Friday, December 16, 2005

Cantonists and the Pale of Settlement

For me, a crash course in Russian Jewish History:
Here is a NewTimes article on why Jewish children were forcibly inducted into the Russian army as Cantonists during Nicholas I reign:

Why would Nicholas I drive Jewish children into those schools? Not for a
stronger Russian army, not at all: Jews were considered too weak for army
service, cowardly and generally unreliable. It was just one of Nicholas’
extravagant ideas. He saw it as the simplest way to assimilation, more
accurately, christianization of the Jews. To make an adult Jew change his faith
seemed an absolutely impractical idea; but a child was a different matter.

That was Nicholas I for you- accordingly, "half of the twelve thousand anti-Jewish laws passed between 1649-1881 originated in his reign" (here).

Incidentally, The Jewish Magazine on why Russian Jews referred to Nicholas I as Haman the Second (after Haman of Purim).

I'm also learning more about how Nicholas I created the Pale of Settlement. As a Jew, you needed a passport (pic) to travel outside the area. Of course, Jews weren't the only ethnic group resettled by Russian authorities within the past two centuries. However,

Tsar Nicholas I created the Pale of Jewish Settlement in April 1835 ("The Pale
of...") --- a limited geographical area where Jews were mandated to live. The
Pale included Lithuania, Poland, the south-western provinces, and White Russia
with a few variations until its end in 1917 (Ritter). "The Pale was the single
most destructive legal burden borne by Russian Jewry, and one of the most
enduring," said Klier (5). Within the Pale, Jews were banned from most rural
areas and some cities (Ritter); they were prohibited from building synagogues
near churches and using Hebrew in official documents; barred from agriculture,
they earned a living as petty traders, middlemen, shopkeepers, peddlers, and
artisans, often working with women and children (Kniesmeyer and Brecher). After
1861, "the Pale became choked by a huge, pauperized mass of unskilled or
semiskilled Jewish laborers, whose economic condition steadily worsened," said
Klier (6). "Often repeated," said historian Shlomo Lambroza, "the official view
was that Jews were a parasitic element in the Russian Empire who lived off the
hard earned wages of the narod [people]" (219). (

This map is enlarged here. However, I like this clearer map showing relocation movements.

As a Jew, what a pogrom under Nicholas I (pic) might look like from a London newspaper.

A Jewish Virtual History Tour of Russia is worthwhile.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Russian tsar, Nicholas was evil, and deserved to be executed, he killed 100s outside his winter palace in 1905, ahnd 100s across the ciountry in executions, he lopst a war with ajapan, he killed loads there, he ignored poverty which saw russia have the lowest life expectancy in europe, asnd he killed a million cebntral asians in 1918, and 50000 volga germans, and 500000 german pows, and 50,000 jews, via his army in pogroms across ww1,

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other anonymous - you're mixing up your Tsars and thinking of Nicholas II.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Hels said...

I grew up steeped in socialism, Zionism and the Russian Revolution. So I am finding the entire topic fascinating.

Now ...the Pale of Settlement covered from 4% to 20% of European Russia (depending on which article you read), yet from the maps, the Pale looked large. Even if it excluded the important cities, the Pale still seemed to have extended across Russia, Ukraine and the important bits of Poland and Belorussia.

many thanks for the link
Art and Architecture, mainly

9:14 PM  

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