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Topic: How Historically Accurate is "Fiddler on the Roof"?  (Read 32184 times)
« on: May 20, 2008, 11:01:15 PM »
CorisCapnSkip Offline
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Hate to bring this up when a thread calling it a "silly goofy movie" was closed, but I don't suppose that was why.  The reason I bring it up now is that our theater group will be performing it this fall.  Auditions start in a couple of weeks.  Sources I can find don't even seem to give an exact date as to when it's supposed to take place.  Dates given range from 1894-1905, all of which time Nicholas II would have been Tzar, so in any case he's definitely the ruler referenced.  Did he really order Jewish people exiled from certain areas, did troops supposedly under his authority commit acts not authorized by him, or does no one know for certain?  Thanks for any information.
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Reply #1
« on: May 21, 2008, 05:30:10 AM »
historylover Offline
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The Jews were definitely persecuted in Russia then.  I think that 'Fiddler On The Roof' was quite accurate.
I can imagine that Cossacks would have broken up weddings like that and they were very fearsome.  I've read a lot about
that period, but not specifically about the Jews. 

There was also a famous book published at that time which turned people against the Jews.  Many Jews
were revolutionaries which the aristocracy and bourgeoisie would not like.

Best,
Lisa
www.bookaddiction.blogspot.com
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Reply #2
« on: May 21, 2008, 05:41:54 AM »
royaltybuff Offline
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"Fiddler on the Roof" was set during the reign of Nicholas II. There is a scene where the police officer who had befriended Tevia was being told that Pograms against the Jews were going to take place. In that scene there is a copy of Valentin Serov's portrait of Nicolas II on the wall.

Also of interest, close to the beginning of the movie a man asks the rabbi if there was a blessing for the Tsar. He said yes, "May the Lord keep the Tsar .....far away from us!" In another scene when Tevia's wife is in cahoots with the village matchmaker concerning a match for her oldest daughter, the matchmaker said the butcher had cast his eye on the daughter. When Golda asked if she were referring to her own daughter, the matchmaker said, "No! The Tsar's Tsietle (sp). Yes! Your Tsietle."
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Reply #3
« on: May 21, 2008, 05:45:25 AM »
halen Offline
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historylover is correct claiming that Jews were harshly persecuted in Imperial Russia. Here is a link to provide you with a better understanding of the treatment Jews received under the tsarist regimes of Alexander III and Nicholas II

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=247&letter=K

I highly recommend Isidore Singer's, Russia at the Bar of the American People and Told's, Judenmassacres in Kishinev. 

Good luck and have fun with your play.

Louise
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There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

When he shall die
Take him and cut him out into stars
And he shall make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
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« on: May 21, 2008, 07:22:57 PM »
Nadya_Arapov Offline
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The reason I bring it up now is that our theater group will be performing it this fall...Sources I can find don't even seem to give an exact date as to when it's supposed to take place.  Dates given range from 1894-1905, all of which time Nicholas II would have been Tzar, so in any case he's definitely the ruler referenced.  Did he really order Jewish people exiled from certain areas, did troops supposedly under his authority commit acts not authorized by him, or does no one know for certain?  Thanks for any information.

Yes, Jewish people were banned from living in many if not most areas of Russia both during Nicholas II's reign and the reign of his father Alexander II.

As for troops abusing Jews, yes, that happened too. Sadly, pogroms committed by both the Cossacks and civilians were not uncommon. Some were instigated by the government others were spontaneous and unauthorized.

Jewish residence was largely restricted to the Pale; a region which encompassed much of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Moldova, Ukraine, and parts of western Russia. Additionally, Jews were restricted from living in a number of cities within the Pale. Only a limited number of Jews were allowed to live outside the Pale.

Here is a map of the Pale:


Nicholas II’s father Alexander III took this one step further and instituted the May Laws on 15 May 1882.  These laws banned thousands of Jews from living in areas with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. In addition strict quotas were implemented limiting the number of Jews admitted to high schools and universities. Jews were also forbidden to practice certain professions. Within the Pale schools could have a student body that was no more than 10% Jewish. Outside of the Pale it could be no more than 5% Jewish and in Moscow and St. Petersburg the rules were even stricter and the quota was 3%.

In 1886, the Edict of Expulsion was applied to the Jews of Kiev. In 1891 the same thing occurred in Moscow. About 20,000 Jews in all were exiled that year from Moscow. Only a few Jews whose work made them indispensable were allowed to remain. In 1893-1894 the Crimea was declared to no longer be a part of the Pale and Jews were exiled from there, too.

As for pogroms, one of the most notorious pogroms, the Kishinev Pogrom, took place during the reign of Nicholas II.

On 6 April 1903, just after the Russian Easter celebration, a Christian boy, Michael Rybachenko, was found murdered in the town of Dubossary, 25 miles from what was then Kishinev (now Chişinău). Though it was later discovered that this child had been murdered by a relative, a Russian newspaper publisher named Pavel Krushevan claimed that he was murdered by Jews so that they could use his blood to make Matzo. As absurd as that claim seems today it caused a pogrom that encompassed not only Dubossary but the surrounding area. The pogrom lasted three days - 49 Jews were murdered, almost 600 Jews were wounded, and over 700 Jewish homes were looted, burned, and destroyed. The government made no effort to stop the violence or the looting until April 9th.

A description from the NY Times
Jewish Massacre Denounced, New York Times, April 28, 1903

The anti-Jewish riots in Chişinău (Kishinev), Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, "Kill the Jews," was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep...The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.

This is only one example, there were many pogroms in Russia over the years. In 1881 there were large pogroms in Kiev, Odessa and Warsaw, where many people were murdered, beaten and raped. There were also many pogroms around the time of the 1905 Revolution (which the Jews were blamed for). There was an organization known as The Black Hundreds which included merchants, clergymen, landowners, etc., who distributed anti-Semitic propaganda and caused pogroms and terrorists acts aimed at Jews, supposed revolutionaries, and public figures who were considered sympathetic to Jews and revolutionaries. Pavel Krushevan was part of this organization. His paper the Znamya was the first to print the anti-Semitic book The Protocols of Zion.

From the book Promised Land, by Mary Antin, here is a description of what it was like to be Jewish late 19th and early 20th century Russia:

I remember a time when I thought a pogrom had broken out in our street, and I wonder that I did not die of fear. It was some Christian holiday, and we had been warned by the police to keep indoors. Gates were locked; shutters were barred. Fearful and yet curious, we looked through the cracks in the shutters. We saw a procession of peasants and townspeople, led by priests, carrying crosses and banners and images. We lived in fear till the end of the day, knowing that the least disturbance might start a riot, and a riot led to a pogrom...

The Tsar was always sending us commands - you shall not do this and you shall not do that...One positive command he gave us: You shall love and honor your emperor. In every congregation a prayer must be said for the Tsar's health, or the chief of police would close the synagogue. On a royal birthday every house must fly a flag, or the owner would be dragged to a police station and be fined twenty-five rubles. A decrepit old woman, who lived all alone in a tumble-down shanty, supported by the charity of the neighborhood, crossed her paralyzed hands one day when flags were ordered up, and waited for her doom, because she had no flag. The vigilant policeman kicked the door open with his great boot, took the last pillow from the bed, sold it, and hoisted a flag above the rotten roof...

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« on: May 21, 2008, 07:56:39 PM »
Nadya_Arapov Offline
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I think Shlomo Lambroza in his article "The Tsarist Government and the Pogroms of 1903-06" better explains in what way Nicholas was (and wasn’t) responsible for the pogroms.

"This essay should not be understood as an exculpation of the government of Nicholas II. If there are any villains to point the finger at, then Nicholas II and his ministers must share the blame. Not for organizing a conspiracy to stage anti-Jewish actions, but rather for placing Jews in a position that made pogroms appear acceptable as well as for their inability, and possibly their unwillingness, to control local officials."
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« on: May 21, 2008, 10:25:55 PM »
CorisCapnSkip Offline
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Wow, that's interesting.  That the Tzar did send orders to the Jews, not necessarily ordered attacks on them, but was possibly not completely either willing, or able, to stop such attacks when they did occur.  I wouldn't feel like putting up a flag on their birthday, either--just the fact of such an order would put me off.  Were the Jews sent away for their own protection or that of others, as their presence was perceived to lead to trouble?  Could Fiddler on the Roof be set around 1905, as the one young man is exiled to Siberia for some revolutionistic plotting?

Reminds me of our government's response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  They didn't "order" the victims unlucky enough to be trapped there killed (although some survivors believed such orders would be enacted); they just weren't in a big hurry to help people they perceived as losers.  Note the remark of Barbara Bush, the president's mother, that the victims were poor "so this is working out well for them, isn't it?"  That is, like, sooo "let them eat cake"!

So, is it true that people in other countries disapproved of Nicholas II's autocratic rule, so that is why his cousin George V did not offer him refuge when things looked bad, or did that actually happen?

I'd like to put up some sort of memorial to the Imperial Family by the time of the 90th anniversary this July, but I feel kind of creepy doing that and then turning around and doing Fiddler on the Roof.  Probably no more creepy, though, than having sympathy for Native American tribes and admiration for Lewis and Clark or any other 19th Century figures.  I don't have any ancestry that is either Russian, or Jewish--my closest connections to those are by marriage--so, except for having grown up in America during the Cold War, I have no built-in loyalties either way.
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« on: May 22, 2008, 03:09:33 PM »
Nadya_Arapov Offline
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Alexander III was a rabid anti-Semite and that is why they were exiled. He had always been anti-Semitic, but his prejudice increased after the assassination of his father Alexander II in 1881. He blamed the Jews for the assassination because a few of the revolutionaries happened to be Jewish. Were all Jews revolutionaries? No, of course not, but he blamed them anyway. So did many other members of the Imperial Family and members of the Russian aristocracy. The expulsion of the Jews was an act of discrimination pure and simple. It certainly wasn’t done to protect them, because he honestly didn’t care about their safety.

I would say that Fiddler on the Roof would have taken place between 1903 & 1906. There were all sorts of upheavals taking place during that time in Russia – the disastrous war with Japan, numerous political assassinations and attempted assassinations, and many pogroms. So 1905 sounds about right.

People were exiled to Siberia for political activities all through out the 19th and early 20th century. That wasn’t unusual. The Soviets, of course, later adopted and expanded this practice creating gulags.

Yes, it is very true that there were people in Western Europe and the US who deeply disapproved not only of Nicholas’ rule, but that of his father Alexander III, too. There were many articles published in the NY Times, for example, during the late 19th and early 20th century detailing abuses against the peasants and Jews. Many of these articles were editorials by prominent citizens at home and abroad, a few of them Russians, who were horrified by Russian policies. There were petitions sent to the Tsar by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt’s government after the Kishinev Pogrom and during the Russo-Japanese War criticizing the actions of the Russian government. The British and French governments were also very critical of the Russian government.

It is also true that PM Lloyd George considered offering Nicholas safe haven in England and King George V let it be known that he didn’t want Alexandra and Nicholas (or any of the other male Romanovs) living in England. King George was in a difficult position because WWI was still raging in Europe; Empress Alexandra was thought by many (incorrectly) to be a German spy, and to top it all off they had just weathered the Easter Uprising in Ireland. He knew how unpopular the Imperial Family was in England and was afraid his own family might suffer politically if Nicholas came to England.

If you feel like putting up a memorial by all means do it. The Imperial Family had definite faults, they were deeply prejudiced, but no one can argue that those five children deserved to be murdered in that way. They were innocent.
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« on: May 23, 2008, 01:56:37 AM »
CorisCapnSkip Offline
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Yeah, well, to Abraham Lincoln Russia was the very embodiment of tyranny.  In a letter dated August 24, 1855, to his friend Joshua Speed he wrote in part:

"I am not a Know—Nothing.  That is certain.  How could I be?  How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people?  Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.  As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal."  We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes"  When the Know—Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics."  When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty —— to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy" [sic].

I agree, the Imperial children were innocent and caught up in dealings in which they had no control.  They also seem like a very nice, devoted family.  Well, look at someone like Barbara Bush--take a look at her book, with her attitude towards her own family, even given her lack of sympathy towards other peoples'.  Somehow I feel compelled to proceed with this memorial.  Thanks awfully much.
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« on: May 23, 2008, 11:39:30 AM »
Nadya_Arapov Offline
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Ironically, Abraham Lincoln had a great deal to thank the Russians for later on. Russia helped save the Union during the Civil War. Alexander II sent part of his fleet to American ports in support of the Union. It sent a signal to England and France not to interfere in the war on the side of the Confederates - that if they did choose to actively side with the Confederates a war with Russia was possible.

Abraham Lincoln's assessment of our nation, however, was unfortunately spot-on. High ideals marred by individual hypocrisy.

Good luck you your play! I hope it goes well.
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« on: June 08, 2008, 10:40:13 PM »
CorisCapnSkip Offline
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Hey, our production is fully cast and my niece got the part of the third daughter!  I have done some work on my memorial, but how far I get by July depends on various factors including the weather and how much time I choose to spend on my sisters' birthday presents.  Since Alexei's birthday--his main one, anyway--is after my sisters', I may aim for that instead.
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« on: October 14, 2008, 01:31:17 AM »
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Still working on Alexei's monument and will continue to do so as long as weather permits.

Fiddler rehearsals are underway.  So far most people are pronouncing Tzar the way I learned it, as "Zar," but the young man asking about the blessing for the Tzar is pronouncing it the way the people on the CD (of the Al Molina Broadway revival) do, with the "T" in front.  Which is correct?  Thanks.
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« on: October 23, 2008, 04:45:02 PM »
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I have enough material to publish a really long post here, both from what I heard at home as a child and as a youngster, and even as a young adult, and from what I read.

I had the distinct privilege of reading some of Sholem Aleichem's works in their original Yiddish.  The guy was hilarious, he had a keen sense of humor.  The flip side of the coin is that the situations he depicts there were real.  If anything, the pogrom scene in the play is understated, and understandably so. 

Tevye's life style is something with which most Jews who lived at the time in the Pale could identify with; the supersticious dream of his wife, raising five girls, the authority the rabbi had, etc., all of them happened.  That is why the play and later the film were so successful: because they were targeted to an audience that might have well lived in the Empire, and who might have lived through at least one of the situations described there. 

The songs, dances, etc., are typical Broadway; I guess that liking them or not is a personal thing.  Where I live, the theme of "If I Were a Rich Man" is still played in almost every Jewish celebration! 

But the original play itself reflected, as I said, what went on in the Pale at the turn of the 20th century.

Clearly, there was absolutely no sympathy for the Tsar and the Tsarina or the nobility, nor for that matter, for the Church in any of its denominations. 

Being subject to all sorts of discrimination, and restrictions on where and how to live, made Socialism/Communism attractive for some Jews.  It was like a liberation for them.  Some associated the old way of life with the pogroms and discrimination, and they were there to change that.  That is why those who did, also renounced their religion and traditions, such as is the case with Trotsky and others, who in the eyes of traditional Jews were (and are) renegades.  Their deeds certainly don't reflect at all what Jewish thought is.  However, under the circumstances they felt they had to join the revolution.  Others chose to emigrate to other countries, including the British protectorate known at the time as Palestine, and founded collective farms, again, under the auspices of Socialist ideas.  The Matchmaker in the play emigrates to Israel at the end of it.

Jews found that they really had nowhere to go, and embraced Zionism, which had been devised several years before the setting of the "Fiddler", and left the Empire for what was then Palestine.  As a matter of fact, some important characters in the establishment of Israel as a nation where not only born in the Russian Empire, they were born or lived in Odessa.  One of them, Vladimir Jabotinsky, was a veteran of the war against Japan, where he lost an arm, and was decorated in the Imperial Army.  He played an instrumental role in Israel's war of independence.  Anti-Semitism during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II actually favored the creation of the State of Israel after WWII, as many of its early settlers were Russian Jews, and if Zionism became a movement that attained such a critical mass so as to create a country, it is because at the time of its inception Russian Jews had few alternatives of where to go, and they were sick of the treatment that they got in what was in fact their country.

I apologize for the rather long post, and if I offended someone out there please accept an apology, as such offense was never intended.

I merely tried to explain that "Fiddler on the Roof" is a very accurate depiction of Jewish life in the Pale, at the turn of the last century, and how the situations described evolved.
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Reply #13
« on: October 24, 2008, 04:35:45 AM »
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As a matter of fact, some important characters in the establishment of Israel as a nation where not only born in the Russian Empire, they were born or lived in Odessa.  One of them, Vladimir Jabotinsky, was a veteran of the war against Japan, where he lost an arm, and was decorated in the Imperial Army.  He played an instrumental role in Israel's war of independence. 

Hi Mexjames,

you have me confused when you mention Vladimir Jabotinsky. Are you not mixing him up with Joseph Trumpeldor? Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920) was said to be the only Jewish officer in the Imperial Russian Army. He was elevated to this rank after his unusual bravery and heroism at the battle of Port Arthur, where he lost one of his hands. He moved to Palestine in 1912 and later served in a Jewish Unit of the British Army during the First World War and fought in Gallipoli. He died in action in 1920 while fighting Arab insurgents in Palestine and a Labour Brigade was later called after him. By coincidence he was the same age as Vladimir Jabotinsky (who was one of the founders of the Jewish Unit in the British Army along with a host of Jewish self defense organisations).
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« on: October 24, 2008, 04:39:12 AM »
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PS

As I mentioned in another thread, "Fiddler on the Roof" always reminds me of Golda Meier, the former prime Minister of Israel, as she was born in Kiev in the Russian Empire (today Ukraine). In her autobiography, which I read a few years ago, she stated that her earliest memories were of her father boarding up the front door due to rumors of an imminent pogrom. She had two sisters, Sheyna and Tzipke. Her father, Moshe Mabovitch, emigrated to the United States in 1903 and his wife and daughters followed in 1906.
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