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Review by Stephen Kotkin, continued . . . .

      Czeslaw Milosz lectured at Berkeley with uncanny empathy on Dostoevsky. Leszek Kolakowski, the renowned moral philosopher at Oxford and Chicago, entombed Soviet Marxism as well as Western Marxism in his monumental trilogy, and composed an immortal parody of revisionist scholarship on Stalinism (for the pages of Survey, edited by Leo Labedz). Andrzej Walicki of Notre Dame struck brilliant portraits of Russian populism and the Slavophile-Westernizer divide, and then delivered his own eulogy for the Marxist faith.

      And beyond the history of ideas, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the grand strategist and perceptive analyst of the Soviet Bloc, served as National Security Adviser (under Carter), while Richard Pipes, the grand synthesizer of imperial Russian history, also found his way into the National Security Council (under Reagan). The University of Pennsylvania's Moshe Lewin became the acclaimed village elder among historians of Soviet Russia's peasant inheritance, monstrous bureaucracy, and the supposed dynamics of the system's evolution. The itinerant Isaac Deutscher, based eventually in England, achieved biographical mastery over Stalin, ultimately cast out Trotsky as prophet, and talked up Khrushchev, until he was banished. And there have been many others, notably Adam Ulam, who died in March in Cambridge, Massachusetts, leaving behind a half century of influential scholarship and punditry, and a posthumous memoir, Understanding the Cold War.

      Adam Bruno Ulam was born in 1922 in Lwow in Poland, a medieval town that was known as Lemberg under the Habsburgs and would become Lvov under the Soviets. Since 1991, the "City of Lions" has been Lviv in independent Ukraine. Little remains there of the classical education or Old World culture that nurtured the future Cold War historian. In 1939, Adam, who had just graduated high school, and his twenty-nine-year-old brother Stanislaw, a young mathematician at Harvard's Society of Fellows, home for summer holiday, were scheduled to board ship for New York on September 3. Their perspicacious father, a well-to-do lawyer who was widowed the year before, advised his boys to set sail earlier. So they embarked for New York in mid-August. Hitler invaded Poland on September 1. Sixteen days later, Stalin, by prior secret agreement with Hitler, invaded Poland from the east. By then, Stan had returned to Harvard, and Adam enrolled at Brown, the only entering foreign student, and a Jew. The brothers never saw their father or elder sister again.

      Brown, where young Ulam studied European and American history, was not City College with its politicized, immigrant alcoves. As the Nazis overran France, began bombing Britain, and then drove deep into the Soviet Union, the gaiety of fraternity life and the "America First" detachment of 1939-1941 was almost too much to bear for a Polish student from occupied Europe. Finally Pearl Harbor broke the isolationist spell. Ulam obtained immigration papers and reported to the United States draft board, only to be rejected for having "relatives living in enemy territory"! In 1943, upon graduating, the tall, strapping youth was summoned for a physical, but he was turned away again, this time for near-sightedness. Unlike other eager call-ups, he had forgotten to wear contacts.

      Following his elder brother (and surrogate father) to the University of Wisconsin, Adam got a job as an army instructor for Russian, the unfamiliar language of our wartime ally. The other teachers included an ex-czarist general, a former baroness, and a Moscow-trained Polish violinist with whom Adam shared an apartment. The roommates befriended a retired professor of Byzantine history, Alexander Vasiliev, who had known Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg, and in Madison helped them to order spaghetti and meatballs in Italian. In such company, Adam acquired a fondness for Russian culture rather than the more typical Russophobia of the emigre Pole born of centuries under the Russian boot. The army privates and non-coms whom Ulam had taught to speak Russian were assigned to the Pacific Theater.

      At Ulam's first Harvard residence, Claverly Hall, the janitor sported a derby hat and pince-nez, and reminisced about former student residents, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later Ulam swapped places with a young scholar named McGeorge Bundy and moved to Eliot House. The housemaster at his new abode, John Finley, a professor of Greek, brought the university's most renowned faculty to the mess hall and social gatherings, and knew by name his entire student "flock," not just the European counts and princes. Ulam boarded with the son of James Joyce, the grandson of Matisse, the younger son of the Aga Khan, and a descendant of Indonesian rajas who told him his family had been in politics for 800 years. "And what did they do before?" Ulam recalls having asked.

      In these mandarin alcoves of the new, American-dominated postwar world, Ulam, in J. Press suits and striped bow ties, came to know officials of Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist regime, who had no clue that they were soon to be overthrown, as well as trainees for what would become Mao's regime. Ulam also met Pierre Trudeau, whom he recalls as an aristocratic French-Canadian with "Christian-anarchist" views, as well as the doctoral student in economics Andreas Papandreou. Whatever he did for Greece as prime minister after the downfall of the colonels' dictatorship, Papandreou is said to have been valuable company for obtaining special treatment in Greek-American restaurants, and for navigating Boston nightclubs. Ulam lets slip that in 1945, after the relaxation of gender segregation on campus, a romance blossomed in Widener Library with an unnamed Anglo-Irish representative of the fair sex, leading to dog shows, horse races, and the Boston symphony, but it all "ended tempestuously." In 1947, he received his doctorate and George Marshall gave the commencement address in which he announced his plan for rebuilding Western Europe.

      Ulam married a Radcliffe graduate, Mary Hamilton Burgwin, in 1963 (they later divorced), had two sons, and wrote nineteen books, one a novel. As he here recounts, he initially devoted himself to examining Marxism's powers of seduction, which he linked not to intelligentsia manipulations but to psychological proclivities arising out of social developments, especially in peasant societies undergoing industrialization. And whereas some celebrated analysts, such as John Maynard Keynes, had dismissed Marxism as "illogical and dull," Ulam highlighted the doctrine's intricacy and comprehensiveness, which, he argued, explained its attraction not just to peasants but also to intellectuals. Ulam also wrote about the Soviet-Yugoslav split in 1948, which just three years after the Chinese revolution, he presented as a harbinger of the fracturing of communism. These two themes--Marxism's spreading influence and its resulting divisions--formed the core of Ulam's work.

      Having already ruffled some academic feathers by aptly describing the power struggle after Stalin's death in 1953 as akin to gangland Chicago under Capone, in 1965 Ulam published The Bolsheviks, the most incisive study to date of Lenin and his followers. Ulam's Lenin came across as a cultured Russian gentleman and an heir to a long revolutionary tradition, but also as a fanatic who, when the moment fortuitously arrived, beat the underground party into seizing power at all costs. What Ulam called Lenin's "penchant for terror" he attributed to a "perverse hatred" that the dropout law student felt toward "his own class," the intelligentsia, and to the hanging of his elder brother by the czarist police. Such occasionally strained psychologizing went together with skillful recuperations of seemingly obscure ideological disputations, alleged to have long-term repercussions, and sober details of political repression.

      The upshot, a powerful portrait of the Bolshevik leader and the Bolshevik movement written despite the inaccessibility of many documents, burst on the scene after the de-Stalinization in 1956, the launching of Sputnik in 1957, and the Cuban revolution in 1960, all of which had contributed to a sense that the Soviet Union had not simply recovered from World War II but recaptured its revolutionary elan, and might just be the wave of the future. Here Ulam notes that the opening of the secret archives has brought little that was truly unknown about Lenin, unless one counts the proof of his consummation with Inessa Armand. The dictator's "all-engrossing passion for revolution," he writes, had "seemed to preclude the possibility, perhaps the ability, to respond to the temptation of the flesh."

      Stalin had succeeded Lenin, and in 1973 Ulam published his acclaimed biography, Stalin: The Man and His Era. At the time the book appeared, the extent of the terror and the Gulag was being minimized by some leading American scholars, while even intellectuals without leftist sympathies sometimes felt that accepting the full unvarnished truth about the Soviet Union smacked of bad taste, or even McCarthyism. Ulam piled up the sordid details of Stalin's reign, and against the post-Khrushchev interpretive trend, he argued that the tyrant represented not a perversion or a usurpation of Leninism but rather its "defining characteristic." To his critics, who noted the utter absence of society in his great-man histories, Ulam countered, as he recalls that, "the most practical and important approach to the study of the Soviet Union was through its politics, which in its turn had to be an inquiry into what was going on in the political leadership." Dubbed Sovietology or sometimes Kremlinology, this endeavor at its best entailed voracious reading of official sources, often between the lines, frequent resort to the accounts of defectors, and inventive guesswork.

      So much about the Stalin years seemed to defy logic, such as the accusations of mass spying and wrecking throughout the Soviet elite during the Great Terror. Ulam surmised that in the conspiratorial atmosphere of the 1930s, most people, mentally equipped with little more than the official ideology, probably believed the preposterous charges that resulted in millions of arrests. "Working on Stalin, as I suppose on Hitler," he confesses, "is not a pleasant job. One cannot help becoming depressed by recounting the stories of human depravity and mass suffering." Ulam admits, however, having "found occasional distraction in trying to solve the intriguing historical puzzles of the period," mysteries "that would challenge the ingenuity of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot." The archives, still not fully revealed, overwhelmingly confirm Stalin's responsibility for the massacres as well as the system's inhumanity, with copious new details; but the secret documents offer few new insights into Ulam's larger questions of the bases of mass participation and the adherence to socialism despite knowledge or even direct experience of the pervasive bloodletting.
Expansion and Coexistence (1968, 1974), as well as The Rivals (1971) and Dangerous Relations (1983), he wondered whether the Soviet leadership could achieve a lasting detente with the West, or required a permanent siege mentality for domestic purposes--a potentially shattering proposition in the nuclear age. Hawkish specialist-officials such as Brzezinski and Pipes largely dismissed any possibility of lessening hair-trigger tensions, arguing that the Soviet system could never change, while some left-leaning scholars such as Deutscher and Lewin foresaw a relaxation both feeding and growing out of a Soviet domestic liberalization. Inclined neither to bring on doomsday nor to pursue the chimera of socialism with a human face, Ulam hinted that the Soviet regime was beset by the contradictions of its expansionist successes, and might become more accommodating abroad even as it remained authoritarian at home. That is more or less what happened, until Gorbachev arrived to expose the incurable ailments and unwittingly hastened the system's suicide.

      "Who in 1971," Ulam muses, "could have believed that if the USSR went down it would do so with barely a whimper?" Concerning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which precipitated warnings of Soviet global domination, he claims that "even in 1979-1980 I felt that the era of militant Communism was definitely over," given the threats posed by the anti-Communist resistance in his native Poland and a "capitalist-road" China. Still, he observes that he did not fathom the depth of Soviet problems, and he did not predict the collapse. No one did. As other scholars publish highly selective collections of declassified Soviet documents, which supposedly confirm their long-held views, Ulam, more right than most, had the courage to concede that "I was rather timid when assessing the chances for fundamentchanges," and that on some major questions "I was quite mistaken."

      Perhaps no subject exercised the lifelong student of European political systems and international affairs more than the American university, which Ulam had known since his years at Brown. Writing of the 1960s, Vietnam, and the student protests, he recalls encountering on his way to class "morning scenes of a sizeable crowd sometimes filling the large space in front of the library and an orator with a microphone denouncing violently some special iniquity of the university and/or of the bourgeois world." He pronounces the issues (or some of them) legitimate, but the methods not. The smugness that "Harvard was not Columbia" ended with the takeover and the forcible clearing of the administration building. Ulam admonishes that "the university in a democratic country is not the proper place for political struggle," while also judging the faculty's behavior at the time as "un-heroic."
The Fall of the American University, in which he decried the "governmentalization and politicization" of the American academy, though he would continue to prosper at an American university for several more decades. He also became captivated by Russia's tumultuous 1860s and 1870s, writing In the Name of the People (1977) about the radical revolutionary mystique, the bomb throwing, and the assassination plots.

      Cursed to live in interesting times, the exile from bygone Lwow came to know three American presidents, but mostly kept his distance from Washington. The academic conference circuit was not his cup of tea either. He never returned to his birthplace in what he playfully liked to call "Ukrainian-occupied Poland," and he avoided all travel to the Soviet Union, when it became possible after 1957, except for one short trip in fall 1985, preferring to receive important contacts along with students at the Russian Research Center (known since 1997 as the Davis Center). Ulam's tidied-up reminiscences are interspersed with warm recollections from his brother (who died in 1984), his ex-wife (the book's publisher), his sons, colleagues, former students, and old family friends. A zestful storyteller, Ulam favors the winning anecdote and the wink and nod over the tedium of score-settling. His tales of clubby academic practices and upheavals amid the Ivy alternate with ponderous exegeses of ever-receding Cold War controversies and brief mentions of out of place characters, such as Heinrich Bruning, the German chancellor who gave way, eventually, to Hitler and also found a home at Harvard.



Family History Specialist,
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

      Reading Adam Ulam's Understanding the Cold War was a personal experience for me. Everything Ulam was writing about the post-war Soviet Union I lived through. For forty-six years, the bigger (alas!) part of my life, the USSR was my native country. I was eleven when Stalin died, and I remember my mother crying in front of his portrait. I remember the day when Beria was denounced as a traitor.

  &bnsp;   I remember how deeply we were shocked when for the first time we read in the newspapers that Stalin was something less than God. For many years the Cold War was my everyday reality, and I always was interested in what really happened on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Especially mysterious were the Elders of the Kremlin, whose aura was once impermissible. Ulam leads you through the gallery of the portraits created by his skills, knowledge and magic intuition. They are all full of life: Stalin, Khruschev, Gorbachev, even short-lived Cherenko. The perfection of the result reached by the laconic economy of expression and psychological detail is on the scale of da Vinci's drawings.

      The Ulam book is a treasure for those who want to know what is expected in our ever-changing world. As a good historian, Adam Ulam could extrapolate the past into the future. That is why his words sound prophetic: that after the demise of the Soviet Union "the challenge to the United States and other democracies is all the greater because the danger will be continually shifting in its nature and identity."

      And one more thing: I have read other works of Adam Ulam and always respected his talent and erudition. AfterUnderstanding I got to know him as a person. So, I have one more friend.



Georgetown University
Sept 1, 2001 © 2001 by Choice

      Written in the last days before his death in March 2000, this book is a fitting epitaph and memorial to Ulam's half-century of monumental scholarship.

      His 18 books and long tenure as twice-director of Harvard's Russian Studies Center mark him as one of the world's foremost scholars of the Soviet Union/Russia. Organized into 31 vignettes, Understanding the Cold War is an engaging, insightful, and poignant mix of autobiography and reflections on the Cold War and its aftermath. Occasional personal notes inserted by family members and academic colleagues add to its vitality. Although lacking the apparatus of footnotes and bibliography, an accompanying Web site provides photos and biographical and historical materials documenting Ulam's life and times. It will appeal to scholars and other serious readers of recent history and autobiography. . . .



From Reviews of Stalin: The Man and His Era :

      Josef Stalin, writes historian Adam B. Ulam in his now-classic biography, was the consummate outsider, a man who spoke Russian with a Georgian accent all his life yet still proclaimed himself to be the supreme father of the Russian people. Often pictured as a semiliterate boor, Stalin was in fact an intellectual, and he destroyed the intellectual class to which he belonged "as thoroughly as any class in history had ever been destroyed." Ulam's account of the 20th century's Genghis Khan is an absorbing study of power won and terrifyingly applied.

From Reviews of The Bolsheviks : The Intellectual and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia:

      Although titled in the collective, Adam Ulam's masterful study of the Communists' rise to power in Russia, first published in 1965, focuses predominantly on one man, Lenin. As the historical evidence assembled by Ulam demonstrates, this is only proper; the story of the advance of the Bolsheviks is deeply interwoven with the story of Lenin. The only comparable analogues in this century, perhaps, are Gandhi's relationship to the Indian independence movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s connection to the civil rights movement, but even these examples lack the direct link between activism and authority that Lenin achieved.

      The Bolsheviks is an intellectual biography of the highest sort. Whenever there is an opportunity to ask probing questions that would clarify Lenin's position and motivations in the reader's mind, Ulam gets the answers. His language is both undaunting and precise; one comes away from this book having achieved a substantial understanding of early Soviet history without ever having felt plunged in over one's head.

      The rise of the Bolsheviks is an epic Russian story that now has a definitive end. The major historian of the subject, Adam Ulam, has enlarged his classic work with a new Preface that puts the revolutionary moment, and especially Lenin, in perspective for our modern age.
--Harvard University Press, March 30, 1998

      Notwithstanding the title [The Bolsheviks]... this is the most rewarding single study of Lenin that I have yet encountered.... The really impressive feature of Ulam's book is that he is thinking hard all the way. No comfortable historical generalization or biographical cliche; escapes his critical attention, and he has a most satisfying way of asking, in effect--is this an adequate explanation; what else may be involved? In these days of rampant 'be-that-as-it-may' writing, Ulam's intellectual seriousness is a great relief and pleasure.
--Henry L. Roberts, The New York Times

      This biography of so good that it is not merely superior in degree to any other life of Lenin, but different in kind. The conjunction of scholar and artist is the rarest thing. We used to be told that it was worth learning Italian to read Dante. Here is a new one: it is worth developing an interest in Lenin to read Adam Ulam.
--The Observer (London)



From: Philip Friedman, Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust (New York, 1980), "The Destruction of the Jews of Lwow" pp. 244-322..

      The Judenrat was established at the time of the first "contribution action"; its first official activity was the collection of the contributions and the payment of the fine to the Germans. In Eastern Galicia, the Jewish community councils had been abolished under Soviet rule. It was the Germans' policy to organize a Jewish Council in every area of Jewish settlement and transform it into an apparatus for implementing their orders. At the beginning of July 1941, the German command met with various Jewish functionaries to negotiate on the creation of a Jewish Council. The Germans proposed that Moses (Maurycy) Allerhand--famous scholar of law and professor at Lwow University, who had been a government-appointed director for the Lwow Jewish community prior to the War--be chairman of the Judenrat. Allerhand declined, pleading old age and illness. A few others (among them Judah Erlich) refused to be council members. Finally, seeing that there were no volunteers from among the important functionaries and city notables, the Germans gave up "negotiating" and simply apppointed council members from their list of candidates. At first, five members were appointed, but later additions were made (until July 20, 1941). The composition of the Judenrat in the autumn of 1941 was as follows: Jozef Parnas, chairman; Adolph Rotfeld, vice-chairman; council members: Henryk Landesberg, Oswald Kimmelman, Edmund Scherzer, Naftali Landau, physician Izydor Guensberg, Jacob Chigier, Seidengrau, Josef Hoch, SZYMON ULAM, Marceli Buber, Chaim Zarwincer, and others. Changes soon took place. . . .

      On November 18, 1942, the Germans conducted a new registration in the ghetto. This time, every worker in military installations received a metal plate inscribed with the letter "W" (for Wehrmacht, army) or "R" (for Ruestungsindustrie, munitions industry). About 12,000 men and women received the new insignia during the registration, which provided the Germans with an opportunity for "purging" about 5,000 "nonessential" persons, who were sent directly to their death.

      The survivors were divided into two categories: (1) Holders of the metal tags with the letters "W" or "R" were billeted in the ghetto's "better" houses which were converted into barracks; on each barracks was designated the specific detachment residing there, and the plant in which its occupants worked. (2) those without metal tags were, from that time on, considered superfluous, and were persecuted. The shanties and clay huts were assigned as their dwelling quarters, and their very existence was tantamound to illegal. Many of them were killed each time the Germans conducted searches in the Ghetto. The largest such action was on January 5, 6, and 7, 1943, when about 15,000 persons were murdered, among them many officials of the Judenrat. Prior to the action, all officials of the Jewish Council were ordered to gather together in the Judenrat building. When they had assembled, the Germans burst in, removed the officials, and swent them off to Belzec or to the Janowski camp. A short time later (apparently February 4), the Germans ordered the members of the Judenrat (there were still about twelve) to report for a meeting. Several of those who appeared were murdered, among them Eberson (the head of the Judenrat) and his associates Marceli Buber, Oswald Kimmelman, and Jacob Chigier. Others were sent to the Janowski camp, among them SZYMON ULAM, who was later transferred to Dachau, where he perished. Most of those who managed to go into hiding were subsequently caught and killed by the Germans.     Return to Family Pictures

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