John Doyle Klier, a pioneering historian of Russian Jewry, who died on 23 September 2007, was a pivotal figure in academic Jewish Studies and East European history in the United Kingdom and beyond. He was President? elect of this Society, but prevented from taking office by his final illness.
Klier was born on 13 December 1944 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and his family lived briefly in Washington, DC, before settling in Syracuse, New York. His father taught aeronautical engineering at Syracuse University. John used to joke that his father had a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, T really AM a rocket scientist'. Brought up as a Catholic, John attended Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, for his BA and MA in history. He pursued doctoral study at the University of Illinois - long a powerhouse in Russian and Soviet history - where his interest in Russian Jewry was stimulated. He was intrigued, in his investigations of pre-revolutionary Russia, that little primary research had been conducted on Russian Jewry for most of the twentieth century. His PhD dissertation examined the process by which Tsarist Russia, following the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century, fitfully absorbed the Jews into the Russian state system. This work was sharpened and expanded into his first book, Russia Gathers Her Jews: The Origins of the Jewish Question in Russia (Northern Illinois University Press, 1986), now considered a seminal text in modern Jewish history.
The very fact that Klier began pursuing such a project in the late 1960s did not seem to make sense, given the Soviet tendency towards censorship and limited access to information. How could a historian have probed this subject during the so-called 'Period of Stagnation', when forays into politi? cally sensitive topics such as 'the Jewish Question' were taboo? In a feat of utter brilliance, Klier officially purported to study 'the Russian popular press', a seemingly innocuous subject, which gained him access to the mate? rial necessary to produce a truly groundbreaking, substantive history of Russian Jewry. He made superb use of his experience as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Leningrad State University in 1977-8 and 1980-1, becoming so proficient in Russian that he was prized as an eloquent lecturer in that language, almost in a class of his own among non-Russian-born scholars of East European Jewry. This is part of the reason why he became the greatest
interlocutor between Jewish historians and other social scientists based in Eastern Europe, and their colleagues in Israel and the west.
The book Klier co-edited with Shlomo Lombroza, Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Jewish History (Cambridge University Press, 1991), is widely regarded as the gold standard in a highly contentious field. It argued that pogroms were hardly ever directed from the 'top-down', nor did they function as a direct trigger for the massive flight of Jews to the west. While scrupulously analysing each of the violent outbreaks, the book seeks to situ? ate the pogroms in the larger context of social hostility and violence in Tsarist Russia.
In 1991 John