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Medem, Vladimir

MEDEM, VLADIMIR

MEDEM, VLADIMIR (pseudonym M. Vinitski ; 1879–1923), prominent *Bund leader in Russia and Poland. He was born in Libau (Liepaja), Courland, to an army medical officer, who was an extremely assimilationist liberal and had him baptized into the Orthodox Church. In his youth Medem regarded himself as a Russian, and the influence of his association with Jews at the secondary school of Minsk was only revealed later. He studied law in Kiev, became acquainted with the writings of Plekhanov and Lenin, and identified himself ideologically with Marxism. As a result of his role in a students' strike (1899), he was expelled from the university, and after a brief term of imprisonment was exiled to Minsk under police supervision. He was influenced there by leaders of the Bund: Gershuni, Temin, and Kaplan. His interest in the Jewish masses was now aroused and he felt himself attracted to them. This evolution, which led him to join the Bund, became for him the way back to Jewish identity. It was precisely this lengthy journey which later won him admiration within the Bundist masses. He was a member of the Bund committee of Minsk and wrote for its organ, Der Minsker Arbeter.

After being imprisoned and suffering from a kidney disease, he succeeded in escaping to Berne, Switzerland. He was active in the Russian student circles there and at the end of 1901 was elected first secretary of the Bund organization abroad. He represented the Bund at the Second Convention (1903) of the Russian Social Democratic Party in London. After the convention he was appointed to the Committee Abroad of the Bund. During the years 1905–08, Medem was also active in Russia as one of the leading contributors and editors of the Bund newspapers Posledniya Izvestiya and Nashe Slovo. At the Seventh Convention (1906) of the Bund, he was elected to its central committee. He was deeply concerned with the national question, and it was he who formulated the so-called neutralist attitude toward the future fate of the Jewish nation which was adopted by the Bund as its official position ("neutralism"). It was only in 1910 that he began to retreat from this position and recognized the need for a positive attitude on the national future of the Jews. He was among the first to call for an active interest by the Bund in the Jewish community organization (kehillah); he demanded actual action in the question of Yiddish schools, the right to rest on the Sabbath, and the right of employment for Jewish workers. He played an active role in the revival of the Bundist press during the years 1912–13 (Lebnsfragen, Vienna, and Di Tsayt, St. Petersburg). In 1915, as a result of the Russian retreat during World War i, he was freed before completing a two-year term of imprisonment in Warsaw. During the German occupation he was the ideological leader of the Bund in Poland. He began to speak and write in Yiddish. His anti-Zionist writings became increasingly violent, but he renewed the demand for Jewish national-cultural autonomy. He was even in favor of collaboration with middle-class elements in the field of Yiddish culture. During the years 1919–20, when pro-Communist tendencies gained the upper hand within the Bund, Medem found himself isolated in his violently critical attitude toward Bolshevism and its methods. At the beginning of 1921 he immigrated to the U.S. where he contributed to the Jewish daily, *Forward. His autobiography (Fun Mayn Lebn, 2 vols., 1923) is of both literary and historical value. Cultural and educational institutions in Poland were named after him.

bibliography:

Vladimir Medemtsum Tsvantsikstn Yortsayt (1943), incl. bibl.; lnyl, 6 (1965), 22–29; B. Dinur et al., Kelal Yisrael (1954), 538–41; J. Pinson, in: jsos, 7 (1945), 233–64; L. Dawidowicz, The Golden Tradition, 17721939 (1967).

[Moshe Mishkinsky]

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