Monday, April 21, 2014

How Moscow Felt About Jews

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                   

                           Nathan Goldfus/Goldfoot, b: 1870 Lithuania; d: 1912
Moscow is the capital of the Russian republic.  Jews have not been allowed to live there.  Orders were even issued in 1490, two years before the Spanish Inquisition, that Jews could not enter Moscow.  These same orders were issued again in 1549, 1610 and 1667.

Jews were living in Lithuania in 1321.  By 1398, mostly Karaite Jews were living there.  In 1495 Jews were living in Vilna, Grodno and Kovno, totalling 10,000, but in that same year from 1495 to 1502 they were excluded from Lithuania.   By 1529 they received a charter guaranteeing freedom of movement and employment, but in 1566 to 1572 they had to wear a Jewish badge.  They also couldn't give evidence in court.     White Russia (Belarus) was annexed to Russia in 1772 and after that happened, Jewish merchants began to go into Moscow, mainly from Shklov.  From 1826 to 1856, a ghetto was created there.  Most Jews residing there permanently were Cantonists or teen-aged conscripts that had been drafted into the army.  From 1805 to 1856, Jews were subject to the decree from 1827, and a very high number of Jewish children were taken away from their parents with the intent of converting them to Christianity.  The Jewish communities were expected to supply early a certain number of recruits between the ages of 12 years of age and sometimes even as young as 8 years of age and up to 25 years old.  Once they were in the service they had to serve for 25 years if they lived that long.  The count didn't start until they were 18 years old, so they had to serve until they were 43 years old.

There was a Catherine I, who was an empress of Russia.  She ruled from 1725 to 1727, and in May of that last year expelled all the Jews living in Little Russia (Ukraine).  This order was then countermanded after her death.
Catherine II the Great Empress, ruled from 1762 to 1796.    In 1791, she  hadn't allowed any Jews into Moscow by writing up a decree about it. Her method of dealing with the Jewish policy was a combination of liberalism and coercion.  She allowed Jews to register in the merchant and urban classes in 1780 but permission was restricted to White Russia (Belarus) in 1786.  This marked the beginning of the Pale of Settlement.    Jews were to live in the Pale of Settlement, which consisted of 25 provinces of Czarist Russia in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus,  Ukraine and Crimea.It also included Bessarabia, which was a province, formerly Romanian, and now in the Moldavian and Ukrainian Republics.
                                 Pale of Settlement

Jews were living there when Bessarabia was annexed to Russia in 1812.  Between 1839 and 1858 Jews were forbidden to live within 50 versts of the frontier with Russia proper and, like the gypsies, couldn't ever become government officials.  Lots of anti-Semitism existed in Kishinev.  90,000 Jews escaped from Soviet Russia through Bessarabia in 1919 to 1925 and many emigrated from there to Brazil. Catherine II was nasty to Jews in her last years.  She prevented the extension of Jewish settlement and in 1795, prohibited Jewish residence in the countryside areas.

My grandfather, Nathan Goldfus, was born in Telsiai, Lithuania in 1870.  I"ve managed to trace his ancestors back to 1730 to Iones "Jonah Goldfus in that same city.  Nathan's father was Morris Goldfus, a distiller. Either grains or potatoes are used to make Russian Vodka which must be 40% alcohol.   How his family managed to exist all that time in this city is astounding, but we know that they got there after living in the Rhineland (Germany).    Some members of the Goldfus family were given special passes to sell corn in Russia proper.  A few people were allowed to live outside the Pale if they were members of the liberal professions with a high school diploma, big businessmen, skilled artisans, and ex-Cantonists (by then converted to Christianity.)  .  If you were a common Jew and found outside the Pale of Settlement without permission, your fate depended on the decision of the local governor.

 These young Jewish recruits were educated at special schools outside the Pale of Settlement  and then sent far away to do their service in the eastern provinces like Siberia.  Thousands were converted and assimilated, but many died from hardship.  Most of these cantonists were from poor families who could not buy their child out of doing service in the Russian army.  The Russian police were brutal in picking up the children which literally amounted to kidnapping.  This led to a lot of corruption and much resentment against the richer Jews by the poorer ones.

Moscow's Jewish quarter expanded rapidly and was a center of the Hoveve Zion.  In 1891 there were 20,000 craftsmen, workers, teachers living there but they were all expelled to the Pale of Settlement.  After Russia's 1905 revolution, things got better for them.

The 1st World War started in 1914 and ended in 1917.  During the war, 100,000 Jews were expelled or emigrated to the Russian interior in Lithuania.  After the 1917 revolution, the Jewish population of Moscow increased greatly and it became the most important Russian Jewish center.  It held Jewish cultural activities such as Tarbut, the Ha-Bimah and Yiddish theaters which flourished for a time.  That was culture, but religious life did not grow.  The cultural authorities came to an end in the last year of Stalin.  Everything revived, such as culture and religion with the introduction of Perestroika."which was a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s (1986), widely associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost (meaning "openness") policy reform. The literal meaning of perestroika is "restructuring", referring to the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system.Perestroika is often argued to be the cause of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe, and the end of the Cold War."

                                              Russian  Jews

There were at least 175,000 Jews in Lithuania at the start of WWII.  About 25,000 were deported by the Russians from Lithuania and Latvia in July 1940.  The remaining Jewish of Lithuania were massacred by the Germans and the Lithuanians by 1943.  24,000 Jews were living there in 1959, but by 1989 about half had left for Israel, leaving 12,312 Jews behind.   By 1989 there were 232,000 Jews in Moscow.

Resource: Jewish Encyclopedia

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