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E. Acclimatization and Struggles


Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Rafael Manory

When the Hatred Waves Swelled

Upon the murder of Alexander the Second on March 1st, 1881, pogroms erupted all over Russia. The crowds rampaged and robbed Jewish property, destroyed houses, raped and murdered, and the authorities—the police and army forces, stood by idle. Only after three or four days, when the Jews were taught “a lesson worthy of its name”, instructions were given to stop the massacre.

The pogroms erupted mainly in the large cities, however, small cities and towns were not spared. Even some colonies in the province of Ekaterinoslav had a taste of the pogroms. On the May 6—8, 1881, the neighboring farmers attacked the colonies Nechayevka, Trudoliubovka, Grafskoya and Mezhirich and conducted pogroms in them. The entire property of the settlers was robbed and the cattle were scared away. The German settlers who lived in the colony among the Jews participated in the pogrom in the colony of Trudoliubovka. The Jews fled for their lives to the prairie, along with their elderly and the children. Some of them found a temporary shelter with one of the nobles, in the estate of Stephanovka. The farmers in the German colony of Marienfeld who initially gave shelter to some of the refugees from the nearby Jewish colony, regretted their generosity, and expelled the refugees. The rioters surrounded the refugees who tried to escape from the German colony and robbed their belongings. The large estate of the Jew G. Ostrovski, was robbed and destroyed. During the attack on the estate, the rioters shouted: “it is forbidden for a Jew to be the master of his own land”.

Following the cruel and murderous carnages, a series of decrees began. The rights of the Jews were slashed. The “Numerus Clausus” law (limiting the percentage of Jews), was instituted in all government schools including the universities. It became forbidden for Jews to privately purchase as little as a foot of land, or even lease land for short periods. The existing settlement shrank regardless. The first steps aimed to shrink it came even during the reign of Alexander the Second, by discontinuing the settlement on government lands

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in the western provinces, as well as by reducing the settlement in the provinces of Kerson and Ekaterinoslav. The hateful attitude towards the colonies was already being felt as early as 1880 by the formulation of the regulations that followed the report submitted by Ivanschintzev. However, the discussion about the report started after the pogroms and the economic decrees. From the formulation of the decrees it was evident that the Russian farmers in the regions of the colonies saw themselves as being discriminated against because large areas were given to the Jews and the farmers needed to pay full price for leasing them.

Concerning the general clause [inIvanschintzev's] formulation that stated that the government lands should be handed over to the farmers so that they can cultivate them as their own private property, a sarcastic note was attached stating: “the Jews, given their tendency to speculate, would probably lease the lands for profit rather than cultivate them”.

Before the final formulation, the committee found it necessary to turn to Tikhayev, the provincial minister of Kherson-Bessarabia and ask for his opinion. His response was filled with hatred and contempt to the entire Jewish settlement enterprise.

Under the Signs of Awakening and Renewal

It is interesting to note than precisely after the lid was seemingly closing on the Jewish settlement, and after Minister Yignatiev forbade the Jews from cultivating even leased lands, the recognition of the importance of working the land, ripened among the masses of the Jewish nation. Prominent people, idealists and people with pure aspirations woke up to preach for it verbally, in writing and in actions.

Nakhum Sokolov's plan and his call to establish “Jewish colonies to work the land” deserves a special mention (HaTzfira, 5th Year, No. 39, 12 Tishrei 5639 [9 October 1878]).

“About the Founding of Jewish Colonies for the Purpose of Working the Land[1].

A rumor was spread lately and news were also published in some periodicals in Hebrew, that the organization “Kol Israel Khaverim” [Alliance Israélite Universelle–or in short Alliance] gave its support to the realization of this exalted idea, that every Jew aspires for”.

The rumor is not accurate, because for now, the proposal for this plan was submitted to the General Committee of the organization in Paris, and the committee has not decided to implement it as of yet. The proposed idea of establishing colonies for Jews that are residents of Russia and Romania, was divided into two articles. One article presented the views about of the idea itself, and the second included the means by which the desirable objective could be achieved. The author of the (latter) proposal did not only disprove all the accusations placed on the Jewish nation by its own scholars and distinguished people that “the Jews are not capable, do not want to burden themselves with physical work,

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and therefore, should remain in their current position within the political society, namely, in their current occupations of merchants, speculators, moneylenders, shopkeepers and peddlers,” but also proved that this claim is based on national slander, and is false. He would prove that the opposite is true–that the Jews are longing to work the land, an occupation that sustains its holder in a much better way than the mediocre commerce occupation, which depresses body and soul. To popularize the idea among the masses, the author proposed establishing a committee, representing all the nation's parties, which would be responsible for planting the idea in the people's hearts, using pamphlets, journal articles and similar tools. In conclusion, the author urged the committee to recognize the fact that this exalted enterprise would bring much–needed salvation to many.

In the second part of the proposal, which was formulated in good taste and knowledge, the author explained the path about the source of the money required for this project. To begin this enterprise, the first thing the organization would need to do is find a budget for 10,000 families, of 5 people each. The organization must purchase 20 disiyatins and 400 Rubles in cash per family that were needed for procuring all the needs of the settlement. The cost of the 20 disiyatins along with the 400 Rubles totaled one thousand Rubles, which would be paid off during fifty years without interest. The payments would be divided in such a way that it would be easy for the farmers to pay them on time. During the first ten years, the colonists would be exempt from any payments. During the second decade, the family would pay 6 Rubles per year, during the third decade – 12 Rubles per year, during the fourth decade – 28 Rubles per year and during the fifth decade – 54 Rubles per year; altogether, 1000 Rubles in fifty years.

As the source of money, the proposal's author suggested that the organization establish a tax on candles among the Jews in Russia[2] and Romania. The tax would amount to 50 kopecks per person per year. The tax would be instituted in the big cities by the leaders of the communities, and in the small cities and towns by the rabbis. Two officials, one from the government and one from among the Jews, would be nominated to oversee the orderly collection of the tax and the transfer of the money to the committee. Since the number of Jews in Russia and Romania exceeded 3 million people, the tax should bring 1.5 million Rubles per year. Even after deducting 15% for expenses, wages of the collectors and unpaid debts, 275,000 Rubles would be left. This sum could be used by the organization as a base for budget expenses.

The Russian government demonstrated that it was ready to support and entice those Jews who want to adopt the idea of settlement. Therefore, there is no doubt that the committee would be able to purchase from the government an area of 200,000 disiyatins [about 540,000 acres], with a fertile and rich soil in the northern and southern provinces at a price of 20-30 Rubles on the condition that the debt would be paid off

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in payments over 25 years. The debt that the organization would owe the government would be paid off by one of the big banks abroad. Alternatively, the organization could sign a contract with one of the huge banks and would award it a quarter percent a year toward its involvement, if the bank would agree to handle the government account for 25 years, guarantee the debt, and pay the promissory notes of the organization to the government amounting to 240,000 Rubles a year. The organization could also receive a license from the government to issue bonds (debentures stocks) over the debt for the 200,000 disiyatins, with the guarantee of the organization. There is no doubt that these notes would sell at a price higher their nominal value, because among their members were included Europe's wealthiest people, such Rothschild, Hirsch and Bleichroeder. It is a commitment that any Jew who loves his nation would take on oneself to recruit people who would be willing to hold on to the tree of life of working the land, and send them to the organization's office in Paris, so that the organization would be prompted to assist in this big and admirable project. We are confident that if every Jew would support this proposal, it would be realized, and everybody who has a heart would recognize the vast benefit that this proposal offers.

Signed–Nakhum Sokolov

This plan, which was directed towards the settlement in Russia, was published at the end of the 1870's. However, during those days, and particularly after the murder of Czar Alexander the Second, it was like a voice calling in the wilderness.

In 1880, the ORT[3] organization was established in Petersburg. The organization's mission was to promote craftsmanship and agriculture among the Jews in Russia. Its range of activities included: assistance in the establishment and maintenance of workshops, and agricultural farms, maintaining a fund for low–cost credit and assistance in purchasing materials, equipment and lands. This organization was very active in Russia, particularly in the establishment of workshops for educating youth and adults (after World War I, it continued to be active in Poland, the Baltic States and in Soviet Russia. After 1950, it expanded its activities in Israel).

In the beginning of the 1880's, several authors, such as L. Pinsker, Lilienblum and others rose and laid down the foundation for the movement of Khibat Tzion [literally “The Love of Zion”, the precursor of the Zionist movement]. With the establishment of the movement, several idealistic youths roused and created the movement of BILU [acronym in Hebrew, based on a verse from the Book of Isaiah (2:5)]–“Beit Ya'akov Lekhu Venelkha” [“House of Jacob, let us go (up) to Eretz Israel"]). The movement's mission was to promote the idea of working the land, however, only in Eretz Israel.

At about the same time (1881), the nucleus for the movement “Am Olam” [literally in Hebrew “Eternal People”] formed in Odessa. Its founders saw in working the land, a way to recuperate the sole of the nation. Because of the turbid atmosphere that prevailed in Russia during those days, the people of “Am Olam” concluded that their idea could only be achieved in free America, with its vast areas and big opportunities. Some of these people even dreamt about an independent Jewish state (in the US).

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The founder of this movement was the teacher by the name of Mania Bokal, who lived close to Ochakov near Odessa. Another teacher, Moshe Herder, who was a private teacher for boys from wealthy homes in Ochakov joined him later. Moshe Herder knew German, and he wrote poems in Yiddish and Hebrew. Shneor Ballia, a mathematics teacher at the Jewish high school in Odessa, where Lilienblum was teaching literature and Bible, joined the other two founders. The basic idea of the three founders was to turn the Jewish masses into farmers.

After verbal and written propaganda–the idea spread throughout Odessa and many other towns. Merchants, craftsmen and students joined the movement. In 1882, they sailed to America in six groups; however, in America the true reality hit them in the face. Although land was cheap in those days, settlements required substantial investments. The land was arid, partially forested, and required betterment and flattening. There were no houses, farm buildings, farm animals or equipment. The money, which these people had, was mostly used for the trip's expenses, and there was almost nothing left for the establishment of the farms. The settlements, which were established with the assistance of philanthropists, struggled with the extremely harsh conditions, and several years later, people started to abandon and escape to the city, until the whole movement was liquidated.

In addition to the two movements mentioned above, another settlement enterprise was established by Baron Hirsch in Argentina, who invested many millions in it. He purchased huge land areas, provided farm buildings, equipment, and everything else that was needed. He also financed the costs associated with the immigration from Russia to Argentina. Had the ideological awakening of the 1880's occurred several decades earlier, thousands of Jewish villages could have been established with many hundreds of thousands of people working the land. However, it should be noted that this late awakening did help in encouraging and modernizing the existing settlement, which ceased to be isolated and began to be assisted by training and other means.

Author's Notes

  1. Copy from “The Israelite Archive” Return
  2. The author of the proposal, from France, was not aware that in Russia there was already a candle tax imposed earlier. Return
  3. ORT (Today called “World ORT”) (Russian: Obchestvo Remeslenogo Truda, “Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades”) is a global Jewish organization that today promotes education and training in communities worldwide. Return

The Settlement Movement at a Turning Point

Even before the pogroms of the 1880's reached their peak, hundreds of families were ousted from their farms in the 1870's as a punishment for their “negligence”. Immediately after that came the pogroms in the four settlements. At that point, the authorities in Petersburg hesitated to bestow on the Jewish settlers the same benefits that were included in the clauses of the general regulation, according to which government land would be transferred over to the farmers and would be registered as their own private property. In connection with that matter, it is interesting to bring some of the views expressed by the Provincial Minister Tikhayev:

“The experience acquired over decades of settlement proved that the Jew does not tend to earn his living by the hard work of farming”.

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“More than 130 thousands disiyatins of land were wasted over decades without productivity and fruitfulness, and that is besides the huge investment provided to the needs of the Jews”.

“Throughout the entire Russia, there isn't even one village that was granted such a generous assistance for food or even for the building of bath houses, like the assistance granted to the Jewish villages. These grants were not kept secret among the Christian farmers, and they give rise to unfavorable feelings towards the Jews…”

“…handing the lands to the Jews as their own private property, would lead to a situation where every Jew would use its ownership over the land to lease the land and invest the money in a much more profitable business”.

“The [Jewish] settlements should have been established on the basis of fewer losses for the government and less provocation to the Christian farmers”.

Tikhayev also proposed to reduce the size of the plot given to every Jewish family. Instead of 30 disiyatins, he proposed to settle for just 20. He also proposed to use a regulation that was legislated 30 years earlier, that every farmer who did not reach a certain level within six years would be ousted from his land.

These views fitted the state of mind in Petersburg in the 1880's.

During those days, the Jewish settlement faced a turning point.

As a result of the prohibition on purchasing lands, the expulsion of “negligent” farmers from their farms, the pogroms and in addition, the calamities of nature, there was room to fear that the Jewish agricultural sector would degenerate until it would completely disappear. However, precisely during the years of decrees, the agriculture started to gain currency and conquer hearts among the Jewish public. The tavern lessees and the bartenders in villages, inn owners and small shopkeepers, peddlers, tailors and shoemakers, all of whom were perceived by the country citizens as parasites and cheats, became a community of Jewish farmers, albeit scattered around in secluded colonies that were surrounded by hundreds of Russian villages, or were isolated Jewish farmers in Christian villages, but they constituted a tribe, with a uniquely defined and distinguished way of life.

Undoubtedly, a principal and important factor in the process of the strengthening of the Jewish settlement was the economic despair, which prevailed in the cities within the “Pale of Settlement”. However, we should note that the process occurred during the 1880's and the 1890's, decades after the expulsion from the villages, and the regulation about the compulsive recruitment. Following the negative turn in the attitude of the regime, it was not very difficult for the Jewish farmers to sell their belonging and move to the city. If instead of abandonments, we witnessed a determined strive for improvements and modernizations, it is because the settlers became farmers. The members of the second and the third generations were already acclimated to fieldwork, and they liked the life in the village. Thanks to them, the farm operated more efficiently, and as a result, more profitably. The rickety house was fixed, and enlarged and the food basket enriched. Even the hard work eased with the improvements in equipment and farm animals.

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The way of life in the colony was Jewish in the full sense of the word. Every colony had its rabbi, slaughterer, synagogue, public bath, Torah schools and schools where they taught Russian and general studies. The youth had plenty of books in Russian and Yiddish. The control of government's guardian authority has weakened. The farmers became more independent and the life of the community was more autonomous. The heads of the villages were elected in general elections; even the external appearance of the colonies had improved.

The progress in the colonies of Kherson, Ekaterinoslav, Bessarabia and the western provinces made its impression on the small shopkeeper who struggled to sustain himself, and had to stand in his shop, from dawn till very late in the evening, and wait for a customer. It downed on him that Jews can sustain themselves by working the land and make a good living, without being dependent on anybody.

It must be mentioned that, at about the same time, a railroad had already been constructed along the major lines, and a Lithuanian Jew did not have to wander for three months in the prairies, to arrive to Kherson or Bessarabia. Many visited the colonies and witnessed, with their own eyes, the life of real Jewish farmers.

Not everybody, who was fascinated by agriculture, could purchase or lease land. However, Jews found ways to lease some disyaitins using the name of a Christian, and to grow tobacco, a vegetable patch or raise a cattle herd.

In years past, the wealthy Jewish house owners, who wore silk caftans, treated labor, craftsmanship and physical laborers with disdain. A few classes existed in the Jewish towns: the Supremes, superiors, high, average, less than average, low and lowest of the low.

On the ladder of society stood, from top to bottom–the rich, the wealthy, the affluent, the landlord, the small shopkeeper, the peddler and obviously the servants, who were classified according to their occupations. Following them were the goldsmith and the watchmaker whose status was higher than that of the carpenter. In turn, he was more “distinguished” than the tailor who was, in turn, on a higher status than the shoemaker. The blacksmith, who was shoeing the horses and the cart driver stood almost on the lowest level. However, even they were higher than the porters, and the daily hired laborers. There were almost no farmers. The status of the Jewish farmer who lived in the village was measured by the size of the plot he owned and by the size of his contribution to the synagogue. Their status would have been boosted if he, or his wife, had an uncle in their family who was a slaughterer or a “dayan” [a rabbi serving as a religious judge], or perhaps a cousin who was a shopkeeper in the towns' market.

Under that atmosphere, in 1880's, prominent authors began to put the physical labor and craftsmanship on the pedestal. They also began to remind everybody that our ancestors were shepherds, winegrowers, yeomen. Students abandoned their studies and “made Aliya” to Eretz Israel to work the land. Jews dissolved their businesses and registered in associations such as “Am Olam” to wander away to the far America and settle there as farmers.

Beside “Khibat Tzion”, “Am Olam”, and Baron Hirsch's organization, there were other prominent people and other leaders who sought

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to operate among the five million Russian Jews, develop craftsmanship skills among them, expand the number of farmers and ease the economic struggle by providing constructive assistance. There were agronomists among them, who understood that the Jewish farmer would only thrive and would be attached to his land and work, if he would modernize his farm, establish a cycle of seeds, plant vines of fine breed and introduce machinery. Agronomist instructors were needed for that, and therefore there was a need for research farms, farming schools and cheap credit for the agriculturalists.

The Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) [established by Baron Hirsch in 1891] instituted a “Central Committee in Petersburg” who accepted the responsibility for developing productive occupation skills among Russian Jews and help immigrants abroad.

The Census of 1898–9

The JCA's “Petersburg's Committee” excelled, from the start, in exercising social awareness without being bureaucratic like the JCA's enterprises in Argentina, and the officialdom acting on its behalf at the initial steps in establishing the colonies Eretz Israel.

In this committee and around it have assembled several notable people, such as Baron A. Ginsburg, Dr. Y. L. Katznelson (the real name of the author “Buki ben Yogli”), L. Bramson, O. Gruzenberg, M. Winover and H. Sliozberg. Attached to the committee was established an “Agricultural Society,” which organized a sort of “conference” of the Jewish agronomists. They numbered less than a minyan [10 people]; however, they were all devoted to the idea of spreading the agricultural vision among the Jews. Among them were: Akiva Ettinger (who became manager of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency after the First World War); B. D. Brutzkus, an agricultural economist, who was one of the managers of JCA in Russia (and a professor of agricultural economics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1938); Z. Bertenzon, who held a high-ranking position in the [Russian] agricultural ministry; Y. Krasolshchik, who managed, on behalf of the Russian government, the fight against the phylloxera infection that spread in the vineries in Bessarabia; M. Weller, who worked in the zemstvo [elected provincial authority]; Sh. Lubarski and Z. Bronin, who also worked in the zemstvo and who were appointed later on to manage the improvement projects in the colonies and the agricultural school that was established by the agricultural ministry for the youth of the colonies in the colony of Novo-Poltavka as a result of Bertenzon's efforts.

The first step that the agronomists took was to conduct a census among the Jewish agricultural population. For that purpose, they traveled in horse-drawn wagons from one colony to the other, and sat down, face to face, with the farmers in their location, filled questionnaires and talked to them. During these visits the census-takers expressed their opinions and views about the seeds cycle, about an advanced plow, fine varieties of fruit trees, and preservation methods. They also listened to the farmers about their problems, such as shortage of land, cattle disease, availability of loans based on the harvest, etc. This was the first contact between the JCA and the Jewish farmers.

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The census lasted for two years (1898–9). According to it, and based on other reliable sources about the agricultural sector, the following numbers were found:

Location Colonies Families People
Kherson province 21 3,187 18,802
Ekaterinoslav 17 1,416 8,399
Grodno, Mohilev 62   13,406
Minsk, Kiev, Vohlyn,
Podolia and Chernigov
61   12,184
Vilna and Kovno 23   2,113
Bessarabia 6   5,158
  26 Tobacco colonies 1,068
  8 winegrowing colonies 1,068
10 provinces of Poland   2,509 ~15,054
Total     78, 325

The total area cultivated by the Jews was close to 115 thousands disiyatins [about 310,500 acres].

During the general population census of 1897, 40,611 heads of household were registered as being occupied in agriculture, consisting of 192,721 people.

The difference between the two censuses is explained by the fact that city wagon drivers, forest wood cutter contractors, as well as their clerks and laborers were registered as agriculturalists in the general census. Against that, about 2,000 city people who were occupied in one specific agriculture occupation on tiny areas, such as tobacco and vegetables growers, milkmen, winegrowers and beekeepers were registered as agriculturalists in the agronomists' census.

The following are the numbers about “agriculturalists of a single sector” who were counted by the “Petersburg's committee” of JCA with the help of agents, in all the provinces

Sector People
Vegetables and fruits 11,299
Milk 7,454
Tobacco (including tobacco growers in Bessarabia) 1,695
Winegrowers (including winegrowers in Bessarabia) 780
Beekeepers 200
Other agricultural sectors 93
Total 21,521

If we assume that for every worker in a family, there were two additional people who were not workers (children, elderly), we have 64,656 people whose sustenance was dependent on agriculture.

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Besides all of these people, about 12,000 Jewish agricultural laborers were occupied by others, mainly in the beet fields, sugar plantations and seasonal work. If we combine all these numbers, we arrive towards the end of the 19th century at about 150,000 Jewish people who were dependent on agriculture for their living.

The census of the “Agricultural Sector” performed by JCA divided the farmers according to their type of their work:

Sector People
Sowing the fields and cultivation of field corps 51,539
Special agricultural sectors 64,563
Hired agricultural workers 12,901
Total 148,933

According to the general census of 1897, the Jews who were occupied in agriculture amounted to 3.81% of the total Jewish population in Russia, and according to the statistics produced by the census takers of JCA, 3% of the total Jewish population were agriculturalists.

Estate Owners and Lessees

Even before the “Jewish Regulations” of 1804, by which the Jews were given the permission to settle on government land and were provided with the loans to procure farm equipment, were enacted, Jews used to purchase land permanently or lease it.

The “Jewish Regulations” of 1804, and the rest of the regulations dealing with Jewish settlement during the entire 19th century, encouraged the purchasing and leasing of lands by Jews, except the regulations of 3 May 1882. That meant that the Jews could purchase estates, the farmers of which were practically enslaved by the estate owners.

Despite those rights, wealthy Jews were not in a rush to purchase estates. Industrial and commercial businesses were more profitable, and ensured the right of residing in large cities, where Jews were otherwise not allowed to reside.

Under the effect of the decree enforcing a compulsory service for 25 years or longer, or perhaps also due to a certain awakening, middle-income Jews started to organize and purchase together an estate or a plot, divide the land among themselves, build houses and establish an agricultural settlement.

In the early 1860s, many wealthy Jews began to acquire estates by purchasing them permanently, or by leasing them for a long duration. Some were satisfied with cultivating the plots agriculturally and others used the land for industrial and manufacturing development.

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In 1864, as mentioned, a law was passed that forbade the Jews from buying lands from farmers and estate owners, in the nine most populated western provinces. Because the law was in not in effect in the other provinces, Jews continued to purchase and lease estates in other provinces with more favorable conditions. From 1860, easements were given to the Jews in the ten provinces of Congressional Poland [established after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 replacing the Duchy of Warsaw].

The laws of 3 May 1882, did not include the provinces of Congressional Poland. Only during 1891, purchasing land from farmers was restricted. However, purchasing estates from estate owners was not restricted.

Purchasing an estate involved in a financial investment that only the rich could afford. However, people who were not that rich could afford leasing. Thus, the number of leased estates was higher than the number of estates that were permanently purchased.

The laws of May 1882, erased that status quo. The purchased areas remained the property of those Jews who owned them. However, the prohibition led to a stoppage of purchasing or leasing of lands by Jews, neither owning a plot of a single disiyatin for growing tobacco nor leasing an estate of a few-thousand disiyatins.

We do not have accurate numbers of the areas leased by Jews before the enactment of the law of 3 May 1882, but we do have numbers about the leased lands in the 12 provinces. As of that date the total was 1,998,658 disiyatins (i.e., close to two million disiyatins [about 5,400,000 acres]). It is logical to assume that the land areas that were leased in the other provinces were also substantial.

After the passage of the law, Jews had to finesse the authorities to continue to lease lands, although on a limited basis. Leasing was done by naming a devout Christian on the lease, who agreed to do it in exchange for a “certain gain” out of the deal. The officialdom was obviously also bribed. Bypassing the laws was common during the regime of those days in Russia. It followed the old Russian proverb: “Nothing is impossible in Russia”.

The amazing thing about this state of affairs was the fact the most of the estates that were leased to the Jews were owned by ministers, provincial ministers and other prominent [Russian] notables. They were themselves, in most cases, Jew-haters, but they considered “their own Jew” as an exception to the rule, or their two or three “trusted Jews, as “nice”. The noble would sell his estates' harvest through “his trusted Jew”, at high prices, and purchase everything that was needed for his estates and his home at reasonable prices. All kinds of members of the nobility and other “paritizim” [wealthy estate owners] have also exploited their “trusted Jew” who was considered in their eyes as the most clever and wise among the Jews. This custom also continued during the reactionary years. When a member of the nobility wished to lease an estate, he would use “his Jew” or the “Jew of his friend” to achieve the most favorable conditions. The need to find a Christian, in the name of whom the contract was written, was not always necessary. The word of a prince, or a Graf had more weight than the law.

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It is also self-explanatory the fact that a Jewish lessee would be able to manage the estate without any interference. The governor sitting in the provincial city, a Chief of Police sitting in the province capital, or the local officialdom, all knew that the estate, which was leased by a certain Jew, was owned by a certain minister, or by somebody who was once a minister and was, at the time, a candidate to be nominated to a higher position. Any harm brought upon the Jew would be considered as “harming his majesty”. However, the sponsorship of the estate owner did not prevent the officials from requesting a higher bribe as well as gifts—left and right. When there was a will, or when the need came to shove, they did use the law with all of its severity. However, all Russian laws were subordinated to the “law of life” that stated that “nothing is impossible in Russia”.

“The law of life” was so prevalent in the regime, that the areas leased by Jews were registered by the regime's official statistics, and in the statistics published by the JCA during the last few years of the 19th century. These numbers were not very accurate, because many of the lessees were hiding the facts about their lease for fear of harmful consequences; however, they were registered in the government registries, which were published without any fear.

Under Signs of Wealth and Progress

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish settlement in Russia experienced additional progress. The Jewish farmer felt that he has been entrenched in the village way of life. His sons, too, grew, became rooted in the land, and began to assist him with the farm work and a new spirit of initiative and progress descended over the public of the Jewish farmers in the colonies.

Already in last quarter of the 19th century, progress has begun in agricultural work in Russia, but only in the big estates, where machinery, new equipment and modern methods were introduced, similar to the ones that were being used in the western countries. The German settlers were already cultivating their land using equipment that was more convenient and utilizing more efficient farming methods. The Russian farmers continued to use their ancestors' methods. The Jews, who initially considered the Russian farmer as a symbol and model, imitated him. However, as mentioned above, the expenses of the Jewish farmer were one third higher than the expenses of the Russian farmer, although their revenues were similar. Therefore, the Jew had to complement his income from external sources, or by modernizing the farm sectors, in order to substantially increase his profitability.

Already during the first meeting between the Jewish farmers and the agronomists, who conducted the JCA census in 1898-9, the visitors did not settle for just filling the questionnaire, and registering the numbers. The first Jewish agronomists who were idealistic and enthusiastic, found it necessary to use every opportunity to explain the efficiency involved in using the seeds cycle, the dangers hidden in the crops' blight diseases, the pitfalls of the grape phylloxera disease, and the value of

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agricultural machinery, which saves manpower, reduces expenses and produces higher yields.

To introduce an efficient seeds cycle, a general agreement of the entire colony was required in order to sow a certain type of crop in a certain area. In order to fertilize a certain field every year, the cattle sector had to have a minimum number of cattle. That meant, that additional cows had to be purchased at times, where the money might not have been available. Investment was required to replace the sowing by hand with a sowing machine, and the sickle with a harvesting machine. The problem with the farmer's cash cycle was also a serious problem. The sale of the fields' crops occurred at the end of the summer, while for the rest of the year, the farmer was getting entangled in debts with the grocer, the craftsmen and the moneylenders. The farmers also hesitated to get involved in new methods due to the shortage in guidance and guides. In general, by nature, a farmer was not inclined to drastic changes in his way of life.

The establishment of the JCA who took action in the colonies, helped to turn matters around in the agricultural methods used by the Jews in those days. As mentioned in the prior section, one of these actions was the establishment of a farm school where hundreds of [Jewish] youngsters were trained in various branches of agriculture, in both theory and practice of modern agricultural methods. These youngsters, upon return to their farms, introduced improvements, and some of the graduates became guides in the Jewish colonies.

Because of the state of transportation in those days, the task of an agronomist was not easy. He had to visit colonies, the distances between which were quite substantial, and meet with farmers who were conservative and fearful of changes. However, the agronomists insisted in implementing the improvements, no matter what. Indeed, over time, due to the positive results, improvements, corrections and changes were introduced, even in the farms of the most conservative farmers.

JCA established a “credit fund” in the colonies, so that the farmers would not have to pay high interest on their loans. Any farmer, who wished to take a loan, received it with favorable conditions. Since the Russian “Zemstvo” operated along the direction of training, farm schools, introduction of machinery and agricultural equipment in villages throughout Russia, a certain collaboration was established between the state's Zemstvo and the Jewish organization JCA.

Throughout the years of JCA operation in the Jewish colonies, from the beginning of century until the revolution, the organization invested in development, training and the rest of its operation, about two million francs.

Among the colonies of Kherson and Ekaterinoslav, wealth also spread because of the redistribution of the land. Out of the 40 disiyatins, allocated to every family at the start of the settlement, 30 disiyatins were handed to each settler for cultivation, and 10 were kept as future reserves. That meant that 25% of the colonies' land areas (which were called in Russian “Ubruchni uchastock” [Обручнц учасмок] (“restricted plots”]) were outside of the direct control of the farmer. The Guardian Bureau leased them to anybody. The leasing income was spent to cover the expenses for the local officialdom, assistance and welfare during drought years and other public expenses. The 30 disiyatins allocated to each family, were divided among the heirs, members of the next

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first generation, and after them to the heirs of the second and third generations. If the heirs were just a few, the plots they inherited were relatively large. However, if the number of heirs was large, the plots were split into smaller plots. During the 3–4 generations, a situation of inequality in the plot areas developed. Some of the farmers, who came from families with a small number of children owned plots of 10 disiyatins or larger, whereas others who came from large families owned plots as small as 2-3 disiyatins or even smaller.

In addition to redistribution of the land, another successful action was to redistribute the reserve areas. In the summer of 1902, every colony received a 25% increase in the area owned by every male.

During the same period, another positive change took place. The special governmental supervision of the colonies of Kherson and Ekaterinoslav that was in place for decades was removed. From that point onwards, the farmers were free to manage their farms as they wished, and were also free the leave the colony and visit the cities without a special license. The farmers who specialized in a certain craftsmanship, could leave the colony during the winter months when the field work ceased, and work in their craftsmanship in the neighboring villages or the big cities.

Every colony was managed by its own elected officials. As was the custom during those days, the head of the colony (the “Schultz”), was also the judge and the representative responsible towards the authorities. He was also the person responsible for implementing the authorities' instructions within the colony. In addition to the head of the village, two additional people were elected for the management of each colony. The general assembly of the village would gather to decide major decisions on important matters.

As mentioned, the settlement process lasted for quite a few years, and there was no shortage of errors and disappointments; however, the more years passed, the more improvements were made in the state of the Jewish farmers. Despite of the fact that they were scattered throughout Russia, and were not organized among themselves, they constituted a unique tribe of Jewish farmers, rooted on their land. This phenomenon of diligent Jews who were working the land, proved to the Christians, again, that their view about the inability of the Jews to be acclimated to agriculture–was wrong.

In the Days of the World War and Russian Revolution

With the start of the World War, the best of the youth was recruited for the war effort. Like in other villages, the colonies were emptied out of youth and of their main workforce. From time to time, the farmers were forced to transport military forces and equipment to the front. Horses were used for long distance transport. Elderly men above the maximum recruitment age and young boys served as the wagon drivers. Both the elderly and the young boys became the

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main workers in the farm during the war years. Recruitment of these groups and their horses led to some neglect in various farm works.

We do not have numbers on the effects of the war on the Jewish settlement in the western provinces; however, we do know, that the population in the colonies of Kherson and Ekaterinoslav, which totaled 42 thousand people just before the war, decreased by about a third during the war. Some of the houses were destroyed and the animal inventory declined as well.

At the end of the war, when the soldiers returned home, the civil war between the Bolsheviks and the White Army began. Anarchy descended on the state affairs. Gangs of thugs got organized with the intention of murdering Jews and robbing them.

Pogroms erupted in thousands of cities, towns and villages, throughout the provinces of Ukraine and Belarus. Jews who survived in the villages, abandoned their houses and everything they owned and ran away to the big cities. In some towns, most of the Jewish population was murdered. The Jewish population in the “Pale of Settlement” was defenseless against the robbers and thugs. Ten of thousands Ukrainian Jews were murdered and their property robbed during 1918–1920, the years of the civil war calamity.

The fate of the lone Jews who resided within Christian villages, or in small settlements adjacent to the villages, was similar to the fate of the rest of the village Jews. Those who survived, abandoned their homes and properties and ran away to the cities. Some of the bigger colonies, which were surrounded by tens of Christian villages, were destroyed. The Christian farmers collaborated with the gangs, robbed, murdered, raped and destroyed everything that could be destroyed.

We do not have exact numbers, which could reflect the extent of the destruction and devastation among the Jewish farmers, and we will, therefore, only bring some stories from the little we know about it.

In the colony of Kauzschitz, in the Pinsk Province, district of Bobruisk, all of the 500 residents were slaughtered.

The settlements in the province of Ekaterinoslav were located at the center of activity of gangs of the anarchist Batko Makhno. Almost all of Ekaterinoslav suffered from this gangs' attacks. All of the members of settlements of Trudolyubovka and Nechayevka —1000 people in total—were murdered. Their entire property was robbed, and no Jewish foot ever stepped on that land after that.

In most of the settlements of the province Kherson, a self-defense force was established, which was very efficient, and prevented many attacks and destruction. However, the self-defense could not defend against the torrent of the thugs in some of the colonies. In the large colony of Novo-Poltavka, 132 people were murdered by the thugs of Makhno, despite the heroic standing of the self-defense force. Many victims fell in the colony of Dobroye and the residents were forced to abandon the colony for some time. The Jewish farmers in the provinces that have been cut off from Russia and joined

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the neighboring countries [after the World War], were saved from extinction. In the District of Bessarabia, which was attached to Romania, the winegrowers, tobacco growers and the rest of the farmers continued with their agricultural work.

Poland, which was reestablished as a state, conquered the 10 provinces in the areas of Congressional Poland and annexed the provinces of Vilna, Grodno, Pinsk and Vohlyn.

In Northern Russia, the states of Lithuania and Latvia returned to life.

Out of the 200,000 Jewish farmers just before World War I, only 44,000 remained in the areas of Russia and Ukraine (including Kherson and Ekaterinoslav, and excluding the areas mentioned above) and 9000 in Belarus and other provinces, altogether 530,000 people.

At the end of the Civil War, the Soviet regime took hold throughout Russia; however, the hatred for the Jews still permeated in the Christian villages. Many of the escapees did not return. The colonies that were saved from under the murderers' sword faced distraction, neglect and economic distress.

The official statistical data reflects the state of the colonies and the Jewish farmers. Out of a total population of 42,000 people at the beginning of World War I, only 28,000 people remained according to the 1922 census. Only 3,000 workhorses remained in the colonies out of 14,000 that were there before the war. The number of cows decreased from 16,000 before the war to 4,000, i.e. less than 31%. In Ekaterinoslav's colonies, only 630 cows remained out of the 4,000 before the war. That was less than 15%. Because of the shortage in workhorses and other inventory that deteriorated because it was standing idle, or was otherwise sold during the years of distress, the sowed areas shrunk by 20% in Kherson's colonies, and one third in the colonies Ekaterinoslav.

During the same year, a severe drought hit again the regions of Ekaterinoslav, Kherson and neighboring regions. While in Kherson the farmers managed to save some of the crops, in Ekaterinoslav, not even one seed was harvested. The farmers sold whatever could still be sold for a piece of bread. Some ran away to the cities and some died of hunger.

The farms and the houses were neglected and shortage prevailed everywhere. There was shortage in work animals, cows and equipment. This was the beginning of the agony of the Jewish agriculture. It seemed that the community of Jewish agriculturalists was facing total decimation. However, economic and political factors helped again to create an environment favorable for the renewal of the Jewish hold on agriculture.

With the entrenchment of the Soviet regime in the years 1919-20, the authorities started to implement the Communist system consistently and systematically. A total prohibition over private commerce and industry was imposed. Private property was confiscated. The principal sufferers were the Jews, who lost their livelihood, as many of them were mainly involved in commerce. The Jewish population degenerated. Under the circumstances, a barter commerce between the city Jews and the farmers started to flourish.

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A pod of potatoes could fetch an expensive holiday-dress, a pod of flour—perhaps a coat or a fur. The city Jews unloaded their Shabbat clothing, silverware and nice furniture. Hunger took hold among those who did not own luxury items, or those who were robbed by robbers. Even the Christian population, who were dealing in commerce or in governmental jobs, were gripped by economic distress. Among the Christians, many abandoned their homes in the city and moved temporarily to the neighboring villages, where food items could be purchased much below the exaggerated city prices. These people occupied themselves with fishing, hunting and the gathering of forest berries. However, the Jews who previously resided in the villages did not return there. After all, the villages' farmers collaborated with the gangs in murdering their Jews in their villages and in the neighboring towns.

In this state of shortage and real hunger, some people with initiative among the Jews looked for ways to get hold of a piece of land and make a living by cultivating it.

This phenomenon of the influx of Jews from the city to agriculture, was encouraged by the Soviet government officials. Along with their hostile attitude toward small businesses and merchants, they were bothered by the question as to how would millions of “unproductive” citizens find a way to sustain themselves. That was why the government perceived favorably the members of those classes who wanted to transfer to doing productive work.

The agrarian plan was not yet developed in details, during the first few years after the revolution. If there was already a decision made, about the enforcement of collective agriculture, the time was not yet ripen for implementation. However, when the lands were handed over to Jewish settlers, it was hinted to them that the government would treat collectives more favorably. Presumably, a substantial part of the youth who were awaken to the idea of working the land, looked at the issue of collective work, as a positive idea in itself. That was how the initiative to collective organization, necessitated by distress and hunger, helped by the availability of lands, and fortified by the positive attitude of the government began to take roots among the Jews. According to a hint from the high authorities, or perhaps due to lack of capabilities, most of the collectives of that period consisted only of 10–15 families. During a very short period, about 300 collectives totaling about 4000 families (21 thousand people), for whom thousands of additional disiyatins were allocated, have organized.

These collectives settled in the following regions:

Region Collectives Families Area

Belarus (provinces of Homel and Smolensk) 89 864 9,631
Ukraine 72 1331 4,126
Odessa area (including Kherson) 136 1750 20,211
Totals 297 3945 33,968

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In Belarus, where the civil war ended earlier, the Jews started to settle during the years 1918-19-20. In Odessa - they settle in 1921 and in Ukraine - as late as 1922.

As mentioned above, the government preferred the collective settlement. The Jewish Communists actually insisted on it. However due to the fact that there was no specific law that forbade it, opportunities for individual settlement were also provided, although the parcels allocated for them were smaller.

The following are the numbers available to us:

Region Families Total Area(disiyatins)
Belarus 864 total area of 3384 (about 4 disiyatins / family)
Ukraine 602 total area of 920 (about 1.5 disiyatins / family)
Odessa province 744 total area of 4371 (about 6.9 disiyatins / family)

According to these data it turns out that during the initial few years of the fortification of the new regime, 6,142 families settled on an area of 42,643 disiyatins. As we do not have detailed numbers about the settling of individuals in Ukraine, we probably would be correct to round these numbers to 6,500 families on a total area of 45,000 disiyatins.

Although the Russian government allocated land for the new settlers, it did not assist them with any budgets or loans. Most of the plots were without housing and farm buildings. Even in estate areas, the houses were destroyed and the surrounding's farmers robbed the farm inventory. New farm inventory (including live animals) was needed to cultivate the land, to buy seeds for sowing, and cash to sustain people and farm animals until the first harvest. Some of the settlers, who sold their houses and their remaining property, brought some money with them; however, most of the settlers were penniless.

The “Ort” organization, which was founded in Russia, as mentioned above, as early as 1890, came to the help of the new settlers. In Czarist Russia, the organization supported 82 learning institutions that taught craftsmanship to youth and adults. After the World War, during the revolution, the organization's management moved abroad. “Ort” supported the new settlers from donations it received from Jews from various countries. The organization helped the new settlers to buy farm inventories, seeds etc. and by providing loans with favorable conditions. However, that assistance was insufficient to establish a sound farm.

The “Joint”, a philanthropic association founded by American Jews, also provided substantial assistance to the distressed Russian Jews. Part of this assistance was provided to the new settlers as well. However, the state of the several thousand new settlers was very difficult. Due to the housing shortage, many families remained in the cities, and only the men worked in the farms. The new houses cabins were made of clay rather than real houses. The lack of expertise in building these houses affected the results.

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Initially, the collective work had some advantages. However, after a year or two, cracks started to appear in the collective way of life. In addition, the absence of a formal system and shortages in agricultural training and resources, affected the settlers negatively. The first wave of the settlers suffered from considerable abandonment. Only a few thousand families remained in agriculture.

The war and its calamities, the pogroms and the revolution shook the established colonies to their foundation, too, and their population was reduced by a third. Most of the youth left the farms. Some made Aliya to Eretz Israel, and some left for the US. There were also some who joined the Communists and turned to build the new life in Russia. The farms were devastated, and the agricultural Jewish center was nearly destroyed.

Despite all of that, the settlement in Kherson and Ekaterinoslav was not destroyed. It survived that crisis the way it survived other crises, mainly due the farming nature of its people. They recovered quickly from the blows, which they absorbed during the pogrom years, and started to cultivate their fields again and to restore their farms. They began to get accustomed to the new conditions, and to market their products, which now fetched higher prices. The colonies' farmers foresaw favorable opportunities for rebuilding and expansion despite of the difficult conditions. However, their main source of reinforcement came from the Jewish colonists which settled around them on the lands of the “paritzim” [estate owners]. The new farmers purchased the farms of those families who went abroad or the farms of the widows who could not cultivate their farms. Until 1925, 800 new families joined the existing colonies, and tens of Jewish collectives settled around them.

This was a beneficial reciprocal relation. The new settlers, who settled near the established colonies, acclimatized with the physical work and were absorbed faster than settlers in other areas, because they settled among “their own people”. They received agricultural training from the members of the established colonies, which they visited once and a while. Just as the new farmers benefited from the neighboring established colonies, the established settlement was invigorated by the sight of the hundreds of new settlers in the colonies. This was an important blood infusion, which helped in their survival. It encouraged them to introduce improvements and to continue in their physical-work way of life.

Author's Notes

  1. Copied from the archive of the [Jewish-Germen weekly] journal Der Israelit.
  2. The French proposal's author did not realize that the candle tax was already implemented in Russia, and was used to maintain various schools for the Jews.
  3. “Ort” is an acronym in Russian which means: “The organization to promote physical labor [and skill trades] among the Jews” .


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