Sunday, February 13, 2022

Jewish Eviction from Towns within the Russian Empire

My second cousin four times removed was Feiga Lefand, who lived in Drozdovka, near Nezhin in Chernigov Guberniya, Russian Empire (currently Drozdivka, Ukraine).  My 5th great grandparents (and Feiga's great grandparents) had received permission to move there based on an 1853 request (which led to the authorities trying to draft Lefand kids and multiple years of petitions that I've written about here).

In 1885, Feiga married Meir Lieberman, and they lived in Drozdovka as well.  In the 1888 census, they had two young children, Simon and Dvora.  But then in 1889, Meir was evicted from Drozdovka because he didn't have permission to be living there.  He appealed his eviction and left us some insight into what Jews needed to deal with when living in the Russian Empire in the 1880s.

Part of the case related to Meir Lieberman's forced eviction from Drozdovka

Meir's multi-page case begins with a petition that talks about the laws under which the Jews were living and his specific situation.  He says it well, so in his (translated) words dated June 17, 1889:

On June 4 of this year, the bailiff of the 1st district of the Nezhin uyezd ordered me to immediately move out of my place of residence in the village of Drozdovka on the grounds that I am not listed in the census of Jews of the village of Drozdovka, compiled in 1882, after the publication of the Law of May 3, 1882, which restricts the rights of Jews. 
My name was not included in this list of Jews in 1882 due to my temporary absence on commercial matters. This circumstance alone cannot deprive me of the right to live in Drozdovka, since I settled in this village from 1881 and live here permanently, as the residents of Drozdovka can confirm. 
Also, please take into account that I received a passport from my former place of residence and a certificate for the right to trade from the bailiff of the Nezhin uyezd. 
If I had settled in Drozdovka after the adoption of the Law of May 3, 1882, these documents would not have been issued to me and I would have been evicted from the village back in 1882. 
I have the honor to humbly ask Your Excellency to demand to provide you with evidence, witness testimony of the residents of Drozdovka, compiled in March of this year, and to allow me to stay at this place of my residence in the village of Drozdovka.
This appeal by Meir led to an "open meeting."  Meir's primary witness was his father-in-law Mordechai Lefand, who stated that Meir had lived in Drozdovka since 1881, worked as a clerk, married his daughter, Feiga Lefant, and since 1884 had his own trading shop in the village according to the certificate for the right to trade from 1888.

Lots of correspondence then goes back and forth.  Within that they state that there were no Jews listed in the 1882 census (not true, because I have records from that census), and they also mention the 1888 census (which I have) which says that Meir Lieberman had lived in the village since 1881.  On this basis, Meir was permitted to stay in the village until the investigation was completed.

This case generated tons of correspondence

Then the testimony of many of Drozdovka's townspeople was entered.  They attested that Meir Lieberman had lived in the village since 1884 when he married Mordechai Lefand's daughter (their actual marriage record says they married in 1885).  Those who testified include Kozak Nikita Bliznyuk, Maxim Bliznyuk, Markel Bliznyuk, Taras Glushak, Grigory Sergeenko, Vladimir Bezborodko, and the village's headman Ivan Pilipenko.

Since the only person in town that testified that Meir Lieberman had been in Drozdovka before the May 3, 1882 law was Meir's father-in-law, Meir was ordered to be evicted from Drozdovka as of August 3, 1889.

Meir had lived in this town from at least 1884 according to everyone's testimony.  Feige and the kids had been born in Drozdovka.  But they had to leave in 1889.  What happened then?  Well, I think I have Feige and the kids going to America later in 1889, but then I lose them.  But they definitely disappear from the Drozdovka area.  All because of an anti-Jewish law passed in 1882.

Where did I find this document?  Its existence was listed in the j-roots database, and I found it when searching for records relating to Drozdovka.  I then ordered it from Chernigov Archive and received it within two weeks of my request.  I did need to pay a few dollars to the archive.

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  1. Such a hard life. I do hope they made it to America!

  2. That is an interesting story. Great blog.

    Paul Baltzer

  3. I am also researching family from Nezhin and recently read an article by Lloyd Gartner titled Nezhin in Philadelphia, The Families and Occupations of an Immigrant Congregation. The paper is based on records of the members of the Nezhin immigrant synagogue in Philadelphia. I was wondering if you have studied these records? I believe they are archived at the Temple Urban Archives although I am waiting for confirmation of that.

    1. No, my immediate family went to Pittsburgh. Other branches ended up in other parts of the US and South America, but despite the large Nezhin community in Philly, none went there.

      However, I have made some finding aids for Nezhin vital records and censuses here: