Page from Divre yeme ha-benayim (History of the Middle Ages), by Samuel Gurin and Yitsḥak Reznikov (Kishinev: Yak. Shekhter and Sons, 1922). This Hebrew textbook was written by Gurin with Hebrew high schools in mind. (YIVO)

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Gurin, Samuel

(1888–1956), educator and public figure in Estonia. Born in Brest-Litovsk, a large center of Jewish communal life, Samuel Gurin grew up in a poor neighborhood in a family of seven children. He studied at a heder and then at a primary school, and then moved with his family to Warsaw, where he completed high school and studied history at the university. As a student, Gurin was affiliated with the Bund; later he turned to the Russian social democrats, and for a period was a member of the Menshevik Party. However, he soon became disappointed with party politics.

Gurin was offered an appointment at the university in Warsaw, on condition that he convert to Christianity. He refused the offer and subsequently had difficulty finding employment; ultimately he took a position in Bendery, Bessarabia, at a secondary school. Bendery became part of Romania after World War I, and when Gurin was forced to leave the country in 1919, he moved to Novoselitsa, Ukraine, where he taught at the local high school and met his wife.

In 1925, Gurin became principal of the Jewish gymnasium in Tallinn, Estonia. According to his daughter, he moved there to earn a more lucrative salary, to gain higher social standing, and to live in a European capital. He passed an examination in Estonian and became a citizen in 1926. During the interwar years, he strove to preserve peace between Yiddishists and Hebraists and to balance language politics in the Estonian Jewish community. After the USSR occupied Estonia in 1940, Gurin remained principal of the gymnasium until July 1941, when the Soviets prohibited the school from retaining its Jewish character. He managed to escape to Russia just before the Germans captured Tallinn. During the war years, he worked as a teacher in a small village school in Kazakhstan. Gurin returned to Estonia in 1945.

In the postwar years, Gurin was considered unreliable by the Soviet authorities, making it impossible for him to work as a historian. Instead, he taught logic and psychology. However, he continued to pursue his research interests, defending his Ph.D. thesis when he was 65 years old and then working in that field at the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute (Tallinn University from 2005). He died three years later.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Gurin, ed., Juudi vahamesrahvuse statistika Eestis (Tallinn, 1939); Eugenia Gurin-Loov, Tallinna Juudi Gümnaasium, 1923–1940 (1941): Ajalugu. mälastused. meenutused (Tallinn, 1998); Anna Verschik, “The Yiddish Language in Estonia: Past and Present,” Journal of Baltic Studies 30.2 (Summer 1999): 117–128.