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eBook History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   413

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ISBN: 1-59045-156-2

About the Book -- History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.


It is not my intention to expatiate in these prefatory remarks on the present work and its author. A History of the Jews in Russia and Poland from the pen of S. M. Dubnow needs neither justification nor recommendation. The want of a work of this kind has long been keenly felt by those interested in Jewish life or Jewish letters, never more keenly than to-day when the flare of the world conflagration has thrown into ghastly relief the tragic plight of the largest Jewry of the Diaspora. As for the author, his power of grasping and presenting the broad aspects of general Jewish history and his lifelong, painstaking labors in the particular field of Russian- Jewish history fit him in singular measure to cope with the task to which this work is dedicated.

In what follows I merely wish to render account of the English translation and of the form of the original which it has endeavored to reproduce.

The translation is based upon a work in Russian which was especially prepared by Mr. Dubnow for THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA. Those acquainted with modern Jewish literature in the Russian language know that the author of our book has treated the same subject in his general history of the Jewish people, in three volumes, and in a number of special studies published by him in the periodical Yevreyskaya Starina (“Jewish Antiquity”). Upon this material Mr. Dubnow has freely drawn for the present work, after subjecting it to a careful revision, and so supplementing and co-ordinating it that to all intents and purposes the book issued herewith is a new and independent publication. Moreover, the history of Russian Jewry after 1881, comprising the gruesome era of pogroms and expulsions, has been written by Mr. Dubnow entirely anew, and will appear for the first time as part of this work. The present publication may thus properly claim to give the first comprehensive and systematic account of the history of Russo-Polish Jewry.

The work is divided into thee volumes. The third and concluding volume deals with the reign of Nicholas II., the last of the Romanovs, and also contains the bibliographical apparatus, the maps, the index, and other supplementary material.

About the Book






An Excerpt from the Book -- History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.



The frenzy of political reaction, which raged for two decades, was grist to the mill of the Revolution. Stunned by the blow it had received at the beginning of the eighties, the Russian revolutionary movement came back to consciousness at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the hopes for a change of policy on the part of Nicholas II. had been completely blasted. The agitation among the students and the workingmen, the “disorders” at the universities, the strikes at the factories, the revolutionary propaganda carried on in the underground press at home and in the public press abroad—all these endeavors were gradually co-ordinated within the frame of the two revolutionary organizations, the Social-Democratic and the Social- Revolutionary parties, both of which assumed definite shape between 1898 and 1900. The Social-Revolutionary party favored terrorism as a weapon in its struggle with the Russian Government, which had made use of all the appliances of police terrorism to suppress the faintest stirring for liberty. This official terrorism raged with unrestricted violence. Nocturnal raids, arrests, prisons, and places of deportation or of penal servitude, filled to overflowing with “political criminals,” mostly young men and women—such were the agencies by means of which the Government hoped to stamp out the “revolutionary hydra,” even when manifesting itself in the form of moderate constitutional demands. The revolutionaries fought terrorism with terrorism, and one of their victims was the reactionary Minister of the Interior, Sipyaghin, who was assassinated in April, 1902. The exasperated Tzar retorted by appointing to the same office von Plehve, one of the most experienced henchmen of the Russian political inquisition, who had long before, in his capacity of Chief of the Political Police, brought its mechanism to the top notch of efficiency. He was destined to play an ill-fated role in the martyrology of Russian Jewry.

It was easily to be foreseen that the Russian revolutionary movement would make a strong appeal to the Russian Jewish youth. Had any other cultured nation been tormented and humiliated as cruelly and as systematically as were the Jews in Russia it would surely have given birth to an immense host of desperate terrorists. True, the Jews supplied the revolutionary army with a larger number of fighters than was warranted by their numerical proportion to the rest of the Russian population. Yet their number was insignificant when compared with the atrocities which were constantly perpetrated against them. As a rule, the Jewish college youth joined the ranks of the Social-Democratic organization, which disapproved of political assassination. There were particularly numerous Marxists among the Jewish young men and women who had been turned away from the Russian institutions of learning and had gone to Western Europe where they imbibed the doctrines and methods of German Social Democracy. There were fewer Jews among the Social Revolutionaries (Gershuni, Gotz, and others), and these, too, did not as a rule take a direct part in the terroristic plots. As a matter of fact, the only terrorist act committed by a Jew was that of the workingman Hirsh Lekkert, in Vilna. Stung by the barba- rous conduct of the governor of Vilna, von Wahl, who had given orders to flog the Jewish workingmen in public for having arranged a demonstration on May 1, 1902, Lekkert fired upon that official. The governor escaped unscathed, and Lekkert paid with his life for the attempt. But on the whole, the revolutionary activity of the Jews was limited to the frequent political demonstrations arranged by the “Bund,” and to the organizing endeavors of a certain section of the Jewish intellectuals who had joined the ranks of both Russian Socialistic parties.

Had the Russian Government been guided by a genuine interest in the body politic, the spread of the revolutionary movement among the Jews, which was the child of its own system of oppression, would have inevitably induced it to mitigate a system which was bound to turn millions of people into desperadoes. But the Russian Government was, properly speaking, not a Government. It was a caste of officials who had degraded the administration of the country to the systematic endeavor of saving their own personal careers and class interests, both of which were indissolubly bound up with unlimited autocracy. The Russian bureaucracy regarded the revolution as a personal threat, as a menace to its existence, and looked upon the Jewish participants in the revolution as their own individual enemies whose deeds were to be avenged upon the whole Jewish people. Thus there ripened in the mind of Plehve, the head of the bureaucratic inquisition, a truly devilish plan: to wage war against the Russian revolution by waging war against the Jews, and to divert the attention of the Russian public, which was honeycombed with the revolutionary propaganda, in the direction of the “aliens,” thereby stigmatizing the entire emancipatory movement in Russia as “the work of Jewish hands,” as an anti-patriotic cause which was foreign to the Russian people. It was part of this plan to engineer somewhere a barbarous anti-Jewish pogrom in order to intimidate the Jewish revolutionaries and to put it forward as a protest of the “Russian people” against the “Jewish revolution.” “Drown the revolution in Jewish blood!”—this motto underlay the terrible scheme which, beginning with 1903, was put into execution by the underlings of Nicholas II. at the most crucial moments in the Russian revolutionary movement.


Needless to say, there was plenty of inflammable material for such an anti-Jewish conflagration. One of the criminal haunts of these incendiaries was situated at that time in Kishinev, the capital of semi-Moldavian Bessarabia. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the fifty thousand Jews of that city had lived in peace and harmony with their Christian neighbors who numbered some sixty thousand. At the beginning of the new century, these friendly relations were severed, owing to the untrammelled anti-Semitic agitation of a local yellow journalist, a petty official by the name of Krushevan. This official had been publishing in Kishinev since 1897 a local sheet under the name of Bessarabetz (“The Bessarabian”). Having originally embarked upon a moderately progressive policy, the paper soon sold itself to the local anti-Semitic reactionaries from among the nobility and bureaucracy, and was thenceforth subventioned by the Government. For a number of years Krushevan's paper carried on an unbridled agitation against the Jews. The Jews were accused of every possible crime, of economic “exploitation,” of Socialism, of “hatred towards the Christians,” of ritual murders, and of fathering the “Godless revolution.” Favored by the powers that be, the Bessarabetz could do what it pleased. The censorship of the paper lay in the hands of the deputy-governor of Kishinev, Ustrugov, who during his administrative activity had proved himself a past master in the art of persecuting the Jews and curtailing the crumbs of rights that were still left to them. Under the auspices of such a censor, who was in reality a contributor to the paper, the latter was sure of immunity even when it proceeded to print appeals calling or the Christian population to make pogroms upon the Jews.

This agitation was particularly dangerous in view of the fact that the Bessarabetz was the only press organ in the province, the Government consistently refusing to license the publication of any other newspaper. As a matter of fact, Krushevan's activity in Bessarabia was so well thought of by Plehve that in 1902 the mercenary journalist received considerable sums from a special slush fund for the publication of a newspaper in St. Petersburg, under the name Znamya (“The Banner”), with a similarly reactionary anti-Semitic tendency. However, in the capital, the filthy sheet was unable to find readers. But as far as the Bessarabetz was concerned, its influence was clearly felt. Russian public opinion was affected by the poisonous doses administered to it daily. The sinister instincts of the mob became inflamed more and more, and there was the foreboding of a storm in the air.

In the beginning of 1903, Krushevan found an occasion to give a definite turn to his accustomed pogrom propaganda. In the town of Dubossary the mutilated body of a Russian peasant boy, Rybalenko, had been found, who, as was subsequently brought out by the judicial inquiry, had been slain by his uncle in the hope of appropriating his portion of a bequest. The Bessarabetz immediately launched a campaign against the Jews, accusing them of ritual murder. “Death to the Jews! Let all Zhyds be massacred!”—such appeals were almost daily repeated in the paper which was read in all the saloons and public-houses of Bessarabia. The unenlightened Russian mob itched for an occasion to lay its hands upon the Jews. An attempt at a pogrom was made at Dubossary, but it was frustrated by the local Jews who were of a sturdy physique.

On the eve of the Easter festival of 1903, mysterious rumors were set afloat in Kishinev itself telling of the murder of a Christian servant girl, whose death was ascribed to the Jews. In reality the girl had taken poison and died, despite the efforts of her Jewish master to save her life. The goingson in Kishinev on the eve of that Easter bore the earmarks of an energetic activity on the part of some secret organization which was hatching an elaborate fiendish scheme. That criminal organization was centered in the local Russian club which was the rallying-point of the officials of the province. Shortly before the holiday, there suddenly appeared in the city an emissary of the political police, the gendarmerie officer Levendahl, who had been despatched from St. Petersburg; after Easter, when the sanguinary crime had already been committed, the same mysterious envoy vanished just as suddenly.

The triumvirate Krushevan-Ustrugov-Levendahl was evidently the soul of the terrible anti-Semitic conspiracy. Printed hand-bills were scattered about in the city, telling the people that an imperial ukase had been published, granting permission to inflict a “bloody punishment” upon the Jews in the course of the three days of the Christian Passover. The police made no attempt to suppress these circulars, for, as was subsequently brought out, they were in the conspiracy. Several police officials even hinted at the impending events in their talks with Jewish acquaintances. In the saloons and in the tea-houses, the approaching pogrom was the subject of public discussion. The Jews were fully aware of the coming storm, though they scarcely realized that it would take the form not merely of an ordinary pogrom, but of a regular butchery. On the eve of the festival of Passover, the representatives of the Jewish community waited upon the governor and the Chief of Police, praying for protection, and received the cool reply that the necessary instructions had already been given and that the proper measures for their safety had been adopted. The local Greek-Orthodox bishop asked the rabbi, who came to see him on the subject, whether it was true that there was a Jewish sect which used Christian blood for ritual purposes.

The conflagration which was openly prepared by the incendiaries broke out at the moment determined upon. On Sunday, April 6, the first day of the Christian Passover and the seventh day of the Jewish holiday, the church bells began to ring at noontime, and a large crowd of Russian burghers and artisans, acting undoubtedly upon a given signal scattered all over the town, and fell upon the Jewish houses and stores. The bands were preceded by street urchins who were throwing stones at the windows. The rioters, whose number was swelled by these youthful “fighters,” seeing that the police made no attempt to interfere, began to break into the houses and stores, and to throw the contents on the street where everything was destroyed or plundered by the festive crowd. But even then the police and soldier detachments who were stationed on the streets remained passive, and made no attempt to arrest the rioters. This attitude served in the eyes of the mob as a final proof that the rumors concerning the permission of the Tzar “to beat the Jews” were correct. An immense riff-raff, in a state of intoxication, crowded the streets, shouting “Death to the Zhyds! Beat the Zhyds!”

In the evening looting gave way to killing. The murderers, armed with clubs and knives, assailed the Jews in the cars, on the streets, and in the houses, wounding them severely, sometimes even fatally. Even then, the police and military remained inactive; only when in one place a group of Jews, armed with sticks, attempted to drive off the murderers, the police stepped in at once and disarmed the defenders.

At ten o'clock in the evening the looting and killing were suddenly stopped. Rumor had it that the general staff of the rioters were holding a meeting concerning the further plan of military operations, and were making arrangements for a systematic butchery. The “army” soon received the necessary orders, and in the course of the entire day of April 7, from daybreak until eight o'clock in the evening, Kishinev was the scene of bestialities such as find few parallels even in the history of the most barbarous ages. Finding themselves defenceless and exposed to the passions of a savage crowd, many Jewish families hid themselves in their cellars, or in their garrets, and sometimes sought safety in the houses of their Christian neighbors, but the murderers succeeded in hunting down their unfortunate victims. The Jews were slain in most barbarous fashion. Many of them were not killed at once, but were left writhing in pre-mortal agonies. Some had nails driven into their heads or had their eyes put out. Little children were thrown from garrets to the pavement, and their brains dashed out upon the stones. Women had their stomachs ripped open or their breasts cut off. Many of them became the victims of rape. One gymnazium pupil who saw his mother attacked by these fiends threw himself single-handed upon them, and saved at the cost of his life his mother's honor; he himself was slain, and his mother's eyes were put out. The drunken hordes broke into the synagogue, and, getting hold of the Torah scrolls, tore them to shreds, defiled them, and trampled upon them. In one synagogue, the old Shammes (beadle), arrayed in his prayer-shawl, and shielding with his body the Ark containing the sacred scrolls, was savagely murdered by the desecrators on the threshhold of the sanctuary.

Throughout the entire day, wagons were seen moving in the streets, carrying wounded and slain Jews to the hospitals which had been converted into field-lazarettes.

But even this sight did not induce the police to step in. The Russian population, outside of a few isolated cases, made no attempt to defend the tormented Jews. The so-called “intelligent” public, the officials with their wives and children, the students, the lawyers, the physicians, walked leisurely upon the streets and looked on indifferently, and sometimes even sympathetically, while the terrible “work” was going on. The governor of Bessarabia, von Raaben, who, on the morning of the second day of the pogrom, was waited upon by a Jewish deputation begging for protection, replied that he could do nothing since he had received no instructions from St. Petersburg.

At last at five o'clock in the afternoon, a telegram was received from Plehve, and at six o'clock large detachments of troops, fully armed, appeared on the central streets. No sooner had the crowd noticed that the soldiers were ready to act than it took to its heels, without a single shot being fired. Only in the outskirts of the town, which had not yet been reached by the troops, the plunder and massacre continued until late in the evening.

It is needless to point out that had this readiness of the police and military to attend to their duty been displayed in Kishinev at the inception of the pogrom, not a single Jew would have been murdered nor a single house destroyed. As it was, the murderers and rioters were given a free hand for two days, and the result was that forty-five Jews were slain, eighty-six severely wounded or crippled, five hundred slightly wounded, apart from cases of rape, the number of which could not be determined. Fifteen hundred houses and stores were demolished and looted. The victims were mostly among the lower classes of the Jewish population, since many well-to-do Jewish families were able, by bribing the police heavily, to secure the protection of the latter and to have the rioters turned away from their houses. As against the enormous number of Jewish victims, there were only two fatalities among the intoxicated rioters. The Kishinev Jews seemed unable to resist the murderers and sell their lives dearly.

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