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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 XXIII



NEW MEASURES OF OPPRESSION AND PUBLIC PROTESTS

1. THE DESPAIR OF RUSSIAN JEWRY

The civil New Year of 1882 found the Jews of Russia in a depressed state of mind: they were under the fresh impression of the excesses at Warsaw and were harassed by rumors of new measures of oppression. The sufferings of the Jewish people, far from stilling the anti-Jewish fury of the Government, had merely helped to fan it. "You are maltreated, _ergo_ you are guilty"--such was the logic of the ruling spheres of Russia. The official historian of that period is honest enough to confess that "the enforced role of a defender of the Jews against the Russian population [by suppressing the riots] weighed heavily upon the the Government." Upon reading the report of the governor-general of Warsaw for the year 1882, in which reference was made to the suppression of the anti-Jewish excesses by military force, Alexander III. appended the following marginal note: "This is the sad thing in all these Jewish disorders."

Those among Russian Jewry who could look further ahead were not slow in realizing the consequences which were bound to result from this hostile attitude of the ruling classes. Those of a less sensitive frame of mind found it necessary to inquire of the Government itself concerning the Jewish future, and received unequivocal replies. Thus, in January, 1882, Dr. Orshanski, a brother of the well-known publicist, [1] approached Count Ignatyev on the subject, and was authorized to publish the following statement:

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 238 et seq.]

  The Western frontier is open for the Jews. The Jews have already   taken ample advantage of this right, and their emigration has in no   way been hampered. [1] As regards your question concerning the   transplantation of Jews into the Russian interior, the Government   will, of course, avoid everything that may further complicate the   relations between the Jews and the original population. For this   reason, though keeping the Pale of Jewish Settlement intact, I have   already suggested to the Jewish Committee [attached to the Ministry]   [2] to indicate those localities which, being thinly populated and   in need of colonization, might admit of the settlement of the Jewish   element ... without injury to the original population.

[Footnote 1: According to an old Russian law which had come into disuse, departure from the country without a special Government permit is punishable as a criminal offence.]

[Footnote 2: See p. 277.]

This reply of the all-powerful Minister, which was published as a special supplement to the Jewish weekly _Razsvyet_, increased the panic among the Jews of Russia. The Jews were publicly told that the Government wished to get rid of them, and that the only "right" they were to be granted was the right to depart; that no enlargement of the Pale of Settlement could possibly be hoped for, and that only as an extreme necessity would the Government allow groups of Jews to colonize the uninhabitable steppes of central Asia or the swamps of Siberia. Well-informed people were in possession of much more serious information: they knew that the Jewish Committee attached to the Ministry of the Interior was preparing a monstrous plan of reducing the territory of the Pale of Settlement itself by expelling the Jews from the villages and driving them into the over-crowded cities.

The soul of the Jewish people was filled with sorrow, and yet there was no way of protesting publicly in the land of political slavery. The Jews had to resort to the old medieval form of a national protest by pouring forth their feelings in the synagogue. Many Jewish communities seemed to have come to an understanding to appoint the 18th of January as a day of mourning to be observed by fasting and by holding religious services in the synagogues. This public mourning ceremony proved particularly impressive in St. Petersburg. On the appointed day the whole Jewish population of the Russian capital, with its numerous Jewish professionals, assembled in the principal synagogue and in the other houses of prayer, reciting the hymns of perpetual Jewish martyrdom, the _Selihot_. In the principal synagogue the rabbi delivered a discourse dealing with the Jewish persecutions.

  When the preacher--an eye-witness narrates--began to picture in a   broken voice the present position of Jewry, one long moan, coming,   as it were, from one breast, suddenly burst forth and filled the   synagogue. Everybody wept, the old, the young, the long-robed   paupers, the elegant dandies dressed in latest fashion, the men in   Government service, the physicians, the students, not to speak of   the women. For two or three minutes did these heart-rending moans   resound--this cry of common sorrow which had issued from the Jewish   heart. The rabbi was unable to continue. He stood upon the pulpit,   covered his face with his hands, and wept like a child.

Similar political demonstrations in the presence of the Almighty were held during those days in many other cities. In some places the Jews observed a three days' fast. Everywhere the college youth, otherwise estranged from Judaism, took part in the national mourning, full of the presentiment that it, too, was destined to endure decades of sorrows and tears.



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