This week's Yizkor book excerpt on the JewishGen Facebook page #lithuania #ukraine #yizkorbooks

Bruce Drake

In 1827 Nicholas I issued a statute making Jews in Russia liable to personal army service and canceling their prior privilege of providing money ransom instead of conscripts. Conscription often was tied in with the payment of taxes. If a family was late in paying their taxes, a family member could be conscripted. Even after this occurred, they would still owe the full amount of taxes. Prior to 1827, Jews in Russia were forbidden to serve in the military.

Yizkor books are replete with accounts of Jews who left the country to avoid conscription and about those who remained and pursued all sorts of stratagems ranging from disguising their names to finding ways to get rejected for medical and physical reasons.One story in my family said my great-grandfather from Kovel deserted the army where he was a drummer and came to the U.S. Hard to confirm, but I did note that he was assessed a tax by the Kovel County recruit office for 300 rubles the very year he left for America in 1904.

I have previously published a few of these accounts about Jews and Russian conscription, but have come across some new ones worth sharing. One is “The Recruit” from the Yizkor book of Vishnevets (Ukraine) which said that two of different means of avoiding the army included chopping off a thumb or pulling out all of one’s teeth. “Military Conscription is Likan” from the Yizkor book of that Moldavan shtetl said that one of the saddest seasons of the year was Fall which, aside from the foul weather, included the “bitter addition” of the Russian conscription which followed the High Holidays.

Conscription was so dread that there was a saying — Gekrogn a krasne bilet—iz gevezn porkhe-nishmose — which meant “He got a red ticket (draft notice) …”he almost died of fright. Or more simply a way of saying “He got bad news.”


Bruce Drake

Silver Spring, MD

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