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Every Jew knows the story. The evil tsarist authorities ride into the Shtetl. They demand a levy of young men for the army. Mothers' weep. Fathers' sigh. The community mourns the loss of its young. It's a good story, and some of it's even true. The reality, of course, was much more complex as we learn in Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern's excellent Jews in the Russian Army, 1827-1917 (Cambridge UP, 2008). The drafting of Jews into the Russian army was not really an act of oppression, but, as Petrovsky-Shtern argues, integration. By calling up Jews, the government was de facto recognizing them as full-fledged subject of the empire, the equals of other imperial minorities and even Russians themselves. Of course they were subject to discrimination. But they were not simply victims: the Jewish soldiers changed the culture of the army just as the army changed what it meant to be Jewish within the empire. As Petrovsky-Shtern points out, all this was part and parcel of the process of making both entities--the Jews and empire--modern. So, did your bubbe tell you the story about the wicked Russians press-ganging your poor great grandfather Moishe and then forcibly converted him to Christianity? Read this book and find out what really happened.
19th Century, 20th Century, Anti-Semitism, Christianity, Communism, Eastern Europe, Ideology, Jews, Liberalism, National Identity, Nationalism, Russia, Soviet Union, Ukraine, War
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