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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

4. INTERCESSION OF WESTERN EUROPEAN JEWRY

The mask of the Russian Government was soon torn down also before the yes of Western Europe. In the initial stage of Lilienthal's campaign, public-minded Jews of Western Europe were inclined to believe that a happy era was dawning upon their coreligionists in Russia. At the instance of Uvarov, Lilienthal had entered into correspondence with Philippson, Geiger, Cremieux, Montefiore, and other leaders of West-European Jewry, bespeaking their moral support on behalf of the school-reform and going so far as to invite them to participate in the proceedings of the Rabbinical Commission convened at St. Petersburg. The replies from these prominent Jews were full of complimentary references to Uvarov's endeavors. The _Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums_,[1] in the beginning of the forties, voiced the general belief that the era of persecutions in Russia had come to an end.

[Footnote 1: A weekly founded by Dr. Ludwig Philippson in 1837. It still appears in Berlin.]

The frontier expulsions of 1843 acted like a cold douche on these enthusiasts. They realized that the pitiless banishment of thousands of families from home and hearth was not altogether compatible with "benevolent intentions." A sensational piece of news made its rounds through Germany: the well-known painter Oppenheim of Frankfurt-on-the-Main had given up working at the large picture ordered by the leaders of several Jewish communities for presentation to the Tzar. The painting had been intended as an allegory, picturing a sunrise in a dark realm, but the happy anticipations proved a will o' the wisp, and the plan had to be given up. Instead, Western Europe was resounding with moans from Russia, betokening new persecutions and even more atrocious schemes of restrictions. The sufferings of the Russian Jews suggested the thought that it was the duty of the influential Jews of the West to intercede on behalf of their persecuted brethren before the emperor of Russia.

The choice fell on the famous Jewish philanthropist in London, Sir Moses Montefiore, who stood in close relations to the court of Queen Victoria. Having established his fame by championing the Jewish cause in Turkey during the ritual murder trial of Damascus in 1840, Montefiore resolved to make a similar attempt in the land of the Tzar. In the beginning of 1846 he set out for Russia, ostensibly in the capacity of a traveler desirous of familiarizing himself with the condition of his coreligionists. Montefiore, who was the bearer of a personal recommendation from Queen Victoria to the Russian emperor, was received in St. Petersburg with great honors. During an audience granted to Montefiore in March, 1846, the Tzar expressed his willingness to receive from him, through the medium of the "Jewish Committee," suggestions bearing on the condition of the Russian Jews, based on the information to be gathered by him on his travels. Montefiore's journey through the Pale of Settlement, including a visit to Vilna, Warsaw, and other cities, was marked by great solemnity. He was courteously received by the highest local officials, who acted according to instructions from St. Petersburg, and he met everywhere with an enthusiastic welcome from the Jewish masses, who expected great results from his intercession before the Tzar.

Needless to say, these expectations were not realized. On his return to London, Montefiore addressed various petitions to Kiselev, the chairman of the Jewish Committee, to Minister Uvarov and to Paskevich, the then viceroy of Poland. Everywhere he pleaded for a mitigation of the harsh laws which were pressing upon his unfortunate brethren, for the restoration of the recently abolished communal autonomy, for the harmonization of the school-reform with the religious traditions of the Jewish masses. The Tzar was informed of the contents of these petitions, but it was all of no avail.

In the same year another influential foreigner made an unsuccessful attempt to improve the condition of the Russian Jews by emigration. A rich Jewish merchant of Marseille, named Isaac Altaras, came to Russia with a proposal to transplant a certain number of Jews to Algiers, which had recently passed under French rule. Fortified by letters of recommendation from Premier Guizot and other high officials in France, Altaras entered into negotiations with the Ministers Nesselrode and Perovski in St. Petersburg and with Viceroy Paskevich in Warsaw, for the purpose of obtaining permission for a certain number of Jews to emigrate from Russia.[1] He gave the assurance that the French Government was ready to admit into Algiers, as full-fledged citizens, thousands of destitute Russian Jews, and that the means for transferring them would be provided by Rothschild's banking house in Paris. At first, while in St. Petersburg, Altaras was informed that permission to leave Russia would be granted only on condition that a fixed ransom be paid for every emigrant.

In Warsaw, however, which city he visited later, in October, 1846, he was notified that the Tzar had decided to waive the ransom. For some unexplained reason Altaras left Russia suddenly, and the scheme of a Jewish mass emigration fell through.

[Footnote 1: A law on the Russian statute books forbids the emigration of Russian citizens abroad. See later, p. 285, n. 1.]



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