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Author's Introduction

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Abyss of Despair

Rabbi Nathan Hanover

Bloch Publishing Company
New York, 5710‑1950

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please
let me know!


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Chapter 2

 p27  I

Abyss of Despair

In the year (5)3451 of the era of creation King Sigismund of Sweden2 ruled over the Kingdom of Poland, and in the year (5)352,3 he married Anne, a woman of noble ancestry. She was the niece of Emperor Rudolph, and the daughter of Duke Carlos, who was the son of Emperor Ferdinand (of blessed memory). This I found at the end of the book "Tzemach David."4

The King was a kind and upright man. He loved justice and loved Israel. In his days the religion of the Pope5 gained strength in the Kingdom of Poland. Formerly most of the dukes and the ruling nobility adhered to the Greek Orthodox faith, thus the followers of both faiths were treated with equal regard. King Sigismund, however, raised the status of the catholic dukes and princes above those of the Ukrainians, so that most of the latter abandoned their Greek-Orthodox faith and embraced Catholicism. And the masses that followed the Greek Orthodox Church became gradually impoverished. They were looked upon as lowly and inferior beings and became the slaves and the handmaids of the Polish people and of the Jews. Those among them who were trained warriors were  p28 conscripted by the King to serve in his army. This group numbered approximately thirty thousand fighting men, and they were called Cossacks. They were exempt from taxes to the King and the nobles. It was their specific task to guard the frontier which bordered the Province of [Little] Russia and the Kingdom of the Tartars, and to protect the country against attacks from the latter. For the Tartars had always been a "stone of stumbling and a rock of offense"6 to the Kingdom of Poland. There always existed an abiding enmity between the Tartars and the Ukrainians, resulting in continuous warfare between them. The Cossacks therefore enjoyed special privileges like the nobility, and were exempt from taxes. The rest of the Ukrainians, however, were a wretched and an enslaved lot, servants to the dukes and the nobles. "Their lives were made bitter by hard labor, in mortar and bricks, and in all manner of services in the house and in the field."7 The nobles levied upon them heavy taxes, and some even resorted to cruelty and torture with the intent of persuading them to accept Catholicism. So wretched and lowly had they become that all classes of people, even the lowliest among them,8 became their overlords.

The Editor's Notes:

1 1585.

2 Sigismund III was crowned King of Poland in 1587.

3 1592.

4 The Shoot of David, a chronicle of general and Jewish interest by the renowned Jewish chronicler David Gans of Prague (1541‑1613) first published in 1592.

5 Catholicism.

6 Is. 8:14.

7 Ex. 1:14.

8 The Jewish People.

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Page updated: 3 Dec 22