How Historically Accurate is "Fiddler on the Roof"?

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CorisCapnSkip:
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.

historylover:
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

royaltybuff:
"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."

halen:
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

Nadya_Arapov:
Quote from: CorisCapnSkip on May 20, 2008, 11:01:15 PM

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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