Our Notes & References
An exceptionally rare statistical analysis – and defence – of the Jewish settlements of the Russian empire, through a wealth of data and their visual representation – a volume which serves as a testimony to the groundless bias behind the anti-Semitic policies of Alexander III.
This fascinating atlas of 55 large graphs and maps focuses on the economic and “moral” condition of the populations in the Western part of the Russian empire, comparing the Jewish settlements of Eastern Europe (modern Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Lithuania), defined as the Pale of Settlement, with the neighbouring Western regions of Russia. The Pale of Settlement (cherta osedlosti) was a territory within the Russian empire on which permanent residency by Jews was allowed, unlike most other places of the empire. It was first introduced by Catherine II and by the second half of the 19th century it included the territories mentioned above and analysed by Bliokh.
The large graphs and maps illustrate in details the levels of fertility, mortality, employment, revenues from different trades and productions, consumption of alcoholic beverages (especially spirits) and its effect on the population health, and detailed criminality. Data is mostly divided according to the Russian gubernii, but also often singles out the Jewish population itself for the sake of comparison. The work is therefore an essential mine of information on the Eastern European Jews in the second half of the 19th century.
The volume provides extensive data for the years 1858 – 1883, covering the period of liberal reforms of Alexander II and counter-reforms of his son, Alexander III. In the 1860s – 1870s the “Tsar Liberator” Alexander II introduced a number of radical reforms, including the abolition of serfdom, that boosted social mobility and industrial development. They also put Jews in direct competition with peasants for jobs in trade and crafts, which subsequently fuelled anti-Semitic sentiments.
Widespread pogroms after the death of Alexander II prompted his successor to introduce the “May Laws” in 1882: a set of temporary regulations forbidding Jews to settle outside of towns and boroughs, to transact business on Sundays and on the Christian holy days, and introducing quotas for them to enter high schools and universities. Shortly after, the government set up a commission headed by Count K. Palen to review and develop the legislation that concerned the Jewish population. The work of the commission prompted an active debate in the high circles of the Russian Empire, but more often than not, reports, papers and speeches lacked scientific basis and were sympathetic to the position of the Russian government, generally hostile to the Jewish population.
A Polish Jew converted into Calvinism, Ivan Bliokh (1836-1901) was brought on board of the Palen commission to fill the scientific gap: this businessman had indeed developed an interest in economics and its statistics, and had published significant works on the subject applied to railways and Russian finances. (He would also publish his most famous work in 1898 on the future of warfare, predicting the socio-economic consequences of a war between Poland and Germany, as they later occurred during WWI.)
Bliokh used the results of his research for the commission to publish this Comparison of the Living Standards. Through extensive use of statistics, he directly contradicted anti-Semitic arguments of some of the Russian officials. Indeed, according to the data presented, the fertility rate and living standards were generally higher within the Pale of Settlement. The “moral state”, assessed by such criteria as crime level, education, spread of venereal diseases, number of suicides etc., was also “more satisfactory” in the regions with Jewish population. The majority of the Jewish population was engaged in crafts, industrial production and trade, while Jewish participation in lender practices was very much exaggerated through circulating myths.
Of great rarity. The full work consists of five text volumes and this atlas – but any part of the work seems to be very rare. The only copy complete (but with 53 plates only apparently) we could trace is at the Heidelberg University library in Germany. It seems to be absent from the Moscow Russian State Library, and a copy of the atlas in the St. Petersburg Russian National Library has only 22 maps. The National Library of Israel has only text volumes 1,3 and 4, while Haifa University library holds this title only in microform format. We could not trace any copy in the USA, nor on the market in recent decades.
Some resources state that the whole printrun save 25 copies was destroyed in a fire at the printing house. We were unable to confirm this information but given the scarcity of the title, this claim may be true.
Institut Solvay, Bruxelles / Institut de Sociologie (Blind stamp to a couple of plates).
PhD thesis by Maia Vitenberg, “Vlast’, Obshchestvo i evreyskiy vopros v Rossii v 80-e gody XIX veka” (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, 2008, pp. 9 and 157).