Friday, March 19, 2010

Leather-Booted Great-Grandpa


Will you check out those boots? The shine on them?

My great-grandpa Benjamin, on the left, in his Russian Army uniform, late 19th/early 20th century. I do remember my Grandpa Max (his son) showing me this photo when I was little, and telling me that his father had been in the Russian Army. Beyond that, I have no definitive information, though I'm desperate to know more--was he civil service (home guard) as someone suggested to me? Or was he infantry (less likely), serving in wartime? I'm just not sure of the exact dates, so I have no way of knowing whether his service coincided with the Russo-Japanese War, though I think this photo must be earlier than 1904-1905.

I know absolutely nothing about the personal details of this piece of his life, though I wish I did. What is most interesting to me, though, is how this photo fits into the very complex history of the Jews in the Imperial Army. I did a little research on this topic through the YIVO Institute, and learned that Jews in the modern world did indeed serve in the Russian Imperial Army, in droves really, although it was to say the least an uneasy relationship. Their civil rights were honored intermittently: during some periods, they were allowed to celebrate Jewish holidays and pray as Jews with Jewish chaplains, during other times they were segregated or even indoctrinated into Russian Orthodoxy as a requirement of conscription. It so happens that Benjamin served during a period of Jewish segregation.

Anyway, the details of Benny's service are now lost, though I find it very exciting to be able to place my family in a greater context of the meaning and movement of Jewish history.




Visit the other Sepia Saturday participants for more stories of the ancestors!

25 comments:

Princess said...

Dear Miss Leah,
Funny but i knew that the man seated on the left was your GGF! Before i scrolled any further.

Surely there is a miliary historical buff type that could fill in some detail, ie Circa of uniform, happenings in Russia during that time, even some of the markings on his uniform and belt seem different to those of the other gentleman he is depicted with.

Perhaps an archive or history museum may be of help.

His boots are very well shined tho...

What a marvelous time capsule to have

nick said...

A shame you don't know more about his military service, like what sorts of dangers he faced and his feelings about fighting. And whether the experience left him with psychological scars as it often does.

Martin H. said...

Benjamin looks very smart in his uniform. It's a shame you can't pin down more information on the uniform and where he was serving just at the moment. Keep digging, and I'm sure you'll find out more in due course.

xl said...

Here's a possibly helful forum for Imperial Russian and White Army pre 1920.

Barry said...

Certainly a couple of very fit looking men, ready to take on the world.

That was also a very interesting insight into the role of Jews in the Russian Imperial Army. Fascinating.

Pat said...

What a great photo. In some ways I think photography hasn't improved on those old crystal clear shots.
And the boys - debonair or what?

Madame DeFarge said...

Great photo. Very dashing they look too. Hope you find out about the uniforms soon.

mago said...

A very young man. Is the name of the atelier on the photography? I am sure that an expert in uniforms can tell you more. He wears obviously a kind of medal, a band - they both carry no weapons.
Was he the youngest?

mago said...

"Multi-ethnic empires and the military conscription in Europe between integration and desintegration, 1860-1918" from 2007 has five essays, one deals with Russia.
Olga Litvak wrote about "Conscription and the search for modern Russian Jewry" (Bloomington 2007).
Werner Benecke: Militär, Reform und Gesellschaft im Zarenreich. Die Wehrpflicht in Russland 1874-1914. Paderborn 2006, is a habilitation.

Brian Miller said...

how very cool...like finding missig chapters of your history...intriguing...

L. D. Burgus said...

This is such an interesting story. I hope that some way something else turns up. I would like to hear more as much as you would like to find out more about it. Great classic photo.

tony said...

Jewish History in Europe is really complex +contradictory.
They look fine fellows.hey! I can even see My reflection in those boots!

Queenmothermamaw said...

Great story and photo. The series called "Who Do You Think You Are" touched on Jews in the Russian Army last Friday night. Have you tried Ancestry.Com? I found out about all my family members through there.
QMM

Baino said...

Fascinating . . I remember my father 'spit and polishing' our school shoes, legacy of army service.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

These posts are interesting to me because I know absolutely nothing about my family. No history was passed down to me on either side. Sad.

I was in your naib on Friday. I took my taxes to the preparer on Jay St.

Ronda Laveen said...

It is interesting how, seemingly opposed military forces, had to work together. Very cool pic. I hope more info comes to you about your GGF.

Liza said...

I love your great grandfather's mustache, and the way his hat is sitting on his head. I find myself curious with his hands, and the jewelry he is wearing.

lettuce said...

they look very confident, don't they? and quite serious.
Its a great peep into a lost history.

Christine H. said...

Very interesting. The uniforms are very simple. Virtually no adornment of any kind. Jewish history is so convoluted and the idea of segregated service so bizarre.

PattyF said...

What a great photo! I love their attempt at a casual, almost jaunty, pose, yet you can tell they're a bit stiff in the formal sitting. I hope you can find out more about them. As others mentioned, the uniform should be a big clue for someone knowledgable in military history.

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Matthew said...

Man, I am such a sucker for this kind of history. It makes me so sad that I didn't raid my parents' photo albums before I left the UK.... The wisdom of hindsight, huh?

Leah said...

Thanks so much for the comments! XL--thank you for the forum link!

and Mago--thank you also for the ideas. I will have to look.

Alan Burnett said...

That photograph has to be one of my very favourite Sepia Saturday photographs of all time. It has everything. Wonderful.

Tracy said...

Hi, My wife sent your blog to me, as she knows that I love old photos. The fact that's your great grandfather makes it even better, I see the resemblance. The uniform appears to be the Russian model 1881 uniform, unfortunately the unit numbers and letters on his shoulder boards and collar isn't clear enough to see. There are a number of good books on uniforms that could help to pin down a date. I used an Osprey book on the Russo-Japanese war to figure out the uniform. Also your great grandfather's uniforms appear to have a better fit then the standard issue uniform, so he may have had it tailored to fit or bought it private purchase rather then wearing a standard issue uniform for the photo. The photo is a real treasure. Tom