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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

5. THE ECONOMIC PLIGHT OF RUSSIAN JEWRY AND AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENTS

The attempt at thinning the Jewish population by emigration having failed, the congested Jewish masses continued to gasp for air in their Pale of Settlement. The slightest effort to penetrate beyond the Pale into the interior was treated as a criminal offence. In December, 1847, the Council of State engaged in a protracted and earnest discussion about the geographical point up to which the Jewish coachmen of Polotzk should be allowed, to drive the inmates of the local school of cadets on their annual trips to the Russian capital. The discussion arose out of the fact that the road leading from Polotzk to St. Petersburg is crossed by the line separating the Pale from the prohibited interior. A proposal had been made to permit the coachmen to drive their passengers as far as Pskov. But when the report was submitted to the Tzar, he appended the following resolution: "Agreeable; though not to Pskov, but to Ostrov"--the town nearest to the Pale. Of this trivial kind were Russia's methods in curtailing Jewish rights three months before the great upheaval which in adjoining Germany and Austria dealt the death-blow to absolutism and inaugurated the era of the "Second Emancipation."

As for the economic life of the Jews, it had been completely undermined by the system of ruthless tutelage, which the Government had employed for a quarter of a century in the hope of "reconstructing" it. All these drumhead methods, such as the hurling of masses of living beings from villages into towns and from the border-zone into the interior, the prohibition of certain occupations and the artificial promotion of others, could not but result in economic ruin, instead of leading to economic reform.

Nor was the governmental system of encouraging agriculture among Jews attended by greater success. In consequence of the expulsion of tens of thousands of Jews from the villages of White Busier in 1823, some two thousand refugees had drifted into the agricultural colonies of New Russia, but all they did was to replace the human wastage from increased mortality, which, owing to the change of climate and the unaccustomed conditions of rural life, had decimated the original settlers. During the reign of Nicholas, efforts were again made to promote agricultural colonization by offering the prospective immigrants subsidies and alleviations in taxation. Even more valuable was the privilege relieving the colonists from military service for a term of twenty-five to fifty years from the time of settlement. Yet only a few tried to escape conscription by taking refuge in the colonies. For the military regime gradually penetrated into these colonies as well. The Jewish colonist was subject to the grim tutelage of Russian "curators" and "superintendents," retired army men, who watched his every step and punished the slightest carelessness by conscription or expulsion.

In 1836 the Government conceived the idea of enlarging the area of Jewish agricultural colonization. By an imperial rescript certain lands in Siberia, situated in the government of Tobolsk and in the territory of Omsk, were set aside for this purpose. Within a short time 1317 Jews declared their readiness to settle on the new lands; many had actually started on their way in batches. But in January, 1837, the Tzar quite unexpectedly changed his mind. After reading the report of the Council of Ministers on the first results of the immigration, he put down the resolution: "The transplantation of Jews to Siberia is to be stopped." A few months later orders were issued to intercept those Jews who were on their way to Siberia and transfer them to the Jewish colonies in the government of Kherson. The unfortunate emigrants were seized on the way and conveyed, like criminals, under a military escort into places in which they were not in the least interested. Legislative whims of this kind, coupled with an uncouth system of tutelage, were quite sufficient to crush in many Jews the desire of turning to the soil.

Nevertheless, the colonization made slow progress, gradually spreading from the government of Kherson to the neighboring governments of Yekaterinoslav and Bessarabia. Stray Jewish agricultural settlements also appeared in Lithuania and White Russia. But a comparative handful of some ten thousand "Jewish peasants" could not affect the general economic make-up of millions of Jews. In spite of all shocks, the economic structure of Russian Jewry remained essentially the same. As before, the central place in this structure was occupied by the liquor traffic, though modified in a certain measure by the introduction of a more extensive system of public leases. Above the rank and file of tavern keepers, both rural and urban, there had arisen a class of wealthy tax-farmers, who kept a monopoly on the sale of liquor or the collection of excise in various governments of the Pale. They functioned as the financial agents of the exchequer, while the Jewish employees in their mills, store-houses, and offices acted as their sub-agents, forming a class of "officials" of their own. The place next in importance to the liquor traffic was occupied by retail and wholesale commerce. The crafts and the spiritual professions came last. Pauperism was the inevitable companion of this economic organization, and "people without definite occupations" were counted by the hundreds of thousands.



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