A Jewish Woman of Distinction: The Life and Diaries of Zinaida Poliakova
ChaeRan Y. Freeze
The remarkable diaries of Zinaida Poliakova, deftly edited by ChaeRan Freeze, open onto the world of the “Russian Rothschilds,” a world of high culture, vast privilege and the skillful, constant fashioning of a hybrid Jewish-Russian identity. A superb biographical essay extends Poliakova’s story to fin-de-siècle Paris; the whirlwind of the Holocaust; and the harsh realities, both personal and financial, of her postwar life in England. ... An important contribution to modern Jewish history.
—Esther Schor, Princeton University
This impressively annotated translation of Poliakova’s diaries provides a revealing depiction of the world of the Jewish elite in late Imperial Russia as experienced by a young woman from one of its most prominent families.
—William G. Wagner, Williams College
An essential resource for scholars and students that transforms our understanding of the Jewish business elite in Imperial Russia. The brilliant introduction illuminates the lives of its Russian protagonists and the world of the great Jewish business dynasties in the first age of globalization — and it does so from a shockingly intimate and surprisingly unfamiliar angle. ... A major contribution to the field; it deserves a wide audience.
—Abigail Green, University of Oxford
I expected these books to show that the rise and fall of Jewish business dynasties tracked the great sweep of modern Jewish history – from the faltering hopes of emancipation, first kindled in late 18th-century Europe, to the Holocaust. To my surprise, in most cases, their demise came earlier. Whether in Austria, Russia or China, it was precipitated above all by war and political revolution, not by the expropriation and extermination of Europe’s Jews. After 1917 many of the Poliakovs and Gunzburgs were already stateless. For those who fled Nazi Europe, or died in Auschwitz like many of Zinaida’s family, the Holocaust marked the end point in a long process of decline.
—London Review of Books
...memoirs of Jewish women’s lives in the tsarist empire ... are not only remarkable historical sources, but also wonderful to use in the classroom. Whether for general Russian history classes or for learning about the Jewish experience in eastern Europe, they grant us access to the domestic sphere, educational institutions, marriage markets and aspects of interpersonal and intercommunal interactions not typically available in archival documents. ... The discovery and publication of a diary of a Jewish woman from the late nineteenth century is thus a rare and valuable source. ...Freeze has painstaking recontructed what she terms the “complex jigsaw puzzle” (xv) of this social world.... The result is an intimate portrait of the daily trials of a young woman seeking to define herself in the midst of a large and extravagantly wealthy family living in a highly structured patriarchal society undergoing rapid change.
ChaeRan Y. Freeze is professor of Near Eastern and Judaic studies, and women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Brandeis University. Her books include Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia and Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia, 1772–1914: Select Documents. Gregory L. Freeze is the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of History at Brandeis University.