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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

4. DISCRIMINATION IN MILITARY SERVICE

It seemed as if the Government was intent on making a one-sided compact with Russian Jewry: "We shall deprive you of all the elementary rights due to you as men and citizens; we shall rob you of the right of domicile and freedom of movement, and of the chance of making a livelihood; we shall expose you to physical and spiritual starvation, and shall cast you out of the community of citizens--yet you dare not swerve an inch from the path of your civic obligations." A lurid illustration of this unique exchange of services was provided by the manner in which military duty was imposed upon the Jews. Russian legislation had long since contrived to establish revolting restrictions for the Jews also in this domain. Jews with physical defects which rendered Christians unfit for military service, such as a lower stature and narrower chest, were nevertheless taken into the army. In the case of a shortage of recruits among the Jewish population even only sons, the sole wage-earners of their families or of their widowed mothers, were drafted, whereas the same category of conscripts among Christians were unconditionally exempt. [1] Moreover, a Jew serving in the army always remained a private and could never attain to an officer's rank.

[Footnote 1: Compare p. 201.]

As if the Government intended to make sport of the Jewish soldiers, the latter were deprived of their right of residence in the localities outside the Pale where they had been stationed, and as soon as their term of service had expired, were sent back into the territory of the Russian-Jewish ghetto. Thus, even Nicholas I, was out-Nicholased. The discharged Jewish soldiers who had served under the old recruiting law enjoyed, both for themselves and their families, the right of residence throughout the Empire. [1] The new military statute of 1874 [2] withdrew from the retired Jewish soldiers this reward for faithfully performed duty, and in 1885 the Senate sustained the disfranchisement of these Jews who had spent years of their life in the service of their fatherland. A Jew from Berdychev, Vilna, or Odessa, who had served five or six years somewhere in St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Kazan, was forced to leave these tabooed cities and return home on the very day on which he had taken off his soldier's uniform.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 172.]

[Footnote 2: See p. 199 et seq.]

Yet, despite this curious encouragement of Jewish patriotism, the Government had the audacity to charge the Jews continually with the "evasion of their military duty." That a tendency towards such evasion was in vogue among the Jews admits of no doubt. It would have been contrary to human nature if people who were subject to assaults from above and kicks from below, whose right of residence was limited to one-twentieth of the territory of their fatherland, who were robbed of shelter, air, and bread, and deprived of the hope to place themselves, even by means of military service, on an equal footing with the lowest Russian moujik, should have felt a profound need of sacrificing themselves for their country, and should not have shirked this heaviest of civil obligations to a larger extent than the privileged Russian population, in which cases of evasion were by no means infrequent. In reality, however, the complaints about the shortage of Jewish recruits were vastly exaggerated. Subsequent statistical investigations brought out the fact that, owing to irregular apportionment, the Government demanded annually from the Jews a larger quota of recruits than was justified by their numerical relation to the general population in the Pale of Settlement. On an average, the Jews furnished twelve per cent of the total number of recruits in the Pale, whereas the Jewish population of the Pale formed but eleven per cent of the total population. The Government further refused to consider the fact that, owing to inaccurate registration, the conscription lists often carried the names of persons who had long since died, or who had left the country to emigrate abroad. In fact, the annual emigration of Jews from Russia, the result of uninterrupted persecutions, reduced the number of young men of conscription age. But the Russian authorities were of the opinion that the Jews who remained behind should serve in the Russian army instead of those of their brethren who had become citizens of the free American Republic. The "evasion of military duty" and the annual shortage of a few hundred recruits, as against the many thousands of those enlisted, was charged as a grave crime against that very people towards which the Government on its part failed to fulfil even its most elementary obligations. Reams of paper were covered with all kinds of official devices to "cut short" this evasion of military duty by the Jews. On one beautiful April morning of 1886, the Government came out with the following enactment:

  The family of a Jew guilty of evading military service is liable to   a fine of three hundred rubles ($150). The collection of the fine   shall be decreed by the respective recruiting station and carried   out by the police. It shall not be substituted by imprisonment in   the case of destitute persons liable to that fine.

In addition, a military reward was promised for the seizure of a Jew who had failed to present himself to the recruiting authorities.

By virtue of this barbarous principle of collective responsibility, new hardships were inflicted upon the Jews of Russia. Since the law provided that the fine for evading military service be imposed upon the _family_ of the culprit, the police interpreted that term "liberally," taking it to include parents, brothers, and near relatives. The following procedure gradually came into vogue. In the autumn of every year, the Russian conscription season, the names of the young Jews who have completed their twenty-first year are called out at the recruiting station from a prepared list. When a Jew whose name has been called has failed to present himself on the same day, the recruiting authorities issue an order on the spot imposing a fine on his family. The police then appear in the house of his parents to collect the sum of three hundred rubles. In default of cash, they attach the property of the paupers and have it subsequently sold at public auction. In the case of those who possess nothing that can be taken from them the police insist on their giving a signed promise not to leave the town. Their passports are taken from them, so that, not being able to absent themselves from town to earn a living, they are frequently left to starve. If the parents are dead or absent, the brothers and sisters of the culprit, and then his grandfathers and grandmothers are held answerable with their property.

Thus, a large number of Jewish families were completely ruined, merely because one of their members had emigrated abroad, or, as was frequently the case, had surrendered his soul to God in his beloved fatherland itself, and the relatives had failed to see to it that the dead soul was stricken from the recruiting lists. Yet, despite all these efforts, there still remained a considerable number of uncollected fines--"arrears," as they were officially termed--to the profound regret of the Russian Jew-baiters, who had to look on while the victims were slipping unpunished from their hands.



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