7. Those Who Stayed Behind

Not all Subbotniki came to America prior to World War I. Some chose to remain in Russia or to emigrate to other countries during the last century. The major focus of the Subbotniki in this report is those who were originally Molokans. However the Subbotniki movement extended to many more Russians that were not necessarily of Molokan origin. So the stories presented here may or may not refer to the Molokan-Subbotniks that are my main interest. In addition to the United States, it appears that many Subbotniki eventually emigrated to France, Israel and South America.

Subbotniki in the Soviet Union

Klibanov reports that he encountered a group of Subbotniki in 1959 near Tambov. An excerpt from the 1969 Evolution of Old Russian Sectarianism published in Moscow by L.A. Tul’tseva and translated by Ethel Dunn contains statistics and Soviet accounts of Subbotniks from the Russian Revolution through modern times. The author states:

Today several groups of Molokans and Subbotniks remain in Veronezh [Voronezh] Oblast: … Subbotniks in Il’inka and Vysokii settlements of Talovsk Raion [Talovsky district].… {formed after} the migration of the Subbotniks in 1920 and 1921 to former landed estates. … of 1,200 inhabitants of Vysokii there are about 20 to 25 convinced {Subbotniki} believers who assemble more or less regularly for prayers. … in the village of Il’inka … of 611 inhabitants there are 400 Subbotniks.

The Subbotniki of Voronezh had rabbis from the Pale of Settlement during the Tsarist era, but had no other contact with Russian Jews until the November Revolution. Thereafter, the Jews of Russia became racist, and did not consider these people, who are true converts, to be Jewish and referred to them as Iudeistvuyushchie: "Those who practice Judaism." There was very little contact between the Jews and the Voronezh Subbotniki community. Since 1989 most of them have come to live in Israel.

In a November, 1992 Washington Post article entitled “Few Russian Jews Left in Stalin’s ‘Homeland,’” Margaret Shapiro writes that while visiting a Siberian territory set aside for the Jews by Stalin, she found “… a few ethnic Jews who now follow a Christian sect called Subbotniki.” This seems to further substantiate earlier reports mentioned in this paper that some Subbotniki sects had their roots in Christianity.

Subbotniki in France

An interesting reference to those who stayed behind is found in Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France written by Richard H. Weisaberg in 1996. Vichy refers to the puppet government that administered the parts of France that were not formally occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Vichy government attempted to follow some form of constitutional law when it came to determining who was to be considered Jewish for purposes of exclusion and eventual deportation.

Four Subbotniki were living in France at the time war broke out. The Vichy Council General on the Question of Jews (CGQJ) first had considered them to be Jews. A CGOJ official named Ditte maintained that

“...These little ‘Mosaic’ groups could not be distinguished one from the other, at least not in a manner convincing to his agency.”

A lawyer listed as LaPaulle represented the Subbotniks in an appeal to keep the Subbotniks from being considered Jews although they practiced the Jewish religion. In making his case, Lawyer LaPaulle cited the precedent of Russian law that had exempted Subbotniks from Soviet anti-Semitic measures although acknowledging that the group had "Judaizing tendencies.” His argument stressed the religious distinctions between Subbotniks and Jews. LaPaulle professed:

"The best proof that Subbotniks are in no way a Mosaic sect is that they accept the New Testament, which is totally rejected by the Jewish religion.”

Subbotniki in Israel

It is only logical to expect that some of the Subbotniki living in the Soviet Union would have taken advantage of the resettlement programs offered to Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel. After all, since they were identified with the Jews because of their religious beliefs and practices, the Subbotniki probably suffered similar patterns of discrimination and persecution from the Communist and post-Communist governments.

The most recent Russian reference to Subbotniki I have found appeared in 1997 in an article in the newspaper Moskovskie Novosti entitled "An Ancient Sect Leaves Russia” by correspondent Oxana Antic. She reported on a group of Subbotniki who live in the village of Ilyinka on the border of Voronezh Oblast with Ukraine.

The sect originated at the end of the 17th century in Russia. The persecution of Subbotniki, which began in Tsarist Russia, continued under the Soviet regime. Now the last members of the sect have decided to leave for Israel. Moskovskie Novosti's correspondent who visited Ilyinka regrets this decision as a loss for the spiritual climate of the country.

There is settlement of Subbotniki 13 families, altogether 130 people, in the upper Jordan valley. However, it does not appear that they found total peace and acceptance in the “Promised Land.” On April 24, 1997 an article appeared on the first page of the Israel newspaper of record Ha-aretz. The headline read: "Interior Department works to cancel the Israeli citizenship of all the families in Yitav in the Jordan Valley." There is a church in Yitav where all the inhabitants get together on Saturdays. The article said these people were given papers in the former Soviet Union saying they were Jewish. The documents were obtained from a government official in 1990 or 1991 after an old Subbotniki woman told him that she and the entire group “felt themselves to be Jewish.”

The contribution of Subbotniki to the building of the Jewish presence in Palestine was significant. However, as noted previously explained, they were all converts to Judaism. One example is Eitan (Ethan) Raphael who was a member of the 1988 Israeli Knesset [the legislature of Israel], Minister of Agriculture & Environment and Deputy Prime Minister. He is reportedly from a Subbotnik family. He has born in Israel in 1929 and apparently has returned to the racist definitions of what it is to be Jewish. He is a supporter of legislation that would deny the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism. However, when recently asked if he was Jewish, Eitan answered, "I will not answer that question."
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