“Rasputin and the Jews” by Delin Colon is a great introduction not only to Rasputin, but to the state of the average Jew in Tsarist Russia. The author does assume that the reader has some basic knowledge of Rasputin’s story, but nothing you couldn’t find after an internet search about Rasputin. The primary source used for this book is the papers of Aron Simanovich, Rasputin’s Jewish secretary.
Instead of focusing only on recounting the outline of his life, Colon instead expounds upon Rasputin’s beliefs, sayings, and the actual advice he gave to the Tsar—most of which was ignored, despite the popular belief that Rasputin somehow controlled all of the Tsar’s decisions. In fact, Colon does a magnificent job of explaining that if Tsar Nicholas II had listened to Rasputin, the entire Bolshevik Revolution would likely have been avoided.
Rasputin drew the ire of the aristocracy because he believed in equal rights for all Russians, including Jews. Jews were at the bottom of the social structure and all aspects of their lives were strictly regulated. Most Jews were forced to live in the Pale—a territory that all Jews had to live in unless they had special authorization to live elsewhere in Russia, very similar to the Warsaw Ghetto but on an even larger scale. Pogroms, violent organized mobs that targeted Jews, were common occurrences in Rasputin’s day, and he opened himself to personal danger by speaking up for the Jews.
Rasputin had enemies on all sides due either to his to his birth or his views. The modern-day reader doesn’t realize exactly how rigid the class structure was then and how much it affected the daily life of the citizens. Russian peasants, like Rasputin, were not viewed as equals, or even as people, by most of the aristocracy, and it angered them that Rasputin was given access to the Tsar’s court. Keep in mind that the institution of serfdom had only been abolished in 1861, and the aristocracy still viewed the peasantry as such. Many of these aristocrats were willing to look past that, until they realized that they couldn’t use Rasputin for their own ends—at which point they vehemently turned on him.
All in all, “Rasputin and the Jews” is a great and informative read which treats Rasputin fairly and justly. Colon has done a good job of cutting through the hearsay and outright propaganda that has sullied the name and memory of Rasputin and shining the light of truth onto him.