World War II


This study is about three wars that took place in Eastern Europe between 1914 and 1945 and how Russian and Soviet Jews wrote about them. It focuses on the figures S. An-sky (1863-1920), Simon Dubnov (1860-1941), Isaac Babel (1894-1940), and Vasily Grossman (1905-1964). During the First World War, An-sky provided humanitarian relief to Jewish civilians along the Eastern Front, and Dubnov was a historian and Jewish national rights activist. In 1920 Babel was a propagandist with the Red Army during the Polish-Bolshevik War. Throughout World War II Grossman served as a frontline reporter with the Red Army. Each figure witnessed and wrote about Jewish populations that suffered from military violence in the multi-ethnic frontier between historic Poland and Russia that became sites of fighting in each war.

This is the first study to compare Russian and Soviet Jewish war writing from 1914 to 1945 from a historical perspective. It explores: 1) How the experience of war in the twentieth century has correlated with the expression of Jewish identity; 2) The multiple influences and constraints, including Russian and Jewish cultural values, political goals, and wartime censorship, that have shaped the representation of Jewish war history; 3) How different generations of Jewish intellectuals depicted Jews as a people, or nation, in a time of crisis; and 4) The ways that each of the writers' individual efforts to make sense of war related to their contemporaries' representations of Jewish civilians.

The sources for this study are non-fictional texts written in Russian and Yiddish during wartime or immediately after, including diaries, memoirs, letters, documentary anthologies and journalism. Russian and Soviet Jewish war chroniclers are viewed as active participants in the histories that they sought to describe. Their writings are interpreted as chronicles, or first drafts about the catastrophic events that they witnessed.

This study's main finding is that these chroniclers helped to forge a distinctly Russian Jewish historiography of war that preceded and encompassed the period of the Holocaust. This finding contributes to the study of historiography, modern Jewish history, and national groups in Imperial Russia and the USSR.

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