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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 PROBLEM OF EMIGRATION AND THE POGROM AT BALTA

In Russia itself a large number of emigration societies came into being about the same time, which had for their object the transfer of Russian Jews to the United States, the land of the free. The organizers of these societies evidently relied on some miraculous assistance from the outside, such as the _Alliance Israelite_ of Paris and similar Jewish bodies in Europe and America. Under the immediate effect of Ignatyev's statement to Dr. Orshanski in which the Russian Minister referred to the "Western frontier" as the only escape for the Jews, the Russian-Jewish press was flooded with reports from hundreds of cities, particularly in the South of Russia, telling of the formation, of emigrant groups. "Our poor classes have only one hope left to them, that of leaving the country. 'Emigration, America,' are the slogans of our brethren"--this phrase occurs at that time with stereotyped frequency in all the reports from the provinces.

Many Russian-Jewish intellectuals dreamed of establishing Jewish agricultural and farming colonies in the United States, where some batches of emigrants who had left during the year 1881 had already managed to settle on the land. A part of the Jewish youth was carried away by the idea of settling in Palestine, and conducted a vigorous propaganda on behalf of this national idea among the refugees from the modern Egypt. There was urgent need of uniting these emigration societies scattered all over the Pale of Settlement and of establishing central emigration committees to regulate the movement which had gripped the people with elemental force.

Unfortunately, there was no unity of purpose among the Jewish leaders in Russia. The intellectuals who stood nearer to the people, such as the well-known oculist, Professor Mandelstamm, who enjoyed great popularity in Kiev, and others like him, as well as a section of the Jewish press, particularly the _Bazsvyet_, insisted continually on the necessity of organizing the emigration movement, which they regarded as the most important task confronting Russian Jewry at that time. The Jewish oligarchy in St. Petersburg, on the other hand, was afraid lest such an undertaking might expose it to the charge of "disloyalty" and of a lack of Russian patriotism. Others again, whose sentiments were voiced by the Russian-Jewish periodical _Voskhod_ and who were of a more radical turn of mind, looked upon the attempt to encourage a wholesale emigration of Jews as a concession to the Government of Ignatyev and as an indirect abandonment of the struggle for emancipation in Russia itself.

In the spring of 1882, the question of organizing the emigration movement had become so pressing that it was decided to convene a conference of provincial Jewish leaders in St. Petersburg to consider the problem. Before the delegates had time to arrive in the capital, the sky of South Russia was once more lit up by a terrible flare. Balta, a large Jewish center in Podolia, where a Jewish emigration society had had sprung into being shortly before the catastrophe, became the scene of a frightful pogrom.

It was shortly before the Russian Passover, the high season of pogroms, when the Russian public was startled by a strange announcement published towards the end of March in the _Imperial Messenger_ to the effect that from now on it would accurately report all cases of "Jewish disorders" in accordance with the official information received from the governors. The announcement clearly implied that the Government knew beforehand of the imminence of new pogroms. Even the conservative _Moscow News_ commented on the injudicious statement of the official organ in emphatic and sarcastic terms:

  The _Imperial Messenger_ is comforting the public by the   announcement that it would in due time and at due length report all   cases of excesses perpetrated upon the Jews. One might think that   these are every-day occurrences forming part of the natural course   of events which demand nothing else than timely communication to the   public. Is there indeed no means to put a stop to this crying   scandal?

Events soon made it clear that there was no desire to put a stop to this "scandal," as the Moscow paper politely termed the exploits of the Russian robber bands. The local authorities of Balta were forewarned in time of the approaching pogroms. Beginning with the middle of March the people in Balta and the surrounding country were discussing them openly. When the Jews of that town made their apprehensions known to the local police commissioner, they received from him an evasive reply. In view of the fact that the Jewish population of Balta was three times as large as the Christian, it would not have been difficult for the Jews to organize some sort of self-defence. But they knew that such an organization was strictly forbidden by the Government, and, realizing the consequences, they had to confine themselves to a secret agreement entered into by a few families to stand up for one another in the hour of distress. On the second day of the Russian Easter, corresponding to the seventh day of the Jewish festival, on March 29, the pogrom began, surpassing by the savagery of the mob and the criminal conduct of the authorities all the bacchanalia of 1881. A contemporary observer, basing his statements on the results of a special investigation, gives the following account of the events at Balta:

  At the beginning of the pogrom, the Jews got together and forced a   band of rioters to draw back and seek shelter in the building of the   fire department. But when the police and soldiers appeared on the   scene, the rioters decided to leave their place of refuge. Instead   of driving off the disorderly band, the police and soldiers began to   beat the Jews with their rifle butts and swords. This served as a   signal to start the pogrom. At that moment, somebody sounded an   alarm bell, and, in response, the mob began to flock together.   Fearing the numerical superiority of the Jews in that part of the   town, the crowd passed across the bridge to the so-called Turkish   side, where there were fewer Jews. The crowd was accompanied by the   military commander, the police commissioner, the burgomaster, and a   part of the local battalion, which fact, however, did not prevent   the mob, while passing the Cathedral street, from demolishing a   Jewish store and breaking the windows in the house of another Jew, a   member of the town-council. After the mob had crossed over to the   Turkish side, the authorities drew up military cordons on all the   three bridges leading from that side to the rest of the town, with   the order not to allow any Jews to pass. Needless to say, the order   was carried out. At the same time the Christians of the remaining   sections of the town and of the village of Alexandrovka were allowed   to pass unhindered. Thanks to these arrangements, the Turkish side   was sacked in the course of three to four hours, so that by one   o'clock in the morning the rioters found nothing left to do. During   the night, the police and military authorities arrested twenty-four   rioters and a much larger number of Jews. The latter were arrested   because they ventured to stay near their homes. The following   morning, the Christians were released and allowed to swell the ranks   of the pillaging mob, while the Jews were kept in jail until the   following day and freed only when the governor arrived.

  On the following day, March 30, at four o'clock in the morning, a   large number of peasants, amounting to about five thousand and armed   with clubs, began to arrive in town, having been summoned by the   Ispravnik [1] from the adjacent villages. The arrival of the   peasants was welcomed by the Jews, who thought that they had been   called to come to their aid. But they soon found out their mistake,   for the peasants declared that they had come to beat and plunder the   Jews. Simultaneously with the arrival of the peasants, large numbers   from among the local mob began to assemble around the Cathedral, and   at eight o'clock in the morning signals were given to renew the   pogrom. At first this was prevented. The officers of the local   battalion, who patrolled the city, ordered the soldiers to surround   the mob and hold it off for about an hour, during which time the   Greek-Orthodox bishop [2] Radzionovski admonished the rioters and   tried to make them understand that such doings were contrary to the   laws of the Church and the State. But when the police commissioner,   the military chief, and Ispravnik arrived before the Cathedral, the   military cordon was withdrawn, and the crowd, now let loose, threw   itself upon a near-by liquor store, and, after demolishing it and   filling itself with alcohol, resumed its work of destruction, with   the co-operation of the peasants who had been summoned by the   Ispraynik and the assistance of the soldiers and policemen. It was   on this occasion that those wild, savage scenes of murder, rapine,   and plunder took place, the account of which as published in the   newspapers is but the pale shadow of the real facts.... The pogrom   of Balta was called forth not by the mere inactivity but by the   direct activity of the local authorities.

[Footnote 1: The head of the district (or county) police. The police in the larger towns of the county is subject to the police commissioner of the town, who is referred to earlier in the text.]

[Footnote 2: In Russian, _Protoyerey_, a term borrowed from the Greek. It corresponds roughly to the title of bishop.]

What these "savage scenes" were we do not learn from the newspapers, which were forbidden by the censor to report them, but we know them partly from unpublished sources and partly from the later court proceedings. Aside from the demolition of twelve hundred and fifty houses and business places and the destruction and pillage of property and merchandise--according to a statement of the local rabbi, "all well-to-do Jews were turned into beggars, and more than fifteen thousand people were sent out into the wide world "--a large number of people were killed and maimed, and many women were violated. Forty Jews were slain or dangerously wounded; one hundred and seventy received slight wounds; many Jews, and particularly Jewesses, became insane from fright. There were more than twenty cases of rape. The seventeen year old daughter of a poor polisher, Eda Maliss by name, was attacked by a horde of bestial lads before the eyes of her brother. When the mother of the unfortunate girl ran into the street and called to her aid a policeman who was standing near-by, the latter followed the woman into the house, and then, instead of helping her, dishonored her on the spot. The fiendish hordes invaded the home of Baruch Shlakhovski, and began their bloody work by slaying the master of the house, whereupon his wife and daughter fled and hid themselves in a near-by orchard. Here a Russian neighbor lured them into his house under the pretext of defending their honor against the rioters, but, once in his house, he disgraced the daughter in the presence of her mother. In many cases the soldiers of the local garrison assaulted and beat the Jews who showed themselves on the streets while the "military operations" of the mob were going on. In accordance with the customary pogrom ritual, the human fiends were left undisturbed for two days, and only on the third day were troops summoned from a near-by city to put a stop to the atrocities.

On the same day the governor of Podolia arrived to make an investigation. It was soon learned that the local authorities, the police commissioner, the Ispravnik, the military commander, the burgomaster, and the president of the nobility [1] had either directly or indirectly abetted the pogrom. Many rioters, who had been arrested by the police, were soon released, because they threatened otherwise to point out to the higher authorities the ringleaders from among the local officials and the representatives of Russian society. The Jews, again, were constantly terrorized by these scoundrels and cowed by the fear of massacres and complete annihilation, in case they dared to expose their hangmen before the courts.

[Footnote 1: The nobility of each government forms an organization of its own. It is headed by a president for the entire government who has under his jurisdiction a president for each district (or county). Such a county president is referred to in the text.]

The pogrom of Balta found but a feeble echo in the immediate neighborhood--in a few localities of the governments of Podolia and Kherson. It seemed as if the energy of destruction and savagery had spent itself in the exploits at Balta. On the whole, the pogrom campaign conducted in the spring of 1882 covered but an insignificant territory when compared with the pogrom enterprise of 1881, though surpassing it considerably in point of quality. The horrors of Balta were a substantial earnest of the Kishinev atrocities of 1903 and the October pogroms of 1905.



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