David Glosser’s attempted attack on his nephew Stephen Miller opens with this introduction into their shared family history:
It begins at the turn of the 20th century, in a dirt-floor shack in the village of Antopol, a shtetl of subsistence farmers in what is now Belarus. Beset by violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army, the patriarch of the shack, Wolf-Leib Glosser, fled a village where his forebears had lived for centuries and took his chances in America.
He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903…
“Forced childhood conscription” was abolished by Alexander II in 1856 and phased out completely over the next three years. Russia’s military reforms of the 1860s and 1870s introduced more or less equal and universal conscription of adult males by lottery.
Antopol is extremely unlikely to have been literally a “shtetl of subsistence farmers.” According to the first complete Russian census of 1897, Jews made up over 80% of its 3,870 residents. Some – perhaps most – of the Jewish Antepolers grew vegetables, most notably cucumbers, for sale. By definition, that’s not subsistence farming.
Dr. Czerniak, a Holocaust survivor, wrote this in an essay on the history of the shtetl:
In Antopol itself there were many plots tilled by both Jews and non-Jews. The Jews perfected their production of industrial crops, mainly two: pickles and ganders for export.
In his 1908 analysis of the Jews’ professional occupations in the Russian Empire, Ber (Boris) D. Brutskus noted:
The limited amount of land at the Jews’ disposal has forced them… to pay special attention to particular branches of agriculture. For example, in the Northwestern Region and the northern governorates of the Kingdom of Poland Jews are the principal producers of vegetables for the market; they sell their produce not only to the local urban population but also to the peasants.
The Northwestern Region refers to the six governorates of the empire that included most of the present-day Belarus and Lithuania. Antopol was part of the Grodno governorate, one of those six. The Jewish Colonization Association reported in 1904:
According to an official source, small-size commercial fruit and vegetable gardening in Lithuania and Belorussia is primarily in the hands of the Jews.
The Grodno governorate had the highest number of Jewish vegetable gardeners and the lowest average plot size, about 1.6 acres. Some of the vegetables were consumed by the growers’ families, no doubt, but only as a supplement to their basic diet rather than the staple food.