Cover image for Dreamland : Europeans and Jews in the aftermath of the Great War
Dreamland : Europeans and Jews in the aftermath of the Great War
Sachar, Howard Morley, 1928-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2002.
Physical Description:
xii, 385 pages : maps ; 25 cm
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DS135.E83 S28 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Great War, as World War I was known in its time, was described by its survivors and contemporary historians as "the war to end all wars," "the war to make the world safe for democracy." By its end, in November 1918, Europe's authoritarian old empires had fallen, and new and seemingly democratic successor states and governments were rising from the ensuing debris. In chronicling an era that was both visionary and tempestuous, Howard M. Sachar directs our attention to the fate specifically of Europe's Jewish minority as a classic litmus test of the Continent's transformation. Writing with his characteristic lucidity and verve, Sachar enriches his narrative by focusing on the careers of some of its major players: Poland's Józef Pi´lsudski, Rumania's King Carol, Czechoslo-vakia's Tomás? Masaryk, Austria's Sigmund Freud, Germany's Rosa Luxemburg, and France's Léon Blum, among many other protean figures, Jews and Gentiles alike. With surgical precision,Dreamlandtraces the fate of Europe's early postwar idealism under the pressures of demographic and political revolution, nationalist and economic frustration, and Depression-exacerbated xenophobia. In the richness of its human tapestry and the acuity of its social insights, Dreamland masterfully expands our understanding of a watershed era in modern history.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In 1918, postwar Europe stood on the brink of a new era of optimism, justice, and freedom. Antiquated autocracies crumbled and new, seemingly invigorated nations rose from the carnage and the ashes of the Great War. At the forefront of the social and political revolutions that were transforming the continent were the European Jews. During the early years of this initially golden age, Jews and Gentiles together attempted to forge a new European identity. Unfortunately, nationalist tensions, economic hardships, societal pressures, and political partisanship combined to doom this unprecedented partnership and abruptly extinguished the promise of an invigorating social experiment. This scholarly analysis provides a completely original slant on the much-studied interwar period. Margaret Flanagan.

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the political and social chaos that followed WWI, Jewish communities throughout Europe found themselves in new, often contradictory positions that seemed to suggest fresh possibilities for integration, explains Sachar (author of the highly regarded The History of Jews in America) in this accessible overview of the interwar Jewish experience. In Hungary, for instance, despite a violent outbreak of postwar anti-Semitism, a new coalition government was headed by the Jewish army officer Bela Kun. Sachar, a history professor at George Washington University, weaves a broad tapestry of social, economic and political conditions that is at times dizzying in its complexity and breadth. He looks at this hopeful era primarily through the stories of influential individuals like composer Arnold Schoenberg and socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, as well as less well-known figures such as Walther Rathenau, a Jewish businessman who became a diplomat in post-WWI Germany. Sachar has a keen eye for historical detail, and a fine sense of narrative. Yet the book feels uneven at times, offering a great deal of detail on some subjects (like the byzantine politics of interwar Czechoslovakia) that seems at odds with the more general sketches of figures like Freud and Proust. Nonetheless, it gives general readers a sense of the enormous diversity of experience among Jews during this time whether peasants, intellectuals, businessmen, atheists or believers and a concise explanation of how anti-Semitic stereotypes responded to this variety, eventually giving way to the devastations of the Holocaust. (Mar. 14) Forecast: Despite its flaws, this will appeal to general readers interested in either Jewish studies or European history. Good reviews could move it initially, and it should have steady, if slow, continuing sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In a sweeping narrative, Sachar (history, George Washington Univ.) examines the fate of European Jewry in the aftermath of World War I. Chapters focus on such topics as Jewish life in Poland, where minority clauses in the Treaty of Versailles were supposed to protect Jewish rights, and the prominent role played by Hungarian Jews in the short-lived regime of Bla Kun. In addition to examining the motivations for Jewish participation in radical politics, Sachar analyzes Jewish intellectual life by focusing on prominent thinkers such as Kafka and Freud. Although Sachar tends to confirm the general picture of European Jewry's descent into marginal status at least on most parts of the continent he is careful not to portray Jews as merely passive victims, regarding them as active participants in the tumultuous events of the interwar years. In such a wide-ranging cultural survey, the author is dependent on a vast array of secondary literature, and Sachar has mined these sources to great effect. Although his bibliography lists mostly English-language references, this serves as a good starting point for both the advanced student and the general reader. Recommended for all libraries. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Author of many well-regarded books examining Jewish history, Sachar is less convincing in the conceptualization of this one. Why is it useful to see the history of interwar Europe through the prism of the Jewish experience? This is a question he does not explore, settling instead for a shopworn truism: Jews, and how they are treated, are a barometer for the health of nations. Despite this shortcoming, Sachar constructs a readable, imaginative narrative with a feel for the telling anecdote, the dramatic confrontation, and the human interest behind notable events. The loosely connected chapters deal with France, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany. The author's wide reading of the secondary literature in many languages allows him to evoke the period, or at least an important slice of it, for he is far more attentive to the elite of political leaders, artists, and intellectuals than the lives of ordinary people. The canvas is very broad, and it is understandable that errors of fact should crop up occasionally, but in this case there are so many as to diminish the book's utility. R. S. Levy University of Illinois at Chicago



I A MURDER TRIAL IN PARIS A Prosecution Begins At 10:00 a.m. on October 18, 1927, the gates swung open to the Assize Court of the Seine, the fourth of five courtrooms in the Palace of Justice's stately complex. Some fifteen hundred persons, who had clogged the entryway since early morning, pressed forward to a chamber whose wood-paneled galleries accommodated barely four hundred spectators. Nearly half of them were journalists, many from other countries. They had come to witness a murder trial. Although both the victim, Simon Petliura, and the accused, Sholem Schwarzbard, were natives of the former tsarist empire, the crime had been committed in Paris a year and a half earlier. Upon taking his seat on the dais, Presiding Judge Georges Flory informed the twelve jurors that French law permitted simultaneous criminal and civil actions. Accordingly, the victim's widow, Olga Petliura, and his brother, Oskar Petliura, were sharing in the prosecution. Judge Flory then turned to the prisoner in the dock. Sholem Schwarzbard, thirty-nine, was a pale and diminutive man, yet with the muscular physique of a bantamweight boxer. He listened impassively while the judge defined the various charges of premeditated homicide, as listed in Articles 294-298 and Article 301 of France's Criminal Code. Flory explained that all carried the death penalty. How did the defendant plead? To each charge, Schwarzbard responded with an emphatic "not guilty." Hereupon the judge invited Public Prosecutor Chrétien Reynaud to present the case for the state. The ensuing trial would continue for eight days. The basic facts of the defendant's life by then had been extensively described in the world press. Schwarzbard's hometown was Balta, a predominantly Jewish community in the former tsarist province of Podolia, where his parents owned a tiny grocery store. Balta's Jews intermittently were victimized by pogroms. In one of these, Schwarzbard's pregnant mother was killed. The surviving four children endured lives of acute hardship. Sholem Schwarzbard as an adolescent was apprenticed to a watchmaker in a neighboring village. During Russia's "Octobrist" Revolution of 1905, the seventeen-year-old youth was imprisoned for participating in an antigovernment demonstration. Upon his release three months later, he and his younger brother Meir fled Russia, working and often begging their way through Europe, before finally settling in Paris in 1910. There they opened a watchmaker's shop. Although the brothers soon married and assumed family responsibilities, their reaction to the outbreak of war in 1914 was characteristically uncompromising. Both immediately enlisted for military service, and both were assigned to the French Foreign Legion. Afterward, both suffered wounds in the Somme campaign, and both were awarded the Croix de Guerre. It was during his convalescence in a military hospital in February 1916 that Sholem Schwarzbard first learned of the immense tragedy that had befallen his people in Russia the year before. In December 1914, as the German army launched its offensive on the eastern front, Russia's supreme military commander, Grand Duke Sergei, classified the dense Jewish population in the tsarist borderlands as a potentially subversive element. These people, he decreed, should forthwith be transferred away from the principal battle zones. Thus began, in March 1915, a systematic expulsion of Jews from Russian Poland, Lithuania, and Courland. Ultimately, some half-million men, women, and children were uprooted and driven into the Russian interior. Wherever transportation was provided, the exiles were packed into freight cars and dispatched to inland villages on a waybill. But scores of thousands of others were indiscriminately herded eastward without a fixed destination. Often they subsisted in wagons, boxcars, even in open fields. At least sixty thousand Jews died of starvation and exposure during the vast expulsion. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered economic ruin. In March 1917, even before receiving his medical discharge from the army, Schwarzbard learned of yet another upheaval in Russia. This one was political. The nation had undergone revolution, the tsar had abdicated, a liberal new regime had been installed. Thrilled by the news, Schwarzbard immediately sought permission from the French government to return to his homeland and seek out his family. His request was granted. Thus, in August 1917, accompanied by his wife, Schwarzbard departed by ship for Russia, and in September he rejoined his father, brothers, sisters, and stepmother in Balta. In Balta, too, he resumed his vocation as a watchmaker. Yet Schwarzbard's civilian career endured less than a year and a half. Following a second, Bolshevik, Revolution, Russia fell into the throes of civil war. In January 1919, Schwarzbard was conscripted into the Red Army and thrown into battle against the "White" counterrevolutionary forces. After participating in the Bolsheviks defense of Odessa, he was transferred in late spring to the struggle for Russia's Ukrainian provinces. Here the battle was waged first against the rebel Ukrainian Republican army, then against General Anton Denikin's "White"-counterrevolutionary-army. Another year would pass before Schwarzbard was released from military service. Exhausted by eighteen months of war and privation, he returned then with his wife to France. A Nation Is Reborn These were the essentials of Schwarzbard's life, as recounted in the trial by his defense attorney. Normally, the little watchmaker's sacrifices on behalf of his adopted motherland would have warmed the heart of even the iciest French cynic. But Madame Olga Petliura's civil attorney, César Campinchi, offered another picture of the defendant. Schwarzbard was a professional revolutionary, Campinchi insisted, who had worked in league with Russia's Bolshevik regime. Here Campinchi cited Schwarzbard's youthful activities as a radical, his imprisonment during the 1905 Revolution, his arrest as a thief for stealing food while passing through Vienna in 1909. For the Ukrainian émigré groups that funded Campinchi's prosecution, meanwhile, the trial offered more than simply the opportunity to convict a murderer. There was a national record to put straight. Schwarzbard and his partisans were "desecrating" the facts of the Ukrainian people's struggle for freedom. That struggle had continued intermittently throughout modern history. During the seventeenth century, it took the form of an uprising against the ruling Polish Commonwealth. In later years, following the eighteenth-century partitions of Poland, the Ukrainians had staged periodic revolts against both the governing tsarist empire and the Polish landowning aristocracy. By 1914, the Ukrainians numbered some 25 million, and if they remained a peasant and largely illiterate population, their nationalists, like those of Poland, still awaited their window of opportunity. It opened with the Russian Revolution of March 1917. The Russian provisional government, under the prime ministry of Prince Georgi Lvov, expressed sympathy for a certain limited Ukrainian autonomy within a Russian-dominated federation. The Ukrainian nationalists were unimpressed. Rejecting the autonomist formula as vague and pallid, they encouraged Ukrainian conscripts to desert the Russian army en masse and form their own military units. Subsequently, in November 1917, exploiting the chaos engendered by Russia's second, Bolshevik revolution, the Ukrainians formally proclaimed their own autonomous republic. Establishing a central Rada-a parliament-in the Ukraine's historic capital city of Kiev, they appointed Mikhail Hrushevsky as the nation's first president and Simon Petliura as its minister of defense. Over the ensuing weeks, the Ukrainian Rada issued "Second and Third Universal Declarations," successively enlarging its ambit of governmental jurisdiction. In Petrograd, meanwhile, the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was alarmed. Deeming the Ukraine's vast agricultural bread basket, and its naval ports and army bases, to be of critical economic and strategic importance to beleaguered Russia, Lenin insisted on a more limited version of Ukrainian autonomy. He was rebuffed. The rift between the two governments soon became irreconcilable. Indeed, in January 1918, the Ukrainian Rada and its Executive proclaimed the republic's full independence. For Lenin, therefore, the provocation demanded a frontal response. Two weeks later, detachments of Red Army troops occupied Kiev. Yet, even then, the Ukrainians were not without recourse. That same January, Major General Otto von Hoffman, Germany's plenipotentiary at the (ongoing) Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations, signed a separate treaty of "recognition and peace" with the Ukrainian separatists. Soon afterward, in early February of 1918, the German army pushed forward into the Ukraine, sending the Russians fleeing, and restoring the Ukrainian Rada to office in Kiev. The "restoration" was a sham. The Rada functioned entirely by sufferance of the German army. Worse yet, the treaty the Ukrainians had signed at Brest-Litovsk committed them to deliver a million tons of grain and livestock to the Central Powers. The burden soon proved insupportable. In the summer of 1918, as Ukrainian resistance to these shipments stiffened, the Germans lost patience with their client regime. Dispersing the Rada and its Executive, they installed a puppet hetman -military commander-of their own, a functionary who set about fulfilling the delivery quotas with obsequious zeal. For the Jews, the Ukrainian nationalist struggle proved a trauma of agonizing dimensions. It always had. A Jewish presence in the Ukraine traced back at least to the fourteenth century, when tens of thousands of Jews, fleeing massacres in German-speaking Europe, began pouring as refugees into the Ukrainian and Lithuanian territories of the Kingdom of Poland. Henceforth, under Polish royal protection, the Jews served the landowning aristocracy as estate managers and as rent collectors from the Ukrainian peasantry. The Ukrainians bitterly resented this double servitude. In their folklore, the Jews were not merely Antichrists. They were economic allies of the Poles. In the mid-seventeenth century, therefore, when the Ukrainian Cossack leader Bogdan Chmielnicki led his people in an explosive revolt against Polish oppression, his campaign was directed against Jews and Poles alike. Before the slaughter ended, in 1654, as many as fifty thousand Jews may have perished. In ensuing centuries, the Ukraine's periodic anti-Polish and anti-Jewish outbursts consumed possibly another fifty thousand Jewish lives. Nevertheless, whether under Polish or-subsequently-tsarist rule, a Jewish nucleus in the Ukraine over the centuries managed to survive intermittent persecution and even to achieve a rather formidable demographic base. By the Russian census of 1897, Jews living in the Ukrainian regions numbered 1,927,000-almost 10 percent of the total population, and the largest concentration of Jews in the tsarist empire altogether. Most were town-dwellers. "Infidel," urban, commercial, this was an alien minority all but preordained to suffer majority xenophobia. In turn, with their long exposure to that hostility, the Jews reacted to the wartime separatist movement with profound trepidation. In the spring and summer of 1918, to be sure, under the brief, de facto rule of "civilized" Germany, they appeared to be at least physically safe. But when the German presence in Eastern Europe deteriorated in the autumn of 1918, Ukrainian nationalist forces moved to seize effective control of their ancient homeland. In preparing for independence, the Ukrainian Rada established a new administration, an executive Directorate of five men. The Directorate's president was Simon Petliura. Born in Poltava in 1879 to an impoverished cab driver, Simon Vassilievich Petliura was precocious enough as a youth to be admitted to a Russian theological seminary, and tenacious enough to maintain his Ukrainian cultural identity during ten years of educational Russification. In common with most of his countrymen, the young man revered as his heroes Bogdan Chmielnicki, the seventeenth-century "Ukrainian Cromwell," and Taras Shevchhenko, the great nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet. Yet Petliura had become more than a passionate nationalist. For him, a free Ukraine would become a land of social justice and equality for all nationalities, spared the hateful tsarist incubus of anti-Polish or even anti-Jewish bigotry. In pursuit of that dream, the young man eventually left the seminary (without graduating), and returned home to become active in the underground Ukrainian Social Democratic party. When the World War began, Petliura avoided direct military service in the tsarist army by enlisting in a Red Cross medical unit assigned to Ukrainian detachments. Three years later, immediately following Russia's Bolshevik Revolution, he set about mobilizing a Ukrainian brigade to protect his people's newly proclaimed autonomy. In March 1918, the Ukrainian Rada confirmed Petliura as its minister of defense. The timing was less than propitious. By then the Germans were in effective occupation of the Ukraine. They chose to keep Petliura under house arrest in East Prussia. Yet it was the Central Powers' last gasp in Slavic Europe. By early autumn of 1918 their contingents in the Ukraine were in retreat. Petliura was released. In November 1918, when the Ukrainian Executive was revived as a five-member Directorate, the thirty-nine-year-old Petliura was selected as the nation's ataman , its president. Thereafter it was Petliura-a slight man of less than middle height, given to wearing a flamboyant yellow cockade and a richly bemedaled blue uniform-who would direct the Ukrainian national struggle. Then, too, the Jews would come to know him well. Excerpted from Dreamland: Europeans and Jews in the Aftermath of the Great War by Howard Morley Sachar All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xi
I. A Murder Trial in Parisp. 3
II. A Minority "Bill of Rights"p. 20
III. In Search of a Conglomerate Identityp. 43
IV. Hostages of "Latin" Civilizationp. 71
V. Bela Kun and the Legacy of Utopianismp. 100
VI. The Professor and the Prophetp. 132
VII. Notes from a Shattered Dreamp. 161
VIII. The Age of the Assassinsp. 205
IX. Minerva's Owl at Weimar's Twilightp. 255
X. In Search of Lost Swannsp. 283
Notesp. 327
Bibliographyp. 345
Indexp. 369
The Killing Fields: The Ukraine, 1917-1921p. 2
Jewish Population in Europe, 1933p. 326