Scholars at an international scholarly conference at YIVO, Vilna (now Vilnius, Lith.), 1935: Elye Tsherikover (seated, fourth from right), Simon Dubnow (third from right), Raphael Mahler (standing, second from right), and others. (YIVO)

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Tsherikover, Elye

(Elias Tcherikower; 1881–1943), historian of Russian Jewish life and anti-Jewish violence. Elye Tsherikover was raised in a merchant-class, Zionist household in Poltava. After gymnasium in Odessa, where he joined socialist Zionist circles, he attended university in Saint Petersburg and was active in the Russian revolutionary movement. His university studies were interrupted by his arrest at a Menshevik meeting in 1905. After the 1905 Revolution, Tsherikover devoted himself to scholarship and legal public activism, first in the Russian Jewish circles of Saint Petersburg and then in the Yiddishist movement.

The dais and part of the audience at the first YIVO Conference, Vilna, 1929. Among the scholars and communal leaders on the stage are (seated, center) Tsemaḥ Szabad, (second to Szabad’s right) Max Weinreich, (second to Szabad’s left) Perets Hirshbeyn, (standing, third from right) Zelig Kalmanovitsh, and (seated, second from right) Eliyahu Tsherikover. (YIVO)

Tsherikover’s career as a writer began in 1905, with his Marxist treatment of the work of Sh. Y. Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim) in the Russian Jewish journal Evreiskaia zhizn’ and articles for the Russian radical press under the pseudonyms E. Mikhaelovitsh and E. Chuzhoi. In the years before World War I, Tsherikover was a major contributor to Evreiskaia entsiklopedia and the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE); he edited the latter’s pedagogical journal Vestnik OPE and wrote its in-house history. He also contributed to the Jewish historical journal Perezhitoe and Evreiskii mir, a meeting place for moderate socialists and diaspora nationalists. The outbreak of World War I found Tsherikover outside Russia. He spent the war years in New York, writing in Yiddish and publishing articles on Jewish affairs in New York’s socialist Tsukunft, the Labor Zionist Yidisher kempfer, and the daily Tog. He also wrote to promote the establishment of a Jewish Congress. Returning to Russia after the February Revolution, he initially associated with venues identified with the reemergent Russian Zionist movement: the Petrograder togblat (ed. Yitsḥak Grünbaum) and the Moscow Russian-language journal Safrut (ed. Leyb Jaffe), where he wrote about contemporary American Jewry. He also wrote on the Leo Frank case for the Hebrew-language history anthology He-Avar (1918; ed. Sha’ul Ginsburg). In late 1918, Tsherikover moved to Kiev, attracted by the promise of formal Jewish national autonomy in Ukraine. There he worked for the Yiddishist, diaspora nationalist publishing venture, the Folks-Farlag, and assumed a managerial role in the last institutions of Jewish national autonomy.

The 1919 Bolshevik suppression of Jewish autonomy and the simultaneous wave of violence and mass murder against Ukrainian Jewish communities by nationalist, White, and other forces (“the Ukrainian pogroms”) strongly shaped Tsherikover’s subsequent scholarly career. He helped compile an essential collection of documents and testimonies on Jewish autonomy and its dissolution (Di idishe oytonomie un der natsyonaler secretariat in Ukraine; 1920) and later edited a related volume of documents and memoirs on revolutionary-era Jewish life, In der tkufe fun revolutsye (Berlin, 1924). From 1919, Tsherikover devoted himself especially to gathering evidence about pogroms. By the time he left Russia for Berlin via Kovne/Kaunas in 1921, he had compiled a massive archive (now housed at YIVO). Settling in Berlin, he began a massive scholarly project on pogroms with other Jewish scholars and activists, including Simon Dubnow, Yosef Schechtman, Nokhem Shtif, Jakob Lestschinsky, and N. Gergel. Tsherikover himself wrote two historical studies on pogroms: Antisemitizm un pogromen in Ukraine, 1917–1918 (published in Yiddish and Russian, 1923) and Di Ukrainer pogromen in 1919, published posthumously (1965). Tsherikover and his archive also played an important role in the 1926–1927 Paris trial of Shalom Schwarzbard.

From Emanuel Ringelblum in Warsaw to Elye Tsherikover, 25 September 1932. Among other things, he reports on discussions recently held in Warsaw on "difficult matters" in connection with a historical publication being prepared. He reports on what Ignacy Schiper says about "Varshavski's work," that there are more important things to write about than Jewish spies. But Ringelblum takes issue with this attitude: Jewish historians shouldn't censor themselves for fear of stirring up antisemitism. But neither should there be a separate chapter about Jewish spies, which will give "a false picture of the role of the Jews" during the uprising. Ringelblum also reports that Schiper feels the topics of presentations at an upcoming historical congress must be broad and general, such as Yankev Shatzky's proposed talk on "The Jewish Question in History," and that Simon Dubnow must attend as the guest of honor. Ringelblum intends to deliver a talk on the social opposition of Jews in Polish history. He disagrees with Raphael Mahler that he is too young to deliver such a talk. Yiddish. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)

Tsherikover lived in Berlin until 1933. That year, he moved to Paris, and in 1940 to New York. Throughout this period, he devoted himself primarily to research on modern Jewish history while also continuing his involvement in Jewish public affairs and playing a significant role in the political and cultural life of the Russian Jewish and Yiddishist émigré communities in these centers. In 1925, he had been a founder of the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut—YIVO—and thereafter headed its Historical Section and edited the three volumes of its Historishe shriftn. He also participated in the international Yiddishist effort to create a Yiddish encyclopedia, the partially completed Algemeyne entsiklopedye in yidish. His own scholarship embraced many features of modern Jewish history in addition to the history of pogroms and antisemitism, including, most notably, the story of the Jewish labor movement and Jewish involvement in revolutionary movements in France and tsarist Russia. As a public intellectual, he played a role in interwar efforts to facilitate and direct Jewish emigration, served as an expert in trials relating to antisemitism (the Protocols of the Elders of Zion trial in Bern, 1934–1935; the trial of David Frankfurter in Davos, 1936), and coedited the 1939 Paris journal Afn sheydveg, which recorded the doubts and despair of many leading diasporist and Yiddishist figures by the late 1930s. In his last years, he was active in the American branch of YIVO.

Suggested Reading

Bibliografye fun Elyohu Tsherikover (New York, 1948); Joshua Karlip, “At the Crossroads between War and Genocide: A Reassessment of Jewish Ideology in 1940,” Jewish Social Studies 11.2 (2005): 170–201; Cecile Esther Kuznitz, “The Origins of Yiddish Scholarship and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 2000); Zalman Reisen (Rejzen), “Tsherikover, Elye,” in Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye, vol. 1, cols. 1207–1210 (Vilna, 1926); “Tsherikover, Elye,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 4, cols. 158–162 (New York, 1961).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 201, Abraham Liessin, Papers, 1906-1944; RG 332, Henoch Gelernt, Papers, 1930s-1950s; RG 453, Mendl Elkin, Papers, 1913-1961; RG 556, Aaron Glanz-Leieles, Papers, 1914-1966; RG 80, Mizrakh Yidisher Historisher Arkhiv (Berlin), Records, 1802-1924; RG 81, Elias Tcherikower, Papers, 1903-1963; RG 82, YIVO—Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut (Vilna, Tcherikower Archive), Records, 1921-1943.