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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook



The era of Nicholas I. was typically inaugurated by the bloody suppression of the Decembrists and their constitutional demands, [1] proving as it subsequently did one continuous triumph of military despotism over the liberal movements of the age. As for the emancipation of the Jews, it was entirely unthinkable in an empire which had become Europe's bulwark against the inroads of revolutionary or even moderately liberal tendencies. The new despotic regime, overflowing with aggressive energy, was bound to create, after its likeness, a novel method of dealing with the Jewish problem. Such a method was contrived by the iron will of the Russian autocrat.

[Footnote 1: See Vol. I, p. 410, n. 1.]

Nicholas I., who was originally intended for a military career, was placed on the Russian throne by a whim of fate.[1] Prior to his accession, Nicholas had shown no interest in the Jewish problem. The Jewish masses had flitted across his vision but once--in 1816--when, still a young man, he traveled through Russia for his education. The impression produced upon him by this strange people is recorded by the then grand duke in his diary in a manner fully coincident with the official views of the Government:

[Footnote 1: After the death of Alexander I. the Russian crown fell to his eldest brother Constantine, military commander of Poland. Accordingly, Constantine was proclaimed emperor, and was recognized as such by Nicholas. Constantine, however, who had secretly abdicated some time previously, insisted on resigning, and Nicholas became Tzar.]

  The ruin of the peasants of these provinces [1] are the Zhyds. [2] As   property-holders they are here second in importance to the landed   nobility. By their commercial pursuits they drain the strength of   the hapless White Russian people.... They are everything here:   merchants, contractors, saloon-keepers, mill-owners, ferry-holders,   artisans.... They are regular leeches, and suck these unfortunate   governments [3] to the point of exhaustion. It is a matter of   surprise that in 1812 they displayed exemplary loyalty to us and   assisted us wherever they could at the risk of their lives.

[Footnote 1: Nicholas is speaking of White Russia. Compare Vol. I, pp. 329 and 406.]

[Footnote 2: See on this term Vol. I, p. 320, n. 2.]

[Footnote 3: See on this term Vol. I, p. 308, n. 1.]

The characterization of merchants, artisans, mill-owners, and ferry-holders as "leeches" could only spring from a conception which looked upon the Jews as transient foreigners, who, by pursuing any line of endeavor, could only do so at the expense of the natives and thus abused the hospitality offered to them. No wonder then that the future Tzar was puzzled by the display of patriotic sentiments on the part of the Jewish population at the fatal juncture in the history of Russia.

This inimical view of the Jewish people was retained by Nicholas when he became the master of Russian-Jewish destinies. He regarded the Jews as an "injurious element," which had no place in a Slavonic Greek-Orthodox monarchy, and which therefore ought to be combated. The Jews must be rendered innocuous, must be "corrected" and curbed by such energetic military methods as are in keeping with a form of government based upon the principles of stern tutelage and discipline. As a result of these considerations, a singular scheme was gradually maturing in the mind of the Tzar: to detach the Jews from Judaism by impressing them into a military service of a wholly exceptional character.

The plan of introducing personal military service, instead of the hitherto customary exemption tax, [1] had engaged the attention of the Russian Government towards the end of Alexander I's reign, and had caused a great deal of alarm among the Jewish communities. Nicholas I. was now resolved to carry this plan into effect. Not satisfied with imposing a civil obligation upon a people deprived of civil rights, the Tzar desired to use the Russian military service, a service marked by most extraordinary features, as an educational and disciplinary agency for his Jewish subjects: the barrack was to serve as a school, or rather as a factory, for producing a new generation of de-Judaized Jews, who were completely Russified, and, if possible, Christianized.

[Footnote 1: See Vol. I, p. 318.]

The extension of the term of military service, marked by the ferocious discipline of that age, to a period of twenty-five years, the enrolment of immature lads or practically boys, their prolonged separation from a Jewish environment, and finally the employment of such methods as were likely to produce an immediate effect upon the recruits in the desired direction--all this was deemed an infallible means of dissolving Russian Jewry within the dominant nation, nay, within the dominant Church. It was a direct and simplified scheme which seemed to lead in a straight line to the goal. But had the ruling spheres of St. Petersburg known the history of the Jewish people, they might have realized that the annihilation of Judaism had in past ages been attempted more than once by other, no less forcible, means and that the attempt had always proved a failure.

In the very first year of the new reign, the plan of transforming the Jews by "military" methods was firmly settled in the emperor's mind. In 1826 Nichola instructed his ministers to draft a special statute of military service for the Jews, departing in some respects from the general law. In view of the fact that the new military reform was intended to include the Western region [1], which was under the military command of the Tzar's brother. Grand Duke Constantine [2], the draft was sent to him to Warsaw for further suggestions and approval, and was in turn transmitted by the grand duke to Senator Nicholas Novosiltzev, his co-regent [3], for investigation and report. As an experienced statesman, who had familiarized himself during his administrative activity with the Jewish conditions obtaining in the Western region, Novosiltzev realized the grave risks involved in the imperial scheme. In a memorandum submitted by him to the grand duke, he argued convincingly that the sudden imposition of military service upon the Jews was bound to cause an undesirable agitation among them, and that they should, on the contrary, be slowly "prepared for such a radical transformation."

[Footnote 1: The official designation for the territories of Western Russia which were formerly a part of the Polish Empire.]

[Footnote 2: Constantine was appointed by his brother Alexander I, Commander-in-chief of the Polish army after the restoration of Poland in 1815. He remained in this post until his death in 1831. See also above, p. 13, n. 2.]

[Footnote 3: He was the imperial Russian Commissary in Warsaw, and was practically in control of the affairs in Poland. See below, p. 92 et seq.]

Novosiltzev was evidently well informed about the state of mind of the Jewish masses. No sooner had the rumor of the proposed ukase reached the Pale of Settlement than the Jews were seized by a tremendous excitement. It must be borne in mind that the Jewish population of Western Russia had but recently been incorporated into the Russian Empire. Clinging with patriarchal devotion to their religion, estranged from the Russian people, and kept, moreover, in a state of civil rightlessness, the Jews of that region could not be reasonably expected to gloat over the prospect of a military service of twenty-five years' duration, which was bound to alienate their sons from their ancestral faith, detach them from their native tongue, their habits and customs of life, and throw them into a strange, and often hostile, environment. The ultimate aim of the project, which, imbedded in the mind of its originators, seemed safely hidden from the eye of publicity, was quickly sensed by the delicate national instinct, and the soul of the people was stirred to its depths. Public-minded Jews strained every nerve to avert the calamity. Jewish representatives journeyed to St. Petersburg and Warsaw to plead the cause of their brethren. Negotiations were entered into with dignitaries of high rank and with men of influence in the world of officialdom. Rumor had it that immense bribes had been offered to Novosiltzev and several high officials in St. Petersburg for the purpose of receiving their co-operation. But even the intercession of leading dignitaries was powerless to change the will of the Tzar. He chafed under the red-tape formalities which obstructed the realization of his favorite scheme. Without waiting for the transmission of Novosiltzev's memorandum, the Tzar directed the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the General Staff to submit to him for signature an ukase imposing military service upon the Jews. The fatal enactment was signed on August 26, 1827.

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