"The Russian Torquemada"

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
"The Russian Torquemada" centers on prevelant Anti-Semitism during 19th Century Russia and how one Jewish family were made to choose between conversion to Christianity or deportation. With what decision they made, the consequences are provided in dramatic form. Historical facts are strewn throughout with an aim to support the Jewish family.

Submitted: September 28, 2011

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Submitted: September 28, 2011

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"THE RUSSIAN TORQUEMADA"

It was near the end of the 19th Century in Tsarist Russia. “The Russian Torquemada”, a.k.a. the privy councilor Pobiedonostseff, Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, was requiring all the Czar’s subjects to convert to Christianity or leave the imperial nation. In addition, one Jew in a thousand was accepted into post-secondary school, while more and more were sent off to their doom by the Imperialist warring cause. The Semenov family, headed by the most zealous Jew in Russia, Abraham Semenov, would not convert. Eventually, Abraham was pressured to sign a contract to that effect, but he and his family did not fulfill it. Upon hearing of this through neighboring Christian families, the Governor of Moscow, who remembered Abraham from years past, paid a visit to his household in Riazan Province.

The Governor, Alexei Milyutin, held no jurisdiction in Riazan. It was a rural area in where the emancipation of all privately owned peasants in 1861 embodied a now free class. Although the land was still undergoing change, Alexei did not like it. It was his duty (or so he said) to administer the code to whoever walked near Moscow. From the moment he exited the stage car in Sergeevka, he was surprised at how much it had grown since his teenage years. He arrived at the doorstep of Abraham Semenov and knocked on the door. He thought on their family and how they came to be. Abraham and his family were wealthy. They were the lucky ones. For instance, their fine young baby girl was cared for by a midwife, four days after the birth, something not widely done by the poor and hungry. Abraham was a banker. His two sons, Levi and Moshe, aged 13 and 14 years respectively, desired to teach and be taught. Sarah, his wife, was the homemaker. The youngest, Rebecca, reached age 1 without a blemish. It was a blessing. It was a wonder why so many hated them.

Abraham opened the door, combing his bushy beard with his hands and frowning at the lack of observance this man displayed. It was Shabbat. But after second look, Alexei was soon recollected by Abraham. They embraced coldly. Sarah saw the visitor and walked briskly from the living room where she was adoring baby Rebecca. Abraham raised his hand against Sarah. Alexei rose to speak.

“Abraham, we have known each other since our years in University. I know your hardships. But, you are better off than most Jews we know. Therefore, you must make a choice today. You have either six days to denounce your faith…that is, leave the synagogue, or become like your fellow Jews who have deported this great land of our wonderful Czar,” expressed Alexei.

Abraham said nothing, but made a gesture to Alexei that he would make up his mind. Abraham was deeply saddened. Up until this day, they lived peacefully. Despite the recent periods of Anti-Semitism, the Semenovs made the best of their social abuse. The family was close to The Most High and He made them closer. Abraham prayed to God that night. He prayed for wisdom and protection. He explained to The Creator that his family wasn’t ready. They would simply be deported from one country to another. Where was their Father’s land? Was he supposed to leave?

The next morning, Abraham and his oldest son Levi, 14, met with 8 men of the underground Jewish sect from the Baltic Sea in an abandoned building of a threshing floor outside the very outskirts of Skopin. It was Monday and as they were 10 in total, they recited verses from a withered scroll of the Mosaic Law, forming a Kahal Hakodesh, a “sacred body”. A third of the day was spent in this meditation. Abraham gave thanks and praise to the God who sees. ‘Justice will be mine, Says the LORD,’ they all repeated. ‘The LORD gives and He takes away,’ voiced everyone again. After unwinding their Tefillin, the gypsy men gave parting words to Abraham and Levi and travelled back to the camp where they were stationed for the next few nights.

Abraham and Levi walked back home in the freezing cold. They slept that night, refreshed and full of vigor from the day’s prayers. The following days ahead from the train station in Riazan Province to Moscow’s central terminal were strenuous. It was a 4 day journey from their home in Sergeevka. They were denied first class transportation and even more, denied fresh tea. When they arrived at the capital building, Abraham knocked patiently on the doorway of the Governor’s office.

“Walk in, as you may,” stated Alexei. Abraham gestured for Levi to walk in first. The door creaked close after them. “We have come to a solution,” announced Abraham. Alexei raised his eyebrows, put down his pen and paper and focused on Abraham.

“You are leaving,” asked Alexei?

“No, we are staying.”

“Then, you’re converting?”

“No,” Abraham said as he stood fast and alert.

“Let me get this clear…You are defying the rule of the land from the Czar by our most Holy Privy Councilor!?!”

Levi sought his father’s face with both worry and consternation.

“Officers,” yelled the Governor!

“Wait,” interrupted Abraham.

“What?”

“Put my family and I as servants of a Christian family, and you shall surely see us convert!”

“Fine. I don’t know what this means,” Alexei shook his head. “But, yes, I know a family that can use your services. And between now and next year, you must be fully devoted to the teachings of our bible.”

“A year is good for my family and me,” replied Abraham.

So, before the start of the next week, the Semenovs left their house and home. They moved into the most gifted, wealthy, and resourceful families of all Moscow, the Lebeds. Day and night, constantly and for 7 years, the Semenovs came to their aid whenever the family needed it. Whether it was washing their clothes, dusting, cooking their meals, or grooming their pets, not one thing was left unfinished. The Lebeds were satisfied and asked no more and no less. In fact, the deal was never made for full conversion. Boris and Catherine allowed the Semenovs full freedom of religion. Alexei Milyutin was so affixed to his work as Governor, that he lost track of the Semenovs. Of course, this was common for him at this position. He was a poor organizer.

Levi and Moshe attended school in the city. Their father was proud, because his children were able to learn and grow within a Christian society. Never again, he thought, would the Gentiles take so much liberty over them. The family was a tight knit nucleus of Jewish ideals. The family was the church. Rebecca, a beautiful young girl now 8 years old, was taught the art of piano. She was so adapt and brilliant in her talents, that Boris Lebed treated her almost every week to soda and children’s books. Sarah shared tea with mother Catherine. But, one thing was missing. At Moscow State University, his son Levi was receiving poor grades. Abram felt that he had failed his son.

Near the end of 1900, December to be exact, Levi joined the Students’ Organization Committee, wherefore he protested, sometimes violently to bring about freedom to those he had initially left. This small time revolution spurred ideas within Levi. At the beginning of January, Levi was on a hiatus from college. He arrived home late, January 2nd from a meeting with the SOC. Abraham smelled the obnoxious odor of vodka and tobacco from his son after letting him in from the blustery, winter weather. What a displeasure it created! Abraham looked up and down Levi. His hair was a mess, he was without his yarmulke, and he held in his hand a book foreign to the usual studies he carried with him.

“Levi, good evening. What is this you are bringing home?”

“Nothing peculiar, just a meeting from the Students’ Organization Committee.”

“Get some sleep. Don’t you remember, tomorrow we are to prepare for a banquet of our lord’s household. Do not forget!”

“What an inopportune time! And for us laboring Jews,” scowled Levi.

Levi made it up to his father the next day, giving his best, but underneath, his heart was ungrateful. Before Purim, Levi became less and less visible during the day. His school books collected a thick dust, and through the film were written the words, in Hebrew…’Mordecai is wounded.’ It was said by his peers that he became obsessed. And he would go on and on about true justice within the land. His favorite verse within The Nevi'im, guided his revolutionary mind.

‘You shall trample the wicked,

For they shall be ashes under

the soles of your feet’

His obsession was without fault. The most hated man in Russia, Constantine Petrovitch Pobiedonostseff, Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, was a hypocrite. He wanted to defeat any success by the Jews in any way.

On the 13th Day of Adar, March 23rd of 1901, an assassination attempt on M. Pobiedonostseff was carried out. Four shots were fired, with two bullets entering the apartment and two others off target. The criminal was identified as one Nikolai Lagowski, a provincial officer in St. Petersburg at the time. Levi Semenov did not come home.

On the 14th Day of Adar, March 24th of 1901, Abraham Semenov wailed and groaned in his prayers on the cold, splintered, wooden steps of Levi’s attic loft passageway. Abraham wore the lamenting sackcloth robe for two weeks. He was sure that Levi was innocent. Moshe, now 20, searched for his brother all over Moscow State University. He even travelled to St. Petersberg with all the money he had earned, hoping to satisfy his father.

Many conservative sources tried to extract proof of his involvement as an accessory, a ringleader. Fortunately for Levi, not a single piece of evidence could prove this disclaimer. The SOC would not fall as a house of cards like everyone assumed. “The Russian Torquemada” escaped unharmed, though he feared his life more than most ruling men in all of Russian history. Who knew if he’d live? How did he know? For, his head would become the affinitive bull’s-eye. And although the Czar saw fit to keep the Councilor, Abraham would destroy everything that his campaign brought about. He would see the 1905 Revolution, he would see limited constitutional monarchy, and he would see a multi-party system.


© Copyright 2019 Matthias Kerr. All rights reserved.

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