Shimon (Simon) Dubnow

(1860-1941)


Shimon Dubnow was born in 1860, in White Russia, and was murdered in 1941 by the Nazi regime during the liquidation of the Riga ghetto. He is most renowned for his studies pertaining to Jewish history, and has been noted as one of the first scholars to research and publish his findings on Russian-Jewish history, and Jewish history at large. His studies have also been noted as embodying both a secular, national and modern perspective on and of the Jewish population living during his time. In addition to his being a historian, he was also well acclaimed as a publicist, politician and political thinker. It was said that he was influenced by the liberal political culture of Western Europe, which helped him to semi- unbiasly and properly analyze the Jewish history of the period. For the most part, his fundemental beliefs aligned themselves along the line of his desire for the Jewish people to reach a balance through which they were able to achieve their civil obligations, while securing thier autonomy and maintaining their Jewish culture and religion.

For his time, his extensive memoirs were termed the "encyclopedia of Jewish life," and made him the historian of his time. However, most of his works focused in on everyday social and economic aspects of Jewish life, placing less emphasis on the portrayal of traditional historical methods of study. His autobiography included various reports and commentaries made by then prominant intellectual contemporaries. He also was known to have documented key events in Jewish, and general history, from the periods between the late 19th into the first half of the 20th century.

Some of his works include the translation of Heinrich Graetz's Volkstümliche Geschichte der Juden into Russian,at the age of 21, while his Weltgeschichte des jüdischen Volkes von den Uranfängen bis zur Gegenwart, whichfirst appeared in 10 volumes in German during the 1920s. Furthermore, he published his views pertaning to Jewish history in several theoretical pieces on Judaism, Jewish history and its historiography. A prime example is the treatise, What is Jewish History? (1893), translated from Russian into German and published in 1897. More widely known were his Letters on Ancient and Modern Judaism, published in the journal Voskhod between the years 1897 and 1903.

Wishing to escape his strict background, Dubnow late lived in such cities as St. Peterburg, Odessa and Vilna. It was at that time that he became involved in the social struggle of the Russian Jews, from the era of reform under Alexander II until the first years of Soviet rule. Perhaps not realizing it at the time, it was during this period that he came into contact, and debated with the central personalities from the circle of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia (Ginsburg, Frug, Kagan, Kulisher, Lifschitz, Kantor et al.), and learned of the Jewish plight. His experiences later allowed him to fully comprehend, and become one of the critical commentators of the pogroms, which took place in the late Tsarist empire and the great revolutions of 1905 and 1917. He was able to publish his political perspectives in an array of essays, which were published in the journals Voskhod, Russkii evrei and elsewhere. One of many such articles is his "What Kind of Auto-Emancipation do the Jews Need?", written in 1883.

Shortly after the collapse of the Tsarist empire Dubnow decided to emigrate to Berlin. He once again took up his anthropological and sociological studies concerning the similarities and differences between the eastern and western Jewries in the Prussian metropolis. Some of his works also indicate his observations and reflections on the rise of National Socialism in Germany. From the age of sixty -two till seventy-three, Dubnow lived in Berlin. Due to his popularity and general respect within the community,on September 24, 1930 the scholarly world celebrated his seventith birthday in the city. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, he found himself compelled to leave Germany, however, although he had been offered an immigrant visa to the United States, he chose to immigrate to an area where he already had family in Riga; this later would prove to be a fatal decision, seeing as in time the Nazi regime came to occupy the city.

See also: Autonomism [Encyclopaedia Judaica]


Source: Shimon Dubnow