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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 XXV



INNER UPHEAVALS

1. DISILLUSIONMENT OF THE INTELLIGENZIA AND THE NATIONAL REVIVAL

The catastrophe at the beginning of the eighties took the Jews of Russia unawares, and found them unprepared for spiritual self-defence. The impressions of the recent brief "era of reforms" were still fresh in their minds. They still remembered the initial steps of Alexander II's Government in the direction of the complete civil emancipation of Russian Jewry, the appeals of the intellectual classes of Russia calling upon the Jews to draw nearer to them, the bright prospects of a rejuvenated Russia. The niggardly gifts of the Russian Government were received by Russian Jewry with an outburst of gratitude and devotion which bordered on flunkeyism. The intellectual young Jews and Jewesses who had passed through the Russian public schools made frantic endeavors, not only towards association but also towards complete cultural amalgamation with the Russian people. Assimilation and Russification became the watchwords of the day. The literary ideals of young Russia became the sacred tablets of the Jewish youth.

But suddenly, lo and behold! that same Russian people, in which the progressive forces of Jewry were ready to merge their identity, appeared in the shape of a monster, which belched forth hordes upon hordes of rioters and murderers. The Government had changed front, and adopted a policy of reaction and fierce Jew-hatred, while the liberal classes of Russia showed but scant sympathy with the downtrodden and maltreated nation. The voice of the hostile press, the _Novoye Vremya_, the _Russ_, and others, resounded through the air with fall vigor, whereas the liberal press, owing partly--but only partly--to the tightening grip of the censor, defended the Jews in a perfunctory manner. Even the publicists of the radical type, who were principally grouped around the periodical _Otyechestvennyia Zapiski_ ("Records of the Fatherland"), looked upon the pogroms merely as the brutal manifestation of an economic struggle, and viewed the whole complicated Jewish problem, with all its century-long tragic implications, in the light of a subordinate social-economic question.

The only one whose soul was deeply stirred by the sight of the new sufferings of an ancient people was the Russian satirist, Shchedrin-Saltykov, and he poured forth his, sentiments in the summer of 1882, after the completion of the first cycle of pogroms, in an article marked by a lyric strain, so different from his usual style. [1] But Shchedrin was the only Russian writer of prominence who responded to the Jewish sorrow. Turgenyev and Tolstoi held their peace, whereas the literary celebrities of Western Europe, Victor Hugo, Renau, and many others, came forward with passionate protests. The Russian _intelligenzia_ remained cold in the face of the burning tortures of Jewry. The educated classes of Russian Jewry were hurt to the quick by this chilly attitude, and their former enthusiasm gave way to disillusionment.

[Footnote 1: The article appeared in the _Otyechestvennyia Zapiski_ in August, 1882. The following sentences in that article are worthy of re-production: "History has never recorded in its pages a question more replete, with sadness, more foreign to the sentiments of humanity, and more filled with tortures than the Jewish question. The history of mankind as a whole is one endless martyrology; yet at the same time it is also a record of endless progress. In the records of martyrology the Hebrew tribe occupies the first place; in the annals of progress it stands aside, as if the luminous perspectives of history could never reach it. There is no more heart-rending tale than the story of this endless torture of man by man."

In the same article the Russian satirist draws a clever parallel between the merciless Russian _Kulak_, or "boss," who ruins the peasantry, and the pitiful Jewish "exploiter," the half-starved tradesman, who in turn is exploited by everyone.]

This disillusionment found its early expression in the lamentations of repentant assimilators. One of these assimilators, writing in the first months of the pogroms, makes the following confession:

  The cultured Jewish classes have turned their back upon their   history, have forgotten their traditions, and have conceived a   contempt for everything which might make them realize that they are   the members of the "eternal people." With no definite ideals,   dragging their Judaism behind them as a fugitive galley-slave drags   his heavy chain, how could these men justify their belonging to the   tribe of "Christ-killers" and "exploiters"?... Truly pitiful has   become the position of these assimilators, who but yesterday were   the champions of national self-effacement. Life demands   self-determination. To sit between two stools has now become an   impossibility. The logic of events has placed them before the   alternative: either to declare themselves openly as renegades, or to   take their proper share in the sufferings of their people.

Another representative of the Jewish _intelligenzia_ writes in the following strain to the editor of a Russian-Jewish periodical:

  When I remember what has been done to us, how we have been taught to   love Russia and Russian speech, how we have been induced and   compelled to introduce the Russian language and everything Russian,   into our families so that our children know no other language but   Russian, and how we are now repulsed and persecuted, then our hearts   are filled with sickening despair from which there seems to be no   escape. This terrible insult gnaws at my vitals. It may be that I am   mistaken, but I do honestly believe that even if I succeeded in   moving to a happier country where all men are equal, where there are   no pogroms by day and "Jewish commissions" by night, I would yet   remain sick at heart to the very end of my life--to such an extent   do I feel worn out by this accursed year, this universal mental   eclipse which has visited our dear fatherland.

Russian-Jewish literature of that period is full of similar self-revelations of disillusioned intellectuals. However, this repentant mood did not always lead to positive results. Some of these intellectuals, having become part and parcel of Russian cultural life, were no longer able to find their way back to Judaism, and they were carried off by the current of assimilation, culminating in baptism. Others stood at the cross-roads, wavering between assimilation and Jewish nationalism. Still others were so stunned by the blow they had received that they reeled violently backward, and proclaimed as their slogan the return "home," in the sense of a complete renunciation of free criticism and of all strivings for inner reforms.

However, in the healthy part of Russian Jewry this change of mind resulted in turning their ideals definitely in the direction of national rejuvenation upon modern foundations. The idea of a struggle for national rejuvenation in Eussia itself had not yet matured. It appeared as an active force only in the following decade. [1] During the era of pogroms the salvation of Judaism was primarily associated with the idea of emigration. The champions of American emigration were prone to idealize this movement, which had in reality sprung from practical necessity, and they saw in it, not without justification, the beginning of a new free center of Judaism in the Diaspora. The Hebrew poet Judah Leib Gordon [2] addresses "The Daughter of Jacob [the Jewish people], disgraced by the son of Hamor [the Russian Government]" [3] in the following words:

[Footnote 1: That idea was subsequently championed by the writer of this volume. See more about it in Vol. III.]

[Footnote 2: See p. 228 et seq.]

[Footnote 3: An allusion to Gen. 34, with a play on the words _Bem-hamor,_ "the son of an ass."]

        Come, let as go where liberty's light         Doth shine upon all with equal might,         Where every man, without disgrace,         Is free to adhere to his creed and his race,         Where thou, too, shalt no longer fear         Dishonor from brutes, my sister dear![1]

[Footnote 1: From his Hebrew poem _Ahoti Ruhama_, "My Beloved Sister."]

The exponents of American emigration were inspired by the prospect of an exodus from the land of slavery into the land of freedom. Many of them looked forward to the establishment of agricultural and farming settlements in that country and to the concentration of large Jewish masses in the thinly populated States of the Union where they hoped the Jews might be granted a considerable amount of self-government.

Side by side with the striving for a transplantation of Jewish centers centers within the Diaspora, another idea, which negatives the Diaspora Diaspora altogether and places in its stead the resuscitation of the Jewish national center in Palestine, struggled to life amidst the birth pangs of the pogroms. The first theoretic exponent of this new movement, called "Love of Zion," [1] was M.L. Lilienblum, who in a former stage of radicalism had preached the need of religious reforms in Judaism. [2] As far back as in the autumn of the first pogrom year Lilienblum published a series of articles in which he interpreted the idea of Palestinian colonization, which had but recently sprung to life, in the light of a common national task for the whole of Jewry. Lilienblum endeavored to show that the root of all the historic misfortunes of the Jewish people lay in the fact that it was in all lands an alien element which refuses to assimilate in its entirety with the dominant nation--with the landlord, as it were. The landlord tolerates his tenant only so long as he finds him convenient; let the tenant make the slightest attempt at competing with the landlord, and he will be promptly evicted. During the Middle Ages the Jews were persecuted in the name of religious fanaticism. Now a beginning has been made to persecute them in the name of national fanaticism, coupled with economic factors, and this "second chapter of our history will no doubt contain many a bloody page."

[Footnote 1: A translation of the Hebrew term _Hibbat Zion_. In Russian it was generally termed _Palestinophilstvo_, i.e., "Love of Palestine."]

[Footnote 2: See p. 236 et seq.]

Jewish suffering can only be removed by removing its cause. We must cease to be strangers in every land of the globe, and establish ourselves in a country where we ourselves may be the landlords. Such a country can only be our ancient fatherland, Palestine, which belongs to us by the right of history. "We must undertake the colonization of Palestine on so comprehensive a scale that in the course of one century the Jews may be able to leave inhospitable Europe almost entirely and settle in the land of our forefathers to which we are legally entitled."

These thoughts, expounded with that simplified logic which will strike certain types of mind as incontrovertible, were fully attuned to the sentiments of the Jewish masses which were standing with "girded loins," ready for their exodus from, the new Egypt. The emigration societies formed in the beginning of 1882 counted in their ranks many advocates of Palestinian colonization. Bitter literary feuds were waged between the "Americans" and "Palestinians." A young poet, Simon Frug[1], composed the following enthusiastic exodus march, which he prefaced by the biblical verse "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward" (Ex. 14.15):

[Footnote 1: He became later a celebrated poet in Russian and Yiddish. He died in 1916.]

        Thine eyes are keen, thy feet are strong, thy staff is firm--            why then, my nation,         Dost thou on the road stop and droop, thy gray head            lost in contemplation?         Look up and see: in numerous bands         Thy sons return from all the lands.         Forward then march, through a sea of sorrow,         Through a chain of tortures, towards the dawn of the            morrow!         Forward--to the strains of the song of days gone by!         For future ages like thunder to us cry:         "Arise, my people, from thy grave,         And live once more, a nation free and brave!"         And in our ears songs of a _new_ life ring,         And hymns of triumph the storms to as sing.

This march voiced the sentiments of those who dreamed of the Promised Land--whether it be on the shores of the Jordan or on the banks of the Mississippi.



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