Jewish in the life of St. Peterburg
Traditional and new occupations
As the Jewish community of St. Petersburg grew, Jews occupied an increasingly important place in the economic and cultural life of the city. While retired Jewish soldiers practiced the traditional Jewish occupations they had learned in the Pale (tailor, shoemaker, furrier), the subsequent generations of Petersburg Jews successfully adapted to the economic needs of the capital and chose new occupations. Jewish tailors could hardly compete with fashionable French and German masters. Yet by 1904 Jews accounted for nearly one fifth of all tailor ateliers (serving men, ladies and the military) and individual tailors, while only 1.5% of the city's population were Jewish. In 1894-1904, Jews also accounted for 6-7% of all proprietors of shoemaking enterprises. Jewish shoemakers had to work in conditions of strong competition with German masters who were traditionally popular in Petersburg.
The traditional image of the Jewish second-hand clothes dealer was not characteristic for Petersburg, where a small but united Tartar community nearly monopolized this business. Neither were Jews noticeable in petty trade. At the same time, Jews prevailed in the bird feather trade and also procured rags for paper-mills and clothing factories. In the capital's food market the Jews successfully competed with merchants from Kostroma and a number of northern provinces in selling dried mushrooms (supplied mostly from Byelorussia and the northwestern provinces).
The first comparatively major Jewish merchants of St. Petersburg to be noted by their contemporaries were linen dealers who pioneered such methods as special sales and newspaper advertising. It is remarkable that in the 1870s-1880s most Jewish dealers in Dutch linen passed themselves off as Germans in the newspaper advertisements. After the linen merchants, Jewish cloth and textile merchants came to the St. Petersburg market. Jews ran a large part of linensewing (more than 1/3), hosiery-knitting (about 20% by 1895 and up to 36% by 1904) and furrier's shops (1/6-1/8) in the capital.
By the late 19th - early 20th century Jews dominated or, at least, came to the fore in occupations which were not traditional for the Pale. By 1904, every fifth owner of printing and lithographing offices and typesetting foundries, every fifth owner of photographer's studios, nearly every fifth owner of locksmith's workshops, as well as about 5% of the owners of iron and copper foundries and up to 4% of the owners of furniture workshops in St. Petersburg were Jewish. Jews had an indisputable lead in producing and selling clocks. Nearly one half of clock stores and clock repair shops were Jewish in 1904. Jews accounted for one-fourth of all pharmacy proprietors and an even greater share of chemists. They also accounted for slightly more than 10% of physicians and as many as one-third of dentists.
Jews had occupied a significant place in the banking business since the 1860s. Besides the well-known banker dynasties of the Barons Gunzburgs and Polyakovs, owners of smaller banking houses and banking offices also played an important role in the economic life of the capital. Thus, for example, Ippolit (Gunya Nusen) Vavelberg, a native of Warsaw, founded his banking business in St. Petersburg in 1869 and ran "G.N. Vavelberg" banking house at 25/1 and later 7/9, Nevsky Prospect. Considering himself a "Pole of the Jewish religion", Vavelberg made generous donations to Polish culture, but due to rising anti-Semitism, he began to take part in Jewish life. In his last years he joined the St. Petersburg board of OPE and actively participated in the work of the Jewish Colonization Society.
Jewish architects in St. Petersburg
Twenty-nine Jewish architects worked in St. Petersburg at the turn of the century. They designed and participated in the construction of more than a hundred buildings intended for various purposes - apartment houses and mansions, production and education facilities, banks and entertainment venues (e.g. cinemas).
Most Jewish architects of St. Petersburg had graduated from one of the capital's two educational institutions: the Academy of Arts and the Institute of Civil Engineers (architects were also trained at the Institute of Transportation Routes Engineers, but Jews were not admitted to it). The city's most prominent Jewish architects of the late 19th - early 20th century were Segal, Levi, Gevirts and Girshovich.
Boris Ionovich Girshovich is worth special mentioning among St. Petersburg's Jewish architects. Besides residential houses, banks and schools he was commissioned by the Jewish community to design the buildings of the Jewish Vocational School (ORT school) at the corner of Lermontovsky avenue (then Bolshaya Masterskaya street) and Ofitserskaya street, as well as the Jewish public bathhouses and charitable canteen (140, Yekaterininsky Channel Embankment). Even though such a position was not officially established, Girshovich was rightfully considered the architect of the Jewish community of St. Petersburg. But his individuality as an architect is most clearly manifested in bank buildings and mansions.
Jewish lawyers in St. Petersburg
The medical and legal departments of universities were especially popular with Russian Jews eager for mass higher education. This can be explained not only by their legal status in the Russian Empire, but also by some particularities of the Jewish mentality. The thousands-years-old talmudic tradition had helped to develop a legal way of thinking. And after the judicial reform of 1864 permitted practicing law without enrolling for public service (prosecutor's office or magistracy), many Jews went into law, leaving an imprint on the whole Petersburg legal profession.
Beginning in the mid-1890s Jews accounted for more than 20% of attorneys and nearly one half of assistant attorneys in St. Petersburg. After 1889, non-Christians were allowed into the Bar only with the special permission of the Minister of Justice, which meant in practice that Jews were prohibited. Those who enrolled as assistant attorneys were allowed to handle civil cases (more profitable, by the way, than criminal ones). Many Petersburg Jewish attorneys also filed cases in the Commercial Court.
Oskar Osipovich (Israel Iosifovich) Gruzenberg was Petersburg's most famous Jewish attorney. Born in Yekaterinoslav, he graduated from the law department of Kiev University, refused an academic career (which required conversion to Christianity) and, having moved to St. Petersburg, soon became one of its most brilliant attorneys, despite the fact that officially until 1905 he was only an assistant attorney. An expert in civil law, Gruzenberg demonstrated his talent to the full in political trials. He defended Gorky, Korolenko, Chukovsky, Milyukov, Trotsky, members of the 1st State Duma, members of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies, participants of the Armenian national movement and many others.
Russian Jewry greatly appreciated Gruzenberg's participation in such "Jewish trials" as the cases of the Minsk and Kishinev pogroms, Dashevsky's case and, finally, the well-known Beilis case
Dressmaker. I. Pen