Professor John Doyle Klier (1944–2007) was a pioneering historian of Russian Jewry and a pivotal figure in academic Jewish studies and East European history in the UK and beyond. At the end of his career and life, Professor Klier was the Sidney and Elizabeth Corob Professor of Modern Jewish History at University College London. He was a historian who challenged scholarly opinion on the Jewish community under the Tsars.
Early life and university
Klier was born in 1944 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and his family lived briefly in Washington before settling in Syracuse, New York. His father taught aeronautical engineering at Syracuse University. 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, which was known for Russian and Soviet history. In his investigations of pre-revolutionary Russia, he noticed that little research had been conducted on Russian Jewry for most of the 20th century. His PhD dissertation examined the process by which Tsarist Russia, after the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century, absorbed Jews into the Russian state system. His first book, Russia Gathers Her Jews: The Origins of the Jewish Question in Russia (1986), expanded on the PhD thesis.
Work in Russia
In 1991, he was one of the first foreign scholars to undertake in-depth research on the Jews in Soviet archives, and mined resources in the coming years in Kiev, Moscow, St Petersburg and Minsk. In 1993, he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States to prepare surveys of Jewish materials in post-Soviet archives. Scores, if not hundreds, of researchers of East European Jewry have benefited from his insight and guidance. His second major monograph, 'Imperial Russia's Jewish Question, 1855–1881', appeared in 1995.
John lead the Jewish studies department at UCL and was also a regular organiser of trips of Russianists from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies to the theatre and opera. The UCLU club photo from 2005 now sits in his Memorial Library in the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department.
John was devoted to his wife Helen Mingay and their two children, Sophia and Sebastian. He is survived by family members in Upstate New York and the UK. John was an expert in many national literatures – which he preferred to read in their original language.
- Perspectives on the 1881-1882 pogroms in Russia. Pittsburgh, Forbes Quadrangle, 1984, with Alexander Orbach.
- Russia gathers her Jews: The origins of the "Jewish question" in Russia, 1772-1825. Northern Illinois University Press, 1986.
- Pogroms: anti-Jewish violence in modern Russian history, with Shlomo Lambroza, 1992.
- Imperial Russia's Jewish question, 1855-1881 . Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
- The quest for Anastasia: Solving the mystery of the lost Romanovs . Secaucus, N.J., Carol Publishing Group, 1997, with his wife Helen Mingay.