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Gessen, Iulii Isidorovich


(1871–1939), historian and social activist. Iulii Gessen was born in Odessa and graduated from the commercial school in that city; he also studied history independently. In 1895 he was employed by the newspaper Odesskie novosti (Odessa News); a year later he moved to Saint Petersburg, where he worked in a bank until 1905. Apparently heavily influenced by social activists such as Ahad Ha-Am and Simon Dubnow, from 1905 Gessen was active in the work of the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE).

In 1898 Gessen published a biography of the writer and editor Osip Rabinovich in the series Galereia evreiskikh deiatelei (Gallery of Jewish Activists); in that same year, he translated Lev Pinsker’s Autoemancipation into Russian. Between 1899 and 1901 he published Iz istorii i zhizni evreev (On the History and Life of Jews), as well as several articles in the Russian-language newspaper Budushchnost’ (Future), on the situation of Jews in Russia. During the Russian Revolution of 1905 he was a founder of the Jewish liberal organization Soiuz dlia Dostizheniia Polnopraviia Evreev v Rossii (Union for the Attainment of Full Rights for the Jews in Russia).

After 1905 Gessen turned to scholarly work, publishing various articles on the social and economic struggle of Jews in Russia. His publications included O zhizni evreev v Rossii: Zapiska v Gosudarstvennuiu dumu (On the Life of Jews in Russia: A Letter to the State Duma; 1906), in which he analyzed the legal and social situation of Russian Jews from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. Gessen tried to convince the Russian public of the necessity to emancipate Russian Jews by outlining all the injustices created by their inferior legal status. He was also involved in the work of the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society, edited sections of the Evreiskaia entsiklopediia, and published Istoriia evreev v Rossii (A History of the Jews in Russia) in 1914.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, Gessen went beyond Jewish topics to describe the plight of the Russian proletariat. In accordance with his socialist beliefs, he blamed the Jewish bourgeoisie for the troubles of Russian Jews. In 1921 he undertook the editing of the Arkhiv istorii truda v Rossii (Archive of the History of Labor in Russia), Russkoe proshloe (Russian Past), and, in 1925, the Khrestomatiia po istorii rabochego klassa v Rossii (Anthology of the History of the Working Class in Russia). After 1930 he also worked as editor of the Vestnik Akademii nauk SSSR (Herald of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR) and in the Archival Department of the Commissariat of Internal Affairs of the Ukraine, which dealt with Leningrad oblast’. Toward the end of his life Gessen turned to the study of expeditions to the Arctic region and (apparently with S. Iu. Vize) prepared the Sudovye zhurnaly Velikoi Severnoi ekspeditsii, 1730–40 gg (Ship Journals of the Great Northern Expedition of 1730–1740). He died in Leningrad.