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Second Chapter:

Bobruisk In the Nineteenth Century

 

1. Beginning of the Russian Rule

On May 6, 1792, the Russian Tsarina, Katherine II, announced the invasion of her army into the territory of Poland, and already in the summer of the same year, Bobruisk was under Russian military control. At the end of that year, the Minsk Gubernya was established to which was included the city of Bobruisk. On March 27 1793, the annexation of this entire territory to the Tsarist State was officially proclaimed.

The first gift of the Russian regime was the laying of a double tax (in comparison to the Christian population) upon the Jewish population in this region. To those who refused to pay this tax was given the option of leaving the country, after the payment of three-fold tax.

Initially the power in Bobruisk lay in the hands of various military people. On May 3rd, 1795, Bobruisk, along with the cities of Mozir and Minsk, and 9 more villages, was raised to the rank of county seat; in the order was given an instruction: “Make an effort to settle the Jews in the county seat so that these people would not wander around and bring harm to the society, only while developing businesses, augmenting crafts and employment, would they bring profit to themselves and benefit to the society."

118.gif - 6.3 K In that same year, emblems were established for the county seats in the Minsk Gubernia. The emblem of Minsk was a shield and on the top half--on a background of gold color--the Holy Mother, surrounded by six angels. The symbol was hung on the breast of a two-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian Empire. On the bottom half of the shield, on a flag of silver color, came the special symbol of the city of Bobruisk, the mast of a ship and two wooden beams crossing it, which is a clue to the natural wealth of the realm: the exquisite forest trees, which they made into ship masts. In that time was also established the postal routes in the conquered realm. The route from Minsk to Chernigov and the route from Niesvitz to Rogachov, passed through Bobruisk, in which was erected a station for the mail messengers. In the station, there were 18 horses and 9 wagons.

The community of Bobruisk gradually grew. In 1808, there were counted 504 Jews, of them 38 merchants. Three years later, there were already 655 Jewish men in Bobruisk. One has to receive these numbers very carefully, because the Jewish communities tried to conceal the true number of souls in order to reduce the heavy tax. But one can see from them the relative growth of the community, in comparison with other communities in the Gubernya. In 1811, Bobruisk was the eighth community, according to size, in the Minsk Gubernya, after Minsk, Pinsk, Slutzk, Borisov, Niesvich, Kaidanov, and Kletzk.

In 1810, something happened that greatly influenced the fate and standing of Bobruisk. The military engineer Theodore Narbut (later known as the famous historian of Lithuania) was sent by the government to determine a site for building a fortress on the Dnieper, between Mohilev and Rogachev; but after investigating the area and the surroundings, Narbut advised the government, that the place best suited to the building of the fortress, which must fit into the complete set of defensive positions from the Baltic to the Black Sea--a part of Russian defensive fortifications against the military threat which lurked in Western Europe--was the shore of the Berezina near Bobruisk. This choice of Engineer Narbut was approved by the Chief of Military Engineers, Count Carl Operman, supervisor over construction of forts in all of Russia. The 4th of June, 1810, came the order of Tsar Alexander I to begin building the fortress. Narbut made all the preparations but due to the deterioration of his health, he had to resign. In his place came General Major Gabriel Ignatiev. The construction of the fortress, which as its foundation served the Polish fortress put up 50 years before (see pg. 116), continued at a fast pace. Jewish contractors filled an important role in mobilizing laborers, in the organization of the work, and in furnishing building supplies. Among them also certainly was Shimon Zimel Epstein, one of the largest building entrepreneurs in the country, who conducted his business at the beginning from Brisk to Lithuania and later--to Warsaw. Until the outbreak of the war with France (summer 1812), there were built five bastions and of these, Bobruisk received the battle, that summer, with the invading army of Napoleon.

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2. In the Time of the “Fatherland War," 1812

During Napoleon's invasion of Russia, his way to Moscow led through northern Belarus. The Second Russian Army (45,000 soldiers), under the command of Duke Bagration, was stationed in the Minsk Gubernya. Napoleon sent his best soldiers under the command of Marshall Davout and his brother, the King of Westphalia, Charles Bonaparte, to surround and destroy this army. The French army advanced very rapidly in the direction of Bobruisk, in order to cut off the retreat of the Russian army.

On the 13th of July, Bagration, who was then staying with his staff in Slutsk (after retreating from Niesvich), learned that the French, who had already taken Minsk, were proceeding toward the River Berezina. He directly gave the order to his army to proceed to the Dnieper through Bobruisk. In Bobruisk itself, Major General Ignatiev took command of the city and the fort. Bagration reached Bobruisk on the 18th of July. He appointed Ignatiev as the military commander of the city, and he led the retreat of the army. Ignatiev provided him with food and gathered to the fort the wounded and sick soldiers. With this prompt retreat, Bagration saved his army from a complete defeat and had time to ferry them across the Berezina and Dnieper and connect with the main Russian army, which was stationed in Smolensk. Ignatiev remained in the fort in Bobruisk. To the city itself arrived the Polish Corps Commander of Napoleon's Army, General Dombrovski, and besieged the fortress. Four months it lasted, but the fortress held, until there began the general retreat of Napoleon's army. The whole time Ignatiev stood on watch, he collected intelligence about the situation of the French and through spies passed them to the the high command of the Russian Army.

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The Jews of Bobruisk, as did all other Jews in Lithuania and Belarus, generally treated the foreign soldiers coldly. We should accept with caution the opinions of the Russian Jewish historians, who exaggerated this because of their apologizing for Jewish patriotism.

From the region of Bobruisk arose the story of a Jewish tenant farmer from the village of Stupishtse, Nisan Katzenelson, who informed the Cossaks besieged in the area of the approach of French units. The French, in their retreat from the village, allegedly arrested the Jew and tortured him savagely, until he died from his wounds on 20 Cheshvan 1812. He was brought to burial in the city.

During the panicked flight of the French Army, the Russians obliged the Jews of Bobruisk and also of other cities of the county to quarter French prisoners in their homes. In the memoirs of these French prisoner-soldiers we find notes on conflicts between these uncalled-for guests and the Jewish “hosts," usually in connection with observing the Sabbath and dietary laws. “We had many clashes with these foolish men," wrote a German officer of Napoleon's army, “They didn't let us light fires on the Sabbath or on other holy days, here they refused to give us cooking dishes.” “In Bobruisk," related another military man, “We received a fine apartment in the house of one Jew, a conflict began with our Jew. He did not let us light a fire on Saturday and he did not give us dishes for cooking until we called our watch-officer, who taught him a lesson with a good whip.”

Thus the Bobruisk community tasted the flavor of war, but afterward came 100 years of peace, which make up the fundamental history of the community during which it grew, developed, and became one of the most prominent communities of Russian Jewry.

 

3. The Fortress

After the conclusion of the war, the building of the fortress in Bobruisk was renewed on a large scale. By 1820 there were already twenty citadels established, and the fortress owned an important arsenal. At the conclusion of the first building phase on September 24th, 1825, the Tsar Alexander I came with his brother Nikolai to visit the city, where the 9th Infantry Division was stationed. According to a report of that time, Bobruisk was a small town of 2,100 citizens living in 310 houses.

The fortress in Bobruisk was embroiled in the rebellion of the Decembrists (1825). At the end of Alexander I's reign there was discovered there an illegal revolutionary organization, whose leaders were the [military] officers Sergei Muraviov-Apostol and Mikhail Bestuchev-Riumin. The organization had in 1823 made a plan, according to which the officers would arrest the Tsar, while the murderers visited him, force him to sign his abdication from the royal throne, and after that his regiments in Moscow, the troops allying with them the whole way and explaining to the people through proclamations about their feat. The plan was not carried out during the Tsar's visit, but he was familiar with the “Bobruisk Project," among the captured of the plotters from other places, with a small “correction:" instead of arresting the Tsar, they were preparing to kill him directly after the arrest.

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As soon the Decembrists in Ukraine learned the bad news about the failure of the rebellion in St. Petersberg (1825), they made a proposal to go to the north, to occupy the Bobruisk fortress and fortify themselves there. In Bobruisk, some soldiers suspected of contact with a secret revolutionary organization were arrested . After supressing the rebellion, a portion of the condemned were jailed in the military prison in Bobruisk fortress, and special instructions were given through the Tsar to the fortress commander, General-Major Berg, to well look out for these dangerous prisoners.

The building of the fotress went on all the years of the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855). A fortune in money, according to that time, seven million rubles, was invested in the building of the fortress. In the center was erected the main citadel, around it bastions (five-outlet towers), one of them bore the name of the builder of the first citadel: “Operman Towers.” The fortress was encircled three times by polluted and deep canals, and the fouth time--the River Berezina and its swamps.

The fortress was a city in itself, over 5,000 soldiers were stationed in it in 1837, and approximately such a number was counted 60 years later. The fortress included within it barracks, arms depots, food warehouses, a church for the soldiers, a military hospital and also a military jail, in which was imprisioned from time to time political criminals.

It is likely that the existence of the fortress had an influence on the course of the Polish Uprising (1863) in the Bobruisk region. Obviously in Bobruisk County there was a Polish underground organization under the command of the Prince Lukashevich, who was subordinate to the covert resistance commander in Minsk. We have, however, nothing about any Jews concerning the activity of the rebels in Bobruisk and in the area.

 

4. The Fortress In The Life Of The City

The effect of the fortress on the evolution and the life of Bobruisk during the 19th century is a consideration. Jewish entrepreneurs became rich while building the fortress, and soon after the building ended a lot of Jews became provisioners for the military (among the chief providers--the Lozinski family). Some of the soldiers and officers, for which there were not sufficient apartments in the fortress, lived in rented houses, and thus around the fortress was a source of subsistence for the Jews.

The years of building the fortress were held in the memory of the Bobruisk citizens, as years of good standing and wealth. “Thanks to so many military people and clerks, artisans, craftsmen, master-workers, which had in a great number settled in the city and lived in the houses of the citizens"--related in his memoirs Bobruisk resident Reb Borukh Epshteyn--"All of the inhabitants found plentiful employment, and their is an ongoing saying among them, 'In order that the city of Bobruisk should share in the pledge of the Torah, “....the land," she must challenge a number of paupers from other cities, they should settle in her, while she alone has nothing of the kind.' “

Also soon after the fortress was already built, it became an important support for the Bobruisk residents. “A great significance and more employment opportunities has a fortress city, before an opening"--wrote one of the Bobruisk residents in the year 1886--"with its thousands of soldiers, generals and officers, which are stationed there, eating and drinking continually and paying for them good money. Moreover, they are not merchants and don't compete with the workers of the city. It's not a small matter for the residents of the city, which counted at present approximately 30,000 souls, provisioning two regiments of soldiers--summer after summer--with bread to eat and clothing to put on. Not only the podryadchikes [suppliers], which provide them with what they need and make a good living, but also all the residents, and thereby the soldiers don't bring a thing to the market and do not enroach upon the domain of the artisans or the merchants, and the givers were not the takers."

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Between the fortress and the city spread a vast plaza for exercises and parades--the “polygon," which also served the requirements of the city and its residents. As a reserve-space in the great market, as a place for flying-out and playing games on Sabbaths and Holy Days. A pleasant walking place for the city inhabitants were the groves, which were growing in the berms around the fortress, and the bell in the tower peak of the Bobruisk fortress rang out the hours for the residents of the city--Jews and Christians.

The fortress also laid its imprint on the outward appearance of the city, because according to statute it was forbidden to build structures of brick and stone within the limit of one viorst [2/3 mile] distance from the fortress, so that if the whole city should be burned and destroyed, or if the enemy came there, they would be prevented from the use of brick buildings for fortification and entrenchment against the fortress. Until the end of the 19th century Bobruisk was an entirely wooden city , and the fires which broke out from time to time threatened great destruction.

One should also not make light of the cultural influence of the fortress. The location of thousands of Russian-speaking soldiers and officers in the very center of a Jewish-Beloussian-Polish city had to bring to it the spread of the Russian language among the residents and also impacted on the Yiddish language--the language of general intercourse in the city. The soldiers used to arrange evenings for philanthropic purposes, and the Jews were forced to buy tickets, as a matter of course some of them came to the events. A military orchestra played in the city garden; it is wholly possible, that educated officers talked about their influence on the local youth and to bring them closer to the Russian culture, as happened in other cities of the Pale.

A certain event within the borders of the fortress in the beginning of the 80's had a profound echo among the Jews in Russia. In the year 1880, a new manager for the military hospital was nominated--Dr. S. He was an anti-Semite and saw every Jewish soldier brought to the hospital as a malingerer who he wanted to turn out from military service. Right after he came to the hospital he instituted a system of espionage and denunciation. On August 1, 1881, an audit was enforced in the mattress warehouse of the hospital, and they found there sundry drugs and instruments called out artificial illnesses and making body-imperfections, in order to exempt him from military service. The manager of the warehouse, the Jewish soldier Ziskin, was arrested and handed over to the court. Dr. S. accused the Jewish doctors of the hospital of a conspiracy to exempt soldiers from the military, particularly Jewish soldiers, by giving them false illness-papers, for which they would receive payment. The conspiracy was not proven and the doctors were not indicted in court. But upon the trial of soldier Ziskin, which came at the end of 1882, the procurer Drozdovich discovered, was “the deed of the Jewish military doctors in Bobruisk was one of the reasons for the attack, the 10th of April, 1882, which limited to 5% the number of Jewish doctors in the military.” Ever since the law concerning general military service was in force in Russia (1874), there were invariably found in the fortress some hundred Jewish soldiers. Especially large was their number during the summer maneuvers in Bobruisk and surroundings. The Jewish community chief of Bobruisk intervened with the fortress commander to get permission to provide kosher food for the Jewish soldiers and also to care for their religious needs.

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In the newspaper Hamelits [Tribune] (1888) it is relatied about the familiar wealthy man Chaim Boyez Rabinovitsh, who had concerned himself with Jewish soldiers in Bobruisk and vicinity during the maneuvers: “the Jewish soldiers--500 men--came under attack on the eve of Rosh Khodesh stepping out 20 kilometers distant from the city on maneuvers, to learn “skhosisi" war. “Vihi," and it happened, that the “ndib" has proven, that these soldiers will be tortured in the Days of Awe [High Holy Days], spiritually and bodily, without tefillin and without food, he begged the two commanders, Pokolvnik Golubov, the representative of the Corps-Commander and the commander of both regiments, that they should permit the bringing of food and drink for their Jewish brothers, wherever to, wherever they go and wherever they would camp. The gentlemen, of such fine people there are not many, agreed to fulfill their request. A joy was seen to the rich man and his son whirling around a whole day at the market and the streets and buying food for the aforementioned 500 “akhinu" sons of Israel. At noon all the residents of the city saw many wagons of the city with waiters, sent by the rich man to cook the morsels and to distribute in each case their portions, where was stationed each unit under its flag. In the two villages Mikhaylak and Bortnik, the first three viorsts away from the second, the Jewish soldiers made a holy worship: they poured our their hearts and prayed as all their Jewish bretheren, not the least diminished, also blew the shofar, afterwards joyfully ate their food.

The Jewish soldiers brought to the city a new spirit. Among scholars and Maskilim [Enlighteners] they came, and the visits quite often led to friendship ties and even ended up with marriage matches and settling permanently in Bobruisk.

Toward the end of the 19th century the military accounting of the fortress fell from a strategic standpoint. The instituting of the railway lines and the draining of the swamps relieved the access to the place. Also the changes which came in war science decreased the significnce of the Bobruisk fortress. The place inherited the large fortress in Brisk. In 1897 they ended the armaments and the war equipment of the fortress, but she remained on further as a place to quarter and concentrate thousands of soldiers there and as a base for summer maneuvers of the military units, which camped in Minsk and Mohilev Gubernyas. It is there also where the military prison remained to where soldiers who had committed offenses against military discipline were sent .

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5. The Economic Developement of Bobruisk in the 19th Century

The fortress was only one of the sources of standing of Bobruisk in her economic developement. Because of its geographic position, the city was a crossroads and a communication center in the Minsk Gubernya, especially there developed in the area the business in forest lumber, which was transported via water.

The whole region was rich with dense forests, still from ancient times, and the trees in the area of the Berezina were known for their quality and suitability for the manufacture of ship masts. After the end of the 18th century, the Russian government began to connect the River Berezina with the western Dvina through a water system of canals, rivers and lakes along 150 km. Ships and rafts began to float up the Bobruisk region by the Berezina, through the “Water System of the Berezina," to the port of Riga. In 1817 the ship traffic stopped on the way, but the transport of lumber with rafts also then halted. The large expenses in connection with guarding, repairing the waterway, and the development of railroads at the end of the 19th century, had led moreover to the waterway becoming abandoned, the canals were stopped up and the transportation between both rivers became interrupted. On the other hand, the second water line was developed -- from the Berezina through the Dnieper to southern Russia. This development hinged on the seething and economic strengthening of the region, “the New Russia" (Novorusia) which was mostly steppe-land, poor in forests. The lumber shipment to the south increased year by year, especially since the beginning development of coal and iron mines in the region of the intersecton of Donietz and Krivoy. Vast quantities of lumber were needed for the building of the mines and for the support columns of the roofs in the tunnels under the earth.

Along with shipping the lumber, the lumber industry developed in Bobruisk . At first it was hand work of peasant farmers, who would prepare in the long winter months troughs, yokes for oxen, parts for wagon wheels. This manufacture was bought up by Jewish merchants, who would send by cargo ship (berlinkes) to the south either toward “Niz," as the Bobruisker Jews called it. Around that time in the city and vicinity, sawmills began to work and also “dikt" factories.

The pace of this commerce depended on the violent nature of the Berezina and the Dnieper, the shipments went only in the spring and summer months, soon after the ice was on the move. The weaker point in the transport was the familiar underwater threshold on the Dnieper (porogi), of the city Yekaterinoslav now and then. The merchants therefore took pains to sell a part of the business in the ports before one came to the threshold--in Kiev, Cherkasi, Krememnchig, and Yekaterinoslav. But the big market was nevertheless on that side of the threshold. The passage through the porogi decided the fate of that shipment, and in a telegram, they would announce concerning the results of the passage, many families in Bobruisk and vicinity became anxious.

On the way back home the merchants used to buy or lease cargo ships (berlinkes), to onload onto them salt, sugar, flour and other products, which were lacking in Belarus, and to sell them in the cities along the river banks, trying to reach as far as Borisov in the north.

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Hundreds of Jewish families were connected with the lumber business. There were big merchants who used to buy up forests from the landlords and tenant farmers to chop down or,--one used to call it--"do out;" they were experts in estimating a forest, officials, writers, and bookeepers. The forest worker, the lumberjack, the raft binder, and shipper were mostly Beloussian peasants. But with spinning the wood rope (lozes), which served to bind the wood blocks in the rafts, were employed many local Jews, who were specialists in this work. The lumber drive season (by water) which lasted around eight months, from April until December, was the spirited season in Bobruisk port.

In the middle of the 19th century there began to develop navigation on the Berezina, small steam ships (steamers) cruised the rivers up to Kiev and Yekaterinoslav. The owners of the boats and also a large part of the workers were Jews. One of the families, which was employed in this passenger transport, was the “fartzveygte" Katzenelson family, many of whose members made aliyeh [emigration] to the Land of Israel.

The standing of Bobruisk and its significance as a fortress city led, moreover, to the business in building highways and executing roads. In 1843 they began the building of the first highway in the Minsk Gubernya, between Bobruisk and Brisk, and in 1851 they finished the highway, which went from Brisk through Slutzk and Bobruisk, up to the provincial city Mohilev.

The Libave-Romner railway line brought a great upheaval to the economic life in Bobruisk. This line needed to connect northern Ukraine and northern Belarus with the port of Libave, the only Russian port on the Baltic Sea, which was rarely frozen in the winter months. This railroad was built in the beginning of the seventies as a private railway business, in which Jewish capital played a substantial part. The part of the line which went through Bobruisk was opened November 1st, 1873, an historic date in the history of Bobruisk.

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The railway line on one side directly connected the city with Minsk, Vilne, and Libave, and on the second side--with Homel, Bakhmatsh, and Romne, and indirectly--with the railway network of the whole of Russia. On the river Berezina was erected a large railway bridge and two railway stations served the city, one on the very edge of the river--the Berezina Station--and the second station--Bobruisk. Both were found in the south of the city. Although the major transporting of lumber by way of the Berezina was then ongoing, now, with the building of the railway line, there opened an opportunity for the small businessmen, who couldn't carry the big overhead expenses which were connected with the water transport, to transport lumber by the road; and this was a factor in the rise of a new stratum of small businessman in Bobruisk and in other cities of the area.

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All the time that the railway lines were found in private hands, there were many Jews among the officials, but in 1891 the line passed to the government and all Jewish railroad workers became equal.

Bobruisk also served as a business center for the nearby agricultural areas. This business reached its pinnacle in the three yearly fairs, which took place in the city since the beginning of the 19th century. They were: the “Vasiliyev" fair, which began in January, the “Nikoleyev" fair, the 9th of May and the “Pokrov" fair the 10th of October. These fairs were not outside the limit of the nearby area, they didn't have any national significance, not even any county significance.

With the general development of the city continually increasing the number of its inhabitants and quite soon it became ranked as the second largest city in the Minsk Gubernya, after the Gubernya capital city Minsk. In 1828 there were counted 601 houses; in 1855 their number reached 980, all--except six--wooden houses; in 1828 the number of inhabitants of the city--Jewish and Christian--was 6,829, in 1837--10,635. In 1878 a count was taken of the population in the city (including the soldiers of the fortress) and it was shown that the number had reached 37,237 souls, who were living in 1,990 houses. (All, except 8, of wood).

With the agricultural ascent of Bobruisk the city became a place, which had gone to Jews of the entire vicinity and also those of other cities. If in 1874 there were living in Bobruisk 4,702 Jews, their number in 1861 reached to 8,861; in 1878 there were 17,935 Jews, and the first all-Russia census showed the number at 20,760 Jews. In order to complement the picture it is worthwhile to mention, that in 1910 there were in Bobruisk 25,876 Jews.

 

6. The Part of the Jews in the Business of Bobruisk

Interesting figures about the standing of the Jews in the business of Bobruisk, in comparison with the non-Jews and in comparison with the other large cities in the Minsk Gubernya in the year 1884, were brought forth by the Russian economist V. Subotin.

According to their religion, the merchants in the three mentioned cities were divided thus:

City Jews Christians Total %Jews
Minsk 168 23 191 88
Bobruisk 87 12 99 88
Pinsk 55 11 66 94

It is worthwhile to mention that the term “merchant" is here men of the community, who belonged to “merchant guilds" and had paid the government for the guild license. This standing embraced only the rich and well-to-do of the Jews, who were engaged in trade.

The subsequent table will give us an idea of the money volume (in thousands of rubles) of the merchants:

City Jews Christians Total % Jewish Volume
Minsk 3,334 195 3,529 95
Bobruisk 1,964 75 2,039 96.5
Pinsk 1,628 310 1,938 84

Of the two tables brought forth, that the Jewish merchants had established themselves the majority of Bobruisk business standing (nearly 90%) and a majority of their trade was a lot bigger than the majority of Christian merchants in the city. While the volume of a Christian merchant comprised on the average 6,250 rubles a year, the average volume of a Jewish merchant was 22,500 rubles a year.

In an additional table Subotin brings forth the profits (in thousands of rubles) of the merchants, according to their religion:

City Jews Christians Total % of
Jewish
Profits
Minsk 240.5 20.8 261.3 92
Bobruisk 196.4 7.5 203.9 96
Pinsk 85.8 31 116.8 73.5

If one can believe in statistics, the profits of the Bobruisk merchants were greater than the profits of the Minsk and Pinsk merchants, while the average earnings of Jewish merchants in Minsk and Pinsk reached 1,500 rubles a year, while in Bobruisk--2,000 rubles a year.

These figures relate to us, you understand, only about a quite servant stratum of an approximately 90 rich and substantial families, which had established themselves as a small part of the 3,800 Jewish families in Bobruisk, but they show us, thus, relatively taken, there existed in Bobruisk a layer of rich people, as large and powerful as in other cities in the Gubernya. It was the big forest businesses, the big entrepreneurs, which had supplied provisions for the fortress, and also industrialists. In the 19th century this standing was influential and considerable in all internal affairs of the Jewish community of Bobruisk.

 

7. The Wealthy

As in all communities of Israel in the 19th century, the wealthy occupied a distinguished place also in Bobruisk, whether in the economic or social life of the city. To the wealthy all eyes turned for many reasons. In the first place, they needed to stand at the head of community affairs and give of their money to help the poor and support the various charitable institutions. In times of distress the poor demanded help of the wealthy, they used to inhibit the Torah worship in shul and used afterwords other press-mangage. To the wealthy the Jewish soldiers of the fortress turned, while eventually it was obvious that the wealth of the well-off was no more a trust-fund, which the Almighty lain still with on the condition that, he should use with him as appropriate, and if he doesn't want to do it, mannah from heaven, comes the owner of the trust and it is to demand one's due from him, but not in this world, it is in that world...

Secondly, the wealthy were also the intercessors of the city for the “lord," his business and relations, with his government administration, with which he came to be in contact, in connection with various enterprises, to bring him closer to the regime, and in a time of trouble to send him the members of the community intercessor is to whom one needs.

Bobruisk, which was and remained until the Holocaust a medium city, had served for many rich Jews in Russia, as a kind of way-station to step over it to bigger cities, even up to the chief cities: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and Warsaw.

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In the beginning of the 19th century there was known in Bobruisk Shimon Ziml Epshteyn and his sons, who made a great fortune in supplying food and building materials while building barracks for Russian soldiers. Around this time Ziml Epshteyn was gone to Brisk and from there conducted his business. Subsequently he settled in Warsaw. His son, Yehuda Epshteyn, an intersting character, whose “hsureh" study was his chief interest and this had him disturbed, known no more, to give up his business; also he left Bobruisk for Brisk in the thirty years of a busy century. In his last years he was estranged from his busines and entirely gave up study and also published a book with torah innovations under the name of “Minkhas Yehuda" (Warsaw, 1877). In Bobruisk was born in 1833 his daughter Feyge (Paulina Vengerova), who became known later for the memoir, Memoiren einer Grosmutter ("Memories of a Great Aunt"). Her son Shimon Vengerov was one of the great scholars of Russian literature.

A builder in Bobruisk was Avraham Z"k, a grandson of Shimon Ziml Epshteyn, who married the sister of Paulina Vengerova, who was a cousin. He was also known for his deeds. In 1871 he took over the management of the “Bank of Loans and Credit" in St. Petersburg. He was renowned as one of the great specialists in matters of financing the building of railroads in Russia, he participated in building the Libave-Romner railway line. In the time of Alexander II he was proposed for the high office of Vice Finance Minister, on the condition that he convert to Christianity. Clearly, that he had them suggest “opgevorgn.” He devoted a lot of time to social affairs and he used to convene with him in his house in St. Petersburg the “high society" of St. Petersburg for gatherings and concerts. It is worth noting that Avaraham Z"k's brother--Israel Z"k--was a modest scholar, who dedicated his whole life to studies of the wisdom of Israel and philosophy.

In the times of Nicholas I Bobruisk served as a passage city, from Slutzk to Dvinsk, for the famous Jewish banker Mshulm Feyvl Fridland (born in Slutzk, 1804, died in Dvinsk, 1855). Fridland lived in Bobruisk in the years 1830-1846.

From Bobruisk came the famous Kiev rich man Beynish Katzenelson, a son of Nissan Katzenelson. Beynish Katzenelson was one of the leaders of religious Jewry in his eighties and nineties. “Every day,"--wrote about him one of those which had eulogized him--"he led God's war, a war of mitzva, and this is: strengthening the religion against its destroyers; he truly established the life for the Hebrew schools and Hebrew teachers, which taught people the old ways of Tanakh [Bible] and Gemara [Talmud]. He became jealously allied with his home town and gave charity for its beneficial institutions. Upon his death--h' Kislev trn"v, he was nearly a septuagenerian, the Bobruisker Jews lamented."

One of the richest people in Kiev--David Margolin--who built in Kiev the power station and first street car line and spent his money for the building up of the urban poytechnical school, was built in Minsk, but in his younger years he lived in Bobruisk and there he began to conduct his business in the lumber industry of the Berezina.

To all of the aforemetioned one needs to add Nissan Katzenelson, who established in Libave a great banking business. Nissan Katzenelson, who occupied a prominent place in the social life of Russian Jewry, as one of the heads of the Zionist movement and as a deputy to the first “gosudarstvener" group, was a son of Yosef Katzenelson. His mother, the widow Feye Breyne Katzenelson, was a famous businesswoman in the city, a character of a “woman of valor" in the commercial world. Her brother Peltiar Katzenelson was also among the chief Bobruisk businessmen. Nissan Katzenelson conducted a business partnership with his brother and from time to time visited his birth city.

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But besides this group, for great businessmen and excellent financiers, Bobruisk was a kind of springboard to the larger world. There was among the wealthy of the city such, who had not gone for the glory of the big city. They were permanent residents of their city and took an active part in her economic and social life.

Among the well-to-do resident families is ranked the Lozinski family. In the middle of the 19th century there stood at the peak of this family the three brothers--Alexander, Tzvi, and Shmuel, famous “liferantn" for the city fortress. One of the rich and distinguished city bosses in the last years of Nicholas I's reign was Nissan Katzenelson (father of Beynish Katzenelson). He was selected through the Lithuanian Jews as a member of the delegation, which was intervened by the Tzar, while he was on a visit in Homel (autumn of 1852), to cancel the harsh edicts upon the Jews: strong mobilization in the army, the edict of the “shaved" and the banishment of the 50 kilometers border pass.

In the second half of the 19th century there became popular for their charity and care for the requirements of the community the wealthy man Mikhel Margolin and his wife Reyshe Rukhel, who made many donations to the building of the city hospital and spent for many other institutions. To the wealthy also belonged the descendant of Rabbi Barukh Mordekhay Etinger in the Dobkin family. At the head of the Dobkin family there stood until his demise kh' tbs khrs"t (1909), R. Yeshayahu Dovid Dobkin, who dedicated most of his life to Torah and community service. He built in his great yard a shul for the Nikolayevske soldiers (the shul “Anshi Heyl [curative]"), where he and his “fartzveygte" family prayed together with the ex-soldiers, the lower class and the boor, which had but sanctified the name, their service in the army of Nicholas I.

Also the son of Yeshayahu Dovid distinguished himself with his charity and with his consolation to the tradition of his fathers, and his son Yosef Dobkin was held for a transgression, because he was tied to the Zionist movement and was among their customs in Bobruisk.

One of the heads of the community up to the end of the 19th century was the wealthy man Reb Ber Etinger, a grandson of Rabbi Barukh Mordekhay Etinger. He was born in 1825 “and his whole life up to the last minutes was given over with all his heart to charity societies of the city, and his heart was vigilant for opportunities for good and useful deeds. Notwithstanding that he was engaged in his big businesses, he gave up time for learning and for the needs of the city. He was an example with his piety, his generosity, and his lovely manners.” He died kh"d kheshvan srs"g (1902) and with his demise was gone a whole era, in which wealth and Torah were united, in order to shape the societal life of the Bobruisk community.

The end of the 19th century, occupying an important place in developing the forest business with south Russia and the ship passenger service on the river Berezina was the Katzenelson family, which was descended from Shmuel Benieh Katzenelson.

But the wealthy men “par excellence" of Bobruisk were from the middle to the end of the 19th century Yitzkhak Rabinovich and his son Boyez Rabinovich. They both laid their stamp upon the vitality of the community and reigned there, as if they were rulers and dukes.

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Yitzkhak Rabinovich, apparently, was born in the 20's of the 19th century. Came in 1864 Sisl “Perpetual Honorary Citizen" (Potomstveni Potshotni Grazhdanin). In 1866 he married off his only son Khaim Boyez with Khana Minde of the Landoy family in Brody. The wedding was celebrated with great fanfare, and donations for the poor were portioned with a generous hand. Yitzkhak Rabinovich was known as a great man of charity, by his reckoning helping out the Talmid-Toyreh and each year contributed hundreds of rubles for the Yeshivas and Torah scholars in the Land of Israel. His son, who was a partner in the father's business after his life, took his place in the community life of Bobruisk directly after his death, (11/5/1881). The house of the Rabinovich family took up a whole square in the center of the city, the family also had a dazhe (summer residence) in a nearby village. On the second side of the Berezina, Khaim Buez was known for his deeds. After he quarreled with the rabbi of the city Haridb"z, he had brought a rabbi for himself, R' Nissan Rubin, the rabbi of Kholoy, who sat in his synagogue and judged ritual purity questions for him and his intimates. He was Honorary Consul of Persia in Bobruisk and was wont to add on the Persian flag on “tabelne" days. One of his daughters was married to the son of Dr. Meyer Lehman, rabbi of Magentza--one of the leaders of Orthodox Jewry in Germany. He was a God-fearing man of the Misnagdic [opposed to Hasidic] manner, lived in peace and friendship with the heads of the Hasidim in the city. One of the mitzvos, which he did for all souls, was the mitzva of charity for the poor. Vast quantities of bread and all kinds of food, lumber for houses, clothing was apportioned in Rabinovich's house for all the needy, which had turned to him for help.

Toward the end of the century the business of Khaim Boyez Rabinovich declined, he became ill, got cancer and died y"z Khisliv srs"d (1903) in Warsaw.

Up to the end of the 19th century the hegemony of the wealthy and their social rule still entirely firmly held, they were the chief guardians of the tradtional way of life, concerned with the community affairs, and “bede'ikd" for the affairs of charity and help for the poor. They were themselves sons of Torah and valued and supported Talmud scholars, and in the lists of “prenumerantn" which used to list in the beginning of many books of that time, there never lacked the rich Jews of Bobruisk. Thus, for example, we see in the book Frki Drbi Eliezer Hagodol which was published in Warsaw (sri"b--1852), 24 Bobruisker seals.

The Zionist movement, and later the revolutionary movements, were factors in the decline of the hegemony of the wealthy in the social life of the city. Nevertheless, their influence was still visible overtly and disguised. Yet in 1912 wrote the Bobruisk Weekly, “It has come to pass quite often that a few Jews do strike up a conversation about our community “ongelegnheytn," and heard to, almost standing will randomly enter in the forest to curse the rich people, intelligible therefore that they were rich people, another conversely, will argue with and will praise the rich in heaven--they give so much charity, he said, and it came to pass once really a tragedy, a scarcity, a “shrife" and still such fall, will with a time a hue and cry! What they be silent, “unzere" the rich men. What they think? Either “bearable,” we are allowed to “ruhig," the rich men, probably, will for the thing to go ahead and it will rate."

It is not easy, it is shown, to destroy economic-historical institutions, which are deeply rooted in the past and present. The first Russian Revolution came--and went, passed. The intellectuals, the revolutionary movement and Zionism were done but the rich remained rich and their influence still did not pass.

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8. Poverty and Hardship in Bobruisk

Equal to the reign of the wealthy, well-to-do and fellow bosses, Bobruisk was also not lacking in poor people and paupers, who lived in want and hardship. Superficially it stood in contradiction to the early described economic situation of the city, but this contradiction was quite a “sheynbare.” Bobruisk was a city in the Jewish Pale and in one of its poorest realms--the northwestern realm. At one time, the evil decrees of the regime, which hurt the Jewish population, from the 1880's on, in a savage manner ejected Jews from their economic positions. The divorced men of the villages, that introducing the whiskey monopoly at the end of the 19th century, that stopped the source of subsistence in the state institutions and on the railroads; and of the second time--the natural increase, which had enlarged the number of Jews in Russia many-fold during the course of the 19th century, that everything brought with it loss of income and work to the Jewish masses. If here and there was found in the Pale few points, where there indeed were income opportunities, here the poor people possibly did of other cities and villages. The growth of Bobruisk, which was from 1,000-2,000 souls in the beginning of the century, became a community of upwards of two to ten thousand toward the end of the century, as a result “be'iker" of the impoverished, outcast Jews, which came from here and there, where the poor were greater than in Bobruisk.

Every large Jewish community in Russia was “famous" for its poor neighborhoods: in Minsk was the “Bloteh," in Bialistok --the “Khaneykes," and Homel--the “Rov" (the “Tol," which Y. Kh. Brener depicted in his first collected writings “Bemk Ekhur"). The large poor quarter of Bobruisk bore the name “Sloboda" (suburb) and was found in the northwestern part of the city.

Here lived “in old cut-up pants porters and shoemakers and tailors--also beggars, hunchbacks, sick, coughing, and wives, which stood with their baskets in the market.” Hence one took services (house servants) for the homes of the rich of the city--widows, who earned their little loaves washing linen in rich houses. Here lived poor Hebrew teachers, many of whom rotated in the rich southern cities, in order to locate students.

"Our home," related Ahron Gorelik, a son of a poor Hebrew teacher, one of the first revolutionaries in the city, “is composed of a “shtibl" [small Khsidic house of prayer], one Hebrew school, where the oven was almost the place of honor. The oven was a big one, with “lezshankes" on the side, where everyone in the family is throughout the day around it warming up their bones. Winter indoors is dreadfully cold, truly a “lednik.” The floor was earthen and a chill went from it. We used to change: “a more or less"--one is more on the “lezshanke" warming up, a second is underneath, done in Father's bolsters, bringing in wood, water, or running up to the Kremlin bringing kerosine. At night we used to seal the oven, shutting the shutter and converting the indoors into a steam-bath. On the chairs they used to lay boards, on the boards a “shenik"--also a bed; on the earth, featherbeds, pillows stuffed with straw--also beds. One covered with cloths, little pelts, with which it was made under the hand, what more, everything warmer. To the big bunch of people after approached the chickens in “podpietz," used to the air through the night became thick, at least cut with a knife."

In the 19th century the “Sloboda" became a nest of Torah and God-fearing people. Generations had put up with their suffering and peace was made with the will of the Creator of the World, of yonder came out “bni eneym shmhim stze toyreh.” They ate their poor bread on the tables of the good-hearted in Bobruisk and in other cities and villages; there were seated blazing Khsidim, who forgot about their hunger in ecstatic prayers and melodies of Tzadikim [holy men]; prushim [religious recluses], who were day and night studying. When the need was strong, the reasons were known; a fire, which broke out and destroyed the poor houses of these tragic ones; a bad crop, which brought hunger and scarcity of food; a cold, savage winter and the like--there broke out an outcry in the traditional manner. They impeded the Toyreh worship in the shuls, demanded of the wealthy that they should come to help, besides the usual charity, which some of the rich men of the city used to give with a liberal hand.

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The poor brought moreover, that many wandered around, initially in the cities of southern Russia and around that time--to America. This wandering constantly strengthened beginning in the 80's. From time to time we find about the ringing out in the press, thus gives over Hamelitz, in the year 1888, about the “suffering wandering out in the countries overseas, especially to America,” which predominates in the city and tells, that “all the time our eyes see many people leaving the city and their homeland and getting on ships, in order to find for themselves somewhere a refuge.” Seperately how there aforementioned a group, which is in a certain day out of the “Sloboda:" 10 cloth-cutters, 5 oven-wrights ("fetshniks"), and 6 in the specialty of untrained bonesetter.” The correspondent relates, that “yet a lot of families were ready to wander away from here next week.” In 15 years--only one Jew of many--one writes to the “Hatzfireh" about 16 young emigrants, artisans, who travel to distant lands to find a piece of bread."

Distantly wanted yet told is a certain chapter about the charitable association in the aid society, which were in Bobruisk, but with the growth in the number of citizens in the “Sloboda" was the traditional frame of the education “vezn" in charity was not able to go back to bringing the residents of it the “poor quarter" to the earlier manner, namely, to make peace with their fate and to assume it with humility and love.

In the “Sloboda" had begun to increase a youth, upon which the poor mental food, which she received in the out-of-date Talmid-Toyres, did not leave an impression. These young people, mostly they were journeymen or workers, found their satisfaction in belonging to a gang yatn [guys], which used to in earlier times and especially Sabbaths go out into the streets and lead fights.

We know about two such gangs: the “Pruzshander Gang" (known as the “Balegoles Gang," which was mentioned by D. Shimonovitch) and the “Gang of Butchers.” These gangs often taught the pranksters of the quarter the “Minsk plan," which they used to stitch to the beards and peyes of passerby Jews in the street. Even the Russian police dreaded them. At the head of the “Pruzshander Gang" stood then Leybetchke Kolesnik (speaker-fixer) and at the head of the “Gang of Butchers"--Yankel Zubotin. A. Gorelik relates in his memoirs about “clashes among the gsim (rough youths) of 'Sloboda' with yoldn [chumps]--children of more aristocratic parents. The fights were dreadful. One used to crack heads on a reason and “farven," fights used to break out, which used to delay igniting Shabbes until late late into the night."

In Bobruisk there was also a Jewish “underworld,” truly surely a product of the corrupting poverty. We hear about the “rabbi of the thieves,” who used to be engaged in discovering the thieves and giving back to them for a certain payment. Shemarieh Levin relates in his memoirs about the Bobruisk thieves, who they also dreaded in the poor villages. Among them was made especially popular the head of the band of robbers Khaim Giml--Giml the secret thief, only people had it idealized. Khaim was not only a thief, who did his work in the quiet, he also used to rob people on the roads. Often it used to come to pass, that he with his band used to fall upon a “balegole," which conducted business in Bobruisk in the small villages, and rob them all. It never came to bloodshed, but harmless blows were liberally imparted. Also other Bobruisk Jews relate a lot about the plague of the theives, who cast dread upon the city dwellers.

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Interestingly, that one of the sons of Bobruisk, a deep thinker, Eliezer Shane, saw in this manifestation of Jewish theives and robbers, an expression of social protest against the severe situation of the lower social stratum.

Due to the great number of soldiers in the city, there was also not a small number of brothels, whose owners were Jews, also the “girls" were Jewish children, mainly from the poor cities and villages, who were coming looking for work and they were there yielding to temptation and falling into the brothels; not a few of them were later enticed to Buenos Aires and other cities overseas.

The end of the 19th century the “Sloboda" was a kind of powder-keg. Enough was a spark of the Russian revolutionary movement, which young intellectuals would throw into this quarter, that the powder-keg would explode, to shock the entire city and destroy the old Bobruisk.

"Sloboda,” --wrote after the Revolution a young Jewish Communist in Bobruisk--"was a well-spring, from which arose the Bobruisk worker movement's spiritual nourishment. Sloboda's poor people “gelifert" people material for the local worker movement in various times--happy and bitter."

 

9. The Fires and the “Fireman Crew"

One cannot write about Bobruisk and not touch upon the plague of the fires, which had become indivisible from the normal life of the city. Bobruisk was built completely of wood, on account of security reasons one was not permitted to build brick buildings. Some of the houses had thatched roofs, and the smallest fire, which engulfed a house, was carried by the wind from house to house and devoured the whole street.

Besides the small and usual fires, which were a daily phenomenon, Bobruisk underwent other great fires, which ravaged large parts of the city. They remained long years in the memories of the citizens.

The first news of such a great fire, when “the whole city went up in smoke," comes to us from the end of 1854. Twenty years later, 1874, there were burned 150 houses, including three beys-midrashim. The loss was estmated at two million rubles. In the city theives and robbers were rampant, who carried off the belongings, which lay around outdoors. (Incidentally, a kind of rampage of the thieves, only during a fire, was a common attending phenomenon in the city).

A great fire broke out in Bobruisk shortly after Shvuos in the famous “fire summer" of the year 1881, when anti-semitic hooligans set fire to Jewish houses in the cities and villages of the Pale of Settlement, an addition to the pogroms of Southern Russia. Although it is hard to know, if the fire in Bobruisk came from setting, or it was a “natural" fire.

In the eighties came moreover, that the insurance society often used to decline to insure houses or property. In order to improve the situation, in Bobruisk, with the help of the government, there was estabished in 1886 a “volunteer fireman crew.” In a general meeting, which was convened that year in the month of Nisan, with the participation of the fortress commander, city commander, doctors, pharmacies, and distinguished bosses Jewish and Christian, it was decided to establish a fireman crew. Contributors and active members were called upon to enlist and on the spot was collected approximately 500 rubles and around 200 men then also volunteered, mostly Jews. There were created three departments: “one to rescue the dishes and articles from the fire, the second to throw out, to destroy the burning buildings, and the third to extinguish the fire with water."

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The fireman crew was a blessing for the city. From time to time, we read, that a fire broke out, houses were burned, but “were it not the fireman crew, the fire would devour houses one after another. Only thanks to them, the firemen worked continually, literally establishing the life, they saved a lot of houses in the area from the fire.” The fireman crew executed a certain societal function in the city. Common people used to converge and find a satisfaction in useful and societal work. The official commander of the “City Fire Brigade"--thus was later called the fireman crew--was Arkady Zaruba, the son of a Christian City President, but actually the head hmdbrim and active leader was Tsherniak, a very tall and broad-shouldered Jew, who sold soda on Shoseynaya Street. He stood as the leader while putting out the fires and received many awards from the government. He was the pillar of the fireman crew for over forty years.

The fires did not stop in the city, but they were diminished, the fear was gone, and Bobruisk citizens knew that there was a watchman and guard, who was concerned with the the extinguishing and localization of the fires. Bobruisk obviously experienced, as we will presently see, a great fire in 1902, which was a turning point in the life and in the subsequent development of the city.

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10. Bobruisk at the End of the 19th Century

The general census, which took place in Russia beginning 1897, is one of the most reliable sources, which give us a clear picture of Russian Jewry on the threshold of the 20th century.

In Bobruisk there were, according to the census, 34,336 citizens, among them 20,759 Jews, 60.5% of the general city population. But from the general number of citizens one must deduct the 5,572 military personnel and their families (including 321 Jews). The city residents truly, apart from the fortress dwellers, were counted, it is told, 28,764 souls, 20,438 of them were Jews, approximately 71% of the general population. For the sake of the completeness of the picture one must advise, that the census included in the limits of Bobruisk around 7 suburbs, living areas and farms, which were found near the city and counted a population of 6,743 souls, mostly Christians. There were, we see, also living the 1,760 souls, which were engaged in agriculture (93% of them Christians). One must, therefore, assume, that in Bobruisk proper, without the suburbs and the military personnel, there lived some 22,000 people, among them Jews made up approximately 90%.

According to their religion the residents (including the soldiers) were counted thus:

Jews 20,760 60.5%
Pravoslavne and Other Separate Sects 11,514 33.5%
Catholics 1,485 4.3%
Protestants 389 1.1%
Muslims 188 0.6%
Total 34,336 100%

According to language usage, the residents were counted thus:

Yiddish 20,669 60.2%
Russian, White Russian, Ukranian 11,883 34.6%
Polish 1,054 3.1%
German 365 1.0%
Tatar 171 0.5%
Other Languages 194 0.6%
Total 34,336 100%

The language usage of the residents, taken at large, conformed with their religion: the Jews mostly spoke Yiddish; the Pravoslavne--Russian, White Russian, and Ukranian; the Catholics--Polish; the Protestants--German; the Muslims--Tatar.

Characteristic of the Jews in Bobruisk is the fact, which only 90 Jews gave foreign languages as their spoken language (among them 83 Russians, 6 Germans and 1 Polish), 99.5% of Bobruisk Jews remained loyal to their language. In truth, this is a normal manifestation in all places in White Russia, obviously to have over 1,000 Jews in Minsk (2 % of all residents) giving Russian as their spoken language.

Quite important to us is the counting of the Jews in Bobruisk according to their sex:

Age Males Females Total
0-9 2,910 2,932 5,842
10-19 2,396 2,888 5,284
20-29 1,664 1,910 3,574
30-39 1,087 1,145 2,232
40-49 732 864 1,596
50-59 497 533 1,030
60-69 389 398 787
70-79 190 143 333
80-89 37 28 65
90-99 2 6 8
Unknown 2 6 8
Total 9,906 10,853 20,759

The first thing which throws itself out to our eyes is the surplus of women compared to men: for every 1,000 men--1,096 women. In but in age to ten years and to 60 equal to the number of males and females, how in the young years and in the working years yet disturbed the balance. The difference in the age 20-29 is therefore a smaller one (women yet with 246 more), but we must subtract from the number of men 313 Jewish soldiers, which came from outside and were mostly in the age, and then it will be clear, that 58.6% of the Jewish city residents in this age belonged to the fair sex; for every 1,000 young people of the age are found 1,410 women of this age. Also the flowing lag of decade to decade in the age and sex table is possible to explain only by the process of natural death. This table is typical for a city, which found itself in the process of advancing emigration--for a city, whose citizens leave her and go in search of subsistence in other lands, in the great cities and overseas.

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A certain interest we will find also in the table, which shows the family status of the Jews in Bobruisk (composed according to the language usage, not according to religion).

Family Status: Males Females Total
Boys and Girls
(Not Married)
6,270 6,270 12,797
Married 3,403 3,583 6,986
Widows, Divorcees 184 693 877
Unknown 2 7 9
Total 9,859 10,810 20,669

From this table we learn, that in the city were approximately 4,000 Jewish families, among them some hundred families, which one of the family heads was lacking (mostly the father); around 180 families lived, it is shown, because of subsistence matters, outside of Bobruisk. The average number in a family was 5 souls.

 

11. Employment and Income Sources to the End of the 19th Century

The table of income sources and employment, which was prepared in the census of 1897 (according to the spoken language of the interviewees) gives us a clear general picture about the developing activity of the Jews and Christians in Bobruisk. Yet as we will subtract the 5,065 military people, which were from an economic point of view a unity for itself, we will divide the residents into “provider" and “dependent on them,” thus:

... General
Population
Jews
Among Them
Providers
10,108 6,644
Dependents 18,654 13,704
TOTAL 28,763 20,384

Of the 6,644 Jewish breadwinners were 4,650 men and 1,194 women. The table of the subsitence sources and of the census in Russia in 1897 included 65 professions, but compared to the general picture one can concentrate these professions in 7 categories: agricuture, crafts and industry, transport, trade, service and day-laborers, exempt professions and officialdom (state and social), and unproductive and unclear income sources.

And this is the division of providers (breadwinners) in the Bobruisk community and of the Jews in the city especially, according to the subsequent seven categories:

Line of Business All Providers % Jewish Providers %
Agriculture 530 5.2 70 1.0
Crafts and Industry 2,964 29.2 2,438 36.6
Transport 587 5.8 349 5.3
Trade 1,802 17.8 1,706 25.7
Service and Day-Laborers 777 7.8 374 5.7
Unproductive Income 1,233 12.3 673 10.0
Total 10,108 100 6,644 100

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The census does not firmly put the economic standing of the incomes: cratfs and industry were contained: industrial, likewise established artisans, journeymen and factory workers; in trade were included: wholesale business--rich people, shopkeepers, business activators, street peddlers, etc. This encumbers the analysis of the figures, and the picture is therefore not clear.

The biggest division is what living of crafts and industry, over 82% Jews. Bobruisk was, therefore, a city of productive work. Nearly a half of Jewish artisans (1,293 men and women) were engaged in clothing and “bashikhung," so called, were tailors, shoemakers, hat-makers, and the like. 318 were in structure-vezn (structure master craftsmen, painters, glaziers, etc.), 236 in the lumber line (carpenters etc.).

The furniture industry developed in Bobriusk in the beginning of the 20th century and “dervorbn" a good name also beyond the Minsk Gubernya, especially in the cities of southern Russia. 145 men were engaged in metalworking, mostly, “zet oys," locksmiths and tinsmiths, while from another source we know, that in the factory for iron-foundry and mechanics, which belonged to the Poles Shvientozhitzki and Samtzuzhevski, who employed in 1904 60 workers, only one Jewish worker worked. In Bobruisk also were at the end of the 19th century a sawmill and, there are some who say, a “brengeray:” in the sugar factories, which for the most part were known as “belenkis" factory, there worked other tenfold male and female workers, and on the production has become a big question, especially Holy Day time, in all cities in the the Pale of Settlement. In the other specialties one must mention the Jewish printer workers (96 people). The number of Jewish workers in the textile line (69 men) and in the tobacco line (12 men) is, as we see, quite small, although these lines were in a few other of the Pale of Settlement developed.

The general picture of Bobruisk is of a handwork and small-industry city. Together with their families they had, what living from hand work and industry, reached the number of 7,900 souls (39% of the whole Jewish population).

In the transportation line was quite visible the part of the Jewish wagon drivers (289 as opposed to 54 non-Jewish); together with their families they counted 1,121 souls. On the other hand Jews were quite feebly represented in railroad work (18 of 148 workers, and yet fewer in the post office (1 among 45 workers). No wonder: the railroad and post office belonged to the state.

1.034 service and day-workers formed the proletariat, the very poorest layer, of them 732 peasants, the biggest majority of them--house servants, in the houses of the rich middle class. A substantial part of the 562 Christian peasant house servants were, “zet oys," also connected with Jewish families, although a lot of them worked in the houses of the high-ranking military people and the Christian intelligensia; together with their families they made up only 8.5% of the city population.

To this stratum belonged also the black workers, who sought day work on the ranches and farms in the surroundings. a correspondent in Hatsfireh relates, that yet in the year 1881 one of the landlords began to cultivate hops plants (khmel) not far from Bobruisk. Several years earlier the planted area took in 4 square-viorst (over 400 hectares) and “gefordert" thousands of working hands. “Some 150 people of our folk, men, women, boys and girls--wrote a Bobruisker in Hatsfireh--get up in early dawn and go out to their hard work, with all their strength they struggle to work productively and lacking the “adun."

70 Jewish families were occupied with farming. One must assume, that the majority of Jewish peasants were small tenant farmers, who had small farm plots planted in vegetables, or “sadovnikes," which compensated orchard keepers and sold the fruit. “Bobruisk,” related A. Akhimeyer in his memoirs, “was blessed with its apple, this was the Antonovke apple really from Bobruisk, which gained a renown in Moscow and St. Petersburg, this kind of apple ripened late and held back its taste and aroma until the end of summer. The “sadovnikes" exported the Antonovkes to the two chief Russian cities."

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The trade nearly entirely lay in Jewish hands, Jews made up 95% of the businessmen. The only business branch, which in it had a preponderance of Christians, was the cattle business (3 Jews among 20 cattle handlers), as opposed to such business branches (grain, street-peddlers), in which there was not a gentile to be had, or there turned up by surprise a few gentiles (building materials, iron dishes, linen and cloth). 39 Jews sold strong drink as opposed to 5 non-Jews. Although only a fourth of the Jewish wage-earners were occupied in trade and shopkeeping, they with their families accounted for around 7,000 souls--more than a third of the Jewish population of Bobruisk.

As has been already said, it is hard from the census to come to a full picture about the economic standing of the businessmen, but one table indicates, that in Bobruisk there were 378 businessmen, in the main, people, who paid the special taxes, which conferred upon them the title of businessman of the first or second guild, that they nearly all were Jews (the gentiles were not properly coerced, which the guilds had given), which were the rich and middle class families in Bobruisk.

In the exempt professions and officialdom the number of Jews was small. To them also belonged the “Holy Vessel" of all kinds (some 57 men approximatley) and the employment in shul and upbringing (259 men), which a substantial part of them were Hebrew school teachers. According to other sources the number of Hebrew school teachers in Bobruisk reached by the end of the 19th century “more than a hundred.” It is assumed, that a visible part of the 90 Russian-speaking Jews belonged to the small circle of medical workers, lawyers, and the like. Which only 31 of the 125 persons gave Yiddish as their given language.

The percentage of those engaged in unproductive or unclear sources (10%) “zet oys" on the first glimpse to be high, but only if we subtract, those covered from them, does the number reach 1,310 souls, i.e. 6,45% of the entire Jewish population in the city, a percentage equal to that which was determined in the census for the entire Jewish city population in the Pale of Settlement. The general limitations of the census make it impossible to make clear the exact status of this layer. There was at large, mannah from heaven, an insignificant number of possible people, which live of their propery holdings, and some 182 persons, which got pensions from the state and social institutions, besides the 29 Jews, which were on the day of the census were on the state records sitting in the Bobruisk prison and made up around 4% of the “asirim.” In the layer were also included several hundred souls, who were hidden from relatives.

This is the face of Bobruisk at the end of the 19th century, seen from a material and economic viewpoint, and this was the face of every city in the Pale of Settlement, with its tradesmen, artisans, wagon drivers, Hebrew school teachers, servants, etc. This situation did not end until the oncoming of the twenty years of the great upheaval and everything turned around from top to bottom.

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