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IN THE GRIP OF "HOLY RUSSIA.", Auckland Star, Volume XXXVI, Issue 267, 8 November 1905
IN THE GRIP OF "HOLY RUSSIA."
- A STUDENT'S EXP__3IENCEBTTLrTr) TO SIBERIA. In view of the terrible state of affairs prevailing in European Russia and Poland at the present time, and of the immense social upheaval that threatens, with ever-increasing i__mine__e. to bring both Government and State of the Great White Czar tumbling into hopeless and irretrievable ruin, an account of the personal experiences of one who was drawn into tbe revolutionary movement in Russian Poland, and who suffered for that participation by deportation to Siberia, will doubtless be keenly interesting to our readers. Mr. C. Rosegger. who has recently settled in Auckland, gave to a **Stari* representative a graphic version of the methods by which the Russian autocracy endeavours to crush the spirit of freedom, struggling de_p.erat_l.y-> against fearful odds fo voice its hopes and as- . pirations. About nine years ago he was an enthusiastic- student in Russian Poland, and eager to take part in any movement that had for its object the relieving and up lifting of the suppressed, and the advancement in general of the rights of man. At- this time he was living at Lodz, an industrial town of considerable importance lyimr about 100 miles to the south-east of Warsaw. The greater part of the labouring population in this district is Jewish, the working population of many of the towns being entirely so, and the '"Ytddisher Bund is one of the most powerful revolutionary organisations in that quarter of Poland. This bund, which, as its name implies, is a Jewish association, is very active in propagating more liberal principles, and of advocating the substitution of a constitutional Government iv, place of the Autocracy; but : t ■ methods have always been opposed to open violence, its le?d"rs favouring a course that anywhere but in Russia would be accounted mild and law-abiding. Open air meetings were frequently held by i he bund at this period, however, and this alone constituted a crime against the State, so that everv'one who attended these meetings did so at the imminent risk of arrest, with the certainty of being transported to one of the distent and isolated colonies in dreaded Siberia. It should be understood, explained Mr. Rosegger at this point, that the Russian working clnsses are not as violently anti-Semitic as is represented— in fact, throughout a greater part of Poland and Russia the common struggle for greater freedom has created a bond jof sympathy between the various races. The Orthodox Church, through her highest official, the Procurator of the "Holy Synod/ is really at the bottom of the persecution of _ew=: in Russia, and the efforts of this church have been consistently dire/rted towards inciting an anti-Semitic feeling among the peasant population. Owing also to the great amount of interest taken by the Jewish part of ''hi'; population in revolutionary movements, the Government has adopted a strong repressive policy towards them, rmd accordingly encourages, either openly or secretly, all outbreaks that have "jew-buitiu,-" for their object. la this Vi-ay the outside world is largely misled s_ to the true feeling of the great mass; of the people in Russia towards : the Jewish section of the community. I R*everting to his own experiences, Mr said that one night, at a meeting of about 300 in the neighbourhood of Lodz, a strong force of secret police suddenly appeared on the scene and in the subsequent dispersal of the gathering fifteen or sixteen of thos* faking "part, . including the speaker found themselves in the terrible iror grip of the Russian Political Law. The prisoners were entrained to Warsaw i where without any unnecessary dela-v t'bey underwent a "trial." The proceed ings were carried on entirely in Pais I sian, which language was wholly un'ra j telligiblc to the greater number of th< I prisoners. The judges at this remark
able trial reemed to be solely composed of gorgeously attired young police o_sci_'>>. who gravely considered the awful offence that had been committed by these young fellows, none of whom bad ;riven u-fctoranra? to anything like The remarks that may be heard at a unpolitical gathering in a British community. The "prisoners" were arrayed on" one side of the hall, c-i-o'se'y guard-".! by warde*--, who flourished jrHttcrinir .sabres. The a-ire-nts of the Secret Police, who conducted the prosecution, explained matters to the Court, t raticdat ion or -"fence i>eing _->t___ty absent. After soui •■ lengthy the Co.-• "ose from their seats, and judgment vv-va delivered in he name of the "Little Father." The "prisoners" were then conducted back to their temporary place of confinement, where, by bribing the warders, they gained the knowledge that they wore invited to spend several years at the expense of the Czar's Government in the colonies of Eastern Siberia. "The invitation proved irresistible indeed.' 1 grimly commented Mi- Rosegger. "but we were young men and resolute, anil all determined to make a bold effort to escape whenever the opijortunity presented itself." At + hi_ point it may be worth m"n tior___ that political prisoners wer- : kept. —Tut leavinfr "Warsaw, entirely a.part fr_>_i ?riminals, and the trea.tmeat. far • ■ i *od, etc.. went, was ; very tolerable, 'vhi Jt _- sy_ipa__is_rs al! along the iourv.-- provided comforts - for the sud'erfi-s tor *_<•• cause of the I suffering It was aLso common proI perty xliat the exiles would attempt tc . leave their enforced residence as ; do_ as opportunity should arrive, and . through agents of the revolurionary j eonimit-tee money was handed to them which in turn served as bribes to mo-1- . lily the drink-sodden warders. After a detention _f about a week ir | Warsaw they were, together with a I number of others exiled to Siberia | started out under a strong military i escort for their distant destination, tra I veiling through Russia by slow trains I to the Siberian border. i At this time the railway across Sibe- ! ria did not extend beyond Krasnoyarsk. ! a place about '200 miles cast of Tomsk | but politic— prisoners were usually entrained to Omsk, and from there distributed to their various destinations by road. The party of which Mr Rosegger was a member s_t out from War sarw in the early pari of tbe winter, anc travelling across Rnsaia by train at a very leisiirely -speed, Omsk was reoehec towards the end of December. On tht train was a church, and services werregularly conducted for the benefit o: the passengers and their guard; titrongbout the journey. The prisoner: were kept under strict guard, losudec rifles being levelled at irhem, so tc speak, night and day, but apart iron
they were not harshly treated, ajtd were not- submitted to the indignities and privations popuisrly associated with the lot of exiles bound to Siberia. "Any u_due hardships that are suffered by t-hose unfortunates is usually the result of petty vindictiveness of the lower officials, due sxanetimes to the want of a small bribe," said Mr Rosegger, "and must not be regarded as the deliberate treatment meted out to political prisoners by tie Russian authorities. The Government of the Czar has always been very keen upon colonising Siberia, to effect which it is not at all scrupulous as to the mea_. There is no doubt that were it not tor Siberia a great number of persoas who axe torn from their homes in Europe and condemned to Siberia as political suspects would remain quietly at home witout any fear of molestation. It is not, therefore, with the idea of immuring them in diutgeons and loading them, with irons that the Government transports its political prisoners beyond the Urals, but with the notion of settling them in different parts of its Eastern Empire as colonists. Those who are considered to be dangerous to the State, however, are treated more rigorously, which usually means being condemned to such a place as Yakutsk, for instance, banishment to which is held tantamount to a seart-ence of death." At Omsk the party was divided, some being sent on to Krasnoyarsk, others to Irkutsk, v,hile a few were despatched to the dreaded Yakutsk. Fortunately, it was not his fate to belong to this last number, bis destination being Irkutsk. The distance between Omsk and Irkutsk as the crow flies is about fourteen hundred miles, but this was considerably increased by the route over which they travelled. The journey was commenced in the early part of Jaimary, when the whole country was in the grip of the Ice King, and tbe outlook as they travelled in sleighs across the frozen fields was indeed a dismal one. Every guardhouse along the road was provided, however, with large fir<? hearths, and the '"Saraovar"' was soon steaming and giving forth the tea. which, mixed with vodka, formed a welcome and warmthproducing beverage to the frozen wayfarers, guard and prisoner alike. A great part o? the country through which they journeyed was well timbered, and at night, as they reste-1 and thawed tinder the heat of the great blazing camp fires, the scene was indeed a strange one. and typical with peculiar and terrible iOTce of that anomaly among civilised nations, "Holy Russia." The guards were not bad fellows, however, and those of the prisoners who were supplied with money were able to obtain a number of little indulgences that greatly helped to vary the deadly monotony of the journey.
THE SLEIGH JOURNEY. Irkutsk occupied in all about three months, for, although they travelled at a rate of from twenty-five to thirty miles a day. the number of stoppages for rest, sometimes extending over several days, protracted the journey very considerably beyond ordinary limits. The tedium of the route was occasionally broken by passing large gangs of navvies engaged on the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad, while roving bands of Kirghiz. Kalmuks, Tcherkess, etc.. were often met with. Occasionally they passed on the road a squad of criminal eouviets bound for Saghalien. These dismal processions dragged along to the aecompaiiimcnt of jangling legirons, and fierce short orders from the Cossack escorts to the lagging wretches whom they guarded. Each convict was attired like a zany, one side of his body being clothed in black and the other half in grey, while even his head was treated in similar manner, one half of it being shorn close, while on the remaining half the hair grew long. These unfortunates were chained together, and frequently linked in like manner to their guards. The whole country through which the caravan passed seemed to be alive with uniformed Russians .the white caps and big boots of the Russian officials being everywhere in ample evidence. When the party finally arrived at Irkutsk the prisoners were severally taken before the Governor of the district, examined, registered, and handed passports. They were then allotted to certain districts, closely guarded by patrols of Cossacks, and on pain of severe penalties forbidden to wander beyond certain circumscribed areas. Beyond this, however, they were fairly well treated. j After a '"political" has been a short time in the country, and should express a desire to settle permanently, he is afforded, facilities for doing so in the shape of practical a-sistance from the Government. The authorities supply him with money to obtain implements and stock to s'art with, and he is exempted from all taxes for twenty years. Under thes? conditions the expatriated political may. if he become reconciled sufficiently to his lot to throw himself with energy into the task, eventually become comparatively wealthy, as the soil in many parts of the country is extremely fertile, and, with ordinary cultivation, productive of heavy crops. "Needless to say." remarked Air Rosegger, "these manifold inducements to settle in Siberia are seldom regarded by the deported suspect with the favour desired Iby the -Little Father's' paternal Governj ment.*" j
IN THE GRIP OF "HOLY RUSSIA.", Auckland Star, Volume XXXVI, Issue 267, 8 November 1905
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