MOSCOW, July 23 (JTA) — Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn is being accused of distorting the history of Russian Jewry in his new book on Russian-Jewish relations.
In the introduction to “200 Years Together,” a 500-page treatise, the famed novelist says he is “appealing to both sides, Russian and Jewish, to come to patient understanding and to acknowledge their own share of blame.”
But the controversial author takes a position on the tsarist-era pogroms at odds with most historians. Solzhenitsyn, 83, blames the pogroms on a grass-roots movement, exculpating the Russian state from any responsibility in the anti-Jewish attacks.
He also blames the “liberal intelligentsia” — often a code word for Jews — for exaggerating the extent of the pogroms.
That does not go over well in a community that suffered the pogroms’ fury.
“Solzhenitsyn’s book is anti-Semitic and mendacious. It is deliberately distorting the history of Russian Jews,” Victor Dashevsky, a Jewish historian who heads the Moscow Anti-Fascist Center, told JTA.
Solzhenitsyn’s book covers Russian-Jewish relations from the late 18th century — when the partition of Poland placed large numbers of Jews in the Russian Empire — until the Russian Revolution of 1917.
He intends to continue his exploration in a second volume.
This is not the first time Solzhenitsyn has made headlines.
Solzhenitsyn first burst onto the world literary scene in the 1960s as a Soviet dissident whose novels — including “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “The Gulag Archipelago” — exposed the repression of Soviet communism.
His initial reputation as a beacon of freedom and enlightenment makes the current controversy especially poignant. Yet Solzhenitsyn ceased to be the darling of the West some time ago, when he made known his questionable attitudes toward democracy and Jews.
In December 1999, before Russia’s last parliamentary elections, he was quoted on Russian television as being fearful of a Jewish conspiracy against Russia.
But for some, Solzhenitsyn always will be remembered for his dissident activity.
“Solzhenitsyn is not an anti-Semite. He remains a banner of my generation, for Jews and non-Jews,” said Mark Kajdan, 54, a Jewish researcher with the Russian Academy of Sciences, who was close to the dissident movement in the 1970s.
Indeed, some extremists even criticized the book for being too soft on the Jews.
“Solzhenitsyn is a traitor, who sold himself to world Jewry,” one extreme nationalist newspaper wrote.
Some wonder if Solzhenitsyn — who returned to Russia a few years ago from exile in Vermont — is still relevant in post-Communist Russia.
“Solzhenitsyn is not a historian at all. He is an obsolete creator of myths,” said Lev Krizhak, a Jewish student of history at a Moscow university. “He is not interesting anymore, he is himself a myth.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently disagrees.
Putin recently paid a highly publicized visit to Solzhenitsyn at his villa, though details of their talk were not disclosed.