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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


The same attitude of double-dealing was adopted by the smooth-tongued Russian diplomats toward the Government of the United States. Aroused over the inhuman treatment of the Jews in Russia, and alarmed by the effects of a sudden Russian-Jewish immigration to America, which was bound to follow as a result of this treatment, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution on August 20, 1890, requesting the President--

  To communicate to the House of Representatives, if not incompatible   with the public interests, any information in his possession   concerning the enforcement of proscriptive edicts against the Jews   in Russia, recently ordered, as reported in the public press; and   whether any American citizens have, because of their religion, been   ordered to be expelled from Russia, or forbidden the exercise of the   ordinary privileges enjoyed by the inhabitants.

In response to this resolution, President Harrison laid before Congress all the correspondence and papers bearing on the Jewish question in Russia. [1]

[Footnote 1: The material was printed as _Executive Document_ No. 470, dated October 1, 1890. It reproduced all the documents originally embodied in _Executive Document_ No. 192 (see above, p. 294, n. 1), in addition to the new material.]

A little later, on December 19 of the same year, the following resolution of protest was introduced in the House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs:

  _Resolved_, That the members of the House of Representatives of the   United States have heard with profound sorrow, and with feelings   akin to horror, the reports of the persecution of the Jews in   Russia, reflecting the barbarism of past ages, disgracing humanity,   and impeding the progress of civilization.

  _Resolved_, That our sorrow is intensified by the fact that such   occurrences should happen in a country which has been, and now is,   the firm friend of the United States, and in a nation that clothed   itself with glory, not long since, by the emancipation of its serfs   and by its defense of helpless Christians from the oppression of the   Turks.

  _Resolved_, That a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the   Secretary of State, with a request that he send it to the American   Minister at St. Petersburg, and that said Minister be directed to   present the same to his Imperial Majesty Alexander III., Czar of all   the Russias. [1]

[Footnote 1:_Congressional Record_, Vol. 22, p. 705.--The resolution was reported back on February 5, 1891, in the following amended form (loc. cit., p. 2219):

_Resolved_, That the members of the House of Representatives of the United States have heard with profound sorrow the reports of the sufferings of the Jews in Russia; and this sorrow is intensified by the fact that these occurrences should happen in a country which is, and long has been the friend of the United States, which emancipated millions of its people from serfdom, and which defended helpless Christians in the East from persecution for their religion; and we earnestly hope that the humanity and enlightened spirit then so strikingly shown by His Imperial Majesty will now be manifested in checking and mitigating the severe measures directed against men of the Jewish religion.]

In the meantime the Department of State was flooded with protests against the Russian atrocities.

  Almost every day--Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, writes to Charles   Emory Smith, United States Minister at St. Petersburg, on February 27,   1891--communications are received on this subject; temperate, and   couched in language respectful to the Government of the Czar; but at the   same time indicative and strongly expressive of the depth and prevalence   of the sentiment of disaprobation and regret. [1]

[Footnote 1: _Foreign Relations of the United States_, 1891, p. 740.]

The American Minister was therefore instructed to exert his influence with the Russian Government in the direction of mitigating the severity of the anti-Jewish measures. He was to point out to the Russian authorities that the maltreatment of the Jews in Russia was not purely an internal affair of the Russian Government, inasmuch as it affected the interests of the United States. Within ten years 200,000 Russian Jews had come over to America, and continued persecutions in Russia were bound to result in a large and sudden immigration which was not unattended with danger. While the United States did not presume to dictate to Russia, "nevertheless, the mutual duties of nations require that each should use his power with a due regard for the other and for the results which its exercise produces on the rest of the world." [1]

[Footnote 1: _Loc. cit_., p. 737.]

The remonstrances of the American people which were voiced by their representatives at St. Petersburg were received by the Russian Government in a manner which strikingly illustrates the well-known duplicity of its diplomatic methods. While endeavoring to justify its policy of oppression by all kinds of libellous charges against the Russian Jews, it gave at the same time repeated assurance to the American Minister that no new proscriptive laws were contemplated, and the latter reported accordingly to his Government. [1] On February 10, 1891, the American Minister, writing to Secretary Blaine, gives a detailed account of the conversation he had had with the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, de Giers. The latter went out of his way to discuss with him unreservedly the entire Jewish situation in Russia, and, while making all kinds of subtle insinuations against the character of the Russian Jew, he expressed himself in a manner which was calculated to convince the American representative of the conciliatory disposition of the Russian Government. [2] Less than three weeks later followed the cruel expulsion edict against the Jews of Moscow.

[Footnote 1: Compare in particular his dispatch, dated September 25, 1890, published in _Executive Document_ No. 470, p. 141.]

[Footnote 2: _Foreign Relations_, 1891, p. 734.]

While the Russian Government, abashed by the voices of protest, made an effort to justify itself in the eyes of Europe and America and perverted the truth with its well-known diplomatic skill, the _Russkaya Zhizn_ ("Russian Life"), a St. Petersburg paper, which was far from being pro-Jewish, published a number of heart-rending facts illustrating the trials of the outlawed Jews at Moscow. It told of a young talented Jew who maintained himself and his family by working on a Moscow newspaper and, not having the right of residence in that city, was wont to save himself from the night raids of the police by hiding himself, on a signal of his landlord, in the wardrobe. Many Jews who lived honestly by the sweat of their brow were cruelly expelled by the police when their certificates of residence contained even the slightest technical inaccuracy. By way of illustrating the "religious liberty" of the Jews in the narrower sense of the word, the paper mentioned the fact that after the opening of the new synagogue in Moscow, which accommodated five hundred worshippers, the police ordered the closing of all the other houses of prayer, to the number of twenty, which had been attended by some ten thousand people.

The governor of St. Petersburg, Gresser, made a regular sport of taunting the Jews. One ordinance of his prescribed that the signs on the stores and workshops belonging to Jews should indicate not only the family names of their owners but also their full first names as well as their fathers' names, exactly as they were spelled in their passports, "with the end in view of averting possible misunderstandings." The object of this ordinance was to enable the Christian public to boycott the Jewish stores and, in addition, to poke fun at the names of the owners, which, as a rule, were mutilated in the Russian registers and passports to the point of ridiculousness by semi-illiterate clerks.

Gresser's ordinance was issued on November 17, 1890, a few days before the protest meeting in London. As the Russian Government was at that time assuring Europe that the Jews were particularly happy in Russia, the ordinance was not published in the newspapers but nevertheless applied secretly. The Jewish storekeepers, who realized the malicious intent of the new edict, tried to minimize the damage resulting from it by having their names painted in small letters so as not to catch the eyes of the Russian anti-Semites. Thereupon Gresser directed the police officials (in March 1891) to see to it that the Jewish names on the store signs should be indicated "clearly and in a conspicuous place, in accordance with the prescribed drawings" and "to report immediately" to him any attempt to violate the law. In this manner St. Petersburg reacted upon the cries of indignation which rang at that time through Europe and America.

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