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Chapter 7

Under the Rule
of Alexander I and Nicholas I

א    A

The zigzags of the “Jewish Question”

Translated by Dave Horowitz-Larochette

The Polish Jews went over to Russia for the first time with the first partition of Poland in the year 1772. In the times of the earlier Russian Czars it was forbidden for Jews- “Christ's enemies”- to live in the whole of Russia, after the empress Elizabeth got completely rid of them. There lived illegally in Ukraine and the Moscow region only individual Jews.

With the 200000 Jews that Catherine had then taken from Poland, was created the kernel of the new great Jewish center in the Russian kingdom. On the borders of Moscow appeared two new governorates Mogilev and Polotsk (Vitebsk) with a foreign ethnic population, with an own life style, economically and culturally.

Catherine's rule made experiments with the new population in Raissn (White Russia) [Belarus], but not such drastic ones as King Joseph II in Galicia and Friedrich Wilhelm II later in the department of Bialystok. The Russian rule at first did not regulate so strongly the Jewish customs in minute details as they [would]. Jews were allowed to inscribe themselves as traders and burghers (meshchanes) and to benefit from the appropriate rights of their standing (soslovie). But they could not inscribe themselves in the two said classes outside the boundaries of these two Raissn governorates, i.e. the Jews were forbidden the right of habitation outside Raissn (1786), which was the kernel of The Pale of Settlement (“Chertá Osédlosti”).

With the second partition of Poland (1793) between Russia and Prussia, Russia took Volyn with part of the Kiev region, Podolia and Minsk; Prussia took the other second part of Greater Poland (Kalisz, Plock) with Danzig [Gdansk] and Thorn [Torתn]. With the third partition (1795) the main mass of Lithuanian Jewry was brought into Russia (Vilnius and Grodno region); Prussia swallowed up the rest of Poland with Warsaw and Mazovia and the Bialystok area. Austria received Krakow and the Lublin area.

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In twelve years' time (1807) after the third partition, when Napoleon deemed to alter the political map of Europe and divided kingdoms in the meantime, he tore Greater Poland from Prussia and created the Duchy of Warsaw under the rule of the king of Saxony Friedrich August I. But in two years' time after his victory over Austria Napoleon took from her [i.e. Austria] part of the Polish provinces and gave them to the Duchy of Warsaw.

After the definitive partition of Poland, after the Napoleonic wars, the Russian empire had new territories with large Jewish settlements, almost a million Jews from Lithuania, Podolia, Volyn and from the larger part of central Poland. The more the Russian empire swallowed up vast Polish territories with a large number of Jews, the stronger it felt, that in its inner politics a new question presented itself- the Jewish question. About the giving of equal rights [to Jews] there could be no question in a land, that sustained itself on enslaved peasants with the Czarist autocracy, and the nobility from above. Therefore, the tendency became all the clearer and more pronounced to hold in the Jews in the [newly] received regions, not to allow them into the Old Russian parts of the empire, and in the received regions themselves to minimize and to shrink the circle of their economic lives: Jews would be separated from the traders' class and burghers' class (meshchanes) into a separate tax group, which would carry the heaviest tax burden.

A system was gradually created of exclusion laws for Jews. The ukase [decree] of 1794 fenced off the Jewish Pale with an iron wall. Apart from that the Jews would have to pay a double tax in comparison to Christian traders and burghers, and instead of providing recruits they had to pay an exemption tax equal to the Christian traders (according to the decrees of the years 1794,1796). According to the decree of 1795 all the country Jews had to inscribe themselves in towns, and already then the expulsion from the villages into the towns had started. Already then started the destruction of the communities' self-management, but since the government had lay upon them the collection and guarantee of the taxes from the Jews, the “Kagal” [Russian pronunciation of the Hebrew Kahal, i.e. community] meanwhile remained.

The law concerning the Jewish Pale came not from above, from the government only, but from below- from the Christian traders' class, that feared a free Jewish competence, and asked the government for protection against them. For Pavel I (1796-1801) the situation remained as he found it from before [his reign]. In his years not much was done

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in the legislations for Jews, but preparations were already being made for such legislations: opinions about the Jews were asked from the nobility and gubernators. The government also sent out the renowned poet Derzhavin to research the Jewish situation in the [different] places, to hear out various opinions. He used different Prussian Judenreglaments [regulations concerning Jews], and he presented his project to the senate in December 1800.

At the beginning of Alexander the 1st 's rule (he ascended the throne on March 12, 1801) signs appeared, that his rule would be an opportunity for Jews. On his command was created on November 1802 a committee to manage the [status of] Jews. Great hope was put on him, because at the beginning of 1803 the Jewish [affairs] committee resolved to summon Jewish representatives to [St.] Petersburg and hear out their opinion concerning the Jewish necessities. But the outcome of the committee for Jews was not a good one: it worked out a project by the name of “Status of the Management of Jews”, that the Czar approved on December 9, 1804. In it was a mix of freedoms and legislations. According to the introduction of the Status it provided for the true good fortune of the Jews and also for the use of the townsfolk in the governorates, where Jews were allowed to live, i.e., in The Pale of Settlement of the old territories of 13 governorates: 5 Lithuanian-Russian, 5 Ukrainian or Little Russian (Volyn, Kiev, Podolia, Poltava, Chernigov) and 3 more governorates in New Russia.

The worst point in the 1804 Status was, that from January 1807 for the governorates of Astrakhan, Kavkaz [Caucasus], Little Russia and New Russia, and from January 1, 1808 for the rest of the governorates, - no Jew in any village may hold any lease, tavern or inn, not in his name or in another's name; he may not sell there any liquor and is forbidden from even living there. Even though these were no grand enterprises, they fed almost half of the Jews. Apart from that the Jewish Pale was even further diminished, having torn from it the villages.

On the other hand, the Status meant to push Jews to agricultural work; it gave them the right to purchase unlegislated land in the western and southern governorates and in two eastern governorates, to receive parts of it as crown-land and thereby the first years be free from taxes. The Status also [favored and] protected for Jews factory work and craftsmanship. Fabricants and craftsmen were exempt from double tax. He who built a useful factory could receive a government loan. Jews were divided into four categories: first category- land worker; second category- fabricants and craftsmen; third- merchants; fourth- burghers (meshchanes). The merchants and burghers belonged to the lowest group, the least tolerated. Fabricants, craftsmen and merchants could come because of their businesses for a [limited] time to the inner governorates and even to the [Czar's] residence-city, but with a pass from the gubernator the same as for traveling abroad. Permission was given [to] Jews to pursue all crafts with no taxation, and if they could not provide for themselves in this way in their localities, they received a permit, stamped with the minister of interior's seal, to settle in the sparsely populated areas. Regarding the management of Jewish burghers, it is found in the Status, that Jews were equal with all Russian folk before the law and were answerable to the municipal magistrates, the police and the general courts.

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No-one may touch [harm] them, their work and possessions, and prevent them from practicing their faith- to insult them; the guilty [of these offenses] must be penalized according to the general laws. The Jews also may choose, every three years, rabbis and community representatives.

As for education, Jews were to be freely accepted in all public elementary schools, secondary schools and universities. They were allowed to open their own private schools in condition that one of these three languages would be taught there: Russian, Polish or German. In one of the three languages all public acts were to be written: promissory notes, business ledgers etc. A limit was set [to implement these rules] of between two to six years. Jews, that were elected as councilmen in the municipal magistracy, also rabbis and community representatives, had to know one of these languages, [including] reading and writing. Jewish councilmen were to dress in Polish, Russian or German style.

The community's obligation was to demand [collect] the [tax] payments and give them over to the crown coffers. They were forbidden, without the government's permission, to set any new taxes[1].

The evil decree of the Status on Jewish livelihoods and expulsion from the villages touched on [the lives of] 60000 Jewish families. Their outcome was simply that they starved to death. The endeavors and pleads from Jews and from noblemen as well to annul the decree, or to postpone it to a later date, helped not, but what did help to postpone the expulsion was the fact that precisely at that time (1806) Napoleon announced his decision to establish a Sanhedrin in Paris for Jews. Through this Napoleon won over in his time the Jewish masses in all countries and in face of a war this had to be reckoned with. But as soon as the Treaties of Tilsit were signed between Napoleon and Alexander in July 1807, and the fear of a war passed, Alexander I gave out to the general-gubernator in the western region a strong decree, that being as the threat of war had passed, the expulsion of Jews was to be commenced following a 3-year plan.

The terrifying expulsion began with gevald [force] and cruel means. The tragedy was so great, that the gubernators sent reports to [St.] Petersburg, that the order could not be carried out, for as to thereby not ruin thousands of families. In December 1808 a new command was given to leave meanwhile the Jews in their localities, till specific orders were given.

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At the beginning of the year 1809 a new committee was established in [St.] Petersburg, already the third, to handle anew the Jewish question. The committee's opinion was to leave the Jews in their localities and to allow them the forbidden employments. The government had then to give in, since in the meantime the great French-Russian war of 1812 had started. A specific command to leave Jews in the villages was no longer required. Russia stood at that time in the greatest peril; the land needed a unification of all forces, also the Jewish, in the general struggle.

ב    B

Jews and the Russian-French war of 1812

Translated by Dave Horowitz-Larochette

The war was waged in western Russia, especially Lithuania and Raissn [Belarus] with a dense Jewish mass in the cities, shtetls, settlements and villages. For each military side it was very important with which side the local Jewish population sympathized. The Poles were mostly on Napoleon's side; on him they put all their hope, [that] he should again raise Poland. He had, after all, founded the Duchy of Warsaw for them. But the sympathies of the Jewish population were more inclined to Russia, because Napoleon, who had won the favor of all the Jews with the Sanhedrin Manifest, later repulsed them with his disgraceful decree of March 17, 1808, that he passed in France against Jews, which with its hardness surpassed all limits of injustice[2]. But Alexander had three years before the war revoked his expulsion decree. Just as the position of the last committee had been convenient for Jews, Jews thought, that the decree had been annulled, and apart from the decree his Jews' Status was, after all, very liberal and convenient for Jews. And regarding such a government the Talmud had, after all, ordered Jews “Havei mispalel b'shloma shel malchus” (pray for the welfare of the government) (Avoda Zara, p. D, side b. [ side a]). Also, one of the [three] oaths that Jews had to swear [to God] before being sent to exile is: “shelo imrdu al malchuios” (they shall not revolt against their government) (Song of Songs, ch.2) [Song of Songs 3:5, see Talmud Bavli, K'tubot p. 111a].

The contemporary great authorities for Jews, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin of the Misnagedim [orthodox Jews opposed to Chassidism] and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi [founder of the Lubavitch group] of the Chassidim had warned that Jews

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should everywhere help the Russian militaries against Napoleon. Apart from the aforementioned first reason they had another important motif thereby: they feared, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi published, that when Napoleon I would win, the heresy amongst Jews would grow (as feared the representatives of the Christian faith [also]), not one single Jew would keep his Judaism. He prophesized: if Napoleon won, Jews would become richer and their standing (as burghers) would be improved; but therefore their heart would stray from our father in heaven. But if our Czar alexander won, Jewish hearts would become closer to our father in heaven, although Jews would become poorer and their standing would become lower[3]. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi therefore did all that he could for the benefit of the Russian crown, even sent spies. Jews took in wounded Russian soldiers into their hospital and healed them, also they revealed the French spies. When Napoleon fell, there was amongst the Russian Jews a great joy[4].

The Polish Jews, contrarily, supported Napoleon. The Poles sided with him because he supported them and founded the Duchy of Warsaw. The said new duchy, whose management Napoleon gave over to the king of Saxony Friedrich August, was directed according to the constitutional laws that Napoleon had passed. According to his manifest of July 22, 1807 all Polish inhabitants were given burghers' rights without differentiation of religion or ethnicity. The progressive part of the Jews saw a hope for better times, and that Napoleon would take the side of the Polish Jews. But they were also mistaken. The first year of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-1808) fell on precisely the same year when Napoleon started a repressive policy against Jews, and passed on March 17, 1808 his disgraceful decree. The Polish politicians, who had learnt nothing from all the misfortunes, could not even now bring themselves to consider Jews equal. They used the reaction in France against Jews and would not concede them the burghers' rights they had been designated. They passed entirely new restrictions[5].

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Nevertheless, all the Polish Jews and their Chassidic rabbis cautiously supported Napoleon and were good Polish patriots; they supported the Polish military divisions against Alexander I in the 1812 war and the Polish revolutionists in the later revolutions of 1830 and 1863. Suffice it to mention the Jewish-Polish hero Berek Joselewicz and Reb Berish Maizels, the Rabbi of Warsaw[6], and the many Jewish-Polish revolutionists, who languished in the Russian prisons and were sent to the Siberian steppes for the part they took in the Polish revolution against the Russian rule in Poland[7].

The Russian Jews had then been mistaken about Alexander I, considering him a charitable monarch, that had come to liberate Jews from their troubles. The Jewish religious authorities had also been wrong, who had taken him for a symbol of faith and security. True, in July 1814 Czar Alexander ordered through the Jewish deputies to communicate to the Jewish communities his gracious positive intentions and promised to give with haste a command concerning their (Jewish) desires and entreaties to improve their standing. Because the impression was still fresh with him of the Russian-Jewish patriotic support of the 1812 war, and he was obliged to improve their situation. But later, after the Congress of Vienna, a heavy reaction came upon Europe and Russia, and Russian Jews were destined to suffer for it.

ג    C

The situation after the Congress of Vienna

Translated by Dave Horowitz-Larochette

The Congress of Vienna (1815) widened European Russia and annexed to it almost the whole of the former Duchy of Warsaw's territory. Approximately two million Jews were squeezed in the western strip next to the frontiers of the great empire. And with the

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said unique mass various experiments were made, as the general political course of the time dictated. Three different systems at that time were applied concerning Jews:

  1. A mixed system- “Hearty supervision” and heavy penalty-and-support in the second half of Alexander I's reign (1815-1825).
  2. A military system of “making decent” the Jews with recruitment and Cantonists, “educating” the Jewish youth in barracks, - a system of religious assimilation by force, plus tremendous rightlessness and pain (the first half of Nikolai I's reign 1826-1840).
  3. A cultural system to better the Jews paired with blood-libels and medieval persecutions (the second half of Nikolai I's reign). The Jewish life in Russia became a veritable tragedy[8].
At the beginning it appeared, returning from the Congress of Vienna, [that] Alexander I truly meant to fulfill his promise to better the situation of the Jews. In autumn of 1817 all the larger communities received an order to choose delegates, two from each governorate. 22 delegates from 11 governorates had for an assembly in Vilnius, August 1818, chosen 4 deputies from White Russia [Belarus] and Lithuania. For the expenses and sustenance of the Jewish deputies in [St.] Petersburg the Vilnius assembly imposed on all communities to make a collar-collection, i.e. to remove all the collars [ornate decoration made of solid silver] from the prayer shawls and kitels [white linen robes worn on special occasions] to sell or to receive their worth [in money]. In the end nothing resulted from the deputation in [St.] Petersburg, it could accomplish nothing and in 1823 was cancelled.

Meanwhile the government proceeded to enforce the old Status of 1804, and on April 11, 1823 an order was issued by the crown to two Russian gubernators, those of Mogilev and Vitebsk, to forbid Jews to hold leases, taverns, inns, post-offices and to live in the villages. In January 1824, 20000 Jews were already expulsed from the villages. And so it continued by the orders of the charitable Czar Alexander I and his heirs.

In the meantime, Alexander I, the symbol of faith and security according to the observation of the Jewish religious authorities, strove to save Jewish souls, which were made for Christ. On March 25, 1817 were made public the Czar's orders to found an association for Jewish-Christians to grant protection to apostates or those wishing to

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convert, and to establish from the new Christians privileged colonies. From that plan nothing later resulted.

Alexander's brother Nikolai Pavlovich, Nikolai I, already carried out and completed concerning the Jews everything that commenced by his predecessor. He conducted himself openly, mercilessly, as a tyrant and despot. He cast off his predecessor's mask.

In the new Russian province with the name Kingdom of Poland, that was built from the Duchy of Warsaw, Jews had a separate status. In the years 1815-1830 Poland (Congress) was autonomous; it had a Sejm-constitution and a local government. Poland alone had then the say over the Jewish collectivity (between 250 and 400 thousand souls). After the 1830 uprising the penalized land of Poland was more [tightly] bound to the empire, but the special Polish regulations for Jews remained. Although in the Sejm and later were found many great haters of Jews, who persecuted Jews and who also attempted to influence the Russian government to limit their rights, but they did not succeed to accomplish much. Jews still remained in their community-organizations, the decree - government schooling - never reached them at all. Regarding the Polish Jews, it may be generally said that, as hard as their situation was, the Russian Jews had to envy them[9], because the Russian government did not extend to them their decrees: it even protected them from the local Polish persecutions. A deputation of the Warsaw Jewish community (Michael Etinger, Wolf Cohen and Shachna Nidig[10]) came to Alexander I in [St.] Petersburg and in Paris 1814-1815 and handed him a petition, that all professions should be open for Jews in Poland, and that he should cancel the destruction-decrees (of 1812) by the former temporary Warsaw government to distance Jews from the liquor business, and they accomplished that he postponed [it][11]. He also forbade in 1817 to blend with criminal processes the contemporary blood-libels in Poland. Only in 1842 were the Polish Jews in one detail made equal with the Russian Jews: [the government] started taking recruits from them instead of the former exemption-tax, but the Cantonists decree they did not have, and they were not limited to living within a specific area and all the restrictive laws and evil decrees of the Russian Jews.

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ד    D

The Relationship of the Bialystok Jews to the Russian Regime

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

During the entire time of their history under the rule of BRANICKI, Bialystok Jews were far from all of the external political movements and their influences because their only leader and protector was the liberal BRANICKI who had Bialystok in his possession. The political conditions for Bialystok Jews were in his hands. The Bialystok Jews had very little direct contact with the Polish regime; their representative in relation to it was Hetman [political title given to military commanders] BRANICKI.

During the short 12-year tyrannical regime of Prussia, the Bialystok Jews were degraded by its statutes to the level of the foreign, the enslaved, the subjugated; from then on they had to worry about their own means of existence. And naturally they were very distant from the state politics. As we saw, there was not one Jewish representative from the Bialystok department at the Kleszczewer meeting.

However, the Bialystok Jews breathed freely when Bialystok went over to the Russian state and Aleksander I assured the Bialystok population with his manifesto that the Bialystok residents would maintain their rights and privileges. [They felt] from that day on free subjects with all the remaining Russian Jews under the powerful, great, liberal Russian monarch who was considered a friend of the Jews by all of the Russian Jews. However, it immediately became clear that because they were included in the district of the Russian Empire, they lost the civil rights they had had as Jews in a Polish district and all laws and evil decrees were applied to them equally as to the Russian Jews. Their joy was deflated and dashed.

Meanwhile, Bialystok became the border city between Russia and Poland and it opened the gates of the richer Russian state for Bialystok Jewish merchants. And they began to carry out a large export business across both nearby Prussian borders – Grajewo and Wincenta, near Kolna. Therefore, we found that several respected Jews then entered the executive division of the Russian government in Bialystok county as political agents.

There were two Jewish deputies during the years 1812-1813 in the main districts of the Russian Army that penetrated into Western Europe:

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Zindl ZANENBERG from Grodno and Eliezer DILON from Neswiz [Nesvizh, Ukraine]. It seems these community workers played a double role: Firstly, they were large contractors; secondly, they were Jewish intercessors who needed to be of help with the needs of Jews before the Kaiser and highly placed men of importance.[12] However, the Bialystok Jews were not contractors, nor Jewish intercessors, but they were Russian diplomatic agents. The names Zelig PERSZIC (apparently the grandfather of Skharye FREIDENTAL, the later well-known Jewish rich man and donor in Moscow, who was the father-in-law of Shoshona PERSZIC, the current well-known publisher of Amnot [Fine Arts] and great Tarbot worker in Eretz-Yisroel), and still others whose names are unknown are remembered as diplomatic agents of the Bialystok Jews. This is also presented in the archive[13] of that time that SZCZEDRININ, the leader of the Bialystok county, announced to the minister on the 29th of April and the 6th of May 1812 that he had sent abroad the Bialystok Jew, Dovid WALLACH, for state reasons.[14]

Hirsh HAJLPERIN, a Bialystok Jewish merchant, was then attracted to service in the Russian state by the former Senator and then leader of Bialystok named GELIS, who considered [HAJLPERN] to be a very capable government man and prevailed upon him to discard his businesses and devote himself to service to the Russian state.

ה    E

Heshl Medalszczik (1781-1855)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We find little mention in the archives of the first Bialystok Jewish diplomats who were employed by the Russian state service

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because they did not play a major role. However, the name above is often remembered because he was of great use to the Russian state and he played a large role on which it is worthwhile to dwell. It is told in the archive of the general headquarters from the month of May 1811 that Hirsh HALPERN[a] was sent on a mission to the Duchy of Warsaw in order to learn about the French machinations in Poland against Russia. He was held by the local police in Chernovitz [Chernivtsi] because they had suspicions until he succeeded in bribing his way out. The information that he brought was placed in a separate report, which is still found among the material in the archive. It can be understood how valuable this information was in that in the month of September of the same year he [Hirsh HALPERN] was received by the War Minister [Prince Michael Andreas] Barclay DE TOLLY who notified the Tsar about the envoy's praiseworthy actions.

In a letter on the 3rd of October 1818 to Hirsh HALPERN from Barclay DE TOLLY, he writes: “I had the opportunity to tell the tsar about your zeal and the energy of your deeds for the benefit of the state. His majesty has granted you the most beautiful gift, a ring (priced at 4,000 rubles). It is my pleasure to fulfill the tsarist will in hoping that you will in the future again show your usefulness to the state.”

The state activities of Hirsh (his exact Jewish name was Yehoshua-Heshl) HEILPERN is also remembered complimentarily in the reports of the chief commander of the Western Army and Admiral of the Black Sea Fleet, [Pavel Vasilievich] CHICHAGOV in 1812: his energetic and intelligent work is especially praised there. He was given a medal for his service on the 22nd of December 1812, through the intervention of [Field Marshall Mikhail] KUTUZOV, and later was given a regular pension in the amount of 60 Dutch ducats. Count [Karl Robert] NESSELRODE, who then headed the Foreign Ministry and knew of HALPERN's service to the state, intervened to obtain the pension [for HALPERN].

However, the opportunity of working as a diplomat and secret agent for the ministry was taken from him, it seems, because of the intrigues of the higher anti-Semitic officials to whom he had referred with pride in his written requests and they, therefore, were his enemies. However, Count NESSELRODE stood by him and in 1818 he was designated as an agent of the Finance Ministry in the division to combat contraband [smuggling]. Because of his new

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office, he traveled around various cities in the Pale of Settlement, but his trip to Vilna in 1820 ended badly. When he returned to Petersburg, he was informed that he was no longer needed and he was dismissed from his office.

This is explained by the fact that, truly being a completely pious Jew and a scholar, he believed he was justified in being a diplomatic official and a secret agent to protect his state from its enemies, but not to bring with his office any harm to Jewish merchants, even when they were smugglers.[15] So as not to be shouted at by Jews as a denouncer, he did not hand over the Jewish smugglers to the state. He was, therefore, accused by the authorities as disloyal to his office, which was shown most clearly in Vilna where all of the merchants were Jewish. Therefore, he was let go.

Sh. GINSBURG,[16] and above all Y. HESEN,[17] who is known for his research of Jewish history in Russia, identify Hirsh HEILPERN as a well-known person, the so-called “Crimean” (from the Crimea area). That one [the “Crimean”] was a big swindler who appeared in Vilna in around 1810-1820 and rumors spread about him in the newspapers that he was a messenger of a Jewish-African Kaiser who was coming to Europe with an army to free the Jews. That one confused all of the Vilna Jews as well as the rabbis and religious judges, except for Reb Chaim WOLOCZINER, who asked that he be watched.[18] The Vilna writer, Ayzik-Meir DIK, made use of the swindler as a hero in his work.[19] As was later revealed, that one [the “Crimean”] actually was a government agent concerned with smuggling and while he was in Vilna, searches were made of all the Jewish shops. That one [the “Crimean”] also attained from Rabbi, Reb Avraham DANZIG, the author of Chayei Adam [Life of Man] the excommunication of smugglers. However, the identification [of HEILPERN as the “Crimean”] was completely false because it was impossible that a Bialystoker Jew, a respected person, who was well known, would not be afraid of being uncovered immediately by passersby from Bialystok in nearby Vilna where they often were because of business contacts. In addition, Hirsh HEILPERN was not successful in his government

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activities in Vilna and, therefore, was dismissed while the “Crimean” prospered. Also the responsibilities of the person from “Crimea” are not comparable with the responsibilities of Hirsh HEILPERN, the person from Bialystok, and above all – it was conceded by Ayzik Meir DIK, Sh. GINZBURG in Perezhitoe [Experience] as well as Khaykl LUNSKI in his book, The Rabbis and Gaonim [sages] from the Past, the “Crimean” was caught committing a great crime in Komenec and was deported to Siberia. However, Hirsh HEILPERN died in Bialystok well respected, with great eulogies and is buried in the local cemetery with a beautiful headstone. This finally was confirmed without a doubt through a copy of a letter published by Shaul GINZBURG[20] from the well-known Vilna scholar, author of Netivot Olam [Eternal Paths], Rabbi Tzevi Hirsch KATZENELLENBOGEN that he wrote in Adar (1847) in Vilna to his son-in-law whom he told:

Two weeks ago a Romanian Professor BONAVENTURA, a great scholar of Talmudic literature, a gentile, was invited by me for Shabbos and [he was well versed] in the Khoyshin Mishpet [fourth part of the Shulkhan Arukh – compilation of Jewish laws] and the Sema[b] on the folio and he conversed about Torah matters from 12 in the morning until 10 at night. The Bialystoker Reb Heshl HEILPERN was then also with us. I was dazed by the gentile's education and Reb Heshl's discourses; every moment I had to stop the arguing between them. It was comical to see how they would debate and make cutting remarks just like those young scholars who had a love of persuading one another…it can be seen from this that the Bialystoker Heshl HEILPERN was such a highly educated person and a great scholar that he could carry on a discussion with such a great scholar as the Romanian professor. We also see that Heshl HEILPERN was known and familiar in the great Vilna scholarly and educated circles and he could not disguise himself as a “Crimean” and swindler, nor present himself to all of Vilna as a messenger from a Jewish African king.

After Hirsh HEILPERN was removed from his position he submitted a request to the tsar. The consideration of the request was given to Prince GOLITSYN who partially acknowledged the complaints of Hirsh HEILPERN as correct and, therefore, gave him a salary for three months and in addition a one-time reward of 165 rubles. In his request to the tsar he [HEILPERN] writes:

“On the 15th of September 1808 on the great day that will never be forgotten not only in Russia but in all of Europe – and mainly will remain in the memory of Bialystok residents because on that day they had the good fortune to be accepted as subjects of your imperial majesty – I, according to the advice of Senator GEILS, who was designated to bring order to the conquered Bialystok province by the highest power, abandoned my trade-house and gave myself over to serve the needs of the state. I call God as a witness that from then on in peace-

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time or in wartime I never missed the smallest opportunity and I always was of the greatest use to the state that I was capable of being. In 1811 I received an important, high delegate, Prince [Michael Andreas] Barclay DE TOLLY, the war minister who was of great political significance. After this I had to languish in jail and yet I carried everything out precisely that was laid upon me. On the 19th of September of the same year I had the good fortune to be presented to your majesty: in addition to the gifts I had the honor to receive, I always was permitted to turn with a request of your imperial majesty.”

HEILPERN says further in the same request that he always found himself in the Russian Army, received several decorations and a yearly pension of 60 ducats.

Yehoshua-Heshl HEILPERN demanded a one-time reward of 3,000 rubles and when his efforts were unsuccessful, he again turned to the tsar. In his request he writes: “The Bialystok resident, Hirsh HEILPERN, an unfortunate man and father, who during 14 years time constantly did favors for the state, sacrificed his possessions, did not consider his health and life, has already sat in Petersburg for three years and lobbied for his just request, but without success and he is so devastated that he has no other way out than to die of hunger with his wife and children.”

His request also includes a plan to increase the state income, namely through decreasing the taxes on goods from the first guild in order to increase the number of merchants who have the right to travel abroad for trade. The tsar sent his plan to the finance ministry where it remained.

Hirsh HEILPERN risked disturbing the tsar again, but this time his request brought something new. He asked for an audience to verbally tell him everything that he did not have the audacity to write.

Aleksander I considered his request and ordered him to tell everything to [Aleksey] ARAKCHEYEV. After the audience his matter was turned over to his old friend Count Nesselrode, who had valued HEILPERN's service and asked ARAKCHEYEV to arrange for the appropriate reward for him. ARAKCHEYEV sent the matter to the then Finance Minister [Yegor Frantsevich] CANCRIN who agreed to pay Hirsh HEILPERN a sum

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of 2,200 rubles and in addition announced that secret agents were no longer necessary in the Finance Ministry.

The Council of Ministers agreed with the conclusion of Minister CANCRIN, but NESSELRODE maintained his opinion that Hirsh HEILPERN could be of future use to the state. He intervened, saying that there should be a raise in salary from 60 ducats to 200 ducats, until he received a state office that he would be capable of occupying. Count GOLITSYN agreed with NESSELRODE's opinion and a salary of 200 ducats was designated for him [HEILPERN].

In this way, the struggle of many years of Hirsh HEILPERN with an unknown enemy ended in a victory. The victory evokes the question: what service did HEILPERN actually perform for the state so that the tsar patiently accepted his various interventions and Count NESSELRODE opposed the ministerial council, recognizing the justice of his arguments? It is difficult to answer this, as his role was limited to only small functions of an intelligence [gathering] character. It definitely can be said that he carried out his responsible political missions of a particular importance, which were connected with mortal danger.

Hirsh HEILPERN was no longer mentioned in the general headquarter documents. He remained under the jurisdiction of the state with a designated salary. He was considered an official of the foreign ministry with the title “trade councilor,” “komertsheksi sovietnik,” until the time when he could find a suitable place for his capabilities.

Later, such a suitable place was found when the Russian government began to be involved with the education of the Jews and founded a separate commission to create schools for Jews with foreign, educated Jews as teachers. In a memorandum from the manager of the school reforms, DUKSHA-DUKSHINSKY, to the Education Ministry, suggesting the employment of several educated foreigners as teachers, he proposed Hirsh HEILPERN as an expert and authority in choosing them. In passing, the gmemorandum said:

“Determining if the teaching candidates are suitable for the proposed schools creates a very good opportunity; Hirsh HEILPERN, an official in the Foreign Ministry business council is personally acquainted with his majesty, the Grand Duke Mikhail PAVLOVITZ. And as a result of his work, the same Hirsh HEILPERN was designated as a Potomstveni Potshotni Grazhdanin [permanent honorary citizen] on the 7th of May of this year;

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he traveled to Germany in accordance with a mission of the Foreign Ministry. He is a judicious man who can be trusted. If the same Hirsh HEILPERN were allowed to find all of the facts in a private manner concerning the candidates, it would be on behalf of the state and for the general idea of educating the Jews. From all those candidates who were considered he chose 15 people whose residences lay along the route of his trip with whom he would have the opportunity to visit and to negotiate… HEILPERN had the honor of introducing himself to the minister in April of this year with still other Jews who were there because of their public service.” As is indicated, he engaged in mediation and was their mediator in the ministry.

The name Hirsh HEILPERN is mentioned for the last time in an official document with the memorandum in connection with the education of Jews. This is a basis on which to surmise that he carried out his office in the Foreign Ministry up until the last day of his life.[21]

In Bialystok he was referred to with mockery as Heshl MEDALSZCZIK, because at every ceremonial opportunity he would hang on his chest all of the medals he had received from the government for various services that were suspicious in the eyes of the Jewish population.[22] Even in my time, various stories were told about him based on this. They would have respect for him in the city as for someone close to the powers that be and for a person with a very generous hand and a pious way of life. He never used his power for evil, although during the transfer

Ten years later H. SALOMANOW (Dr. L. HEILPERN) wrote in the Bialystoker Shtime [Bialystok Voice], New York, February 1924, no. 8 on the same theme. He had a suitable comprehension there of the question as it corresponds to the most recent sources.

I wrote about Hershl MEDALSZCZIK the man and the Jews according to the old pinkasim [register books of records] of the local societies in his time and according to the local traditions, from his old contemporaries.

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period from the Prussian to the Russian regime many dealt with contraband. He had no interest in the city; he did not intervene in municipal matters nor in kehile [organized Jewish community] matters. However, he lived a rich man's life generously in his house opposite the Russian church on today's PILSUDSKI Street that was taken over after him by Motya Leyzer ZABLUDOWSKI and now by Moshe KRINSKI. He was a wonder for all. He would disappear for short and longer periods of times and it was not known to where. His appearance was as a member of the Enlightenment. He dressed in a short jacket, with a trimmed beard; he acted very pious. As is seen in the pinkasim of the societies in which he was a member, he would come to the old house of prayer to pray dressed in a silk caftan with a gartl [belt worn by pious men separating the spiritual from the worldly] and a fur hat on his head. He kept everything [his talis and tefilin – prayer shawl and phylacteries] prepared with the shamas [beadle]. After praying he would give it back to the shamas. When traveling he would take along his talis and tefilin and a kitl [white linen robe]. [People] rarely entered his house because although his wife was pious, she had a reputation for being mean.

He would come to the house of prayer very often to spend time with the Talmud scholars. He often would make feasts for them. It was told how he once played a practical joke on the then well-known wise man, Rabbi Gershon SZTAJN; he once made an appointment on a public holiday at a well known Jewish restaurant for a dairy lunch for an entire group of acquaintances. Among those invited was Reb Gershon SZTAJN. On entering, Hersh asked the [female] owner to place a plate of grievin [rendered chicken skins] on the table, which he [Reb Gershon] loved. When Reb Gershon saw the grievin he immediately grabbed them with desire, forgetting to what he had been invited. And then the very tasty dairy dishes were served, but Reb Gershon had already eaten meat and could not touch them.[c] It is said that he would invite the pious Jews, the Talmud scholars from the old house of prayer where he prayed, to inflict upon him all of the indignities that they knew so that he could atone for his sins. He was not observant of the laws of Kashrus; he could not refuse [to eat] when he would be invited to the tables of the powerful state officials.[23]

He strongly honored the learned men who engaged in study all of their lives. He was friends with them in order to find favor with them. As he was given the title “the distinguished scholar,” he also was a learned man. He was a great philanthropist and, therefore, he was respected in the old

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house of study where he prayed. He was an honorable member of the Ner Tamid [Eternal light] Society. He was accepted into it in 5596 [1826]. “The great rabbinic scholar, our teacher-and-rabbi Yehoshua son of our teacher-and-rabbi Yosef, shall be one of us, by opinion and by ballot; the fourth day of Hol Hamoed Pesakh [the intermediate days of the Passover Holiday].”

In 5587 [1827] he was chosen, according to the old pinkas [registry] and in 5590 [1830] he was chosen as a registry trustee for the first time, as well as in 5594 [1834] (the minister and scribe), in 5599 [1839] and also in the years 5604-5605 [1844-1845], 5605-5610 [1845-1850]. These were great and important appointments.

What great respect he had in the kehile can be seen by the fact that he was the first to sign the records of the Khevre Kadishe [burial society] in the registry of the Torah Society to give permission to the Torah Society to study in the kehile shtibl [one room synagogue] that belonged to [the kehile]. After his death, he was inscribed in the pinkas of Ner Tamid; to his eternal memory for his good deeds (pages 71, 98): “May God watch over the deceased and spread His wings over him forever, for this respected communal leader, our teacher-and-rabbi Yehoshua Heshel son of our teacher-and-rabbi Yosef HEILPERN, was standing before kings and dignitaries and in spite of that he was modest and forgiving, honored his teachers and his students and considered them a crown on his head. All his life he spent money for the poor and unfortunate, and even now, after he completed his days he stepped in the light of righteousness and he donated to the Great Bet Midrash [house of prayer] in this community, for the perpetuation of his soul, the great Book of Arba Turim [The Fourth Row], printed in Slavita, new and bound in four volumes. The many learners who will study these books of Turim will be good agents and pray for his soul, that it return to its source. He died on the Holy Sabbath at dawn, 28 Tevet, and was buried on the eve of Rosh Khodesh [first day of the month] Shevat, may his name be remembered forever. His name is mentioned in the Book of Regulations, today Sunday 12th day in the month of Adar, the year 5614, here in the holy town of Bialystok.”

How much of a pious Jew can be seen from the fact that he was an active member of the holy Shomrim laBoker [Dawn Watches – a group that gathers for early prayer] Society (to observe the custom of khtsos [midnight prayer and study in memory of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem] and to recite Psalms in the early morning and observe certain rituals in praying and vatikin [prayers recited before sunrise]). Recorded in the pinkas for the society, which still exists today: Concerning the old pinkas [register] (from the year 5526) [1766], which contained the signatures of several very important and honored people, among them the signature of the famous rabbinic scholar, our teacher-and-rabbi Yehoshua Heshel, at the time when our teacher-and-rabbi Yosef HEILPERN of blessed memory was appointed, and today the Society confirmed this appointment in the pinkas that our teacher-and-rabbi Heshel, mentioned before, is considered one of us, by opinion and by ballot; he has already paid his dues and as confirmation he is listed in this pinkas (year 5590). On 6 Marcheshvan [Cheshvan] 5603 [10 October 1842] it was said: “…Therefore we consulted with the dayan [judge in the religious court], member of the Khevra Kadisha [Burial Society], the great scholar, the respected and generous leader, our teacher-and-rabbi Yehoshua Heshel, son of our teacher-and-rabbi Yosef HEILPERN, of our community, and all members of the Society agreed to add the judge.” And also with the date 5610 [1850]

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we find the following about him: All the above was done by legal voting in the house of our judge, the scholar Yehoshua Heshel HEILPERN, and as witnesses we all signed below.

He was mainly a very distinguished personality to the masses. When he was a member of their Magidei Tehilim Society [society for recitation of Psalms] that was already in existence, as is said above, in 5596 (1766), he was accepted as their leader and dayan [religious judge]. It is mentioned in the Magidei Tehilim pinkas of 5611 (1851) that the gabbaim [sextons] of the holy Magidei Tehilim Society came together and with the agreement of the dayan who was placed over the holy society, the great rabbinic scholar, leader and community worker, of great fame and renown, our teacher-and-rabbi Yehoshua Heshel, son of our teacher-and-rabbi Yosef HEILPERN, the gabbaim were appointed who are enumerated in the new pinkas of the same society. There is an official report from more recent times: given that it already has been 30 years since the great rabbinic scholar, leader and community worker has been the leader and supporter of this holy society and the guardian of the gabbaim of our synagogue and for the entire time he has stood watch over those reciting Psalms, particularly during the month of Elul during the Days of Awe. He also now supports creating a new pinkas for the society. Therefore, the society decided at a general meeting: to give Minister Yehoshua [HEILPERN] great respect and esteem and designate him as the head and officer and minister and arbitrator and religious judge over all matters of the holy society.

He gave a beautiful gift to the then synagogue – a velvet, expensive table covering with many embroidered verses for the Torah reading lectern. The table covering is still in the synagogue. It carries the date 5573 (1813), when Yehoshua Heshl HEILPERN was in Petersburg. It appears that he gave the gift to mark the great success he had filling his mission for the state in the Franco-Russian War.

On his headstone he is given the title of: Great among the Jews and loved by his brothers, known everywhere by his many qualities that made him famous, wise and respected, a man who was elevated by the king over the fellows of his community and appointed “commerce consultant” in the East and was given the title of Honored Citizen for all future generations, the honored rabbi, Reb Yehoshua Heshel, the son of rabbi Reb Yosef HEILPERN. He died on Motza'ei Shabbas Kodesh [the end of the Holy Sabbath] 25 Tevet 5614 [25 January 1854], at the age of seventy-four.

On his mother's side he was descended from a rabbinic family as is shown on the headstone of his mother at the old cemetery: Here is buried the modest and famous woman Mrs. Esther, daughter of the Rabbi, our teacher-and-rabbi Yosef TZIVYES from Horodna, mother of the famous leader, our teacher-and-rabbi Reb Yehoshua HEILPERN, died 4 Menachem-Av 5573 [31 July 1813]. They lie in the first row.

He wife was also pious. After his death she donated a collection of Mishnayos [compilation of Oral Torah] printed in Vilna bound in six volumes to the old cemetery. Therefore she was inscribed in the pinkas of the house of prayer: The esteemed woman, famous and respected Mrs. Cheyka, daughter of our teacher-and-rabbi Shimshon, widow of the late well-known leader, our teacher-and-rabbi Yehoshua Heshel HEILPERN of blessed memory (page 172).

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However, the higher circles of the Bialystok Jewish society, the more important scholars and esteemed business owners, looked askance at his political activity as a source of income because, as he himself said, it sometimes brought him into the sphere of higher officials of Russian government where he could not maintain his piety. It is said that he once recited the Geshem on Sukkous [the Feast of Tabernacles] [prayer for rain on the eighth day of Sukkous] at the Torah reading desk in the synagogue and it began to rain heavily. After the prayers he said to the then Rabbi Velvele, the author of Mar'ot Hatzov'ot [Mirrors of Legions]:

“Rebbe, you see my soul is apprehensive?”
Reb Velvele answered:
“It is no wonder. Those such as you once brought a great flood to the world.”
However, his political activity did not evoke any opposition at first because from the start he, as well as the esteemed Jews in Bialystok accepted diplomatic, political service with Aleksander I, whom the Bialystok Jews considered a liberator from the harsh and tyrannical Russian regime and, therefore, they were thankful to him and his devoted subjects.[24] However, after Aleksander 1 (1825), the political situation for the Jews in Russia changed for the worse; the Russian regimes from Nicholas 1 on became villainous regimes. And with regard to Poland, which the Russian regime had under its yoke, the Jews still felt an innermost loyalty because of the old political relationships and traditions. Therefore, Heshl HEILPERN's activity on behalf of the Russian government was condemned by higher Jewish Bialystok society as espionage activity against Poland and even today he is remembered with disdain because of it.

Therefore, it appears that Yehoshua Heshl HEILPERN was a great braggart about the deeds he did for the Russian regime. He bragged in Rebbe Avraham Kempner's society[25] that when Aleksander I entered Paris, he [Heshl HEILPERN] rode in front on a horse to show those places that he could safely travel through and when he [Aleksander I] entered Warsaw he [Heshl HEILPERN] entered before dressed as a poor Polish

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peasant carrying a sack of coal; he tested the bridge and he discovered that earlier it had been undermined and without his warning the tsar would have been killed. He also boasted to those attending his house of prayer that he once saved the life of the Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich during the first Polish Uprising, hiding him under a bridge. He would speak a great deal in Bialystok about his camaraderie with the Grand Duke, but as others said, it consisted of his being [the Grand Duke's] trusted writer because the Grand Duke himself was a boor. Heshl HEILPERN received all of the newspapers and correspondence arriving from abroad for him [the Grand Duke] in Bialystok and he would describe their contents to [the Grand Duke]. He would also write all of [the Grand Duke's] reports to Petersburg.

This boasting made him a spy for the Russian state in the eyes of the important Jews in Bialystok.

But despite everything, he still was a particularly capable and comprehensively educated man whose services to the Russian state in general were recognized by the Russian monarchs, Aleksander I and Nicholas I, and by their ministers and higher officials. If not for his Jewish origins he would have reached a high level in the government as is confirmed by the official Russian archives.

Indeed, the fact that he was a political agent of the Russian regime and of necessity acted against Poland makes it difficult to call him a traitor. As a result he did not stand lower or worse than all of the real Polish men of aristocratic birth who were loyal diplomatic and military servants of the Russian state against their own people during the entire time of the tyrannical Russian rule in Poland until the last war and during the war itself. And yet they are not ashamed to appear today as the true representatives of the Polish ultra-patriots, the so-called “national democrats.” Why should the Bialystok Jew, Heshl HEILPERN, be condemned for the same offense?

As a member of the old Jewish community in Bialystok, Yehoshua Heshl HEILPERN, was considered one of the best and most respected and exemplar members for his good deeds and pious way of life, as is documented in the pinkas of the old house of prayer and the wording on his headstone.

What he did for Jews in general – we do not know. We saw that he was a specialist in the eyes of the ministry even on the education question; that he was at the ministry with a Jewish deputation (he probably was its representative and intermediary). From Russian sources we see also that he gave the higher powers advice in various areas, for example, to decrease the payment for the first

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guild. Of concern to Jews, during his time many bad laws and edicts against Jews were issued from the same ministry, such as expulsions from the villages, military service and the like, and we must presume he used his intervention to weaken [these bad laws and edicts]. The expulsion edict in Grodno gubernia [province] was stopped for a time; for other reason did his reside in Petersburg for the final three years without work except that he had the right to intervene directly with the tsar at any time? Perhaps the Russian archives will give us the answer. About interventions there, we have to consider that the local police respected and feared him; they could not do anything bad to the Jews.

However, his continuous business with the Russian government had its revenge against him. One of his sons, Shmerl, converted in order to be accepted as a student at the Petersburg medical faculty. He was the first one in Bialystok gubernia to convert. He practiced as a medical doctor among the Jews for his entire life with the name “Doctor Shmerl HEILPERN the convert.” However, he was the best kind of convert. He lived as a Jew among Jews. One could not recognize his conversion in him. Yehoshua Heshl's other children were good Jews who were well known in the city during my time.[26]

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Various spellings of Hirsh HEILPERN's name appear throughout the original text. For example: Heshl is a diminutive of Hirsh and HALPERN is an alternative spelling of HEILPERN. He is also referred to as Yehoshua-Heshl. As explained in the text below, HEILPERN was referred to as Heshl Medalszczik because he wore the medals he received from the Russian government at every ceremonial opportunity. Return
  2. Sema is an acronym for Sefer Me'irat Enayim [Enlightening of the Eyes], a commentary on the Shulkan Arukh written by Joshua FALK. Return
  3. The laws of Kashrus – Jewish laws concerning the preparation and consumption of food – prohibit the eating of dairy products with meat products. After consuming meat products, most pious Jews wait three to six hours before eating a dairy product. Return

ו    F

The Evil Cantonist Decree

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

When Nikolai I, Aleksander's brother, ascended the Czarist throne, a very bitter time for Jews in Russia began. The era of Nikolai I (1825-1855) belongs to the darkest in Jewish history, mainly because of the Cantonist Decree. On the 26th of August 1827, he issued the cruel recruiting law that had a very bad, actually a destructive effect, on the life of the individual and on the community at large. Jews were completely free of military service under the Polish regime. No general personal military duty existed in Poland. Military service was a privilege for the Polish nobility and compulsory for the peasantry, the property of the nobility. All Jews were considered as the merchant class and, therefore, were free from military service. For this the Jews had to pay 500 rubles for each recruit who would have been taken, according to the orders of September 1794 and January 1796.

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According to the state order that was promulgated on the 26th of August 1827 (5587), the Jewish kehile [organized community] had to fill the debt of military service with people, not with money. According to the 34th paragraph of military service and according to the supplement to the 37th, the kehile had the right to provide as a recruit each Jew at that time [punishable] for irregular payment of taxes, for roving (for being a “vagrant”), for not having a passport and for other disorders that the kehile did not have to tolerate. This statute was a terrible means in the hands of the influential people to provide whoever they wished for military service. And although according to the government law of 1827, the kehile was obliged to maintain books that showed the rank of the recruit, books in which all candidates for recruitment should be entered in a certain order, as a result of which there would have been a just division for military service among all of the classes, the kehile actually did not observe it in order to take care of the children of the rich and aristocratic families.

Since these recruit books were not in order, the government demanded of the Jews more recruits than were justified based on the size of the Jewish population. This caused the kehile in 1850 to begin to take all young men as recruits and even small children as well as old people and, in accordance with the law of 1853, even those from other communities. The rich would ransom themselves from military service with the recruit receipts, which cost 300 rubles.

Military service then amounted to 25 years, beginning at 25 years of age. The government would send away those young children who were caught to the Russian villages, to the peasants, to be raised and the older children were placed in, what were referred to as, “Cantonist schools” in order to convert them.

The most bitter of the cruel laws for Jews that Nikolai I issued and which places him in the ranks of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people was the ukase about military service for Jews that had a particularly hideous and ruthless purpose for them: conversion. The evil ukase was issued as a result of the report and the project of Nikolai's right hand, the leader of the secret police, Benckendorff, who had two purposes for taking the Jewish young for military service: first, decrease the number of Jews in general and secondly, force the Jews to convert. According to this ukase, Jews aged 12 to 25 should be taken as soldiers and child-recruits should be held in Cantonist institutions until their 18th year.

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The institutions for Cantonists had been founded in the year 1725, [in the time of] Peter the Great. Children who were born to soldiers were all considered as Cantonists. Cantonist battalions were in Novgorad, Smolensk, Woroniec, Troitsk, Uralsk, Omsk, Petrovsk, Tobolsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Semipalatinsk. If there was no place for them in the battalion, the children were given to the peasants or artisans to work. It was worse for them there than in the battalions.

The kehile was responsible for presenting the required number of recruits, declaring that denouncers who revealed the hidden young Jews would receive 100 rubles a head as a reward.

This terrible edict touched only the poor class of children. They were not taken from the wealthy and powerful. It stands the hair on end when one reads the descriptions of the cruel deeds that were done by the Jewish snatchers employed by the kehile who would steal away small, weak, trembling children from their mothers. In certain cases – children of only 5-6 years of age. The children would be deported to the Siberian Cantonist battalions, where they would be forced to convert by frightening persecutions and torture. The children would die by the thousands on the way to Siberia or in the barracks for the young Cantonists. The edict was regularly strengthened; up to 36 decrees were issued until the year 1855. The most ruthless decrees concerned catching Jews without passports and taking double the number of recruits as a punishment for holding out recruits. The Jews had to provide double the number of recruits than the Christians. The heads of the kehilus also had the right to provide as soldiers everyone whom they found sinful and who did not find favor with them. They would also catch Jews from other kehilus to cover the number from their kehilus.

In 1856, Aleksander II repealed the edict permitting the taking of children up to 18 as soldiers, that is, the actual Cantonist edict. But the edicts concerning the responsibilities of the kehile for providing the demanded number of recruits remained in effect and because of this the sorrowful well known snatchers, denouncers and Sborshchikes [collectors] continued to rampage – until the year 1874.

According to the figures that are known for the years 1833-1854, it is calculated that approximately 70,000 Jewish children fell as victims of the Cantonist edict.

The Jewish soldiers having served 25 years did not have the right in Nikolai's time to remain living in their places in deep Russia, but they were sent back to their birthplaces. But in Alek-

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sander II's time, in 1867, they were given this right. And later, almost all of the Jewish kehilus consisted of these veteran Nikolayver soldiers in the city of that area of Russia where Jews were prohibited to live.[27] In Poland, the Russian regime first brought in military service in 1844 with less harsh regulations.

ז    G

Bialystok and the Evil Cantonist Decree

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In Bialystok, military service created the greatest distress in the Jewish families. The Bialystok wives gave religious divorces to their husbands who were taken as recruits. The general-governor inquired about two such cases, asking whether such divorces were genuine. He asked the War Minister about it. The matter was forwarded for a decision by the Minister's Jewish Committee, which replied that if the rabbis acknowledge that the divorces are legal according to religious law, then they are lawful for the government and the divorced wives can be struck from the list of the battalion wives.

The first case involved a certain Yankl Gelbart from Bialystok, who was taken as a recruit. His wife, Dwoyra, at first agreed and went with him. But in Grodno, she had regrets and received a religious divorce from him at the Grodno beis-din [religious court] and came back and married a certain Leib Roczan in Bialystok. The Bialystok kehile was afraid to erase the divorced wife from the list of the military wives on its own responsibility, until it received permission from the general-governor.

Another case took place in Bialystok with a second woman who did not want to follow her husband, a recruit, to the city where his regiment was stationed. Bialystok police turned to the general-governor with a question, asking if the woman could be sent, despite her opposition, to her husband along with a procession of convicts. The matter was sent to Constantyn Pawlowitch (Nikolai's brother) and he answered that because of her hostility, the woman could not be sent.[28]

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The veteran Nikolai soldiers as well as the small number of Cantonists who remained Jews and returned to Bialystok were not treated with respect. They received the respect that was coming to them as Jews who resisted the greatest temptations and remained Jews. They sacrificed for the glory of God with this, but living for so many years among gentiles, separated entirely from Jews and Yidishkeit [Jewish way of life], they became very ignorant. They could not even speak Yiddish well.[29] Consequently, a Nikolai soldier was a curse word among Bialystok Jews. They had absolutely no esteem in the prayer houses and minyonim [10 men required for prayer].

Therefore they came together and themselves created their own soldier's minyon with the name Mesilat Yesharim [Path of the Just]. There they would study between Minkhah and Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers] every day and Shabbos and holidays with a rabbi. The minyon still exists today with their children on Koluszinka (Yeshiva) Street number 26 in the small private residence of a friend.

They have a Pinkes [book of records or register], Registry of Military Men and Map of Where They Lived in Bialystok, 5631 (1871). There is a beautiful drawing on the title page of a golden crown supported by guns and a lion with other animals. There are also many precepts whose purpose was to motivate the members to go in the way of rectitude (righteousness) and would uphold the Jewish religion, innocence and honesty. They should also have love of friends, they should not come to quarrels, should support each other with interest-free loans and visit and care for sick members. The aliyahs [the act of being called up for the reading of a section of the Torah] for the weekly Torah portions Beshalach and Chukat belong to the members. Each member is obligated to give five guldn weekly to the group treasury. The language of the Pinkes is a very beautiful Hebrew, but it is a shame that the author of the Pinkes did not provide something about its history instead of florid language. As I was told by a member, there were several Cantonists among the members – his father was also a Cantonist.

Military service was despised among the Jews in Russia because of this. For a certain time one could be freed [from service] during the era of Aleksander with money. All of the rich children were freed with [the payment of] money. And for others, rabbis collected money for the ransom of prisoners and also to free poor, genteel children. Other remedies were used, also not legal. Even

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causing oneself to be crippled, so as not to serve. They would bribe members of the conscription commission because one was not obliged to serve a state in which Jews did not receive any rights as citizens and persecuted them with various restrictions; according to Jewish law it was a predatory regime. However, there were Jewish denouncers who would reveal all of this to the authorities if the kehile or those freed did not give them hush money. These denouncers were a plague on the Bialystok Jews.

The rabbis and community workers of that time groundlessly blamed the heads of the kehile for not standing against the Cantonist edicts, the snatchers and the denouncers. This was an impossibility, as with the Spanish Jews who in their time could not oppose a Torquemada. Nikolai I was a similar type – a tyrant, a foe of the Jewish people and a sadist. Converting Jews was a task of a lifetime for him, an idée fixe. The Russian Jews did everything possible to turn aside the edict, with taxes of great sums for all of their confidants – ministers, senators, high officials. One senator received 20,000 ducats and Count Mordvinov, 100,000 rubles, just for staying quiet. But nothing helped, the tyrannical czar personally employed all means to convert the Jewish Cantonists.

It is worthwhile to present a case of Kiddish-haShem [“Sanctification of God's name” – martyrdom] exhibited by the secret practitioners of Judaism. Several hundred Jewish child Cantonists were led out to the Volga [River] during a military parade before Nikolai in Kazakh [Kazakhstan], and spirituality in full parade awaited the Czar at the conversion ceremony. When he arrived, the Czar told the children to enter the river to immerse themselves to change their names. The children fulfilled his order. But according to an earlier agreed upon decision they all drowned themselves. Nikolai reached for his head with terror.

The rabbis could do nothing against the snatchers, the influential people, the leaders of the kehile; if they [the rabbis] had been pointed out as at troublemakers they would have felt the czar's ukase and they would all have been sent to Siberia for hard labor (see further Reb Lipele's biography). Still, many rabbis showed self-sacrifice by rescuing poor Jewish children from their hands, such as Reb Elihu Drecziner, Reb Yankele Boysker, Reb Elinke Lider, Reb Yakov Berlin[30] and Reb Lipele in Keidan. They would sentence informers to death according the law in The Breastplate of Judgment and this judgment on them was carried out, as was shown in the story of The New-Uszicer Judgment that for killing two Jewish informers, 70 esteemed Jews were sentenced to penal servitude, lashes with a riding crop and losing their possessions, among them rabbis (among them, the Ruzshiner Rebbe, who then escaped to Austria).[31]


  1. See Simon Dubnow, The newest history of the Jewish people, Berlin 1923 B I, p. 251-254; Reb Shmuel Yosef Fuenn, Kirya Ne'emanah, p.29-32. On conditions from the censor Rabbi Fuenn had to portray Alexander I as a “charitable monarch”. As proof he writes (p.33) that in 1805, at the time the Vilnius community built the new hospital, Alexander gave a contribution of 3000 rubles for the construction and in 1806 he ordered to give from the exchequer a yearly 2500 rubles for maintenance. Return
  2. Compare: S. Dubnow, the same book mentioned above, p.114-118. Return
  3. See: Mordechai Teitelbaum, The Rabbi of Liadi, part 1, Warsaw, 5673 [1912], p.152-153, and S. Dubnow, the same book mentioned above, p.254-259. Return
  4. Kirya Ne'emanah, p.279; S. Mandelkern, History of Russia, part 3, p. 32.. Return
  5. Еврейская Старина I, [Jewish Antiquities I] 1909, p. 16; Гессен [Hesse] В Зфемерном Государстве [In The Ephemeral State] Еврейская Старина [Jewish Antiquities], 1910. Return
  6. The Rabbi of Warsaw, a great Jewish authority, supported the Polish revolution against Russia and therefore he sat in the Warsaw citadel, because Russia had grasped the old Polish kingdom and territory, under whose protection the Jews lived in peace, and it was their kingdom, the Warsaw community donated 40 thousand gilden to the uprising and collected further for the army, there was also a special city-guard division of 850 bearded Jews. The said Jewish Warsaw militia did its thing with great effort to defend Warsaw against the Russian military (see Dubnow, the same book mentioned above, B II, p. 185). Return
  7. From the revolution in 1863 there sat amongst others in Bialystok prison 4 Jews. See: Sprawaczni Kalendar, Bialystok, 1913, p.48. Return
  8. S. Dubnow, the same book mentioned above, B II, p. 124. Return
  9. There, p. 174 and on. Return
  10. I've already written on the subject in “Toldos [Generations of] Reb Ze'ev Ya'avetz”, [illegible], 5694 [1933], folder т [G]. Return
  11. S. Dubnow, the same book mentioned above, B II, p. 75. Return
  12. Ibid, vol. 7, pages 246-247. Return
  13. This is based on Y. HESEN's work and on Patriotic War of 1812 and Russian Jews, St. Petersburg, Razum [Reason] Publishers. Return
  14. He was the grandfather of Moshe WALLACH, who was the father of Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov.

    Yankl Dawidowicz WALLACH is also remembered among the esteemed Jews of Bialystok who made a special payment for being able to wear a yarmulke [skull cap] and Jewish clothing, that he was the diplomatic emissary of generous men abroad. His grandsons, whom I knew here, among them the Ruzhanoyer Rabbi, Reb Shabsil WALLACH, who was considered a Talmudic sage, were traditional Jews but it appears that Dovid WALLACH was a very capable person as was his grandson Meir WALLACH-LITVINOV and here was fulfilled: “haTorah mekhazeres al akhsanya shelah” [“The Torah returns to be hereditary in the family.”]. Return

  15. It is similarly related in the Talmud: Reb Eliezar son of Rebbe Shimeon was a police official on watch for thieves. Reb Yehosha ben Karha [said]: “You, sharp, son of wine, how long will you give the people of our God to the penalty of death?” He sent him to say: “Thorn, exterminate you from the wine garden.” He answered him: “Let the owner of the wine garden (God) come and let him exterminate his thorns.” Return
  16. Perezhitoe [Experience] Vol. II 236-247. Return
  17. Yu. ESSEN, “Who is He?” Novy Voskhod [New Sunrise] 1913 Return
  18. The Vineyard of Reb A. Atlas, no. 18. Return
  19. For his work, Der Yidisher Poslanik [The Jewish Diplomat], Vilna, 1880, indirectly also for his work, Shabtai Zvi, 1864, and also for others. Return
  20. Tsukunft [Future], New York, no. 8 (August). Return
  21. In the Bialystoker Tagenblat [Bialystok Daily Newspaper], 1913, no. 16-23, my coworker, Moshe TAJCZ, wrote about Heshl MEDALSZCZIK, using the material I had given him. However, now at the reworking of this chapter I could not make use of that work because Moshe TAJCZ wrote for a popular [newspaper] column. The most recent sources also were unavailable to him. Return
  22. One would usually say – MEDALCZIK, although the intention was MEDALSZCZIK. The doctrine to characterize a person by a nickname was very widespread in Bialystok (for example: Leyzer Blizzard, Leibl Destruction and other ugly nicknames). The Talmud warns against this: There are three who are bound for hell: he who attaches a nickname to his fellow man… (Talmud, Bava Metzi'a [The Middle Gate] 58, page 2.) Return
  23. Bialystoker Togenblat, 1913, no. 23. I have this information from the local old men. Return
  24. It may be that there is some truth in Heshl HEILPERN's words in his petition to the Russian Tsar that Bialystok Jews considered it fortunate to be taken in as subjects of the Russian Tsar after the harsh regimes of the Prussian authorities in regard to the Jews. Return
  25. This was told to me by his son, Mr. Falk Kempner, in the name of his respected father. Return
  26. The grave of a second son, our teacher and rabbi, Benyamin-Zev, son of our teacher and rabbi Yehoshua Heshl HEILPERN, who died on the day of the holy eve of the Sabbath, the 5th of Menakhem Av 5633 [22 July 1803] is in the old cemetery. Return
  27. See: A. Levin, Kantonistn [Cantonists], Warsaw, 1934. The detailed picture is given there. Here I have shortened it, because as much as it also refers to Bialytstok, I have touched upon it, although many things are generally known. Return
  28. Ibid, p. 99. Return
  29. A relative, a veteran Cantonist who was taken from Bialystok as a child, once came to my father-in-law, Reb Mordekhai-Shlomo Wendl. He was very ignorant. He spoke Yiddish mixed with Russian. The family was ashamed of him. He went back to deep Russia where he had lived. Return
  30. A. Levin, as above, pages 133-135. Return
  31. Ibid, pages 128 on. Return

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