Daghestan Mountain Jews Face Critical Situation

(J. T. A. Mail Service)

The position of the mountain Jews, a unique Jewish group in Daghestan, is reported in the current issue of the Russo-Jewish journal “Tribuna” by S. ##, who was appointed by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets to conduct an investigation into the conditions among the Jews of Daghestan.

“The mountain Jews,” be reports, “have been living in Daghestan since ancient times and are part of the native population. Before the revolution, the Jewish population of Daghestan numbered about 15,000; the great majority of whom were engaged in agriculture, vine-growing and cattle-breeding. About 30 per cent, were engaged in artisanship mainly in preparing hides and skins, and the remainder were traders. Their economic position both in the villages and in the towns was secure.

“The civil war in Caucasia destroyed the economic security of the Jewish population of Daghestan. The Turkish army, which at one time occupied several of the provinces in which the Jewish villages are situated, and the Denikin bands who overran the Caucasus in the early years of the revolution pillaged and massacred the Jewish population, who were glad to leave everything behind and to fee for safety to the big towns.

“When the civil war came to an end thousands of impoverished mountain Jews remained in the towns. Those who did return found their homes looted or burnt down and the land occupied by their non-Jewish neighbors. Finally, after great effort, a few hundred families succeeded in rebuilding their farms, but the position among the Jewish farmers is still very desperate.

“The vine-growers are in no better position. They have not enough land for their needs. 50 per cent of them have no wine-cellars and no inventory and are therefore compelled to sell their grapes for next to nothing. Worst of all is the position of the artisans who are engaged in the fur-trade. They live in clay huts without doors or windows, and under terribly congested conditions. About ten men work together in one room. The clay floor is always like a bog because of the water used by the workers in their work. The workers, half-naked and shoeless work 12 to 14 hours a day, some of them more earning hardly enough for a crust of bread. The majority of them suffer from tuberculosis and various skin diseases. The skins which are hung up in their homes to dry are a cause of lung diseases among the members of their families. Sanitary arrangements are non-existent.”

The report draws attention to the fact that these impoverished workers are for taxation purposes classified as urban industrialists.

“Altogether there are 494 mountain Jews employed as workers and registered as members of trade unions. The Jewish town population of Daghestan is as much as 12.3 per cent of the total population but the number of Jewish workers is under 2 per cent. Only 140 are in constant employment. Of the 2,146 workers employed in the four largest State factories only 18 are mountain Jews.

“274 are traders in possession of trading certificates, constituting about 7.5 per cent. of the total number of traders in the country, although nearly 83 per cent of the total Jewish population is resident in the towns. Most of these traders are terribly poor and 50 per cent of them have a turnover of not more than 1,200 Roubles annually. The smaller traders earn no more than about 10 Roubles a month.

“Their cultural position is very low. Very few of them know Russian or Turkish and their own language has no books. It is only a short time since an alphabet was published in the language of the mountam Jews.

“The Jewish quarter in Dervent which has over 2,000 mountain Jews, looks like a place of catacombs of the Middle Ages. The houses have no doors or windows, no water system and no drainage. The streets are unpaved and always muddy. The quarter is a nest of disease and epidemics.”

The Central Government and the local authorities are taking measures on the basis of the report to improve the economic, cultural and legal position of the mountain Jews of Daghestan. Among these methods is their settlement of the land in Daghestan under the Jewish colonization scheme. Steps are also being taken to develop wine-growing and the system of credit aids for artisans.

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