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97 posts categorized "Slavonic"

24 August 2017

The Aeneid of Bazylevych – celebrating Kotlyarevsky's masterpiece

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The 7th International Arsenal Book Festival was held from 17-21 May 2017 in Kyiv, in the National Cultural-Artistic and Museum Complex ‘Art Arsenal’. New publications from more than 150 publishing houses were presented there.

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Above and below: Photos from the  festival. With a kind permission of  Oleksiy Bazylevych

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This year the Festival, entitled ‘Laughter. Fear. Strength’, provided an opportunity for discussion of the nature of laughter, its many-faceted forms, its decisive role in periods of crisis, and the way in which we laugh now. An important occasion relating to this theme was the 175th anniversary of the publication of the complete edition of the Aeneid by Ivan Kotlyarevsky – a shining example of Ukrainian humorous culture.

The poet and playwright Kotlyarevsky was the creator and father of modern Ukrainian literature. He devoted the major part of his life to the creation, in burlesque travesty style, of the poem Aeneid, which parodies Virgil’s epic. The Aeneid of Kotlyarevsky is a true encyclopaedia of the popular life, domestic affairs and customs of contemporary Ukrainian society.

BazylevychKotliarevskyiEneida1989  Portrait of Kotlyarevsky by Anatolii Bazylevych from : Ivan Kotliarevskyi, Eneida. (Kyiv, 1989) YF.2013.a.26059.

The depiction of the characters of Kotlyarevsky’s Aeneid in visual art has a long history. Its first illustrator was the Ukrainian painter, graphic artist and student of folklore and ethnography Porfyriy Martynovych, who in 1873-4 created several drawings for the Aeneid. In 1903-4 a jubilee edition of the Aeneid was published with 10 black-and-white illustrations by the painter and graphic artist Vasyl' Kornienko. A single colour illustration was created in 1919 by the outstanding graphic artist Heorhiy Narbut;  however, it became a permanent treasure of Ukrainian art.

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Narbut’s illustration to Kotliarevsky’s Aeneid (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1931 Ivan Padalka,  professor of painting at the Kyiv Art Institute and one of the Ukrainian artists of the Boychuk school, illustrated the Aeneid. In 1937 the Aeneid was published with illustrations by the graphic artist and painter Mykhailo Derehus (1904-1997), and in 1949 with illustrations by Ivan Izhakevych and Fedir Konovaliuk (1897-1984).

The largest project illustrating the Aeneid is that by Anatolii Bazylevych, differing in the number of the illustrations – 130 drawings in colour – and the depth of his understanding of the poem. An outstanding master of book art, the creator of numerous illustrations for classical works of Ukrainian and world literature and those of contemporary writers, Bazylevych is rightly considered one of the artists who determined the image of Ukrainian art in the second part of the 20th century.

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   Photograph of Anatoliy Bazylevych, from the periodical Ukraina (Kyiv, 1966).  By kind permission of Oleksii Bazylevych.

Bazylevych was born on 7 June 1926 in Zhmerynka in the Vinnytsia region, into the family of an engineer. Later his family moved to Mariupol where he spent his childhood and had his first art lessons in a school art study group. He survived the Nazi occupation and forced labour in factories in Germany, where he was deported with his family and where his father perished. Despite all these hardships, Bazylevych did not abandon his dream of becoming an artist. He received his education at the Kharkiv Art Institute in 1947-1953, afterwards moving to Kyiv, where for many years he worked with several publishing houses.

BazylevychNarodniPisniUkraïnsʹki narodni pisni (Kyiv, 1966). YF.2012.a.29456,  a set of postcards by Bazylevych illustrating Ukrainian folk-songs.

The work of illustrating the Aeneid occupied nine years of the artist’s life: three variants of the book’s design, hundreds of sketches from nature, and the creation of his own original fonts. He finished his work on the Aeneid in 1967. In the Aeneid Bazylevych was not just an illustrator: he was a creator of images, who by his own methods opened up the real core of the text to a wider audience. In a way he was the co-author of the Aeneid in his own genre. This is the key to the huge popularity of the editions of 1968-70. ‘Have you seen Bazylevych's Aeneid?’ people asked one another at this time. There were queues for the book in the shops; the first edition quickly sold out, and in 1969-70 there were two more editions. The British Library holds that of 1969.

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                       Above: Title-page of: Ivan Kotliarevskyi, Eneida. (Kyiv, 1969). YF.2013.a.13059 Below: Enei and his Cossacks (from Ivan Kotlarevskyi, Eneida (Kyiv, 1989). YF.2013.a.26059

BazylevychEneidaCossacks1969

Altogether Bazylevych’s Aeneid was published in dozens of editions in different designs and with different numbers of illustrations, in both colour and black and white variants, published in Germany, Canada and Georgia as well.

BazylevychEneida1989Cover Cover of: Ivan Kotliarevskyi. Eneida. (Kyiv, 1989) YF.2013.a.26059

 

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Anatoly Bazylevych. Venus visiting Zeus. 1989. Paper, indian ink, watercolour. Collection of O. Bazylevych. Photograph M. Bilousov. By kind permission of Oleksii Bazylevych.

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Anatoly Bazylevych. Aeneas and Dido. 1989. Paper, indian ink, watercolour. Collection of O. Bazylevych. Photograph M. Bilousov. By kind permission of Oleksii Bazylevych

The Aeneid was the greatest of Bazylevych’s works. After 1968 he continued working on the Aeneid, copying images, designing calendars and cards with images of Cossacks until his death in 2005. This year the publishing house Artbook published a new book: Eneida Bazylevycha (The Aeneid of Bazylevych; edited by Pavlo Gudimov, Diana Klochko), dedicated to the history of the creation of Bazylevych’s illustrations. ‘A book about the book’, the Aeneid of Bazylevych includes material from the family archive, a memoir by the artist's son Oleksii, original illustrations and sketches, and the author’s layouts. In the competition for the best book design which was held for the third time during the International Arsenal Book Festival in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Ukraine and with the support of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Buchkunst Fund, The Aeneid of Bazylevych was one of the three best books about art.

BazylevychNEWBOOK                                          Cover of Eneida Bazylevycha (Kyiv, 2017). New acquisition. Waiting for shelfmark.

Oleksii Bazylevych, Member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Drawing in the Boychuk Kyiv State Institute of Decorative-Applied Art and Design

 

08 August 2017

‘A Czechoslovakian epic’: the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Revolution

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Throughout the 19th century, a growing sense of Czech national identity was a constant source of alarm to the rulers of the Habsburg Empire. Friction between Czech and German speakers increased, and the first Slavic Congress, held in Prague in 1848, consolidated pan-Slavic sympathies. Although the Congress ended without formal agreement, one important result was the proclamation of a Manifestation to the Nations of Europe, calling for an end to the oppression of Slav peoples and ‘extending a brotherly hand to all neighbouring nations who are prepared to recognize and effectively champion with us the full equality of all nations, irrespective of their political power or size’.

On the outbreak of the First World War, many of the empire’s 8,000,000 Czechs and 3,000,000 Slovaks found themselves fighting under the Austrian flag. Wherever possible, their battalions were dispatched to the Italian front to reduce the likelihood of desertion to join their Russian and Serbian fellow-Slavs. Yet as the need for troops on the Eastern Front grew ever more urgent, this principle could no longer be maintained, and by 1915 many of these men found themselves deployed in Russian Poland.

On 5 August 1914 a battalion of Czechs and Slovaks known as the Česká družina (‘Czech Companions’) was organized within the Russian army to fight against the Austrians and their allies. More regiments were added as the war continued. In July 1917, the battalion, now known as the Czechoslovak Rifle Brigade (Československá střelecká brigáda), distinguished itself at the Battle of Zborov when its troops overran Austrian trenches. After this success, the Russians authorised the mobilisation of Czech and Slovak volunteers from Russian prisoner-of-war camps. The brigade was renamed again as the First Division of the Czechoslovak Corps in Russia (Československý sbor na Rusi) or the Czechoslovak Legion (Československá legie). By 1918 it contained some 40,000 troops.

Czech Legion Dufka 2 YA.2003.a.16242

An infantryman of the Third Archduke Karl regiment, stationed in Kroměříž. Illustration from Josef Dufka’s memoir Přál jsem si míti křídla (Prague, 2002) YA.2003.a.16242.

When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council, Tomáš Masaryk, began planning to transfer the Legion to France to continue fighting against the Central Powers. The Bolsheviks granted permission for the Legion to travel from Ukraine to Vladivostok to embark on transport vessels as many of Russia’s chief ports were blockaded, but this was hindered when, in January 1918, the German Army launched Operation Faustschlag on the Eastern Front to force the Soviet government to accept its peace terms. In early March, after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had taken Russia out of the war, the Czechoslovak Legion successfully fought off German attempts to prevent their evacuation in the Battle of Bakhmach.

Czech Legion Becvar 9087.aa.29 Czech legionaries on the Siberian border, from Gustav Becvar, The Lost Legion (London, 1939) 9087.aa.29

On 25 March, an agreement was signed ordering the Legion to surrender most of its weapons in exchange for safe passage to Vladivostok. The evacuation was delayed by the dilapidated state of the railways, the shortage of trains and the constant need to negotiate passage with local soviets. There was also mutual mistrust between the Legion and the Bolsheviks. When, on 14 May, a dispute broke out at the Chelyabinsk station between legionaries heading east and Hungarian prisoners of war heading west to be repatriated, Leon Trotsky ordered that the Legion be disarmed and arrested.

This triggered what became known as the Revolt of the Legions. By the end of June, the Czechoslovak Legion had seized Vladivostok and overthrown the local Bolshevik administration. On 6 July they declared the city an Allied protectorate. By early September they had swept Bolshevik forces from the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway and taken all the major cities of Siberia, but their seizure of Ekaterinburg came less than a week too late to save Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

Czech legion Vykrik

 Výkřik (‘The Scream’), a magazine printed by the Czechoslovak Legion during the Russian Civil War. RB.31.c.832.

As the Red Army gained strength and retook several cities the Legion’s enthusiasm waned, and when the independent state of Czechoslovakia  was proclaimed on 28 October 1918, its members had every reason to wish to return home. On 18 November a coup overthrew the leadership of the Whites’ Provisional Government in Siberia, with which the Legion had made common cause, and Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak was appointed ‘Supreme Leader’. The Legion was left to defend Kolchak’s sole supply route and the gold bullion which he had captured from Kazan for much of 1919, but most legionaries were uneasy with Kolchak’s rule. On 7 February 1920, the Legion signed an armistice with the Fifth Red Army granting safe passage to Vladivostok on condition that they did not try to rescue Kolchak and left the remaining gold with the authorities in Irkutsk.

Czech Legion Dufka YA.2003.a.16242

Illustration from Přál jsem si míti křídla: ‘One day we were delighted by the news in the papers that Austria was no longer fighting and the Czech Republic had been established.’

It was not until 1 March 1920 that the final Czechoslovak train left Irkutsk, and only in September that the last legionaries sailed from Vladivostok. Many of those who returned brought their skills and experience to the newly-established Czechoslovak Army; others, including Jaroslav Hašek, author of the satirical novel The Good Soldier Švejk, joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Still others lived to write their memoirs, including Gustav Becvar, whose account appeared in English as The Lost Legion. It concludes, ‘On 20 June 1920 we crossed the frontier of our newly freed homeland, the Czechoslovak Republic. […] Here, after six and a half years of weary exile, I saw my mother again.’

Susan Halstead (Content Specialist, Humanities and Social Sciences) Research Services

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

06 August 2017

Belarus Celebrates 500 Years of Printing

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On 6 August, Belarus will celebrate 500 years of printing, and also 500 years of East Slavonic printing. On that day in 1517 Francysk Skaryna (in various traditions his name has also been spelt as Francis Skaryna, Frantsisk Skorina, Franciscus Scorina and more) published the Psalter, one of the books of the Bible.

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f242r Portrait of Skaryna from his translation of the Old Testament Books of Samuel and Kings, Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv (Prague, 1518). C.36.f.4

Skaryna was born in the oldest Belarusian city, Polatsk. He was educated in universities in Kraków and Padua, and started his publishing endeavours in Prague – then one of the main centres of printing – and continued in Vilnius, which remained the most important centre of Belarusian culture and history from medieval times until the 1920s.

In the Belarusian cultural pantheon, Francysk Skaryna has a very special place. He was the most outstanding figure of the Renaissance and its humanist tradition in Belarus. He is also the most important Belarusian writer and translator of the period; an educator, philosopher and theologian, a fascinating entrepreneur and innovator, and an example of passionate patriotism.

Skaryna intended to publish the whole Bible. Between 1517 and 1519/20 he managed to produce more than half of the Old Testament – 23 books. These were translated into the Belarusian version of the Church Slavonic language then widely used in the Orthodox Church. Skaryna’s translation is close to the ‘Benatska Bible’ published in the Czech language in Venice in 1506 (C.18.b.2.); however, he consulted texts in ancient Biblical languages, as well as Church Slavonic manuscripts. The text of his Ruthenian Bible (Bivliia ruska) was supplemented by the translator’s prologues and commentaries in the Old Belarusian language.

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f001rBeginning of Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

In the prologue to the Psalter Skaryna explained his motives: “Seeing the usefulness of this small book, I decided to print the Psalter in Ruthenian words in Slavonic language for the glory of God in the first place [...] and for the good of everyone, because the merciful God sent me to the world from this people.” Skaryna intended his books for distribution among the common people (pospolityj lud) and other classes of his compatriots, the people of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (contemporary Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine). Interestingly, in virtually all prologues to his books, the printer mentioned his birthplace, the glorious city of Polack.

In 1520, Skaryna left Prague for Vilnius, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to open his own printing house. Printed Cyrillic books were still a novelty there, and the underdeveloped market dictated a different kind of literature. In Vilnius, Skaryna published The Small Travel Book (1522) and Apostol (1525) intended for daily prayer use by the largest possible audience, both clerics and lay people, as well as for use in primary schools.

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 Opening of  the Psalter (Vilna, 1522-1523). C.51.b.5

Scholars and churches in Belarus continue to debate Skaryna’s religious affiliation. It is likely that he was born into an Orthodox family but educated by Roman Catholics. He served as a secretary to Bishop Jan of Vilnius and may have converted to Roman Catholicism. In his own prayers (Orthodox in form), Skaryna referred to Catholic dogmas which allows us to assume that he might have been a convinced Uniate (or a Greek Catholic, in the contemporary terminology). Skaryna travelled widely throughout Protestant Europe and was at least once accused by a polemicist of being a “heretic Hussite”, a follower of Jan Hus who was one of the forerunners of the Reformation. Church calendars in Skaryna’s books have some elements in common with the Protestant tradition.

After Belarus became part of the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century, all Skaryna’s books were removed from Belarus. They ended up in state libraries in Moscow, St Petersburg, Vilnius and various private collections. Just over 500 books by the first Belarusian and East Slavonic printer are known to survive today, more than half of them in Russia. A significant number of Skaryna’s publications are found in Ukraine. Skaryna’s books were well known in Ukraine and influenced Ukrainian Biblical translation and printing traditions. In Britain, the British Library, Cambridge University Library  and Trinity College Cambridge have copies of Skaryna’s books. The Belarusian Library in London also has a small fragment of one of the Prague editions. Three digitised books printed by Skaryna from the British Library's collections  (Books of Samuel and Kings C.36.f.4; Psalter C.51.b.5; Acts and Epistles; C.51.b.6) will be donated to the National Library of Belarus in September 2017. 

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f065rOpening of part 2 of  Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

Skaryna C.36.f.4 f139vOpening of Book 3 of  Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv

In 1925, both the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Belarusian community in the western part of the country – then controlled by Poland – celebrated 400 years of Belarusian printing. The date related to the first book Skaryna published in Vilnius. For the occasion, the Belarusian State University Library (now National Library of Belarus) purchased ten of Skaryna’s books from a private collector in Leningrad. Since then, no more of Skaryna’s works were acquired for Belarus until February 2017 when one of the Belarusian banks announced the purchase of a copy of The Small Travel Book for its corporate collection. Currently, this copy is on tour to Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy - countries where Skaryna lived - before returning in September 2017 to Minsk for a grand exhibition, ‘Francis Skaryna and his epoch’.

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The first 17 volumes of the facsimile edition of Skaryna's books (Minsk, 2013- ) donated to the British Library by the National Library of Belarus.  Catalogued and photographed  by Rimma Lough. ZF.9.a.11377

The National Library of Belarus, meanwhile, is about to complete a multi-volume facsimile reproduction of all Skaryna’s books (picture above). Digital copies for this project were offered by many libraries and collections from around the world. The National Library is donating this publication to major libraries in Belarus and abroad, as well as to all institutions preserving Skaryna’s works. On February 27 this year a delegation from the National Library of Belarus presented a copy of the facsimile edition to the British Library in the special event held in the British Library. 

Skaryna Kristian Jensen

Kristian Jensen, Head of Collections and Curation, greeting the audience at the Belarusian event in the British Library. 

Alongside this project, the National Library of Belarus has been acquiring as many digital versions of all known copies of Skaryna’s publications as possible to create a comprehensive collection and make it accessible to researchers. The Library has truly been the driving force in celebrating 500 years of Belarusian and East Slavonic book printing. Hundreds of events have taken place in Belarus and abroad, and more are still ahead, among them an International Congress “500 Years of Belarusian Printing” and the most comprehensive exhibition of Skaryna’s works; both are taking place in Minsk in September 2017. 

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Colophon of Bivliia ruska: Knigi tsarstv with the imprint information: Ū velikom Starom meste Prazskom, Tyseshta Pe̡tsot I Osmʺnadesetʹ 

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London

Further reading:

Ebenezer Henderson, Biblical researches and Travels in Russia, including a tour in the Crimea; and the passage of the Caucasus: with observations on the state of the Rabbinical and Karaite Jews, and the Mohammedan and Pagan tribes, inhabiting the southern provinces of the Russian Empire (London, 1826).  1048.k.28.

Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections :a union catalogue, compiled by Ralph Cleminson ... [et al.]. (London, 2000). 2708.h.903 and m01/33811

Alexander Nadson,  Skaryna's Prayer Book in: http://belarusjournal.com/article/skaryna%E2%80%99s-prayer-book-89

Arnold McMillin, Francis Skaryna’s Biblical Prefaces and their Place in Early Byelorussian Literature in: http://belarusjournal.com/article/francis-skaryna%E2%80%99s-biblical-prefaces-and-their-place-early-byelorussian-literature-27

P. V. Vladimirov, Doktor Francisk Skorina: ego perevody, pečatnyja izdanija i jazyk (Munich, 1989). X.0909/738(85)

Frantsisk Skorina i ego vremia : entsiklopedicheskiĭ spravochnik  (Minsk, 1990). YA.1994.b.231

V. F. Shmataŭ,  Iskusstvo knigi Frantsiska Skoriny (Moscow, 1990). 2708.h.486

 E. L. Nemirovskiĭ, Frantsisk Skorina : zhiznʹ i deiatelʹnostʹ belorusskogo prosvetitelia. (Minsk,1990). 2708.e.1972

H. IA. Halenchanka,   Frantsysk Skaryna--belaruski i ŭskhodneslavianski pershadrukar. (Minsk, 1993). YA.1996.a.12908

17 July 2017

Victims and Pretenders: the Murder of the Romanovs

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After the 1917 February Revolution in Russia, the former Tsar Nicholas II and his family were placed under house arrest. Initially they were held at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo outside Petrograd, later being moved to the Governor’s Residence at Tobolsk in the Urals.

Although the Romanovs were essentially prisoners, it has been suggested that the Tsar was in some respects relatively content during this period. Relieved of the cares of state and in the company of his beloved wife and children, he could be a private family man, the role he enjoyed most. The family continued to live in reasonable comfort, with the hope of eventual asylum in another country – perhaps Britain or France – being held out by both Russian and foreign governments.

The Bolshevik seizure of power saw both comfort and hope gradually destroyed. The conditions of imprisonment became harsher and official promises of foreign asylum were replaced by vague rumours of secret rescue plots. In April 1918 there was a further move, to Ekaterinburg. Here the Romanovs were placed in a requisitioned villa, known as the Ipatiev House after its owner, but renamed by the Bolsheviks the ‘House of Special Purpose.’

Ipatiev house
A Soviet postcard from the 1920s showing the Ipatiev House, with the high fence built  in 1918 to prevent the Romanovs seeing or being seen by the outside world during their imprisonment. The text describes the house as ‘The last palace of the last Tsar’

In the early hours of Wednesday 17 July 1918, the family and their remaining servants – a doctor, maid, cook and valet – were woken and told to gather in the basement of the house prior to being evacuated to a new location. Once they were assembled, the commandant Yakov Yurovsky announced that the Tsar was to be executed by order of the Ural Regional Soviet. Yurovsky and a group of guards then opened fire on the whole party, each killer supposed to aim at a specific victim.

Accounts of what happened next vary slightly. However, all agree that it was not the swift and efficient execution planned by Yurovsky, but a chaotic and brutal bloodbath. None of the prisoners died instantly, and the Tsarina and her children had jewels sewn into their clothes for safekeeping, which prevented bullets from penetrating their bodies. Eventually they had to be bayoneted, bludgeoned or shot in the head at close range.

Ipatiev house Basement
The basement room in the Ipatiev House where the Romanovs and their remaining servants were killed. Reproduced in Histoire des Soviets (Paris, 1922-23) 1854.g.15.

The first official reports of the murders stated that only Nicholas had been killed and his wife and children had been ‘removed to a safe place.’ This delay in telling the full story, together with the fact that the bodies had been disposed of in secret and attempts made to destroy them, helped to fuel rumours that one or more of the royal children had survived.

The first pretenders emerged in the early 1920s, and one came forward as late as 1995. In the early days, such claimants offered some hope to royalist exiles. Even if individual pretenders were proved false, their carefully-woven survival stories still represented the possibility that a true survivor might come forward.

Although each of Nicholas and Alexandra’s five children were represented by pretenders, the most common identities were those of the Tsarevich Alexei and the Grand Duchess Anastasia. The appeal of believing that the male heir to the throne had survived was obvious, but as the Tsarevich’s haemophilia became more common knowledge, would-be Alexeis had to concoct ever more fanciful medical histories for themselves to explain their survival.

The appeal of Anastasia as a potential Romanov survivor may have been that she was the Tsar’s youngest daughter and said to have been an exceptionally charming and vivacious child. But the number of Anastasia claimants probably also owes something to the most famous Romanov pretender, Anna Anderson. From the 1920s until her death in 1984, Anderson stubbornly maintained her claim to be Anastasia, discovered alive among the bodies in the basement and saved by a kindly Red soldier. She gained some prominent supporters, including people who had known the real Anastasia.

Anastasia and Anna
Pictures of Grand Duchess Anastasia (left-hand page) and Anna Anderson (right-hand page), from Harriet von Rathlef-Keilmann. Anastasia: ein Frauenschicksal als Spiegel der Weltkatastrophe (Leipzig, 1928) 010795.aaa.71. The author, a strong supporter of Anderson’s claim, presents all the pictures as images of the real Anastasia.

Anderson’s fame and longevity helped create a romantic myth of Anastasia’s survival, encouraging other claimants and spawning an industry of books, plays and films. But DNA testing after her death finally confirmed that she was unrelated to the Romanovs, and the discovery and identification of the Romanovs’ bodies in 1991 and 2007 finally proved that there had been no survivors of the execution.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

12 July 2017

The Trans-Siberian Railway

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The Russian Empire stretched continuously across one-sixth of the world’s landmass, from Poland to the Pacific and from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of Central Asia. According to the data of the General Staff of the Russian Imperial Armed Forces and the Statistical Committee of the Ministry of the Interior, at the beginning of the 20th century Russia’s territory stretched from north to south for nearly 3,000 miles and from east to west for over 6,600 miles. Russian tsars ruled over the second largest territory in the world after the British Empire.

Pictorial Russia 2
Title-page of  Zhivopisnaia Rossia (St Petersburg, 1881-1901) Cup.22.k.1. This multi-volume work described different regions and peoples of the Empire for a general audience and the decorative title-page attempts to depict the range and diversity of Russia’s vast territories in a single image

The Russian Empire was home to some 150 million people divided into around 170 ethno-cultural groups, whose ways of life ranged from nomadic steppe herdsmen and tribute-paying fur trappers to communal agriculturalists, industrial workers and wealthy nobles. Full maps of the Empire were usually published in two sections: European and Asian. The Asian part of Russia beyond the Ural mountains was significantly larger than the European part and occupied nearly two thirds of the entire Russian territory. Most of these territories were industrially and agriculturally underdeveloped compared with the European areas. In some areas of Siberia the population density hardly reached 10 people per square mile, while in the country’s western parts, including Poland and Finland, it was over 100 people per square mile. At the beginning of the 20th century the Asian territories that belonged to the Russian Empire were described as Siberia (including the Far East), nine regions in Central Asia with its population of nearly eight million people, and the so-called Caucasian region or Transcaucasia. The kaleidoscopic diversity of geography, agriculture, industry, culture, ethnicity, religion, history and social structures sustained enduring notions of a land of paradox and unknowable mystery.

It is not surprising that economic modernisation of Russia hugely depended on the transportation system. The vastness of Russia and slowly developing infrastructure could partly explain extreme diversities and difficulties in managing the country.

European Russia Maps 35872.(16.))

A fragment of the Map of railways, rivers and road communications in European Russia, 1914.
Maps 35872.(16.)

As demonstrated in the Map of the Development of the Russian Railway Network, 1838-1918, which shows the railway construction in ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ Russia, the railways remained concentrated in Russia’s most industrial western core.

Development of railways Maps 35797.(8.)

Map of the development of the Russian Railway network, 1838-1918. Maps 35797.(8.)

At the end of the 19th century a journey from Moscow to Sakhalin took about three months. It depended on crossing rivers and was season-bound. In March 1897, on his way to exile Vladimir Ul’ianov, the future leader of the Revolution known as Lenin, wrote in a letter to his mother:

The halt here is a long one and there is nothing to do, and I have decided to write yet another letter en route, my third. I still have two more days’ journey ahead of me. I drove across the Ob [river] in a horse-sleigh and bought tickets to Krasnoyarsk. … The way the trains run here is beyond all bounds. To do that 700 versts [464 miles] we shall crawl for forty-eight hours. Beyond Krasnoyarsk, the railway goes only as far as Kansk, i.e., for 220 versts [145 miles] —and altogether to Irkutsk it is about 1,000 versts [663 miles]. And so I shall have to go on by road—if I have to go at all. Another 24 hours is taken up by those 220 versts on the railway; the further you go, the slower the trains crawl along.
You have to use a horse-sleigh to cross the Ob because the bridge is not ready, although its skeleton has been built. … The country covered by the West-Siberian Railway … is astonishingly monotonous—bare, bleak steppe. No sign of life, no towns, very rarely a village or a patch of forest—and for the rest, all steppe. Snow and sky—and nothing else for the whole three days. They say that further on there will be taiga, and after that, beginning at Achinsk, mountains. The air in the steppe, however, is wonderful; breathing is so easy. There is a hard frost, more than twenty degrees below, but it is easier to bear here than in Russia. It does not seem to me that it is twenty below. The Siberians say it is because the air is ‘soft’, and that makes the frost easier to bear. Quite probably it is so.

Russia’s vast territory lacked infrastructure that could support industrialisation. The building of the Trans-Siberian Railway started in 1891. As minister of transport and later minister of finance, Sergei Witte saw the project as one of the vehicles for economic reforms. 7,000 km was built between 1891 and 1916. However, in 1904 the Trans-Siberian Railway proved slow in carrying troops and supplies over the vast distance which had devastating results on the outcomes of the Russo-Japanese War. After the October Revolution in 1917, the railway became a strategic point, as the Czechoslovak Legion  took control over large areas near the railway.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. As part of the accompanying series of events, on 21 July Railway Historian Christian Wolmar will be giving a talk on the Trans-Siberian Railway during the Revolution. You can find more details, including how to book, here.

10 July 2017

The British Library’s Romanian collections.

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Without a specific Romanian acquisitions policy or a qualified Romanian Curator until the mid 1980s, the British Library historically acquired books selectively as they were offered to the Slavonic and East European department by Romanian and other European libraries. Since then we have endeavoured systematically to enrich our collections in the field of the humanities and social sciences with works in Romanian or of Romanian interest in any other language.

Although early printed Romanian books are poorly represented in the collections, a small number of them were acquired in the 19th century. These include the third oldest Romanian imprint: the Gospels in Church Slavonic printed in Târgoviște in 1512 by the Serbian monk Macarie, and Sbornik (Brașov, 1569; RB.23.c.388), a service book in Old Church Slavonic, printed by the Transylvanian deacon Coresi.

BG Chetvoroblagovestie C.25.l.1

Gospels in Church Slavonic, Chetvoroblagověstie (Târgoviște, 1512). C.25.l.1

Notable acquisitions of the 17th and 18th centuries were Indreptarea legii (Targoviste, 1652; C.112.g.5.), the first Wallachian code of laws, in a national language; and three works by Dimitrie Cantemir , Prince of Moldavia: Divanul, sau gîlceava ințeleptului cu lumea sau giudețul suffletului cu trupul (Iași, 1698; C.118.g.2.), the first Romanian philosophical writing; The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othoman Empire, first printed in London in 1734 (148.g.3.), translated into English from the author’s orginal Latin manuscript Historia incrementarum atque decrementarum Aulae Othomanicae; and Beschreibung der Moldau, also translated from Cantemir’s Latin manuscript and with the first Romanian map of Moldavia.

BG Portrait 572.d.9

 Portrait of Dimitrie Cantemir from his Beschreibung der Moldau, (Frankfurt & Leipzig, 1771). 572.d.29. 

Two seminal works of the early 19th century bear Buda imprints: George Șincai’s Elementa linguae Daco-Romanae sive Valachicae (Buda, 1805; 12962.dd.10.(1.)), followed in 1812 by Petru Maior’s Istoria pentru începutul românilor in Dachiia, an influential historical study of the origins of the Romanian people.

BG Istoria 804.d.3.

 Istoria pentru începutul românilor in Dachiia (Buda, 1812). 804.d.3.

In the middle of the 19th century Vasile Alecsandri, the Moldavian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat personally presented the British Museum Library with several of his poetic and dramatic works. The collections include significant runs of scholarly periodicals of this period such as Mihai Kogălniceanu’s Dacia Literară, (Iași, 1840; P.P.4838.ecb), Convorbiri Literare (Iași, 1867; P.P.4838.eca), edited by Iacob Negruzzi,  as well as Viața Românească (Iași,1906-1939; PP.4838.ecc), a literary and scientific journal, edited by Constantin Stere and Paul Bujor.

Of the early 20th century avant-garde journals selective issues of Contimporanul and Unu (Bucharest, 1928-1932; Cup.410.c.73) have been acquired.

BG Contimporanul C.192.b.2.
 Title-page of Contimporanul, vol. 1 no. 4 (Bucharest, 1922) C.192.b.2.

Major Romanian chroniclers – Grigore Ureche, Miron Costin, Ion Neculce , or the writers and poets Vasile Alecsandri, Mihai Eminescu, Ion Creangă – are represented by collected editions of their works originally published in Cyrillic script as classics of the Moldavian SSR. Their original Romanian editions historically formed part of the Library’s Romanian Collections. Latterly, regularly purchased material of Romanian interest, also published in the languages of the country’s ethnic minorities (Hungarian, German, Serbian, Romani, Ukrainian etc.) continues to enrich the collections, offering an independent-spirited reappraisal of events of the past decades.

Bridget Guzner, Formerly Curator Hungarian and Romanian Collections.

 

07 July 2017

To the Finland Station in a not-so-sealed Train

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In the weeks following Russia’s February Revolution in 1917, an increasingly frustrated Lenin was stuck in Zurich, forced to follow events from afar. Like other Russian political exiles, he had found neutral Switzerland a convenient haven when war broke out in 1914, but now it was more like a cage. Not only could he play no active part in events back in Russia, but he had no chance to influence or control them as he desired, and meanwhile the new Provisional Government was taking a course that seemed too moderate to Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks

The problem for the Russian revolutionaries in Switzerland was of course the ongoing war. The logical route home led through enemy German territory. Another option would be to travel via Russia’s allies France and Britain, but the two countries’ governments would hardly offer safe passage to people they considered dangerous agitators. In her memoirs, Lenin’s wife recalls him ‘building the most improbable plans’ – flying back to Russia by plane, or using the passports of foreigners from a neutral country.

In the end, the German route offered the most realistic hope. The German government had already flirted with the idea of funding Russian revolutionaries in the hope of destabilising Russia and bringing about her withdrawal from the war. It was possible that they might now be brought to see Lenin’s return as a means to this end. 

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Fritz Platten, reproduced in Willi Gautschi, Lenin als Emingrant in der Schweiz (Cologne, 1973). X.809/19902. 

Swiss socialist Robert Grimm approached the German Ambassador to Switzerland to open negotiations, but it was Grimm’s compatriot Fritz Platten, who brokered the final agreement to allow Lenin and others exiles to travel by train through Germany to neutral Sweden. Platten was also given official responsibility for the party and helped to draw up a document to be signed by all the travellers, declaring among other things that they accepted the risk of imprisonment for treason on their return to Russia.

Reise Lenins facsim
Facsimile of the document signed by Lenin and his companions, reproduced in Fritz Platten, Die Reise Lenins durch Deutschland im plombierten Wagen (Berlin, 1924) 9456.i.18. 

At last, on 9 April 1917, Lenin and 31 other exiles embarked on a train at Zurich station. This has gone down in history as the ‘sealed train’, and and its journey became part of the mythology of the Russian Revolution, helped not least by Platten’s own account, published in 1924.

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Front cover of Platten's Die Reise Lenins...

In fact the ‘seal’ was more symbolic and legal than physical: one of Lenin’s conditions had been that the train should have extra-territorial status, so that it could not be boarded by anyone hoping to arrest the travellers. The Russians were forbidden from leaving the train, and a chalk line on the floor marked a boundary, which only Platten was allowed to cross, between them and their German guards. But the doors and windows could be opened. Various members of the party later recalled Germans coming to speak to them and to offer food or beer through the windows, and at another point in the journey a group of German socialists even came on board hoping to speak to their Russian counterparts.

To a certain extent, however, Lenin sealed himself off, settling in a separate compartment and working on what became known as the ‘April Theses’. He was impatient to reach Russia and irritated by the high spirits of his fellow travellers who could be heard chatting, joking and singing next door. Even when the party had reached neutral Sweden and were travelling more conventionally and able to communicate with the outside world, Lenin devoted most of his time to working, networking and planning his next moves.

A final challenge came on the Finnish border, where the travellers were interrogated and searched at a British military checkpoint, before eventually being allowed to continue. At last, on 16 April, they arrived (on an ordinary train) at the Finland Station in St Petersburg, where Lenin proclaimed to a welcoming crowd the ‘worldwide Socialist revolution’ which he believed was just beginning.

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Finnish Locomotive 293, which undertook the last leg of Lenin’s journey. It was presented to Russia by Finland and is now preserved at the Finland Station in St Petersburg. (Photo © by James G. Howes, 1998, from  Wikimedia Commons)

Platten, who had been so vital to the journey, was no longer with the group, having been turned back at the Finnish border. He did later enter Russia, eventually settling permanently there, and in 1918 he provided another and even greater service to Lenin. They were travelling in a car together when a would-be assassin opened fire. Platten pushed Lenin down, sustaining a minor injury himself and probably saving the Bolshevik leader’s life. Despite his services to the Revolution, he later fell victim to Stalin’s purges, and was shot on 22 April 1942 – ironically, the anniversary of Lenin’s birth.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin. Translated by Bernard Isaacs (Moscow, 1959) 010600.c.43. (Also available online at: http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/krupskaya/works/rol/index.htm)

Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train (London, 2016) Awaiting pressmark

Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (London, 2009) YC.2010.a.13366

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. As part of the accompanying programme of events, on the evening of 25 July Historian Catherine Merridale and writer Viv Groskop will be in conversation about Lenin’s journey back to Russia. Details can be found here.

05 July 2017

Peoples and Languages of the Austrian Empire in 19th-Century Ethnographic Maps

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The Empire of Austria was created in 1804 when the last of the Holy Roman Emperors assumed the title Emperor of Austria as Francis I. This Empire was made up of heterogeneous political entities: kingdoms, archduchies and duchies, earldoms, and other administrative areas without a common purpose. The Habsburg dynasty ruled over these territories as a sole unifying power.

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Ethnographic map of the Austrian Empire which shows the lands of the House of Habsburg according to the constitution of 1849. Maps 27727.(3.)

In 1855 the Austrian Empire held Balkan territories which included the Kingdom of Dalmatia, the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia and the Military Frontier, as a defensive zone along the Ottoman border.

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Ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy. Detail shows the political structure of the Austrian Empire in 1855. Maps 6.b.53.

The population of the Austrian Empire according to the 1851 census was 36,398.000. The Slavonic peoples constituted 40.6%; Germans 21.6%; Italians and Rhaeto-Romanic speaking peoples 15.3%; Hungarians 13.4%; Romanians 6.8%; and Jewish, Romani and Armenian peoples just over 2% of the total population.

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An 1858 Map. Peoples of the Austrian Monarchy: a survey of the nationalities. Maps 27727.(7.)

Slavonic languages were the most spoken languages in the Austrian Empire. Officially there were six Slavonic languages in the Empire: the Czech (spoken by Bohemians, Moravians and Slovaks), Polish, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian (Serbs, Croats and Bosnians), Slovenian and Bulgarian.

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An 1867 map of peoples and languages of Austria and lower Danube countries. Maps 27727.(13.)

The Austrian Empire was a multi-national and linguistically diverse Monarchy. At least 17 nations and minority groups were represented in it. In 1868 according to individual languages most people spoke German (25.2%) followed by the Czech, Hungarian and Romanian, among other national languages spoken in the Monarchy.

Maps_27727_(16)

A 1868 ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy gives detailed statistics of the national and linguistic diversity. Maps 27727.(16.)

After the defeat in the Austro-Prussian War  of 1866, the Austrian Empire looked towards East for consolidation and imperial expansion. The Habsburg Monarchy was reshaped in 1867 as Austria-Hungary and in 1878 was allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Maps_27727_(29)

An 1888 map of languages of Austria-Hungary (above, Maps 27727.(29.)) shows the addition of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a population of 1,336.091 according to the census of 1885, which increased the number of the Serbo-Croatian language speakers in the Monarchy. The map includes the statistical data in numbers and percentage of the nine languages spoken in the individual crown lands.

Slavonic languages and dialects spoken outside the Austrian Empire were Russian, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian, and Kashubian.

Maps_1065_(35)

Austrian map showing peoples and languages of the Central Europe in 1893. Upper and Lower Sorbian designed as Wenden on the map in the area south of Berlin and Kashubian in the area south of the city of Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland). The map also displays Slovak as a distinctive language from Czech. Maps 1065.(35.)

 Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

03 July 2017

Joseph Bovshover: Yiddish Poetry, British Anarchism, and the Russian Revolution

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I come like a comet ablaze, like the sun when the dawn is awaking;
I come like tumultuous tempest, when thunder and lightning are breaking;
I come like the lava that rushes from mighty volcanoes in motion;
I come like the storm from the north that arouses and angers the ocean.

I led the downtrodden and tyrannised peoples of past generations;
I helped them to throw off enslavement, and gain their complete liberations;
I marched with the spirit of progress, and aided its every endeavour;
And I shall march on with the peoples, until I shall free them for ever.

You money-bag saints, you crowned cut-throats, anointed with strife and contentions;
I come to destroy you, your laws, and your lies and your foolish conventions;
Your hearts that are thirsting for blood, I shall pierce till the life in them ceases;
Your crowns and your sceptres, your little gold toys I shall break into pieces.

So hang me or shoot me, your efforts are futile – a waste of endeavour,
I fear neither prisons nor tortures, nor scaffolds, nor aught whatsoever.
Anew I shall rise from the earth, and its surface with weapons shall cover,
Until you sink down in your graves, till your power for evil is over.

This revengeful snarl of poetry is extracted from Joseph Bovshover’s ‘Revolution’, written before the Russian Revolution but translated and published in February 1919 from its original Yiddish by Joseph Leftwich, for the British anarchist-communist journal The Spur. It is an uncompromising poem, preaching menace to the ruling classes and all the pillars of aristocratic and bourgeois society.

Bovshover
Joseph Bovshover, from his Gezamelṭe shriften: poezye un proza (New York, 1911) 17104.a.3

Joseph Bovshover (1873-1915) was born in Lyubavichi (‘the city of brotherly love’) within the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, part of the limited territories in which Jews were allowed to live. Originally a home of the Chabad Hasidic movement, Lyubavichi’s Jewish community fell victim to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, massacred in November 1941. 

BovshoverPoeticVerse
Cover of Bovshover’s Poetishe verke (London, 1903) 17106.a.152

Half a century earlier in 1891, just a few years after a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms, Bovshover had emigrated from what he called ‘the Czar’s oppressed and knouted lands’ to New York – and bitterly regretted being torn from his mother and father to make a new life away from the pogroms alone. Joining the working-class ‘melting pot’ in the United States he became a noted anarchist-communist ‘sweatshop poet’ and agitator in the labour movement, publishing in Yiddish and in English under the pseudonym Basil Dahl. In his final years Bovshover was hospitalised for mental illness before dying in 1915.

BovshoverRevolution
First stanza of ‘Revolution’ in Yiddish, from the 1911 Gezamelte shrifṭen

After his death, Bovshover’s contribution to proletarian poetry was widely recognised, and not just in the United States. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Russia reclaimed him as her own. David Shneer wrote that he was ‘canonized … as a founder of a Jewish worker’s literary history’ by the emerging Soviet Yiddish press. Throughout 1918, his poetry appeared in three of the twelve editions published of the first Yiddish language newspaper in Soviet Russia, Varhayt, meaning ‘Truth’ in German. This was an echo of the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, which meant ‘Truth’ in Russian, and in August 1918 it was re-founded as Der Emes– ‘the Truth’ again, in Yiddish. Though supported by Lenin, it was shut down under Stalin in the late 1930s as part of a broader Soviet campaign against Yiddish culture.

Bovshover was soon recognised in Britain also. A number of translations of his poetry were published in The Spur in the years after the Russian revolution, including the extracts above. The Spur was a British journal of anarchist-communism taking inspiration from both Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx. Unlike many other anarchist publications its editors supported Lenin’s Bolshevik party until the consolidation of the Soviet state in the early 1920s. 

SpurNov1919
Cover of The Spur for November 1919, illustration by Henry Bernard. LOU.LON 702

A cast of colourful characters were involved in producing The Spur. It was edited by Guy Aldred, a Glasgow based revolutionary, and Rose Witcop, a Jewish anarchist and sexual reformer who had emigrated to Britain from Kiev in Ukraine, then a part of the Russian Empire. The journal’s distinctive cartoons were supplied by Henry Bernard. Joseph Leftwich translated Bovshover’s poetry for The Spur. He was drawn to Bovshover as a socialist and a passionate promoter of Jewish culture. Leftwich has become famous as one of the ‘Whitechapel Boys’, a label he invented for a group of Jewish writers and artists in the East End of London before the First World War.

SpurMay1920
Cover of The Spur for May 1920, illustration by Henry Bernard. LOU.LON 463.

Bovshover’s poetry was also often set to music. While his work seems to have come to British anarchism in the late 1910s and 1920s through the Soviet Yiddish press, more recently he has been rediscovered through his contributions to the American labour songbook by the Scottish folk-musician Dick Gaughan, revived as part of Gaughan’s musical assault on Thatcherism and the escalation of the Cold War in the 1980s. Gaughan and Judy Sweeney can be heard performing a different translation of ‘Revolution’, with all the radical passion that such a poem commands, on YouTube here and there is a live version by Gaughan alone here.

Mike Carey, CDA Student

References/further reading:

‘Joseph Bovshover: Poet of the Workers and the Sweatshops’ at http://yiddishkayt.org/view/joseph-bovshover/

‘Yoysef (Joseph) Bovshover’ at http://yleksikon.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/yoysef-joseph-bovshover.html

Joseph Bovshover, ‘A Russian Jew Recalls the Day He Left Home, ca. 1896-1897’ in The Jew in the American World: A Source Book edited by Jacob Rader Marcus (Detroit, 1996), pp. 353-4 YA.1998.a.1050.

Encyclopaedia Judaica at http://www.bjeindy.org/resources/library/encyclopediajudaica/

Dick Gaughan, ‘Track Notes to Different Kind of Love Song (1983)’ at http://www.dickgaughan.co.uk/discography/dsc-love.html 

Mark Shipway, Anti-Parliamentary Communism: The Movement for Workers’ Councils in Britain, 1917-45 (Basingstoke, 1988) YC.1988.a.8404.

David Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture: 1918-1930 (Cambridge, 2004) YC.2006.a.10674.

As part of the series of events to accompany the exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, the British Library will be hosting a one-day event exploring the relationship between the British Left and the Russian revolution on Monday 10 July 2017. Details are available here.

29 June 2017

Dispersed Polish collections abroad

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Due to the country’s turbulent history Polish collections are spread across libraries, archives and research institutes all over the world. The programme called The Registration of Polish Collections Abroad, carried out at the initiative of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in the years 2006-2014, included work on the registration and documentation of Polish material in foreign libraries. To summarise the results of the complex research undertaken by librarians and scholars in various European, American and Australian institutions holding Polish book and manuscript collections, an international conference was organised by Warsaw University and the Ministry in Warsaw on 25-26 May 2017. The papers covered a wide range of issues, from cultural heritage in dissolved monasteries to the looted collections in Germany and Sweden, as well as the Polonica holdings of national libraries such as the Library of Congress, Bibliothèeque nationale de France and the British Library.

Conference Warsaw

The programme for the conference (Designed by Katarzyna Seroka, University of Warsaw)

A significant proportion of Polish material can be found in Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania – once part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Speakers discussed the problems related to the Polish book and manuscript collections scattered in public, academic and monastery libraries and archives. The focus was on the historical perspective of these collections and their use in current research. Many Nazi-looted objects of Poland’s cultural heritage are still in the possession of a few German institutions and are now the subject of provenance research and consequently their restitution. For example, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has so far returned about 10,000 items to their legal owners. In Sweden there are innumerable Polish cultural artefacts, including printed material and manuscripts, which were looted during the Swedish invasion of Poland in the mid-17th century. The Swedish plunder resulted in the worst cultural losses in the entire history of the country. However in the 18th century Poland renounced any claims to its treasures in Sweden, so they cannot now be the subject of restitution negotiations. A separate paper discussed restitution issues in the light of international regulations.

The collection of Józef Ossoliński  founded in Lwów (nowadays Lviv) in the 19th century is a different case. It is an example of private property donated by the collector to the Polish nation and as such is part of the country’s heritage. After the border changes in 1945, only a part of the collection returned to Poland. Since the 1990s it has been the topic of recurring discussions between the Polish and Ukrainian authorities. The German collection of books and manuscripts removed from the Prussian State Library for safe keeping during the Second World War was found in Silesia, the former German territory incorporated into Poland after the war. The collection is considered by the Polish authorities only as a “deposit” against cultural losses inflicted on Poland by Germany.

The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage coordinates the projects with the aim of producing online databases of the dispersed Polish collections – either in digitised form, in the case of printed material, or as a source of information on other cultural objects. These include Polonijna Biblioteka Cyfrowa (‘Poles Abroad Digital Library’)  containing 7,500 titles, and the recently launched portal Polonika  which provides information on objects of cultural heritage abroad.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections