After the fall of the Russian Empire, Jewish and Ukrainian activists worked to overcome previous mutual antagonism by creating a Ministry of Jewish Affairs within the new Ukrainian state and taking other measures to satisfy the national aspirations of Jews and other non-Ukrainians. This bold experiment ended in terrible failure as anarchic violence swept the countryside amidst civil war and foreign intervention. Pogromist attacks resulted in the worst massacres of Jews in Europe in almost three hundred years. Some 40 percent of these pogroms were perpetrated by troops ostensibly loyal to the very government that was simultaneously extending unprecedented civil rights to the Jewish population.
Abramson explores this paradox and sheds new light on the relationship between the various Ukrainian governments and the communal violence, focusing especially on the role of Symon Petliura, the Ukrainian leader later assassinated by a Jew claiming revenge for the pogroms. A Prayer for the Government treats a crucial period of Ukrainian and Jewish history, and is also a case study of ethnic violence in emerging political entities.
Abramson's book opens a new page in the historiography of Jewish-Ukrainian relations; for a change, Jews are not called communists and Ukrainians are not condemned as fascists. The author investigates a forgotten episode in the history of Ukraine when, after the fall of the Tsar during the revolutionary era, 1917-20, Jews and Ukrainians began to build a community based on democratic and multicultural principles. In spite of its promising beginning, the effort came to naught.
[Abramson's aim] is to illuminate an often overlooked, brief, and ultimately doomed experiment in political rapprochement when a small group of idealistic Ukrainian nationalists tried to establish a government of their own--the Central Rada--in the midst of the region's chaos...The severe shifts in political authority, continuous violence, and lingering resentments between Ukrainians and Jews make it imperative for any historian to approach the material with clear-headed and sober judgement. Abramson reaches this standard, providing a distinct service to scholarship and to memory.
- 288 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute
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