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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

3. THE FIGHT AGAINST JEWISH "SEPARATISM"

Another incident which took place about the same time served in the eyes of the leading Government circles as an additional illustration of Jewish separatism. In 1870 Alexander II. was on a visit to the Kingdom of Poland, and there beheld the sight of dense masses of Hasidim with their long earlocks and flowing coats. The Tzar, repelled by this spectacle, enjoined upon the Polish governors strictly to enforce in their domains the old Russian law prohibiting the Jewish form of dress. [1] Thereupon the administration of the Kingdom threw itself with special zest upon the important task of eradicating "the ugly costumes and earlocks" of the Hasidim.

[Footnote 1: See above p. 144.]

Shortly afterwards the question of Jewish separatism was the subject of discussion before the Council of State. Under the unmistakable influence of the recent revelations of Brafman, the Council of State arrived at the conclusion that "the prohibition of external differences in dress is yet far from leading to the goal pursued by the Government, _viz_., to destroy the exclusiveness of the Jews and the almost hostile attitude of the Jewish communities towards Christians, these communities forming in our land a secluded religious and civil caste or, one might say, a state in a state." Hence the Council proposed to entrust a special commission with the task "of considering ways and means to weaken as far as possible the communal cohesion among the Jews" (December, 1870). As a result, a commission of the kind suggested by the Council was established in 1871, consisting of the representatives of the various ministries and presided over by the Assistant-Minister of the Interior, Lobanov-Rostovski. The Commission received the name "Commission for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Jews." [1]

[Footnote 1: Compare above, pp. 161 and 169.]

While the Government was again engaged in one of its numerous experiments over the problem of Jewish separatism, an event, unusual in those days, took place: the Odessa pogrom [1] of 1871. In this granary of the South, which owed its flourishing commerce to Jews and Greeks, an unfriendly feeling had sprung up between these two nationalities, which competed with one another in the corn trade and in the grocery business. This competition, though of great benefit to the consumers, was a thorn in the flesh of the Greek merchants. Time and again the Greeks would scare the Jews during the Christian Passover by their barbarous custom of discharging pistols in front of their church, which was situated in the heart of the Jewish district. But in 1871, with the approach of the Christian Passover, the Greeks proceeded to organize a regular pogrom.

[Footnote 1: _Pogrom_, with the accent on the last syllable, signifies _ruin_, _devastation_, and was originally applied to the ravages of an invading army.]

To arouse the mob the Greeks spread the rumor that the Jews had stolen a cross from the church fence and had thrown stones at the church building. The pogrom began on Palm Sunday (March 28). The Jews were maltreated, and their houses and shops were sacked and looted. Having started in the immediate vicinity of the church, the riot spread to the neighboring streets and finally engulfed the whole city. For three days hordes of Greeks and Russians gave free vent to their mob instincts, demolishing, burning, and robbing Jewish property, desecrating synagogues and beating Jews to senselessness in all parts of the city, undisturbed by the presence of police and troops who did nothing to stop the atrocities. The appeal of representative Odessa Jews to Governor-General Kotzebue was met by the retort that the Jews themselves were to blame, "having started first," and that the necessary measures for restoring order had been adopted. The latter assertion proved to be false, for on the following day the pogrom was renewed with even greater vigor.

Only on the fourth day, when thousands of houses and shops had already been destroyed, and the rioters, intoxicated with their success, threatened to start a regular massacre, the authorities decided to step in and to "pacify" the riff-raff by a rather quaint method. Soldiers were posted on the market place with wagon-loads of rods, and the rioters, caught red-handed, were given a public whipping on the spot. The "fatherly" punishment inflicted by the local authorities upon their "naughty" children sufficed to put a stop to the pogrom.

As for the central Government in St. Petersburg, the only thing it wanted to know was whether the pogrom had any connection with the secret revolutionary propaganda which, beginning with the Jews, might next set the mob against the nobility and Russian bourgeoisie. Since the official inquiry failed to reveal any political motives behind the Odessa riots, the St. Petersburg authorities were set at ease, and were only too glad to take the word of the satraps of the Pale who reported that the anti-Jewish movement had started as "a crude protest of the masses against the failure to solve the Jewish question"--_viz_., to solve it in a reactionary spirit--and as a manifestation, of the popular resentment against Jewish exploitation.

The old charge of separatism against the Jews thus found a companion in a new accusation: their economic "exploitation" of the Christian population of the Pale. The Committee appointed at the recommendation of the Council of State was enjoined to conduct a strict inquiry into both these "charges." Concretely the work of the Committee reduced itself to a consideration of two questions, one relating to the Kahal, or "the amelioration of the spiritual life of the Jews," and the other referring to the feasibility of thinning out the Pale of Settlement with the end in view of weakening the economic competition of the Jews.

The material bearing on these questions included, apart from Brafman's "standard work," a "Memorandum concerning the more important Administrative Problems in the South-west," which had been submitted in 1871 by the governor-general of Kiev, Dondukov-Korsakov, to the Tzar. The author of the memorandum voices his conviction that "the principal endeavors of the Government must be concentrated upon the Jewish question." The Jews are becoming a great economic power in the South-western provinces. They purchase or mortgage estates, and obtain control of the factories and mills as well as of the grain, timber, and liquor trade, thereby arousing the bitter resentment of the Christian population, particularly in the rural districts. [1] Moreover, the Jewish masses, refusing to follow the lead of the handful of Russified Jewish intellectuals, live entirely apart and remain in the throes of talmudic fanaticism and hasidie obscurantism. They "possess complete self-government in their Kahals, their own system of finance in the basket tax, their separate charitable institutions," their own traditional school in the heders, of which there are in the South-west no less than six thousand. In addition, the Jews possess an international organization, the "World Kahal," represented by the _Alliance Israelite "Universelle_ in Paris, whose president, Adolph Cremieux, had had the audacity to protest to the Russian Government against acts of violence perpetrated upon the Jews. For all these reasons the governor-general is of the opinion that "the revision of the whole legislation affecting the Jews has become an imperative necessity."

[Footnote 1: According to the official figures, quoted in the memorandum, the number of Jews in the three South-western governments, i.e., Volhynia, Podolia, and the Kiev province, amounted to 721,080. Of these, 14 per cent lived in rural districts and 86 per cent in cities and towns. They owned 27 sugar refineries out of 105; 619 distilleries out of 712; 5700 mills out of 6353; and so forth. The production of the industrial establishments in the hands of the Jews reached the sum of seventy million rubles.]

A similar tone was adopted in the other official documents which came into the hands of the "Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Jews." The communications of the governors and the reports of the members of the Committee were all animated by the same spirit, the spirit that spoke through Brafman's "Book of the Kahal." This was but natural. The officials, to whom this book had been sent by the central Government "for guidance," drew from it their whole political wisdom in things Jewish, and in their replies endeavored to fall in with the instructions of the Council of State, conveyed to them by the Committee, _viz_., "to consider ways and means to weaken the communal cohesion among the Jews."

In the Kingdom of Poland the governors complained similarly in their reports that the Jews of the province, though accorded equal rights by Vyelepolski, [1] had not complied with the conditions attached to that act, to wit, "to abandon the use of their own language and script, in exchange for the favors bestowed upon them." Outside of a handful of assimilated "Poles of the Mosaic Persuasion," who were imbued with Polish chauvinism, [2] the hasidic rank and file was permeated by extreme separatism, fostered by "the Kahal through its various agencies, the Congregational Boards, the rabbinate, the heders, and a host of special institutions."

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 181.]

[Footnote 2: And hence objectionable from the Russian point of view.]

These and similar communications formed the groundwork of the reports, or more correctly, the bills of indictment in which the members of the Committee charged the Jews with the terrible crime of constituting "a religio-political caste," in other words, a nationality. Following the lead of Brafman, the members of the Committee laid particular emphasis in their reports on the obnoxiousness of the Talmud and the danger of Jewish separatism. Needless to say, the conclusions offered by them were of the kind anticipated in the instructions of the Council of State: the necessity of wiping out the last vestiges of Jewish self-government, such as the Jewish community, the school, the mutual relief societies, in a word, everything that tends to foster "the communal cohesion among the Jews."

The barbarism of these proposals was covered by the fig-leaf of enlightenment. When the benighted Jewish masses will have fused with the highly cultured populance of Russia. In other words, when the Jews will have ceased to be Jews, then will the Jewish question find its solution. In the meantime, however, the Jews are to be curbed by the bridle of disabilities. The referee of the Committee on the question of the Pale of Settlement, Grigoryev, frankly stated: "What is important in this question is not whether the Jews will fare better when granted the right of residence all over the Empire, but rather the effect of this measure on the economic well-being of an enormous part of the Russian people." From this point of view the referee finds that it would be dangerous to let the Jews pass beyond the Pale, since "the plague, which has thus far been restricted to the Western provinces, will then spread over the whole Empire."

For a long time the Committee was at a deadlock, held down by bureaucratic reaction. It was only toward the end of its existence that the voice from another world, the posthumous voice of dead and buried liberalism, resounded in its midst. In 1880 the Committee was presented with a memorandum by two of its members, Nekhludov and Karpov, in which the bold attempt was made to champion the heretic point of view of complete Jewish emancipation. The language of the memorandum was one which the Russian Government had not heard for a long time.

In the name of "morality and justice" the authors of the memorandum call upon the Government to abandon its grossly utilitarian attitude towards the Jews who are to be denied civil rights so long as they do not prove useful to the "original" population. They expose the selfish motive underlying the bits of emancipation which had been doled out to the Jews during the preceding spell of liberalism: the desire, not to help the Jews, but to exploit their services. First-guild merchants, physicians, lawyers, artisans were admitted into the interior for the sole purpose of developing business in those places and filling the palpable shortage in artisans and professional men. "As soon as this or that category of Jews was found to be serviceable to the Russian people, it was relieved, and relieved only in part, from the pressure of exceptional laws, and received into the dominant population of the Empire." But the millions of plain Jews, abandoned by the upper classes, have continued to languish in the suffocating Pale. [1] The Jewish population is denied the elementary rights guaranteeing liberty of pursuit, freedom of movement and land ownership, such as only a criminal may be deprived of by a verdict of the courts. As it is, discontent is rife among these disinherited masses. "The rising generation of Jews has already begun to participate in the revolutionary movement to which they had hitherto been strangers." The system of oppression must be set aside. All the Jewish defects, their separatism and one-sided economic activity, are merely the fruits of this oppression. Where the law has no confidence in the population, there inevitably the population has no confidence in the law, and it naturally becomes an enemy of the existing order of things, "Human reason does not admit of any considerations which might justify the placing of many millions of the Jewish population, on a level with criminal offenders." The first step in the direction of complete emancipation ought to be the immediate grant of the right of domicile all over the Empire.

[Footnote 1: The narrow utilitarianism of the governmental policy in the Jewish question may also be illustrated by the official attitude towards the promotion of agriculture among the Jews. Under Alexander I. and Nicholas I. Jewish agricultural colonization in the South of Russia was encouraged by the grant of special privileges, though the Jewish settlers were subjected to the stern tutelage of bureaucratic inspectors. But under Alexander II., when Southern Russia was no longer in need of artificial colonization, the Government discontinued its policy of promoting Jewish colonization, and an ukase issued in 1866 stopped the settlement of Jews in agricultural colonies altogether. A little later the Jewish colonies in the South-west were deprived of a large part of their lands, which were distributed among the peasants.]

These bold words which turned the Jews from defendants into plaintiffs ran counter to the fundamental task of the Committee, which, according to the original instructions received by it, was expected to draft its plans in a spirit of reaction. At any rate, these words were uttered too late. A new era was approaching which in solving the Jewish question resorted to methods such as would have horrified even the conservative statesmen of the seventies: the era of pogroms and cruel disabilities.



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