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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


The cry of indignation against Jewish oppression, which had been smothered in Russia, could not be stifled abroad. The Jews of England took the initiative in this matter. On November 5, 1890, the London _Times_ published a letter from N.S. Joseph, honorary secretary to the Russo-Jewish Committee in London, passionately appealing to the public men of England to intercede on behalf of his persecuted coreligionists. The writer of the letter called attention to the fact that, while the Russian Government was officially denying that it was contemplating new restrictions against the Jews, it was at the same time applying the former restrictions on so comprehensive a scale and with such extraordinary cruelty that the Jews in the Pale of Settlement were like a doomed prisoner in a cell with its opposite walls gradually approaching, contracting by slow degrees his breathing space, till they at last immure him in a living tomb.

The writer concludes his appeal in these terms:

  It may seem a sorry jest but the Russian law, in very truth, now   declares: The Jew may live here only and shall not live there; if he   lives here he must remain here; but wherever he lives he shall not   live--he shall not have the means of living. This is the operation   of the law as it stands, without any new edict. This is the sentence   of death that silently, insidiously, and in the veiled language of   obscurely worded laws has been pronounced against hundreds of   thousands of human beings.... Shall civilized Europe, shall the   Christianity of England behold this slow torture and bloodless   massacre, and be silent?

The appeal of the Russo-Jewish Committee and the new gloomy tidings from Russia published by the _Times_ decided a number of prominent Englishmen to call the protest meeting which had been postponed half a year previously. Eighty-three foremost representatives of English society addressed a letter to the Lord Mayor of London calling upon him to convene such a meeting. The office of Lord Mayor at that time was occupied by Joseph Savory, a Christian, who did not share the susceptibilities which had troubled his Jewish predecessor. Immediately on assuming office, Savory gave his consent to the holding of the meeting.

On December 10, 1890, the meeting was held in the magnificent Guildhall, belonging to the City of London, and was attended by more than 2000 people. The Lord Mayor who presided over the gathering endeavored in his introductory remarks to soften the bitterness of the protest for the benefit of official Russia.

  As I hear--he said--the Emperor of Russia is a good husband and a   tender father, and I cannot but think that such a man must   necessarily be kindly disposed to all his subjects. On his Majesty   the Emperor of Russia the hopes of the Russian Jews are at the   present moment fixed. He can by one stroke of his pen annul those   laws which now press so grievously upon them and he can thus give a   happy life to those Jewish subjects of his who now can hardly be   said to live at all.

In conclusion, the Lord Mayor expressed the wish that Alexander III. may become the "emancipator" of the Russian Jews, just as his father Alexander II. had been the emancipator of the Russian serfs.

Cardinal Manning, the warm-hearted champion of Jewish emancipation, who was prevented by illness from being present, sent a long letter which was read to the meeting. The argument against interfering with the inner politics of a foreign country, the cardinal wrote, had found its first expression in Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" There is a united Jewish race scattered all over the world, and the pain inflicted upon it in Russia is felt by the Jewish race in England. It is wrong to keep silent when we see six million men reduced to the level of criminals, particularly when they belong to a race "with a sacred history of nearly four thousand years."

The speakers who followed the Lord Mayor pictured in vivid colors the political and civil bondage of Russian Jewry.

The first speaker, the Duke of Westminster, after recounting the sufferings of Russian Jewry, moved the adoption of the protest resolution, notwithstanding the fact that the "great protest of 1882" (at the Mansion House meeting)[1] had brought no results. "We read in the history of the Jewish race that 'God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the people of Israel go'; but deliverance came at last by the hand of Moses."

[Footnote 1: See p. 288 et seq.]

After brilliant speeches by the Bishop of Ripon, the Earl of Meath, and others, the following resolution was adopted:

  That in the opinion of this meeting the renewed sufferings of the   Jews in Russia from the operation of severe and exceptional edicts   and disabilities are deeply to be deplored, and that in this last   decade of the nineteenth century religious liberty is a principle   which should be recognized by every Christian community as among the   natural human rights.

At the same time a second resolution was adopted to the following effect:

  That a suitable memorial be addressed to his Imperial Majesty the   Emperor of all the Russias, respectfully praying his Majesty to   repeal all the exceptional and restrictive laws and disabilities   which afflict his Jewish subjects; and begging his Majesty to confer   upon them equal rights with those enjoyed by the rest of his   Majesty's subjects; and that the said memorial be signed by the   Right Hon. the Lord Mayor, in the name of the citizens of London,   and be transmitted by his Lordship to his Majesty.

A few extracts from the memorandum may be quoted by way of illustrating the character of this remarkable appeal to the Russian emperor:

  We, the citizens of London, respectfully approach your Majesty and   humbly beg your gracious leave to plead the cause of the afflicted.

  Cries of distress have reached us from thousands of suffering   Israelites in your vast empire; and we Englishmen, with pity in our   souls for all who suffer, turn to your Majesty to implore for them   your Sovereign aid and clemency.

  Five millions of your Majesty's subjects groan beneath the yoke of   exceptional and restrictive laws. Remnants of a race, whence all   religion sprung--ours and yours, and every creed on earth that owns   one God--men who cling with all devotion to their ancient faith and   forms of worship, these Hebrews are in your empire subject to such   laws that under them they cannot live and thrive....

  Pent up in narrow bounds within your Majesty's wide empire, and even   within those bounds forced to reside chiefly in towns that reek and   overflow with every form of poverty and wretchedness; forbidden all   free movement; hedged in every enterprise by restrictive laws;   forbidden tenure of land, or all concern in land, their means of   livelihood have become so cramped as to render life for them   well-nigh impossible.

  Nor are they cramped alone in space and action. The higher education   is denied them, except in limits far below the due proportion of   their needs and aspirations. They may not freely exercise   professions, like other subjects of your Majesty, nor may they gain   promotion in the Army, however great their merit and their   valour....

  Sire! we who have learnt to tolerate all creeds, deeming it a   principle of true religion to permit religious liberty, we beseech   your Majesty to repeal those laws that afflict these Israelites.   Give them the blessing of equality! In every land where Jews have   equal rights, the nation prospers. We pray you, then, annul those   special laws and disabilities that crush and cow your Hebrew   subjects....

  Sire! your Royal Sister, our Empress Queen (whom God preserve!)   bases her throne upon her people's love, making their happiness her   own. So may your Majesty gain from your subjects' love all strength   and happiness, making your mighty empire mightier still, rendering   your Throne firm and impregnable, reaping new blessings for your   House and Home.

The memorial was signed by Savory, who was Lord Mayor at that time, and forwarded by him to St. Petersburg. It was accompanied by a letter, dated December 24, from the Lord Mayor to Lieutenant-General de Richter, aide-de-camp of the Tzar for the reception of petitions, with the request to transmit the document to the emperor.

It is almost unnecessary to add that this touching appeal for justice by the citizens of London failed to receive a direct reply. There were rumors that the London petition threw the Tzar into a fury, and the future court annalist of Russia will probably tell of the scene that took place in the imperial palace when this document was read. An indirect reply came through the cringing official press. The mouthpiece of the Russian Government abroad, the newspaper _Le Nord_ in Brussels, which was especially engaged in the task of whitewashing the black politics of its employers, published an article under the heading "A Last Word concerning Semitism," in which the rancor of the highest Government circles in Russia found undisguised expression:

  The Semites--quoth the semi-official organ with an impudent   disregard of truth--have never yet had such an easy life in Russia   as they have at the present time, and yet they have never complained   so bitterly. There is a reason for it. It is a peculiarity of   Semitism: a Semite is never satisfied with anything; the more you   give him the more he wishes to have.

In the evident desire to fool its readers, _Le Nord_ declared that the protesters at the London meeting might have saved themselves the trouble of demanding "religious liberty" for the Jews--which in the London petition was understood, of course, to imply civil liberty for the professors of Judaism--since nobody in Russia restricted the Jews in their worship. Nor did the civil disabilities weigh heavily upon the Jews. On the contrary, they felt so happy in Russia that even the Jewish emigrants in America dreamt of returning to their homeland.

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