PIROGOV, NIKOLAI IVANOVICH:
By: Herman Rosenthal
Russian physician and pedagogue; born 1810; died Nov., 1881. He was professor at the University of Dorpat. As a statesman Pirogov belonged to that renowned circle of men whose cooperation in educational matters was sought by Alexander II. in the first years of his reign. His "Voprosy K Zhizni," in "Morskoi Sbornik" (1856), dealing mainly with educational problems, led to his appointment as superintendent of the Odessa school district (1856-1858), and later to that of the Kiev district (1858-1861). In this capacity he learned to know, for the first time, the Jewish people; and as scholar and seeker after truth, as the true friend of enlightenment and the enemy of class antagonism, he treated the Jews in a kindly spirit and displayed unusual interest in the educational problems concerning them. His attitude toward the Jews is best shown by the words which he addressed to the Jewish community of Berdychev on his retirement from the superintendency of the Kiev district: "You are conveying to me the appreciation of my sympathy for the Jewish people. But I deserve no credit for it. It is a part of my nature. I could not act contrary to my own inclinations. Ever since I began the study of civics from the standpoint of science. I have felt the greatest antagonism for class prejudices; and involuntarily I applied this point of view also to national distinctions. In science, in practical life, among my colleagues, as well as among my subordinates and superiors, I have never thought of drawing distinctions as prompted by class and national exclusiveness. I have been guided by these convictions also in my relations with the Jews when brought in contact with them in private and public life. These convictions, the result of my education, having been developed by lifelong experience, are now second nature with me, and will not forsake me to the end of my life."
This attitude of Pirogov, acknowledged by all as a prominent man, was for the Jews of great social moment; but aside from this he took an active part in the development of Jewish education also. Noticing that the Jewish youth in the search for enlightenment encountered obstacles on the part of the Russian government as well as of the Jewish people, the great mass of which was hostile to general education, Pirogov made timely appeals to the Christians as well as to the Jews. Being familiar with the methods of instruction in the various Jewish and Christian schools, Pirogov, while superintendent of the Odessa district, published a special paper on the Odessa Talmud Torah in the "Odesski Vyestnik," citing it as an example for the Christian elementary schools, and noting also the conscious efforts of the Jews in the acquisition of knowledge. Furthermore, while still superintendent he published in the Russo-Jewish journal "Razsvyet," in 1860, an article on the necessity of enlightenment among the Jewish masses; and he invited the educated Jews to form an organization for the purpose, avoiding violent and unworthy methods in the treatment of their opponents. Pirogov also deemed it the duty of the Russian public to lend its aid to young Jewish students. "Where are religion, morality, enlightenment, and the modern spirit," said Pirogov, "when these Jews, who with courage and self-sacrifice engage in the struggle against prejudices centuries old, meet no one here to sympathize with them and to extend to them a helping hand?"Appoints First Jewish School Principal.
There existed at that time Jewish government schools which were very unpopular among the Jewish masses owing to the manner in which they were conducted; and Pirogov devoted much work toward making them really serve their avowed purpose. His initiative and exertions led, among other things, to the abolition of the rule under which only Christians were eligible for appointment as principals of these schools. In most cases the principals, coarse and uneducated, were unfriendly to the Jews. Pirogov appointed the first Jewish principal, U. S. Rosenzweig, one of the most eminent Jewish pedagogues in Russia.
Pirogov rendered a further service of great importance to the Jews by aiding those who wished to enter the general middle and higher institutions of learning, and in this connection he worked out and presented to the ministry plans for the reorganization of the Jewish schools, etc. His task was by no means an easy one; for at that time Pirogov was the only patron of the Jewish youth. It is said that the contemporary minister of public instruction measured the distance between the Jewish schools and the churches.Aids Jewish Students at University.
Pirogov lent his aid particularly in the organization at the University of Kiev of a fund for aiding Jewish students; it was also he who took the first steps toward enabling Jews to carry on their studies with government aid, to receive scholarships, etc. Guided by the same educational motives, while superintendent of the Odessa district he advocated allowing the publication of the first Russo-Jewish journal, the "Razsvyet," and the Hebrew paper "Ha-Meliẓ."
Unfortunately Pirogov's efforts met with no suppot; his views on the education of the Jews evoked no sympathy; and in the course of time access for the Jews to the general schools became more difficult.
- M. Morgulis, N. I. Pirogov, in Voskhod, 1881, No. 5;
- N. Botvinnik, Vzglyady Pirogova na Voprosy Prosvyescheniya Yevreyev, in Voskhod, 1903, No. 8;
- N. Bakst, Pamyati Pirogova, in Russki Yevrei, 1882, No. 1;
- Sochineniya, N. I. Pirogova, 2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1900.