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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


After imposing a severe and immediately effective penalty upon Russian Jewry for having been ruined by the pogroms, the Government suddenly remembered its duty, and dangled the threat of future penalties before the prospective instigators of Jewish disorders. On the same fateful third of May, the Tzar sanctioned the decision of the Committee of Ministers concerning the necessity of declaring solemnly that "the Government is firmly resolved to prosecute invariably any attempt at violence on the person and property of the Jews, who are under the protection of the general laws." In accordance with this declaration, a senatorial ukase dated May 10 was sent out to the governors, warning them that "the heads of the gubernatorial administrations would be held responsible for the adoption of timely measures looking to the prevention of the conditions leading to similar disorders and for the suppression of these disorders at the very outset, and that any negligence in this regard on the part of the administration and the police authorities would result in the dismissal from office of those found guilty." This warning was accompanied by the following confession:

  In view of the fact that sad occurrences in the past have made it   evident that the local population, incited by evil-minded persons   from covetous or other motives, has taken part in the disorders, it   is the duty of the gubernatorial administration to make it clear to   the local communes that they are obliged to adopt measures for the   purpose ... of impressing upon the inhabitants the gross criminal   offence implied in willfully perpetrating violent acts against   anybody's person and property.

It would almost seem as if the Government, by promulgating on one and the same day the "Temporary Rules" against the Jews and the circular against the pogroms, wished to intimate to the Russian people that, inasmuch as the Jews were now being exterminated through the agency of the law, there was no further need to exterminate them on the streets. The originators of the "Temporary Rules" did not seem to realize that the latter were nothing but a variation of those "violent acts against person and property," from which the street mob was warned to refrain, for the loss of the freedom of movement is violence against the person, and the denial of the right of purchasing real estate is violence against property. Even the Russian press, though held at that time in the grip of censorship, could not help commenting on the fact that the effect of the official circular against the pogroms had been greatly weakened, by the simultaneous promulgation of the "Temporary Rules."

It would seem as if the terrible atrocities at Balta had made the highest Government spheres realize that the previous policy of connivance at the pogroms, which had been practised for a whole year, could not but disgrace Russia in the eyes of the world and undermine public order in Russia itself. As soon as this was realized, the luckless Minister, who had been the pilot of Russian politics throughout that terrible year, was bound to disappear from the scene. On May 30, Count Ignatyev was made to resign, and Count Demetrius Tolstoi was appointed Minister of the Interior.

Tolstoi was a grim reactionary and a champion of autocracy and police power, but he was at the same time an enemy of all manifestations of mob rule which tended to undermine the authority of the State. A few days after his appointment the new Minister issued a circular in which he reiterated the recent declaration of his predecessor concerning the "resolve of the Government to prosecute every kind of violence against the Jews," announcing emphatically that "any manifestation of disorders would unavoidably result in the immediate prosecution of all official persons who are in duty bound to concern themselves with the prevention of disorders."

This energetic pronouncement of the Government had a magic effect. All provincial administrators realized that the central Government of St. Petersburg had ceased to trifle with the promoters of the pogroms, and the pogrom epidemic was at an end. Beginning with June, 1882, the pogroms assumed more and more a sporadic character. Here and there sparks of the old conflagration would flare up again, but only to die out quickly. In the course of the next twenty years, until the Kishinev massacre of 1903, no more than about ten pogroms of any consequence may be enumerated, and these disorders were all isolated movements, with a purely local coloring, and without the earmarks of a common organization or the force of an epidemic, such as characterized the pogrom campaigns of 1881, or those of 1903-1905. This is an additional proof for the contention that systematic pogroms in Russia are impossible as long as the central Government and the local authorities are honestly and firmly set against them.

The stringent measures adopted by Tolstoi were soon reflected in the legal trials arising out of the pogroms. Formerly, the local authorities refrained as a rule from putting the rioters on trial lest their testimony might implicate the local administration, and even when action was finally brought against them, the culprits mostly escaped with slight penalties, such as imprisonment for a few months. But after the declaration of the Government in June the courts adopted a more rigorous attitude towards the rioters. [1] In the summer of 1882, a number of cases arising out of the pogroms at Balta and in other cities were tried in the courts. The penalties imposed by the courts were frequently severe, though fully deserved, such as deportation and confinement at hard labor, drafting into penal military companies, etc. In one case, two soldiers, having been convicted of pillage and murder, were court-martialled and sentenced to death. When the sentence was submitted for ratification to Drenteln, governor-general of Kiev, the rabbi of Balta, acting on behalf of the local Jewish community, betook himself to Kiev to support the culprits in their petition for pardon. It was strange to listen to this appeal for mercy on behalf of criminals guilty of violence and murder, coming from the camp of their victims, from the demolished homes which still resounded with the moans of the wounded and with the weeping over lost lives and dishonored women. One finds it difficult to believe that this appeal for mercy was due entirely to an impulse of forgiveness. Associated with it was probably the apprehension that the death of the murderers would be avenged by their like-minded accomplices who were still at liberty.

[Footnote 1: This, by the way, was not always the case. The court of Chernigov, which was compelled to bring in a verdict of guilty against the perpetrators of the pogrom in the townlet of Karpovitchin the same government, decided to recommend the culprits to the clemency of the superior authorities, in view of the dissatisfaction of the people with the "exploitation" of the Jews. There were many instances of these anti-Jewish political manifestations in the law-courts.]

The Jews of Balta were soon to learn that their humility was ill-requited by the highly-placed promoters of the riots. In the beginning of August, Governor-General Drenteln came to Balta. He was exceedingly irritated, not only on account of the recent circular of Tolstoi which implied a personal threat against him as one who had connived at a number of pogroms within his dominions, but also because of the steps taken by the representatives of the Balta Jewish community at St. Petersburg in the direction of exposing the spiritual fathers of the local riots. Having arrived in the sorely stricken city, the head of the province, who _ex officio_ should have conveyed his expression of sympathy to the sufferers, summoned the rabbi and the leaders of the Jewish community, and, in the presence of his official staff, treated them to a speech full of venomous hatred. He told them that by their actions the Jews had "armed everybody against themselves," that they were universally hated, that "they lived nowhere as happily as in Russia," and that the deputation they had sent to St. Petersburg for the purpose of presenting their complaints and "slandering the city authorities and representatives as if they had incited the tumultuous mob against the Jews" had been of no avail. In conclusion, he branded the petition of the Balta community for a commutation of the death sentence passed upon the rioters as an act of hypocrisy, adding impressively that "these persons have been pardoned irrespective of the requests of the Jews."

The speech of the bureaucratic Jew-baiter, whose proper place was in the dock, side by side with the convicted murderers, produced a terrible panic in the whole region of Kiev. The militant organ of the Jewish press, the _Voskhod_, properly remarked:

  After the speech of General-Adjutant Drenteln, our confidence in the   impossibility of a repetition of the pogroms has been decidedly   shaken. Of what avail can ministerial circulars be when the highest   administrators on the spot paralyze their actions in public by the   living word?

The apprehensions voiced by the Jewish organ were fortunately unfounded. True, the Minister Tolstoi was not able to punish the criminal harangue of the savage governor-general who had powerful connections at the Russian court. But the firm resolution of the central Government to hold the heads of the administration to account for their connivance at pogroms had the desired effect. All that the snarling dogs could do was to bark.

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