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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


All these horrors, which remind one of the expulsion from Spain in 1492, were passed over in complete silence by the Russian public press. The cringing and reactionary papers would not, and the liberal papers could not, report the exploits of the Russian Government in their war against the Jews. The liberal press was ordered by the Russian censor to refrain altogether from touching on the Jewish question. The only Russian-Jewish press organ which, defying the threats of the censor, had dared to fight against official Russian Judaeophobia, the _Voskhod_, had been suppressed already in March, before the promulgation of the Moscow expulsion edict, "for the extremely detrimental course pursued by it." A similar fate overtook the _Novosti_ of St. Petersburg which had printed a couple of sympathetic articles on the Jews.

In this way the Government managed to gag the independent press on the eve of its surprise attack upon Moscow Jewry, so that everything could be carried out noiselessly, under the veil of a state secret. Fortunately, the foreign press managed to unveil the mystery. The Government of the United States, faced by a huge immigration tide from Russia, sent in June, 1891, two commissioners, Weber and Kempster, to that country. They visited Moscow at the height of the expulsion fever, and, travelling through the principal centers of the Pale of Settlement, gathered carefully sifted documentary evidence of what was being perpetrated upon the Jews in the Empire of the Tzar.

While decimating the Jews, the Russian Government was at the same time anxious that their cries of distress should not penetrate beyond the Russian border. Just about that time Russia was negotiating a foreign loan, in which the Rothschilds of Paris were expected to take a leading part, and found it rather inconvenient to stand forth in the eyes of Europe as the ghost of medieval Spain. It was this consideration which prompted the softened and ambiguous formulation of the Moscow expulsion decree and made the Government suppress systematically all mention of what happened afterwards.

Notwithstanding these efforts, the cries of distress were soon heard all over Europe. The Russian censorship had no power over the public opinion outside of Russia. The first Moscow refugees, who had reached Berlin, Paris, and London, reported what was going on at Moscow. Already in April, 1891, the European financial press began to comment on the fact that "the Jewish population of Russia is altogether irreplaceable in Russian commercial life, forming a substantial element which contributes to the prosperity of the country," and that, therefore, "the expulsion of the Jews must of necessity greatly alarm the owners of Russian securities who are interested in the economic progress of Russia." Soon afterwards it became known that Alphonse de Rothschild, the head of the great financial firm in Paris, refused to take a hand in floating the Russian loan of half a billion. This first protest of the financial king against the anti-Semitic policy of the Russian Government produced a sensation, and it was intensified by the fact that it was uttered in France at a time when the diplomats of both countries were preparing to celebrate the Franco-Russian alliance which was consummated a few months afterwards.

The expulsion from Moscow found a sympathetic echo on the other side of the Atlantic. President Harrison took occasion, in a message to Congress, to refer to the sufferings of the Jews and to the probable effects of the Russian expulsions upon America:

  This Government has found occasion to express in a friendly spirit,   but with much earnestness, to the Government of the Czar its serious   concern because of the harsh measures now being enforced against the   Hebrews in Russia. By the revival of anti-Semitic laws, long in   abeyance, great numbers of those unfortunate people have been   constrained to abandon their homes and leave the Empire by reason of   the impossibility of finding subsistence within the Pale to which it   is sought to confine them. The immigration of these people to the   United States--many other countries being closed to them--is largely   increasing, and is likely to assume proportions which may make it   difficult to find homes and employment for them here and to   seriously affect the labor market. It is estimated that over   1,000,000 will be forced from Russia within a few years. The Hebrew   is never a beggar; he has always kept the law--life by toil--often   under severe and oppressive restrictions. It is also true that no   race, sect, or class has more fully cared for its own than the   Hebrew race. But the sudden transfer of such a multitude under   conditions that tend to strip them of their small accumulations and   to depress their energies and courage is neither good for them nor   for us.

  The banishment, whether by direct decree or by not less certain   indirect methods, of so large a number of men and women is not a   local question. A decree to leave one country is in the nature of   things an order to enter another--some other. This consideration, as   well as the suggestion of humanity, furnishes ample ground for the   remonstrances which we have presented to Russia; while our historic   friendship for that Government cannot fail to give assurance that   our representations are those of a sincere well-wisher.[1]

[Footnote 1: Third Annual Message to Congress by President Harrison, December 9, 1891, _Messages and Papers of the Presidents_, Vol. IX,     p. 188.]

The sentiments of the American people were voiced less guardedly in a resolution which was passed by the House of Representatives on July 21, 1892:

  _Resolved_, That the American people, through their Senators and   Representatives in Congress assembled, do hereby express sympathy   for the Russian Hebrews in their present condition, and the hope   that the Government of Russia, a power with which the United States   has always been on terms of amity and good will, will mitigate as   far as possible the severity of the laws and decrees issued   respecting them, and the President is requested to use his good   offices to notify the Government of Russia to mitigate the said laws   and decrees. [1]

[Footnote 1: _Congressional Record_, Vol. 23, p. 6533.]

The highly-placed Jew-baiters of St. Petersburg were filled with rage, The _Novoye Vremya_ emptied its invectives upon the _Zhydovski_ financiers, referring to the refusal of Alphonse de Rothschild to participate in the Russian loan. Nevertheless, the Government found itself compelled to stem the tide of oppression for a short while.

We have already had occasion to point out that the Government had originally planned to reduce the Jewish element also in the city of St. Petersburg, whose head, the brutal Gresser, had manifested his attitude toward the Jews in a series of police circulars. Following upon the first raid of the Moscow police on the Jews, Gresser ordered his gendarmes to search at the St. Petersburg railroad stations for all Jewish fugitives from that city who might have ventured to flee to St. Petersburg, and to deport them immediately. In April there were persistent rumors afloat that the Government had decided to remove by degrees all Jews from St. Petersburg and thus make both Russian capitals _judenrein_. The financial blow from Paris cooled somewhat the ardor of the Jew-baiters on the shores of the Neva. The wholesale expulsions from St. Petersburg were postponed, and the Russian anti-Semites were forced to satisfy their cannibal appetite with the consumption of Moscow Jewry, whose annihilation was carried out systematically under the cover of bureaucratic secrecy.

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