DILLON, ELIEZER or DILLION:
Russian army contractor; born at Nesvizh, government of Minsk, in the second half of the eighteenth century; died at Wilna June 25, 1838. He received a good education, which was rather unusual among the Jews of Lithuania at that time, and mastered the Russian language, becoming later intimate with the higher government officials. During the Franco-Russian war (1812) Dillon was contractor for the Russian army. After the war, in which the Jews had repeatedly shown their patriotism, Dillon was honored by the gift of a gold medal from Emperor Alexander I. "for faithful and conscientious service" (Steinschneider, "'Ir Wilna," i. 146), with a rescript dated Bruxel, France, June 29, 1814. When, by an edict of the same date, delegates were ordered to be chosen by the various Jewish communities to go to St. Petersburg and present there the various Jewish questions to the government, Dillon was elected a member of the delegation from Minsk (June 11, 1816). It appears, however, that the delegates did not go to St. Petersburg, probably for lack of funds. Two years later another ukase calling for the election of delegates was issued, and Dillon was again elected a representative from Minsk. See Alexander I., Pavlovich.
Two letters sent by Dillon to his constituents throw some light on the history of the Russian Jews, particularly those of St. Petersburg. In the first letter, dated St. Petersburg, 21 Kislew, 1818, Dillon relates that on his arrival in St. Petersburg an order was issued by Governor Vismanov for the expulsion of Jews from the city, including even those who had secured credentials from Christian merchants. Among them were many artisans who had lived in the city for years. They were to be expelled on the following Friday, when Dillon intervened in their behalf. He showed Vismanov the emperor's rescript, and assured him that his Majesty was desirous of improving the unfortunate condition of his Jewish subjects. Dillon's plea delayed the expulsion.
In the second letter, signed by him and his fellow delegate, Judah Zundel (Sonnenberg), Dillon describes an audience granted him by the emperor, which lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. The deplorable condition of the Jews and the unfounded accusations often made against them were fully represented by Dillon, who carried away from the interview the impression that the emperor was animated by a sincere desire to improve the condition of his Jewish subjects, but that his advisers did not share his views.
Dillon's increasing wealth and influence brought him many enemies. Being accused of dishonesty in his dealings with the government, he was arrested, and his property was confiscated. The case was brought before the Senate, which ordered his release and the restitution of his property on the ground that he was known personally to the emperor, who appreciated his valuable services to the country during the French war. Toward the end of his life Dillon lost his fortune, and removed to Wilna, where he engaged in petty trading.
- H. Steinschneider ("Ha-Maggid"), 'Ir Wilna, i. 146, Wilna, 1900;
- Fuenn, Kiryah Ne'emanah, ib. 1860.