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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 DRIFT TOWARD OPPRESSION

During the last decade of Alexander's reign, the machinery of Jewish legislation was working at a slow rate, pending the full "revision" of Jewish rights. Yet the steps of the approaching reaction could well be discerned. Thus in 1870, during the discussion of the draft of the new Municipal Statute by a special committee of the Ministry of the Interior, which included as "experts" the burgomasters of the most important Russian cities, the question arose whether the former limitation of the number of Jewish aldermen in the municipal councils to one-third of the whole number of aldermen [1] should be upheld or not. The cities involved were those of the Pale where the Jews formed the majority of the population, and the committee was searching for ways and means to weaken "the excessive influence" of this majority upon the city administration and to subordinate it to the Christian minority.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 41.]

One solitary member, Novoselski, the burgomaster of Odessa, advocated the repeal of the old restriction, with the one proviso that the Jewish aldermen should be required to possess certain educational qualifications, inasmuch as educated Jews were "not quite as harmful" as uneducated ones.

A minority of the members of the Committee favored the limitation of the number of Jewish aldermen to one-half, but the majority staunchly defended the old norm, which was one-third. The representatives of the majority, in particular Count Cherkaski, the burgomaster of Moscow, argued that the Jews constituted not only a religious but also a national entity, that they were still widely removed from assimilation or Russification, that education, far from transforming the Jews into Russians, made them only more successful in the struggle for existence, that it was inadvisable for this reason "to subject the whole Russian element (of the population) to the risk of falling under the domination of Judaism."

The curious principle of municipal justice by virtue of which the majority of house owners and tax-payers were to be ruled by the representatives of the minority carried the day. The new Municipal Statute sanctioned the norm of one-third for "non-Christians," and reaffirmed the ineligibility of Jews to the post of burgomaster.

The law of 1874, establishing general military service and abolishing the former method of conscription, proved the first legal enactment which imposed upon the Jews equal obligations with their fellow-citizens, prior to bestowing upon them equal rights. To be sure, the new regulation brought considerable relief to the Jews, inasmuch as the heavy burden of military duty which had formerly been borne entirely by the poor burgher class, [1] was now distributed over all estates, while the burden itself was lightened by the reduction of the term of service. Moreover, the former collective responsibility of the community for the supply of recruits, which had given rise to the institution of "captors" and many other evils, was replaced by the personal responsibility of every individual conscript. All this, however, was not sufficient to change suddenly the attitude of the Jewish populace towards military service.

[Footnote 1: On the "burghers" see Vol. I, p. 308, n. 2. Concerning the military duty imposed on them see above, p. 23.]

The formerly privileged merchantile class could not reconcile itself easily to the idea of sending their children to the army. The horrors of the old conscription were still fresh in their minds, and even in its new setting military service was still suggestive of the hideous horrors of the past. Those who but yesterday had been dragged like criminals to the recruiting stations could not well be expected to change their sentiments over night and appear there of their own free will. The result was that a considerable number of Jews of military age (21) failed to obey the summons of the first conscription. Immediately the cry went up that the Jews evaded their military duty, and that the Christians were forced to make up the shortage. The official pens in St. Petersburg and in the provincial chancelleries became busy scribbling. The Ministry of War demanded the adoption of Draconian measures to stop this "evasion," As a result, the whole Jewish youth of conscription age was registered in 1875. At the recruiting stations the age of the young Jews was determined by their external appearance, without regard to their birth certificates. Finally, in the course of 1876-1878, a number of special provisions were enacted, by way of exception from the general military statute, for the purpose "of insuring the regular discharge of their military duty by the Jews."

According to the new legal provisions, the Jews who had been rejected as unfit for military service were to be replaced by other Jews and under no circumstances by Christians. For this purpose, the Jewish conscripts were to be segregated from the Christians after the drawing of lots, the first stage in the recruiting process. [1] Moreover, in the case of Jews a lower stature and a narrower chest were required than in that of non-Jews. In the case of a shortage of "unprivileged" recruits, permission was given to draft not only Jews enjoying, by their family status, the third and second class privileges, but also those of the first class, i.e., to deprive Jewish parents of their only sons. [2]

[Footnote 1: Since the number of men of military age greatly exceeds the required number of recruits, the Russian law provides that lots be drawn by the conscripts to determine the order in which they are to present themselves for examination to the recruiting officers. When the quota is completed, the remaining conscripts, i.e., those who, having drawn a high number, have not yet been examined, are declared exempt from military service.]

[Footnote 2: "According to Russian law, the following three categories of recruits are exempt from military service: 1) the only sons; 2) the only wage-earning sons, though there be other sons in the family; 3) those who have an elder brother or brothers in the army. The first category is exempt under all circumstances; the last two on condition that the required number of recruits be secured out of the "unprivileged" conscripts. Only in the case of the Jews is the first category drawn upon in the case of a shortage.]

In this manner the Government sought to "insure" with ruthless vigor the discharge of this most onerous duty on the part of the Jews, without making any attempt to insure at the same time the rights of this population of three millions which was made to spill its blood for the fatherland. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, many Jewish soldiers fought for Russia, and a goodly number of them were killed or wounded on the battlefield. Yet in the Russian military headquarters--the post of commander-in-chief was occupied by the crown prince, the future Tzar Alexander III.--no attention was paid to the thousands of Jewish victims, but rather to the fact that the "Jewish" firm of army purveyors, Greger, Horvitz & Kohan [1] was found to have had a share in the commissariat scandals. When at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 a resolution was introduced calling upon the Governments of Roumania, Servia, and Bulgaria to accord equal rights to the Jews in their respective dominions, and was warmly supported by all plenipotentiaries, such as Waddington, Beaconsfield, Bismarck, and others, the only one to oppose the emancipation of the Jews on principle was the Russian chancellor Gorchakov, In his desire to save the prestige of Russia, which herself had failed to grant equal rights to the Jews, the chancellor could not refrain from an anti Semitic sally, remarking during the debate that "one ought not to confound the Jews of Berlin, Paris, London, and Vienna, who cannot be denied civil and political rights, with the Jews of Servia, Roumania, and several Russian provinces, where they are a regular scourge to the native population."

[Footnote 1: Greger was a Greek, and Horvitz a converted Jew. See later, p. 244.]

Altogether the growth of anti-Semitism in the Government circles and in certain layers of Russian society, towards the close of the seventies, became clearly pronounced. The laurels of Brafman, whose "exposure" of Judaism had netted him many personal benefits and profitable connections in the world of officialdom, were apt to stimulate all sorts of adventurers. In 1876 a new "exposer" of Judaism appeared on the scene, a man with a stained past, Hippolyte Lutostanski. He was originally a Roman Catholic priest in the government of Kovno. Having been unfrocked by the Catholic Consistory "on account of incredible acts of lawlessness and immoral conduct," including libel, embezzlement, rape committed upon a Jewess, and similar heroic exploits, he joined the Greek-Orthodox church, entered the famous Troitza Monastery near Moscow as a monk, and was admitted as a student to the Ecclesiastical Academy of the same city.

As a subject for his dissertation for the degree of Candidate [1] the ignorant monk chose a sensational topic: "Concerning the Use of Christian Blood by the Jews." It was an unlettered and scurrilous pamphlet, in which the author, without indicating his sources, incorporated the contents of an official memorandum on the ritual murder legend from the time of Nicholas I., supplementing it by distorted quotations from talmudie and rabbinic literature, without the slightest knowledge of that literature or the Hebrew language.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 165, n. 1.]

The monastic adventurer, finding himself in financial straits, brought his manuscript to Rabbi Minor of Moscow, declaring his willingness to forego the publication of his brochure, which no doubt would cause great harm to the Jews, for a consideration of 500 rubles ($250). His blackmail offer was rejected Lutostanski thereupon published his hideous book in 1876, and travelled with it to St. Petersburg where he managed to present it to the crown prince, subsequently Alexander III., and to secure from him a grateful acknowledgement. The book also found the approval of the Chief of Gendarmerie, [1] who acquired a large number of copies and distributed them among the secret police all over Russia.

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

Encouraged by his success, Lutostanski issued a few years later, in 1879, another libellous work in two volumes, under the title "The Talmud and the Jews," which exhibits the same crudeness in style and content as his previous achievement--a typical specimen of a degraded back-yard literature. The editor of the Hebrew journal _ha-Melitz_, Alexander Zederbaum, demonstrated clearly that Lutostanski had forged his quotations, and summoned him to a public disputation, which offer was wisely declined.

Nevertheless, the agitation of this shameless impostor had a considerable effect on the highest official spheres in which an ever stronger drift toward anti-Semitism was clearly noticeable. In 1878 this anti-Semitic trend gave rise to a new ritual murder trial. The discovery in the government of Kutais, in the Caucasus, of the body of a little Gruzinian girl, named Sarra Modebadze, who had disappeared on the eve of Passover, was deemed a sufficient reason by the judicial authorities to enter a charge of murder against ten local Jews, although the ritual character of the murder was not put forward openly in the indictment. The case was tried before the District Court of Kutais, and the counsel for the defence succeeded by their brilliant speeches not only to demolish completely the whole structure of incriminating evidence but also to deal a death-blow to the sinister ritual legend. The case ended in 1879 with the acquittal of all the accused.

Withal, the "ritual" agitation left a nasty sediment in the Russian press. When in 1879 the famous Orientalist Daniel Chwolson, a convert to Christianity and professor at the Greek-Orthodox Ecclesiastical Seminary of St. Petersburg, who had written a learned apologetic treatise "Concerning the Medieval Accusations against the Jews," published a refutation of the ritual myth under the title "Do the Jews use Christian Blood?," he was attacked in the _Novoye Vremya_ by the liberal historian Kostomarov who attempted to disprove the conclusions of the defender of Judaism. The paper itself, hitherto liberal in its tendency, changed front about that time, and, steering its course by the prevailing moods in the leading Government circles, launched a systematic campaign against the Jews. The anti-Semitic bacilli were floating in the social atmosphere of Russia and preparing the way for the pogrom epidemic of the following decade.



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