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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


The catastrophe of March 1 had the natural effect of pushing not only the Government but also a large part of the Russian people, who had been scared by the spectre of anarchy, in the direction of reactionary politics. This retrograde tendency was bound to affect the Jewish question. The bacillus of Judaeophobia [1] became astir in the politically immature minds which had been unhinged by the acts of terrorism. The influential press organs, which maintained more or less close relations with the leading Government spheres, adopted more and more a hostile attitude towards the Jews. The metropolitan newspaper _Novoye Vremya_ ("The New Time") [2] which at that time embarked upon its infamous career as the semi-official organ of the Russian reaction, and a number of provincial newspapers subsidized by the Government suddenly began to speak of the Jews in a tone which suggested that they were in the possession of some terrible secret.

[Footnote 1: The term used in Russia for anti-Semitism.]

[Footnote 2: See above, p. 205.]

Almost on the day following the attempt on the life of the Tzar, the papers of this ilk began to insinuate that the Jews had a hand in it, and shortly thereafter the South-Russian press published alarming rumors about proposed organized attacks upon the Jews of that region. These rumors were based on facts. A sinister agitation was rife among the lowest elements of the Russian population, while invisible hands from above seemed to push it on toward the commission of a gigantic crime. In the same month of March, mysterious emissaries from St. Petersburg made their appearance in the large cities of South Russia, such as Yelisavetgrad (Elizabethgrad), Kiev, and Odessa, and entered into secret negotiations with the highest police officials concerning a possible "outburst of popular indignation against the Jews" which they expected to take place as part of the economic conflict, intimating the undesirability of obstructing the will of the Russian populace by police force. Figures of Great-Russian tradesmen and laborers, or _Katzaps,_ as the Great Russians are designated in the Little-Russian South, began to make their appearance in the railroad cars and at the railroad stations, and spoke to the common people of the summary punishment soon to be inflicted upon the Jews or read to them anti-Semitic newspaper articles. They further assured them that an imperial ukase had been issued, calling upon the Christians to attack the Jews during the days of the approaching Greek-Orthodox Easter.

Although many years have passed since these events, it has not yet been possible to determine the particular agency which carried on this pogrom agitation among the Russian masses. Nor has it been possible to find out to what extent the secret society of high officials, which had been formed in March, 1881, under the name of "The Sacred League," with the object of defending the person of the Tzar and engaging in a terroristic struggle with the "enemies of the public order," [1] was implicated in the movement. But the fact itself that, the pogroms were carefully prepared and engineered is beyond doubt: it may be inferred from the circumstance that they broke out almost simultaneously in many places of the Russian South, and that everywhere they followed the same routine, characterized by the well-organized "activity" of the mob and the deliberate inactivity of the authorities.

[Footnote 1: The League existed until the autumn of 1882. Among its members were Pobyedonostzev and the anti-Jewish Minister Ignatyev.]

The first outbreak of the storm took place in Yelisavetgrad (Elizabethgrad), a large city in New Russia, [1] with a Jewish population of fifteen thousand souls. On the eve of the Greek-Orthodox Easter, the local Christians, meeting on the streets and in the stores, spoke to one another of the fact that "the Zhyds are about to be beaten." The Jews became alarmed. The police, prepared to maintain public order during the first days of the Passover, called out a small detachment of soldiers. In consequence, the first days of the festival passed quietly, and on the fourth day, [2] on April 15, the troops were removed from the streets.

[Footnote 1: On the term New Russia see p. 40, n. 3.]

[Footnote 2: The Greek-Orthodox Passover lasts officially three days, but an additional day is celebrated by the populace.]

At that moment the pogrom began. The organizers of the riots sent a drunken Russian into a saloon kept by a Jew, where he began to make himself obnoxious. When the saloon-keeper pushed the trouble maker out into the street, the crowd, which was waiting outside, began to shout: "The Zhyds are beating our people," and threw themselves upon the Jews who happened to pass by.

This evidently was the prearranged signal for the pogrom. The Jewish stores in the market-place were attacked and demolished, and the goods looted or destroyed. At first, the police, assisted by the troops, managed somehow to disperse the rioters. But on the second day the pogrom was renewed with greater energy and better leadership, amidst the suspicious inactivity both of the military and police authorities. The following description of the events is taken from the records of the official investigation which were not meant for publication and are therefore free from the bureaucratic prevarications characteristic of Russian public documents:

  During the night from the 15th to the 16th of April, an attack was   made upon Jewish houses, primarily upon liquor stores, on the   outskirts of the town, on which occasion one Jew was killed. About   seven o'clock in the morning, on April 16, the excesses were   renewed, spreading with extraordinary violence all over the city.   Clerks, saloon and hotel waiters, artisans, drivers, flunkeys, day   laborers in the employ of the Government, and soldiers on   furlough--all of these joined the movement. The city presented an   extraordinary sight: streets covered with feathers and obstructed   with broken furniture which had been thrown out of the residences;   houses with broken doors and windows; a raging mob, running about   yelling and whistling in all directions and continuing its work of   destruction without let or hindrance, and, as a finishing touch to   this picture, complete indifference displayed by the local   non-Jewish inhabitants to the havoc wrought before their eyes. The   troops which had been summoned to restore order were without   definite instructions, and, at each attack of the mob on another   house, would wait for orders of the military or police authorities,   without knowing what to do. As a result of this attitude of the   military, the turbulent mob, which was demolishing the houses and   stores of the Jews before the eyes of the troops, without being   checked by them, was bound to arrive at the conclusion that the   excesses in which it indulged were not an illegal undertaking but   rather a work which had the approval of the Government. Toward   evening the disorders increased in intensity, owing to the arrival   of a large number of peasants from the adjacent villages, who were   anxious to secure part of the Jewish loot. There was no one to check   these crowds; the troops and police were helpless. They had all lost   heart, and were convinced that it was Impossible to suppress the   disorders with the means at hand. At eight o'clock at night a rain   came down accompanied by a cold wind which helped in a large measure   to disperse the crowd. At eleven o'clock fresh troops arrived on the   spot. On the morning of April 17 a new battalion of infantry came,   and from that day on public order was no longer violated in   Yelisavetgrad.

The news of the "victory" so easily won over the Jews of Yelisavetgrad aroused the dormant pogrom energy in the unenlightened Russian masses. In the latter part of April riots took place in many villages of the Yelisavetgrad district and in several towns and townlets in the adjoining government of Kherson. In the villages, the work of destruction was limited to the inns kept by Jews--many peasants believing that they were acting in accordance with imperial orders. In the towns and townlets, all Jewish houses and stores were demolished and their goods looted. In the town of Ananyev, in the government of Kherson, the people were incited by a resident named Lashchenko, who assured his townsmen that the central Government had given orders to massacre the Jews because they had murdered the Tzar, and that these orders were purposely kept back by the local administration. The instigator was seized by the police, but was wrested from it by the crowd which thereupon threw itself upon the Jews. The riots resulted in some two hundred ruined houses and stores in the outskirts of the town, where the Jewish proletariat was cooped up. The central part of the town, where the more well-to-do Jews had their residences, was guarded by the police and by a military detachment, and therefore remained intact.

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