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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


While anxiously endeavoring to appease public opinion abroad, the Russian Government at home did all it could to keep the Jews in an agitated state of mind. The legal drafts and the circulars which had been sent out secretly by the central Government in St. Petersburg elicited the liveliest sympathy on the part of the provincial administrators. Not satisfied with signifying to the Ministry their approval of the contemplated disabilities, many officials of high rank began to display openly their bitter hatred of the Jews.

At one and the same time, during the months of June, July, and August of 1890, the heads of various local provincial administrations published circulars calling the attention of the police to the "audacious conduct" of the Jews who, on meeting Russian officials, failed to take off their hats by way of greeting. The governor of Moghilev instructed the police of his province to impress the local Jewish population with the necessity of "polite manners," in the sense of a more reverent attitude towards the representatives of Russian authority. In compliance with this order, the district chiefs of police compelled the rabbis to inculcate their flock in the synagogues with reverence for Russian officialdom. In Mstislavl, a town in the government of Moghilev, the president of the nobility [1] assembled the leading members of the Jewish community, and cautioned them that those Jews who would fail to comply with the governor's circular would be subjected to a public whipping by the police. The governor of Odessa, the well-known despot Zelenoy, issued a police ordinance for the purpose of "curbing the impudence displayed by the Jews in places of public gathering and particularly in the suburban trolley cars" where they do not give up their seats and altogether show disrespect towards "persons of advanced age or those wearing a uniform, testifying to their high position." Even more brutal was the conduct of the governor-general of Vilna, Kakhanov, who, despite his high rank, allowed himself, in replying to the speech of welcome of a Jewish deputation, to animadvert not only on Jewish "clannishness" but also on the "licentiousness" of the Jewish population, manifesting itself in congregating on the streets, and similar grave crimes.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 303.]

The simultaneous occurrence of this sort of official actions in widely separated places point to a common source, probably to some secret instructions from St. Petersburg. It would seem, however, that the provincial henchmen of the central Government had overreached themselves in their eagerness to carry out the behest of "curbing the Jews." The pettiness of their demands, which, moreover, were illegal, such as the order to take off the hats before the officials, or to give up the seats in the trolley cars, merely served to ridicule the representatives of Russian officialdom, giving frequent rise to tragi-comic conflicts in public and to utterances of indignation in the press. The public pronouncements of these genteel _chinovniks_ who were anxious to train the Jewish masses in the fear of Russian bureaucracy and inculcate in them polite manners aroused the attention both of the Russian and the foreign press. It was universally felt that these farcical performances of uncouth administrators were only the manifestations of a bottomless hatred, of a morbid desire to insult and to humble the Jews, and that these administrators were capable at any moment to proceed from moralizing to more tangible forms of ill-treatment. This danger intensified the state of alarm.

While making preparations for storming the citadel of Russian Jewry, the Government took good care to keep it meanwhile in its normal state of siege. The resourcefulness of the administration brought the _technique_ of repression to perfection. The officials were no longer content with inventing cunning devices for expelling old Jewish residents from the villages. [1] They now made endeavors to reduce even the area of the _urban_ Pale in which the Jews were huddled together, panting for breath. In 1890, the provincial authorities, acting evidently on a signal from above, began to change numerous little townlets into villages, which, as rural settlements, would be closed to the Jews. As a result, all the Jews who had settled in these localities after the issuance of the "Temporary Rules" of May 3, 1882, were now expelled, and even the older residents who were exempt from the operation of the May laws shared the same fate unless they were able (which in very many cases they were not) to produce documentary evidence that they had lived there prior to 1882. Simultaneously a new attempt was made to drive the Jews from the forbidden fifty verst zone along the Western border of the Empire, particularly in Bessarabia. These expulsions had the effect of filling the already over-crowded cities of the Pale with many more thousands of ruined people.

[Footnote 1: There are cases on record when Jewish soldiers who returned home after the completion of their term of service were refused admission to their villages, on the ground that they were "new settlers."]

At the same time the life of the outlawed Jews was made unbearable in the cities outside the Pale, particularly in the large centers, such as Kiev, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. The governor-general of Kiev prohibited the wives of Jewish artisans who were legally entitled to residence in that city to sell eatables in the market, on the technical ground that under the law artisans could only trade in the articles of their own manufacture, thus robbing the poor Jewish workman of the miserable pittance which his wife was anxious to contribute by her honest labor towards the maintenance of the family.

A great _political_ blow for the Jews was the clause in the new reactionary "Statute Concerning the Zemstvo Organizations" issued on June 12, 1890, [1] under which the Jews, though paying the local taxes, were completely barred from participating in the election of deputies to the organization of local self-government. This clause was inserted in the legal draft by the three shining lights of the political inquisition active at that time, Pobyedonostzev, Durnovo, and Plehve. They justified this restriction on the following grounds: the object of the new law is to transform local self-government into a state administration and to strengthen in the former the influence of the central Government at the expense of the local Government; hence the Jews, "being altogether an element hostile to Government," are not fit to participate in the Zemstvo administration. The Council of State agreed with this bureaucratic motivation, and the humiliating clause passed into law.

[Footnote 1: The new law invalidated to a large extent the liberties granted to the Zemstvos by Alexander II. in 1864 (compare p. 173) by placing them under state control.]

While a large part of the Russian public and of the Russian press had succumbed to the prevailing tendencies under the high pressure of the anti-Semitic atmosphere, the progressive elements of the Russian _intelligenzia_ were gradually aroused to a feeling of protest. Vladimir Solovyov, "the Christian philosopher," a friend of the Jewish people, who had familiarized himself thoroughly with its history and literature, conceived the idea of issuing a public protest against the anti-Semitic movement in the "Russian Press," [1] to be signed by the most prominent Russian writers and other well-known men. During the months of May and June, 1890, he succeeded under great difficulties to collect for his protest sixty-six signatures in Moscow and over fifty signatures in St. Petersburg, including those of Leo Tolstoi, Vladimir Korolenko, and other literary celebrities. Despite its mild tone, the protest which had been framed by Solovyov [2] was barred from publication by the Russian censor. Professor Ilovaiski, of Moscow, a historian of doubtful reputation, but a hide-bound Jew-baiter, had informed the authorities of St. Petersburg of the attempt to collect signatures in Moscow for a "pro-Jewish petition." As a result, all newspapers received orders from the Russian Press Department to refuse their columns to any collective pronouncements touching the Jewish question.

[Footnote 1: The latter expression was a euphemism designating the Russian Government and its reactionary henchmen in the press. The severity of the police made this evasion necessary.]

[Footnote 2: The following extracts from this meek appeal deserve to be quoted: "The movement against the Jews which is propagated by the Russian press represents an unprecedented violation of the most fundamental demands of righteousness and humanity. We consider it our duty to recall these elementary demands to the mind of the Russian public.... In all nationalities there are bad and ill-minded persons but there is not, and cannot be, any bad and ill-minded nationality, for this would abrogate the moral responsibility of the individual.... It is unjust to make the Jews responsible for those phenomena in their lives which are the result of thousands of years of persecution in Europe and of the abnormal conditions in which this people has been placed.... The fact of belonging to a Semitic tribe and professing the Mosaic creed is nothing prejudicial and cannot of itself serve as a basis for an exceptional civil position of the Jews, as compared with the Russian subjects of other nationalities and denominations.... The recognition and application of these simple truths is important and is first of all necessary for ourselves. The increased endeavor to kindle national and religious hatred, which is so contradictory to the spirit of Christianity and suppresses the feelings of justice and humaneness, is bound to demoralize society at its very root and bring about a state of moral anarchy, particularly so in view of the decline of humanitarian ideas and the weakness of the principle of justice already noticeable in our life. For this reason, acting from the mere instinct of national self-preservation, we must emphatically condemn the anti-Semitic movement not only as immoral in itself but also as extremely dangerous for the future of Russia."]

Solovyov addressed an impassioned appeal to Alexander III., but received through one of the Ministers the impressive advice to refrain from raising a cry on behalf of the Jews, under pain of administrative penalties. In these circumstances, the plan of a public protest had to be abandoned. Instead, the following device was resorted to as a makeshift. Solovyov's teacher of Jewish literature, F. Goetz, was publishing an apology of Judaism under the title "A Word from the Prisoner at the Bar." Solovyov wrote a preface to this little volume, and turned over to its author for publication the letters of Tolstoi and Korolenko in the defence of the Jews. No sooner had the book left the press than it was confiscated by the censor, and, in spite of all petitions, the entire edition of this innocent apology was thrown into the flames. In this way the Russian Government succeeded in shutting the mouths of the few defenders of Judaism, while according unrestricted liberty of speech to its ferocious assailants.

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