World War I

World War I (1914 -1918)

The First World War brought floods of refugees, unending government requisitions, inflated prices for food and goods, and, of course, military conscription. The YIVO Encyclopedia reports that around 400,000 Jews enlisted in the Tsar's military, of whom some 80,000 fought on the front lines in 1914-1915.

In towns like Byerazino and Pahost, families who depended on money sent by relatives abroad were cut off from support when the post and telegraph service, as well as the banking system, broke down at the start of the war. Their financial need was one of the first targets of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (known as the JDC or "Joint"), founded on 27 November 1914 to aid those caught up in the turmoil of WWI. 

Jewish emigration also came to a sudden halt. In 1914, the military commandeered Russia's railway and trains stopped carrying civilian passengers. Unknown numbers of would-be emigrants were left stranded. For example, the Korobok family from Pahost - a mother and five children travelling to meet their father in New York - arrived at the train station in Sloveni the day after WWI began. They were stuck in the town for six years - until 1920 - and didn't reach the U.S. until 1923.

The summer of 1918 in Byerazino was a rare, quiet interlude. Hirsh Buslovich remembered that peaceful summer, and also described Byerazino's Polish occupation and subsequent take-over by the Red Army. In 1918, the town was occupied by German troops, but because the Bolshevik government had recently signed a treaty with Germany, the occupiers were polite. A friendly Jewish-German soldier was billeted in Hirsch's home, and the troops even put on a tight-rope-walking show in the town square. Another German soldier, an artist named Curt Sauermilch, filled a sketchbook with drawings of Byerazino, its river, houses and people; Sauermilch's serene images preserve a bucolic way of life that would soon be destroyed.


Sources and Additional Reading

Beizer, Michael. 2010. "American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Accessed March 3, 2016.

Engel, David. 2010. "World War I." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Accessed 3 March 2016.

Praisman, Leonid. 2010. "Russia: Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (1918 -1922)." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Accessed March 4, 2016.

Sauermilch, Curt. 1918. "Zeichnungen von Curt Sauermilch von der Ostfront." Europeana 1914 -1918. Accessed Feb 2020.

This page is hosted at no cost to the public by JewishGen, Inc., a non-profit corporation. If it has been useful to you, or if you are moved by the effort to preserve the memory of our lost communities, your JewishGen-erosity would be deeply appreciated.
Compiled by Carola Murray-Seegert, Ph.D.           Updated February 2020                    Copyright © Carola Murray-Seegert, Ph.D.                     JewishGen Homepage                                  KehilaLinks Directory