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Grusenberg, Oscar Osipovich


GRUSENBERG, OSCAR OSIPOVICH (1866–1940), advocate in Russia also active in Jewish communal affairs, born in Yekaterinoslav. After completing his legal studies at the University of Kiev in 1889, he was invited to prepare for a professorship at the university on the condition, which he rejected, that he convert to Christianity. He settled in St. Petersburg and began to practice law, but as a Jew was only permitted to practice as an "assistant advocate." Although he soon won a reputation throughout Russia as a brilliant lawyer, it was only in 1905 that he was granted the title of a "certified lawyer." Grusenberg specialized in criminal cases and his appearance in political trials as the defender of liberals, revolutionaries, or representatives of minority groups always received wide publicity. He defended the writers Maxim Gorki, V. *Korolenko, and such political figures as P. Milyukov, and Leon *Trotsky as well as the group of representatives of the First *Duma after the Vyborg proclamation of 1906 protesting against the dissolution of the Duma by the government.

Grusenberg gained greatest renown, however, in specifically Jewish trials. Inspired with a national Jewish consciousness, and pride in the history of his people, he displayed great ability in defending the persecuted and obtaining justice for fellow Jews. In defending unjustly accused Jews, he was not content merely to obtain redress of wrongs done to them as individuals, but also tried to vindicate Jewish honor; and was called by Jews "the national defender." He disagreed with Jewish leaders who preferred that Jewish causes of public interest should be defended in court by Russian lawyers. Grusenberg appeared in the trials following the pogroms of *Kishinev and *Minsk; P. *Dashevski, who had made an attempt on the life of P. *Krushevan, the instigator of the Kishinev pogrom, and D. *Blondes in Vilna (1900–02) were defended by Grusenberg. In the Blondes case some Jews were inclined to accept the relatively light penalty imposed on the defendant by the lower court, but Grusenberg insisted on bringing the case before a higher court in order to clear the name of the Jews absolutely. The high point in his life and in his career as a lawyer was his appearance in the *Beilis trial in 1913, which he considered similar to the stand of the martyrs in the trials of the Inquisition. His success was the result not only of his brilliant forensic talents, his profound knowledge of criminal law, and mastery of court procedure, but also of his knowledge of the psychology of the common Russian, an important factor since the fate of the defendant in criminal cases was decided by a jury consisting, as a rule, of people from all walks of life.

As a member of the Russian Constitutional Democratic Party, Grusenberg was also active in Russian political life. In the elections to the Second *Duma he was a candidate in Vilna province, but was defeated by the Poles. He was later a member of the advisory council to the Jewish representatives in the Third and Fourth Dumas. After the *Balfour Declaration Grusenberg drew closer to Zionism and in 1917 joined the "Jewish Bloc" organized by the Zionists. That year he was made a senator by Kerensky's Provisional Government. In 1918–19 during the Russian civil war Grusenberg headed the Jewish Council for Self-Defense and the Council for Aiding the Victims of Pogroms. In 1919 he was chosen as one of the representatives of Ukrainian Jewry to the *Comité des Délégations Juives in Paris. After the Soviets came to power, Grusenberg left Russia. He stayed from 1921 to 1923 in Berlin and from 1926 to 1932 in Riga. In 1929 he served as the representative of the Jews of Latvia at the founding of the enlarged *Jewish Agency and was chosen a member of its council. Grusenberg spent the last years of his life in France.

Besides legal articles published in Russian professional journals, Grusenberg also wrote on Jewish subjects in Voskhod and in Budushchnost, edited by his brother Samuel. He wrote a book on his experiences as an advocate, and in 1938 his memoirs appeared under the title Vchera ("Yesterday"). A collection of his essays and speeches in Russian, including some critical appreciations, was published posthumously in 1944.

In 1950 his remains were brought to Israel in accordance with his will.


S. Kucherov, in: Russian Jewry 18601917 (1966), 219–52; A.A. Goldenweiser, V zashchitu prava (1952), 239–49; M. Samuel, Blood Accusation (1966), index.

[Simha Katz]

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