San Diego Jewish World Review of “Rasputin and The Jews”
Was Rasputin actually a friend of the Jews?
Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History by Delin Colón; ISBN 978-1-4610-2775-1 ©2010, $15.00, p. 110, including bibliography
By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.
Fred Reiss, Ed.D
WINCHESTER, California — The controversies over the deeds and exploits of Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, an illiterate faith healer and prophet from nineteenth century backwater Russia, continue to swirl around his legacy nearly a hundred years after his death. Failing to become a monk, Rasputin roamed the Russian countryside for many years, arriving in St. Petersburg, the seat of Tsarist Russia at the time, in 1903, at age thirty-four, where he offered himself as a spiritual advisor to the poor and oppressed.
About a year later, Tsarina Alexandra learned of his miraculous cures while seeking alternative medical help for her son, the Tsarevich, Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia. Fortuitously, at their first meeting Rasputin temporarily stopped Alexei’s bleeding when the doctors could not, which led the Tsarina to select him as her spiritual guide, mentor, and confidant. Subsequently, Rasputin became involved in a number of political intrigues linked to the Tsar, the anti-monarchist forces and the Revolutionaries within the country, and gained the reputation of having undue influence over the Tsar and his family, which ultimately led to his assassination in 1916.
History does not paint Rasputin in a positive light, recording that he belonged to the Khlysty(Flagellants) sect, suggesting that he established a sex-for-healing quid pro quo from women who sought his services, and often referring to him by the insulting nickname, “the mad monk.” (Hollywood produced a biography of Rasputin, a movie starring Christopher Lee, entitled The Mad Monk, in 1966.)
Delin Colón, a great-great niece of Aron Simanovitch, Rasputin’s Jewish secretary, and author of Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History aims to change that perception, endeavoring to show that Rasputin was a much more compassionate individual who deeply sympathized with the troubles of Russia’s downtrodden classes than history records and that many of the stories about him are outright lies. Arguing that “most records of his good works and petitions were destroyed by the allies,” she undertakes the tasks of showing that Rasputin befriended the Jews and that Rasputin’s enemies used Russia’s pervasive anti-Semitism to discredit Rasputin in the same vein that the French army’s elite used France’s endemic anti-Semitism to disgrace Alfred Dreyfus in the early 1890s.
Colón slowly builds her case, drawing on the history of Russia’s deep-seated anti-Semitism, correlating Rasputin’s positive traits, written by Marya Rasputin, Rasputin’s daughter, with those later asserted by Simanovitch, and quoting Rasputin’s contemporaries in the Tsar’s circle and those who knew Rasputin well, such as General Spiridovitch, Chief of the Tsar’s Secret Police and Oskar Gruzenberg, the Jewish defense lawyer who served as counsel in the famous Beilis blood-libel case, as well as other writers who cite positive interactions between Rasputin and the Jews.
Colón provides an interesting and compelling revision of Rasputin’s and Russia’s early twentieth-century history, but whether or not it becomes accepted by mainstream historians is a different matter; after all, history is written by the victor.
Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil Calendars; Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org