The Paikins

Persons, Progenitors and Places in the Pale

From Palestine to the Pale

The history of the Paikins is veiled in the mist of time. We do know, of course, that originally they came from Israel - or whatever name it was known under at that time. We also know that the Paikins - or some of the Paikins - are the descendants of Aaron, as most Paikins are known to be Cohens. In some branches of Paikin-families, the origin has been lost in the vicissitudes of life - which have been abundant for all the Paikins, as for all Jews!

However, the great span of time between Aaron and the first Paikins, that we know of in Russia around the turn of the Century 1700-1800, is a void. Neither their names, nor the stories of their lives are known to us, nor can we follow the meanderings and twists of fate, that carried them from Israel to Russia on the tidal waves of persecutions, upheavals, wars….

We know only of the beginning of their journey in Israel and the transitory stop in Russia before their migration recommenced.

Were they in Spain in 1391 when all Jews and Moors were forced to convert?

Or in 1492 when all non-Christians were expelled from Spain?

Were they affected by the persecution of heretics and other infidels somewhere in France, Germany, or perhaps in Bohemia during the Hussite-revolution?

We might infer that they followed the main stream of the victimized Diaspora fleeing the persecutions and forced conversions.

Where did they go? Where could they go?


Coins from the 12th Century with Hebrew letters but with the Polish duke Mieszko’s name bear witness of the Jewish craft - and their existence in Poland already at that time!

The Polish kings at the time welcomed the Jewish fugitives and immigrants, and the very special relationship to the dukes was laid down by duke Boleshaw the Pious in 1264 in the so-called Kalisz-statutes: The Jews were granted complete religious freedom, permission to trade and act as moneylenders, and furthermore they were granted autonomy and jurisdiction. Severe punishment even awaited non-Jews who committed offenses against or assaulted Jews: The death penalty for murder, heavy fines to those who failed to come to the rescue of an assaulted Jew. They were "servi camerae regis", i.e. directly under the duke’s special protection and jurisdiction - and thus not free and privileged as the nobility, but certainly not suppressed as serfs and peasants.

The last king of the Piast-dynasty, Kazimierz the Great (1333-1370) implemented a large program to strengthen and enlarge the cities, he supported trade and craft. Under his rule he Kalisz-statutes were extended to apply for the whole country, and new penalties were introduced for cities who did not impede assaults on Jews. His protection and benevolence towards the Jews might not only have been based on his needs for large sums of money; a legend - that is known both by Poles and Jews - tells of his great love for his Esterka, a beautiful Jewish girl.

From around 1250 Lithuania was a state stretching from the borders of the Baltic Sea through Belarus and Ukraine all the way to the Black Sea, and when the grand duke Wladyslaw Jagiello in 1385 also became king of Poland a union between Lithuania and Poland, Rzeczpospolita, was formed that lasted until the end of the 18th Century. The Jews also benefited from extensive privileges in this new state except for a short period from 1495, when they were expelled from Lithuania, until 1503, when they were allowed to return and recovered their property and privileges.

Thus, for a number of years the Jews lived there in prosperity. Lithuania and Poland became a center for a flourishing Jewish culture.

The 16th Century brought new opportunities for the Jews: The Polish nobility’s colonization of large and uninhabited areas in Ukraine and Volhynia led to a special form of tenancy, "arenda", which offered wealth for enterprising, resourceful and adventurous Jews.

Small, private towns were founded on the estates and the Jews in great numbers settled in these small towns, where they did not have to endure the massive aversion they were exposed to in the cities. These small shtetls on the estates were free from competition and enmity.

The Jewish population increased from an estimated 20,000-30,000 at the end of the 15th Century to approximately 300,000 in the middle of the 17th Century.

The 1648 Disaster

These prosperous and relatively peaceful years ended in 1648, with an insurrection (led by the Cossacks’ leader, the Polish nobleman, Bohdan Chmielnicki) that developed into a violent, gory and gruesome war.

For the Protestants and - of course - particularly the Jews it meant 30 years of suffering, hardship, forced conversion and massacres. The wealth dwindled, the once so famous centers of Jewish culture and learning were destroyed.

The Partitions of Poland 1772 and 1793

With the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian republic in 1772 and 1793: About one million Jews became subjects in the Russian empire, which created a severe and unwanted problem both for the Russian bureaucrats as for the Jewish communities: Troublesome for the first, disastrous for the latter.

As is well-known the Russian Czar decreed that the Jews were not allowed to live outside some specified gubernias, "Tsherta postojannoj evrejskoj osedlosti", the Tsherta, or the Pale.

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Last edited 11.12.2001 by Elsebeth Paikin