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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


It was on March 29, 1891, the first day of the Jewish Passover, when in the synagogues of Moscow which were filled with worshippers an alarming whisper ran from mouth to mouth telling of the publication of an imperial ukase ordering the expulsion of the Jews from the city. Soon afterwards the horror-stricken Jews read in the papers the following imperial order, dated March 28:

  Jewish mechanics, distillers, brewers, and, in general, master   workmen and artisans shall be forbidden to remove from the Jewish   Pale of Settlement as well as to come over from other places of the   Empire to the City and Government of Moscow.

This prohibition of settling in Moscow _anew_ was only one half of the edict. The second, more terrible half, was published on the following day:

  A recommendation shall be made to the Minister of the Interior,   after consultation with the Governor-General of Moscow, to see to it   that measures be taken to the effect that the above-mentioned Jews   should gradually depart from the City and Government of Moscow into   the places established for the permanent residence of the Jews.

At first sight it seemed difficult to realize that this harmless surface of the ukase, with its ambiguous formulation, [1] concealed a cruel decree ordering the uprooting of thousands of human beings. But those who were to execute this written law received definite unwritten instructions which were carried out according to all the rules of the strategic game.

[Footnote 1: The Byzantine perfidy of this formulation lies in the phrase "above-mentioned Jews," which gives the impression of referring to those that had "removed" to Moscow from other parts of the Empire, i.e., settled there _anew_, whereas the real object of the law was to expel _all_ the Jews of the "above-mentioned" categories of master workmen and artisans, even though they may have lived in the city for many years. This amounted to a repeal, illegally enacted outside the Council of State, of the law of 1865, conferring the right of universal residence upon Jewish artisans. Moreover, the enactment was given retroactive force--a step which even the originators of the "Temporary Rules" of May 3 were not bold enough to make. In distinction from the May Laws, the present decree was not even submitted to the Council of Ministers, where a discussion of it might have been demanded; it was passed as an extraordinary measure, at the suggestion of the Ministry of the Interior represented by Durnovo and Plehve. This is indicated by the heading of the ukase: "The Minister of the Interior has applied most humbly to his Imperial Majesty begging permission to adopt the following measures." This succession of illegalities was to be veiled by the ambiguous formulation of the ukase and the addition of the hackneyed stipulation: "Pending the revision of the enactments concerning the Jews in the ordinary course of legislation."]

The first victims were the Jews who resided in Moscow illegally or semi-legally, the latter living in the suburbs. They were subjected to a sudden nocturnal attack, a "raid," which was directed by the savage Cossack general Yurkovski, the police commissioner-in-chief. During the night following the promulgation of the ukase large detachments of policemen and firemen made their appearance in the section of the city called Zaryadye, where the bulk of the "illegal" Jewish residents were huddled together, more particularly in the immense so-called Glebov Yard, the former ghetto of Moscow. The police invaded the Jewish homes, aroused the scared inhabitants from their beds, and drove the semi-naked men, women, and children to the police stations, where they were kept in filthy cells for a day and sometimes longer. Some of the prisoners were released by the police which first wrested from them a written pledge to leave the city immediately. Others were evicted under a police convoy and sent out of the city like criminals, through the transportation prison. [1] Many families, having been forewarned of the impending raid, decided to spend the night outside their homes to avoid arrest and maltreatment at the hands of the police. They hid themselves in the outlying sections of the city and on the cemeteries; they walked or rode all over the city the whole night. Many an estimable Jew was forced to shelter his wife and children, stiffened from cold, in houses of ill repute which were open all night. But even these fugitives ultimately fell into the hands of the police inquisition.

[Footnote 1: Transportation prisons are prisons in which convicts sentenced to deportation (primarily to Siberia) are kept pending their deportation. Such prisons were to be found in the large Russian centers, among them in Moscow.]

Such were the methods by which Moscow was purged of its rightless Jewish inhabitants a whole month before Grand Duke Sergius made his entrance into the city. The grand duke was followed soon afterwards, in the month of May, by the Tzar himself, who stopped in the second Russian capital on his way to the Crimea. A retired Jewish soldier was courageous enough to address a petition to the Tzar, imploring him in touching terms to allow the former Jewish soldiers to remain in Moscow. The request of the Jewish soldier met with a quick response: he was sent to jail and subsequently evicted.

The establishment of the new regime in Moscow was followed, in accordance with the provisions of the recent ukase, by the "gradual" expulsion of the huge number of master workmen and artisans who had enjoyed for many years the right of residence in that city and were now suddenly deprived of this right by a despotic caprice. The local authorities included among the victims of expulsion even the so-called "circular Jews," i.e., those who had been allowed to remain in Moscow by virtue of the ministerial circular of 1880, granting the right of domicile to the Jews living there before that date. This vast host of honest and hard-working men--artisans, tradesmen, clerks, teachers--were ordered to leave Moscow in three installments: those having lived there for not more than three years and those unmarried or childless were to depart within three to six months; those having lived there for not more than six years and having children or apprentices to the number of four were allowed to postpone their departure for six to nine months; finally the old Jewish settlers, who had big families and employed a large number of workingmen, were given a reprieve from nine to twelve months.

It would almost seem as if the maximum and minimum dates within each term were granted specifically for the purpose of yielding an enormous income to the police, which, for a substantial consideration, could postpone the expulsion of the victims for three months and thereby enable them to wind up their affairs. At the expiration of the final terms the unfortunate Jews were not allowed to remain in the city even for one single day; those that stayed behind were ruthlessly evicted. An eye-witness, in summing up the information at his disposal, the details of which are even more heart-rending than the general facts, gives the following description of the Moscow events:

  People who have lived in Moscow for twenty, thirty, or even forty   years were forced to sell their property within a short time and   leave the city. Those who were too poor to comply with the orders of   the police, or who did not succeed in selling their property for a   mere song--there were cases of poor people disposing of their whole   furniture for one or two rubles--were thrown into jail, or sent to   the transportation prison, together with criminals and all kinds of   riff-raff that were awaiting their turn to be dispatched under   convoy. Men who had all their lives earned their bread by the sweat   of their brow found themselves under the thumb of prison inspectors,   who placed them at once on an equal footing with criminals sentenced   to hard labor. In these surroundings they were sometimes kept for   several weeks and then dispatched in batches to their "homes" which   many of them never saw again. At the threshold of the prisons the   people belonging to the "unprivileged" estates--the artisans were   almost without exception members of the "burgher class"--had wooden   handcuffs put on them....[1]

  It is difficult to state accurately how many people were made to endure   these tortures, inflicted on them without the due process of law. Some   died in prison, pending their transportation. Those who could manage to   scrape together a few pennies left for the Pale of Settlement at their   own expense. The sums speedily collected by their coreligionists, though   not inconsiderable, could do nothing more than rescue a number of the   unfortunates from jail, convoy, and handcuffs. But what can there be   done when thousands of human nests, lived in for so many years, are   suddenly destroyed, when the catastrophe comes with the force of an   avalanche so that even the Jewish heart which is open to sorrow cannot   grasp the whole misfortune?....

  Despite the winter cold, people hid themselves on cemeteries to avoid   jail and transportation. Women were confined in railroad cars. There   were many cases of expulsions of sick people who were brought to the   railroad station in conveyances and carried into the cars on   stretchers.... In those rare instances in which the police physician   pronounced the transportation to be dangerous, the authorities insisted   on the chronic character of the illness, and the sufferers were brought   to the station in writhing pain, as the police could not well be   expected to wait until the invalids were cured of their chronic   ailments. Eye-witnesses will never forget one bitterly cold night in   January, 1892. Crowds of Jews dressed in beggarly fashion, among them   women, children, and old men, with remnants of their household   belongings lying around them, filled the station of the Brest railroad.   Threatened by police convoy and transportation prison and having failed   to obtain a reprieve, they had made up their mind to leave, despite a   temperature of thirty degrees below zero. Fate, it would seem, wanted to   play a practical joke on them. At the representations of the police   commissioner-in-chief, the governor-general of Moscow had ordered to   stop the expulsions until the great colds had passed, but ... the order   was not published until the expulsion had been carried out. In this way   some 20,000 Jews who had lived in Moscow fifteen, twenty-five, and even   forty years were forcibly removed to the Jewish Pale of Settlement.

[Footnote 1: Under the Russian law (compare Vol. I, p. 308, n. 2) burghers are subject to corporal punishment, whereas the higher estates, among them the merchants, enjoy immunity in this direction.]

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