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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. THE JEWS AND THE POLISH INSURRECTION OF 1831

When, under the effect of the July revolution in Paris, the "November insurrection" of 1830 broke out in Warsaw, it put on its mettle that section of Polish Jewry who hoped to improve the Jewish lot by their patriotic ardor. In the month of December one of the "Old Testament believers," Stanislav Hernish, [1] addressed himself to the Polish dictator, Khlopitzki, in the name of a group of Jewish youths, assuring him of their eagerness to form a special detachment of volunteers to help in the common task of liberating their fatherland. The dictator replied that, inasmuch as the Jews had no civil rights, they could not be permitted to serve in the army. The Minister of War Moravski delivered himself on this occasion of the following characteristic utterance: "We cannot allow that Jewish blood should mingle with the noble blood of the Poles. What will Europe say when she learns that in fighting for our liberty we have not been able to get along without Jewish help?"

[Footnote 1: Polish patriot and publicist. He subsequently fled to France. See later, p. 109.]

The insulting refusal did not cool the ardor of the Jewish patriots. Joseph Berkovich, the son of Berek Yoselovitch, who had laid down his life for the Polish cause, decided to repeat his father's experiment [1] and issued a proclamation to the Jews, calling upon them to join the ranks of the fighters for Polish independence. The "National Government" in Warsaw could not resist this patriotic pressure. It addressed itself to the "Congregational Board" of Warsaw, inquiring about the attitude of the Jewish community towards the projected formation of a separate regiment of Jewish volunteers. The Board replied that the community had already given proofs of its patriotism by contributing 40,000 Gulden towards the revolutionary funds, and by collecting further contributions towards the equipment of volunteers. The formation of a _special_ Jewish regiment the Board did not consider advisable, inasmuch as such action was not in keeping with the task of uniting all citizens in the defence of the fatherland. Instead, the Board favored the distribution of the Jewish volunteers over the whole army.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 293 et seq.]

From now on the Jews were admitted to military service, but more into the militia than into the regular army. The commander of the National Guard in Warsaw, Anton Ostrovski, one of the few rebel leaders who were not swayed by the anti-Semitic prejudices of the Polish nobility, admitted into his militia many Jewish volunteers on condition that they shave off their beards. Owing to the religious scruples of many Jewish soldiers, the latter condition had to be abandoned, and a special "bearded" detachment of the metropolitan guard was formed, comprising 850 Jews.

The Jewish militia acquitted itself nobly of its duty in the grave task of protecting the city of Warsaw against the onrush of the Russian troops. The sons of wealthy families fought shoulder to shoulder with children of the proletariat. The sight of these step-children of Poland fighting for their fatherland stirred the heart of Ostrovski, and he subsequently wrote: "This spectacle could not fail to make your heart ache. Our conscience bade us to attend to the betterment of this most down-trodden part of our population at the earliest possible moment."

It is worthy of note that the wave of Polish-Jewish patriotism did not spread beyond Warsaw. In the provincial towns the inhabitants of the ghetto were, as a rule, unwilling to serve in the army on the ground that the Jewish religion forbade the shedding of human blood. This indifference aroused the ire of the Polish population, which threatened to wreak vengeance upon the Jews, suspecting them of pro-Russian sympathies. Ostrovski's remark with reference to this situation deserves to be quoted: "True," he said, "the Jews of the provinces may possibly be guilty of indifference towards the revolutionary cause, but can we expect any other attitude from those we oppress?" [1] It may be added that soon afterwards the question of military service as affecting the Jews was solved by the Diet. By the law of May 30, 1831, the Jews were released from conscription on the payment of a tax which was four times as large as the one paid by them in former years.

[Footnote 1: In the Western provinces outside the Kingdom of Poland, in Lithuania, Volhynia, and Podolia, the Jewish population held itself aloof from the insurrectionary movement. Here and there the Jews even sympathized with the Russian Government, despite the fact that the latter threw the Polish rulers into the shade by the extent of its Jewish persecutions. In some places the Polish insurgents made the Jews pay with their lives for their pro-Russian sympathies.]

When the "aristocratic revolution," having failed to obtain the support of the disinherited masses, had met with disaster, the revolutionary leaders, who saved themselves by fleeing abroad, indulged in remorseful reflections. The Polish historian Lelevel, who lived in Paris as a refugee, issued in 1832 a "Manifesto to the Israelitish Nation," calling upon the Jews to forget the insults inflicted upon them by present-day Poland for the sake of the sweet reminiscences of the Polish Republic in days gone by and of the hopes inspired by a free Poland in days to come. He compares the flourishing condition of the Jews in the ancient Polish commonwealth with their present status on the same territory, under the yoke of "the Viennese Pharaohs," [1] or in the land "dominated by the Northern Nebuchadnezzar," [2] where the terror of conscription reigns supreme, where "little children, wrenched from the embraces of their mothers, are hurled into the ranks of a debased soldiery," "doomed to become traitors to their religion and nation."

[Footnote 1: Referring to Galicia.]

[Footnote 2: Nicholas I.]

  The reign of nations--exclaims Lelevel--is drawing nigh. All peoples   will be merged into one, acknowledging the one God Adonai. The rulers   have fed the Jews on false promises; the nations will grant them   liberty. Soon Poland will rise from the dust. Let then the Jews living   on her soil go hand in hand with their brother-Poles. The Jews will then   be sure to obtain their rights. Should they insist on returning to   Palestine, the Poles will assist them in realizing this consummation.

Similar utterances could be heard a little later in the mystic circle of Tovyanski and Mitzkevitch in Paris, [1] in which the historic destiny of the two martyr nations, the Poles and the Jews, and their universal Messianic calling were favorite topics of discussion. But alongside of these flights of "imprisoned thought" one could frequently catch in the very same circle the sounds of the old anti-Semitic slogans. The Parisian organ of the Polish refugees, _Nowa Polska_, "New Poland," occasionally indulged in anti-Semitic sallies, calling forth a passionate rebuttal from Hernish, [2] an exiled journalist, who reminded his fellow-journalists that it was mean to hunt down people who were the "slaves of slaves." Two other Polish-Jewish revolutionaries, Lubliner and Hollaenderski, shared all the miseries of the refugees and, while in exile, indulged in reflections concerning the destiny of their brethren at home. [3]

[Footnote 1: Andreas Tovyanski (In Polish _Towianski_, 1799-1878), a Christian mystic, founded in Paris a separate community which fostered the belief in the restoration of the Polish and the Jewish people. The community counted among its members several Jews. The famous Polish poet Adam Mitzkevich (in Polish _Mickiewicz_, 1798-1855) joined Tovyanski in his endeavors, and on one occasion even appeared in a Paris synagogue on the Ninth of Ab to make an appeal to the Jews.]

[Footnote 2: See above, p. 105.]

[Footnote 3: Lubliner published _Des Juifs en Pologne_, Brussels, 1839; Hollaenderski wrote _Les Israelites en Pologne_, Paris, 1846.]

In pacified Poland, which, deprived of her former autonomous constitution, was now ruled by the iron hand of the Russian viceroy, Paskevich, the Jews at first experienced no palpable changes. Their civil status was regulated, as heretofore, by the former Polish legislation, not by that of the Empire. It was only in 1843 that the Polish Jews were in one respect equalized with their Russian brethren. Instead of the old recruiting tax, they were now forced to discharge military service in person. However, the imperial ukase extending the operation of the Conscription Statute of 1827 to the Jews of the Kingdom contained several alleviations. Above all, its most cruel provision, the conscription of juveniles or cantonists, was set aside. The age of conscription was fixed at twenty to twenty-five, while boys between the age of twelve and eighteen were to be drafted only when the parents themselves wished to offer them as substitutes for their elder sons who were of military age. Nevertheless, to the Polish Jews, who had never known of conscription, military service lasting a quarter of a century, to be discharged in a strange Russian environment, seemed a terrible sacrifice. The "Congregational Board" of Warsaw, having learned of the ukase, sent a deputation to St. Petersburg with a petition to grant the Jews of the Kingdom equal rights with the Christians, referring to the law of 1817 which distinctly stated that the Jews were to be released from personal military service so long as they were denied equal civil rights. The petition of course proved of no avail; the very term "equal rights" was still missing in the Russian vocabulary.

Only in point of disabilities were the Jews of Poland gradually placed on an equal footing with their Russian brethren. In 1845 the Russian law imposing a tax on the traditional Jewish attire [1] was extended in its operation to the Polish Jews, descending with the force of a real calamity upon the hasidic masses of Poland. Fortunately for the Jews of Poland, the other experiments, in which St. Petersburg was revelling during that period, left them unscathed. The crises connected with the problems of Jewish autonomy and the Jewish school, which threatened to disrupt Russian Jewry in the forties, had been passed by the Jews of Poland some twenty years earlier. Moreover, the Polish Jews had the advantage over their Russian brethren in that the abrogated Kahal had after all been replaced by another communal organization, however curtailed it was, and that the secular school was not forced upon them in the same brutal manner in which the Russian Crown schools had been imposed upon the Jews of the Empire. Taken as a whole, the lot of the Polish Jews, sad though it was, might yet be pronounced enviable when compared with the condition of their brethren in the Pale of Settlement, where the rightlessness of the Jews during that period bordered frequently on martyrdom.

[Footnote 1: A law to that effect had been passed on February 1, 1843. It was preparatory to the entire prohibition of Jewish dress. See below, p. 143 et seq.]



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