The author, Dr. David Goldberg, is a well known writer and lecturer who has recently returned from his third visit to Russia in recent years.
“But you are landed now,” I said, merely to break the awful spell cast upon me by his narrative, “and you have a new place under the sun.”
“Yes,” answered my friend eagerly. “We have much to be grateful for, and it is what I always tell my wife, and it is what we always tell our neighbors. They blame the Bolsheviki for every ill that befell them, saying, the Revolution proved their undoing. I myself don’t know the real difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism and the whole torah of Marx is like a closed book to me. I am just an ordinary week-day Jew, and I no more asked for the Revolution to come than I asked for the war to come. But they came, first the war and then the Revolution. The Bolsheviki have had their way, and it is clear that they are going to have their way in the future.
“But I ask myself, who has done better by the Jews than the Soviets? The czars? The White Guards? Or, perhaps, the Poles? I shudder to think what we would look like today if the one or the other or the third had actually been in the saddle. It would be the bloody reign of Denikin and Petlura all over again, or the unbearable yoke of the tyrannical and arrogant Panovle, or the constant terror of the infuriated mob coming upon us any time to drive stakes through our temples or to open our bellies and throw the entrails to the dogs.
“Yes, they liquidated us as a class and took away our businesses from us, though, if you ask me, we were pretty much liquidated before the Revolution, if you could only see the kind of beggars the War had made of the lot of us. But aren’t we farming now and don’t many of us work in the factories? That’s how I argue with most of my neighbors in the Kolkhoz.”
And then, after a brief pause:
“I suppose I shouldn’t ask whether you know the Agro-Joint and the Ort; you possibly have been delegated by them to come here. Well, they were our saviours in more than one way. The Soviets have said to the Jews: ‘you shall never again turn merchants and brokers and windchasers, for we liquidated you for good. But we will give you a start in life as peasants and workers. We don’t favor you at all, but we recognize that you were discriminated against as a people under the old regime and you were merchants and brokers and windchasers not so much of choice as of necessity. Therefore we intend to correct your unfortunate historical position as a people, and we give you an opportunity to qualify for a life of toil and labor under our new system.
FARM LIFE “IMPOSSIBLE”
“But tell a Jew to go and dig into the ground when he never held a spade in his hand, or make him go to the factory when he doesn’t know how to handle a tool! It was a pity to see them run helter pelter to the Crimea and to Kherson, and then run back to where they started from and bring the discouraging news that life on the farm is simply impossible, for the Jew at any rate. And this is what the Agro-Joint and the Ort did for us: They organized our farm work, supplied us with modern implements, and taught us the use of them. And they also organized for us workers’ artels where many were instructed in the skill of tool handling. Yes, they gave us the courage to start life anew.”
“Then if you can see your way so clear ahead of you, why are you so dejected?” I asked him, pointing out his unshaved beard, disheveled hair, and general untidiness about his person.
He dropped his head between his elbows and began to finger nervously between his grey hair: “I see the Land of Promise from afar distinctly enough, only I am afraid, I shall not live to enter there. I have suffered too long the grind of millstones and at forty-three I am an old worn out man. If I only could tell of my suffering in joy, as they say, I would be healed. But my soul is full of despair, and joy will not penetrate there.
“I am a ‘lishenets,’ a declassed man, an outcast, I and my children. Though I live and toil like the rest of them, I am nobody. And my children are made to bear the stigma of my rejected class, actually the stamp’ bourgeois descent’ is put on their registration cards. Their names are placed on a black list on the wall, so the other children could see and taunt them with it.
PRICE FOR TOLERANCE
“And that is not all. If my children are tolerated at the Semilietka (seven grade primary school) at all, it is only because education in our land has been made universal and compulsory. But that is far as they let them go. Everybody’s children can continue their education at the high schools and at the universities, but mine. Think of what it means!
“My oldest daughter, Sarachka, a darling capable child, has had to go through all of it only a few weeks ago. It was on her graduation day, which should have been her first great day in her young life. But Sarachka broke in into the house as though chased by a fury, tossing a card into my face and choking with tears: “See what you have done to me by being a cursed bourgeois? They stamped my card with the dreadful ‘ineligible for further schooling by reason of bourgeois pedigree,’ they read this horrible thing aloud, so all could hear and turn their scornful eyes upon me and boo me. Oh, I wish I had never been born!”
Tears began to roll from my friend’s eyes as he closed them and ended in low tone, as though speaking to himself: “And I, too, wished I had never been born.”