U-M prof Jeffrey Veidlinger on his book "In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust"
Jeffrey Veidlinger, a celebrated historian and Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, scoured trial records, official documents, and witness statements to assemble his new book, In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust, which recounts organized violence against Jewish people in the Ukraine and Poland before World War II.
“For about 10 years, I was a co-director of The Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories, which involved conducting Yiddish language oral history interviews with elderly folks in Ukraine," he said. "During those interviews, I was struck by people's experiences and memories of the pogroms of 1918-1921 and by the similarities in the ways in which they describe the pogroms and the Holocaust. The interviews impelled me to go back to the revolutionary period and to look more closely at exactly what happened.”
In the Midst of Civilized Europe explores the history of these largely forgotten pogroms where more than 100,000 Jews were murdered. Regular Ukrainian and Polish people—from peasants to soldiers—burned homes and destroyed Torah scrolls. National and international newspapers featured descriptions of locals robbing, sexually assaulting, and killing their Jewish neighbors. The horror led aid workers to predict that millions of Jews were in danger of being exterminated—grim prognostications that came true in just a couple of decades.
“The anatomy of the pogroms, how they were implemented, and how they were ultimately stopped can be valuable lessons for our own understanding today of ethnic violence around the world," Veidlinger said. "What we learn most importantly, is that violence must be stopped at its root because once it becomes embedded in a society, the seeds are sown for future escalations. The pogroms also help us understand some of the ways in which antisemitism can become violent and even genocidal.”
Veidlinger said he wants readers to “understand that violence against Jews was not unique to any particular ethnic group and is not biological—it is not ‘in their DNA’ so to speak. Rather, it is circumstantial, episodic, and multifaceted. Understanding those circumstances and the reasons that animosities and suspicions can turn violent is the only way to prevent similar episodes in the future."
At the Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival, Veidlinger will discuss his book with University of Michigan Political Science & Judaic Studies professor Zvi Gitelman.
“The best way to work toward preventing this type of violence from breaking out in the future is to understand how it has broken out in the past," Veidlinger said. "I hope that my book can be one step toward helping educate people about the roots of ethnic violence and the means of preventing it.”
Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cat.
Veidlinger will appear via Zoom to discuss his work on November 30 at 7 pm at the 34th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival, which is produced by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor. It continues through December 16 and includes more than two dozen authors including Naomi Ragen ("An Observant Wife"), Ruth Behar ("Letters From Cuba"), and Jonathan Dunsky ("The Auschwitz Detective").