At the Turn of the 20th Century
It appears that after six years of reflection and hesitation, the Tsar Alexander III irrevocably chose, as of 1887, to contain the Jews of Russia by restrictions of a civil and political nature, and he held this position until his death.
The reasons were probably, on the one hand, the evident part played by the Jews in the revolutionary movement, on the other, the no less evident fact that many Jewish youths shunned military service: “only three quarters of those who should have been enrolled served in the army.”1 One noticed “the ever‐increasing number of Jews who did not respond to the appeal”, as well as the increasing amount of unpaid fines related to these absences: only 3 million rubles out of 30 million were returned annually to the funds of the State. (In fact, the government still had no accurate statistics on the Jewish population, its birth rate, its mortality rate before the age of 21. Let us remind that in 1876 [see Chapter 4], because of this absenteeism, there had been a restriction of the “favour accorded to certain persons by virtue of their family situation”—which meant that the only sons of Jewish families were now subjected, like the others, to general conscription, and as a result the proportion of Jewish conscripts had become greater than that of non‐Jews. This situation was not corrected until the early 1900s under Nicolas II.2)
As far as public education was concerned, the tsar’s wish, which he had formulated in 1885, was that the number of Jews admitted to institutions outside the Pale of Settlement was in the same ratio as the number of Jews in the total population. But the authorities pursued two aims simultaneously: not only to slow down the growing flow of Jews towards education, but also to fight against the revolution, to make the school, as it was called, “not a pool of revolutionaries, but a breeding ground for science.”3 In the chancelleries, they were preparing a more radical measure which consisted of prohibiting access to education to elements likely to serve the revolution—a measure contrary to the spirit of Lomonosov* and profoundly vicious, prejudicial to the State itself: it was to deny the children of disadvantaged strata of the general population (the “sons of cooks”) admission to colleges. The formulation, falsely reasonable, falsely decent, was: “Leave the school principals free to accept only children who are in the care of persons who can guarantee them good supervision at home and provide them with all that is necessary for the pursuit of their studies”—furthermore, in higher education establishments, it was planned to increase the right of access to classes.4
This measure provoked a strong outrage in liberal circles, but less violent and less lasting than the one that was instigated in 1887 by a new measure: the reduction of the number of Jews admitted to high schools and universities. It was originally planned to publish these two provisions within the framework of the same law. But the Council of Ministers opposed it, arguing that “the publication of a general decision accompanied by restrictions for the Jews could be misinterpreted.” In June 1887, therefore, only a part was promulgated, the one that concerned non‐Jews: “Measures aiming to regulate the contingent of pupils in secondary and higher education”—measures directed in fact against the common people… As for the reduction of the quota of the Jews, it was entrusted to the Minister of Education, Delianov, who implemented it in July 1887 by a bulletin addressed to the rectors of school boards. He fixed for the secondary and higher schools the numerus clausus of the Jews at 10% for the Pale of Settlement, 5% outside it, and 3% in the two capitals.
“Following the example of the Ministry of Public Instruction”, other organisations began to introduce “quotas of admission into their institutions, and some were closed down to the Jews.” (Such as the Higher School of Electricity, the Saint Petersburg School of Communication, and, most strikingly, the Academy of Military Medicine which temporarily prohibited, but “for many years”, its access to Jews.5)
This numerus clausus law, which had not been established during the ninety‐three years of massive presence of Jews in Russia and which was to continue for twenty‐nine years (practically until 1916) struck the Jewish society of Russia all the more painfully because in the years 1870‒1880 there had been a “remarkable impulse of the Jews to enter schools and colleges”, a phenomenon which Sliosberg in particular explains is “not due to the realisation of the masses of the necessity of education… but rather due to the fact that, for a Jew without capital, figuring out how to deploy one’s forces in the economic field was very difficult, and due to the fact that conscription became compulsory for all, but that there were dispensations for the students.” Thus, if only well‐to‐do Jewish youth had studied before, a “Jewish student proletariat” was now being created; if among the Russians, now as in the past, it was the favoured social classes that received higher education, among the Jews, in addition to the wealthy, young people from the underprivileged classes began to study.6
We would like to add that in those years there had been a turning‐point in the whole world and in all fields of culture, towards a no longer elitist but generalised education—and the Jews, particularly intuitive and receptive, had been the first to feel it, at least instinctively. But how can we find a way to satisfy, without causing friction, without clashes, the constant and increasing aspiration of the Jews to education? In view of the fact that the indigenous population, in its mass, remained fairly asleep and backward, how to avoid prejudice to the development of either side?
Of course, the objective of the Russian government was the struggle against the revolution, for among the student youth many Jews had been noticed by their activism and their total rejection of the regime in place. However, when we know the enormous influence exerted by Pobedonostsev* during the reign of Alexander III, it must be admitted that the aim was also to defend the Russian nation against the imbalance that was to occur in the field of education. This is what testifies the Baron Morits von Hirsch, a big Jewish banker who visited Russia and to whom Pobedonostsev expressed his point of view: the policy of the government is inspired not by the idea that the Jews are a “threat”, but by the fact that, rich in their multi‐millennial culture, they are more spiritually and intellectually powerful than the still ignorant and unpolished Russian people—that is why measures had to be taken to balance the “low capacity of the local population to resist.” (And Pobedonostsev asked Hirsch, known for his philanthropy, to promote the education of the Russian people in order to realise the equal rights of the Jews of Russia. According to Sliosberg, Baron Hirsch allocated one million rubles to private schools.7)
Like any historical phenomenon, this measure can be viewed from various angles, particularly from the two different angles that follow.
For a young Jewish student, the most elementary fairness seemed flouted: he had shown capacities, application, he had to be admitted… But he was not! Obviously, for these gifted and dynamic young people, to encounter such a barrier was more than mortifying; the brutality of such a measure made them indignant. Those who had hitherto been confined to the trades of commerce and handicrafts were now prevented from accessing ardently desired studies that would lead to a better life.
Conversely, the “native population” did not see in these quotas a breach of the principle of equality, on the contrary, even. The institutions in question were financed by the public treasury, and therefore by the whole population, and if the Jews were more numerous, it meant that it was at the expense of all; and it was known that, later on, educated people would enjoy a privileged position in society. And the other ethnic groups, did they also have to have a proportional representation within the “educated layer”? Unlike all the other peoples of the empire, the Jews now aspired almost exclusively to education, and in some places this could mean that the Jewish contingent in schools exceeded 50%. The numerus clausus was unquestionably instituted to protect the interests of Russians and ethnic minorities, certainly not to bully the Jews. (In the 20s of the twentieth century, a similar approach was sought in the United States to limit the Jewish contingent in universities, and immigration quotas were also established—but we shall come back to this. Moreover, the matter of quotas, put today in terms of “no less than”*, has become a burning issue in America.)
In practice, there have been many exceptions to the application of the numerus clausus in Russia. The first to avoid it were girls’ high schools: “In most high schools for young girls, the quotas were not current, nor in several public higher education establishments: the conservatories of Saint Petersburg and Moscow, the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of Moscow, the Kiev School of Commerce, etc.”8 A fortiori quotas were not applied in any private establishment; and these were numerous and of high quality.9 (For example, at the Kirpitchnikova High School, one of the best high schools in Moscow, a quarter of the students were Jewish.10 They were numerous at the famous Polivanovskaya high school in Moscow, and the Androyeva girls’ school in Rostov, where my mother was a pupil, there were in her class more than half of Jewish girls.) Business schools (under the Ministry of Finance), to which Jewish children were eager to register, were initially opened to them without any restrictions, and those which took place after 1895 were relatively light (for example: in commercial schools in the Pale of Settlement, financed out of private funds, the number of Jews admitted depended on the amount of money allocated by Jewish merchants for the maintenance of these schools, and in many of them the percentage of Jewish students was 50% or more).
If the official standard was strictly observed at the time of admission to the secondary classes, it was often largely overstepped in the larger classes. Sliosberg explains this notably by the fact that the Jewish children who entered high school pursued it to the end, whereas the non‐Jews often gave up their studies before completion. This is why, in large classes, there were often much more than 10% Jewish pupils.11 He confirmed that they were numerous, for example, at the Poltava high school. Out of 80 boys, eight were Jewish.12 In the boys ‘schools of Mariupol, at the time when there was already a local Duma, about 14 to 15% of the pupils were Jewish, and in girls’ high schools, the proportion was even higher.13 In Odessa, where Jews constituted one‐third of the population,14 they were in 1894, 14% in the prestigious Richelieu high school, more than 10% in the gymnasium No. 2, 37% in gymnasium No. 3; in girls’ high schools the proportion was of 40%; in business schools, 72%, and in university, 19%.15
To the extent that financial means permitted it, no obstacle prevented this thirst for education. “In a number of secondary schools in the central Russian provinces there were few Jewish pupils at that time, and parents took the opportunity to send their children there… The wealthiest parents had their children home schooled: they prepared for examinations to enter the next grade and thus reached this way the senior year.”16 In the period between 1887 and 1909, Jewish children were free to pass the school‐leaving examinations, and “they graduated as equals those who had followed the curriculum.”17 The majority of “external” pupils were Jewish. A family like that of Jacob Marchak (a jeweller with no great fortune, the father of the poet*), whose five children had a higher education, was not uncommon before the revolution.
Moreover, “private establishments were opened everywhere, whether mixed for the Jews and Christians, or for the Jews only… Some of these establishments enjoyed the same rights as public establishments; the others were authorised to issue certificates entitling them to enrol in higher educational establishments.”18 “A network of private Jewish settlements was established, which formed the basis of a national‐type education,”19 “The Jews were also oriented towards higher education establishments abroad: a large part of them, on their return to Russia, passed examinations before the State Commissions.”20 Sliosberg himself observed that in the 80s, at the University of Heidelberg that “the majority of Russian listeners were Jews” and that some, among them, did not have their bachelor’s degree.21
One can rightly wonder whether the restrictions, dictated by fear in front of the revolutionary moods of the students, did not contribute to feeding said moods. If these were not aggravated by indignation at the numerus clausus, and by contacts maintained abroad with political emigrants.
What happened in Russian universities after the publication of the bulletin? There was no sharp fall, but the number of Jews decreased almost every year, from 13.8% in 1893 to 7% in 1902. The proportion of Jews studying at the universities of Saint Petersburg and Moscow remained no less than the imposed 3% norm throughout the period of validity of the said standard.22
Minister Delianov acceded more than once to the requests submitted to him, and authorised admission to university beyond the numerus clausus.23 This was how “hundreds of students” were admitted. (Delianov’s flexibility will succeed later the rigidity of Minister Bogolepov—and it is not excluded that this may have contributed to making him the target of terrorists*.24) Sliosberg gives this overview: the percentage in the superior courts of medicine for women outweighed that of the Academy of Military Medicine and that of the university, and “all the Jewish girls of the empire poured in.” Several hundred Jews were enrolled at the School of Psycho‐neuropathology in Saint Petersburg, where they could enter without a baccalaureate, and so they were thousands over the years. It was called the School of Neuropathology, but it also housed a faculty of law. The Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg was “filled with Jewish students of both sexes.” In 1911, a private mining school opened in Ekaterinoslav.25
Admission to specialised schools, such as that of health officers, was done with great freedom. J. Teitel says that at the Saratov school of nurses (of high quality, very well equipped) Jews from the Pale of Settlement were admitted without any limitation—and without prior authorisation issued by the police for the displacement. Those who were admitted thus received full rights. This practice was confirmed by the governor of Saratov at that time, Stolypin. Thus the proportion of Jewish students could rise to 70%. In the other technical colleges of Saratov, Jews from the Pale of Settlement were admitted without any norm, and many of them continued their studies in higher education… From the Pale of Settlement also came “a mass of external pupils that did not find their place in university, and for whom the Jewish community of the city struggled to find work.”26
To all this it should be added that the number of establishments where the teaching was delivered in Hebrew was not limited. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century there were 25,000 primary schools (Heder) with 363,000 pupils in the Pale of Settlement (64% of all Jewish children).27 It is true that in 1883 the old “Jewish establishments of the State” were closed due to having no use: no one went there any more. (But note: the opening of these institutions was once interpreted by the Jewish publicists as an act and a ruse of the “adverse reaction”, and today their closure was also the “act of adverse reaction”!)
In summary: the admission quotas did not hinder the Jews’ aspiration to education. Nor did they contribute to raising the educational level of the non‐Jewish peoples of the empire; they only aroused bitterness and rage among the Jewish youth. But this, in spite of the prohibitions, was going to constitute an intelligentsia of vanguard. It was the immigrants from Russia who formed the nucleus of the first intellectual elite of the future State of Israel. (How many times do we read in the Russian Jewish Encyclopædia the notices “son of small craftsman”, “son of small trader”, “son of merchant”, and, further on, “completed university”?)
The university diploma initially conferred the right to reside throughout the empire and to serve in the administration (later, access to education in academies, universities and public schools was once again limited). Graduates of the Faculty of Medicine—doctors and pharmacists—were allowed to “reside anywhere, whether they practised their profession or not,” and like all those who had completed a higher degree, they could even “devote themselves to commerce or other trades”, “be members of the merchant corps without having previously spent five years in the first guild in the Pale of Settlement” as was required of other merchants. “The Jews holding the title of Doctor of Medicine” could practice their profession in any district of the empire, hire a medical secretary and two aides among their co‐religionists by bringing them from the Pale of Settlement. The right to reside in any place, as well as the right to trade, was attributed to all those who practised paramedical professions without having completed a higher education—dentists, nurses, midwives. As from 1903, a requirement was added: that these persons should mandatorily practise their field of specialisation.28
Restrictions also affected the bar, the independent body of lawyers set up in 1864. This profession paved the way for a successful career, both financially and personally, and to convey one’s ideas: advocacy by lawyers in court were not subject to any censorship, they were published in the press, so that the speakers enjoyed greater freedom of expression than the newspapers themselves. They exploited it widely for social criticism and for the “edification” of society. The class of solicitors had transformed themselves in a quarter of a century into a powerful force of opposition: one should remember the triumphal acquittal of Vera Zasulich in 1878.* (The moral laxity of the lawyers’ argumentation at the time strongly worried Dostoevsky: he explained it in his writings.**) Within this influential brotherhood, the Jews quickly occupied a preponderant place, revealing themselves to be the most gifted of all. When, in 1889, the Council of the Sworn Attorneys of Saint Petersburg published “for the first time in its report the data concerning the number of Jews in this trade,” the great Saint Petersburg lawyer A. J. Passover “renounced the title of member of the Council and was no longer a candidate for election.”29
In the same year 1889, the Minister of Justice, Manasseine, presented a report to Tsar Alexander III; it was stated that “the bar is invaded by the Jews, who supplant the Russians; they apply their own methods and violate the code of ethics to which sworn‐in attorneys must obey.” (The document does not provide any clarification.30) In November 1889, on the orders of the tsar, a provision was made, supposedly provisionally (and consequently able to escape the legal procedure), requiring that “the admission to the numbers of those avowed and delegated authorities of non‐Christian confession… will be henceforth, and until promulgation of a special law on the subject, possible only with the authorisation of the Minister of Justice.”31 But as apparently neither the Moslems nor the Buddhists availed themselves in large numbers of the title of lawyer, this provision proved to be de facto directed against the Jews.
From that year onwards, and for another fifteen years, practically no unbaptised Jew received this authorisation from the minister, not even such brilliant personalities—and future great advocates—as M. M. Winaver*** or O. O. Gruzenberg: they remained confined for a decade and a half in the role of “law clerks”. (Winaver even pleaded more than once in the Senate, and was very much listened to.) The “clerks” in fact pleaded with the same freedom and success as the attorneys themselves: here, there were no restrictions.32
In 1894, the new Minister of Justice, N. V. Muraviev, wanted to give this temporary prohibition the value of permanent law. His argument was as follows: “The real danger is not the presence in the body of lawyers of a certain number of people of Jewish faith who have rejected to a large extent the notions contrary to the Christian norms which pertain to their nation, but it is in the fact that the number of such persons becomes so great that they are likely to acquire a preponderant importance and to exert an adverse influence on the general level of morality and on the activities of that corporation.”33 In the bill, it was advocated that the proportion of non‐Christian solicitors be limited in each jurisdiction to 10%. The tsar’s government rejected this project—but, as Mr. Krohl said, “this idea… did not meet the condemnation it deserved in the Russian public opinion”, and within the Society of Jurists of Saint Petersburg, “only a few people protested vigorously…; the rest, the vast majority, were clearly in favour of the draft at the time of its discussion.”34 This gives an unexpected insight into the state of mind of the capital’s intelligentsia in the mid-90s. (In the Saint Petersburg jurisdiction, 13.5% of the attorneys were Jews, while in Moscow, less than 5%.35)
The prohibition for the clerks of solicitors to become themselves avowed was felt all the more painfully because it followed limitations in the scientific careers and the service of the State.36 It would not be lifted before 1904.
In the 80s, a limitation on the number of Jewish jurors was introduced in the provinces of the Pale of Settlement, so that they did not have a majority within the juries.
It was also from the 80s that the hiring of Jews in the judicial administration ceased. There were, however, exceptions to this: thus J. Teitel, who had been appointed shortly after his university studies, remained there twenty‐five years. He finished his career ennobled with the civil rank of general. (It must be added that, later, Cheglovitov* forced him to retire “of his own free will.”) In the exercise of his duties, he often had, he, the Israelite, to administer oaths to Orthodox witnesses, and he never met any objection from the clergy. J. M. Halpern, also an official in the judicial administration, had acceded to the high‐ranking position of Deputy Director of the Ministry of Justice and to the rank of Secret Advisor.37 Halpern sat on the Pahlen Commission in the capacity of expert. (Before that, the first prosecutor of the Senate had been G. I. Trahtenberg, and his deputy G. B. Sliosberg had initiated himself to defend the rights of the Jews.) He was also first prosecutor of the Senate S. J. Outine—but he was baptised and consequently, was not taken into account.
The religious criterion has never been a false pretence for the tsarist government, but has always been a real motive. It was because of this that the old believers**, ethnically Russian, were ferociously persecuted for two and a half centuries, as well as, later, the Dukhobors*** and the Molokanes****, also Russians.
The baptised Jews were numerous in the service of the Russian State; we will not discuss it in this book. Let us quote under Nicholas I, the Count K. Nesselrod, who had a long career at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ludwig Chtiglits, who received the barony in Russia38; Maximilian Heine, brother of the poet and military doctor, who ended his career with the rank of state councillor; Governor General Bezak, General of the suite of His Majesty Adelbert, the Colonel of the Horse Guard Meves, the Hirs diplomats, one of whom was Minister under Alexander III. Later, there was the Secretary of State Perets (grandson of the tax‐collector Abram Perets39), Generals Kaufman‐Turkestansky and Khrulyov; The squire Salomon, director of the Alexandrovsky high school; Senators Gredinger, Posen; in the Police Department, Gurovich, Vissarionov, among many others.
Was the conversion to Christianity, especially to Lutheranism, in the eyes of some considered as easy? Are all the tracks open to you at once? Sliosberg observed at one point an “almost massive denial” on the part of young people.40 But, of course, seen from the Jewish side, this appeared to be a grave betrayal, “a bonus to the abjuration of his faith… When we think of the number of Jews who resist the temptation to be baptised, one gains a great respect for this unhappy people.”41
Formerly, it was with candour: we divided people into two categories, “ours” and “others,” according to the criterion of faith alone. This state of mind, the Russian State, still reflected it in its dispositions. But, at the dawn of the twentieth century, could it not have thought a little and wondered whether such a procedure was morally permissible and practically effective? Could we continue to offer the Jews material welfare at the cost of denying their faith?
And then what advantage could be derived from Christianity? Many of these conversions were for pure convenience. (Some justified themselves by luring themselves: “I can thus be much more useful to my people.”42)
For those who had obtained equal rights in the service of the State, “there no longer existed any restriction of any kind whatsoever which prevented them from gaining access to hereditary nobility” and to receive the highest rewards. “The Jews were commonly enrolled without difficulty in genealogical records.”43 And even, as we see from the census of 1897, 196 members of the hereditary nobility counted Hebrew as their mother tongue (amongst the nobility in their personal capacities and the civil servants, they were 3,371 in the same case44). There even was, among the Brodsky, a family of modest artisans, Marshals of the nobility of the province of Ekaterinoslav.
But from the 70s of the nineteenth century onwards, Jews who sought positions in the administration of the State began to encounter obstacles (and this became worse from 1896 onwards); it must be said that few were those who aspired to this kind of routine and poorly paid activity. Moreover, from the 90s, the obstacles also affected the elective functions.
In 1890 a new Zemstvo Ordinance was issued, according to which the Jews were excluded from the self‐management of the Zemstvo—in other words, outside the urban areas of the provinces and districts. It was planned to “not allow [the Jews] to participate in the electoral meetings and assemblies of the Zemstvos”45 (these did not yet exist in the western provinces). The motivation was that “Jews, who usually pursue their particular interests, do not meet the demand for a real, living and social connection with local life.”46 At the same time, to work in the Zemstvo as an independent contractor, to the title of what was called the “outsider element” (element that would introduce into the Zemstvo, several years in advance, the explosive charge of radicalism), was not forbidden to Jews—and there they were many.
The restrictions in the Zemstvos did not affect the Jews of the central Russian provinces because the great majority of them resided in the cities and were more interested in urban administration. But in 1892 there appeared this time a new provision for cities: the Jews lost the right to elect and to be elected delegates to the Dumas and to the municipal offices, as well as to hold any office of responsibility, or conduct there economic and administrative services. This represented a more than sensible limitation. As delegates, Jews were admitted only in cities of the Pale of Settlement, but here too, subject to a restriction: no more than one‐tenth of the number of the municipal duma, and again “on assignment” for the local administration that selected Jewish candidates—an annoying procedure, to say the least. (Particularly for bourgeois family men, as Sliosberg rightly points out: what a humiliation for them in relation to their children… how, after that, can they remain loyal to such a government?47) “There has been no harder time in the history of Russian Jews in Russia. They were expelled from all positions they had conquered.”48 In another passage, the same author speaks without ambiguity of the bribes received by the officials of the Ministry of the Interior to act in favour of the Jews.49 (That was to soften somewhat the rigour of the times.)
Yes, the Jews of Russia were undoubtedly bullied, victims of inequality in civil rights. But this is what reminds us of the eminent Cadet V. A. Maklakov, who found himself in the emigration after the revolution: “The ‘inequality in rights’ of the Jews naturally lost its acuteness in a state where the enormous mass of the population (82%), that on which the prosperity of the country depended, the peasantry—dull, mute, submissive—was also excluded from common law, the same for all”50—and it stayed in the same situation after the abolition of serfdom; for it also, military service was inescapable, secondary and higher education inaccessible, and it did not obtain that self‐administration, that rural Zemstvo which it much need. Another emigrant, D. O. Linsky, a Jew, even bitterly concluded that, in comparison with the levelling up of the soviets, when the entire population of Russia was deprived of all rights, “the inequality in the rights of the Jewish population before the revolution appears like an inaccessible ideal.”51
We have gotten used of saying: the persecution of the Jews in Russia. But the word is not fair. It was not a persecution, strictly speaking. It was a whole series of restrictions, of bullying. Vexing, admittedly, painful, even scandalous.
However, the Pale of Settlement, over the years, was becoming more and more permeable.
According to the census of 1897, 315,000 Jews were already residing outside its boundaries, that is to say, in sixteen years, a nine‐fold increase (and this represented 9% of the total Jewish population of Russia apart from the kingdom of Poland.52 Let us compare: there were 115,000 Jews in France, and 200,000 in Great Britain53). Let us consider also that the census gave undervalued figures, in view of the fact that in many cities of Russia many craftsmen, many servants serving “authorised” Jews did not have an official existence, being shielded from registration.
Neither the top of the finance nor the educated elite were subject to the restrictions of the “Pale”, and both were established freely in the central provinces and in the capitals. It is well known that 14% of the Jewish population practised “liberal professions”54—not necessarily the intellectual type. One thing, however, is certain: in pre‐revolutionary Russia, the Jews “occupied a prominent place in these intellectual occupations. The famous Pale of Settlement itself did not in any way prevent a large fraction of the Jews from penetrating more and more into the provinces of central Russia.”55
The so‐called “artisanal” trades where the Jews were the most numerous were the dentists, the tailors, the nurses, the apothecaries, and a few others, trades of great utility everywhere, where they were always welcome. “In 1905, in Russia, more than 1,300,000 Jews were engaged in artisanal activities,”56 which meant that they could live outside the “Pale”. And it must not be forgotten either that “nowhere in the laws it was stipulated, for example, that the craftsman who exercises a trade has no right to engage in commerce at the same time”; moreover, “the notion of ‘doing business’ is not defined by law”: for example, “deposit‐selling” with commission, is it trade? Thus, in order to exercise any form of trade (even large‐scale trading), to engage in the purchase of real estate, in the development of factories, one had to pass as “artisan” (or “dentist”!) For example, the “artisan” Neimark possessed a factory of sixty workers; typos thus opened their own printing press.57 And there existed yet another way: several people regroup, and only one pays the fee of the first guild, the others pretending to be his “clerks”. Or even, to be “adopted” in a central province by retired Jewish soldiers (the “adopted” father received a pension in return58). In Riga, thousands of Jewish families lived on the timber trade until they were expelled due to false attestations.59 At the dawn of the twentieth century, Jewish settlements were found in all Russian cities of some importance.
J. Teitel testified that “the construction of the Samara‐Orenburg railway line resulted in the influx of a large number of Jews to Samara. The supervisors of this railway were Jews—Varchavsky, Gorvitch. For a long time they were also the owners. They occupied the control stations as well as a large number of subordinate jobs. They brought their families from the Pale of Settlement, and thus a very numerous Jewish colony was formed. They also took the export of wheat from the rich province of Samara to foreign countries. It should be noted that they were the first to export eggs from Russia to Western Europe. All these activities were carried out by so‐called ‘artisans’.” And Teitel enumerates three successive governors of the province of Samara as well as a chief of police (who, previously, in 1863, had been “excluded from the University of Saint Petersburg for having participated in student disorders” who “closed their eyes to these so‐called artisans.” Thus, around 1889, there lived in Samara “more than 300 Jewish families, without a residence permit”60,—which means that in Samara, in addition to the official figures, there were in fact around 2,000 Jews.
Stories come to us from another end of Russia: at Viazma, “the three pharmacists, the six dentists, a number of doctors, notaries, many shopkeepers, almost all hairdressers, tailors, shoemakers were Jewish. All those who appeared as such were not dentists or tailors, many traded and no one prevented them from doing so. Of its 35,000 inhabitants, Viazma also had about two thousand Jews.61
In the region of the Army of the Don, where severe restrictions were imposed on Jews in 1880 and where they were forbidden to reside in Cossack villages and suburbs of the cities, there were nevertheless 25,000 keepers of inns and buffets, barbers, watchmakers, tailors. And any delivery of a quantity of goods, no matter the size, depended on them.
The system of restrictions on the rights of the Jews, with the whole range of corrections, reservations and amendments thereto, had been built up stratum after stratum over the years. The provisions aimed at the Jews were scattered in the various collections of laws promulgated at different times, badly harmonised among themselves, badly amalgamated with the common laws of the empire. The governors complained of it.62 We must try to penetrate the mysteries of the innumerable derogations, special cases, exceptions of exceptions, which swarmed the legislation on the Jews, to understand what journey of the combatant this represented for the ordinary Jew, and what puzzle for the administration. Such complexity could only engender formalism, with its succession of cruelties; thus, when a head of a family domiciled in a central Russian province lost his right of residence (after his death or as a result of a change of profession), his whole family lost it with him. Families were thus expelled after the death of the head of the family (with the exception of single persons over 70 years of age).
However, complexity did not always play in disfavour of the Jews; it sometimes played to their advantage. Authors write that “it was the police commissioners and their deputies who were responsible for settling the endless wavering in the application of the restrictive measures,” which resulted in the use of bribes and to the circumvention of the law63—always favourable to the Jews. There were also perfectly workable legal channels. “The contradictory nature of the innumerable laws and provisions on Jews offers the Senate a broad spectrum of interpretations of legislation… In the 90s, most of the provisions appealed by the Jews were annulled” by the Senate.64 The highest dignitaries often closed their eyes to non‐compliance with anti‐Jewish restrictions—as G. Sliosberg testified, for example: “Ultimately, Jewish affairs depended on the head of the police department, Pyotr Nikolayevich Dumovo… The latter was always open to the complainants’ arguments and I must say, to be honest, that if the application of any restrictive regulation were contrary to human charity, [Dournovo] would look into the matter and resolve it favourably.”65
“Rather than the new laws, it was the provisions tending to a harder application of the old laws which were felt most painfully by the broad sections of the Jewish population.”66 The process, discreet but irreversible, by which the Jews gradually penetrated into the provinces of central Russia was sometimes stopped by the administration, and some duly orchestrated episodes went down in history.
This was the case in Moscow after the retirement of the all‐powerful and almost irremovable Governor General V. A. Dolgorukov, who had regarded with great kindness the arrival of the Jews in the city and their economic activity. (The key to this attitude obviously resides in the person of the great banker Lazar Solomonovich Poliakov, “with whom Prince Dolgorukov had friendly ties and who, evil tongues affirmed, had opened to him in his bank an unlimited line of credit. That the prince had need of money, there was no doubt about it,” for he had yielded all his fortune to his son‐in‐law, while he himself “loved to live it up, and also had great spendings.” Consequently, L. Poliakov “was covered year after year with honours and distinctions.” Thanks to this, the Jews of Moscow felt a firm ground beneath their feet: “Every Jew could receive the right of residence in the capital” without actually putting himself “at the service of one of his coreligionists, a merchant of the first Guild.”67)
G. Sliosberg informs us that “Dolgorukov was accused of yielding too much to the influence of Poliakov.” And he explains: Poliakov was the owner of the Moscow mortgage lending, so neither in the province of Moscow nor in any neighbouring province could any other mortgage bank operate (i.e. granting advances on property mortgage‐funds). Now, “there was no nobleman possessing land that did not hypothecate his possessions.” (Such was the defeat of the Russian nobility at the end of the nineteenth century: and, after that, of what use could it still be for Russia?…) These noblemen found themselves “in a certain dependence on banks”; to obtain large loans, all sought the favours of Lazar Poliakov.68
Under the magistracy of Dolgorukov, around the 90s, “there were many recruitments of Jews in the body of merchants of the first guild. This was explained by the reluctance of Muscovite merchants of Christian denomination to pay the high entrance fees of this first guild. Before the arrival of the Jews, the Muscovite industry worked only for the eastern part of the country, for Siberia, and its goods did not run westward. It was the Jewish merchants and industrialists who provided the link between Moscow and the markets of the western part of the country. (Teitel confirms that the Jews of Moscow were considered the richest and most influential in Russia.) Threatened by the competition, German merchants became indignant and accused Dolgorukov of favouritism towards the Jews.69
But the situation changed dramatically in 1891. The new Governor‐General of Moscow, the Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich*, an almighty man due to his position and dependent on no one due to his fortune, took the decision to expel all the Jewish craftsmen from Moscow, without any preliminary inquiry as to who was truly a craftsman and who pretended to be a craftsman. Whole neighbourhoods—Zariadie, Marina Roscha—were emptied of their inhabitants. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 Jews were expelled. They were allowed a maximum of six months to liquidate their property and organise their departure, and those who declared that they did not have the means to ensure their displacement were shipped in prison vans. (At the height of the expulsions and to control how they were executed, an American government commission—Colonel Weber, Dr. Kamster—went to Russia. The astonishing thing is that Sliosberg brought them to Moscow, where they investigated what was happening, how measures were applied to stem the “influx of Jews”, where they even visited the Butyrka prison incognito, where they were offered a few pairs of handcuffs, where they were given the photographs of people who had been sent in the vans… and the Russian police did not notice anything! (These were the “Krylov mores”*!) They visited again, for many more weeks, other Russian cities. The report of this commission was published in 1892 in the documents of the American Congress… to the greatest shame of Russia and to the liveliest relief of Jewish immigration to the United States.70 It is because of this harassment that Jewish financial circles, Baron de Rothschild in the lead, refused in 1892 to support Russian borrowing abroad.71 There had already been attempts in Europe in 1891 to stop the expulsion of the Jews from Moscow. The American‐Jewish banker Seligman, for example, went to the Vatican to ask the Pope to intercede with Alexander III and exhort him to more moderation.72 In 1891, “a part of the expelled Jews settled without permission in the suburbs of Moscow.” But in the fall of 1892, following the measures taken, an order was made to “expel from Moscow former soldiers of the retired contingent and members of their families not registered in the communities.”73 (It should be noted that in 1893 the large Russian commercial and industrial enterprises intervened to soften these measures.) Then, from 1899, there was almost no new registration of Jews in the first guild of Moscow merchants.74
In 1893 a new aggravation of the fate of the Jews arose: the Senate first noticed the existence of a bulletin issued by the Ministry of the Interior, in force since 1880 (the “Charter of Jewish Freedom”) which allowed Jews who had already established themselves outside the Pale of Settlement, illegally however, to remain where they were. This bulletin was repealed (except in Courland and Livonia where it was retained). The number of families who had settled over the last twelve years amounted to 70,000! Fortunately, thanks to Dournovo, “life‐saving articles were enacted which, in the end, prevented the immense catastrophe that threatened.”75
In 1893, “certain categories of Jews” were expelled in turn from Yalta, for the summer residence of the Imperial family was not far away, and they were forbidden any new settlement there: “The always increasing influx in the number of Jews in the city of Yalta, the appetite for real estate, threatens this holiday resort of becoming, purely and simply, a Jewish city.”76 (here could have been at play, after all the terrorist attacks in Russia, the security of the Imperial family in its residence in Livadia. Alexander III had every reason to believe—he was only one year away from his death—that he was cordially hated by the Jews. It is not possible to exclude as motive the idea of avenging the persecution of the Jews, as can be deduced by the choice of terrorist targets—Sipiagin, Plehve, Grand Duke Serge.) This did not prevent many Jews from remaining in the Yalta region—judging from what the inhabitants of Alushta wrote in 1909, complaining that the Jews, buyers of vineyards and orchards, “exploit ‘to foster their development’ the work of the local population,” taking advantage of the precarious situation of said population and granting loans “at exorbitant rates” which ruin the Tatars, inhabitants of the site.77
But there was also another thing in the favour of the tireless struggle against smuggling, the right of residence of the Jews in the Western frontier zone was limited. There was in fact no further expulsion—with the exception of individuals caught in the act of smuggling. (According to memorialists, this smuggling, which consisted in passing the frontier to revolutionaries and their printed works, continued until the First World War.) In 1903‒1904, a debate ensued: the Senate provides that the Provisional Regulations of 1882 shall not apply to the frontier zone and that accordingly Jews residing in that area may “freely settle in the rural areas. The Council of the Province of Bessarabia then issued a protest, informing the Senate that ‘the entire Jewish population’” in the border area, including those where Jews had illegally settled there, was now seeking to gain access to the countryside where there were already ‘more Jews than needed’,” and that the border area “now risked becoming for the Jews the ‘Promised Area’.” The protest passed before the Council of State, which, taking into account the particular case of rural localities, squarely abolished the special regime of the border area, bringing it back to the general regime of the Pale of Settlement.78
This softening, however, did not find significant echo in the press or in society. No more than the lifting, in 1887, of the prohibition of the Jews to hire Christian servants. Nor did the 1891 Act introducing into the Penal Code a new article on “responsibility in the event of an open attack on part of the population by another”, an article that the circumstances of life in Russia had never required, but which had been sorely lacking during the pogroms of 1881. For greater caution it was now introduced.
And again, let us repeat: the limitations on the rights of the Jews never assumed a racial character in Russia. They applied neither to the Karaites*, nor to the Jews of the mountains, nor to the Jews of Central Asia, who, scattered and merged with the local population, had always freely chosen their type of activity.
The most diverse authors explain to us, each one more than the other, that the root causes of the restrictions suffered by Jews in Russia are of an economic nature. The Englishman J. Parks, the great defender of these restrictions, nevertheless expresses this reservation: “Before the war [of 14‒18], some Jews had concentrated considerable wealth in their hands… This had led to fear that abolishing these limitations would allow the Jews to become masters of the country.”79 Professor V. Leontovitch, a perfectly consistent liberal, notes: “Until recently, we seemed to be unaware that the restrictive measures imposed on Jews came much more from anti‐capitalist tendencies than from racial discrimination. The concept of race was of no interest to Russia in those years, except for specialists in ethnology… It is the fear of the strengthening of the capitalist elements, which could aggravate the exploitation of peasants and of all the workers, which was decisive. Many sources prove this.”80 Let us not forget that the Russian peasantry had just undergone the shock of a sudden mutation: from the transition of feudal relations to market relations, a passage to which it was not at all prepared and which would throw it into an economic maelstrom sometimes more pitiless than serfdom itself.
V. Choulguine writes in this regard as follows: “The limitation of the rights of the Jews in Russia was underpinned by a ‘humanistic thought’… It was assumed that the Russian people, taken globally (or at least some of their social strata) was, in a way, immature, effeminate…, that it allowed itself to be easily exploited…, that for this reason it had to be protected by state measures against foreign elements stronger than itself. Northern Russia began to look at the Jews with the eyes of Southern Russia. The Little‐Russians had always seen the Jews, whom they knew well in the days of their coexistence with Poland, under the guise of the ‘pawnbrokers’ who suck the blood of the unfortunate Russian.”81 The restrictions were designed by the government to combat the massive economic pressure that put the foundations of the state at risk. Parks also detects in this vision of things a part of truth; he observes “the disastrous effect which the faculty of exploiting one’s neighbour may have,” and “the excessive role of innkeepers and usurers in the rural areas of Eastern Europe”, even if he perceives the reasons for such a state of affairs “in the peasant’s nature more than in the Jews themselves.” In his opinion, the vodka trade, as the “main activity of the Jews” in Eastern Europe, gave rise to hatred, and among the peasants even more than among the others. It was he who fed more than one pogrom, leaving a deep and broad scar in the consciousness of the Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples, as well as in the memory of the Jewish people.82
We read in many authors that the Jewish innkeepers lived very hard, without a penny, that they were almost reduced to begging. But was the alcohol market as narrow as that? Many people grew fat with the intemperance of the Russian people—and the landowners of Western Russia, and the distillers, and the drinking‐house keepers… and the government! The amount of revenue can be estimated from the time it was entered as national revenue. After the introduction of a state monopoly on spirits in Russia in 1896, with the abolition of all private debits and the sale of beverages by excise duty, the Treasury collected 285 million rubles in the following year—to report to the 98 millions of the direct tax levied on the population. This confirms that not only was the manufacture of spirits “a major source of indirect contributions”, but also that the spirits industry’s revenues, which until 1896 only paid “4 kopecks of excise duty per degree of alcohol produced,” were much higher than the direct revenues of the empire.83
But what was at that time the Jewish participation in this sector? In 1886, during the works of the Pahlen Commission, statistics were published on the subject. According to these figures, Jews held 27% (the decimals do not appear here: the numbers have been rounded up everywhere) of all distilleries in European Russia, 53% in the Pale of Settlement (notably 83% in the province of Podolsk, 76% in that of Grodno, 72% in that of Kherson). They held 41% of breweries in European Russia, 71% in the Pale of Settlement (94% in the province of Minsk, 91% in the province of Vilnius, 85% in the province of Grodno). The proportion of manufacturing and sales points in Jewish commerce is 29% in European Russia, 61% in the Pale of Settlement (95% in the province of Grodno, 93% in Mogilev, 91% in the province of Minsk).84
It is understandable that the reform which established the state monopoly on spirits was “greeted with horror… by the Jews of the Pale of Settlement.”85
It is incontestable: the establishment of a State monopoly on spirits dealt a very severe blow to the economic activity of the Jews of Russia. And until the First World War (it ended at that time), this monopoly remained the favourite target of general indignation—whereas it merely instituted a rigorous control of the amount of alcohol produced in the country, and its quality. Forgetting that it reached the Christian tenants in the same way (see the statistics above), it is always presented as an anti‐Jewish measure: “The introduction at the end of the 90s of the sale of alcohol by the State in the Pale of Settlement has deprived more than 100,000 Jews of their livelihood”; “Power meant… forcing the Jews to leave the rural areas,” and since then “this trade has lost for the Jews the importance it once had.”86
It was indeed the moment—from the end of the nineteenth century—when Jewish emigration from Russia grew remarkably. Is there a link between this emigration and the establishment of the state monopoly on the sale of spirits? That is difficult to say, but the figure of 100,000 quoted above suggests so. The fact is that Jewish emigration (in America) remained low until 1886‒1887; it experienced a brief surge in 1891‒1892, but it was only after 1897 that it became massive and continuous.87
The “Provisional Regulations” of 1882 had not prevented further infiltration of Jewish spirits into the countryside. Just as, in the 70s, they had found a loophole against the prohibition of selling elsewhere than home by inventing “street” commerce. It had been devised to circumvent the law of May 3rd, 1882 (which also forbade the commerce of vodka by contract issued with a Jew), leasing “on the sly”: to set up an inn there, one rented a land by oral and not written contract, in order for the taxes to be covered by the owner, and the proceeds from the sale of drinks went to the Jew.88 It was through this and other means that the implantation of the Jews in the countryside could continue after the categorical prohibition of 1882. As Sliosberg writes, it was from 1889 that began the “wave of expulsions” of the Jews outside the villages of the Pale of Settlement, which resulted in “a pitiless competition, generating a terrible evil: denunciation” (in other words, Jews began to denounce those among them who lived illegally). But here are the figures put forward by P. N. Miliukov: if in 1881 there were 580,000 Jews living in villages, there were 711,000 Jews in 1897, which means that the rate of new arrivals and births far outweighed those of evictions and deaths. In 1899, a new Committee for Jewish Affairs, the eleventh of the name, with Baron Lexhull von Hildebrandt at its head, was set up to revise the Provisional Regulations. This Committee, wrote Miliukov, rejected the proposal to expel from the countryside the Jews who illegally established themselves there, and softened the law of 1882.89
While “recognising that the peasantry, which is not very developed, has no entrepreneurial spirit and no means of development, must be protected from any contact with Jews,” the Committee insisted that “the landowners have no need for the tutelage of the government; the limitation of the right of the owners to manage their property as they see fit depreciates said property and compels the proprietors to employ, in concert with the Jews, all sorts of expedients to circumvent the law”; the lifting of prohibitions on Jews will enable landowners to derive greater benefit from their assets.90 But the proprietors no longer had the prestige, which might have given weight to this argument in the eyes of the administration.
It was in 1903‒1904 that the revision of the Regulations of 1882 was seriously undertaken. Reports came from the provinces (notably from Sviatopolk Mirsky, who was Governor‐General and soon to become the Liberal Minister of the Interior), saying that the Regulations had not proved their worth, that it was imperative that the Jews should leave towns and villages where their concentration was too high, and that, thanks to the establishment of a State monopoly on beverages, the threat of Jewish exploitation of the rural population was removed. These proposals were approved by Sipyagin, the minister (who was soon to be shot down by a terrorist), and, in 1908, endorsed by Plehve (soon assassinated in his turn). A list of a hundred and one villages had been drawn up and published, to which fifty‐seven others would soon be added, in which the Jews acquired the right to settle and purchase real estate, and to lease it. (In the Jewish Encyclopædia dating before the revolution, we read the names of these localities, some of which, already quite important, were to spread rapidly: Yuzovka, Lozovaya, Ienakievo, Krivoy Rog, Sinelnikovo, Slavgorod, Kakhovka, Zhmerynka, Chepetovka, Zdolbuniv, Novye Senjary, among others.) Outside this list and Jewish agricultural settlements, Jews did not get the right to acquire land. However, the Regulations were soon abrogated for certain categories: graduates of higher studies, pharmacists, artisans and former retired soldiers. These people were given the right to reside in the countryside, to engage in commerce and various other trades.91
While the sale of spirits and the various kinds of farming—including that of the land—were the main sources of income for Jews, there were others, including notably the ownership of land. Among the Jews, “the aspiration to possess the land was expressed by the acquisition of large areas capable of harbouring several types of activities rather than by the use of small parcels which are to be developed by the owner himself.”92 When the land, which gives life to the peasant, reaches a higher price than that of a purely agricultural property, it was not uncommon for a Jewish entrepreneur to acquire it.
As we have seen, the direct leasing and purchasing of the land by the Jews was not prohibited until 1881, and the purchasers were not deprived of their rights by the new prohibitions. This is how, for example, Trotsky’s father, David Bronstein, possessed in the province of Kherson, not far from Elizabethgrad, and held in his possession until the revolution an important business (an “economy” as it was called in the South). He also owned, later on, the “Nadejda” mine in the suburb of Krivoi Rog.93 On the basis of what he had observed in the exploitation of his father—and, as he heard it, “in all farms it is the same”, Trotsky relates that the seasonal workers, who had come by foot from the central provinces to be hired, were very malnourished: never meat nor bacon, oil but very little, vegetables and oatmeal, that’s all, and this, during the hard summer work, from dawn to twilight, and even, “one summer, an epidemic of hemeralopia* was declared among the workers.”94 For my part, I will argue that in an “economy” of the same type, in Kuban, with my grandfather Scherbak (himself a member of a family of agricultural workers), the day workers were served, during the harvest, meat three times a day.
But a new prohibition fell in 1903: “A provision of the Council of Ministers deprived all Jews of the right to acquire immovable property throughout the empire, outside urban areas, that is to say in rural areas.”95 This limited to a certain extent the industrial activity of the Jews, but, as the Jewish Encyclopædia points out, by no means their agricultural activity; in any case, “to use the right to acquire land, the Jews would undoubtedly have delegated fewer cultivators than landlords and tenants. It seems doubtful whether a population as urban as the Jewish population was able to supply a large number of farmers.”96
In the early years of the twentieth century, the picture was as follows: “About two million hectares which are now owned or leased by Jews in the empire and the Kingdom of Poland… only 113,000… are home to Jewish agricultural settlements.”97
Although the Provisional Regulations of 1882 prohibited the Jews from buying or leasing out of towns and villages, devious means were also found there, notably for the acquisition of land intended for the sugar industry.
Thus the Jews who possessed large areas of land were opposed to the agrarian reform of Stolypin, which granted land to the peasants on a personal basis. (They were not the only ones: one is astonished at the hostility with which this reform was received by the press of those years, and not only by that of the extreme right, but by the perfectly liberal press, not to mention the revolutionary press.) The Jewish Encyclopædia argues: “The agrarian reforms that planned to cede land exclusively to those who cultivated it would have harmed the interests of a part of the Jewish population, that which worked in the large farms of Jewish owners.”98 It was not until the Revolution passed that a Jewish author took a look back and, already boiling with proletarian indignation, wrote: “The Jewish landowners possessed under the tsarist regime more than two million hectares of land (mainly around Ukrainian sugar factories, as well as large estates in Crimea and Belarus)”, and, moreover, “they owned more than two million hectares of the best land, black earth.” Thus, Baron Ginzburg possessed in the district of Dzhankoy 87,000 hectares; the industrialist Brodsky owned tens of thousands of hectares for his sugar mills, and others owned similar estates, so that in total the Jewish capitalists combined 872,000 hectares of arable land.99
After the land ownership came the trade of wheat and cereal products. (Let us remember that the export of grain “was chiefly carried out by Jews.”100 “Of the total Jewish population of the USSR, not less than 18%, before the revolution (i.e. more than one million people!] were engaged in the trade of wheat, bosses and members of their families alike, which caused a real animosity of the peasants towards the Jewish population” (because the big buyers did everything to lower the price of the wheat in order to resell it for more profit.101) In the western provinces and in Ukraine, the Jews bought in bulk other agricultural commodities. (Moreover, how can we not point out that in places like Klintsy, Zlynka, Starodub, Ielenovka, Novozybkov, the old believers, workers and industrious, never let trade go by other hands?) Biekerman believes that the prohibition of Jewish merchants to operate throughout the territory of Russia fostered apathy, immobility, domination by the kulaks. However, “If Russia’s trade in wheat has become an integral part of world trade, Russia owes it to the Jews.” As we have already seen, “as early as 1878, 60% of wheat exports from the port of Odessa were by Jews. They were the first to develop the wheat trade at Nikolayev,” Kherson, Rostov‐on‐Don, as well as in the provinces of Orel, Kursk, and Chernigov. They were “well represented in the wheat trade in Saint Petersburg.” And in the North‐West region, out of 1,000 traders of cereal products there were 930 Jews.”102
However, most of our sources do not shed light on how these Jewish merchants behaved with their trading partners. In fact, they were often very hard and practised procedures that today we would consider illicit; they could, for example, agree among themselves and refuse to buy the crop in order to bring down prices. It is understandable that in the 90s farmers’ cooperatives (under the leadership of Count Heiden and Bekhteyev) were set up in the southern provinces for the first time in Russia and a step ahead of Europe. Their mission was to thwart these massive, monopolistic purchases of peasant wheat.
Let us recall another form of commerce in the hands of the Jews: the “export of wood came second after the wheat.”103 From 1813 to 1913, these exports were multiplied by 140! And the Communist Larinus fulminated: “The Jewish proprietors possessed… large forested areas, and they leased a part of it, even in the provinces where the Jews were not normally allowed to reside.”104 The Jewish Encyclopædia confirms it: “The Jews acquired the land, especially in the central provinces, chiefly to exploit the forest wealth.”105 However, as they did not have the right to install sawmills in some places, the wood left abroad in the raw state, for a dead loss for the country. (There existed other prohibitions: access for export of timber in the ports of Riga, Revel, Petersburg; the installation of warehouses along the railways).106
Such is the picture. Everything is there. And the tireless dynamism of Jewish commerce, which drives entire states. And the prohibitions of a timorous, sclerotic bureaucracy that only hinders progress. And the ever‐increasing irritation these prohibitions provoke among the Jews. And the sale of the Russian forest, exported abroad in its raw state, as a raw material. And the small farmer, the small operator, who, caught in a merciless vise, has neither the relationships nor the skills to invent other forms of trade. And let us not forget the Ministry of Finance, which pours its subsidies on industry and railways and abandons agriculture, whereas the tax burden is carried by the class of the farmers, not the merchants. One wonders: under the conditions of the new economic dynamics that came to replenish the Treasury and was largely due to the Jews, was there anyone to worry about the harm done to the common people, the shock suffered by it, from the break in its way of life, in its very being?
For half a century, Russia has been accused—from the inside as well as from the outside—of having enslaved the Jews economically and having forced them to misery. It was necessary that the years passed, that this abominable Russia disappear from the surface of the earth, it will be necessary to cross the revolutionary turmoil for a Jewish author of the 30s to look at the past, over the bloody wall of the Revolution, and acknowledge: “The tsarist government has not pursued a policy of total eviction of Jews from economic life. Apart from the well‐known limitations… in the countryside…, on the whole, the tsarist government tolerated the economic activity of the Jews.” The tensions of the national struggle, “the Jews did not feel them in their economic activity. The dominant nation did not want to take the side of a particular ethnic group, it was only trying to play the role of arbiter or mediator.”107
Besides, it happened that the government was intruding into the economy on national grounds. It then took measures which, more often than not, were doomed to failure. Thus, “in 1890, a bulletin was diffused under which the Jews lost the right to be directors of corporations that intended to purchase or lease lands.”108 But it was the childhood of the art of circumventing this law: remaining anonymous. This kind of prohibition in no way impeded the activity of Jewish entrepreneurs. “The role of Jews was especially important in foreign trade where their hegemony was assured and their geographical location (near borders) and by their contacts abroad, and by their commercial intermediaries skills.”109
As regards to the sugar industry, more than a third of the factories were Jewish at the end of the century.110 We have seen in previous chapters how the industry had developed under the leadership of Israel Brodsky and his sons Lazar and Leon (“at the beginning of the twentieth century, they controlled directly or indirectly seventeen sugar mills”111). Galperine Moses, “in the early twentieth century had eight factories and three refineries… He also owned 50,000 hectares of sugar beet cropland.”112
“Hundreds of thousands of Jewish families lived off the sugar industry, acting as intermediaries, sellers, and so on.” When competition appeared, as the price of sugar began to fall, a syndicate of sugar producers in Kiev called for control of production and sale, in order for prices not to fall.113 The Brodsky Brothers were the founders of the Refiners’ Union in 1903.114
In addition to the grain trade, the wood trade and the sugar industry where they occupied a predominant position, other areas must be cited in which the Jews largely contributed to development: flour milling, fur trade, spinning mills, confection, the tobacco industry, the brewery.115 In 1835 they were also present at the major fairs in Nizhny Novgorod.116 In Transbaikalia they launched a livestock trade which took off in the 90s, and the same happened in Siberia for the production of coal—Andjero‐Soudji hard coal—and the extraction of gold, where they played a major role. After 1892, the Ginzburg “devoted themselves almost exclusively to the extraction of gold.” The most prosperous enterprise was the Lena Gold Mining Company, which “was controlled in fact (from 1896 until its death in 1909) by Baron Horace Ginzburg, son of Evzel Ginzburg, founder of the Bank of the same name and president of its branch in Saint Petersburg. (The son of Horace, David, also a baron, remained at the head of the Jewish community of Saint Petersburg until his death in 1910. His sons Alexander and Alfred sat on the board of Lena, the gold mining company. Another son, Vladimir, married the daughter of the owner of the Kiev sugar factory, L. I. Brodsky.) Horace Ginzburg was also “the founder of… the gold extraction companies from Transbaikalia, Miias, Berezovka, Altai and a few others.”117 In 1912, a huge scandal about the Lena mines broke out and caused quite a stir throughout the country: the operating conditions were abominable, the workers had been misled… Appropriately, the tsarist government was accused of everything and demonised. No one, in the raging liberal press mentioned the main shareholders, notably the Ginzburg sons.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Jews represented 35% of the merchant class in Russia.118 Choulguine gives us what he observed in the southwest region: “Where have they gone, Russian traders, where is the Russian third estate? … In time, we had a strong Russian bourgeoisie… Where have they gone?” “They were ousted by the Jews, lowered into the social ladder, to the state of moujiks.”119 The Russians in the southwest region have chosen their own fate: it is clear. And at the beginning of the century, the eminent politician V. I. Gourko* observed: “The place of the Russian merchant is more and more frequently taken by a Jew.”120
The Jews also gained influence and authority in the booming sector of the cooperative system. More than half of the Mutual Credit and Savings and Loan Companies were in the Pale of Settlement (86% of their members in 1911 were Jewish).121
We have already spoken of the construction and operation of the Russian railways by the Poliakov brothers, Bliokh and Varshavsky. With the exception of the very first lines (the Tsarskoselskaya line and the Nikolaevskaya line), almost all the railways that were later built were made by concessionary companies in which the Jews occupied the command posts; “But, as of the 1890s, the state was the first builder.” On the other hand, it is under the leadership of David Margoline that was created in 1883 the great shipping company “on the Dnieper and its tributaries”, the main shareholders of which were Jews. In 1911, the company owned a fleet of 78 vessels and accounted for 71% of the traffic on the Dnieper.122 Other companies operating on the Western Dvina, the Niemen, joined the Mariinsky Canal and the Volga.
There were also about ten oil companies belonging to Jews from Baku. “The biggest were the oil company belonging to the brothers S. and M. Poliak and to Rothschild, and the joint‐stock company of the Caspian‐Black Sea, behind which was also found the name of Rothschild.” These companies were not allowed to extract oil; they specialised in refining and exporting.123
But it was in finance that the economic activity of the Jews was the most brilliant. “Credit is an area where Jews have long felt at home. They have created new ways and have perfected the old. They played a leading role in the hands of a few large capitalists and in the organisation of commercial investment banks. The Jews brought out of their ranks not only the banking aristocracy but also the mass of employees.”124 The bank of Evzel Ginzburg, founded in 1859 in Saint Petersburg, grew and strengthened thanks to its links with the Mendelssohn in Berlin, the Warburg in Hamburg, the Rothschild in Paris and Vienna. But when the financial crisis of 1892 broke out, and “because of the government’s refusal to support its bank with loans,” as had happened twice before, E. Ginzburg withdrew from business.125 By the 70s, there existed a network of banks founded by the three Poliakov brothers, Jacob, Samuel and Lazar. These are the Azov‐Don Commercial Bank (to be later managed by B. Kaminka), the Mortgage Lending of Moscow, the Don Land Bank, the Poliakov Bank, the International Bank and “a few other houses which will later form the Unified Bank.”—The Bank of Siberia had A. Soloveitchik at its head, the Commercial Bank of Warsaw was directed by I. Bliokh. In several other large establishments, Jews occupied important posts (Zak, Outine, Khesine, A. Dobryi, Vavelberg, Landau, Epstein, Krongold). “In two large banks only, the Commercial Bank of Moscow and that of the Volga‐Kama, there were no Jews either in the leadership or among the staff.”126 The Poliakov brothers all had the rank of secret counsellor and, as we have said, all three were granted hereditary nobility.127
Thus, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Pale of Settlement had already completely emptied itself of its substance. It had not prevented the Jews from occupying solid positions in the vital sectors of the country’s life, from economy and finance to the intellectual sphere. The “Pale” no longer had any practical utility; its economic and political purpose was outdated. It had only filled the Jews with anti‐government bitterness and resentment; it had thrown oil on the fire of social discontent and had struck the Russian government with the seal of infamy in the eyes of the West.
But let us be clear: this Russian Empire, with the slowness and sclerosis of its bureaucracy, the mentality of its leaders, where and in what way did it fall behind all through the nineteenth century and decades before the revolution? It had been unable to settle a dozen major problems affecting the life of the country. It had not been able to organise local civil self‐government, install zemstvos in rural districts, carry out agrarian reform, remedy the state of pernicious state of humiliation of the Church, or communicate with civil society and make its action understood. It had managed neither the boom of mass education nor the development of Ukrainian culture. To this list let us add another point where the delay proved catastrophic: the revision of the real conditions of the Pale of Settlement, the awareness of their influence on all positionings of the State. The Russian authorities have had a hundred years and more to solve the problems of the Jewish population, and they have not been able to do so, neither in the sense of an open assimilation nor by allowing the Jews to remain in voluntary isolation, that which was already theirs a century before.
Meanwhile, during the decades from the 70s to the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian Judaism experienced a rapid development, an undeniable blossoming of its elite, which already felt cramped, not only within the limits of the Pale of Settlement, but in those of the empire.
When analysing the concrete aspects of the inequality in Jewish rights in Russia, the Pale of Settlement and the numerus clausus, we must not lose sight of this general picture. For if American Judaism grew in importance, the Jews of Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century still constituted nearly half of the Jewish population of the planet.128 This is to be remembered as an important fact in the history of Judaism. And it is still Mr. Biekerman who, looking behind him over the ditch of the revolution, wrote in 1924: “Tsarist Russia was home to more than half the Jewish people. It is natural, consequently, that the Jewish history of the generations that are closest to us is mainly the history of the Jews of Russia.” And even though in the nineteenth century “the Jews of the West had been richer, more influential, and more cultured than we were, the vitality of Judaism was nevertheless in Russia. And this vitality grew stronger and stronger at the same time as the Russian Empire flourished… It was only when provinces populated by Jews were united to Russia that this rebirth began. The Jewish population grew rapidly in number, to such an extent that it was able to leave a very numerous colony overseas; it had amassed and possessed important capital in its hands; a middle class had grown and acquired authority; the standard of living of the lower strata had also grown incessantly. By a variety of efforts, the Jews of Russia had been able to overcome the physical and moral abjection which they had brought from Poland; European culture and education reached Jewish circles… and we went so far in this direction, we have amassed such spiritual wealth that we have been able to afford the luxury of having a literature in three languages…” All this culture, all this wealth, it is in Russia that the Jews of Eastern Europe have received them. Russian Judaism, “by its numbers and by the greenness of the energies it contained, proved to be the backbone of all the Jewish people.”129
A more recent author, our contemporary, confirms in 1989 the correctness of this painting brushed by his elder, witness of the time. He wrote: “The public life of the Jews of Russia had reached, at the turn of the two centuries, a degree of maturity and amplitude which many small peoples in Europe might have envied.”130
If there is a reproach that cannot be made to the “prison of the people”, it is to have denationalised the people, be it the Jews or others.
Certain Jewish authors, it is true, deplore the fact that in the 80s “the cultivated Jews of the capital had hardly been involved in the defence of Jewish interests”, that only Baron Ginzburg and a few other wealthy Jews with good relations.131 “The Jews of Petersburg (30,000 to 40,000 in 1900) lived unconnected with one another, and the Jewish intelligentsia, in its majority, remained aloof, indifferent to the needs and interests of the community as a whole.”132 Yet it was also the time when “the holy spirit of the Renaissance… hovered over the Pale of Settlement and awakened in the younger generations the forces that had been dormant for many centuries among the Jewish people… It was a veritable spiritual revolution.” Among Jewish girls, “the thirst for instruction showed literarily religious signs.” And already, even in Saint Petersburg, “a large number of Jewish students frequented higher education institutions.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, “a great part of the Jewish intelligentsia… felt… that it was its duty to return to its people.”133
Thanks to this spiritual awakening at the end of the nineteenth century, very diverse and sometimes contradictory trends emerged in Russian Judaism. Some of them will be called upon to determine to a large extent the destinies of our land throughout the twentieth century.
At the time, the Jews of Russia envisaged at least six possible orientations, however incompatible with each other. Namely:
- the safeguard of their religious identity by isolation, as had been practised for centuries (but this path became more and more unpopular);
- the struggle for national and cultural autonomy, the active presence of Judaism in Russia as a distinct element;
- adherence to Zionism;
- adherence to the revolution.
Indeed, the proponents of these different tendencies were often united in the work of acculturation of the Jewish masses in three languages—Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian—and in welfare works—in the spirit of the theory of “small gestures” in vogue in Russia in the 80s.
Mutual aid was embodied in Jewish associations, some of which, after the revolution, were able to continue their action in emigration. This was the case with the Society for the Dissemination of Education among the Jews of Russia, which had been founded in 1863. By the mid-90s, this Society was already opening its own schools, with, besides an education in Russian, courses in Hebrew. It convened Pan‐Russian conferences on the theme of Jewish popular education.134
In 1891 began the works of a Commission of Jewish History and Ethnography, which in 1908 became the Society of Jewish History and Ethnography. It coordinated the study of Jewish history through Russia and the collection of archives.135
In 1880, the “King of the Railways”, Samuel Poliakov, founded the Society of Craft and Agricultural Labour among the Jews (SCAL). The latter collected a good deal of money and “devoted the bulk of its efforts, at the beginning of its efforts, to the transfer of Jewish artisans outside the Pale of Settlement to the central provinces.”136 We have seen that after the initial authorisation given (in 1865) to this transfer the craftsmen moved only in small numbers. What happened after the pogroms of 1881‒1882? We could think: now, they will certainly leave, they have the help the SCAL, plus a subsidy from the government for the displacement, they will not remain there, moping around, confined in this damned Pale where one was condemned to a wretched death, but no: after more than ten years of efforts on the part of the SCAL, only 170 artisans moved! The SCAL decided then to help artisans inside the Pale by purchasing tools, setting up workshops and then creating professional schools.137
Emigration was taken over by the Society for Colonisation by the Jews (SCJ), whose creation followed the opposite course: first abroad, then in Russia. It was founded in London in 1891 by Baron Moritz von Hirsch, who for this purpose made a donation of 2,000,000 pounds sterling. His idea was the following: to substitute the chaotic emigration of the Jews of Eastern Europe with a well‐ordered colonisation, oriented towards the countries requiring cultivators, and thus to bring back at least part of the Jews to the cultivation of the land, to free them from this “anomaly… which arouses the animosity of the European peoples.”138 “To seek for the Jews who leave Russia ‘a new homeland and try to divert them from their usual activity, trade, make them farmers and thereby contribute to the work of rebirth of the Jewish people’.”139 This new homeland, it would be Argentina. (Another objective was to divert the wave of Jewish immigration away from the shores of the United States where, owing to the influx of immigrants, the wage decline induced by their competition, there rose the spectre of anti‐Semitism.) As it was proposed to populate this land with Jews of Russia, an office of the Society for Colonisation opened in Saint Petersburg in 1892. It “set up 450 information offices and 20 neighbourhood committees. They received the candidates for emigration to help them obtain their exit papers from the territory, they negotiated with the maritime messengers, they procured travellers with tickets at reduced prices, they published brochures” on countries likely to welcome new settlers.140 (Sliosberg denounces in passing the fact that “no person not holding a double title as a banker or a millionaire had access to their direction.”141)
Since the end of the nineteenth century, the emigration of Jews from Russia had been growing steadily for various reasons, some of which have already been mentioned here. One of the most serious of these was the compulsory conscription: if so many young men (it is Denikin who writes it) chose to mutilate themselves, was it not better to emigrate? Especially when we know that conscription simply did not exist in the United States! (The Jewish authors are silent on this motif, and the Jewish Encyclopædia itself, in the article “The Emigration of the Jews of Russia”, does not say a single word of it.142 It is true that this reason does not explain on its own the emigration boom in the 90s.) Another reason, also of significance: the Provisional Regulations of 1882. The third major shock was the expulsion of Jewish craftsmen from Moscow in 1891. And also this other, very violent: the establishment of the state monopoly on spirits in Russia in 1896, which deprived all the tenants of drinking places of their income and reduced the revenues of the distillers. (Sliosberg: those who had been expelled from the villages or provinces of the interior were volunteers for emigration.) G. Aronson notes that in the 80s an average of 15,000 Jews emigrated each year, and that they were up to 30,000 in the 90s.143
The attitude of the Russian authorities in the face of this growing emigration—a genuine boon to the State—was benevolent. The Russian Government readily agreed to the establishment of the SCJ in Saint Petersburg, and the measures that it adopted to promote emigration; it did not interfere in any of its actions, authorising the age group of the conscripts to emigrate with their families; it issued free exit visas and granted special rates on trains—on one condition, however: once gone, the emigrants were never to return to Russia again.144
To cross the ocean, it was necessary at the time to pass through England, which meant that in the English port cities there was provisionally a crowd of Jewish emigrants—some of whom remained and settled in Great Britain while others returned there after an attempt to settle in the United States. As early as 1890, English public opinion rebelled against the policy of the Russian government: “The Jewish question is constantly occupying the columns of the British newspapers… In America, too, the question of the situation of Jews in Russia remains day after day of actuality.”145 Having assessed the proportions that this migratory flow was likely to take, Great Britain soon closed its doors.146
The immigration to Argentina had also stopped in 1894. The Jewish Encyclopædia described this as a “brooding crisis… in the Argentine question.”147 Sliosberg spoke of the “disenchantment of immigrants in Argentina” (the disgruntled rebelled and sent collective petitions to the administration of Baron Hirsch). The Duma debates highlighted a situation similar to the experience in New Russia: “Immigration to Argentina provides examples that confirm that in many cases people have received land on very advantageous terms, but have abandoned it to engage in other trades more in line with their abilities.”148
After this, although its vocation remained in the principle of pushing the Jews to become farming “settlers”, the Society for Colonisation renounced this objective. It set itself the task of helping “the excessively disorderly emigration of Jews from Russia”, “it was concerned with providing information to the emigrants, defending their interests, being the connection with host countries”, and it had to modify its statutes, which had been bequeathed by Baron Hirsch. Large sums were allocated “to raise the standard of living of Jews in their places of residence”; from 1898 onwards, “action was taken among the population within Russia itself,” and in the existing Jewish agricultural colonies the “introduction of more modern tools and methods of cultivation”, “the granting of an advantageous credit for the improvement of the soil.” However, again, “despite the large sums invested in this sector, agricultural activity remained relatively stagnant.”149 Conversely, migratory flows outside Russia continued to increase, “in direct connection with the craft crisis and the gradual elimination of small trade and factories”; this flow “reached its peak… in 1906”, but was not “able to absorb the annual surplus of the population” of the Jews. It should be noted that “the great mass of emigrants was destined for the United States”—for example, in 1910, they were 73%.150 “From 1881 to 1914, 78.6% of emigrants from Russia landed in the United States.”151 From this period, we can thus see what will be the general movement of our century. (Note that at the entrance to the American territory no paper certifying craftsmanship was required, and it followed that during the first six years of the century 63% of Russian immigrants “engaged in industry”. This meant that those who left Russia for America were exclusively artisans? This could offer an explanation to the question as to why the artisans did not go to the Central provinces, which were now open to them? But it is also necessary to consider that for many immigrants, and especially for those who had neither resources nor trade, no other answer was possible than that of recognising themselves as part of the “category notoriously well accepted by the Americans.”152)
One is struck by how few of the emigrants are the individuals belonging to the cultivated stratum, the one allegedly the most persecuted in Russia. These people did not emigrate. From 1899 to 1907, they were barely 1% to do so.153 The Jewish intelligentsia did not in any way tend to emigrate: it was, in its eyes, a way of escaping the problems and fate of Russia at the very moment when opportunities for action were opening up. As late as 1882, the resolution of a Congress of Jewish public figures “called for a definite rejection of the idea of organising an emigration, for this idea contradicts the dignity of the Russian State.”154 In the last years of the nineteenth century, “the new generation wanted to be actively involved in history… and across the board, from the outside as well as from the inside, it has gone from defensive to offensive… Young Jews now want to write their own history, to affix the seal of their will to their destiny, and also, to a just extent, on the destiny of the country in which they live.”155
The religious wing of Russian Judaism also denounced emigration, considering it as a break with the vivifying roots of East European Judaism.
The secular efforts of the new generation were primarily concerned with a vast program of specifically Jewish instruction, culture and literature in Yiddish, the only ones capable of creating a link with the mass of the people. (According to the census of 1897, only 3% of Russian Jews recognised Russian as their mother tongue, while Hebrew seemed forgotten and no one thought it could be reborn.) It was proposed to create a network of libraries specially designed for Jews, newspapers in Yiddish (the daily Der Freynd appeared in 1903; and it sold like hot cakes in the villages; not belonging to any political party, it nevertheless sought to give political training156). It was in the 90s that took shape “the grandiose metamorphosis of the amorphous Jewish mass into a nation, the Jewish Renaissance.”157
One after the other, authors writing in Yiddish became very popular: Mendele Mocher‐Sefarim, Scholom‐Aleichem, Itzhak‐Leibush Peretz. And the poet Bialik, to follow the movement, translated his own poems into Yiddish. In 1908, this trend reached its peak at the Tchernovtsy Conference, which proclaimed Yiddish as the “national language of the Jewish people” and advocated the translation of all printed texts into Yiddish.158
At the same time, considerable efforts were made for Jewish culture in the Russian language. Thus the ten volumes of the Jewish Library, of historical and literary content159; the Petersburg magazines born from 1881, Rassvet (“The Dawn”), then Rousski Evrei (“The Russian Jew”). (They soon stopped appearing: “these publications did not meet the support of the Jewish public itself”160). The magazine Voskhod (“The Break of Day”) opened its pages to all Jewish authors, translating all the novelties, offering a place of choice for studies on Jewish history,161 (May we, Russians, show the same interest in our own history!). For the time being, “the dominant role in the public life of Russian Judaism” was held by the “Jewish Petersburg”: “towards the middle of the 90s, [it is in Petersburg that] almost all senior management was formed, the Jewish intellectual aristocracy”; all the talents are in Petersburg.162 According to an approximate calculation, only 67,000 Jews spoke Russian fluently in 1897, but it was the cultivated elite. And already “the whole younger generation” in Ukraine in the 90s was raised in Russian, and those who went to study in the high schools completely lost contact with Jewish education.163
There was not, strictly speaking, a slogan of the type: Assimilation! We must blend into the Russian element! Nor an appeal to renounce one’s nationality. Assimilation was a commonplace phenomenon, but it created a link between Russian Judaism and the future of Russia.164 Moreover, Sliosberg refutes the term assimilation: “Nothing was more opposed to the truth” than to say that “assimilated persons considered themselves… Russians under the Mosaic Law.” On the contrary, “the appetite for Russian culture did not exclude confessing the traditions of Hebrew culture.”165 However, after the disillusionment of the 80s, “certain Jewish intellectuals, deeply imbued with the idea of assimilation, felt a break in their conception of public life.”166 Soon, “there soon was only one Jewish organisation left, one party defending assimilation. However… while it had given up arms as a theory, it remained a very real part of the life of the Jews of Russia, at least among those who lived in the big cities.”167 But it was decided to “break the link between emancipation… and… assimilation”—in other words: to obtain one and not the other, to gain equality but without the loss of Jewishness.168 In the 90s, Voskhod‘s primary objective was to fight for the equal rights of Jews in Russia.169
A “Defence Office” for the Jews of Russia had been formed in Saint Petersburg at the beginning of the century, the members of which were eminent advocates and men of letters. (Before them, Baron Hirsch had been the only one to work as they did: it was to him that all the grievances of the Jews went.) Sliosberg speaks to us in detail about its founders.170
During those years, “the Jewish spirit awoke for the struggle”, the Jews were assisted to “a strong thrust of their self‐consciousness, public and national”—but a conscience now devoid of any religious form: “The villages deserted by the most fortunate…, the villages abandoned by the young people, gone to join the city…, the galloping urbanisation” undermined the religion “in broad sections of the Jewish population from the 90s”, and caused the authority of the rabbis to fall. The scholars of the Talmudic schools themselves were seduced by secularisation.171 (That being said, the biographical notes of the Jewish Encyclopædia concerning the generation that grew up at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often include the words “received a traditional religious education”.)
On the other hand, as we have pointed out, what developed with unpredictable force and in an unexpected form was palestinophilia.
The events in Russia could not but be perceived by the Jews of Russia and by the Russians involved in public life in the light of what was happening at the same time in Europe: contacts were then free and frequent between educated people and the borders were permeable to ideas and events.
European historians point to a “nineteenth‐century anti‐Semitism… a growing animosity towards Jews in Western Europe, where, however, it seemed that we were making great strides towards its disappearance.”172 Up to Switzerland where the Jews, in the middle of the century, had not been able to obtain freedom of residence in the townships, the freedom to trade or to exercise handicrafts. In France, it was the blast of the Dreyfus Affair. In Hungary, “the old landed aristocracy… accused the Jews… of having ruined it”; In Austria and in the present‐day Czech Republic, at the end of the nineteenth century, an “anti‐Semitic movement” was spreading, and “the petty bourgeoisie… fought the social‐democratic proletariat with anti‐Jewish slogans.”173 In 1898, bloody pogroms took place in Galicia. The rise in all countries of the bourgeoisie “increased the influence of the Jews, grouped in large numbers in capitals and industrial centres… In cities such as Vienna and Budapest…, the press, the theatre, the bar, the medical profession, found in their ranks a percentage of Jews much higher than their proportion in the population as a whole. Those years mark the beginning of the great fortunes of certain Jewish merchants and bankers.”174
But it was in Germany that the anti‐Jewish tendencies manifested themselves with the greatest insistence. Let us first name Richard Wagner (as early as 1869). In the 70s conservative and clerical circles demanded that the rights of German Jews should be restricted and that any new Jewish immigration should be banned. From the end of the 70s, the “intellectual circles themselves,” whose spokesman was the Prussian historian Heinrich von Treitschke, said: “The agitators of today have well perceived the mindset of society which regards the Jews as our national misfortune”; “The Jews never succeed in merging with the peoples of Western Europe”, and show hatred towards Germanism. Then comes Karl Eugen Duhring, made famous for his polemic with Marx and Engels*: “The Jewish question is a simple matter of race, and the Jews are a race that is not only foreign but irremediably and ontologically bad.” Then comes the philosopher Edward Hartman. In the political sphere, this movement led to the first international anti‐Jewish congress of 1882 (in Dresden), which adopted the “Manifesto addressed to the Christian peoples and governments that are dying of Judaism”, and demanded the expulsion of Jews from Germany.—But in the early 90s the anti‐Jewish parties had regressed and suffered a series of setbacks on the political scene.175
France was also the scene if not of the emergence of an equally aggressive racial theory, at least of a broad anti‐Jewish political propaganda: the one broadcast by Edouard Drumont in his Libre Parole from 1892. Then came “a real competition between Socialism and anti‐Semitism”; “The Socialists did not hesitate to embellish their speeches of outputs against the Jews and to lower themselves right up to anti‐Semitic demagogy… A social anti‐Semitic fog enveloped the entirety of France.”176 (Very similar to the propaganda of the populists in Russia in the years 1881‒1882.) And it was then that in 1894 the thunderous Dreyfus Affair broke out. “In 1898, it [anti‐Semitism] reached its climax throughout Western Europe—in Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States.”177
The Russian press of the years 1870‒1890 also issued some anti‐Jewish statements, but without the strong theoretical colouring they had in Germany, nor the exacerbated social violence in Austria‐Hungary and France. Let us recall the accounts of Vsevolod Krestovsky (Egyptian Darkness, among others) and some crude newspaper articles.
It is appropriate to set apart the newspaper Novoïe Vremia (“The New Times”), which owed its success to its engaged positions to the “Slav movement” linked to the Russo‐Turkish war for the defence of the Balkans. But when “from the theatre of operations were received reports on acts of plunder perpetrated by intendants and suppliers, these suppliers “of Jewish origin” appeared as the incarnation of all Russian Judaism, and Novoïe Vremia adopted a frankly anti‐Semitic stance.” Beginning in the 80s, the newspaper did more than “go into the camp of reactionaries”, “it went beyond all the limits of hatred and improbity in the Jewish question. The warning cry ‘Beware the Jew!’ resounded for the first time in the columns of Novoïe Vremia. The paper insisted on the need to take firm measures against the Jews’ ‘stranglehold’ over Russian science, literature and art…” It did not miss an opportunity to denounce the fact of “withdrawing from military service.”178
These attacks on Jews, both abroad and in Russia, stirred Vladimir Solovyov, and in 1884 he vigorously criticised them: “The Judaeans have always behaved to us in the manner of the Judaeans, and we, Christians, have not yet learned to behave with Judaism in a Christian way”; “With regard to Judaism, the Christian world in its mass has so far shown only an irrational jealousy or a feeble indifference.” No, “it is not Christian Europe that is tolerant of Jews, it is the Europe of unbelievers.”179
The growing importance of the Jewish question for Russia, Russian society understood it only half a century behind its government. It was only after the Crimean War that “the emerging Russian public opinion began to conceive the existence of a Jewish problem in Russia.”180 But there needed to elapse a few more decades before it understood the primacy of this question. “Providence has brought the greatest part of the Jewish people to our country, and the strongest,” wrote Vladimir Solovyov in 1891.181
The year before, with the support of some sympathisers, Solovyov wrote a “Protest” in which it was said that “the sole cause of the so‐called Jewish question” was the abandonment of all righteousness and humanity, “a senseless craze for blind national egoism.” “To stir up racial and religious hatred, which is so contrary to the spirit of Christianity…, deeply perverts society and can lead to a return to barbarism…” “We must strongly denounce the anti‐Semitic movement, “even if only through the instinct of national survival.”182
According to the account given to him by M. Doubnov, Solovyov collected more than a hundred signatures, including those of Tolstoy and Korolenko*. But the editors of all the newspapers had been ordered not to publish this protest. Solovyov wrote a scalding letter to Tsar Alexander III, but was told that if he persisted, he would be punished with an administrative measure. He gave up.183
Just as in Europe, the multifaceted thrust of Jewish ambitions could not fail to arouse anxiety among the actors of Russian public life here, a fierce opposition there, and there again, on the contrary, sympathy. And, in some, a political calculation. Like the Will of the People in 1881, who understood the profit to be drawn from the Jewish question (at the time, it was in the direction of persecution), the radical and liberal circles of the time, namely the left wing of society, conceived and made theirs for a long time still the idea that the Jewish question could be used as a political map of the struggle against the autocracy: it was necessary to repeat over and over that the only way to obtain equality in rights for the Jews was the definitive overthrow of the power of the tsars. From the Liberals to the Bolsheviks. Passing by the S.‐R., all have never ceased to involve the Jews—some with real sympathy—to use them as a convenient asset in the anti‐monarchical combat. This asset, the revolutionaries never let it go, they exploited it without the least scruple until 1917.
However, these various tendencies and debates in the newspapers did not affect the attitude of the people towards the Jews in Greater Russia. Many testimonies confirm this.
Thus J. Teitel, a man who lived for a long time in deep Russia and frequented common people, affirms that “any racial or national hostility is foreign to the common people.”184 Or, in memoires left by the Viazemsky princes, this episode: there was at Korobovka Hospital, a district of Ousmansky, a somewhat inconsiderate Russian physician, Doctor Smirnov; the peasants did not like him, and his successor, the devoted Doctor Szafran, immediately benefited from the affection and gratitude of all the peasants in the neighbourhood. Another confirmation, inspired by the experience of the prisoners of the years 1880‒1890: P. F. Iakoubovitch‐Melchine writes: “It would be an ungrateful task to seek, even in the scum of our people, the least trace of anti‐Semitism.”185 And it was indeed because they sensed this that the Jews of a small town in Belarus addressed a telegram at the beginning of the twentieth century to Madam F. Morozova, the wife of a wealthy merchant, who was in charge of charity: “Give us this much. The synagogue burned down. You know we have the same God.” And she sent the sum requested.
Deep down, neither the Russian liberal press nor the Jewish press have ever accused the Russian people of any land‐based anti‐Semitism. What both of them repeated relentlessly was that anti‐Semitism in the popular mass, had been completely fabricated and fuelled by the government. The very formula “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality” was felt in Jewish circles as a formula directed against the Jews.
In the middle of the twentieth century, we can read from a Jewish writer: “In tsarist Russia, anti‐Semitism had no deep roots among the people… In the broad masses of the people, there was practically no anti‐Semitism; moreover, the very question of relations with Judaism did not arise… It was only in certain parts of what was called the Pale of Settlement, and mainly in Ukraine since the time of Polish domination, that, due to certain circumstances on which there is no need to dwell here, a certain tendency towards anti‐Semitism manifested itself in the peasantry,”186 that is perfectly true. And one could add: Bessarabia. (One can judge of the antiquity of these feelings and circumstances by reading Karamzin*: the Cossacks who surrounded the False Dmitry**—of the Cossacks of the Don, obviously—treated the Russians of Jidy (Jews)187, which means that in the western provinces this word was an insult.)
And what about Russian folklore? The Dahl dictionary encompasses Great Russia, and the western provinces, and Ukraine. Editions before the revolution contain a large number of words and expressions formed on the root jid‐ (Judeo‐). (Significant detail: in the Soviet edition of 1955, the entire typography of the page containing these words was revised188, and the whole lexical “niche” between jidkii and jigalo has been entirely suppressed.) However, amongst these expressions quoted by Dahl, there are some which are inherited from the Slavonic Church where the word jid was by no means pejorative: it was the name of a people. There are also some that come from Polish and post‐Polish practice within the Pale of Settlement. Still others were introduced into the language at the time of the Troubles, in the seventeenth century, at a time when, in Greater Russia, there was almost no contact with the Jews. These inheritances are also reflected in the dicta that Dahl mentions in their Russian form—but we can guess under the latter the southern form. (And, what is certain is that they did not leave the bowels of the Ministry of the Interior! …)
And then, let us compare these sayings with others: oh how the people created malicious adages against the Orthodox clergy! Not one, almost, is favourable to it!
A witness of Mariupol 189 (and he is not the only one, it is a well‐known fact) tells us that among them, before the revolution, there was a clear distinction between the two words evrei (Hebrew) and jid (Jew). The Evrei was a law‐abiding citizen, whose morals, conduct, and behaviour towards others did not differ in any way from the surrounding environment. While the Jid was the jivoder (the swindler). And it was not uncommon to hear: “I’m not a Jid, I’m an honest Evrei, I do not intend to dupe you.” (Such words put into the mouths of Jews, we find them in literature, and we have also read them in the pamphlets of the populists.)
This semantic differentiation, we must never lose sight of it when interpreting sayings.
All this is the trace of an old national quarrel on the territory of the West and Southwest.
For neither in Central Russia nor in the North and East, not even during the general shock of October 1905, there weren’t any anti‐Jewish pogroms (if there was indignation, it was against the revolutionary intellectuals in general, against their jubilation and ridicule of the Manifesto of October 17th). But this does not prevent, in the eyes of the whole world, the pre‐revolutionary Russia—not the empire, but Russia—to bear forever the seal of infamy, that of the pogroms and the Black Hundreds. And it is indelible, encrusted in minds for yet how many centuries to come?
The anti‐Jewish pogroms have always and exclusively broken out in South‐Western Russia—as it was the case in 1881. And the Kichinev pogrom of 1903 was of the same nature.
Let us not forget that at the time the population of Bessarabia was largely illiterate, that in Kishinev there were 50,000 Jews, 50,000 Moldovans, 8,000 Russians (in fact, mainly Ukrainians, but the difference was not noted) and a few thousand others. What were the main forces responsible for the pogroms? “The delinquents of the pogroms were mainly Moldovans.”190
The Kishinev pogrom began on April 6, the last day of the Jewish Passover and the first day of the Orthodox Passover. (This is not the first time we have observed this tragic link between anti‐Jewish pogroms and the Passover of Christians: in 1881, 1882, and 1899 in Nikolaev191—and it fills us with extreme pain and anxiety.)
Let us use the one document that is based on a rigorous investigation carried out right after the events. This is the indictment issued by the local court prosecutor, V. N. Goremykine, who “did not call a single Jew as an accused, for which he was harshly vilified by the reactionary press.”192 (As we shall see, the court first sat in closed session to “not exacerbate the passions”, and the indictment was originally published abroad in the emigrated press organ of Stuttgart Osvobojdenie [“Release”].193)
The document begins with an account of “the usual clashes between Jews and Christians as happened in recent years at Easter” and “the animosity of the local population towards the Jews.” It says that “two weeks before the Passover… rumours circulated in the city, announcing that there would be, during future holidays, aggressions against the Jews.” A newspaper, the Bessarabets (“the Bessarabian”), had played a role of blaster in publishing “day after day, throughout the last few weeks, incendiary articles, strongly anti‐Jewish, which did not go unnoticed among small clerks, pencil‐pushers, the entire little people of Bessarabia. Among the last provocative articles in the newspaper was the one about the murder of a Christian child in the village of Doubossary, allegedly carried out by Jews for ritual purposes” (and another rumour ran that a Jew had murdered his Christian servant when she had actually committed suicide194).
And the police of Kishinev, what did it do? “Did not give any particular consideration to the rumours,” and despite the fact that “in recent years there has been regular fighting between Jews and Christians, the Kishinev police did not take any serious preventive measures,” it only reinforced the patrols “for the holidays, in the places where the crowd was going to be the densest”, by adding men recruited from the local garrison.195 The chief of police gave no clear instruction to his officers.
This is clearly the most unpardonable: repeated brawls every year for the Passover, rumours of such a content—and the police fold their arms. One more sign of the state of decline of the governmental machinery. For there are two things, one: either we let go of the empire (how many wars, how many efforts have been made to unite, for obscure reasons, Moldavia with Russia), or we safeguard the good order which must reign over its entire territory.
On the afternoon of April 6, the streets of the city is invaded by “people in celebration”, with “many teenagers” wandering among the crowd, as well as angry people. The boys start throwing stones at nearby Jewish houses, throwing harder and harder, and when the commissioner and his inspectors try to arrest one of them, “they get stones in their turn.” Adults then get involved. “The police took no firm measures to stop the disorders” and these led to the sacking of two Jewish shops and a few sheds. In the evening, the disorders subsided, “no assault had been perpetrated against the Jews that day”; the police had arrested sixty people during the day.
However, “on the early morning of April 7, the very agitated Christian population began to assemble in various parts of the city and in the suburbs, in small groups which provoked Jews to clashes of increasing violence.” In the same way, from the first hour on the New Market, “more than a hundred Jews had gathered, armed with stakes and pickets, rifles even here and there, who fired a few shots. The Christians had no firearms. The Jews said: ‘Yesterday you did not scatter the Russians, today we will defend ourselves.’ And some held bottles of vitriol in their hands, which they threw at the Christians they met.” (Pharmacies were traditionally held by Jews.) “Rumours spread throughout the city, reporting that the Christians were being assaulted by the Jews; they swell from mouth to mouth and exasperate the Christian population”: one transforms “were beaten” into “were slaughtered”, one carries that the Jews have sacked the cathedral and murdered the priest. And now, “in various parts of the town, small groups of fifteen to twenty persons each, chiefly workmen, with teenagers in their lead who throw stones into the window‐panes, begin to plunder the shops, the premises, the dwellings of the Jews, smashing everything inside. These groups are gradually enlarged by the passers‐by.” Towards two, three o’clock in the morning, “disturbances spread in a more and more extended radius”; “the houses where icons or crosses have been exposed in windows are not affected.” “In the sacked premises, everything was totally destroyed, the goods ejected from the shops to be trampled or stolen by individuals who escorted the attackers.” They went so far as to “sack the houses of prayer of the Jews, and throw down the sacred scrolls [the Torah] in the street.” Drinking places, of course, were sacked; “The wine was poured into the street or drunk on the spot by the bandits.”
The inertia of the police, owing to the absence of a proper command, caused these crimes to be perpetrated with impunity, and this did not fail to encourage and excite the evil‐doers. The police forces, left to their own devices, far from uniting their efforts, acted according to their instinct… “and the subordinate policemen were mostly mute spectators of the pogrom.” However, a phone call was made to the local garrison to call for reinforcements, but “whenever the soldiers went to a certain point, they could not find anybody there,” and “in the absence of new instructions, they remained inactive”; “They were scattered in the city in isolated groups, with no clear objective and no coordination with each other”; “They only dispersed the excited crowds.” (This garrison was not the most efficient, and, moreover, it was just after Passover: many officers and soldiers were on leave.196) “The inertia of the police… engendered new rumours, saying that the government would have allowed to attack the Jews, since they are enemies of the country”—and the pogrom, unleashed, inebriated, became envenomed. “The Jews, fearing for their possessions and for their lives, lost all composure, fear made them go mad. Several of them, armed with revolvers, proceeded to counter‐attack to defend themselves. Ambushed on street corners, behind fences, on balconies, they began to shoot looters, but awkwardly, without aiming at their targets, so that it did nothing to help them and only aroused in the pogrom troublemakers a terrible explosion of rage. “The crowd of plunderers was seized with rage, and where the shooting had resounded, it came at once to tear everything apart and be violent towards the Jews who were there. “A shot was particularly fatal to the Jews: the man who snatched a young Russian boy, little Ostapov.” “From one, two o’clock in the afternoon, the blows of the Jews became more and more violent,” and by five o’clock they were accompanied by “a series of murders.” At half‐past three in the afternoon, Governor Von Raaben, completely overwhelmed, passed an order to the chief of the garrison, General Bekman, authorising the “use of arms”. Bekman immediately had the city canvassed, and the troops, who had “ventured out” walked in good order from that moment on. “From that moment on, the troops were now able to carry out mass arrests,” and energetic measures were taken. At nightfall, the pogrom was under control.
The act stipulates the death toll: “There were 42 deaths, including 38 Jews”; “all the bodies bore traces of blows by blunt objects—clubs, shovels, stones—and some, blows of axes”; “almost all were wounded in the head, some in the chest also. They had no traces of bullets, no evidence of torture or rape either (this was confirmed by doctors’ expert opinions and autopsies, as well as by the report of the Medico‐Legal Department of the Central Administration of Bessarabia); “there were 456 wounded, including 62 among the Christians…; eight were wounded by bullets… of the 394 Jewish wounded, only five were seriously injured. No trace of abuse… except for a one‐eyed man whose healthy eye had been ripped out… three‐quarters of the men assaulted were adults; there were three complaints of rape, two of which were prosecuted.” Seven soldiers were wounded, including a soldier who “had his face burned with vitriol”; 68 policemen received minor injuries. “There were 1,350 homes ransacked, almost a third of the houses in Kishinev: an enormous figure, the equivalent of a bombing… as for the arrests, “there were 816 on the morning of April 9”, and in addition to the investigations into the murders, 664 persons appeared in court.
In some authors, the figures of the victims among the Jews differ from the official statistics, but the gap is not very large. The Book of the Jews of Russia estimates that there were 45 Jews killed, 86 seriously wounded, 1,500 houses and shops looted or destroyed.197 Biekerman puts forward the figure of 53 dead, but maybe not all Jews.198 The recent Jewish Encyclopædia (1988) states: “49 people were killed, 586 wounded, more than 1,500 houses and shops looted.”199
This is the official description. But we sense what is hiding behind it. We are told: “Only one person, one Jew with one eye” has had the other ripped out. We learn a little more from Korolenko in his essay Dom no 13 (“House No. 13”).200 This poor man was called Meer Weisman: “To my question, wrote Korolenko—did he know who did this?—, he answered with perfect serenity that he did not know, but that ‘a kid’, the son of his neighbours, had boasted that he had done it with a lead weight attached to a string.” We see then that perpetrators and victims knew each other rather well… Korolenko resumed: “It is true that what I advance, I hold of the Jews themselves, but there is no reason not to believe their sayings… Why would they have invented these details? …” And, in fact, why would the family of Bentsion Galanter, mortally hit on the head, invent that the murderers had planted nails all over his body? Was not the family of the Nisenson accountant sufficiently tried, why would it add that he had been “rinsed” in a puddle before being massacred? These details are not fiction.
But to those who were far from the events, to the agitators of public opinion, these horrors were not enough. What they remembered was not tragedy, misfortune, the dead, but rather: how to exploit them to strike the tsarist power? And they resorted to terrifying exaggerations. To overcome reactions of horror, to try to see clearly in the versions built up in the months and years following, would it not be minimising the tragedy? And to attract many insults? But to see it clearly is a duty, because we took advantage of the pogrom of Kishinev to blacken Russia and mark her forever of the seal of infamy. Today, all honest historical work on the subject demands a distinction between the horrible truth and the treacherous lies. The conclusion of the indictment is the following: the disorders “have reached the magnitude described only because of the inertia of the police, deprived of an adequate command… The preliminary investigation did not find evidence that the disorders had been premeditated.”201
These clues, no further investigation found them either.
But so be it: the Office for the Defence of the Jews, which we have already mentioned, (was attended by such eminent persons as Mr. Winaver, Mr. G. Sliosberg, Mr. Bramson, Mr. Koulicher, Mr. A. Braoudo, Mr. S. Pozner, Krohl202), as soon as the news of the pogrom of Kishinev reached it, it excluded from the outset all possible causes apart from that of a conspiracy fomented from above: “Who gave the order of organising the pogrom, who took the direction of the dark forces that perpetrated it?”203 “As soon as we learned of the climate in which the killings of Kishinev took place, we did not doubt that this diabolical undertaking had been concocted by the Police Department and carried out at his command.” Although, of course, “the wretches kept their project secret,” wrote Krohl in the 40s of the 20th century.204 “But, as convinced as we are that the killings of Kishinev were premeditated in high places, with the tacit agreement and perhaps at the initiative of Plehve, we can unmask these high‐placed assassins and expose them to the light of the world only on one condition: if we have the most indisputable proofs against them. That is why we decided to send the famous lawyer Zaroudny to Kishinev.”205 “He was the most suitable person for the mission we had entrusted to him,” “he undertook to reveal the hidden springs of the Kishinev massacre, after which the police, to divert attention, arrested a few dozens thieves and looters.”206 (Recall that in the aftermath of the pogrom, 816 people were arrested.) Zaroudny gathered information and brought back “material of exceptional importance”. That is to say that “the chief person in charge, the organiser of the pogrom, had been the head of local security, K. Lewendal,” a gendarmerie officer who had been appointed to Kishinev shortly before the pogrom. It was “at his command that the police and the troops openly lent a hand to the assassins and the looters.”207 He would have “totally paralysed the action of the governor.”208 (It is known, however, that in Russia neither the police nor the troops were under the orders of the Okhrana.)
This said “exceptionally important” material, which denounced the guilty “with absolute certainty,” was never published neither at the time or later. Why? But because, if it had been so, how could Lewendal and his accomplices escape punishment and dishonour? This material is known only by hearsay: a dealer named Pronine and a notary named Pissarjevsky would have been found several times in a certain café and, on Lewendal’s instructions, would have planned the pogrom.209 And it was after these meetings that all the police and the troops opted for the pogrom. The prosecutor Goremykine examined the charges against Lowendal and declared them unfounded.210 (The journalist Kruchevane, whose incendiary articles had really favoured the pogrom, was stabbed in Petersburg two months later by Pinhas Dachevsky who wanted to kill him.211)
The authorities, during this time, continued the investigation. The director of the police department, A. A. Lopoukhine (with his liberal sympathies, he was unsuspected in the eyes of the public) was quickly dispatched to Kishinev. Governor Von Raaden was dismissed, along with several other senior officials from Bessarabia; a new governor was appointed, Prince S. Urusov (soon to be a prominent K. D., and would sign the appeal to the rebellion called “Vyborg’s Appeal”). A bulletin from the Minister of the Interior, Plehve, was published in The Messenger of the Government of April 29: in it he stated his indignation at the inaction of the authorities of Kishinev; he called on all provincial governors, city governors and police chiefs to vigorously halt all violence by taking all possible measures.212
The Orthodox Church also expressed itself. The Holy Synod issued a bulletin inviting the clergy to take measures to extirpate feelings of hostility towards the Jews. Some of the hierarchs, notably Father John of Kronstadt, who were very much listened to and revered by the faithful, appealed to the Christian people, expressing their disapproval, their exhortations, their appeals for appeasement. “They have substituted for the Christian holiday a sanguinary and satanic orgy.”213 And Bishop Antony (Krapovitsky) declared: “The punishment of God will befall the wretches who have spilled blood related to that of the God‐Man, to His pure Mother, the apostles and the prophets… so that you know how much the Divine Spirit cherishes the Jewish people, still rejected today, and know what is His wrath against those who would want to offend Him.”214 A text on the subject was distributed to the people. (The long exhortations and explanations of the Church, however, were not unrelated to an archaic state of mind, frozen for centuries and to be surpassed by the formidable evolutions in progress.)
In the first days of May, a month after the events, an information campaign but also one of intoxication about the pogrom broke out in the Russian press as well as in the European and American ones. In Petersburg, fanatical articles spoke of assassinations of mothers and infants, of rape—sometimes of underage girls, sometimes of women under the eyes of their husbands or of their father and mother; there was talk of “torn tongues; a man was ripped open, a woman’s head was pierced with nails driven in by the nostrils.”215 Less than a week had elapsed when these horrifying details appeared in the papers of the West. Western public opinion gave it full credence. The influential Jews in England relied on these fabrications and included them word for word in their public protest.216 Should we repeat: “No evidence of abuse or rape was observed on the bodies.” Due to a new wave of newspaper articles, forensic pathologists were asked to submit supplementary reports. The doctor of the City Health Service, named Frenkel (who had examined the bodies in the Jewish cemetery), and another named Tchorba (who had received the dead and wounded at the hospital in the Kishinev Zemstvo between 5 P.M., the second day after the Passover, and noon, the third day, and then at the Jewish hospital), and the doctor Vassiliev (who had carried out an autopsy of thirty‐five corpses)—all attested the absence of traces of torture or violence on the bodies described in the newspapers.217 It was later learned at the trial that doctor Dorochevsky—the one who, it was thought, had supplied these frightening reports—had seen nothing of these atrocities, and declined any responsibility for the publication of the tabloids.218 As for the prosecutor at the Criminal Chamber of Odessa, he had, in reply to a question from Lopoukhine regarding the rapes, “secretly conducted his own investigation”: the accounts of the families of the victims themselves did not confirm any case of rape; the concrete cases, in the expertise, are positively excluded.219 But who paid attention to the examinations and conclusions of doctors? Who cares about the prosecutor’s specific research? All these documents may remain, turning yellow, in cabinets files!
All that the witnesses had not confirmed, all that Korolenko had not related, the authorities did not have the presence of mind to refute it. And all these details spread throughout the world, and took the form of a fact in public opinion, which they were to remain throughout the twentieth century, and which they will probably still be throughout the whole of the twenty‐first century—cold, frozen, stowed forever in the name of Russia.
However, Russia, for many years now, but with increasing acuteness, knew a mad, deadly distortion between “civil society” and the government. It was a struggle to the death: for the liberal and radical circles, and even more so for the revolutionaries, any incident (true or false) discrediting the government was a blessing, and for them everything was permitted—any exaggeration, any distortion, any make‐up of facts; the important thing was to humiliate power as severely as possible. For the Russian radicals, a pogrom of this gravity was a chance in their fight!
The government resolved to forbid all publication in the newspapers concerning the pogrom, but it was a blunder, for the rumours were re‐echoed with greater force by the European and American press; All the rantings escalated with even more impunity—exactly as if there had never been any police report.
And here it was, the great offensive launched against the government of the tsar. The Bureau for the Defence of the Jews sent telegrams to all the capitals: organise protest meetings everywhere!220 A member of the Bureau wrote: “We have communicated the details of the atrocities… in Germany, France, England, the United States… The impression that our information caused was shattering; in Paris, Berlin, London and New York, there were protest meetings in which the speakers painted a frightening picture of the crimes committed by the tsarist government.”221 Here he is, they thought, the Russian bear as it has been since the dawn of time! “These atrocities shocked the world. And now, without any restraint, the police and the soldiers have by all means assisted the assassins and the plunderers in perpetrating their inhuman acts.”222 The “cursed autocracy” has marked itself with an indelible stigma! In meetings, they stigmatised the new plan of tsarism, “premeditated by it”. In the synagogues of London, they accused… the Holy Synod of having committed this killing due to religious inspiration. Some of the hierarchs of the Catholic Church also declared their disapproval. But it was by far the European and American press that showed themselves as being the most virulent (notably the press tycoon William Hearst): “We accuse the tsarist power of being responsible for the massacre of Kishinev. We declare that his guilt in this holocaust is total. It is before his door and in front of any other that the victims of this violence are exposed. “May the God of Justice descend here below to finish with Russia as He has finished with Sodom and Gomorrah… and let him evacuate this pestilential focus from the face of the earth.” “The killing of Kishinev surpasses in insolent cruelty all that has ever been recorded in any civilised nation”223… (including, one must believe, the extermination of the Jews in medieval Europe?).
Alas, Jews more or less circumspect, more or less stunned, joined in the same assessment of the events. And not less than thirty years after the events, the respectable jurist G. Sliosberg retains the same details in publications of emigration—(even though he himself never went to Kishinev, then or later): the nails planted in the head of the victim (he goes so far as attributing this information to the account of Korolenko!), and the rapes, and the presence of “several thousand soldiers” (the modest garrison of Kishinev had never seen as many!) who “seemed to be there to protect the perpetrators of the pogrom.”224
But Russia, in the field of communication, was inexperienced, unable to justify itself coherently seeing it was still unaware of the methods used for this.
Meanwhile, the so‐called “cold premeditation” of the pogrom was not supported by any solid proof—none that was commensurate with the raging campaign. And although lawyer Zaroudny had already “closed his investigation and… firmly established that the chief organiser and the sponsor of the pogrom was none other than the chief of the local Okhrana, Baron Lewendal”225—even in this variant, the character of Lewendal did not reach the government sufficiently, it was necessary to draw a little more to reach the central power.
But here we are!—six weeks after the pogrom, in order to further stir up general indignation, and to dishonour the key figure of power, one “discovered” (no one knows by whom, but very appropriately) an “ultra‐secret letter” from the Minister of Interior Plehve to the governor of Kishinev, Von Raaben (not a bulletin addressed to all the governors of the Pale of Settlement, no, but a letter addressed to him alone ten days before the pogrom), in which the minister, in rather evasive terms, gave advice: if serious disturbances occur in the province of Bessarabia, not to repress them by arms, but to use only persuasion. And now an individual, very timely there too, transmitted the text of this letter to an English correspondent in Saint Petersburg, D. D. Braham, and the latter hastened to publish it in London in the Times of 18 May 1903.226
A priori: what is the weight of a single publication in a single newspaper, which nothing corroborates—neither on the spot nor later? But it weighs as much as you want! Enormously, even! And in this case, the publication of the Times was supported by the protest of prominent British Jews, with Montefiore at their head (from an internationally‐known family).227
Thanks to the climate that reigned throughout the world, this letter was a colossal success: the sanguinary intentions against the Jews of the universally abhorred tsarism, which had not yet been proved, were suddenly “attested with supporting documents.” Articles and meetings had a new upsurge throughout the world. On the third day after the publication, the New York Times pointed out that “three days already that the letter was disclosed—and no denial occurred”, and the British press has already declared it to be authentic. “What can we say about the level of civilisation of a country, of which a minister can give his signature to such exactions?”228 The Russian government, in its awkwardness and incomprehension of the gravity of the matter, found nothing better to do than to negligently abandon a laconic denial signed by the head of the Police Department, A. Lopoukhine, and only on the ninth day after the scandalous publication of the Times,229 but instead of investigating the falsification, he simply settled on expelling Braham from the territory.
One can argue with certainty that this was indeed a forgery, for several reasons. Not only because Braham never exhibited any proof of the authenticity of the letter. Not only because Lopoukhine, the declared enemy of Plehve, had himself denied this text. Not only because Prince Urusov, the great Jewish sympathiser who had succeeded Von Raaben and controlled the archives of the governorate, found no “letter of Plehve.” Not only because poor Von Raaben, dismissed, his life and career broken, never, in his desperate efforts to restore his reputation, complained of having received instructions “from above”—which would have immediately restored his career and made him the idol of liberal society. The main reason lies in the fact that the State archives in Russia had nothing in common with the rigged archives of the Soviet era when any document was concocted upon request or others burned in secret. No, in the Russian archives everything was preserved, inviolably and forever. Immediately after the February Revolution, an extraordinary commission of inquiry of the Provisional Government, and, still more zealously, the “Special Commission for the Study of the History of the Pogroms,” with investigators as serious as S. Dubnov, Krasny‐Admoni, did not find the document in Petersburg or Kishinev, nor its record it upon entrance or exit; they found only the translation into English of Braham’s English text (as well as papers containing “indications of severe punishment and dismissal… sanctioning any illegal action by agents responsible for the Jewish question”).230
After 1917, what was still to be feared? But not a single witness, not a single memorialist, was able to tell the story of where this immortal telegram had fallen, or to boast of having acted as an intermediary. And Braham himself—neither at the time, nor later—didn’t say a single word about it.
But this did not prevent the constitutional‐Democratic newspaper Retch (“The Word”) from writing with confidence, on 19 March 1917: “The bloodbath of Kishinev, the counter‐revolutionary pogroms of 1905 were organised, as was definitively established, by the Police Department.” And, in August 1917, at the Moscow State Conference, the President of the Special Commission of Inquiry publicly declared that he would “soon present the police department’s documents concerning the organisation of anti‐Jewish pogroms”—but neither soon nor later, neither the Commission, nor, subsequently, the Bolsheviks exhibited any document of this kind. Thus the lie encrusted itself, practically up to now! … (In my November 16, one of the characters evokes the pogrom of Kishinev, and in 1986 the German publisher adds an explanatory note in this regard stating: “Anti‐Jewish Pogrom, carefully prepared, which lasted two days. The Minister of the Interior Plehve had conjured the governor of Bessarabia, in the event of a pogrom, not to use firearms.”231) In the recent Jewish Encyclopædia (1996) we read this statement: “In April 1903, the new Minister of the Interior, Plehve, organised with his agents a pogrom in Kishinev.”232 (Paradoxically, we read in the previous tome: “The text of Plehve’s telegram published in the Times of London… is held by most scholars as being a fake”233).
And here: the false story of the Kishinev pogrom made much more noise than the real, cruel and authentic one. Will the point be made one day? Or will it take yet another hundred years?
The incompetence of the tsarist government, the decrepitude of its power, had manifested itself on various occasions, in Transcaucasia, for example, during the killing spree between the Armenians and Azeris, but the government was declared guilty only in the affair of Kishinev.
“The Jews,” wrote D. Pasmanik, “have never imputed the pogrom to the people, they have always accused the power and the administration exclusively… No facts could ever shake this opinion, a furthermore perfectly superficial opinion.”234 And Biekerman emphasised that it was a matter of public knowledge that pogroms were for the government a form of struggle against the revolution. More circumspect minds reasoned thus: if in the recent pogroms no technical preparation by the power is attested, “the state of mind which reigns in Saint Petersburg is such that any virulent judeophobe will find among the authorities, from the minister to the last sergeant of town, a benevolent attitude towards him.” Yet the Kishinev trial, which took place in the autumn of 1903, showed exactly the opposite.
For the liberal and radical opposition, this trial was to be transformed into a battle against the autocracy. Were sent as “civil parties” eminent lawyers, Jews and Christians—Mr. Karabchevsky, O. Gruzenberg, S. Kalmanovitch, A. Zaroudny, N. Sokolov. The “brilliant left‐wing advocate” P. Pereverzev and a few others joined as defenders of the accused “so that they would not be afraid to tell the court… who had prompted them to start the carnage”235—to clarify: to say that it was the power that had armed them. The “civil parties” demanded that further investigation be carried out and that the “real culprits” should be placed on the stand. The authorities did not publish the transcripts so as not to exacerbate the passions in the city of Kishinev, nor those already white‐hot of world opinion. Things were all the easier: the squad of activists who surrounded the “civil parties” made their own reports and sent them through the world, via Romania, for publication. This, however, did not modify the course of the trial. The killers’ faces were scrutinized, but the culprits were undoubtedly the authorities—guilty only, it is true, of not having intervened in a timely manner. At that point, the group of lawyers split a collective statement stating that “if the court refuses to bring to justice and punish the main culprits of the pogrom”—that is, not some ordinary Governor Von Raaben (he no longer interested anyone), but indeed Minister Plehve himself and the central government of Russia—“they [the defenders] will have nothing more to do in this trial.” For they “encountered such hostility on the part of the court that it gave them no possibility… to defend freely and in conscience the interests of their clients, as well as those of justice.”236 This new tactic of the lawyers, which constituted a purely political approach, proved to be quite fertile and promising; it made a great impression on the whole world. “The action of lawyers has been approved by all the best minds in Russia.”237
The trial before the Criminal Division of Odessa was now proceeding in order. The prognostications of Western newspapers that “the trial of Kishinev will only be a masquerade, a parody of justice,”238 were not confirmed in any way. The accused, in view of their number, had to be divided into several groups according to the gravity of the charge. As mentioned above, there were no Jews among the accused.239 The chief of the gendarmerie of the province had already announced in April that out of 816 people arrested, 250 had been dismissed for inconsistency of the charges against them, 446 had immediately been the subject of judicial decisions (as evidenced in the Times), and “persons convicted by the court have been sentenced to the heaviest penalties”; about 100 were seriously charged, including 36 accused of murder and rape (in November, they will be 37). In December, the same chief of the gendarmerie announced the results of the trial: deprivation of rights, property, and penal colony (seven years or five years), deprivation of rights and disciplinary battalion (one year and one and a half years). In all, 25 convictions and 12 acquittals.240 The real culprits of real crimes had been condemned, the ones we have described. The condemnations, however, were not tender—“the drama of Kishinev ends on a usual contradiction in Russia: in Kishinev, criminals seem to be subjected to a rigorous judicial repression,” the American Jewish Yearbook stated, astonished.241
In the spring of 1904, the Cassation proceedings in Petersburg were made public.242 And in 1905 the Kishinev pogrom was once again examined in the Senate; Winaver took the floor to prove nothing new.
In reality, the affair of the Kishinev pogrom had inflicted a hard lesson on the tsarist government by revealing to it that a State that tolerates such infamy is a scandalously impotent State. But the lesson would have been equally clear without poisonous falsifications or false additions. Why did the simple truth about Kichinev’s pogrom seem insufficient? Presumably because this truth would have reflected the true nature of the government—a sclerotic organisation, guilty of bullying the Jews, but which remained unsteady and incoherent. However, with the aid of lies, it was represented as a wise persecutor, infinitely sure of himself, and evil. Such an enemy could only deserve annihilation.
The Russian government, which for a long time already had been largely surpassed on the international stage, did not understand, either on the spot nor afterwards, what a shocking defeat it had just wiped out there. This pogrom soiled a stinking stain on all of Russian history, all the ideas that the world had of Russia as a whole; the sinister gleam of fire projected by it announced and precipitated the upheavals which were soon to shake the country.