Russian Jews in exile from Bolshevik Russia: the case of Lev Shestov as an example of Russian‐Jewish existential compromise

Olga Tabachnikova

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Lev Shestov (born Leib Jehuda Shvartsman in Kiev in 1866) was a product of his times and entangled cultural roots. His destiny became closely related to the Russian Diaspora in Europe (he fled Bolshevik Russia in 1920). He was also linked to the local (especially French and German) intellectual life. However, being a Jew made Shestov stand out from the purely Russian emigration, for although he connected himself first and foremost with Russian culture, he could not be integrated without reservations into the purely Russian Diaspora. On the other hand mapping him in relation to the diverse Russian‐Jewish émigré milieu in Europe is not a straightforward task because his attitude to his Jewish roots was rather ambivalent. The case of self‐identification, in varying degrees, was similarly ambiguous with many Russian Jews who left Russia after the revolution. Shestov’s activities in emigration were diverse. Apart from teaching he published regularly in the outlets of the émigré press as well as in major French literary journals and gave lectures in Germany (in particular, addressing such different audiences as the Union of Russian Jews and the Nietzschean Society). In brief, his way of coping with the experience of exile was to become a multicultural conductor of sorts. This article aims to analyse Shestov’s life path in the framework of the Russian‐Jewish Diaspora in Europe at the time in the context of both cultural and ethnic repudiation and appropriation. This in turn should shed some new light on the cultural life of this Diaspora.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-200
JournalEast European Jewish affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2008


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