For Jews, conscription into the Russian (Tzarist) army was a very serious matter, sometimes a virtual death sentence, due to the long term of service, as long as 20 years. Jews in the army suffered from discriminations and, at times, forced conversion. In both the Russian and Polish armies, soldiers were required to eat non-Kosher food and were prevented from Jewish worship and customs.
Jews commonly resorted to a number of means to avoid conscription.
• An article about anti-Semitism under Tzar Nicholas I
• Documentation of recruiting of infants (4th paragraph)
• An article contrasting the treatment of Jews and non-Jews in the Tzarist army
The Hebrew poet Sha’ul Tchernikhovski (1875-1943) wrote a poem titled Eli in which he tells of two storekeepers who are brothers but have different surnames:
שניים יהודים שני אחים
Translation, by Hannah Kadmon:
זה שם משפחתו פינצ'וק וזה שם משפחתו ליטינסקי.
כלום אין זה פלא? לאו דווקא! שניים יהודים שני אחים.
שניים שמות להם- מה פלא? הפלא ששמותם שניים,
שניים ולא אחד, והיא סגולה כנגד הגזירה
להיות חניכי קסרקטין- והדברים עתיקים, ידועים
Two Jews two brothers
As described in many Yizkor Books, Jews resorted to self-mutilation, such as cutting off their index (trigger) finger, or self-starvation so the military examiners rejected them as sick and frail.
This one - his surname is Pinchuk and the other one- his surname is Litinski
Is this not a wonder [amazing]? Not necessarily! Two Jews - two brothers.
Two names they have – what is the wonder? The wonder is that they have two names
Two and not one, and this is an amulet [ סגולה --- efficient means or trick] against the harsh decree
To become a raw-recruit in a military camp – and this matter is ancient, familiar
Through connections, or by using bribery, Jews provided themselves with documents enabling them to evade service. (An example.)
| Notes: Eli: the name of a youth. Different surnames: This occurred in my mother's family, in which the names Kostrinski, Kostrometzki, Kaster, Kast were all used -- H. K.