Edmund Levin

View on Amazon

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] There is a lot of nasty mythology about Jews, but surely the most heinous and ridiculous is the bizarre notion that “they” (as if Jews were all the same) have long been in the habit of murdering Christian children, draining them of blood, and mixing said blood into Passover matzo. We know when and where the notion of “Blood Libel,” as this myth is conventionally called, appeared (12th-century England), but we don’t know why. Indeed, given the utter absurdity of the charge (Jews, of course, are forbidden to eat, drink, or consume blood in any way, shape, or form), it may be impossible for a rational mind to grasp. Even the Christian Church was vexed and, therefore, repeatedly condemned Blood Libels over the centuries that followed its appearance. Official religious disapproval–together with what might generically called “Enlightenment”–had some effect. By the late nineteenth century at the latest, clerical and civil authorities–not to mention “right-thinking people” everywhere–understood Blood Libel to be nothing but a sick fantasy.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, however, Blood Libel enjoyed a kind of renaissance at the beginning of the twentieth century, especially in the Russian Empire. And it was here that the most infamous and egregious Blood Libel of modern times occurred, the “Beilis case.” In his fascinating (and terrifying) book  A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia: The Beilis Blood Libel (Schocken, 2014), Edmund Levin takes us into the complicated, contradictory world of late imperial Russia. He introduces us to radical anti-semites, Russian nationalists,  inveterate criminals, well-meaning investigators, corrupt police officers, unscrupulous reporters, sycophantic courtiers, underhanded politicians, drunk ‘witnesses,’ pseudo-scientists, delusional quacks, and, of course, poor Mendel Beilis and his family. As Levins shows, the Beilis case was a farce from the beginning and everyone involved knew it. But it went on nonetheless. How, one wonders, could this have happened in a putatively “modern” state? Listen in to our fascinating discussion.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Filip SlaveskiThe Soviet Occupation of Germany: Hunger, Mass Violence and the Struggle for Peace, 1945–1947

July 2, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] For over three years, from June 1941 to late 1944,  the German Army and related Nazi forces (the SS, occupation troops, administrative organizations) conducted a Vernichtungskrieg–a war of annihilation–against the Soviet Union on Soviet soil. The Germans killed millions upon millions of Red Army soldiers, Communist Party officials, and ordinary Soviet citizens. [...]

Read the full article →

Sener AkturkRegimes of Ethnicity and Nationhood in Germany, Russia, and Turkey

June 11, 2014

What processes must take place in order for countries to radically redefine who is a citizen? Why was Russia able to finally remove ethnicity from internal passports after failing to do so during seven decades of Soviet rule? What led German leaders to finally grant guest workers from Southern and Eastern Europe the path to [...]

Read the full article →

Anne Gorsuch All This is Your World: Soviet Tourism at Home and Abroad After Stalin

May 22, 2014

Thirty years after a trip to the GDR, Soviet cardiologist V.I. Metelitsa still remembered mistakenly trying to buy a dress for a ten-year-old daughter in a maternity shop: ‘In our country I couldn’t even imagine that such a specialized shop could exist’.” Well-stocked shops, attractive cafes, and medieval streets were among the many discoveries that [...]

Read the full article →

Paula A. MichaelsLamaze: An International History

May 16, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] The twentieth-century West witnessed a revolution in childbirth. Before that time, most women gave birth at home and were attended by family members and midwives. The process was usually terribly painful for the mother. Beginning in the nineteenth century, however, doctors started to “medicalize” childbirth. Physicians began to think of ways to ease [...]

Read the full article →

Anna FishzonFandom, Authenticity, and Opera: Mad Acts and Letter Scenes in Fin-de-Siècle Russia

April 17, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] Pretty much everyone understands what is called the “Cult of Celebrity,” particularly as it manifests itself in the arts. It’s a mentality that privileges the actor over the act, the singer over the song, the painter over the painting, and so on. The Cult of Celebrity’s essence is a fanatical [...]

Read the full article →

Olga GershensonThe Phantom Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe

February 5, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Jewish Studies] Fifty years of Holocaust screenplays and films –largely unknown, killed by censors, and buried in dusty archives – come to life in Olga Gershenson’s The Phantom Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe (Rutgers UP, 2013). As she ventures across three continents to uncover the stories behind these films, we follow her adventures, eager [...]

Read the full article →

Waitman BeornMarching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus

January 11, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] The question of Wehrmacht complicity in the Holocaust is an old one. What might be called the “received view” until recently was that while a small number of German army units took part in anti-Jewish atrocities, the great bulk of the army neither knew about nor participated in the Nazi genocidal [...]

Read the full article →

Denis KozlovThe Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past

December 20, 2013

In Russia’s collective memory, the Stalin terror is often remembered and referred to by its most grueling year: “1937.” Following Stalin’s death and the shocking revelations about his regime exposed by his successor Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet citizens began to remember and rethink the turbulent first half of the twentieth century – the decades that, in [...]

Read the full article →

Peter SavodnikThe Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union

November 21, 2013

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] For many people, the most important questions about the Kennedy assassination are “Who killed Kennedy?” and, if Lee Harvey Oswald did, “Was Oswald part of a conspiracy?” This is strange, because we know the answers to both questions: Oswald killed Kennedy and he did so alone. These facts won’t keep people [...]

Read the full article →