On the cold night of December 8, 1941, a Nazi Gestapo killer led an 81-year-old bearded scholar from his home and shot him dead.
Thus ended the life of Simon Dubnow, an outstanding Jewish historian. From his childhood, this man had been fascinated by history. He did not have the opportunity to attend a real school, and so taught himself all he knew at home until he had learned as much os the greatest scholars of his age. Because he was Jewish he could not get a position teaching in a Russian university so he spent his life studying, writing, and teaching young students Jewish history and culture.
Dubnow first wrote several studies of the life of the Jews in Russia and Poland. His main work was a complete history of the Jewish people which was first published in German in ten volumes and later in Russian and Hebrew. These volumes are considered so important that all students of Jewish history have had to read and understand them since they were published until today. However, Simon Dubnow did more than just record the facts of the past. He was most concerned with the life of his people in the future.
The mystery of the Jewish people was that it had survived as a nation without its own country. All other peoples which had been in a situation like that of the Jews, namely in exile, had disappeared. Dubnow thought he understood how the Jews had managed to survive. The key to their success was their ability to establish a system of law and a way of life by which they separated themselves and governed themselves even while in a foreign land. The Jews had lived according to their own laws and had remained faithful to their own religion. They wanted to remain a nation in order to preserve their faith, their ideas and their culture and they had been able to do so by forming a nation within a nation wherever they were.
Dubnow believed that the jews of the future could survive if they had the proper will to develop centers of spiritual strength. He did not agree with the Zionists who felt that jewish life in exile was doomed to failure and that the only hope for the weak and scattered people was a new life in Erez Israel. He argued that the basis of their national life was their spirit and culture. This idea influenced many Jews to appreciate the special quality of the Jewish spirit and the special role it had played in enabling the Jewish nation to survive.
Entry taken from "Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth" CD-ROM
by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.