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A Memoir of an Extraordinary Anglo-Jewish Family

Dec. 11 2017

In What You Did Not Tell Me, the historian Mark Mazower pieces together the story of his family, focusing on his paternal grandparents who came to England from Russia in 1923. David Herman writes in his review:

Max (born Mordecai) Mazower was a Jewish Bundist from the Russian Pale of Settlement. For years he lived a double life, helping to run an underground socialist movement in Vilna, “the revolutionary hub for northwestern Russia,” while simultaneously working as a respectable accountant. He was arrested several times by the tsarist police but escaped and moved in revolutionary circles in pre-war central Europe. These years taught him everything he needed to know about the Bolsheviks. . . . In 1923 he escaped to London and never returned to Russia. He married, settled in Highgate, and learned to speak English with a perfect accent.

He also became a man of secrets. He apparently never told his wife the name of his own mother. He never spoke about his revolutionary past. “Many of his closest comrades ended up in violent deaths,” Mazower writes, “shot either by the Bolsheviks or the Nazis.” . . . This is just the beginning. The dramas and tragedies come thick and fast. Mazower’s attention now turns to the family Max and his wife, Frouma, left behind. . . .

What seemed an ordinary family is anything but. Mazower’s grandfather, Max, may (or may not) have fathered a son, André. The boy’s mother was Sofia Krylenko, a crazy revolutionary whose brother, Nikolai, became [the Soviet] “people’s commissar for justice” and prosecutor general. She also disappeared during the purges.

All kinds of extraordinary people pass through the book. [The German Jewish philosopher and critic] Walter Benjamin meets the Krylenkos in 1920s Moscow, T.S. Eliot corresponds with Sofia’s son, André, in 1930s London, . . . [the Soviet secret-police chief] Lavrenty Beria and Jan Karski, [the Polish resistance agent who brought news of the Holocaust to the West], pop up. So do Leon Trotsky’s sister, [Stalin’s foreign minister Andrey] Vyshinsky, and the Futurist poet Filippo Marinetti. [The anarchist revolutionary] Emma Goldman has dinner with the Mazowers in north London and one of Frouma’s sisters, a Soviet doctor, treats Field Marshal Paulus, [the German commander] who surrendered to the Red Army at Stalingrad.

The story of a family over two generations becomes embedded in the history of the 20th century, full of famous historical figures. Mazower does a superb job of putting each episode in its historical context. This is historical story-telling at its very best. . . . Mazower constantly reminds us of the power of history to turn lives upside down, or worse, to be some kind of terrible meat-grinder which destroys countless families.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: British Jewry, Bund, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Jewish history, Russian Jewry

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations