August 29, 2007

Today in Jewish History - Elul 15

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In 1827, Czar Nicholas I decreed that all Jewish boys be forcibly conscripted into the Russian Army at age 12. Called "cantonists," these boys were kidnapped from their parents' home, and tortured repeatedly with the implication that conditions would improve if they'd accept Christianity. (Many died of their wounds.) The boys were indoctrinated in military prep school until age 18, and thereafter served 25 years in the army. The authorities saw it as a corrective, forced assimilation of stubborn Jews into Russian society, and as a way to undermine the authority of Jewish communal leaders. Some 50,000 Jewish boys were forced into Czar Nicholas' army, and most never returned to the families they had left at age 12. The policy was abolished in 1855, with the death of Nicholas.