The Jews of Latvia
Professor Simon Dubnow and His Final Journey

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Simon Dubnow (1860-1941) was a Jewish historian, writer and activist.

Simon Dibnow was born Shimon Meyerovich Dubnow (Шимон Меерович Дубнов) to a large poor family in the Belarusian town of Mstislavl (Hahilyow region). After receiving a traditional Jewish education in a cheder and a yeshiva, Dubnow entered into a kazyonnoe yevreyskoe uchilishche (state Jewish school) where he learned the Russian language.

In the midst of his education, the May Laws eliminated these Jewish institutions, and Dubnow was unable to graduate; Dubnow persevered, independently pursuing his interests in history, philosophy, and linguistics. He was particularly fascinated by Heinrich Graetz and the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement.

--Text and photos from

In 1880 Dubnow used forged documents to move to St. Petersburg, officially off-limits to Jews. Jews were generally restricted to small towns in the Pale of Settlement, unless they had been discharged from the military, were employed as doctors or dentists, or could prove they were 'cantonists', university graduates or merchants belonging to the two upper guilds.

Soon after moving to St. Petersburg Dubnow's publications appeared in the press, including the leading Russian–Jewish magazine Voskhod. In 1890, the Jewish population was expelled from the capital city, and Dubnow too was forced to leave. He settled in Odessa  and continued to publish studies of Jewish life and history, coming to be regarded as an authority in these areas.

Throughout his active participation in the contemporary social and political life of the Russian Empire, Dubnow called for modernizing Jewish education, organizing Jewish self-defense against pogroms, and demanding equal rights for Russian Jews, including the right to vote.

In 1906 he was allowed back into St Petersburg, where he founded and directed the Jewish Literature and Historical-Ethnographic Society and edited the Jewish Encyclopedia. In the same year, he founded the Folkspartei (Jewish People's Party), which successfully worked for the election of MPs and municipal councillors in interwar Lithuania and Poland. After 1917 Dubnow became a Professor of Jewish history at Petrograd University.

In 1922 he emigrated to Kaunas (Kovno) and later to Berlin. His magnum opus was the ten volume History of the Jewish people, first published in German in 1925-1929.

In August 1933, after Adolf Hitler came to power, Dubnow moved to Riga, Latvia. Nazi troops occupied Riga in July 1941, and Dubnow, with thousands of other Jews, was transferred to the Riga ghetto. According to Riga's few remaining survivors, Dubnow repeated to ghetto inhabitants: "Yidn, shreibt un fershreibt" (Yiddish: "Jews, write and record"). On December 8, 1941,Simon Dubnow was among thousands of Riga ghetto Jews rounded up for the Rumbula massacre. Too sick to travel to the forest, he was executed in the ghetto and buried in a mass grave.

Dubnow was ambivalent toward Zionism, and completely rejected assimilation.  He believed that the future survival of the Jews as a nation depended on their spiritual and cultural strength, and self-rule in the Diaspora. This ideology, known as Jewish Autonomism, was widely popular during Dubnow's time, and adopted in various versions in the platforms of Jewish parties such as the Bund. However, after the Holocaust Autonomism practically disappeared from Jewish philosophy.

Next: "Professor Simon Dubnow and His Final Journey" from the Max Kaufmann book "Churbn Lettland: The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia."


photo and written excerpts from Wikipedia.


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