In the early 20th century, the Czar of Russia's power was being threatened by the Bolshevek revolutionary movement. To distract the population, the Czar turned to the time-tested tactic of anti-Semitism. He blamed the Jews for all the problems in society, and sent violent gangs to start pogroms - fiery massacres - against Jewish villages. Police and military officers were ordered to stand down and let the Jews be slaughtered.
Nikolai Ivanovich Blinov was a Ukrainian student and activist who protested the brutality of the Czar’s dictatorial regime. He was forced into exile in Switzerland, where he became an amateur actor and appeared in political theater condemning anti-semitism and the Czar. He also married and started a family.
In 1905, Nikolai traveled to Zhitomir, his hometown in the Ukraine, to visit his parents. While he was there, Russian soldiers began a violent pogrom against the local Jewish community. Many Jews were killed and even more injured, and homes and businesses were destroyed. Nikolai, a Christian, refused to stand idly by.
Along with a friend, Doctor Binstock, Nikolai bravely approached the mob, unarmed. He called out to them, “Brothers! My people! The Jews are not your enemies! You are being incited against them to make you forget your real enemies, your oppressors!”
Immediately the mob came after them, screaming, “Leftist traitors! Socialists! You’re worse than the Jews!”
The enraged mob beat Nikolai to death. His friend the doctor was also beaten but managed to survive, badly injured but alive. Nikolai was 24 years old. His mother had to identify his body at the morgue, where the bodies of the Jewish pogrom victims were being held.
Two weeks later, the grand synagogue in St. Petersburg held a memorial service for the dead. Nikolai Blinov’s name was read along with the hundreds of Jewish victims. The Zhitomir Jewish community erected a memorial to Nikolai.
Nikolai’s heroism was forgotten for a hundred years, until a Russian academic wrote a thesis about him. In Israel, a memorial ceremony for Nikolai was held in Ariel, and multiple speakers praised him for making the ultimate sacrifice.
For facing down a murderous mob at the cost of his own life, we honor Nikolai Blinov as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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