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Jewish children in Russia drafted for military service. In 1827, Czar Nicholas I extended military service to include Jews. The Russian conscripts served in the army for 25 years, beginning at age 18. Jewish children, however, were taken at the age of 12 and placed in “canton,” or district, schools of six years of preliminary training. They were sent as far away from any Jewish settlement as possible, and every effort was made to convert them to Christianity. Many cantonists did not survive the cruel treatment in these schools; many saved themselves by conversion. For this reason, Jews did everything in their power to keep their children from being taken into the Russian army. The government simply compelled the heads of each Jewish community to produce the community’s quota of children. The rich often tried to buy substitutes for their children, while informers and professional kidnappers added to the terror within the Jewish communities. This state of affairs lasted for 30 years until Alexander II abolished the system in 1857.

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