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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook




The "Temporary Rules" of May 3, 1882, had been passed, so to speak, as an extraordinary "war measure," outside the usual channel of legislative action. Yet the Russian Government could not but realize that sooner or later it would be bound to adopt the customary legal procedure and place the Jewish question before the highest court of the land, the Council of State. To meet this eventuality, it was necessary to prepare materials of a somewhat better quality than had been manufactured by the "gubernatorial commissions" and the "Central Jewish Committee" which owed their existence to Ignatyev, forming part and parcel of the general anti-Jewish policy of the discharged Minister. Even prior to the promulgation of the "Temporary Rules," the Council of Ministers had called the Tzar's attention to the necessity of appointing a special "High Commission" to deal with the Jewish question and to draft legal measures for submission to the Council of State.

This suggestion was carried out on February 4, 1883, on which day an imperial ukase was issued calling for the formation of a "High Commission for the Revision of the Current Laws concerning the Jews." The chairmanship of the Commission was first entrusted to Makov, a former Minister of the Interior, and after his untimely death, to Count Pahlen, a former Minister of Justice, who guided the work of the Commission during the five years of its existence--hence its popular designation as the "Pahlen Commission," The membership of the Commission was made up of six officials representing the various departments of the Ministry of the Interior, and of one official for each of the Ministries of Finance, Justice, Public Instruction, Crown Domains, and Foreign Affairs, and, lastly, of a few experts who were consulted casually.

The new bureaucratic body received no definite instructions as to the period of time within which it was expected to complete its labors. It was evidently given to understand that the work entrusted to it could well afford to wait. The first session of the High Commission was held fully ten months after its official appointment by the Tzar, and its business proceeded at a snail's pace, surrounded by the mysterious air characteristic of Russian officialdom. For several years the High Commission had to work its way through the sad inheritance of the defunct "gubernatorial commissions," represented by mounds of paper with the most fantastic projects of solving the Jewish question, endeavoring to bring these materials into some kind of system. It also received a number of memoranda on the Jewish question from outsiders, among them from public-minded Jews, who in most cases used Baron Horace Guenzburg as their go-between--memoranda which sought to put the various aspects of the question in their right perspective. After four years spent on the examination of the material, the Commission undertook to formulate its own conclusions, but, for reasons which will become patent later on, these conclusions were never crystallized in the form of legal provisions.

While the High Commission was assiduously engaged in the "revision of the current laws concerning the Jews," in other words, was repeating the Sisyphus task abandoned by scores of similar bureaucratic creations in the past, the Government pursued with unabated vigor its old-time policy of making the life of the Jews unbearable by turning out endless varieties of new legal restrictions. These restrictions were generally passed "outside the law," i.e., without their being previously submitted to the Council of State; they were simply brought up as suggestions before the Council of Ministers, and, after adoption by the latter, received legal sanction through ratification by the Tzar. Without awaiting the results of the revision of Jewish legislation which it had itself undertaken, the Russian Government embarked enthusiastically upon the task of forging new chains for the hapless Jewish race. For a number of years the High Commission was nothing more than a cover to screen these cruel experiments of the powers at the helm of the state. At the very time in which the ministerial officials serving on the High Commission indulged in abstract speculations about the Jewish question and invented various methods for its solution, the Council of Ministers anticipated this solution in the spirit of rabid anti-Semitism, and was quick to give it effect in concrete life.

The wind which was blowing from the heights of Russian bureaucracy was decidedly unfavorable to the Jews. The belated coronation of Alexander III., which took place in May, 1883, and, in accordance with Russian tradition, brought, in the form of an imperial manifesto, [1] various privileges and alleviations for different sections of the Russian population, left the Jews severely alone. The Tzar lent an attentive ear to those zealous governors and governors-general, who in their "most humble reports" propounded the new-fangled theory of the "injuriousness" of the Jews; the marginal remarks frequently attached by him to these reports assumed the force of binding resolutions. [2] In the beginning of 1883, the governor-general of Odessa, Gurko, took occasion in his report to the Tzar to comment on the excessive growth of the number of Jewish pupils in the _gymnazia_ [3] and on their "injurious effect" upon their Christian fellow-pupils. Gurko proposed to fix a limited percentage for the admission of Jews to these schools, and the Tzar made the annotation: "I share this conviction; the matter ought to receive attention."

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 246, n. 1]

[Footnote 2: See on the term "Resolution," Vol. I, p. 253, n. 1.]

[Footnote 3: See above, p. 161, n. 1.]

The matter did of course "receive attention." It was brought up before the Committee of Ministers. But the latter was reluctant to pass upon it at once, and thought it wiser to have it prepared and duly submitted for legislative action at some future time. However, when the governor-general of Odessa and the governor of Kharkov, in their reports for the following year, expatiated again on the necessity of fixing a school norm for the Jews, the Tzar made another annotation, in a more emphatic tone: "It is desirable to decide this question finally." This sufficed to impress the Committee of Ministers with the conviction "that the growing influx of the non-Christian element into the educational establishments exerts, from a moral and religious point of view, a most injurious influence upon the Christian children." The question was submitted for consideration to the High Commission under the chairmanship of Count Pahlen. The Minister of Public Instruction was ordered to frame post-haste an enactment embodying the spirit of the imperial resolution. Soon the new fruit of the Russian bureaucratic genius was ready to be plucked--"the school norm," which was destined to occupy a prominent place in the fabric of Russian-Jewish disabilities.

The center of gravity of the system of oppression lay, as it always did, in the restrictions attaching to the right of domicile and free movement--restrictions which frequently made life for the Jews physically impossible by cutting off their access to the sources of a livelihood. The "Temporary Rules" of the third of May displayed in this domain a dazzling variety of legal tortures such as might have excited the envy of medieval inquisitors. The "May laws" of 1882 barred the Jews from settling outside the cities "anew," i.e. in the future, exempting those who had settled in the rural districts prior to 1882. These old-time Jewish rustics were a thorn in the flesh of the Russian anti-Semites, who hoped for a sudden disappearance of the Jewish population from the Russian country-side. Accordingly, a whole set of administrative measures was put in motion, with a view to making the life of the village Jews unbearable. In another connection [1] we had occasion to point out that the Russian authorities as well as the Christian competitors of the Jews made it their business to expel the latter from the rural localities as "vicious members," by having the peasant assemblies render special "verdicts" against them. This method was now supplemented by new contrivances to dislodge the Jews. A village Jew who happened to absent himself for a few days or weeks to go to town was frequently barred by the police from returning to his home, on the ground that he was "a new settler." There are cases of Jewish families on record which, according to custom, had left the village for the High Holidays to attend services in an adjacent town or townlet, and which, on their return home, met with considerable difficulties; because their return was interpreted by the police as a "new settlement." In the dominions of the anti-Jewish satrap Drenteln the administration construed the "Temporary Rules" to mean that Jews were not allowed to move from one village to another, or even from, one house to another within the precincts of their native village. [2]

[Footnote 1: See p. 318 et seq.]

[Footnote 2: Evidence of this is found in the circular of the governor of Chernigov, issued In 1883.]

Moreover, the police was authorized to expel from the villages all those Jews who did not possess their own houses upon their own land, on the ground that these Jews, in renting new quarters, would have to make a new lease with their owners, and such a lease was forbidden by the May laws. [1] These malicious misinterpretations of the law affected some ten thousand Jews in the villages of Chernigov and Poltava. These Jews lived habitually in rented houses or in houses which were their property but were built upon ground belonging to peasants, and they were consequently liable to expulsion. The cry of these unfortunates, who were threatened with eviction in the dead of the winter, was heard not in near-by Kiev but in far-off St. Petersburg. By a senatorial ukase, published in January, 1884, a check was put on these administrative highway methods. The expulsion was stopped, though a considerable number of Jewish families had in the meantime been evicted and ruined.

[Footnote 1: See p. 312.]

At the same time other restrictions which were in like manner deduced from the "Temporary Rules" were allowed to remain in full force. One of these was the prohibition of removing from one village to another, even though they were contiguous, so that the rural Jews were practically placed in the position of serfs, being affixed to their places of residence. This cruel practice was sanctioned by the law of December 29, 1887. As a contemporary writer puts it, the law implied that when a village in which a Jew lived was burned down, or when a factory in which he worked was closed, he was compelled to remove into one of the towns or townlets, since he was not allowed to search for a shelter and a livelihood in any other rural locality. In accordance with the same law, a Jew had no right to offer shelter to his widowed mother or to his infirm parents who lived in another village. Furthermore, a Jew was barred from taking over a commercial or industrial establishment bequeathed to him by his father, if the latter had lived in another village. He was not even allowed to take charge of a house bequeathed to him by his parents, if they had resided in another village, though situated within the confines of the Pale.

While this network of disabilities was ruining the Jews, it yielded a plentiful harvest for the police, from the highest to the lowest officials. "Graft," the Russian _habeas Corpus_ Act, shielded the persecuted Jew against the caprice and Violence of the authorities in the application of the restrictive laws, and Russian officialdom held on tightly to Jewish rightlessness as their own special benefice. Hatred of the Jews has at all times gone hand in hand with love of Jewish money.

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