A Murder in Lemberg: Politics, Religion, and Violence in Modern Jewish History

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Overview

"Michael Stanislawski's Murder in Lemberg is an extraordinarily interesting jewel of a book. It is a good read and an exciting story. More important, this in-depth account of an 1848 murder case and its legal aftermath allows Stanislawski to get at the heart of many important issues in nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish history, especially the pace and extent of modernization and religious reform, the reaction against reform, and the relationship of Jews to government. It is a tour de force of analysis and insight."—Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland

"This well-written book uses the case of the murder of the reform rabbi of Lemberg in 1848 as a prism through which to analyze the evolving character of the Jewish community in Austrian Galicia and their relationship with the authorities and the other ethnic-religious groups there. It is somewhat reminiscent of Jan Gross's Neighbors and Helmut Walser Smith's The Butcher's Tale in that it provides the general context of the murder in a succinct and informative manner and delves into its intricate details and subsequent investigation. This makes for interesting reading and a fresh look at a region and period that are not well covered."—Omer Bartov, Brown University

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Editorial Reviews

H-Net Reviews
A Murder in Lemberg is a comparatively short tome, yet, for the most part, it packs a powerful punch. And it is a testament to Stanislawski's skill that what might initially appear to be a parochial, if somewhat shocking, event, relevant only to its own time and place, is rendered of broader and potent meaning. . . . [T]his is a first-rate microstudy that deserves attention beyond the academy.
— Sam Johnson
Forward - Allan Nadler
Beyond the sheer literary pleasure of his captivating narrative and the inherent novelty of a Galitsianer Jewish murder mystery, the author adds important insights into the complex, now vanished, world that was Jewish Galicia. . . . Michael Stanislawski has written not only an important historical morality tale about the dangers of religious extremism, but also a cautionary tale about the unforeseeable perils unleashed when governments try to force modernity, or, for that matter democracy, on a deeply traditional religious society.
Canadian Jewish News - Sheldon Kirshner
Stanislawski . . . could not have written this slim, fascinating book without having immersed himself in the municipal archives of Lviv, previously known as Lemberg.
Haaretz - Tom Segev
In a charming and fascinating book that he has just published—A Murder in Lemberg—Stanislawski says he truly believes that this is not only a fascinating story in and of itself, but also one with abiding importance to all those interested in the modern history and the culture of the Jews, with all of its grandeur and successes, as well as its abundance of tragedy and violence...including internal violence, ultimately stretching from the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848 to that of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
The Jerusalem Report - Ralph Amelan
In this concise account, Michael Stanislawski expertly uses the crime to show that ideological changes roiling the Jewish world at the time were just as fundamental as those operating on the wider scene, and that these movements acted and reacted to each other in dangerous and unpredictable ways.... Stanislawski explains a very complex religious and political situation with commendable brevity and clarity.
Slavic Review - Francois Guesnet
[T]he account is a highly stimulating read.
American Historical Review - Theodore R. Weeks
[This] book is well worth reading. For specialists, it provides a little-known incident with a strong argument. For those less familiar with the history of East European Jewry, this short book may serve as an easy and interesting introduction wrapped in a murder mystery. One way or the other, Stanislawski's study is a stimulating work and deserves broad readership.
H-Net Reviews - Sam Johnson
A Murder in Lemberg is a comparatively short tome, yet, for the most part, it packs a powerful punch. And it is a testament to Stanislawski's skill that what might initially appear to be a parochial, if somewhat shocking, event, relevant only to its own time and place, is rendered of broader and potent meaning. . . . [T]his is a first-rate microstudy that deserves attention beyond the academy.
From the Publisher
"Stanislawski tells his story with a sharp eye for detail and plot, with the historical context and analysis that students of Jewish history will appreciate."—Publishers Weekly

"Beyond the sheer literary pleasure of his captivating narrative and the inherent novelty of a Galitsianer Jewish murder mystery, the author adds important insights into the complex, now vanished, world that was Jewish Galicia. . . . Michael Stanislawski has written not only an important historical morality tale about the dangers of religious extremism, but also a cautionary tale about the unforeseeable perils unleashed when governments try to force modernity, or, for that matter democracy, on a deeply traditional religious society."—Allan Nadler, Forward

"Stanislawski . . . could not have written this slim, fascinating book without having immersed himself in the municipal archives of Lviv, previously known as Lemberg."—Sheldon Kirshner, Canadian Jewish News

"A well-paces and dramatic re-examination of the Kohn murder, Murder in Lemberg is, more importantly, a rich and vivid picture of the diverse mid-19th century Jewish life in Eastern Europe, when change was unsettling traditional communities."—Jewish Book World

"In a charming and fascinating book that he has just published—A Murder in Lemberg—Stanislawski says he truly believes that this is not only a fascinating story in and of itself, but also one with abiding importance to all those interested in the modern history and the culture of the Jews, with all of its grandeur and successes, as well as its abundance of tragedy and violence...including internal violence, ultimately stretching from the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848 to that of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995."—Tom Segev, Haaretz

"In this concise account, Michael Stanislawski expertly uses the crime to show that ideological changes roiling the Jewish world at the time were just as fundamental as those operating on the wider scene, and that these movements acted and reacted to each other in dangerous and unpredictable ways.... Stanislawski explains a very complex religious and political situation with commendable brevity and clarity."—Ralph Amelan, The Jerusalem Report

"[T]he account is a highly stimulating read."—Francois Guesnet, Slavic Review

"[This] book is well worth reading. For specialists, it provides a little-known incident with a strong argument. For those less familiar with the history of East European Jewry, this short book may serve as an easy and interesting introduction wrapped in a murder mystery. One way or the other, Stanislawski's study is a stimulating work and deserves broad readership."—Theodore R. Weeks, American Historical Review

"A Murder in Lemberg is a comparatively short tome, yet, for the most part, it packs a powerful punch. And it is a testament to Stanislawski's skill that what might initially appear to be a parochial, if somewhat shocking, event, relevant only to its own time and place, is rendered of broader and potent meaning. . . . [T]his is a first-rate microstudy that deserves attention beyond the academy."—Sam Johnson, H-Net Reviews

Forward
Beyond the sheer literary pleasure of his captivating narrative and the inherent novelty of a Galitsianer Jewish murder mystery, the author adds important insights into the complex, now vanished, world that was Jewish Galicia. . . . Michael Stanislawski has written not only an important historical morality tale about the dangers of religious extremism, but also a cautionary tale about the unforeseeable perils unleashed when governments try to force modernity, or, for that matter democracy, on a deeply traditional religious society.
— Allan Nadler
Canadian Jewish News
Stanislawski . . . could not have written this slim, fascinating book without having immersed himself in the municipal archives of Lviv, previously known as Lemberg.
— Sheldon Kirshner
Jewish Book World
A well-paces and dramatic re-examination of the Kohn murder, Murder in Lemberg is, more importantly, a rich and vivid picture of the diverse mid-19th century Jewish life in Eastern Europe, when change was unsettling traditional communities.
Haaretz
In a charming and fascinating book that he has just published—A Murder in Lemberg—Stanislawski says he truly believes that this is not only a fascinating story in and of itself, but also one with abiding importance to all those interested in the modern history and the culture of the Jews, with all of its grandeur and successes, as well as its abundance of tragedy and violence...including internal violence, ultimately stretching from the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848 to that of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
— Tom Segev
Slavic Review
[T]he account is a highly stimulating read.
— Francois Guesnet
American Historical Review
[This] book is well worth reading. For specialists, it provides a little-known incident with a strong argument. For those less familiar with the history of East European Jewry, this short book may serve as an easy and interesting introduction wrapped in a murder mystery. One way or the other, Stanislawski's study is a stimulating work and deserves broad readership.
— Theodore R. Weeks
The Jerusalem Report
In this concise account, Michael Stanislawski expertly uses the crime to show that ideological changes roiling the Jewish world at the time were just as fundamental as those operating on the wider scene, and that these movements acted and reacted to each other in dangerous and unpredictable ways.... Stanislawski explains a very complex religious and political situation with commendable brevity and clarity.
— Ralph Amelan
Jewish Book World
A well-paces and dramatic re-examination of the Kohn murder, Murder in Lemberg is, more importantly, a rich and vivid picture of the diverse mid-19th century Jewish life in Eastern Europe, when change was unsettling traditional communities.
Haaretz
In a charming and fascinating book that he has just published—A Murder in Lemberg—Stanislawski says he truly believes that this is not only a fascinating story in and of itself, but also one with abiding importance to all those interested in the modern history and the culture of the Jews, with all of its grandeur and successes, as well as its abundance of tragedy and violence...including internal violence, ultimately stretching from the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848 to that of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
— Tom Segev
Publishers Weekly
Murder, intrigue, media spotlight, community in-fighting, police coverup, judicial malfeasance. O.J. Simpson? Jon-Benet Ramsey? No, it's the poisoning of Rabbi Abraham Kohn and his family by a fellow Jew, Abraham Ber Pilpel, in 1848, in the Ukrainian city of Lemberg (now Lviv). Stanislawski, professor of Jewish history at Columbia, uncovers a forgotten story as his fascinating book details the events surrounding the murder of the reformist (but not Reform) Rabbi Kohn and his four-year-old daughter (four other family members survived) after Pilpel sneaked into their kitchen and poured arsenic in the family's soup. While the twists and turns of the case make a compelling narrative, Stanislawski has a far more important story to tell. The assassination of Kohn was the result of roiling religious and political tensions between Lemberg's Orthodox community, which remained loyal to the Hapsburg empire, and Rabbi Kohn, allied with those demanding independence as revolution spread across Europe in 1848. While there is too much on Lemberg Jews' communal affairs for most readers, Stanislawski tells his story with a sharp eye for detail and plot, with the historical context and analysis that students of Jewish history will appreciate. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691128436
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2007
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,296,882
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Stanislawski is Nathan J. Miller Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies and Chair of the Interdepartmental Program in Yiddish Studies. His books include "Autobiographical Jews and Zionism" and the "Fin de Siecle".

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Read an Excerpt

A Murder in Lemberg

Politics, Religion, and Violence in Modern Jewish History
By Michael Stanislawski

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.




Introduction

The assassination of Yitshak Rabin on 4 November 1995 sent shockwaves throughout the world, both because of the sheer horror of the event and because it was immediately feared that it might cause a new explosion of violence in the Middle East. The most immediate fear (which I confess feeling myself, watching the events unfold in real time on television) was what would happen if the assassin turned out to be a Palestinian? Within minutes, a huge sigh of relief could be felt everywhere from Jerusalem to Washington, when it was confirmed that the murderer was one Yigal Amir, an Orthodox Israeli Jew who killed the prime minister out of politically and religiously based opposition to his peace plan.

Almost immediately, however, the truth began to sink in within Israel and Jewish communities everywhere else: A Jew had killed the prime minister of Israel! How could this have happened? How could the religious and political divides within Israel have descended to this low? How could a Jew kill another Jew for political and religious reasons?

In the weeks and months that followed, Israel mourned as it had never done before, and Orthodox rabbis and Opposition political figures who had preached that the late prime minister was a traitor began a painful process of self-examination, reassessing their previouspronouncements, pondering as never before the relationship between words and action, theory and reality. The mourning and the self-examination continued, but barely six months after Rabin's murder, his Labor Party lost the elections to the Likud Party, and Benjamin Netanyahu, one of Rabin's sharpest critics, became the new prime minister of Israel.

As a new political reality settled in, and soon a second Intifada broke out, unprecedented violence between Arabs and Jews once again began to dominate the news from the Middle East, just as did the continuing strife between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia and between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Island. Religious warfare seemed once more to be normal, even normative, in the modern world.

And so the question of how a Jew could kill another Jew for political and religious reasons receded into the background. But not for me. The Rabin assassination only gave me added incentive to study in depth an earlier, almost unknown, case of an internal Jewish assassination that had intrigued me for years but about which I was unable to get enough information: the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn, the Reform rabbi of the city of Lemberg, in Austrian Galicia, during the Revolution of 1848. First and foremost, I had for years been fascinated by the largely untold story of non-Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe, including substantial figures and institutions that paralleled both Reform and Conservative Judaism. This was a story that needed to be told in its own right, to break the stereotype of East European Jewry and underscore its religious diversity in the nineteenth century-and how much more so because that diversity, and the tensions it created, had led to the murder of one of its leaders out of religious and political motives. But whatever archival material existed would necessarily be in L'viv, the Ukrainian name for the city known in German and Yiddish as Lemberg, as Lwów in Polish, and L'vov in Russian, and that city had been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, which meant that its archives, like all others in the USSR, had essentially been closed to researchers in Jewish, Ukrainian, and Polish history and culture, as well as most aspects of Russian history, until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now, the independent Ukrainian state was beginning to open up its archives to researchers, but what chance was there that the materials I needed would have survived all the wars and disasters that had befallen that part of the world since 1848?

Fortunately, during my years of graduate study I had spent a good deal of time at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, and through old friends who had become leading figures in Ukrainian history both in North America and now, in Ukraine itself, I was able to make contact with the chief archivist of the Central State Historical Archive in L'viv, and he and his staff diligently combed through the records and found the goldmine I had been hoping for: the entire police and court records regarding the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn in September 1848!

And so this book became possible: the story of an extraordinary and largely unknown event in modern Jewish history. On 6 September 1848, Rabbi Abraham Kohn, the Reform rabbi of Lemberg, the capital of Austrian Galicia, was assassinated. Earlier that day, while the family cook was preparing the evening meal, an Orthodox Jew snuck into the Kohn kitchen, pretended to light his cigar on the flame of the stove, and stealthily poured arsenic into the pot of soup simmering on the stovetop. When the family sat down to eat dinner, they consumed the poisoned soup. Quickly they all fell ill, doctors were summoned, but they were able to save only Mrs. Kohn and her older four children: the forty-one-year-old Rabbi Abraham Kohn and his infant daughter Teresa were dead. The local authorities immediately ordered an investigation, and they quickly discovered the alleged assassin, one Abraham Ber Pilpel, who was tried and convicted for the crime, which led to a long and convoluted court appeal that lasted for several years.

This remarkable episode has not quite been a secret until now, although even most professional Jewish historians do not know about it, and there has been an element of a cover-up in some treatments of the story. Thus, probably the most frequently consulted source about the Jewish community of Lemberg or Rabbi Kohn, the Encyclopedia Judaica, deliberately and rather shockingly obfuscates the facts, writing, "After Kohn and his son [sic!] died from food poisoning, murder was suspected. The authorities ordered an investigation, and the leaders of the Orthodox sector, [Jacob Naphtali Herz] Bernstein and Hirsch Orenstein, were arrested. After a time, both were released for lack of evidence." As we shall see, there was never any doubt in anyone's mind that this was not "food poisoning" but quite clearly an assassination, and the evidence about the crime was so extensive that the deliberations about its perpetrators and their punishment went on for three years.

This is the first book in any language devoted to this murder and its investigation, although it builds on a small number of earlier analyses in Polish, German, Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. These earlier studies, however, got crucial facts of this case wrong, largely through no fault of their own: The documents necessary to an accurate and dispassionate account of this assassination and its aftermath, used here for the first time anywhere were, as already explained, buried deep in archives hidden from the public for over fifty years.

To tell this fascinating but extremely complex story, I will have to weave together several substories into one comprehensible narrative. First, the history of the southern region of historic Poland and Ukraine known as Galicia in which L'viv is located, and its extraordinary complicated religious and ethnic makeup, including that of its third largest population, the Jews. Second, the history of the city of L'viv/Lemberg/Lwów/L'vov itself, and then specifically that of its Jewish community, which became, in the period under consideration here, not only the largest Jewish community in Galicia but also in the Austrian Empire as a whole. As a result of its size, location, and the cultural forces that engulfed it, the Lemberg Jewish community was marked by a fascinating divide not only, as one would expect, between traditional Orthodox and Hasidic Jews but also between Orthodox Jews and modernists, the latter themselves divided between "enlighteners" either not particularly concerned about religion, those still devoted to traditional Judaism, and those supportive of the new Reform movement, which was still being formed in Germany and, by extension, in German-influenced Jewish enclaves elsewhere. Moreover, the Lemberg Jewish community was ruled by a lay leadership that, like communal leaderships everywhere and at all times, was dominated by the rich, but here the rich, too, were splintered among many fault lines, both economic and ideological. Next, I must summarize the story of the emergence of centers of nontraditional Judaism in Eastern Europe, from Riga, Vilnius, and St. Petersburg in the north to Budapest in the south, and then focus on the amazing success story of the Reform Temple of Lemberg, as well as the astonishingly popular school attached to it, which, in the heart of East European Jewry in the 1840s, enrolled almost 750 children-a number that even I, a professional historian of that culture for the past thirty years, did not believe when I first became aware of it! And then the life story of Rabbi Abraham Kohn, a gentle and scholarly man, born in Bohemia to a poor Jewish family who, by dint of hard labor and great intelligence, made his way first to a local gymnasium and thence to Prague, where he attended the famous Charles University and then was ordained as a (traditional) rabbi, before taking up the rabbinic post in the small Austrian alpine town of Hohenems, where he served with great distinction. In Hohenems, he gravitated to the newly emerging Reform tendencies in German-speaking Jewry. Based on his success in Hohenems, he was invited to serve the rapidly growing "progressive" Jewish community of Lemberg, where, as he built up a huge temple and school and was appointed official rabbi of the city by the Austrian authorities, he incurred the wrath of the Orthodox Jews on religious grounds, and the even more extreme enmity of the richest (and also Orthodox) members of the community who made their fortune through administering the tax collection system of the Jewish community-especially the special taxes on kosher meat and on Sabbath and holiday candles incumbent on all Jews. These taxes were opposed by Rabbi Kohn and others, both traditional and modernist, as discriminatory and unfair. The opposition to his religious and political views led, several years before his assassination, to both verbal and physical attacks against Rabbi Kohn and members of his family. As a result of these attacks, he was tempted to leave the city and move to somewhere safer and more congenial to the religious modernism he had come to embrace. But he stayed in Lemberg both because of his loyalty to his congregation and because he soon became frontally involved in the great Revolution of 1848, which engulfed Lemberg as it did so many other cities in Western and Central Europe. Abraham Kohn became one of the leaders of the revolutionary camp both in Lemberg and in Galicia as a whole, including in delegations that traveled to Vienna to present the revolutionary demands to the central imperial government and to the emperor himself. A central plank in the revolutionaries' platform was the emancipation of the Jews of the Austrian Empire, including Galicia, and the abolition of the special Jewish taxes. We shall see how this public effort contributed to increased attacks against Rabbi Kohn at home in Lemberg, and how these attacks were strengthened and buoyed by the rise of the Reaction in Vienna and the provinces, resulting ultimately in the murders of Rabbi Kohn and his youngest child in September 1848. Finally, we shall chronicle the completely unknown story of the drawn-out investigation, trial, and appeals of the men, all Orthodox Jews, arrested either for his murder or for the conspiracy to commit that murder.

As I weave together this extraordinary story, I will try to keep in mind how foreign almost all of these matters are to my imagined readers. I truly believe that this is not only a fascinating story in and of itself but also one with abiding importance to all those interested in the modern history and culture of the Jews, with all of its grandeur and successes, as well as its abundance of tragedy and violence-including internal violence, ultimately stretching from the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn in 1848 to that of Prime Minister Yitshak Rabin in 1995.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from A Murder in Lemberg by Michael Stanislawski Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

PART ONE: THE MURDER AND ITS BACKGROUND

Chapter One: Galicia and Its Jews, 1772-1848 9
Chapter Two: Lemberg and Its Jews, 1772-1848 18
Chapter Three: A Reform Rabbi in Eastern Europe 34
Chapter Four: Rabbi Abraham Kohn in Lemberg, 1843-1848 52
Chapter Five: Revolution and Murder 65

PART TWO: THE INVESTIGATION, SENTENCE, AND APPEAL

Chapter Six: Abraham Ber Pilpel, Murderer? 81
Chapter Seven: The Indicted Co-Conspirators 97
Chapter Eight: Magdalena Kohn v. the Austrian Empire 107

Conclusion 112
Afterword 121
Acknowledgments 129
Notes 131
Bibliography 143
Index 149
Illustration Section Follows Page 88

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