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The Tragedy of a Generation

The Tragedy of a Generation

The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Joshua M. Karlip

ISBN 9780674072855

Publication date: 07/15/2013

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The Tragedy of a Generation is the story of the rise and fall of an ideal: an autonomous Jewish nation in Europe. It traces the origins of two influential but overlooked strains of Jewish thought—Yiddishism and Diaspora Nationalism—and documents the waning hopes and painful reassessments of their leading representatives against the rising tide of Nazism and, later, the Holocaust.

Joshua M. Karlip presents three figures—Elias Tcherikower, Yisroel Efroikin, and Zelig Kalmanovitch—seen through the lens of Imperial Russia on the brink of revolution. Leaders in the struggle for recognition of the Jewish people as a national entity, these men would prove instrumental in formulating the politics of Diaspora Nationalism, a middle path that rejected both the Zionist emphasis on Palestine and the Marxist faith in class struggle. Closely allied with this ideology was Yiddishism, a movement whose adherents envisioned the Yiddish language and culture, not religious tradition, as the unifying force of Jewish identity.

We follow Tcherikower, Efroikin, and Kalmanovitch as they navigate the tumultuous early decades of the twentieth century in pursuit of a Jewish national renaissance in Eastern Europe. Correcting the misconception of Yiddishism as a radically secular movement, Karlip uncovers surprising confluences between Judaism and the avowedly nonreligious forms of Jewish nationalism. An essential contribution to Jewish historiography, The Tragedy of a Generation is a probing and poignant chronicle of lives shaped by ideological conviction and tested to the limits by historical crisis.


  • Karlip, with skill and clarity, navigates the many cross-currents and links between Zionism and ‘diaspora nationalism’ and its cultural companion, Yiddishism. He examines and compares the two ideologies’ cultural and political aspects, the fluctuating role of socialist ideals in each, and, in particular, their struggles to reconcile old and new Jewishness and classical Judaism with contemporary European culture. The result is a substantial enrichment of Russian, eastern European, and Jewish history. Karlip uses the lives of three seminal figures—Yisroel Efroikin, Zelig Kalmanovitch, and Elias Tcherikower—to tell the story of the movement’s early idealism, inspired in part by the 1905 Russian Revolution, through its decay in the wake of World War I and the Holocaust.

    —Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs


  • Joshua M. Karlip is Associate Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University.

Book Details

  • 400 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press