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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Russian Revolution’

Poland And WWI

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

     Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

 

      Traveling around Poland, I would come across signs saying that a battle took place here or there. In some cemeteries there is a section for soldiers killed during WWI, from both sides, but facts are lacking.

 

     I recently came across a book called, The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I, by S. Ansky, which describes the situation of the Jews living in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia and Poland in great detail. S. Ansky, (1863-1920) whose real name was, Shloyme Zanvel ben Aaron Rappaport, was a Russian Yiddish, historian, journalist and writer, best known for the play, The Dybuk. Ansky started out life rejecting Judaism and the Yiddish language but in 1905 he became a champion of Yiddish culture.

 

       The early 20th century was a time of chaos for the Jewish community in the Pale of Settlement, Poland and Galicia. The pogroms, especially in Kishenov, were brutal with many Jews emigrating to try to escape rampant anti-Semitism. Ansky set out to preserve what he could of Jewish and Yiddish culture. He undertook an expedition throughout the Pale and Galicia in 1911, where he gathered books, manuscripts and varied artifacts of Judaica that were deposited in the Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg.

 

     At the start of WWI, Ansky took up the cause of the Jews that he had gotten to know so well during his trips. He traveled from town-to-town – shtetl-to-shtetl setting up relief committees distributing money and recording everything he saw.

 

     He described the atrocities he witnessed as the worst afflicted against the Jewish people since the destruction of the Second Bait HaMikdash.He writes about whole towns being burnt to the ground, with only the chimneys remaining.

 

     In Galicia that had been under Austrian-Hungarian rule for over a hundred years the Cossacks were especially brutal. They accused the Jewish population of being spies, using telephone signals, fires and other means of passing information to the enemy.

 

       Dressed as a Russian officer Ansky was able to travel in areas that were closed to civilians and often heard remarks not intended for Jewish ears. “Everyone knows all Jews are spies,” was the refrain he heard over and over again. Wherever he could he would adamantly deny these accusations and would at times come between the marauding Cossacks and their victims.

 

    Starting in St. Petersburg, Ansky traveled to Brody, then to the frontlines at Tarnow, then to Lvov, Preszmyl, and Sokol. He mentions trips to Rawa, Ruska, Bukovina, Kaminetzand Sadegura, where the Russian Revolution caught up with the Russian Army.

 

     The Russians attacked the Jewish population and they stole, beat up, and burned whatever they could find. While Ansky was not religious he shows compassion to the plight of the religious community. He would seek out the rabbi of each town he visited and would often report about the status of the synagogue. Passover food was one of his special concerns and he was even influential in getting matzah to frontline troops as well as a furlough for troops in the rear.

 

           In Sadegura he described the Rebbe’s court in great detail. “There was a 24-piece band that played at every meal and his carriage was drawn by six horses. His home and synagogue were like palaces and the Rebbe himself was a miracle worker.”

 

      The Rebbe’s home as well as the synagogue were used as field hospitals but when he entered the synagogue he found that someone had put a Christian icon in the Aron HaKodesh. He also discovered that the cemetery had been desecrated and the grave of the Rizhiner Rebbe had been dug up and the bones stolen.

 

      Just 25 years before the Holocaust, the Russians exiled approximately 600,000 Jews and over 100,000 were killed in a three-year time frame.

 

    In The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War, Ansky gives a detailed first-hand report of all that happened to the Jews during WWI. The details are quite fascinating. The notes on every person he met, every town he visited, his personal reflections, small tidbits of history, along with his tremendous fervor to bring to light the subject of Jewish victims of WWI, are not found in any other book.

Title: The Orientalist: Solving The Mystery Of A Strange and Dangerous Life

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Title: The Orientalist: Solving The Mystery Of A Strange and Dangerous Life
Author: Tom Reiss
Publisher: Random House, New York, NY

 

This biography/adventure story of Essad Bey, nee Kurban Said, born Lev Nussimbaum, creatively ties together many disparate elements in a wonderful tour de force that is both enchanting and spell-binding. Reiss masterfully covers many subjects including the fin de siecle, the Russian Revolution, Berlin of the Weimar Republic, the oil discoveries, the exploration of Baku, and many others.

Reiss’ story introduces the reader to a young boy, the son of a landed multi-millionaire and oil-baron, who has a tremendous affinity for language acquisition and a voracious appetite for reading literature in numerous languages. Having had a German nanny at an early age, Nussimbaum easily achieved mastery of various European languages, as well as his native Georgian (southern Russia), Persian (Farsi), Russian, and Polish.

Baku, previously a walled caravan outpost that always contained a Jewish population, became the center of the early twentieth-century’s burgeoning oil production industry and supplied more than half the world’s output of crude oil. The profits were enormous, and Baku soon became home to the likes of the Rothschilds, the Nobels (yes they were Jewish) and dozens of others. During World War II, Hitler’s covetousness for this oil-rich region caused the sacrifice of his entire Sixth Army. He sent troops to Stalingrad where they faced disaster at the hands of the defending Russians.

After the war, rather than being rewarded for fueling the Russian victory, the Azerbaijan area’s citizens were deported to Siberia by Stalin, and this area and its oil industry were allowed to languish.

Reiss’ story begins with his meeting with Peter Mayer, the director of Overlook Press, who wished to publish a romantic novel by Kurban Said named “Ali and Nino.” The setting was in the Caucasus on the eve of the Russian Revolution, and the book was originally published in German in 1937.

The book was revived in English and other languages in the ’70s, but the question of the real identity of the author had never been resolved. The only common agreement was that “Kurban Said” was the nom de plume of a writer who was variously described as having come from Baku and was either a nationalist poet who was killed in the Gulag; the dilettante son of an oil millionaire; or a Viennese café-society writer who died in Italy after stabbing himself in the foot.

Absolutely no one had guessed that “Kurban Said” was really Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew, who during his short life, acted out a real-life “Walter Mitty” existence that was more unbelievable than that recounted in his nearly 40 famous books and biographies.

Mayer needed Reiss’ assistance to research Said’s background because he was being challenged by a Viennese lawyer over the proper author credit. After attending this meeting together with his publisher friend – Reiss was “hooked,” and thus began his five year journey toward the truth.

That he was exploring a truly fascinating individual may be exemplified by his discovery that Nussimbaum theorized (and even tantalized the Nazis) with the speculation that the Jews of Azerbaijan were descended from the Khazar tribes (see Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari, and Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe) and thus were Aryan allies rather than Semitic enemies. The Khazar Kagan became a crucial buffer state between the Muslim and Christian worlds during the 7th century, C.E., and were pagans and shamanists (even practicing human sacrifice) until they decided to convert en masse to Judaism.

This richly annotated volume introduces us to many footnotes of history, including such tidbits that the modern Israeli Navy was born of a 1930s Italian Fascist training program, and that the Italian dictator Mussolini endowed a Fascist chair at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The Orientalist is as much a history of a certain period as it is the story of a life, and Reiss makes a yeoman’s work at determining the various influences of history that came to bear upon his protagonist, clearly humanizing his character and separating fact from fiction.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-the-orientalist-solving-the-mystery-of-a-strange-and-dangerous-life/2005/02/16/

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