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In Memoriam John Klier, 1944-2007

Michael Berkowitz

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 42, 2009 In memoriam John Klier, 1944-2007 John Doyle Klier, a pioneering historian of Russian Jewry, who died on 23 September 2007, was a pivotal figure in academic Jewish Studies and East European history in the United Kingdom and beyond. He was President? elect of this Society, but prevented from taking office by his final illness. Klier was born on 13 December 1944 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and his family lived briefly in Washington, DC, before settling in Syracuse, New York. His father taught aeronautical engineering at Syracuse University. John used to joke that his father had a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, T really AM a rocket scientist'. Brought up as a Catholic, John attended Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, for his BA and MA in history. He pursued doctoral study at the University of Illinois - long a powerhouse in Russian and Soviet history - where his interest in Russian Jewry was stimulated. He was intrigued, in his investigations of pre-revolutionary Russia, that little primary research had been conducted on Russian Jewry for most of the twentieth century. His PhD dissertation examined the process by which Tsarist Russia, following the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century, fitfully absorbed the Jews into the Russian state system. This work was sharpened and expanded into his first book, Russia Gathers Her Jews: The Origins of the Jewish Question in Russia (Northern Illinois University Press, 1986), now considered a seminal text in modern Jewish history. The very fact that Klier began pursuing such a project in the late 1960s did not seem to make sense, given the Soviet tendency towards censorship and limited access to information. How could a historian have probed this subject during the so-called 'Period of Stagnation', when forays into politi? cally sensitive topics such as 'the Jewish Question' were taboo? In a feat of utter brilliance, Klier officially purported to study 'the Russian popular press', a seemingly innocuous subject, which gained him access to the mate? rial necessary to produce a truly groundbreaking, substantive history of Russian Jewry. He made superb use of his experience as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Leningrad State University in 1977-8 and 1980-1, becoming so proficient in Russian that he was prized as an eloquent lecturer in that language, almost in a class of his own among non-Russian-born scholars of East European Jewry. This is part of the reason why he became the greatest xv</page><page sequence="2">In memoriam John Klier, 1944-2007 interlocutor between Jewish historians and other social scientists based in Eastern Europe, and their colleagues in Israel and the west. The book Klier co-edited with Shlomo Lombroza, Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Jewish History (Cambridge University Press, 1991), is widely regarded as the gold standard in a highly contentious field. It argued that pogroms were hardly ever directed from the 'top-down', nor did they function as a direct trigger for the massive flight of Jews to the west. While scrupulously analysing each of the violent outbreaks, the book seeks to situ? ate the pogroms in the larger context of social hostility and violence in Tsarist Russia. In 1991 John Klier was one of the first foreign scholars to undertake in depth research in Soviet archives on the Jews, and mined resources in the coming years in Kiev, Moscow, St Petersburg and Minsk. In 1993 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States to prepare surveys of Jewish materials in post-Soviet archives. Scores, if not hundreds, of researchers of East European Jewry benefited from his insight and guidance. There are few important books in East European Jewish history that fail to record their debt to Klier. His second major monograph, Imperial Russia's Jewish Question, 1855-1881 (Cambridge University Press), a sequel to Russia Gathers Her Jews, but drawing on a greater scope of material, appeared in 1995. This book focused on 'the interplay of public opinion and official policy' that played so large a part in Jewish history. It firmly established Klier's reputa? tion as the leading expert on Russia's perceptions and treatment of the Jews from the late nineteenth century until the demise of the Tsarist Empire. In the last few months of his life Klier completed the manuscript of Southern Storms: Russians, Jews and the Crisis of 1881?2, again to be published by Cambridge University Press. Building on his earlier mono? graphs, articles and edited volumes, it explores the nature of pogrom violence in Russia and the responses to the events of 1881-2 by the Imperial authorities, as well as by Russian and Jewish society. He was working as well on a study of Jews and military recruitment in the Russian Empire, focused on the cantonist battalions. Adapting his original research, he published a book in Russian, Rossia sobiraet svoikh evreev (Gesharim, 2000), a critical text for the Russian-speaking student and scholarly community in Eastern Europe and Israel. Klier also was author, with his wife, Helen, of a popular history, The Search for Anastasia: Solving the Riddle of the Lost Romanovs (London: Smith Gryphon, 1995). Similar to his demythologiz ing of Russian Jewish history, John and Helen showed that the legends of Anastasia's survival were just that - legends. John was bemused that this book out-sold all of his academic work combined. John Klier began his university teaching career at Fort Hays State xvi</page><page sequence="3">In memoriam John Klier, 1944-2007 University in Hays, Kansas, which he described as quintessentially 'middle American', literally the geographic centre of the United States. He did not disparage the institution as a backwater, preferring to recall that it was supportive of his research, including the purchase of microfilm which he used for decades. While in Kansas, Klier proved himself a prodigious scholar and excellent teacher, and was promoted to full Professor. In 1989 a lectureship was established in East European Jewish history at University College London. John sought - and attained - the appointment, despite the drop in rank from a Professorship to a Lectureship. His ascen? sion back up the academic ladder was swift. He was promoted in 1993 to Reader and assumed the Sidney and Elizabeth Corob Professorship of Modern Jewish History in 1996. Klier was a tireless advocate of Jewish scholarship in Eastern Europe, and passionately promoted the development of East European Jewish history in the United States, continental Europe and the United Kingdom. He energized and bolstered his home depart? ment at UCL to such an extent that it has become the largest university based programme of Jewish Studies outside of Israel and the United States. He was a supremely talented teacher, who supervised numerous masters' and doctoral dissertations, and whose lectures deftly interwove politics, religion and social life with the greatest sophistication, yet remained acces? sible to a wide audience. He was co-editor of East European Jewish Affairs and held a number of voluntary posts, including the Presidency of the British Association of Jewish Studies. He was a consultant to Yad Hanadiv (now the Rothschild Foundation Europe) and Avi Chai Foundation, and a moving force on the boards of the Simon Dubnow Institute in Leipzig and the Sefer Foundation, concerned with advancing the study of Jewish history and culture in Eastern Europe. He published articles in dozens of journals and scholarly books, refereed countless manuscripts for university presses, and was always willing to lend cheerful support to colleagues to navigate the archives, and even the alleyways, of Eastern Europe. His schol? arly achievements are all the more impressive considering the effort he expended teaching undergraduates and postgraduates, service to his department and university, and frequent lectures and courses for the general public. As the Chair of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies for most of the 1990s, he was famed for nurturing a refreshingly open-minded and convivial atmosphere. On almost any given day one could find scholars visiting from Europe, Israel and the United States - typically remarking that they knew of no centre of Jewish Studies that approached UCL's warmth and collegiality. This was rightly attributed, above all, to John Klier. John is survived by family members in the United States and the UK. He xvii</page><page sequence="4">In memoriam John Klier, 1944-2007 was thoroughly devoted to his wife Helen Mingay, a journalist and Labour councillor in Lewisham, and their two children, Sophia and Sebastian, recent graduates of Exeter and Bristol, of whom John was immensely proud. John sentimentally insisted on wearing Helen's (London University) Queen Mary college scarf until it disintegrated. As a product of an academic household, it is not surprising that John was intellectually inclined. His tastes were diverse. He was an expert in many national literatures - which he preferred to read in their original. He was also well-versed in classical music, art, opera and theatre. He was a skilled competitive fencer, who could hold his own against much younger chal? lengers. He could also carry a spirited, incisive conversation about American and English football. He imbibed the humanistic values of all the cultures he encountered. His sincere kindness, friendship, sense of humour and good nature were infectious. His loss leaves a vast hole and profound sadness. His scholarship is certain to stand the test of time, and his warmth will be cherished and recalled throughout the world. Michael Berkowitz xvm</page><page sequence="5">Professor John Klier, 1944-2007 (Photo Chris Clunn for UCL)</page></plain_text>