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NOTKIN (NOTE), NATHAN:

Russian army-contractor and financier; born at Shklov about the middle of the eighteenth century; died at St. Petersburg 1804. He was one of a number of Jews who, notwithstanding a law to the contrary, lived permanently in St. Petersburg. Catherine II. in a letter speaks of them as having lived there for a long time, and as lodging in the house of a minister who had formerly been her spiritual adviser.

Notkin was well thought of by Potemkin, and hehad many dealings with Derzhavin, whose celebrated "Opinion" (see Derzhavin) exerted an important influence on the life of the Jews of Russia. It was probably Notkin's plans for the improvement of the condition of his coreligionists that brought him and Derzhavin together.

Speaking, in his "Opinion," of the necessity of educating the younger generation of Jews, Derzhavin says, "He who suggested this thought to me belongs to the same society." In another place he says, "Only one Jew, Note, Hofrath at the Polish court, presented his project, which I append together with the original reports of the various communities."

Even before his acquaintance with Derzhavin, Notkin had conceived a project for improving the condition of the Jews in Russia; and this project he had communicated to Emperor Paul I. through Count Kurakin. In it he proposed the establishment of agricultural and industrial colonies in the government of Yekaterinoslav and elsewhere. The plan was laid before Derzhavin in 1800, and in 1803 Notkin submitted another scheme either to the emperor or to some member of the Commission on Jewish Affairs. Comparing the projects of 1803 and 1797, it appears that Notkin dealt with the same features of Jewish life in both, but that in his later project he went into greater detail and emphasized the urgent need of raising the intellectual level of the Jewish masses, of which he remained the stanch champion to the end of his life.

By making the government acquainted with the real condition of the Russian Jews Notkin contributed to the reforms of 1804. So identified was he with the interests of his coreligionists that Derzhavin invariably mentioned his name when speaking of the Jews, and Nevachovich called him "the champion of his people." When in 1803 the inhabitants of Kovno petitioned the emperor to expel the Jews from their city, and when, in the same year, the expulsion of the Jews from Smolensk was begun, Notkin again came to the front and wrote to Count Kotschubei in their behalf.

The agitation and discouragement existing among the Jews became known to the emperor, and on Jan. 21, 1803, the minister of the interior, Count Kotschubei, issued a circular letter to the governors of several states urging them to take remedial measures. This was undoubtedly due to Notkin's untiring efforts. The work of the Commission on Jewish Affairs resulted in an enactment which received the imperial sanction on Dec. 9, 1804. Though this enactment was favorable to the Jews, the report made by Derzhavin had been couched in terms distinctly unfair to them, and, as a result, an estrangement between him and Notkin followed (see Derzhavin).

Bibliography:
  • J. I. Hessen, Sto Lyet Nazad, St. Petersburg, 1900;
  • Voskhod, 1881, ii. 29;
  • June, 1900, p. 55.
H. R. J. G. L.
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