Russian Military Records

Lechovichers in Russian Military Records by Deborah G. Glassman, copyright.

Military Inspection

This 1915 picture from the Belarus National Museum of History and Culture is of an inspection in Lyakhovichi by Supreme Inspector Prince Yousopov and Count Soumarakov. The parade of 4 regiments occurred before the scheduled action at Molodechno. The Jewish community of Lyakhovichi had many soldiers in the Russian army in World War I, but it is not known how many home-town boys stood here in their great-coats that day.

Russian soldiers: Jews celebrating a Passover Seder in 1905

425,000 Jews served in the Russian Army between 1880 and 1909. The picture taken above was during the Russo-Japanese War.

Jews of 27th Calvary gathered for 1925 Seder in Nesvizh (high-resolution version)

The next picture belongs with Polish Records, but the continuity of subject matter is the point.

High Holy Days Services during Russo-Turkish War, 1877

The military reforms of 1874 provided for Jewish services, allowance of state rabbis to function as chaplains, and other recognitions of Jewish life in the Russian Army. For the next forty years, Jewish life in the Russian Army would be officially recognized by the Czarist government. Some of the highest-decorated Jewish soldiers in the Imperial Russian Army were those who had served in the Russo-Turkish Wars.

Imperial Russian Military Documents of the
Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

One of the best parts of working on the Lyakhovichi historical website is the opportunity to read widely and correspond with authors knowledgeable across a broad base of interests. I searched recently for more information on the effective locating and use of Russian military records and in that process read several articles by Dr. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. He has written material for Hebrew University's publication, Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe and he is quoted in a number of professional publications. He has compiled the article on Jews in the Russian Army for Yivo's encyclopedia project and has been working in the Russian Military Archives for the last nine years. I wrote to Dr. Petrovsky-Shtern with a list of questions and not only was he gracious and quickly responded, he did so in detail, even amidst the press of a new semester and a book deadline. He shared insights gained in his long usage of these archival materials and I have certainly profited from his suggestions.

One of the comments that he elaborated on for me will be helpful to each of us looking for details on the service of late nineteenth-century, early twentieth century, Russian Jewish soldiers. In 1874 Alexander II initiated a reform of the conditions of military service. It was reduced to six years in length, Jewish soldiers were allowed to legally practice their faith (with many restrictions) and the policy of stationing soldiers long distances from their homes was ended. It was this last piece, of somewhat localized billeting, of which I was not aware, and asked for clarification. He answered:

After 1874 there was a general practice not to send recruits too far from home. Recruits from the Minsk province would serve in the Northwestern part of the Pale. The list of military districts at the end of the (nineteenth) century coincided with the provinces, you would then have fifteen in the Pale.

This means for Lyakhovichi researchers that we might expect to find our soldiers serving in the Baranovichi barracks, in Brest, and other nearby sites we will identify with your help. Researchers using Austro-Hungarian records have long had the advantage of fixed recruiting districts, if you knew the town where someone lived, you knew the possible units in which he might have served. Czarist Russia had no such system and it has always been a guessing game, where someone might have ended up. My great-grandmother's grandfather, taken as a Nikolai soldier from Khmelnik in today's Ukraine in the 1830s, served in the Caucasus mountain region, a very long way from home. But this new information sends us first to the Army regiments stationed in nearby communities to find Lyakhovichi men who served after 1874.

One of the more unique records investigated by Dr. Petrovsky-Shtern was a look at a ledger book, a pinkhas, of a Jewish Soldier's Society made up of actively serving enlisted men in the Bryansk Regiment. The book covered the period from 1843-1893 and listed the members, discussed meetings, and had a section that documented appeals for support of the group by local rabbis. It is that last section that suggests the kind of records that might still be found for other Russian Jewish soldiers. Passover meals and High Holiday Services, and other ways a Jewish community could help its young men in Russian service, might still be documented in the records of the Jewish communities supporting the barracked regiments. If your soldier's unit can be identified, maybe the Jewish community's records have survived, maybe photos were taken, maybe letters about relevant events have survived. When you look at Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern's article on The Guardians of Faith (the Jewish soldier congregation), note that even that one stray set of records reported at least six Jews from our part of the Russian Empire: David b Yehuda Leib from Lubcha, Minsk province; Eliakim Getsel b Yakov from Mir, Minsk province; Shmuel ben Avraam Brzezin; Zev Wolf b Yosef from Jasionowka, Grodno; and closest to home - Zvi b David from Gorodishche.

Finding your Soldier's Regiment and Division

The most straight-forward way we have of finding this information is examining photos of family members in Russian uniforms. The cap number is the regiment and the shoulder boards show the division number. Russian divisions and regiments were of great interest to military analysts in England in the nineteenth century and a full list of each is available. With enough data we can look for patterns of service, so send your photos here please!

The Baranovichi barracks

Did you know that the Russian General Headquarters was located in Baranovichi until 1915, when during World War I, it was thought advisable to move it to the safety of Mogilev? I am looking for mentions of the Jewish soldiers stationed here in any letters, ledgers, rabbi memoirs, et al. Do you have suggestions for where I should look? Have you seen relevant remembrances, requests for funding, for matzot, for prayer books, anything we could learn from?

The following records can be found at the Complete Lyakhovichi Records Catalog.

Newspaper Notices (Minsk Vedemosti)
Ordering Lyakhovichi Jews to Appear for the Draft
Located and Translated by the efforts of the Lyakhovichi Research Group

Records were compiled from three lists that were located in the Minsk Vedemosti, the Russian official newspaper of record for the gubernia. The 1890 list was in issue 88 on page 2 and was transliterated by Gary Palgon; the 1889 list was in issue 71 on page 1 and was transliterated by Gary Palgon and the 1880 list was in the month of May, no issue number available, no page number available. There is no appended notice with the 1890 listing. The 1889 notice says "Lyakhovichi Volost Administration requires that November 1 of this year 1889 have to come to the 4th draft office in Lyakhovichi people that included in Lyakhovichi draft list for this 1889 year to undergo age evaluation by appearance; particularly next Lyakhovichi community meshchane of Slutsk uyezd." The 1880 notice says "Slutsk uyezd Draft Office announced that in the present year of 1880 by age shown from the census performed by Highest decree of October 2, 1874, as well as by Draft Office from appearance determined age, listed below people are ready to perform military duty; therefore they by articles 97 and 98 of military statute ought to obtain conscription registration certificates from responsible institution, particularly Slutsk (uyezd) Jewish Community."

Gary Palgon has included this note:

  • The men in the list are Jews from Slutsk uyezd - Lyakhovichi
  • They have reached 21 by 1874 census data (family listing collection), but because many avoided census - it was common to state age by appearance.
  • They have to register at the draft office and get certificates to participate in draft lot casting.
  • So it was all men from Lyakhovichi who were 21 or who looked 21. Of course some of them could have died or moved between 1874 and 1880. The Note B.A. for any person in the 1890 listing means that person was judged by an informant to the list maker, to be 21 by appearance. A question mark means that the researcher thought that there was a spelling error.

Lyakhovichi Draft Notice, printed in the Minsk Vedemosti 1889 (high-resolution version)

Jews Registered for Discharge of Military Service 1896 and in 1895
in Lyakhovichi District, Slutsk County

There are 2 lists of which we have facsimiles- each signed by the District Clerk S. Propevich or S. Pronevich and one supplies the date 1896 and the other 1895. Each has individual dates for each man, these were compiled reports ordered by some authority at a later date. The document dated 1896 may have been additionally collated as it has a stamped date “compiled” of 19 January 1906. The letter that follows illustrates how multiple copies of these lists were used and how the family number remained a reference point for future communications between differing authorities and the individuals named.

Correspondence Between Lyakhovichi District Administration and
Slutsk Municipal Community Administration related to 1896 List

Document 1 - dated internally 8 August 1896:

Lyakhovichi District Administration
Slutsk County
Minsk Province 8 August 1896
#927 to the Slutsk Municipal Community Administration #147-93

Dated 8, August 1896 and addressed to the Slutsk Municipal Community Administration

We, the District Administration have the honor of humbly requesting the Community Administration to send to this Administration a copy of the composition list by family of the townsmen of the Lyakhovichi Jewish community for Abram and Faytel VARSHEL, sons of Girsh, for the purpose of issuing to them a registration certificate on their inclusion in the 4th conscription district for the purposes of discharging their military service.

S. Pronevich (or Propevich), District Clerk

Document 2 - No internal date but appears to be a reply to above document of Aug 1896:

It has been decreed:

According to the present reply to send a copy of the list by family for 1895 , #147 for the Lyakhovichi townsmen Abram and Faytel VARSHAL sons of Girsh and such has been produced to the Lyakhovichi District Administration.

The Municipal Starosta Administration

Lyakhovichi's Jewish Soldiers of the Czar

We would like to post images of your family-held military documents. Military Discharges or statements of completed service, were carried by many Jews. Photographs of men in uniform were frequently held onto well into the twentieth century by the children and grandchildren of the soldier. If you have had a researcher aid you in your search and you have found other draft notices from our town, if you have seen other documents referring to the military service of a Lyakhovichi native, we would like to make room on our site to include them.

Help us build a record of those who served in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. So far we know of one veteran mentioned in the Memoir of the Town by Avrom Lev, and two who were reported among the casualties, including those who died or were injured.

  1. Motte Shaye Kashe (probably a nickname rather than a surname - he is the returned veteran in the Lev story)

  2. SAK (#2137 in the online database of Russian Casualties of Russo-Japanese War)

  3. NEJMAN (#1742 in the online database of Russian Casualties of Russo-Japanese War)

Your family information can change this section exponentially. But we also want to hear about Russo-Turkish campaign soldiers, Crimean war, Caucasus-front, other.

These first pictures below are of 3 Lyakhovichi soldiers who served in World War I from the family of Hessel Gavza. It was one of these soldiers who carried the extract from the "Family Roll of 1914" with a notation about his military service, which you can see on our page Imperial Russian Revision Lists.

Thanks to Gloria Kay, daughter of Harry "Yakov" Gavza for sharing them!

Yakov Gavza son of Hessel and Chava Gavza (high-resolution version)

Sons of Hessel Gavza (high-resolution version)

Yakov Gavza is on the left, with a brother whose name is not yet discovered.

Yosef Gavza, son of Hessel Gavza (high-resolution version)