Russian Jewish History

Prof. Eugene M. Avrutin

At the end of the eighteenth century the Russian Empire acquired the largest Jewish population in the world. Although Jews and Christians had lived side by side with one another for over three hundred years in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, their life-worlds were distinct. The Great War, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust radically transformed the Jews of Russia, however, and the distinct culture of Russian-Jewry remains a crucial part of Jewish heritage today.

This course will make use of primary sources, scholarly essays, archival documents, literature, memoirs, and visual culture as a way of introducing students to modern Russian Jewish History, from the imperial period to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Special topics to be examined include: Jewish culture and history under the Tsars, the breakup of the Pale of Settlement during the Great War; the role of Jews in revolution and revolutionary culture; shtetl culture; antisemitism; everyday life; the purges of the 1930s; the Jewish experience in World War II; the Holocaust; and mass emigration.

This course forms a part of Connecting (to) Histories: Engaging with the Urban Pasts and Displaying Jewish Heritage summer school.

Imagining Russian Jewry

On the eve of the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth comprised the largest Jewish population in the world. Jews lived in a highly heterogeneous society, among Poles, Germans, and Hungarians, yet they were different: in how they looked, in the language that they spoke, the religion that they practiced, and how they lived.

  • Michael Stanislawski, “History of Jews in Russia,” The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.
  • Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog, Life is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl, pp. 239-265

Transformation and Integration

World War I and its Aftermath

Becoming Soviet

The Holocaust

Postwar Reconstructions