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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 SPREAD OF ANTI-SEMITISM

While the gubernatorial commissions--gubernatorial in the literal sense of the word, because entirely dominated by the governors--were holding their sessions, the satraps-in-chief of the Pale of Settlement, the governors-general, were busy sending their expressions of opinion to St. Petersburg. The governor-general of Kiev, Drenteln, who himself was liable to prosecution for allowing a two days' pogrom in his own residential city, condemned the entire Jewish people in emphatic terms, and demanded the adoption of measures calculated "to shield the Christian population against so arrogant a tribe as the Jews, who refuse on religions grounds to have close contact with the Christians." It was necessary, in his opinion, to resort to legal repression in order to counteract "the intellectual superiority of the Jews," which enables them to emerge victorious in the straggle for existence.

Similar condemnations of Judaism came from the governors-general of Odessa, Vilna, and Kharkov, although they disagreed as to the dimensions which this repression should assume. Totleben, the master of the Vilna province, who had refused to countenance the perpetration of pogroms in Lithuania, nevertheless agreed that the Jews should henceforth be forbidden to settle in the villages, though he was generous enough to add that he found it somewhat inconvenient "to rob the whole Jewish nation of the possibility of earning a livelihood by its labor." The impression prevailed that militant Judaeophobia was determined to deprive the Jews even of the right of securing a piece of bread.

The Government was well aware beforehand that the labors of the gubernatorial commissions would yield results satisfactory to it. It, therefore, found it unnecessary to wait for their reports and resolutions, and proceeded to establish in St. Petersburg, on October 19, "a Central Committee for the Revision of the Jewish Question." The committee was attached to the Ministry of the Interior, and consisted of several officials, under the chairmanship of Assistant-Minister Gotovtzev. The officials were soon busy framing "temporary measures" in the spirit of their patron Ignatyev, and, as the resolutions of the gubernatorial commissions were coming in, they were endeavoring to strengthen the foundations for the projected enactment. In January, 1882, the machinery for the manufacture of Jewish disabilities was in full swing.

This organized campaign of the enemies of Judaism, who were preparing administrative pogroms as a sequel to the street pogroms, met with no organized resistance on the part of Russian Jewry. The small conference of Jewish notables in St. Petersburg, which met in September in secret session, presented a sorry spectacle. The guests from the provinces, who had been invited by Baron Guenzburg, engaged in discussions about the problem of emigration, the struggle with the anti-Semitic press, and similar questions. After being presented to Ignatyev, who assured them in diplomatic fashion of the "benevolent intentions of the Government," they returned to their homes, without having achieved anything.

The only social factor in Jewish life was the press, particularly the three periodicals published in Russian, the _Razsvyet_ ("the Dawn"), the _Russki Yevrey_ ("the Russian Jew"), and the _Voskhod_ ("the Sunrise"), [1] but even they revealed the lack of a well-defined policy.

[Footnote 1: See on these papers, p. 219 et seq.]

The political movements in Russian Jewry were yet in an embryonic stage, and their rise and development were reserved for a later period. True, the Russian-Jewish press applied itself assiduously to the task of defending the rights of the Jews, but its voice remained unheard in those circles of Russia in which the poisonous waters of Judaeophobia gushed forth in a broad current from the columns of the semi-official _Novoye Vremya_, the pan-Slavic _Russ_, and many of their anti-Semitic contemporaries.

While the summer pogroms were in full swing, the _Novoye Vremya_, reflecting the views of the official spheres, seriously formulated the Jewish question in the paraphrase of Hamlet: "to beat or not to beat." Its conclusion was that it was necessary to "beat" the Jews, but, in view of the fact that Russia was a monarchical state with conservative tendencies, this function ought not to be discharged by the people but by the Government, which by its method of legal repression could beat the Jews much more effectively than the crowds on the streets.

The editor of the Moscow newspaper _Russ_, Ivan Aksakov, [1] attacked the Russian liberal press for expressing its sympathy with the Jewish pogrom victims, contending that the Russian people demolished the Jewish houses under the effect of a "righteous indignation," though he failed to explain why that indignation also took the form of plundering and stealing Jewish property, or violating Jewish women. Throwing into one heap the arguments of the medieval Church and those of modern German anti-Semitism, Aksakov maintained that Judaism was opposed to "Christian civilization," and that the Jewish people were striving for "world domination" which they hoped to attain through their financial power.

[Footnote 1: Compare above, p. 208.]

The bacillus of German anti-Semitism had penetrated even into the circles of the Russian radical _intelligenzia_. Among the "Populists," [1] who were wont to idealize the Russian peasantry, it became the fashion to look upon the Jew as an economic exploiter, with this distinction, however, that they bracketed him with the host of Russian exploiters from among the bourgeois class. This resulted in a most unfortunate misunderstanding. A faction of South Russian revolutionaries from among the party known as "The People's Freedom" [2] conceived the idea that the same peasants and laborers who had attacked the Jews as the representatives of the non-Russian bourgeoisie might easily be directed against the representatives of the ruling classes in general. During the spring and summer pogroms, several attempts were made by mysterious persons, through written appeals and oral propaganda, to turn the pogrom movement also against the Russian nobles and officials. [3] Towards the end of August, 1881, the Executive Committee of "The People's Freedom" issued an appeal in which it voiced the thought that the Tzar had enslaved the free Ukrainian people and had distributed the lands rightfully belonging to the peasants among the pans [4] and officials, who extended their protection to the Jews and shared the profits with them. Therefore, the people should march against the Jews, the landlords, and the Tzar. "Assist us, therefore," the appeal continues, "arise, laborers, avenge yourselves on the landlords, plunder the Jews, and slay the officials!"

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 222.]

[Footnote 2: In Russian, _Narodnaya Vola_. It was organized in 1879, and was responsible for the assassination of Alexander II.]

[Footnote 3: These endeavors were evidently the reason why the Russian Government was originally inclined to ascribe the anti-Jewish movement to revolutionary tactics.]

[Footnote 4: The Polish noble landowners. See Vol. I, p. 93, n. 2.]

True, the appeal was the work of only a part of the Revolutionary Executive Committee, which at that time had its headquarters in Moscow. It failed to obtain the approval of the other members of the Committee and of the party as a whole, and, being a document that might compromise the revolutionary movement, was withdrawn and destroyed after a number of copies had been circulated. Nevertheless, the champions of "The People's Freedom" continued for some time to justify theoretically the utilization of the anti-Jewish movement for the aims of the general social revolution. Only at a later stage did this section of the revolutionary party realize that these tactics were not only mistaken but also criminal. For events soon made it clear that the anti-Jewish movement served as an unfailing device in the hands of the black reactionaries to divert the popular wrath from the source of all evil--the rule of despotism--and direct it towards the most unfortunate victims of that despotism.



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