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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


Such "measures" were not long in coming. The only restriction the Government of Warsaw failed to carry through was the enforcement of the law of 1812 forbidding the Jews to deal in liquor. This drastic measure was vetoed by Alexander I., owing to the representations of the Jewish deputies in St. Petersburg, and in 1816 the Polish viceroy was compelled to announce the suspension of this cruel law which had hung like the sword of Damocles over the heads of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

On the other hand, the Polish Government managed in the course of a few years (1816-1823) to put into operation a number of other restrictive laws. Several cities which boasted of the ancient right _de non tolerandis Judaeis_[1] secured the confirmation of this shameful privilege, with the result that the Jews who had settled there during the existence of the duchy of Warsaw were either expelled or confined to separate districts. In Warsaw a number of streets were closed to Jewish residents, and all Jewish visitors to the capital were forced to pay a heavy tax for their right of sojourn, the so-called "ticket impost," amounting to fifteen kopecks (71/2c) a day. Finally the Jews were forbidden to settle within twenty-one versts of the Austrian and Prussian frontiers. [2]

[Footnote 1: See Vol. I, pp. 85 and 95.]

[Footnote 2: The law in question was passed by the Polish Government on January 31, 1823, barring the Jews from nearly one hundred towns. It was repealed by Alexander II. in 1862. See below, p. 181.]

At the same time, the Polish legislators were fair-minded enough to refrain from forcing the Jews, these disfranchised pariahs, into military service. In 1817 an announcement was made to the effect that, so long as the Jews were barred from the enjoyment of civil rights, they would be released from personal military service in Poland, in lieu whereof they were to pay a fixed conscription tax. About the same time, during the third decade of the nineteenth century, was also realized the old-time policy of curtailing the Jewish Kahal autonomy, though, as will be seen later, this "reform" did not proceed from the Government spheres, but was rather the product of contemporary social movements among the Poles and the Jews.

The political literature of Poland manifested at that time a tendency similar to the one which had prevailed during the Quadrennial Diet.[1] Scores of pamphlets and magazine articles discussed with polemical ardor the Jewish problem, the burning question of the day. The old Jew-baiter Stashitz, a member of the Warsaw Government who served on the Commission of Public Instruction and Religious Denominations, resumed his attacks on Judaism. In 1816 he published an article under the title "Concerning the Causes of the Obnoxiousness of the Jews," in which he asserted that the Jews were responsible for Poland's decline. They multiplied with incredible rapidity, forming now no less than an eighth of the population. Should this process continue, the Kingdom of Poland would be turned into a "Jewish country" and become "the laughing-stock of the whole of Europe." The Jewish religion is antagonistic to Catholicism: we call them "Old Testament believers," [2] while they brand us as "pagans." It being impossible to expel the Jews from Poland, they ought to be isolated like carriers of disease. They should be concentrated in separate quarters in the cities to facilitate the supervision over them. Only well-deserving merchants and craftsmen, who have plied their trade honestly for five or ten years, should be allowed to reside outside the ghetto. The same category of Jews, in addition to those married to Christian women, should also be granted the right of acquiring landed property. The ghetto on the one end of the line, and baptism on the other--this medieval policy did not in the least abash the patriotic reformers of the type of Stashitz.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 279 et seq.]

[Footnote 2: Referring to the term _Starozakonni_, the Polish designation for Jews.]

Stashitz's point of view was supported by certain publicists and opposed by others, but all were agreed on the necessity of a system of correction for the Jews. The discussion became particularly heated in 1818, after the convocation and during the sessions of the first [1] Polish Diet in Warsaw. Three different tendencies asserted themselves: a moderate, an anti-Jewish, and a pro-Jewish tendency. The first was represented by General Vincent Krasinski, a member of the Diet. In his "Observations on the Jews of Poland," he proceeds from the following twofold premise: "The voice of the whole nation is raised against the Jews, and it demands their transformation." This titled publicist declares himself an opponent of the Jews as they are at present. He shares the popular dread of their multiplication, the fear of a "Jewish Poland," and is somewhat sceptical about their being corrigible. Nevertheless he proposes liberal methods of correction, such as the encouragement of big Jewish capital, the promotion of agriculture and handicrafts among the Jewish masses, and the bestowal of the rights of citizenship upon those worthy of it.

[Footnote 1: i.e., the first to be convoked after the reconstitution of Poland in 1815.]

Krasinski was attacked by an anonymous writer in an anti-Semitic pamphlet entitled "A Remedy against the Jews." Proceeding from the conviction that no reforms, however well conceived, could have any effect on the Jews, the writer puts the question in a simplified form: "Shall we sacrifice the welfare of three million Poles to that of 300,000 Jews, or _vice versa?_" His answer is just as simple: the Jews should be forced to leave Poland. Emperor Alexander I., "the benefactor of Poland," ought to be petitioned to rid the country of the Jews by transferring them to the uninhabited steppes in the South of Russia or even "on the borders of Great Tartary." The 300,000 Jews might be divided into 300 parties and settled there in the course of one year. The means for expelling and settling the Jews should be furnished by the Jews themselves.

This barbarous project aroused the ire of a noble-minded Polish army officer, Valerian Lukasinski, a radical in politics, who subsequently landed in the dungeon of the Schlueselburg fortress. [1] In his "Reflections of an Army Officer Concerning the Need of Organizing the Jews," published in 1818, Lukasinski advances the thought that the oppression and disfranchisement of the Jews are alone responsible for their demoralized condition. They were useful citizens in the golden age of Casimir the Great and Sigismund the Old [2] when they were treated with kindness. The author lashes the hypocrisy of the Shlakhta who hold the Jews to account for ruining the peasants by selling them alcohol in those very taverns which are leased to them by the noble pans. Lukasinski contends that the Jews will become good citizens once they will be allowed to participate in the civil life of Poland, when that life will be founded on democratic principles.

[Footnote 1: In the government of St. Petersburg.]

[Footnote 2: i.e., Sigismund I. (1506-1548). See on his attitude towards the Jews Vol. I, p. 71 et seq.]

The choir of Polish voices was but faintly disturbed by the opinions expressed by the Jews. An otherwise unknown rabbi, who calls himself Moses ben Abraham, echoes in his pamphlet "The Voice of the People of Israel" the sentiments of Jewish orthodoxy. He begs the Poles not to meddle in the inner affairs of Judaism: "You refuse to recognize us as brothers; then at least respect us as fathers! Look at your genealogical tree with the branches of the New Testament, a d you will find the roots in us." Polish culture cannot be foisted upon the Jews. Barbarous as may appear the plan of expelling the Jews from Poland, the persecuted tribe will rather submit to this alternative than renounce its faith and its ancestral customs.

The views of the progressive Jews of Poland were voiced by a young pedagogue in Warsaw, subsequently the well-known champion of assimilation, Jacob Tugenhold. In a treatise entitled "Jerubbaal, or a Word Concerning the Jews," Tugenhold contends that the Jews have already begun to assimilate themselves to Polish culture. It was now within the power of the Government to strengthen this movement by admitting "distinguished Jews to civil service."

While this literary feud concerning the problem of Judaism was raging, an unhealthy movement against the Jews started among the dregs of the Polish population. In several localities of the Kingdom there suddenly appeared "victims of ritual murder" in the shape of dead bodies of children, the discovery of which was followed by a series of legal trials against the Jews (1815-1816). Innocent people were thrown into prison, where they languished for years, and were subjected to cross-examinations, though without the inquisitorial apparatus of ancient Poland. It is impossible to say whither this orgy of superstition might have led, had it not been stopped by a word of command from St. Petersburg. In 1817, as a result of the energetic representations of "the Deputies of the Jewish People," [1] Sonnenberg and his fellow-workers, the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Golitzin, gave orders that the ukase which had just been issued by him, forbidding the arbitrary injection of a ritual element into criminal cases, be strictly enforced in the Kingdom of Poland. This action saved the lives of scores of prisoners, and put a stop to the obscure agitation which endeavored to revive the medieval spectre.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 394, and above, p. 74.]

The Polish Diet of 1818 reflected the same state of mind which had previously found expression in political literature: an unmistakable preponderance of the anti-Jewish element. Some of the deputies appealed to Alexander I. in their speeches and openly called upon him to give orders to lay before the next session of the Diet "a project of Jewish reform, with a view to saving Poland from the excessive growth of the Hebrew tribe, which now forms a seventh of all the inhabitants, and in a few years will surpass in numbers the Christian population of the country." For the immediate future the deputies recommend the enforcement of the suspended law barring the Jews from the liquor traffic [1] and their subjection to military conscription.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 304, and above, p. 94.]

One might have thought that the Diet had no need of extra measures to "curb" the Jews. It was quite enough that it tacitly sanctioned the prolongation of the ten years term of Jewish rightlessness which had been fixed by the Government of the Varsovian duchy in 1808. [1] This term ended in 1818, while the first Diet of the Kingdom of Poland was holding its sessions, but neither the Polish Diet nor the Polish Council of State gave any serious thought to the question whether the Government of the province had a right to prolong the disfranchisement of the Jews. This right was taken for granted by the Polish legislators who were planning even harsher restrictions for the unloved tribe of Hebrews.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 299.]

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