In 1894, when Czar Nicholas II ascended the Russian throne, the Jews were most hopeful that it would bode well for them. It was rumored that Nicholas had been chastised by his own father Czar Alexander III on account of his friendliness towards the Jews. Some even said that he had intended to marry a Jewish girl. As a result of these stories, at the very least, the Jews had visions of a sympathetic ruler who might relieve them of their suffering. Surely, he would be just and merciful.
History has revealed how unfounded these hopes turned out to be. The real suffering that the Jews experienced during his reign is well known to the world. Tragically, it was my misfortune, more than anyone elseís, to feel the weight of his royal wrath. Why I in particular should have been selected for this role is one of the secrets of Providence.
About a year after I had returned from my period of military service, I married and settled in Mezhigorye, a town about eight miles from Kiev. I found a position at a brick-kiln which belonged to my wifeís uncle. I lived a peaceful and uneventful life.
Some time later, I received a letter from a cousin of mine. He offered me the superintendentship of a brick-kiln that was about to be built. My cousin was the superintendent of a hospital for the poor in Kiev, and the patron benefactor of this hospital was a man by the name of Zaitzev, the famous magnate in the sugar industry. In order to establish a perpetual endowment for the hospital, Mr. Zaitzev decided to build a brick-kiln, the profits of which would go towards the maintenance of the hospital. Since my cousin was totally unfamiliar with the brick manufacturing business, he thought of me. I felt that such a position in Kiev would offer me better opportunity. Therefore, I accepted the position.
The factory, of which I became the overseer, was situated on the borderline between two city districts. One district was named Plossky and the other Lukianovsky. The Jews only had the right to reside in the Plossky district. Zaitzevís hospital and my cousinís residence were both located within the boundary of this district. However, the factory itself was located outside the Pale, which meant that Jews were forbidden to live there. It was only due to Zaitzevís influence that I, as a Jew, was permitted to live on such sacred ground. Since he was a merchant of what was known as the First Guild, Russian law permitted him to have a Jewish employee. Out of a population of ten thousand people that lived in the vicinity of the factory, I was the only Jew. In spite of this, I did not have any problems, even though about five hundred non-Jews worked in the factory.
My personal contact with the Russians in the area was very limited. My work was restricted to the office, where I was in charge of the selling and the shipping. I never experienced any difficulty with the Russians who lived in the neighborhood. There was only one exception, which occurred during the Revolution, in 1905. When a torrent of pogroms swept through every Jewish town, I also was in danger. However, the local Russian priest came to my rescue. He demanded that since I was the only Jew in the district, I should receive a special guard.
He showed me this kindness as a reward for a favor I had once done for him. The priest was the director of a local orphanage, and when it was being built, he had come to me and requested that I sell him bricks at a cheaper rate. I earned his gratitude by taking the matter up with Mr. Zaitzev, who finally agreed to sell him the bricks at a very low price.
There was also another reason for the priestís indebtedness to me. Some distance from our factory there was another one owned by a Russian named Shevtchenko. The most direct route to the district cemetery passed through the grounds of both these factories. When I first came to the town, the priest had asked me for permission to allow the various funeral processions to pass through the factory grounds. I consented to his request. When Shevtchenko was asked for permission to pass through his property, he refused. The priest often spoke of this incident to his fellow Russians, saying, ďYou see, the Christian did not give me permission, yet the Jew did.Ē
And thus I lived at the factory for about fifteen years, enjoying the advantages of living near a large city. For example, one of my boys was able to attend a government gymnasium. The younger ones attended the cheder, the religious school. It is true that it was quite a distance from the factory to the city, but what more could one ask? I thanked the Lord for what I had and was content with my life. After all, I had a secure, respectable position. Everything seemed to indicate that my future would be filled with peace and happiness. I expected to spend the rest of my days in contentment. Who could have known that the demon of destruction was dancing behind me, jeering at all my hopes and plans?
In 1911, I was plunged into a swirl of misfortune. Such misfortune I shall never forget, for it destroyed my life forever.
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