Shimon Dubnow (Dubnov)

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Shimon Dubnow (Dubnov)

Hebrew: שמעון דובנוב, הי"ד, Russian: Шимон Семен Маркович Дубнов
Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Mscislaŭ, Mogilev Province, Belarus
Death: December 8, 1941 (81)
Riga, Riga, Latvia (Murdered by the Nazis and their Latvian collaborators during the Holocaust, in WWII)
Place of Burial: Riga, Latvia
Immediate Family:

Son of Meir Jacob Dubnov and Sheina Dubnov
Husband of Ida Dubnow
Father of Sofia Sonya Erlich; Olga Ivanov and Yakov Yasha Dubnov
Brother of Aharon Dubnow; Zeev Dubnov; Nahman Dubnov and Yitzhak Dubnov

Occupation: Jewish historian, writer and activist.
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Shimon Dubnow (Dubnov)

Simon Dubnow (alternatively spelled Dubnov, Russian: Семён Маркович Дубнов/Semyon Markovich Dubnov; Yiddish: שמעון דובנאָװ Shimen Dubnov; September 10, 1860 – December 8, 1941) was a Jewish historian, writer and activist. He is the father-in-law of Henryk Erlich, a famous Bundist leader.

Life and career

Simon Dibnow was born Shimon Meyerovich Dubnow (Шимон Меерович Дубнов) to a large poor family in the Belarusian town of Mstsislaw (Mahilyow Voblast). A native Yiddish speaker, he received a traditional Jewish education in a heder and a yeshiva, where Hebrew was regularly practiced. Later Dubnow entered into a kazyonnoe yevreyskoe uchilishche (state Jewish school) where he learned Russian. 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.

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 1st guild. Here he married Ida Friedlin.

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. Living in Vilna, Lithuania, during the early months of 1905 Russian Revolution, he became active in organizing a Jewish political response to opportunities arising from the new civil rights which were being promised. In this effort he worked with a variety of Jewish opinion, e.g., those favoring diaspora autonomy, Zionism, socialism, and assimilation.

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 with Israel Efrojkin founded the Folkspartei (Jewish People's Party), which successfully worked for the election of MPs and municipal councilors in interwar Lithuania and Poland. After 1917 Dubnow became a Professor of Jewish history at Petrograd University.

He welcomed the first February Revolution of 1917 in Russia, which brought the long anticipated liberation of the Jewish people. Yet he felt uneasy about the increasing profile of Lenin. Dubnow did not consider such Bolsheviks as Trotsky (Bronstein) to be Jewish. "They appear under Russian pseudonyms, because they are ashamed of their Jewish origins (Trotsky, Zinoviev, others). But it would be better to say that their Jewish names are pseudonyms; they are not rooted in our people."

In 1922 he emigrated to Kaunas, Lithuania, and later to Berlin. His magnum opus was the ten volume World History of the Jewish people, first published in German translation in 1925-1929. "With this work Dubnow took over the mantle of Jewish national historian from Graetz. Dubnow's Weltgeschicht may in truth be called the first secular and purely scholarly synthesis of the entire course of Jewish history, free from dogmatic and theological trappings, balanced in its evaluation of the various epochs and various regional groupings of Jewish historical development, fully cognizant of social and economic currents and influences... ."

During 1927 Dubnow initiated a search in Poland for pinkeysim (record books kept by Kehillot and other local Jewish groups) on behalf of the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut (YIVO, Jewish Scientific Institute), while he was Chairman of its Historical Section. This spadework for the historian netted several hundred writings; one pinkes dated to 1601, that of the Kehillah of Opatów.

In August 1933, after Hitler came to power, Dubnow moved to Riga, Latvia. There his wife died, yet he continued his activities, also writing his autobiography Book of my Life. Then in July 1941 Nazi troops occupied Riga. Dubnow was evicted, losing his entire library. With thousands of Jews he was transferred to the Riga ghetto. According to the few remaining survivors, Dubnow repeated to ghetto inhabitants: "Yidn, shraybt un farshraybt"' (Yiddish: "Jews, write and record"). He was among thousands of Jews to be rounded up there for the Rumbula massacre. Too sick to travel to the forest, he was executed in the city on December 8, 1941. He was murdered by a Gestapo officer who had been one of his pupils. Several friends then buried Simon Dubnow in the old cemetery of the Riga ghetto.

The exhortation in Yiddish was typical of Dubnow, the lover of historical record, and the firm believer in the Yiddish culture of Eastern European Jewry, a culture which was being swept away.


The Holocaust - Martin Gilbert, page 230

Political ideals

Dubnow was ambivalent toward Zionism, and he rejected assimilation. He believed that the future survival of the Jews as a nation depended on their spiritual and cultural strength, where they resided dispersed in the diaspora. Dubnow writes: "Jewish history [inspires] the conviction that Jewry at all times, even in the period of political independence, was pre-eminently a spiritual nation."

His formulated ideology became known as Jewish Autonomism, once widely popular in eastern Europe, being adopted in its various derivations by Jewish political parties such as the Bund and his Folkspartei. Autonomism involved a form of self-rule in the Jewish diaspora, which Dubnow called "the Jewish world-nation". The Treaty of Versailles (1919) adopted a version of it in the minority provisions of treaties signed with new east European states. Yet in early 20th-century Europe, many political currents began to trend against polities that accommodated a multiethnic pluralism, as grim monolithic nationalism or ideology emerged as centralizing principles. After the Holocaust, and the founding of Israel, for awhile discussion of Autonomism seemed absent from Jewish politics.

About שמעון דובנוב, הי"ד (עברית)

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Shimon Dubnow (Dubnov)'s Timeline

September 10, 1860
Mscislaŭ, Mogilev Province, Belarus
March 3, 1885
Age 24
Mstislavl,Mogilev Oblast,Byelorussia,Ussr
Age 25
Mstislavl,Mogilev Oblast,Byelorussia,Ussr
Age 26
Mstislavl,Mogilev Oblast,Byelorussia,Ussr
December 8, 1941
Age 81
Riga, Riga, Latvia
December 8, 1941
Age 81
Riga, Latvia