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Leon Trotsky and Ilya Ehrenburg: The Heroic and the Tragic 

Keynote Address for the CAHI sponsored workshop "Red Biography: The Significance of Communist Life-Histories in Global Perspective"

Joshua Rubenstein, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University

Thursday, February 2, 2017
5:30 pm
Oak Room, Indiana Memorial Union

The lives and careers of both Ilya Ehrenburg and Leon Trotsky underscore the heroic and tragic dimensions to the fate of Soviet Jewry.  Raised as Jews in the Russian Empire, they both joined the revolutionary movement as adolescents out of defiance for the tsar's deeply conservative and antisemitic autocracy.  It was Trotsky who remained true to his revolutionary calling, first helping to lead the Bolsheviks to power in the fall of 1917 and then, outmaneuvered and banished by Joseph Stalin, he continued to defend the revolution even as it destroyed his family and millions of other innocent people.  As for Ehrenburg, who denounced the Bolsheviks in 1917 and established himself as an independent voice in Soviet letters, there were inevitable limits to his moral autonomy.  But he will be remembered for his anguished response to the Holocaust and lifelong opposition to antisemitism.  In the confused years after the Bolshevik revolution, in the terrifying quarter century under Stalin, and the breathless, liberating, and ultimately frustrating decade under Khrushchev, Ehrenburg was courageous, at times even outspoken when no one of similar stature dared to voice independent views.  

Joshua Rubenstein is a longtime Associate of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.  He was an organizer and regional director for Amnesty International USA for 37 years.  He has written about Soviet culture, politics, dissent, and the Holocaust in German-Occupied Soviet territory.  Tangled Loyalties, his biography of the controversial Soviet-Jewish writer Ilya Ehrenburg, came out in 1996.  Stalin’s Secret Pogrom:  The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, received a National Jewish Book Award.  His concise, interpretive biography of Leon Trotsky is part of the prestigious Jewish Lives Series of Yale University Press.  The Last Days of Stalin, is his tenth book; it is currently being prepared for translation into Estonian, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, and Ukrainian.   


This lecture is supported by the Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair in Jewish Studies

This event is free and open to the public. If you have a disability and need assistance, arrangements can be made to accommodate most needs. Please contact