THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents

The Emperors and Czars of Europe
Czar Alexander III of Russia
Reign 1881-1894.
 

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The feelings of the Jewish people about the plight of other Jews in other parts of the world were expressed in many newspapers through the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Sometimes these feelings, or strong opinions, were expressed in newspapers in the form of editorials, sometimes letters to American or European newspapers.

Below you may read such a strongly worded opinion about the Jews in Russia while under the Czardom of Alexander III.

 

 

photo: Czar Alexander III of Russia. From Wikipedia.
 

 


From
The Sun,  May 31, 1891:

RUSSIAN PERSECUTION OF THE JEWS.


Race Prejudice and Not Religion, Says M. Stepniak, is at the Bottom of It.

I.

The situation in Russia is so little known abroad, because of the Chinese wall erected by our language, that even such a momentous and far-reaching event as the starting of a veritable crusade against the Jews can be made a subject of controversy. Taking advantage of the prevailing darkness, the friends of the Russian Government have tried to make light of the severity and the extent  of those persecutions. Some of them have had the impudence to deny that there has been any persecution. A little more zeal and they would swear that there are no Jews in Russia and that they have ben "invented" by the enemies of Russia to annoy the Government.

I do not feel tempted in the least to enter into a discussion with any of the gallant champions of Russian Czardom. From the very outset the American press has estimated these utterances at their true value, and as time goes on every mail from the Continent brings numerous facts bearing upon the real state of things in Russia. In writing this my object is to explain to impartial readers this most puzzling of all Russian questions.

One can easily account for barbarity, however shocking, in dealing with political prisoners and exiles. Despotic Governments, when frightened, can go to any length of cruelty. But here we have a whole race, millions of souls, who, after all, have never offended the Government, who have obeyed the laws and paid taxes, bribes, and all their dues. Why, then, are they so persecuted? Are they really so bad as the Russian Government represent them? Is the motive religious fanaticism, or blind racial hatred? Is the Government really responsible for these persecutions, or has it been forced to them by the anti-Jewish feeling of the nation? All these questions are interesting enough to be treated on their own merits in a thoroughly objective and scientific spirit, which an opponent of the Russian Government can adopt easily enough. When the actual offenses are so numerous and aggravating, one is not tempted to invent offenses.

The Russian Government is certainly not responsible--the present Government at least--for the existence in the south and southwest of Russia of very abnormal relations between the Jews and the Russian population, which create in those parts the so-called Jewish question. This question bears relation to the whole of our history, and is one of the burning national, even international, problems with which every country has or has had to deal. In Russia it is only more difficult and complicated because of the greater mass of Jewish population and to the general backwardness of the country.

There are 4,000,000 of Jews in Russia proper, not counting the 1,000,000 of Polish Jews, of this number, three-quarters of a million are scattered all over the empire, but the remaining three and a quarter million are huddled together in the southwestern corner of European Russia, in a vast ghetto called the Pale of Settlement. They form there a race within a race, living apart from the rest, and there is a marked hostility toward them on the part of the masses of Russian people. This hostility has undoubtedly a religious basis, or at least originated in religion. Bu tit seems to me an error to represent, as most people do, the anti-Jewish movement in Russia as a manifestation of religious intolerance. Among the uneducated masses religious hostility toward the Jews undoubtedly exists in a latent state, and is stirred up purposely by Jew haters. But the classes which are at the head of the Russian anti-Jewish movement outlived long ago the period of religious fanaticism. With them the hostility toward the Jews is purely racial. Wit the masses the racial antipathy is also a much stronger ingredient in the anti-Jewish feelings than religion. Thus we may fairly describe the anti-Jewish movement as racial.

I hardly need say that the Jews, as a race, are not a bit worse than other people. Whenever I hear the idle wholesale characterization of Jews as a race of usurers, tricksters, and the like, I always remember my friend, Rabbi David Phillipson of Cincinnati, author of "The Jews in English Fiction," who observed that the process by which the Gentiles form their notions of Jews is invariably thus: The vices, crimes and shortcomings of individual Jews, no matter how restricted as to number, are fastened upon the whole race, while the manifestations of all opposite qualities, no matter how striking or frequent, are viewed as individual exceptions, and therefore are not taken into account. I beg to add that it seems to me that the same process is applied to by all races in their mutual estimates. There is no love lost between different races and tribes anywhere, each considering itself the only good and lovable one. In countries where various nationalities are mingled and have many opportunities of hurting each other by their racial differences, their antagonism becomes so intense and so out of all proportion to the real differences between them as to become positively amazing to an outsider. Among the Balkan slaves or the motley population of southeastern Austria one may study this queer manifestation of narrow-mindedness.

The Russian Jews have lived for centuries a life of complete isolation from the bulk of the population, remaining a nation within a nation. It is only within the last thirty or forty years that they began to read Russian books, go to Russian schools, and take interest in art, the sciences, and politics. Nevertheless, they have already produced a number of men whose names are the pride of Russia. In music, in which this gifted race stands so high, we have quite a number of eminent artists of whom I will mention those who are better known abroad, the two brothers Rubinstein, Anton and Nicolas; Vladimir de Pachman, and that wonderful boy pianist, the rising star of Russian music and the heir elect of all its glory, the little Max Hamburg, now amazing and delighting English audiences. Antokolsky, the greatest sculptor of the age, the man about whom Turguenoff used to say that if he ever met genius it was he, is also a born Jew. The Jewish race has produced no Russian Heine or Berne; but the present literary generation, which is the first, or at the utmost the second generation of Russian Jews that has been educated at art, has already given to Russia a number of useful literary workers, some of them prominent in their profession, like Vengueroff and Weinberg; some standing foremost among their contemporaries, like Minsky and Feug, the best among our living poets.

Another to me far more striking fact, which speaks volumes for the high moral qualities of the Jewish races, is the participation of the Russian Jews in the struggle for Russian freedom. For more than fifteen years in the gloomy empire of the Car a fierce struggle has been raging, in which only the ardent enthusiasm and absolute self-denial of the few enable them to cope with the enormous forces arrayed against them. There are thousands of educated Jews who have cast their lot with our patriotic movement. This fact has greatly hurt the feelings of our anti-Semitic ruler, and an edict was issued in 1885 making, contrary to all principles of justice, political offenders of the Jewish race punishable with far greater severity than Christians. But I never heard that this edict had produced any impression upon the Jews, and there are as many of them as before willing to give up their all for the freedom and better future of the country which is a stepmother to them. This is a fact that does not agree with the general conception of the Jewish character. Yet it was the outcome of the short experience of 1860-1880, during which a generation of Jews that passed through our schools grew in a friendly surrounding, mixing freely with Russians, feeling themselves men and citizens, and not a race of outcasts. Some of the best and most influential members of our party were born Jews. And when I remember their kindliness of heart, their pure ideality, coupled so often with a mind so subtle, flexible, and comprehensive. I cannot help thinking that Spinoza was not altogether a miraculous apparition, but a representative of the best type of the race. I venture also to surmise that in better circumstances the Jewish people would probably produce more Spinozas than Shylocks. But this is a personal opinion of mine, which the reader can accept or reject as he chooses.

The common, uneducated Jew is neither better nor worse than men in his position and circumstances generally are. A Jewish usurer is exactly the same sort of person as a Christian usurer. A common Jewish merchant is as tricky as a common Russian merchant. A Jewish artisan is like the Russian artisan in all respects, except that his face bears strong marks of his Semitic origin; that his nose is hanging down, while that of his Russian confrere is merrily turned up; that he is generally dark, instead of being fair; that his gesticulation is queer, and that he speaks Russian with a peculiar accent.

The hostility toward the Jews has its origin in the surprising tenacity of their race, which preserved its purity through all its historical vicissitudes and is quite the same nowadays as it was a thousand years ago. The exceptional business capacity of the Jews, developed in the course of centuries by their exclusion from all other pursuits, has created everywhere a natural channel for the manifestation of that racial hostility. A Jewish middleman, whatever his special calling--trade, usury, banking--fulfills his functions as well as a middleman of another race. If anything, rather better. Being on the average cleverer, he can offer his services at a lower rate than his rivals. That is indeed the only reason why he beats them; but he beats them invariably and that is the cause of his historical troubles. Everywhere the Jews almost monopolize the most lucrative calling in the community--that of middlemen. They come to constitute a class apart as well as a race apart, and racial hostility comes to embitter the struggle between the classes. the racial struggle is substituted for the economical struggle, and the worsted and invidious rivals of the Jews, who only wait for this opportunity, are accepted by the mob for its leaders.

In the Pale of Settlement the Jews, although forming but one-seventh of the population, have concentrated n their hands one-half of the wholesale trade of the region and have almost monopolized the retail trade. Russians, Armenians, Greeks, all have been beaten by them, and as a matter of course they do not feel very grateful for it. The lower middle class, the Greeks in particular, have played a very conspicuous part in the anti-Jewish riots. The Russian peasants are very peaceable and unoffending creatures, too much so, indeed, for the interests of independence  and good government. If left to themselves they would rarely if ever give vent to their latent ill feelings against the Jews in open rioting, but the middle class are there to give them a lift. In the two most notorious riots, those of 1871 and 1881, in Odessa, both of which began in the vicinity of the Greek Church, the Greek merchants incited and headed the mob. The Russian merchants are the chief allies of the Government in Jew baiting nowadays. Since 1881 the anti-Jewish movement in Russia has entered upon a new phase, because the Government itself takes the lead in that war against one class of its own subjects.

Anti-Semitism is not a Russian invention. It originated in Germany, where it was elaborated by a certain class of scholars and philosophers into a social theory. Its real author is undoubtedly Prince Bismarck. It was he that inaugurated the reign of brutal force such as Europe has not known at any other time, even in the time of the first Napoleon. Force means right; the dominant race, simply because the strongest has a right to get rid of a weaker race if the latter happens to annoy it in some way. The wholesale evictions of Poles from Posen is a direct parallel of the wholesale eviction of Jews in Russia. The persecution of the Finnish nationality, started by the present Government in Russia, is just as unprovoked, foolish, and harmful to the general interests of the State as the persecution of the Jews. the one prepares us to see without much surprise the other. It is the same deliberate appeal to the selfishness of the dominant race with a view of transforming it into a sort of dominant caste whose interests are identified with the interests of the State, while those of others are trampled down. Such a policy is immorality erected into a system. In the long run it is sure to bring ruin and dissolution to the State. It is the last trump of a tottering despotism.

The Russian Government does not want the fusion of the two races. Education, to which access was at one time given to Jews, worked in Russia remarkably well for the removal of racial prejudices on both sides. It gave the best promises for the future, because of the great zeal of the Jews for education. There was a rush to colleges and universities on the part of Jewish youths. In some southern colleges the Jews numbered 50, 60, sometimes 80 per cent, of the pupils. In the universities of Odessa and Kharkoff they formed, on the average, 15 to 20 per cent of the students, and they were strongly represented in all other high schools.

Now the Government has deliberately rejected this natural means of reconciling the two races. From some schools, formerly open to them, the Jews are excluded completely. In others they are admitted as a necessary evil, but only up to a certain low percentage, three, five, and in some instances then per cent, of the total number of Christian pupils. If Christians lag behind, the Jews have to pay the penalty. In the town of Biely a Jewish apothecary wanted to send his boy to the local college. But the director informed him that there was for a Jewish boy only four-fifths of a vacancy, which meant that the last Christian ten was not complete, being two boys short. The father petitioned the Minister of Public Education, Count Delianoff, asking that the four-fifths of the boy might carry to school the other one-fifth of the boy, instead of letting the unauthorized one-fifth keep the entire boy outside. But Count Delianoff was strict; admittance was refused, and the father was compelled to send to the college two Christian boys at his own expense to make room for his son. But few parents can afford such outlay, and there are many towns within the Pale where Jews constitute from 60 to 80 per cent of the population. Thus the new law means compulsory ignorance. I need not speak of the discouraging restrictions depriving the Jews who have received their degrees from practicing in the professions for which they have been qualified; These are tolerably well known in America.

The Government does not want the Jews to be Russianized. On the contrary, it wants every Jewish boy to feel keenly and never be able to forget that he is an outcast. There is a special edict prohibiting the Jewish boys from giving lessons to Christian children. In Minsk a Jewish boy of 14 was expelled from the college because he was found guilty of teaching a peasant boy merely for love of the child.

Nor does the Government want the Jews to become Christians. In former times the conversion of a Jew to Christianity cancelled all his disabilities, but by a new edict of 1890 the rights granted to converts have been restricted to a qualified freedom of settlement, complete citizenship being granted only to the grandchildren, the second generation of Christians. The war against the Jews is not a war of conquest, but a war of extermination.

S. STEPNIAK.
 

 

 
 
 


 



 

 


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