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Jews under Arms: State, Community, Self-Defence, and the Transformation of East-Central Europe

This project examines the dynamics of Jewish self-arming and the formation of independent military units during the revolutions, upheavals, nationalist warfare, and pogroms in Central and Eastern Europe in the ‘Long Nineteenth Century’. From the Jewish regiment of Berek Joselewicz, fighting against the Second Partition of Poland, to the Jewish City Guard in Warsaw 1830/31 and the Jewish units in the revolutionary Hungarian army of 1848, through self-defence against pogroms in Poland and Ukraine in 1905, and the armed struggles in the aftermath of the First World War, Jews have repeatedly taken up arms collectively to defend themselves and to take part in the transformation of East-Central Europe. The project analyses this recurring phenomenon, both as a means of self-defence against antisemitic persecution and violence, and as an independent trajectory towards emancipation. The project suggests a re-conceptualization of Jews in the violent transformations of Eastern and Central Europe, centring on their (armed) agency in these processes, and assesses what these violent moments meant for the relation between Jews and the state, as well as how it affected inner-communal relations.

Contact: Jan Rybak, Early Career Fellow, Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, University of London.

Image credit: Jewish Security Guard (detail), 1831, Fryderyk Krzysztof Dietrich. 

Statement – 1

The founding principle of the Institute is that the study of antisemitism is vital to understanding racialization, racism and religious intolerance.

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