The Russian nation has had many prominent figures named
Vladimir, which means (from Old Slavic) “master of power.”
In modern times, two of its most prominent politicians,
Vladimir “Lenin” (born Ulyanov), the founder of the Soviet
Union, and Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia,
are widely known outside this Slavic country. One of the
world’s greatest pianists, Vladimir Horowitz, was a Russian
Jew, and a world-famous novelist was the Russian-born
No tsar was named Vladimir, but numerous princes of Kiev
were (before Moscow and St. Petersberg were the Russian
capitals). In fact the thousand-year old city of Vladimir was
an early capital of Russia, and still serves as the capital of a
Russian oblast (state).
Not only Slavs and other Russians were named Vladimir.
The legendary Count Dracula was a real person, and his name
was Vlad. After the Russian revolution, Marxists all over the
world named their children Vladimir, especially in Spanish-
There was also a third major Russian-born statesman named
Vladimir, but he is virtually forgotten in his native country and
in Europe where from 1900 to 1940 he was so widely-known.
There is one place he has not been forgotten. In the State of
Israel there are reportedly more streets, buildings and other
institutions named after him than anyone else --- more than
Chaim Weizmann, the first Israeli president; more than David
Ben Gurion, the first prime minister; and more than Golda Meir,
the great woman prime minister; more than Moshe Dayan
or Shimon Peres more than Menachem Begin, and more than
either of the Netanyahu brothers.
His name was Vladimir Jabotinsky. He was born to a middle
class Jewish family in the city of Odessa in 1880. He was not
religious in the usual sense, and until about 1900, he was not a
Zionist. When the Viennese secular Jew and journalist Theodor
Herzl re-ignited Zionism at the end of the 19th century in
Europe and the U.S., it lit a political fire in what was then known
as the Pale of Settlement or what is now known as Poland,
Byelorussia, western Russia and Ukraine.
In those early days, before even the dream of a Jewish state
could be practically imagined, many Jews of the almost two
thousand-year old Diaspora, most of them suffering under
especially repressive persecution in Europe, began to think
about the restoration of the Jewish nation in its original Biblical
territory that was now called Palestine, and was then under
Turkish Ottoman rule. Thousands of Jews had over the previous
several hundred years had emigrated back to Palestine, but most
of them accepted Turkish rule, and most were not Zionists.
Zionists themselves were divided in how to proceed to create a
Jewish state in Palestine. Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish appointee
to the U.S. supreme court, was a leader of the American Zionists,
and he along with most of the leaders of the world Zionist
movement, believed in a slow and cautious process in dealing
with the ruling Turks until World War I, and with the British who
held the Mandate for Palestine following the war.
Increasingly involved in the Zionist movement after 1900,
Jabotinsky who spoke not only Russian and Yiddish, but French,
German, Italian and English, became a serious student of Hebrew,
then primarily the language of Jewish religious observance. A lawyer,
journalist, novelist and orator of extraordinary power, he quickly
became one of the most outspoken proponents of political
Zionism throughout the Russian Pale before World War I, and in
the newly-formed nations of eastern Europe during and after the
Versailles Conference in 1919. Jabotinsky was also among the first
Zionists to understand that in order to protect themselves in
Europe and Palestine, the Jews needed to be armed. He was among
the earliest proponents of Jewish self-defense forces in the ghettos
of tsarist Russia to protect against waves of pogroms. It was his
idea later to form a Jewish Legion in the British army during World
War I. After much effort, he succeeded, and himself was a lieutenant
who served in the Jewish unit in Palestine and faced combat. After
the war, Jabotinsky, pressed the British to follow through on the
1917 proclamation of the British Foreign Secretary Arthur
Balfour promising a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine.
The British, in their efforts to defeat the Ottoman Empire in the
Middle East (Turkey had joined with imperial Germany and
Austro-Hungary to form the Central Powers to fight against the
Allies of Great Britain, France, Russia, and later, the United
States in the “Great War,” had also made promises to the
Arab leaders in the region, especially in the now-formed Saudi
Arabia and the new kingdoms in Iraq, Syria and Trans-Jordan.
Facing hostility from both Arabs living in Palestine and Jewish
settlers, the British put off attempts to resolve the Palestine
Jabotinsky, the creator of the Jewish Legion, and then a founder
of the Haganah (or Jewish self-defense forces in Palestine)
found himself increasingly at odds with the leaders of the world
Zionist leadership, and resigned from its board of directors.
With the rise of Hitlerism in Germany, Jabotinsky quickly
realized the imminent danger to the millions of Jews in eastern
Europe, and proposed the evacuation of the entire Jewish
population of Poland, then more than 3 million, before Hitler
invaded in 1939. He even got the Polish government to agree,
but the sheer magnitude of such a project, and the German
invasion, ended any hope of rescuing those millions before the
Holocaust. Jabotinsky, who advocated that the Haganah be the
official and public Jewish self-defense police force in Palestine,
also became frustrated by the opposition he faced, and became
the founder of the clandestine Irgun militant forces that opposed
the British occupation under the Mandate, often with
Jabotinsky, who for 40 years had been one of the most outspoken,
prophetic, pragmatic, controversial and eloquent voices for the
Zionist movement, and the world Jewish community, did not live
to see the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, nor did he live
to see the horror of the Holocaust that his prophetic idea of the
evacuation of Jewish Poland would have partially prevented.
While living in New York City in 1940 he had a heart attack and
died at the age of 59.
Most of the world outside Israel do not know about this third
Russian Vladimir, including most American Jews and Christians
who sympathize with the Jewish state. Reading his remarkable
story, and of the singular imprint he made on the nation he did
not live to see, however, it is important to re-examine his
extraordinary life, if for no other reason, to understand better
this most complicated. rancorous, violent and divided part of
the world of today.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.