19 January 2013 @ 10:16 pm
Book Review: Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History  
 Book #1 of 2013

Title:  Rasputin and the Jews:  A Reversal of History
Author:  Delin Colon

Grigory Rasputin was probably one of the most controversial figures in the court of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia.  An uneducated Siberian peasant, he rose from his poor background to become the spiritual advisor to the Tsar and Tsarina.  The Tsarina in particular was convinced that Rasputin was a healer and that he had saved the life of the heir to the throne, Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia.  As his influence grew, so did rumors and unease about his close relationship with the imperial family.  He was accused of being a fraud and a charlatan who used his powers of hypnosis to control the Tsarina.  When World War I began, both he and the Tsarina, who had been born in Germany, were accused of being German spies.  Ultimately, Rasputin would be assassinated by a cousin of the Tsar.  The imperial family would be murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 to prevent them from being rescued by the white army.  After the communist takeover of Russia, the imperial family and Rasputin would be vilified.  While the characters of the members of the imperial family have been reconsidered since the fall of communism, Rasputin is still considered a villain and a charlatan out to make a profit off of the vulnerable Tsarina.  In the animated film Anastasia, Rasputin is portrayed as an evil villain out to destroy the imperial family.

Rasputin and the Jews is a modern examination of the life of Rasputin.  The sources used include testimony from Rasputin's contemporaries including the diary of his Jewish secretary, Simonovitch.  These sources paint a different picture of Rasputin.  Russia in the time of Nicholas II was horrifically anti-Semitic.  Jews were second class citizens who had limitations on where they could live, what careers were acceptable, and how many Jewish students would be allowed to study at universities.  Simonovitch wrote in his memoirs that Rasputin used his influence with the Tsar to encourage him to reduce the harsh treatment of the Jewish citizens of Russia.  In fact, Rasputin's pro-Jewish stance was probably one of the reasons that Rasputin was assassinated.  Colon also addresses several other criticisms against Rasputin's character providing evidence that most of the money that he received from the imperial family was given to charity and that Rasputin's hypnosis abilities may have legitimately helped Alexei with his hemophilia.

Overall, I found this book to be an interesting reconsideration on one of the most controversial characters in Russian history.  Ultimately, it is a reminder that history is often written by the victors, and that we shouldn't always take what is written in history books as absolute fact.  The book does make the assumption that the reader is familiar with Rasputin's history with the imperial family.  For that reason, I don't think it is a good beginning book on Rasputin and the imperial family.  However, if like me, you are interested in the fall of imperial Russia, I highly recommend this book as an important contemporary examination on one of the most important figures in the court of Nicholas II.
Current Mood: calm