Stolypin in Keidan

By Berl Cohen (Durban, S. Africa)

The name of Stolypin, once the second most powerful man in all Great Russia, was linked to Keidan, and also, it must be noted, to its Jewish community.

Piotr Arkadjevich Stolypin began as “marshalik” in Keidan. His exact title was zemskij nachalnik[1] , and his duties included contacts with the farmers and landowners. In addition, he headed the army recruitment committee. He also had an estate in Kalnaberzhe (Kalnaberžė), about 12 km north of Keidan.

Pyotr Stolypin

He was later appointed commander of the Vilna police, and after that governor of Saratov. He reached the position of Minister of the Interior, and in 1906 was appointed prime minister, making him second only to Tsar Nikolai II. While in that position he was assassinated in a theater in Kiev in September 1911, with the Tsar’s family in attendance. The gunman was a Jew by the name of Dmitri Bogrov who worked for the Russian Okhrana [secret police]. He had intended to also shoot the Tsar, but was arrested and executed within a month.

Until the day he died, Stolypin was a regular visitor to Keidan, spending a few months at a time at his estate with his family. Keidan and the surrounding area came to life then. More than a thousand gendarmes, policemen and secret police agents appeared weeks in advance, filling the road from the train station to [Stolypin’s] estate and remaining until Stolypin himself left for St. Petersburg.

Stolypin often acted on Keidan’s behalf. Although it had only the official status of a small town, he ordered that a government office be established there, along with a municipal school and other institutions generally found only in provincial capitals. He also had friendly relations with Keidan’s head rabbi, Yonah Berger. On Sunday he would come from Kalnaberžė to church with his family. After the service Stolypin would stroll around to the officers’ building, where he would receive many delegations from Keidan and its surrounding region. He would listen to their requests, and would fulfill them within a short time. The town rabbi was always the first to welcome him with bread and salt.

In 1909, one such delegation came from Kovno. It included the most important members of that Jewish community, among them Rabinovich, Volf and Soloveichik. They asked that an iron bridge be built across the Neman [Nemunas] river. A year later, construction began. As the Kovno delegation waited in front of the officers’ building for Stolypin to arrive from church, they asked me, Yehuda Yoffe and Ora Michke (Bashe Shiyes) Vandrov to hold their coats and umbrellas. In return, each of us received half a ruble as a tip. We were also photographed with the delegation, but over the years I lost the photo.

After the shooting in Kiev, Stolypin fought for his life for about a week, during which his wife sent a telegram to town rabbi Yonah Berger asking the people to pray for his health. The Jews gathered in the synagogue, which was filled to capacity, and recited psalms. A few days later, a second telegram arrived from Stolypin’s wife, announcing his death. While all across Russia he was considered an evil man, Keidan’s Jews mourned him.

 

[1] An official holding administrative and legal power over citizens of a Russian province.

 

Translated by Miriam Erez.