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January 26: The Siberian Exile Ethnographer

Lawrence Bush
January 26, 2017
Vladimir Jochelson, whose participation in the terroristic Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”) revolutionary group landed him in exile in Siberia, where he studied the native peoples and became an internationally respected ethnographer, was born in Vilna on this date in 1855. Remanded to Yakutsk in northern Siberia for ten years, Jochelson studied and wrote articles about the language, culture, and stories of aboriginal Siberians, including the Tungus, Yakuts, and Yukaghirs. In 1894, he and another Jewish exile were attached to the first expedition of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society (1894–97), and when the Jessup North Pacific Expedition to Siberia, Alaska, and Northwestern Canada was launched in 1897 by the head of the American Museum of Natural History, Morris Jessup, under the leadership of Franz Boas, Jochelson joined and returned with the expedition to the United States, in 1902. From 1912 to 1922, Jochelson was an associate curator at the Anthropological and Ethnographical Museum at Petrograd. He then permanently emigrated to the U.S. and worked with the American Museum of Natural History and later with the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. He died in 1937 in New York. “In 1879 Jochelson became involved in the revolutionary movement . . . working in the underground laboratory which prepared dynamite and false passports. In 1880 he immigrated to Switzerland, where he headed the movement’s printing shop in Geneva. In 1885 he tried to cross the border back to Russia, but he was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment and then ten years of exile in Siberia.”--Jewish Virtual Library

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.