Sapir, Boris

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Born in Lódz, Russia 1902, died 1989; moved to Moscow 1914; joined the RSDRP (Menshewiki) and the Russian Social-democratic youth movement; between 1921 and 1925 repeatedly arrested, imprisoned and exiled; spent over two years in Solovki, the infamous GULAG camp on the Solovetskiye islands in the White Sea; fled abroad 1925; studied law and obtained a PhD in Heidelberg, Germany 1932; joined the Menshewik movement in exile; following Hitler's seizure of power he settled in the Netherlands; involved with the IISH from the moment of its establishment and became the head of its Eastern Europe Department 1936; when World War II broke out, Sapir was forced to leave the country; left for Belgium and France and arrived final on Cuba in 1942; arrived in New York 1944; active in Menshevik circles; edited for many years the Sotsialistischeskii Vestnik ; worked in New York as director of the research department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; returned to the Netherlands in 1967; resumed as a senior researcher his duties at the IISH, where he remained until shortly before his death in 1989.

Since 1914, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has served as the overseas arm of the American Jewish community; first aim was to help needy Jews in Palestine and in war-torn Europe during World War I; JDC helped local Jewish communities establish relief programs and new health and child care facilities in Poland and Russia; as Hitler consolidated power between 1933 and 1939, JDC accelerated its aid to German Jewry; JDC helped 250,000 Jews flee Germany and 125,000 to leave Austria; late in 1944, JDC entered Europe's liberated areas and organized a massive relief effort; JDC funding helped Jewish refugees leave Europe to South America and Israel; in Western Europe, the JDC helped local organizations assist the devastated communities restore Jewish life, train new leadership and revive communal institutions; with onset of the Cold War, JDC was expelled from most countries of Eastern Europe but was able to provide indirect assistance to Jews behind the Iron Curtain.

From the description of Collection. 1945-1966 (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82035785

[history/biography].

The life of Boris Sapir (1902-1989) spanned most of the twentieth century and was touched by some of its most tumultuous and important events. In the obituaries written about him, he was often termed the last Menshevik. This refers to the fact that he joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party Mensheviks in 1919 at the age of seventeen and far outlived all other party leaders most of whom were a generation older. But he was also an historian and archivist and editor or author of several important works on the history of Russian radical populism and socialism.

Boris Moiseevich Sapir was born on February 24 1902 in the city of Lodz then part of the Russian Empire's Polish provinces. His father Moses Sapir was a Jewish businessman in that rapidly growing industrial city. At home the family spoke Russian but the young Sapir acquired some knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish as well. Boris Sapir attended the Vitanovskii Gymnasium in Lodz until 1914. After the occupation of Lodz by the Central Powers in December 1914 the Sapirs settled in Moscow and Boris continued his education at the gymnasium division of the Lazarevskii Institute of Oriental Languages. After the February 1917 Revolution the young Sapir became more and more politically involved. By mid-1918 he had come to sympathize with the Mensheviks. He formally joined the party in November 1919. He served in a noncombatant role.

Following the line of its leaders at that point in the Russian civil war when the White armies seemed close to victory and to restoration of the old order he joined the Red Army. He served from November 1919 to January 1921 by which time the Bolsheviks were sure of victory and were beginning to move ruthlessly against their erstwhile socialist allies. Many Mensheviks Socialist Revolutionaries and others were exiled imprisoned or killed. Sapir spent most of the period from February 1921 to December 1925 in prisons concentration camps including the notorious Solovki complex in the far north and Siberian exile because of his Menshevik affiliation and activities. He finally escaped abroad in 1926.

Sapir then settled in Germany. He remained an active Menshevik working in the Foreign Delegation of the party Zagranichnaia Delegatsiia RSDRP and representing it at the conferences of the Socialist Youth International in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was also a regular contributor to the party's journal Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik Socialist Herald He attended Heidelberg University graduating with a degree in law Dr. juris utriusque in 1932. His thesis Dostojewsky und Tolstoi über Probleme des Rechts Dostoevskii and Tolstoi on Problems of Law was published in Tübingen in 1932 and republished in 1977.

In 1933 when the Nazis came to power in Germany he left the country. By the end of 1935 he had settled in Amsterdam. There he began his many years of work with the International Institute of Social History. Together with Boris I. Nicolaevsky director of the Institute's branch in Paris he organized its work collecting and preserving, materials on the history of Russian socialism and populism.

The outbreak of World War II, and the German occupation of the Netherlands started Sapir moving westwards again beginning an important new phase in his professional and political life. In 1942 he reached Cuba where he found himself again working as an historian. This time however his topic was Jewish history specifically the development of the Jewish community of Cuba. The results of his work appeared in articles in several languages German Yiddish and English. In English the result was The Jewish Community of Cuba Settlement and Growth New York 1948.

In 1944 Sapir entered the United States. He settled in New York where he became an active member of the sole surviving significant group of exiled Mensheviks. Led by such party veterans as Fedor and Lidiia Dan Raphael, Abramovitch, Gregor Aronson Boris Nicolaevsky and others they continued to publish Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik until 1965 and to discuss the present and future of Russia. At the end of the forties a dispute arose among the Mensheviks about the question whether political cooperation with the Russians who had fought on the German side against the Soviet Union in World War II was permissible.

Sapir and some others denied this and went into the opposition. Sapir became an American citizen and in 1948 he married Berti Willikes-MacDonald a Dutch citizen. They had two children Leo Alexander born in 1949 and Anna Brechta born in 1952 He remained active in historical research as the Director of the Research Department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He was also one of the initiators of the Inter-University Project on the History of the Menshevik Movement. He was one of the authors of The Mensheviks From the Revolution of 1917 to the Second World War Chicago and London 1974 contributing its thoughtful concluding section Notes and Reflections on the History of Menshevism.

In 1967 on his retirement from the Joint Distribution Committee Sapir returned with his family to Amsterdam. There he took up once more the work he had left a quarter of a century before. He remained for the rest of his life at the International Institute of Social History collecting and editing archival materials advising scholars and students and publishing several important works on the history of Russian populism and socialism. These were Vpered 1873-1877 Materialy iz arkhiva Valeriana Nikolaevicha Smirnova Vpered 1873-1877 Materials from the Archive of V. N. Smirnov 2 vols. Dordrecht 1970, Lavrov, gody emigratsii Arkhivnye materialy v dvukh tomakh Lavrov the Years of Emigration Archival Material in Two Volumes Dordrecht 1974, Fedor Il'ich Dan: Pis'ma, 1899-1946 F. I. Dan Letters 1899-1946 Amsterdam 1985, and, Iz arkhiva L. O. Dan From the Archive of L. O. Dan Amsterdam 1987.

He also wrote numerous shorter essays book reviews and introductions to others' books. His professional, bibliography, as both an historian and a socialist covers seven decades 1926-1989 and includes materials published not only in Russian and English but in German Yiddish Dutch and Hebrew as well. In 1985 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam. Just before his death on December 11 1989 he completed an introduction to a collection of the letters and writings of Menshevik leader L. Martov. He was also working on a history of Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik including the decipherment of the many pseudonyms used by its authors. The index was published posthumously in 1992.

Just as his adult life had commenced in the years of the Russian revolutions and civil war he died as communist power was rapidly declining in the Soviet Union and indeed already collapsing in many countries. In an announcement of Sapir's death his family noted We are grateful that he was able to experience the beginning of the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe.

On December 6 1991 on the eve of the dissolution of the, USSR, Soviet legal authorities officially recognized that Sapir's arrests and convictions in 1921-25 were illegal and he was rehabilitated along with many other former political prisoners. Sapir's family in the West was notified, and of this a few months later by which time the USSR had ceased to exist. The relevant documents, listing his alleged crimes and resulting punishments can perhaps serve as a coda to the history of Russian Menshevism and its apparent complete defeat by the Bolsheviks and the Soviet state but then the subsequent collapse of that state itself as the century neared its close.

From the description of Boris Sapir papers, 1898-1992. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 606945802

BIOGHIST REQUIRED The life of Boris Sapir (1902-1989) spanned most of the twentieth century and was touched by some of its most tumultuous and important events. In the obituaries written about him, he was often termed the last Menshevik. This refers to the fact that he joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party Mensheviks in 1919 at the age of seventeen and far outlived all other party leaders most of whom were a generation older. But he was also an historian and archivist and editor or author of several important works on the history of Russian radical populism and socialism.

Boris Moiseevich Sapir was born on February 24 1902 in the city of Lodz then part of the Russian Empire's Polish provinces. His father Moses Sapir was a Jewish businessman in that rapidly growing industrial city. At home the family spoke Russian but the young Sapir acquired some knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish as well. Boris Sapir attended the Vitanovskii Gymnasium in Lodz until 1914. After the occupation of Lodz by the Central Powers in December 1914 the Sapirs settled in Moscow and Boris continued his education at the gymnasium division of the Lazarevskii Institute of Oriental Languages. After the February 1917 Revolution the young Sapir became more and more politically involved. By mid-1918 he had come to sympathize with the Mensheviks. He formally joined the party in November 1919. He served in a noncombatant role.

Following the line of its leaders at that point in the Russian civil war when the White armies seemed close to victory and to restoration of the old order he joined the Red Army. He served from November 1919 to January 1921 by which time the Bolsheviks were sure of victory and were beginning to move ruthlessly against their erstwhile socialist allies. Many Mensheviks Socialist Revolutionaries and others were exiled imprisoned or killed. Sapir spent most of the period from February 1921 to December 1925 in prisons concentration camps including the notorious Solovki complex in the far north and Siberian exile because of his Menshevik affiliation and activities. He finally escaped abroad in 1926.

Sapir then settled in Germany. He remained an active Menshevik working in the Foreign Delegation of the party Zagranichnaia Delegatsiia RSDRP and representing it at the conferences of the Socialist Youth International in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He was also a regular contributor to the party's journal Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik Socialist Herald He attended Heidelberg University graduating with a degree in law Dr. juris utriusque in 1932. His thesis Dostojewsky und Tolstoi über Probleme des Rechts Dostoevskii and Tolstoi on Problems of Law was published in Tübingen in 1932 and republished in 1977.

In 1933 when the Nazis came to power in Germany he left the country. By the end of 1935 he had settled in Amsterdam. There he began his many years of work with the International Institute of Social History. Together with Boris I. Nicolaevsky director of the Institute's branch in Paris he organized its work collecting and preserving, materials on the history of Russian socialism and populism.

The outbreak of World War II, and the German occupation of the Netherlands started Sapir moving westwards again beginning an important new phase in his professional and political life. In 1942 he reached Cuba where he found himself again working as an historian. This time however his topic was Jewish history specifically the development of the Jewish community of Cuba. The results of his work appeared in articles in several languages German Yiddish and English. In English the result was The Jewish Community of Cuba Settlement and Growth New York 1948.

In 1944 Sapir entered the United States. He settled in New York where he became an active member of the sole surviving significant group of exiled Mensheviks. Led by such party veterans as Fedor and Lidiia Dan Raphael, Abramovitch, Gregor Aronson Boris Nicolaevsky and others they continued to publish Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik until 1965 and to discuss the present and future of Russia. At the end of the forties a dispute arose among the Mensheviks about the question whether political cooperation with the Russians who had fought on the German side against the Soviet Union in World War II was permissible.

Sapir and some others denied this and went into the opposition. Sapir became an American citizen and in 1948 he married Berti Willikes-MacDonald a Dutch citizen. They had two children Leo Alexander born in 1949 and Anna Brechta born in 1952 He remained active in historical research as the Director of the Research Department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He was also one of the initiators of the Inter-University Project on the History of the Menshevik Movement. He was one of the authors of The Mensheviks From the Revolution of 1917 to the Second World War Chicago and London 1974 contributing its thoughtful concluding section Notes and Reflections on the History of Menshevism.

In 1967 on his retirement from the Joint Distribution Committee Sapir returned with his family to Amsterdam. There he took up once more the work he had left a quarter of a century before. He remained for the rest of his life at the International Institute of Social History collecting and editing archival materials advising scholars and students and publishing several important works on the history of Russian populism and socialism. These were Vpered 1873-1877 Materialy iz arkhiva Valeriana Nikolaevicha Smirnova Vpered 1873-1877 Materials from the Archive of V. N. Smirnov 2 vols. Dordrecht 1970, Lavrov, gody emigratsii Arkhivnye materialy v dvukh tomakh Lavrov the Years of Emigration Archival Material in Two Volumes Dordrecht 1974, Fedor Il'ich Dan: Pis'ma, 1899-1946 F. I. Dan Letters 1899-1946 Amsterdam 1985, and, Iz arkhiva L. O. Dan From the Archive of L. O. Dan Amsterdam 1987

He also wrote numerous shorter essays book reviews and introductions to others' books. His professional, bibliography, as both an historian and a socialist covers seven decades 1926-1989 and includes materials published not only in Russian and English but in German Yiddish Dutch and Hebrew as well. In 1985 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam. Just before his death on December 11 1989 he completed an introduction to a collection of the letters and writings of Menshevik leader L. Martov. He was also working on a history of Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik including the decipherment of the many pseudonyms used by its authors. The index was published posthumously in 1992.

Just as his adult life had commenced in the years of the Russian revolutions and civil war he died as communist power was rapidly declining in the Soviet Union and indeed already collapsing in many countries. In an announcement of Sapir's death his family noted We are grateful that he was able to experience the beginning of the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe.

On December 6 1991 on the eve of the dissolution of the, USSR, Soviet legal authorities officially recognized that Sapir's arrests and convictions in 1921-25 were illegal and he was rehabilitated along with many other former political prisoners. Sapir's family in the West was notified, and of this a few months later by which time the USSR had ceased to exist. The relevant documents, listing his alleged crimes and resulting punishments can perhaps serve as a coda to the history of Russian Menshevism and its apparent complete defeat by the Bolsheviks and the Soviet state but then the subsequent collapse of that state itself as the century neared its close.

From the guide to the Boris Moiseevich Sapir Papers, 1898-1992, (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, )

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Boris Moiseevich Sapir Papers, 1898-1992 Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
creatorOf Sapir, Boris Moiseevič. Collection. 1945-1966
creatorOf Yelensky, Boris. Boris Yelensky papers, 1939-1975. University of Michigan
creatorOf Souvarine, Boris. Boris Souvarine papers, 1915-1984 (inclusive), 1940-1984 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Sapir, Boris. Boris Sapir papers, 1898-1992. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Boris Souvarine papers, 1915-1984 (inclusive), 1940-1984 (bulk). Houghton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Corp name. corporateBody
associatedWith Corp name. corporateBody
associatedWith Personal name. person
associatedWith Personal name. person
associatedWith Smirnov, Aleksandr. person
correspondedWith Souvarine, Boris. person
associatedWith Souvarine, Boris. person
associatedWith Yelensky, Boris. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Geographic
Geographic.
Subject
Topical
Occupation
Occupation
Activity

Person

Birth 1902

Death 1989

English,

Russian

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