RUSSIA: Moscow Blues...the Jews & the Revolution

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November 15th 2020
Published: November 15th 2020
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Did you know the Japanese provided safe passage through Japan for Jews escaping from Europe to escape extermination by the Nazis in the Second World War?

Hitler sent emissaries to get Japan to cease and they refused.

About 24,000 Jews were saved before a Japanese leadership change resulted in incarceration in Shanghai instead.

In 1919 the Japanese while fighting alongside the White Russians against the Bolshevik communists, were introduced to an anti-Semitic Russian publication advocating that the Jews were planning economic World domination.

The Japanese having their own desires for World domination saw potential and formulated a plan to have Jews from Europe settle in Manchuria and help Japan financially become an economic power.

A plan so audacious they called it the Fugu the seafood delicacy...if not prepared carefully its poison could kill the consumer.

"There's never been a song that could save a all the souls who lost themselves...the Book of Life"

An issue even more sensitive in the history of the Jews in the 20th Century is their role in the rise of communism in Russia...favoured by Lenin...then double crossed by him resulting in yet other pograms taking place.

Why is it that God's chosen people so often get victimised worse than other minorities?

BB King's Moscow House of the Blues...growling guitar riffs and Russian vocals...searching the underbelly and beating heart of this magical city...every turn a wind of wonder...searching for Moscow Blues.

The Jewish Museum and Centre of Tolerance in Moscow opening our eyes in ways little wondered...claiming to be "the first museum in Russia whose collection is not based on artifacts, but on interactive gadgets."

Telling the story of the Jewish community in Russia from the middle of the 18th Century to the present day...not for the faint hearted...but for us a must.

I sit in silence...biting my lip...hand rising to cradle my brow.

Soul gates opening...transfixed...revelations flooding in.

How can I tell their story?

How can I pretend to understand?

So as a fly on a wall...I board a train on 9 April 1917 as it pulls into Thaygen, a Swiss town on the German border...32 Russians being separated...a raucous, eclectic group heading to Petrograd (St Petersburg)...its leader scolding them to settle down.

His name was Vladimir Lenin.

His group were left-wing revolutionaries...and half of them were Jews.

Well known largely forgotten.

Why is it that lights that should illuminate their roles in history are often hidden or simply turned off?

The answer to me is simple yet ridiculously complex:

the ebb and flow of prejudice and political aspiration determines the tide of flotsam & jetsam that washes up on the shore.

Six months later Lenin and his Bolsheviks would be running the new Russian state after the October Revolution...the Russian Soviet Republic...the complexion of Russia forever changed.


Pograms & The Pale of Settlement

"Pogrom" is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc” or 'devastation"...usually whereby Jewish people were killed by purported sanction of Russian authorities as a result of widespread anti-Semitism...Jewish people blamed for the misfortunes of others, or blamed for violent or political acts.

The word sprang from the assassination of Alexander II, the Liberation Tzar, who 20 years earlier had liberated the serfs from Russia's feudal system.

The assassination was by 'The Peoples Will'...a revolutionary Nihilist group plotting the end of the Tzar autocracy.

In about 20 cities and in some Baltic states, reprisal killings of Jews took place...locals claiming the government blamed the Jews for the assassination of the Tzar and condoned such action.

Interestingly, among details of the names and bio's of The Peoples Will plotters...I found no mention whether any of them were Jews or not!!!

The tzarist regime confined Jews to the Pale of Settlement.

Originally formed in 1791 by Russia’s Catherine II, the Pale of Settlement was a region designated for Jews. For political, economic, and religious reasons, very few Jews were allowed to live elsewhere. The area mostly falls within today’s Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and Moldova.

At the end of the nineteenth century, close to 95 percent of the 5.3 million Jews in the Russian Empire lived in the Pale of Settlement but were only about 10 percent of the Pale's population.

Having limited opportunities in education and areas of employment...they were excluded from government or civil service positions unless they converted to Christianity.

In early WWI the government had expelled thousands of Jews from the western part of the Empire fearing they would collaborate with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire).

In 1916 the Pale of Settlement was abolished by the Tzar, permitting Jews to live where they wished in the former Russian Empire...many moving to Moscow & St Petersburg.

The Russian Revolutions of 1917

There had been an uprising in 1905 that had been crushed, but TWO Russian Revolutions in 1917 changed all of that.

Constant losses in WWI battles with the Germans, shortages of food, civil unrest...on 24 February 1917 Tzar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate in favour of his brother Michael.

But Michael would only accept if it was the will of the people...which was never going to happen.

300 years of Romanov tzarist rule thus ended.

The Provisional Government abolished all legal restrictions on ethnic minorities...Jews, Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgiz, Tartars, Moldovians, Poles & can only imagine the relief that came with release from the yoke.

Freed from restrictions the Jews organised Jewish institutions and parties....schools, relief agencies, Yiddish & Hebrew press, drama & musical groups and 48 Jewish newspapers.

But history teaches us that man does NOT learn from the lessons of history.

Nor do they heed the lessons of the ancients.

Who can forget Shakespeare's play 'Julius Caesar'...the soothsayers warning "Beware the Ides of March"...Caesar dismissing them out of hand.

Two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate.

In the play
and in reality...Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March...March 15 in the year 44 B.C.

During the early 1900s, the Russian Socialist Democratic Worker's Party was created in tsarist Russia...the party splitting into two factions...the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.

The word Menshevik comes from the word "minority"...Bolshevik from "majority".

Bolsheviks headed by Lenin believed in a radical and elitist revolution, whereas Mensheviks headed by the Jewish Julius Martov (friend of Leon Trotsky also Jewish) supported a more progressive change in collaboration with the middle class and the bourgeoisie.

The Jewish populous must have felt the winds of change were blowing uncertainty and potential danger...but unable to stay under the radar once released from legal restrictions that had suppressed them for centuries...the Jewish population formed political groups.

Six major political groups emerging from 1917 to 1921...Zionists from the middle class and intelligentsia seeking a Jewish state in Palestine...the Bund (who were founding members of the Russian Socialist Democratic Worker's Party in 1898 but were booted out in 1903), whose base was from the working class and artisans...the United Jewish Socialist Party of Marxist revolutionaries seeking autonomous Jewish territories...the Workers of Zion from
Marxist roots that ultimately sought a communist state in Palestine...the Folkspartey advocating Jewish autonomy in various states that Jews inhabited...and several political groups of Religious Jews.

Then came the October Revolution.

In the civil war that followed Jews suffered along with millions of others economically, physically and mentally.

It is said most of the opponents of Bolshevism shared the belief that the Jews were somehow to blame for their misfortunes and...

that Bolshevism was a Jewish conspiracy.

Jews thus found themselves with one protector...the Red Army of Lenin committed to ethnic equality and the elimination of ethnic prejudice.

I sit in the Jewism Museum with subtitled images from the archives washing over me.

"The Bolsheviks needed an intelligentsia"

"The Jews saved the Revolution"

Lenin declaring, "The enemies of the workers are the capitalists from all countries. Among the Jews there are working people, labouring people, and they form the majority. They're our comrades in the struggle for socialism."

But shortly after Lenin turned:

"Religion contradicts the new social order. And Judaism is no exception to that Rule."

Images from the Archives slapping and assaulting me with their brutality...anguish and desperation on faces
of Jews thus oppressed...age no differentiation...the lottery of Jewish heritage returning to be brutally oppressed.

How short their long their suffering.

The images roll on...the rise of Hitler...some blaming the Jewish role in communism for the Holocaust.

"The murder of Jews began immediately in the summer of 1941"

"During the Second World War 2.5 million Jews were systematically executed in towns and villages on Soviet soil."

A collage of town and city names with the death toll posted against them...Odessa 34,700, Glubokoya 12,500, Mozya 4,000, Staraia Russa 2,000, Malyi-Trostiniets 40,000, Beltsy 12,000, Orsha 6,000, Chernov 2,680, Vladimir-Volkinski 3,000...the list goes on and on...and on.

I sit in silence...brow furrowed...biting my lip...transfixed...hand rising to cradle my brow.

I need to play some blues...the floodgates are open...the horror of these real life images pouring in.

How can I tell their story?

How can I purport to understand?


Was the Russian Revolution Jewish?

It is accepted that Jews who were only 2 percent of the population held a disproportionate role in the Russian Revolution.

V.M. Molotov, Stalin's Foreign Minister recalling when Lenin lay dying,
"At the time Jews occupied many senior positions though they made up only a small percentage of the country's population."

Winston Churchill in the Sunday Herald in 1920 said, "The Jewish role in the Russian Revolution probably outweighs the role of all others. With the notable exception of Lenin. the majority of the leading figures are Jews."

He named Maxim Litvinoff, Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinovyev, Radek and Leonard Krassin.

The Moscow Jewish Museum in an exhibition "Freedom for All? The History of One People in the Russian Revolution" focused on Leon Trotsky, Julius Martov, Marc Chagall, Vera Inber, Simon Dubnov and Vasily Shulgin.

Half of the top contenders to succeed Lenin in 1922 were Jewish...Lev Kaminev, Leon Trotsky & Grigory Zinovyev.

Joseph Stalin, a Georgian won and the other three were eventually executed as part of Stalin's Great Purge!

Of about 3,000 in the elite in the revolutionary months of 1917, it is said 10 percent were Jews.

Of 300 political activists included in a biographical dictionary of politicians of 1917...43 were Jewish...20 Mensheviks, 11 Bolsheviks, 6 Socialist Revolutionaries, 3 Anarchists & 3 Constitutional Democrats. Of those...13 died in emigration and 21 were
shot, died in prison or were killed in other ways.

The Jewish historian Simon Dubnow when aware of a pogram in May 1918 in which Red Army soldiers took part noted, "We die at the hands of the Bolsheviks and are killed because of them."

So how did it go so wrong?

YVOV Institute of Jewish Research has said, "The Russian Revolution liberated the largest Jewish community in the world. It also opened the floodgates for the greatest massacre of Jews before the Second World War amid the civil war and its aftermath in 1918 to 1921."

The Jewish Museum & Centre for Tolerance records it thus, "The exhibition goes on to explore how the hopes of emancipation through communism were ultimately dashed. making some Jews prominent perpetrators of repression and turning many other Jews into victims."

I sit in silence...brow furrowed...biting my lip...transfixed...hand rising to cradle my brow.

The audio visual floodgates have been opened...the horror of these real life images has flooded in.

How can I tell their story?

How can I possibly understand?

Its times like these...I need to play some blues.

BB Kings House of the Blues

Denise & I are not cruise people.

Our previous were up the Niger in a leaky pinasse for several days sleeping on muddy beaches on our way to our wedding at Timbuktu...dancing with the Tuareg at the Festival au Desert...Nth African Desert Blues.

And who could forget the Legendary Blues Cruise in the Caribbean with those Darn Binkleys.

Our cruise of the NW rivers of Russia opened our eyes to the tantalise of 'drifting along'...not a care in the World...sunrises, interesting company, fascinating history and evocative music to savour with a drink in one's hand.

So kinda appropriate that we end our Russian cruise with the second on my Russian wish list...Moscow Blues.

We booked the Radisson Collection...same hotel as the cruise extensions (Geoff & Jan and Max & Carole) but upgraded for independence to find a bit of adventure for our last days in Russia.

Our friend Wolf Mail...the coolest, hottest Canadian blues guitarist you could ever see...his CD "Wolf Mail in Red Square" a favourite...gotta find where Wolf plays...gotta find our groove.

As luck had it we met Nikita the concierge at the Radisson Collection Hotel...a blues fan and super enthused when he found we were too...steered us from where we were planning to go...booked us into BB Kings House of the Blues.

Seen the King live in Oz throwing sweets...3 days and nights in BB's Club in Memphis while cruising the Blues Highway in a Cadillac...super excited in Moscow t'was to be Moscow's BB's.

In our best gear...booked a limo...dropped at the big metal gate to a compound...crack, bang thank you M'aam...the heavens opened...sheltering under a doorway...laughing like drowned it bucketed down!

T'was a great start to our last night in Moscow...blues does that to ya...washes any pretensions away.

Running to a car grille coming out of a wall...downstairs statues of the Blues Brothers greeting...Sayed from Khartoum leading us to a table in front of a small stage...a guy with a ponytail tuning up.

Scrawlings in texta on walls...BB King, Joe Bonamassa, Bob Brozman, Christopher Thomas King, Kenny Neal Band, Jan Ackerman from Focus, Leonard Cohen, ZZ Top, Sting, Chris Duarte, Scorpions...the chair BB sat in...and then I see scrawlings by Wolf Mail, Angry Anderson from Rose Tatoo & the slide guitar maestro from WA, Dave Hole.

And joining them for posterity is "Dancing Dave from Oz with Denise"...'cos we were there...and 'cos we could.


A Green Mint Gin for Denise that tasted like mouthwash...a Special Strong Gin for me...pork ribs with magic sauces like in Memphis...the band Mikhael Kistanov & Vadim Ivaschenko...excellent guitarists...sublime licks, slide & grooves...growling Russian then English just for us...super friendly crowd...inviting us back for a shindig on the Saturday night...oh wish we could...2,750 Roubles for the limo...gotta smile...Mikhael's music video for memories...what a night.

Thank you Moscow...thank you to those on our rivers cruise...we had a blast.

Looking to the land of Tamburlaine...Uzbekistan here we come.

The end of our dances in Putin's pastures...the end of 'drifting along'.

Now the adventures really begin!

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 105, Displayed: 32


15th November 2020

Singing the Revolutionary Blues
Wow! Some very fascinating history here, some of which I wasn't familiar with. The Jewish Museum and Centre of Tolerance looks very interesting and a place I'd like to visit. I like how you wove in the music videos too. Splashing out at BB King's House of Blues was great! Was surprised to see the signatures of some legendary musicians scrawled on the wall, but especially Joe Bonamassa's!! Great blog and photos, Dave! P.S. I AM a cruise person even though I love land travel and tours just as much!
16th November 2020

Singing the Revolutionary Blues
Moscow is full of wonderful attractions Sylvia. I had a list of about 20 that appealed to me but the Jewish Museum & Centre of Tolerance intrigued us. Would it be a sanitised denial of pograms & atrocities in Russia? No. It was a celebration of Jewish history and culture with dousing us with light rain during Noah & the Great Flood and pulling no punches with the atrocities I recount in my blog. Credit to Russia that the stories could be told. We could have stayed all day. Had to call on BB to raise our spirits again.
15th November 2020

Russian Jews...
My uncles second wife was one. She was able to escape to America. So many were murdered. Then they had to fight for a homeland. Now they are finding some peace with Arab nations establishing diplomatic relations. I pray that this peace will last.
16th November 2020

Russian Jews...
It was a story I had to tell Bob. What will be their future? Thanks for reading and commenting.
17th November 2020
BB Kings House of the Blues

Blues Brothers
I am more of a rock'n'roll guy myself, but Blues Brothers is a classic. /Ake
19th November 2020
BB Kings House of the Blues

Blues Brothers
Noted Ake. I trust you noticed the Mikhael Kistanov music video in my blog had a touch of the Blues Brothers style...quirky & fun.
18th November 2020

"But history teaches us that man does NOT learn from the lessons of history."
That's a great caption...we have seen this over and over again. A good reminiscence Dave...a wonderful walk down the memory lane. A great narration of the history. Thanks!
19th November 2020

"But history teaches us that man does NOT learn from the lessons of history."
This has been the most difficult Russian blog to write, Tab...and possibly the most important. The subject is so sensitive, I could not be indifferent or unmoved. Thanks for your thoughtful comment as always.
29th November 2020

Histories and stories to tell
Once again the dancing one has waved history among his music and stories. Asking all the questions and pondering the past. So many countries are in denial of their past intolerance and decisions.
8th December 2020

Histories and stories to tell
T'was also a particularly thoughtful story for me to tell requiring sensitivity and discernment without hiding from the issues. As Anti-Semitism is historically such a nasty excuse for those who wish to vent racism & bigotry over the centuries, I do not wish to be tarred with the racist, bigot brush by proffering my blog. I was impressed that Russia, who cannot be proud of their treatment of Jews in history, are prepared to be open and not hide from this terrible history with the exhibitions and presentations the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance in Moscow has to offer.
30th November 2020

Some further reading
Hi, If you have some time to spare - highly recommend "Becoming Soviet Jews" and, especially, "LEGACY OF BLOOD Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Lands of the Soviets" - both by the outstanding Elissa Bemporad. She was also featured some time ago on "Sean's Russia Blog", which I also wholeheartedly recommend. If you have a hard time finding the books - can send it via email to you. Strictly for academic purposes, of course. Cheers, Yanis
5th December 2020

Fourth attempt to post the comment.
There are several excellent books on the subject, but my favorite is LEGACY OF BLOOD Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Lands of the Soviets by Elissa Bemporad. I have to say the book is kind of hard to come by - took me several months of searching before I could get a copy. The author has recently also done an excellent podcast here: On a separate note - ethnic policy in USSR, especially the early Bolshevik years, is a fascinating subject, and I'm always a little surprised, talking about it with my American Jewish friends, that they usually remember hearing something about the refuseniks and the Great post-soviet aliyah , but not about late Tsarist pogroms, the Bolshevik integration efforts, or the role of Jews in the Revolution.
8th December 2020

Fourth attempt to post the comment.
Thank you Yanis for your comments and further readings and input. I will check them out as I have with your recommendations made with my other Russian blogs. I hope I have added to your knowledge or perspectives with the details I have proffered in my blogs. I hope we keep in touch.

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