Mary Antin's autobiography- a source of info about military service in 19th c Russia #general

Toby Bird

Dear Genners: I have read with interest the inquiries and responses about issues
surrounding conscription of Jews in Russia. In Mary Antin's 1912 classic and
highly readable autobiography - The Promised Land - she discusses issues
surrounding conscription of Jews living in the Pale of Settlement. One of the
points she makes is that conditions were much bleaker under the rule of Nicholas I
(soldiers had to serve until they were 40), and less so under his successor,
Alexander (soldiers served only 4 years), though she gives plenty of evidence to
support the fact that Alexander was no friend of the Jews.

Antin was born in 1881 in Polotzk and emigrated as a young teenager to Boston.
Her memoir has been cited a number of times on this discussion list with reference
to her chapters on the immigration process and what her family's experience as
immigrants in the United States was like, but her first chapter called "Life in
the Pale" is equally informative. She discusses why it might have been especially
difficult for Jews to serve in the military and how they went about trying not to
serve. She describes bribery and self-inflicted wounds, citing examples >from her
family. It is hard to dismiss her accounts as myth - she was much closer to the
actual situations than we are.

Antin's autobiography has been digitized and can be found at

Toby Anne Bird, New York
other towns in Kovna gubernia

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