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Jews and Politics in the Twentieth Century: From the Bund to the Rise of the Nazis

Just as one cannot speak in monolithic terms about Jewish art and literature, no single type of Jewish politics has existed in the modern period. Jews have participated in the political life of many countries and across the ideological spectrum. The Hoover Institution Archives has many collections that touch on Jews in politics, but only certain, specifically Jewish organizations and movements are relevant to a survey of Judaica-related holdings in the archives.

One such organization was the Jewish Bund (Allgemeyner Idisher arbeyterbund in Lita, Poylen un Rusland in its transliterated Yiddish form), which played an important role in the history of the Russian revolutionary movement in the decades before 1917. As its name indicates, the Bund was active in the areas (Poland, Lithuania, and Russia itself) of the Russian empire with the largest Jewish populations, primarily in the original Pale of Settlement, to which the Jews had been historically restricted by tsarist decree.

The Bund sought to emancipate Jewish workers on the basis of a program of emancipation in the context of the overthrow of tsarist rule and the establishment of socialism. Thus the Bund, which was considered to be part of the broad Social Democratic movement, was ideologically opposed to Zionism, whose goal was not social revolution but the establishment of a separate Jewish homeland, a project eventually pursued in Palestine. On the left, the Bund's insistence on the necessity of a specifically Jewish workers' organization brought it into conflict with other currents of the socialist movement, in whose ranks many Jews could also be found but whose ideologies stressed the unity of the working class beyond national or ethnic differences.

Boris I. Nicolaevsky collection

The Boris I. Nicolaevsky and the Okhrana (Russia. Department politsii. Zagranichnaia agentura (Paris)) collections in the archives have significant materials on the Bund's membership, activities, and publications. The documents from the Paris branch of the Okhrana (the tsarist secret police) reveal official attitudes towards the Bund, and contain files on individual Bund members, as well as summaries of Bund correspondence intercepted by the Okhrana. The Bund was especially active in the events of the 1905 revolution, participating in strikes and meetings and in organizing self-defense groups to protect Jews during the ensuing wave of pogroms instigated by forces loyal to the tsar.

Materials in the Nicolaevsky and Okhrana collections document the climate of anti-Semitism prevalent in parts of the Russian empire during the 1905 period and afterwards, including newspaper accounts of pogroms and trials of Jewish personalities and reactions to these events in both the European press and the publications of the émigré Russian revolutionary movement. The archives also has a copy of the notorious police forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that was used to inflame opinion against the Jews in the Russian empire and elsewhere, and is still used in anti-Semitic propaganda today.

Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky Collections

Anti-Semitism under tsarist rule is one important explanation for the high level of participation of Jews in the Russian revolutionary movement and for the enthusiasm with which the 1917 overthrow of tsarism was greeted by many Jews. In the archives are extensive materials concerning the Russian revolution and European radicalism at the time, including two collections pertaining to Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, leading revolutionary personalities who were both Jewish. Luxemburg, who was born in Poland, participated in both the German and Russian revolutionary movements; the Rosa Luxemburg papers contain a number of letters written by and to her during her imprisonment in Germany. The Trotsky collection contains a significant number of Trotsky's writings, and several other collections possess important materials on Trotsky and Trotskyism, including the Nicolaevsky collection.

The end of tsarism and the breakup of the Russian empire created a new situation for Russian, Baltic, and Polish Jews and the political movements that claimed to represent their interests. The Jewish Bund, which quickly found itself being surpassed on its left by the Bolsheviks and others, was largely unable to create a space for itself in the postrevolutionary period. After 1917, the Bund fragmented, with some joining the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks and others opposing the consolidation of a single party dictatorship under Lenin.

In Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, the Bund continued to play an important role in the political and cultural life of the Jewish communities in these newly independent countries, and there rivalries among Bundists, Zionists, and communists continued. Materials in the Polish Foreign Ministry (Poland. Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych) records document the fate of Bund members in World War II. The Nicolavesky collection contains serial issues and correspondence relating to the Bund after the Russian revolution, including editions of the Bund press in exile in New York from as late as the early 1950s.

Many Jews left the Russian empire in the wake of the 1905 revolution, fleeing political repression and the conscription of young men into the tsarist army. After the 1917 revolution, a different emigration began: Jews seeking to escape civil war and the increasingly authoritarian nature of Bolshevik rule. A significant Russian Jewish diaspora emerged in Europe, North and South America, and China.

Rena Krasno and Sino-Judaica Institute Collections

The archives has a number of collections that attest to the cultural vitality of the Russian Jewish community in Shanghai during this period. The Rena Krasno and the Sino-Judaica Institute collections contain memoirs and photographs relating to the Jewish emigration in China from the 1920s through the 1940s. The Rena Krasno papers also have documents pertaining to the arrival in Shanghai of Polish and other European Jews fleeing the Nazi threat and describing the efforts of the Russian Jewish community in Shanghai to assist the influx of these newer refugees.

In addition to the Russian revolution, 1917 was also the year of the Balfour Declaration, which recognized the right of Jews to create a homeland in what was then the British-controlled mandate of Palestine. Zionist immigrants had settled in Palestine since the turn of the century, bringing them into conflict with both the native Arab population and British colonial authorities. The J. C. Hurewitz collection in the archives has documents concerning Jewish immigration in Palestine from the 1930s until the founding of Israel, including materials on different components of the Zionist movement, such as the labor Zionist group Poale Zion, which originated in Russia and sought to achieve a synthesis of socialism and Zionism. In Europe, Zionism had been a largely middle class phenomenon.

With the coming to power of Hitler in Germany in 1933, the situation of Jews in that country began to deteriorate. As the Nazis applied their racial doctrines, the political and civil rights of German Jews were curtailed. Nazi policies met with some resistance, but more often the response of the German population was one of passivity or acquiescence. Many German Jews reacted with disbelief, but others saw the threat to their continued existence in Germany posed by Hitler and his party.

The archives has a rare edition of the Jewish Bible, the Pentateuch, published in Germany in 1933. Selected passages of this edition were printed in red, as if to underline the significance of the words and to emphasize their relevance to the predicament faced by the Jews in Germany at this time. One such highlighted passage, in the Book of Deuteronomy, tells Jews that “thine enemies shall dwindle away before thee.”

Rudolf Franz, Kurt R. Grossmann, and Constantine M. Panunzio Collections

After the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, however, German Jews began to emigrate in large numbers, seeking refuge in other European countries and those countries outside of Europe that would accept them. Several collections in the archives, including the Kurt R. Grossmann and Rudolf Franz collections, document the worsening conditions for German and Austrian Jews at this time. Materials on anti-Semitism in Mussolini's Italy and on the general subject of Italian fascism can be found in the Constantine M. Panunzio papers in the archives.

Karl B. Frank Papers

Jews played a prominent role in creating anti-fascist movements in Europe and elsewhere in the world, as the implications of Nazi rule became apparent. One such individual was Karl B. Frank, whose papers are in the archives. Born in Austria, and politically active in both Austria and Germany, he came to the United States as a political refugee, where, under the pseudonym of Paul Hagen, he denounced the Nazis and helped those fleeing their persecution. The importance of the political group Hagen was associated with, Neu Beginnen, exceeded its small numbers.

International Rescue Committee Records

Together with other Jewish intellectuals and artists who had fled the Nazis, Frank helped to establish the Emergency Rescue Committee in New York in 1940 and convinced the American Varian Fry to participate in efforts to help Jewish refugees imperiled by the German occupation of France. Based in Marseilles, Fry and his colleagues helped many refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish and including many important cultural figures and scientists, escape occupied France. The Emergency Rescue Committee later became the International Rescue Committee, under whose name the archives has a large collection of materials, primarily of records after World War II, but including some of the early publications of the IRC, minutes of meetings of its board of directors during 1942-1945, and other materials relating to the early history of the IRC.

 

 

Memorial leaflet for Bund member Iosip Matlakov, 1904. Boris Nicolaevsky collection,

Memorial leaflet for Bund member Iosip Matlakov, 1904. Boris Nicolaevsky collection,
box 68

 

 

 

 

 

Bund leaflet, 1904. Boris Nicolavesky collection, box 68
Bund leaflet, 1904. Boris Nicolaevsky collection, box 68

 

 

Postcard depicting Rosa Luxemburg, n.d. Rosa Luxemburg papers,
Postcard depicting Rosa Luxemburg, n.d.
Rosa Luxemburg papers,
envelope A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph of costumed children celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim, Shanghai, 1929.


Photograph of costumed children celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim, Shanghai, 1929.
Rena Krasno papers, box 2


Page with highlighted passages from a 1933 German edition of the Pentateuch. Hoover Library collections

Page with highlighted passages from a 1933 German edition of the Pentateuch. Hoover Library collections


Poster advertising the anti-Semitic movie, Der ewige Jude, Germany, 1937. Poster collection, GE985

Poster advertising the anti-Semitic movie, Der ewige Jude, Germany, 1937.
Poster collection, GE985

 

Photograph of Karl B. Frank, n.d. Karl B. Frank papers, envelope A

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