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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

CHAPTER XVII



THE LAST YEARS OF NICHOLAS I.

1. THE "ASSORTMENT" OF THE JEWS

The beginning of the "Second Emancipation" of 1848 in Western Europe synchronized with the last phase of the era of oppression in Russia. That phase, representing the concluding seven years of pre-reformatory Russia, was a dark patch in the life of the country at large, doubly dark in the life of the Jews. The power of absolutism, banished by the March revolution from the European West, asserted itself with intensified fury in the land of the North, which had about that time earned the unenviable reputation of the "gendarme of Europe." Thrown back on its last stronghold, absolutism concentrated its energy upon the suppression of all kinds of revolutionary movements. In default of such a movement in Russia itself, this energy broke through the frontier line and found an outlet in the punitive expedition sent to support the Austrians in the pacification of mutinous Hungary. The triumphant passwords of political freedom which were given out on the other side of the Western frontier only intensified the reactionary rage on this side. Since it was impossible to punish action--for under the vigilant eye of the terrible "Third Section" [1] revolutionary endeavors were a matter of impossibility--word and thought were subject to punishment. Censorship ran riot in the subdued literature of Russia, tearing out by the roots anything that did not fit into the mould of the bureaucratic way of thinking. The quiet precincts of the Russian _intelligenzia_, who, in the retirement of their homes, ventured to dream of a better political and social order, were invaded by political detectives who snatched thence numerous victims for the scaffold, the galleys, and conscription. Such were the contrivances employed during the last years of pre-reformatory Russia to hold together the old order of things in the land of officialdom and serfdom, in that Russia which the poet Khomyakov, though patriot and Slavophile, branded thus:

[Footnote 1: Compare above, p. 21, n. 1.]

    Blackened in court with falsehood's blackness,     And stained by the yoke of slavery,     Full of godless flattery, of vicious lying,     And ev'ry possible knavery.

But the full weight of "the yoke of slavery" and "falsehood's blackness," by which pre-reformatory Russia was marked, fell upon the shoulders of the most hapless section of Russian subjects, the Jews. The tragic gloom of the end of Nicholas' reign finds its only parallel in Jewish annals in the beginning of the same reign. The would-be "reforms" proposed in the interval, in the beginning of the forties, did not deceive the popular instinct. The Jews of the Pale saw not only the hand which was holding forth the charter of enlightenment but also the other hand which hid a stone in the form of new cruel restrictions. Soon the Government threw off the mask of enlightenment, and set out to realize its reserve program, that of "correcting" the Jews by police methods.

It will be remembered that the principal item in this program was "the assortment of the Jews," i.e., the segregation from among them of all persons without a certain status as to property or without definite occupations, for the purpose of proceeding against them as criminal members of society. As far back as 1846 the Government forewarned the Jews of the imminent "bloody operation over a whole class," against which Governor-General Vorontzov had vainly protested. [1] All Jews were ordered to register at the earliest possible moment among the guilds and estates assigned to them, "with the understanding that in case this measure should fail, the Government would of itself carry out the assortment," to wit: "it will set apart the Jews who are not engaged in productive labor, and will subject them, as burdensome to society, to various restrictions." The threat fell flat, for it was rather too much to expect that fully a half of the Jewish population, doomed by civil disabilities and general economic conditions to a life of want and distress, could obtain at a stroke the necessary "property status" or "definite occupations."

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 64 et seq.]

Accordingly, on November 23, 1851, the Tzar gave his sanction to the "Temporary Rules Concerning the Assortment of the Jews." All Jews were divided into five categories: merchants, agriculturists, artisans, settled burghers, and unsettled burghers. The first three categories were to be made up of those who were enrolled among the corresponding guilds and estates. "Settled burghers" were to be those engaged in "burgher trade" [1] with business licenses, also the clergy and the learned class. The remaining huge mass of the proletariat was placed in the category of "unsettled burghers," who were liable to increased military conscription and to harsher legal restrictions as compared with the first four tolerated classes of Jews. This hapless proletariat, either out of work or only occasionally at work, was to bear a double measure of oppression and persecution, and was to be branded as despised pariahs.

[Footnote 1: i.e., petty trade, as distinguished from the more comprehensive business carried on by the merchants who were enrolled in the mercantile guilds.]

By April 1, 1852, the Jews belonging to the four tolerated categories were required to produce their certificates of enrolment before the local authorities. Those who had failed to do so were to be entered in the fifth category, the criminal class of "unsettled burghers." Within the brief space allotted to them the Jews found themselves unable to obtain the necessary documents, and, thanks to the representations of the governors-general of the Western governments, the term was extended till the autumn of 1852, but even then the "assortment" had not yet been accomplished. The Government was fully prepared to launch a series of Draconian laws against the "parasites," including police inspection and compulsory labor. But while engaged in these charitable projects, the law-givers were taken aback by the Crimean War, which, with its disastrous consequences for Russia, diverted their attention from their war against the Jews. Yet for a successive number of years the law concerning the "assortment," or _razryaden_, as it was popularly styled by the Jews, hung like the sword of Damocles over the heads of hundreds of thousands of Jews, and the anxiety of the suffering masses was poured out in sad popular ditties:

     _Ach, a tzore, a gzeire mit die razryaden!_ [1]

[Footnote 1: "Alas! What misfortune and persecution there is in the assortment!"]



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