Saturday, August 15, 2015

Being Jewish in Russia Was the Pits

Nadene Goldfoot                                            
It started with living in Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine.  Duke Vladimir, (958-1015) also the Prince of Novgorod, son of Prince Sviatoslav,  became powerful and had solidified the frontiers against incursions of Bulgarian, Baltic and Eastern nomads.  His religion was that of a Slavic paganism.  He converted to Orthodox Christianity in 988 and Christianized the Kievan Russians.  This caused the Jews of that area to have to be involved in a debate against becoming Christianized in 986. Jews had emigrated to Kiev in the 700s, possibly from Khazaria and Jewish merchants had visited in the 800s and 900s.

Kiev in the 1100s had a Jewish Gate.  What?  Jews had to enter by a special gate?  Talk about discrimination.  That goes with being forced to live in the Jewish Quarter, which may or may not have been their choice. It was actually a ghetto and Jews were persecuted and  the ghetto looted in 1113.  During this period, the Jews were attending a western yeshivot and sent their questions of a religious nature to the German rabbis who were the experts living in Worms, Germany.
By 1240, the Tatars destroyed the community.
Kiev was excluded from the PALE OF SETTLEMENT.

1321 and Jews were entering Lithuania which would later be a part of the PALE OF SETTLEMENT along with Latvia, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine.  .
1398 and Karaites made up a community in Lithuania in Troki.
In the late 1400s, Jewish traders from Lithuania helped to spread the knowledge and people of a Judaizing sect in Novgorod and Moscow and this started a drastic reaction.  It sounds like they were proselytizers.
1495 saw 10,000 Jews living in Vilna, Grodno and Kovno.  This same year they were excluded from Lithuania
1566 to 1572 those in Lithuania then had to wear the Jewish badge to identify them.

By 1563, 300 Jews were drowned at Polotsk and Vitebsk on refusing to accept baptism.  Boy, that sure told the Jews what a nice religion they didn't accept.

In 1667, the Jews were expelled from Eastern Ukraine when it was annexed to Russia.  Clauses prohibiting Jews from visiting the country of Russia were inserted in treaties signed by Russia with foreign powers in 1550 and 1678.  Expulsion orders were given out in 1727, 1738, and 1742.

In 1753, 35,000 Jews were driven out of Russia.  Where did they go?  To the neighboring countries that hadn't become as nasty yet.
In 1762, Catherine II permitted all aliens to live in Russia except the Jews.

                                                    CZAR RULE

Poland was partitioned off in 1772, 1793 and especially in 1795.  The great Jewish masses of White Russia (Belarus) , the Ukraine, Lithuania and Courland (Latvia) became Russian subjects and for over a century, the great majority of the world's Jews were under the horrid rule of the Czars.

By 1796 Jews were restricted to towns, the start of the land called the PALE OF SETTLEMENT. This was comprised of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.   Only the Karaites had equal rights with Christians in 1795.  Poland was the world's greatest center of talmudic study.  S. Russia, particularly Odessa, was the focus of Hebrew literary revival and the place where many remarkable people in Zionist and contemporary Jewish history had congregated and lived, just like Worms, Germany was the center when Jews lived there.

In 1802 Jews had a Council for Jewish Affairs established.  2 years later it defined the PALE.  Jews were legally restricted to live in the villages in 1807-1808 which limited their activities of the KAHAL( a Jewish congregation having autonomous rights and responsible for taxation, abolished in 19th century)  in religion and charity and prohibited the traditional Jewish clothing.  It took measures to promote agriculture among the Jews.

Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and the Jews remained loyal.  He issued several restrictive measure of his infamous decree relating to commerce and finance which restricted Jewish rights.
Alexander I (1801-1825) was benevolent at first.  He changed his attitude later and caused 20,000 Jews to be expelled from the provinces of Vitebsk and Mohilev in 1824.  Those remaining were forbidden to live near the frontier.
 About 600 oppressive acts regarding the Jews were published during the reign of NICHOLAS I a Czar reigning from 1825 to 1855.  He regarded Jews as an injurious element.  He tried to assimilate Jews by his police methods so introduced the kidnapping of boys called Cantonists.  Jewish clothing was forbidden to wear  in 1850.  Intellectual life was strictly supervised (the beginning of big brother is watching you).  If you converted to Christianity you were exempt from paying income tax for several years.

In 1827, military service was brutally imposed on Jews.  Jews became subject to this decree from this year and a much higher number of Jewish children were taken away from their families with the intent of converting them to Christianity.  This was the act of taking adolescents into the army and had actually started in 1805 and lasted until 1856.  The Jewish communities were bound to supply yearly a certain number of recruits between ages of 12 and even sometimes 8 to 25.  Service in the armed forces lasted for 25 years. and wasn't counted until they had reached age 18.  Jewish recruits were educated at special schools outside the PALE OF SETTLEMENT and then sent to far away places, the eastern provinces like Siberia.  Thousands were converted and assimilated this way while many died of hardship.  Most of these children, called the CANTONISTS, were from poor Jewish families.  The more wealthy Jews were able to buy their children.  The same thing has happened in other places as well.  However, there was a brutal police force that imposed on the the Jewish community the act of kidnapping these children and this had led to widespread corruption and deep resentment on the part of the poorer Jews against the rich.  No wonder some families cut off fingers and tried to make their children unfit for service.
Isador Kaufman 1853-1921, a Yeshiva Boy
In 1835, the frontiers of THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT were restricted and this remained a law until 1915.  In 1836 a censorship was imposed on Jewish books.
In 1844 the Kahal was abolished.  Alexander II tried to Russify the Jews by education and the gradual relaxation of restrictions.                                    
In 1864 the judicial law contained no anti-Jewish discrimination.  At this time there were 65,000 Jewish farmers.  They became prominent in economics, culture and left-wing politics.  Social anti-Semitism now began to replace or reinforce the former religious prejudices.

1881 was when Alexander II was assassinated causing the Jews to become the chief victims.  Horrid pogroms in the early 1880s took place and caused Russians to see Jews as a foreign element to be kept apart from the village population.
1891 started THE MAY LAWS pertaining to where they could live, when they could work.  Jews were expelled from Moscow and a law called NUMERUS CLAUSES was introduced into their high schools and secondary schools. " (4) The measures laid down in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 shall apply only to the governments within the Pale of Jewish Settlement [that is, they shall not apply to the ten governments of Poland].They were laws discriminating against the Jews.  The administration of the May Laws by petty officials who were very often ignorant of their meaning intensified abuses"                                                                       
My grandfather left Telsiai, Lithuania in June 1893 for England at age 22.  

Many Jews turned to ZIONISM.     Some opted to emigrate to the USA. They all wanted to leave.                                
1897 was the turning point for Jews to be interested in socialism like the Bund and the revolutionary movement.

1905 was the start of an organization advocating Jewish rights.  By 1906 they elected 12 Jewish deputies to the Duma, representing the Liberal Party. Anti-Semitism reached a peak with the Beilis case, one of many Blood Libels.In 1911 the body of a boy was found in Kiev and Menahem Mendel Beilis was charged with ritual murder.  The investigation lasted for 2 years with violent anti-Jewish propaganda in the Russian and anti-Semitic press and by a wave of protest in Jewish and libnertal circles in the world.  In 1913 the trial was held and Beilis was acquitted.  He traveled to Palestine and later in 1920  to the USA. His story was the subject in the book The Fixer by Bernard Malamaud.
Much emigration to the USA took place between 1900 and 1920.  I know from the reports of one family that they had to pay a leader to take them out, traveling at night.  Their story was about a foggy night and they had let go accidentally the hand of one of their children and almost lost her in fleeing.

1914 was the beginning of WWI and lasted until 1917.  At the outbreak of the war, 5,600,000 Jews lived in the empire of the Czars including almost 2 million in Poland.  Those living near the war zones were deported.  There happened to be 300,000 Jewish soldiers in the Russian army at the time.    Jewish shtetls (villages) were the scapegoats for Russian defeats.  Jews were expulsed from Kovno, Grodno and Courland.  They could do no printing in Hebrew or Yiddish.
Lithuania's 100,000 Jews were expelled and emigrated to Russian interior during war.
After the Russian Revolution on April 2, 1917, the government ended all anti-Jewish decrees.  Then Jews became active in the Kerensky regime and later men such as  Trotsky, Zinoviev, Sverd and Lov were prominent  in the Bolshevik Revolution.

1918 saw changes for Jews.  There were Jewish departments in the commissariats of national affairs and of education.  April 1919 the Soviet government ended the non-communist Jewish institutions
1919  Vilna, Lithuania went to Poland.
A Civil War started and with it was a wave of more pogroms but the Soviet government said that anti-Semitism was a criminal offense.  Jewish traders started to disappear.  Many went into heavy industry.  The Soviet Government became anti-religious.   and it became against the law to teach in public schools any religious teaching.  There was an economic revolution what affected all life.  Older Jews held onto their traditions, but the younger ones were affected by the changes.  The government recognized that Jews were not a nationality, so they discouraged Hebrew and persecuted Zionism.   They didn't like Jews but discouraged them from leaving Russia for Palestine, too.

Like the rest of the world, from 1921 to 1929, life was better for the Jews economically.  Jews were placed on the land to farm in the Ukraine, Crimea and in Biro-Bidjan.  The American Jewish Agricultural Corporation helped them, but not many Jews wanted to be farmers.
In 1930, Jews were being discouraged to continue with their religion.  Prominent Jews were taken away in purges of the 1930s.
1939 WWII started.  Poland was invaded by the Nazis on September 1, 1939.  "  In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, a treaty included a secret protocol that divided territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland into German and Soviet "spheres of influence", anticipating potential "territorial and political rearrangements" of these countries"   Countries were annexed such as Belarus, W. Volhynia, E. Galicia, N. Bukovina, Bessarabia (Moldova and Ukraine) , Lithuania and Latvia and this led to the mass-deportation of Jews by the Nazis, especially the intelligentsia from these places.
July 1940 Lithuania had 175,000 Jews.  Russians deported 25,000 and from Latvia.  The remaining were massacred by the Nazis and Lithuanians by 1943.                                                                              
1941 the Nazis invaded Russia.  Their aim was to exterminate the Jewish population.  There were 500,000 Jews in White Russia (Belarus).
Russian Jew 
Only half escaped to the interior.  200,000 were slaughtered immediately.  The Soviet government appealed to the World Jewry in 1941 but quickly the anti-Jewish trend showed itself again.Many outstanding Jews were taken away, including most of the people of Yiddish culture.
1947-1948 Jews were supporting Israel.  Russia adopted a strong pro-Arab and anti-Israel policy.

1952 showed the chutzpa of the Russians  to charge Jewish doctors of plotting against the state, part of another campaign against Jews after suffering from the Nazi Holocaust.
Joseph Stalin 1878-1953, Russian dictator from 1929 to 1953. 
1953 Stalin died! All doctors who survived prison were released.  The government continued to be anti-Semitic and restricted Jewish cultural expression.  Jews were removed and placed in different centers, changing the population.

1955 Russia strongly supported Arabs
1959 Jews living in Russia 2,268,000.
1967 After Six Day War USSR broke off relations with Israel and came out in support of the Arabs, especially supportive of Egypt.
Jews demanded the right to emigrate to Israel.  At this time, all synagogues were shut down and Russians were atheistic.  There was no religion practiced.  Many Jews were put in prison for wanting to leave.
 Sharansky was one of them.  He was able to write to my Hebrew teacher in Israel from prison in 1980 and she in turn sent back lessons, in secret.
Natan Sharansky, born 1948 in Russia. Chess champion, computer scientist, Knesset member 
1970s Jews started to come to Israel.  250,000 left Russia and of those 150,000 went to Israel.  By mid 70s, Russians came to USA instead.
Natan  Sharansky was denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973. The reason given for denial of the visa was that he had been given access, at some point in his career, to information vital to Soviet national security and could not now be allowed to leave. After becoming a refusenik, Sharansky became a human rights activist, working as a translator for dissident and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, and spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group and a leader for the rights of refuseniks.

Sharansky was released on 11 February 1986 as part of a larger exchange of detainees. He was the first political prisoner released by Mikhail Gorbachev due to intense political pressure from Ronald Reagan.

1980s saw doors closed to Jews again.  Finally in last years of 1980s, Gorbachev allowed emigration. Everyone felt freer, Jew and anti-Semites.  Now the USA severely limited Soviet Jews from entering.  Israel received almost 200,000 Jews in 1990 and it continued into 1991.

     I made aliyah in 1980 and joined a group of Russian Jews who were teachers of English in Russia.  We were all learning Hebrew in an ulpan lasting 10 months and had to pass a 3 hour Hebrew test at the end.  They were far better at learning languages than we Americans.  They could not return to Russia, but we were free to return to the USA having dual citizenship.  I loved them for loving my female German shepherd who I had brought with me.  One time we Americans and Russians had a big disagreement on managing our ulpan lunch money, and though we argued, they always loved my dog.  She brought us together.  

1989 census of Jews in Russia: 1,449,167, probably higher.  Some records say only 12,312 Jews remained.  
1991 relations with Israel re-established, just before liquidation of USSR.                                       
2015:  Russia meeting with Iran about nuclear plans of Iran.   Russia backs Iran in arming terrorists who are attacking Israel.  
A Jew praying at the wall in Jerusalem

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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