Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Russia and the Jews.


In our last we were compelled to break off in the midst of an article on the subject of our people in Russia. The part inserted contained merely our own remarks; and deeply do we regret that the accounts since received, do not throw any farther light on the subject. The reports only appear to have been too well-founded, and their very indefiniteness leaves us but too much cause to fear that much has to be endured. The object of the Emperor seems to be, to enforce a uniformity of action throughout his dominions; to break down the nationality of Poland, to destroy all languages but the Russian, and to have but one church, the Greek. His power to accomplish his will, is fearfully great; yet we confidently hope, that He who governs all the world with beneficence, may soon break the tyrant's strength, or so direct it, that good, unexpected good, may thence spring up for those who now groan under oppression.—Ed. Occ.

“Another hard blow has just been levelled against the unfortunate Jews of Russia. In virtue of a new ukase, all Jews inhabiting the open country are to be driven into the towns. But all Jews not possessing immovable property shall be unable to obtain the right of citizenship; that is, they are not to be allowed to carry on any trade, but are to be given over to starvation, should they decline the proffered alternative of turning Russian Catholics.

“In a comment upon the purport of this ukase, the Z. d. J. publishes a rather violent article. Looking at the inability of our English brethren to interfere beneficially in behalf of our unfortunate Russian co-religionists, and at the uncontrolled power of the Autocrat,—whose resentment might perhaps make a measure irrevocable, originally intended only as an intimidation; or who might mature into a stern resolution, what at first was only the effusion of momentary displeasure,—we think the policy of inflammatory language may be questioned. And certainly, when we look back at the avowed effect which the invectives of the French press against the Autocrat, had upon the unfortunate Poles, we should long hesitate before allowing ourselves to be overruled by an impetuosity which cannot mitigate the fate of the sufferers, and might much aggravate it. In this view we are also corroborated by the opinion of men whose experience, influence, and attentions, must insure

to them due weight and regard. Sympathizing deeply as we do with our wretched brethren, as fellow-creatures, as brethren and as co-religionists,—happy thrice happy, as we should feel, if by any effort, by any sacrifice on our part, we could mitigate their fate, we shall, nevertheless, at present abstain from any superfluous remark; and thus, if we cannot soothe, at least we shall not irritate. We, therefore, content ourselves for the present, to extract from the paper above-mentioned, various ukases published of late, with some comments from the same source. These are no speculations; they are stern facts, which will enable every one to judge for himself, and to say whether the inferences are just.

“The editor, in order to prove the justness of his opinion, passes in review the various ukases, concerning the Jews, issued by the Emperor since his accession to the throne. He begins with the edict of 1828, which subjected the Jews to the conscription. But, although the Emperor did not fail to express to the communities furnishing their respective contingents, his satisfaction, and even his sense of gratitude, he, nevertheless, a few years afterwards, excluded the Jewish soldiers from all military advancement; eluding the force of his promise to remove disabilities in the army, by interpreting it as having only reference to converted soldiers! In virtue of a secret order of the Emperor, a catechism of the Russian Greek Church was written, in which the Jewish children, torn from the arms of their parents in order to be brought up as soldiers, were to be instructed. The mask, however, was altogether dropped in 1844, when the public order was given, that these young recruits should be at once brought up as Christians, and that the adults should be incapable to serve in the guards, in the active army, or in the fleet, but were to be sent to the Caucasus, or to be employed at work in the military arsenals. Besides these indirect means, others of a more compulsory nature are resorted to in order to force them into apostasy. Thus it happened lately, that, when looking over the list of the military converts, the Emperor found ‘vacat’ in the regiment of a certain colonel, he expressed to the officer his displeasure. But what happened on the following day? Eight hundred Jewish soldiers were, with the sabre and the knout, driven into the church:—two of them preferred death.

“A ukase of 1835, conferred various rights on Jewish merchants, artisans, agriculturists, scholars, and artists. Considerable as these rights appeared, they were very insignificant in comparison with those which the Jews possessed under the Polish Government. And in what spirit were these laws administered? Already previously, in 1825, the Emperor had indiscriminately expelled all Jews residing in the two capitals of the empire.

“The same fate was inflicted in 1835, on the Jews of Kiew, the sacred city of Russia, Nicholaew and Sewastopol, on the Black Sea. None but converts were suffered to remain there. The interior of Russia was altogether shut against them, and even a temporary sojourn there rendered almost impossible. The agriculturists were not better treated.

“In 1837, a large number of the Jews of Courland, wished to immigrate into Siberia. The minister of finance, Count Cankrin, supported the undertaking, but the Emperor withheld his sanction. In 1840, Jewish settlers were sent to Cherson; half of them perished on the way, the other half perished there in the greatest misery; because Cherson, a country without trees or rain, required other settlers than persons not at all acquainted with agriculture, and certainly unable to change stones into bread.

“A proportionably very large number of the Jews exercise all kinds of manual labour and trades practised in Russia; and certainly they are superior in intellectualization to their brutalized, non-Jewish neighbours. The Emperor, in order to cut off this branch of sustenance, has determined to control the Jewish traders, till, as it is openly said they shall come to their senses. And since the promulgation of the Law of 1835, has a Jew received any government situation, however subordinate? Not a single one. An eminent artist of the Jewish religion, who in virtue of this ukase, applied for a situation in the Academy of Arts, received for answer, ‘You must convert yourself,’ to which of course he did not submit.

“But the Emperor soon found out, that however he might oppress the Jews, however successful he might be in cutting off single stragglers from the camp of Israel, yet that camp was impregnable by the means used. The Emperor determined therefore at once, to resort to the employment of force; and it is to this determination that may be attributed the series of atrocious ukases which have lately appalled the Jews of the universe, and extorted a cry of horror from the civilized world.

“The first of these ukases, expelling the Jews from the frontier into the interior of the country, resounds still in the ears of Europe. This edict was to produce a threefold effect; it was to render the boundaries not Polish Jewish, but Russian; it was to reduce the Jews to beggary, and to give them over to starvation, by tearing them from their establishments; it was still more to overcrowd with Jews the governments in which they were allowed to settle, and thus to compel them either to stifle each other, or to free themselves by apostasy. It is true, that in order to justify this measure in the eyes of Europe, it was pretended to be taken in order to prevent smuggling. But that this was only a pretence, and not the real motive of this ukase, is clear from the statement of the very ministers of the Emperor, who represented to him, that this step would not prevent smuggling, that sixteen large trading places, besides various smaller places, would thereby be ruined; and that it would cause to the public revenue an annual loss of 1,460,000 silver rubles. Nor was the solemn offer of the Jews, ‘to enter into a bond against smuggling, under pain or excommunication,’ of any use.

“The second preparatory step for the fatal blow to be struck, was the ukase which took from the Jews the right of regulating their own commercial affairs, and of representing the congregations by elders. Henceforth, all internal connexion of the Jews as congregations was prohibited, and the administration of their internal affairs and finances put into the hands of the local authorities; without whose permission, they were not even allowed to meet. By this step, the Jews being deprived of the only one centre of unity possessed by them, no unanimous measure could be taken; no protection or relief given to the members; and their strength as a body was totally broken. Now that all was prepared, that the victims were entangled in the net from which they could not extricate themselves, now that the fatal blow was struck, the ukase adverted to appeared. Deprived of all means of support, crowded in small rooms, which must soon become as many black holes, the prisoners must engage in a deadly struggle for preserving themselves, or save their lives by the proffered alternative.”