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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

CHAPTER XVIII



THE ERA OF REFORMS UNDER ALEXANDER II.

1. THE ABOLITION OF JUVENILE CONSCRIPTION

When after the Crimean War, which had exposed the rottenness of the old order of things, a fresh current of air swept through the atmosphere of Russia, and the liberation of the peasantry and other great reforms were coming to fruition, the Jewish problem, too, was in line of being placed in the forefront of these reforms. For, after having done away with the institution of serfdom, the State was consistently bound to liberate its three million of Jewish serfs who had been ruthlessly oppressed and persecuted during the old regime.

Unfortunately the Jewish question, which was nothing more nor less than the question of equal citizenship for the Jews, was not placed in the line of the great reforms, but was pushed to the rear and solved fragmentarily--on the instalment plan, as it were--and within narrowly circumscribed limits. Like all the other officially inspired reforms of that period, which proceeded up to a certain point and halted before the prohibited zone of constitutional and political liberties, so, too, the solution of the Jewish problem was not allowed to pass beyond the border-line. For the crossing of that line would have rendered the whole question null and void by the simple recognition of the equality of all citizens. The regenerated Russia of Alexander II., stubborn in its refusal of political freedom and civil equality, could only choose the path of half-measures. Nevertheless, the transition from the pre-reformatory order of things to the new state of affairs signified a radical departure both in the life of Russia in general and in Jewish life in particular. It did so not because the new conditions were perfect, but because the old ones were so inexpressibly ugly and unbearable, and the mere loosening of the chains of servitude was hailed as a pledge of complete liberation.

Far more intense than in the political life of Russia was the crisis in its social life. While a chilling wind was still blowing from the wintry heights of Russian officialdom, while a grim censorship was still holding down the flight of the printed word, the released social energy was whirling and swirling in all classes of Russian society, sometimes breaking the fetters of police restraint. The outbursts of young Russia ran far ahead of the slow progress of the reforms inspired from above. It blazed the path for political freedom which the West of Europe had long traversed, and which was to prove in Russia tortuous and thorny.

The phase of Jewish life which claimed the first thought of Alexander II.'s Government was the military conscription. Prior to the conclusion of the Crimean War, the Committee on Jewish Affairs [1] called the Tzar's attention to the necessity of modifying the method of Jewish conscription, with its fiendish contrivances of seizing juvenile cantonists and enlisting "penal" and "captive" recruits. Nevertheless the removal of this crying evil was postponed for a year, until the promulgation of the Coronation Manifesto [2] of August 26, 1856, when it was granted as an act of grace.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 49.]

[Footnote 2: On the meaning of Manifesto see later, p. 246, n. 1.]

  Prompted by the desire--the Manifesto reads--of making it easier for   the Jews to discharge their military duty and of averting the   inconveniences attached thereto, we command as follows:

  1. Recruits from among the Jews are to be drafted in the same way as   from among the other estates, primarily from among those unsettled   and not engaged in productive labor. [1] Only in default of   able-bodied men among these, the shortage is to be made up from   among the category of Jews who by reason of their engaging in   productive labor are recognized as useful.

  2. The drafting of recruits from among other estates and of those   under age is to be repealed.

  3. In regard to the making up of the shortage of recruits, the   general laws are to be applied, and the exaction of recruits from   Jewish communities as a penalty for arrears is to be repealed.

  4. The temporary rules, enacted by way of experiment in 1853,   granting Jewish communities and Jewish individuals the right of   presenting as recruits in their own stead coreligionists seized   without passports [2] are to be repealed.

[Footnote 1: See on these designations pp. 64 and 142.]

[Footnote 2: See above, p. 148 et seq.]

The abolition of juvenile conscription followed automatically upon the annulment, by virtue of the same Coronation Manifesto, of the general Russian institution of "cantonists" and "soldier children," who were now ordered to be returned to their parents and relatives. Only in the case of the Jews a rider was attached to the effect that those Jewish children who had embraced Christianity during their term of military service should not be allowed to go back to their parents and relatives, if the latter remained in their old faith, and should be placed exclusively in Christian families.

The Coronation Manifesto of 1856 marks the end of the recruiting inquisition, which had lasted for nearly thirty years, adding a unique page to the annals of Jewish martyrdom. In the matter of conscription, at least, the Jews were, in a certain measure, granted equal rights. The operation of the general statute concerning military service was extended to them, with a few limitations which were the heritage of the past. The old plan of the "assortment of the Jews" is reflected in the clause of the Manifesto, providing for increased conscription from among "those unsettled and not engaged in productive labor," i.e., of the mass of the proletariat, as distinct from the more or less well-to-do classes. Nor was the old historic crime made good: the Jewish cantonists who had been forcibly converted to the Greek-Orthodox faith were not allowed to return to their kindred. As heretofore, baptism remained a _conditio sine qua non_ for the advancement of a Jewish soldier, and only in 1861 was permission given to promote a Jewish private to the rank of a sergeant for general merit, without special distinction on the battlefield which had been formerly required. Beyond this rank no Jew could hope to advance.



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