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Also by Ronald Sanders

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Shores of Refuge: A Hundred Years of Jewish Emigration

Ronald Sanders

Dzanc Books

1334 Woodbourne Street

Westland, MI 48186

Copyright © 1988 Ronald Sanders

All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Published 2015 by Dzanc Books

A Dzanc Books rEprint Series Selection

Photographs have been provided through the courtesy of HIAS, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the Leo Baeck Institute.

eBooks ISBN-13: 978-1-936873-96-8

eBook Cover Designed by Awarding Book Covers

Printed in the United States of America

This book is gratefully dedicated to:

George Jaffin Joseph and Ida Liskin Edwin Shapiro and The People of HIAS



Part One: Upheaval in Russia | 1881

1. A Prologue in Odessa

2. A Season of Devastations

3. Disillusionment and Flight

Part Two: The First Russian Refugees | 1881–1882

4. The Brody Refuge

5. American Israelites

6. Israel Unprepared

7. The Gentlemen of Brody

8. From Brody to New York, I: The European Journey

9. From Brody to New York, II: The Ocean

Part Three: Fathers, Mothers, and Exiles | 1881–1887

10. The Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society

11. The Deepening Crisis in Russia

12. Coping with the Flood

13. The Welcome

14. Interlude: The Zeal of a Convert

15. Returners to the Soil, I: Palestine

16. Returners to the Soil, II: The United States

17. Mother of Exiles

Part Four: The Swelling Stream | 1887–1902

18. Russia, 1887–1891: Exclusion and Expulsion

19. In the New Current

20. Rebuilding the Gate

21. Jewish New Worlds in the 1890s

22. Rumania, Rumania

23. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Part Five: The Era of Pogroms | 1903–1909

24. Cities of Slaughter, I: Kishinev

25. In the Wake of Kishinev

26. Cities of Slaughter, II: 1905

27. Wandering Scholars, I: Sholom Aleichem

28. Galveston

29. Wandering Scholars, II: Alexander Harkavy

30. Mr. Schiff Steps In

31. The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society

Part Six: Shadows of War and Revolution | 1905–1917

32. The Failure of Russian Liberalism

33. Immigration on the Eve

34. War and the Jews of Eastern Europe, I: 1914–1915

35. War and the Jews of Eastern Europe, II: Isidore Hershfield’s Mission

36. 1917 295

Part Seven: Civil Wars and Devastations | 1918–1920

37. Interlude in Yokohama

38. The Lemberg Pogrom

39. Poland After Lemberg: An Itinerary

40. The Ukrainian Holocaust, I: From National Uprising to Pogrom

41. The Ukrainian Holocaust, II: From Pogrom to Annihilation

42. In the Eyes of the Civilized World

43. Wandering Scholars, III: Crossing the Zbrucz

Part Eight: The End of the Classic Emigration | 1920–1932

44. The Refugees of 1920

45. Closing the Gates

46. Organizing Emigration

47. British Palestine

48. A Polish Minority

Part Nine: The Nazi Menace | 1933–1939

49. Germany Succumbs

50. Jewish Refugees, 1933–1937

51. From the Anschluss to Evian, March-July 1938 436

52. The Night of Broken Glass

53. The New Refugee Crisis

54. The Course of the St. Louis

Part Ten: The War of Annihilation | 1939–1945

55. The Fall of Poland

56. The Collapse of Western Europe

57. Refugees or Spies?

58. The Barriers Strengthen

59. The Descent into Untrammeled Slaughter

60. Responding to the Inconceivable

61. A Choice Without Precedent

62. Mounting Public Pressure

63. Vexed Bermuda

64. The Move Toward Rescue Action

65. The War Refugee Board

66. Final Efforts

Part Eleven: A World in Search of Peace | From 1945

67. Displaced Persons

68. Washington and Jerusalem

69. Passages from Postwar Europe

70. The End of Jewish Eastern Europe

71. Soviet Jews





Photographs appear on pages 203–212 and 401–410.


In 1880, the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe—of the three empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, and of the Balkan countries—numbered more than six million, or about 80 percent of the Jewish population of the world. About three million were in the Russian Empire alone. Their forebears had, for the most part, lived in these regions for centuries. On the other hand, there were only about twenty-five thousand Jews in Palestine and three hundred thousand in the United States, the great majority of them in these countries for not more than a generation. There were about two hundred thousand Jews altogether in Western Europe and Great Britain, and mere handfuls in the British Empire and Latin America.

By the 1980s, about half the world’s Jewish population of thirteen million lived in the Western Hemisphere, more than five million of them in the United States. Another 3.5 million were in Israel, and more than a million in Western Europe, mainly in Britain and France. In Eastern Europe, there were still possibly two million Jews in the Soviet Union, but otherwise the Jewish populations had become negligible in their ancient centers. In Poland, where there had been more than three million Jews on the eve of World War II, there now were considerably fewer than ten thousand.

Much of this enormous shift in the worldwide balance of Jewish population was due to the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews. But, for the rest, what had occurred was perhaps the largest exodus of a single people in history—larger, and scarcely less resolute, than the ancestral one of the Old Testament. It had taken a hundred years rather than forty; but it had been directed at more than one Promised Land.

• • •

The beginnings of the exodus can be traced to the year 1881 in Russia, when the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by a terrorist organization was followed by a wave of anti-Jewish rioting. There had been a small emigration from the fringes of the Russian Empire before this; but now the heartlands of its Jewish population were struck with a passion to depart. Jewish immigration into the United States—the principal destination of the movement from the outset—suddenly leaped from an unprecedented 5,692 arrivals in 1881 to more than thirteen thousand the following year. In another two years, this spurt had turned into a steadily increasing outflow, not only to the United States but to other destinations as well—Britain and its Empire, Latin America, and Palestine, where modern agricultural settlement began in 1882. By 1900, Jews of the other East European countries, mainly Rumania, had joined the movement. A constant stream came from Austrian Galicia.

This classic era of Jewish emigration was characterized as much by the rise of agencies to help them as by the wanderers themselves. That very first spurt of refugees from the disturbances of 1881 had stimulated the growth of a network of rescue, from the Brody office of the Alliance Israélite Universelle just across the Austro-Russian border, to the Mansion House Fund in London and the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society in New York. Some of these organizations did not last very long, but others replaced them, and a few became permanent institutions. Foremost among these was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS. The special place of HIAS in that classic emigration is due not only to its having preeminently served it, as this book will show, but to its being a product of it: for HIAS was the first such organization to be founded and led by people who were themselves immigrants from Eastern Europe.

World War I, the Russian Revolution and civil wars, and U.S. immigration legislation of 1921 and 1924 brought an end to that classic era. There were more than four million Jews in the United States, but now its gates were all but closed to the rest. Jewish emigrants, the bulk of them from the newly independent Poland (few were able to leave Soviet Russia), turned for the most part to Germany, France, and Palestine.

Then, in 1933, the entire Jewish situation in Europe changed drastically, and so did the character of the emigration. The mass exodus that had begun in 1881 was almost exclusively East European in provenance. But, from 1933 to 1940, German and Austro-German Jews fleeing Hitler’s oppressions became Europe’s preeminent refugees. They went where they could in a world that had become largely unreceptive: even immigration into Palestine was severely restricted by 1937. About half of the seven hundred thousand Jews of Germany and Austria were able to find refuge before it was too late.

Of the small numbers of Jews who survived the campaign of extermination waged upon them, only a tiny few were able to get out of Nazi-ruled Europe between 1941 and 1945. It was not until the war’s end—and especially the creation of the Jewish State—that rescue again became fully practicable, and the hundred-year exodus was resumed. In the displaced-persons crisis that lasted into the 1950s, an organization like HIAS, with a fully developed international network of its own, could see to the emigration and placement of tens of thousands of European Jews, into the United States and other countries of settlement. And when new upheavals occurred—the uprisings in Poland and Hungary in 1956, the East European campaign against Zionists in 1968—bringing new outpourings of emigrants, there were new efforts at assistance and rescue. Finally, we have witnessed the great emigration of Soviet Jews in the 1970s—a return, as it were, to the original sources of that hundred-year history that had now come full circle.

It is the task of the pages that follow to tell that story in full.

—Ronald Sanders


Upheaval in Russia

• 1881 •

• 1 •


The terrorist bombs had found their target. And it was on March 1, 1881, lamented a Russian-Jewish memoirist,

that the sun which had risen over Jewish life in the eighteen-fifties was suddenly eclipsed. Alexander II was assassinated on the bank of the Catherine Canal in Saint Petersburg. The hand that had signed the edict freeing sixty million serfs had become motionless. The mouth that had uttered the great word Emancipation was silenced forever. And the salvation hoped for by the people receded far into the distance.

It had been little in the end, yet Alexander II had let more of the currents of liberalism seep into Russia than had any other tsar. There had been the historic edict of Emancipation in 1861, and other reforms as well—in the military and judiciary, and in local government, for which a system of representative institutions had been established that seemed to presage an eventual all-Russian parliament. Alexander’s Minister of the Interior, General M. T. Loris-Melikov, had even been preparing a modest program that caused eager spirits to believe they saw a constitution in the offing.

As for his Jewish subjects, Alexander had been as cautiously benevolent toward them as he had been toward the country at large. In 1856, he had abolished his father’s cruel cantonist system, whereby annual quotas of Jewish boys of twelve and younger had been conscripted for more than twenty-five years of military service. And although Russia’s academic institutions had always been open to Jews in principle, he had instigated reforms making them less forbidding. Above all, he had relaxed some of the restrictions applying to the Pale of Settlement, that sprawling network of provinces in the west and southwest of his Empire outside which the vast majority of its three million Jews were not allowed to reside.

To be sure, that colossal ghetto remained, and poverty was still widespread among Jews, yet there had been considerable advances. Toward the end of the seventies of the nineteenth century, another memoirist could say,

the Jews of Russia felt quite happy. This was particularly true of those Jews who were more enlightened and came in contact with the outside world. The high schools and universities were open to the Jew; everywhere he was welcomed, and he was successful in every field of human endeavour.

Genuine grief interrupted Purim festivities throughout the land at the news of Alexander’s death, and the leaders of the Jewish community of Saint Petersburg—a bastion of wealth and privilege far outside the Pale—attended the funeral, laying a silver wreath, surrounded with palm branches and roses, on the bier of the murdered Czar. Verses from Lamentations and from I Samuel were worked on the bands which were tied to the wreath.

And what now? Despite the murder, there was some hope for the future. On the day of the funeral, prominent Jewish mourners were received by the new Tsar, Alexander III. This, according to the news report, is stated to be the first time that a Jewish deputation has been admitted to the presence of a Russian Emperor. There were, nonetheless, good reasons for apprehension as well. It is, we fear, ruminated the Jewish Chronicle of London,

unfortunately to be dreaded that in the reaction which is sure to come on the murder of the Czar, the Jews will lose some of the privileges gained during the reign of Alexander II. Such fear is augmented when we remember how persistently the Russian officials contend that the Nihilist movement is supported by Jews. God help them if but the faintest shadow of suspicion rests upon any Jews for complicity in the regicide conspiracy.

A Jewish woman, Hessia Helfman, was among the six conspirators rounded up in the next few days.

By then the signs were coming quickly that the liberalism of the father had died with him. The new Tsar’s closest adviser was his boyhood teacher Konstantin Pobedonostsev, a writer and scholar who held the post of procurator of the Holy Synod, or official lay leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. A translator of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, Herbert Spencer, and Saint Augustine, this cleanshaven intellectual had emerged from his life’s spiritual journey in passionate reaffirmation of his Byzantine roots. Although he continued to admire the Anglo-Saxons, he had concluded that their peculiar institutions did not suit Holy Russia, where an indissoluble union of state and orthodoxy, embodied in the Tsar and uncorrupted by parliaments, was needed for the redemption of its vast, ignorant, and impoverished peasantry. For God’s sake, Your Majesty, he had written to Alexander III a few days after the succession, warning him against Loris-Melikov’s wisp of constitutional reform, do not believe and do not listen. This will be ruin, the ruin of Russia and of you.

Alexander III did not believe, and had begun listening to his own entourage instead. This soon included the conservative Count N. P. Ignatiev, who was to replace Loris-Melikov in the Cabinet at the end of that April. It also included a secret organization called the Holy Brotherhood, a shock troop of members of the privileged classes ready to act on their own initiative and use any tactics they thought necessary for stamping out the revolutionary movement. They also had surrogates: suddenly in April, bands of young ruffians—soon popularly known as barefoot brigades, though they were mainly from the middle classes—were to appear in various towns of southern Russia, spoiling for a fight. There is little reason to doubt that the Holy Brotherhood was behind them.

But with whom were they to do battle? Five of the conspirators against Alexander II—Hessia Helfman was spared because she turned out to be pregnant—were publicly hanged on April 3. Hadn’t this checked the revolutionary momentum of Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), the organization they led? Or was an uprising only now to follow? The government was taking no chances. The authorities appear to have feared some kind of reprisal on the part of the friends and fellow-conspirators of the executed [persons], cabled the Saint Petersburg correspondent of The Times of London on April 8,

for on the evening of the execution all the small restaurants and drinking shops were suddenly closed by the police at 6 o’clock, and numerous Cossacks patrolled the streets. A large number of important arrests have been made, about which it is forbidden to telegraph a word.

The Russian Easter, a season of revelry hard to control, was approaching that Sunday, April 12, and the government issued an official postponement of the holiday celebration for a week, offering the late Tsar’s forthcoming birthday as an excuse.

But this deferral of festivities only caused the tension to mount. Advices from St. Petersburg, reported The Times for Friday, April 17,

represent all business as at a momentary standstill owing to the Easter solemnities, and the season seems to be passing without bringing the reform Ukase expected about this time. This was the birthday, too, of the deceased Emperor, which it was confidently hoped his successor would commemorate by some concession to the popular demands, but disappointment seems to have again taken the place of hope; and much anxiety is being created by the continued silence and apparent inactivity of the new Czar, who has hitherto given no clear sign of his ruling intentions.

Surely something was about to burst; the gentlemen of the foreign press thought so, at any rate. "The New York Herald, Abraham Cahan, then a member of the Vilna cell of Narodnaya Volya, was to recall, had even sent a special correspondent to St. Petersburg, to be on the spot when the revolution broke out."

Yet the chill north remained quiet.

Hundreds of miles to the south, Prince A. M. Dondukov-Korsakov, the provisional Governor-General of Odessa, and M. Levkovich, the city’s commandant, had confined the soldiers of the local garrison to the barracks under arms for three days beginning Sunday, April 12. They well knew what they were doing. What they were taking precaution against was not some dimly anticipated revolutionary uprising, but the clear threat of rioting against Odessa’s Jews. This would have been far from the first time such an incident had occurred.

The Black Sea port city of Odessa, rough-hewn but sophisticated, European to a degree rare in Russia at the time, was a kind of Chicago of the steppes: Ukrainian grain was its meat, sent out in ships to all over the Near East and beyond, bringing prosperity to those who dealt in it. At the beginning of the century it had still been a sleepy village, a former Turkish fort inherited by Russia through war and treaty; but the lure of its sunlight and commercially advantageous location had caused it to grow into a lively metropolis of more than three hundred thousand by 1881. In some ways it was hardly Russian at all: Frenchmen had designed and developed it, Englishmen had joined in exploiting it, Greek and Italian businessmen had become its dominating class-Odessa’s Italian opera was the best in the land—and Turks, Armenians, and Jews flourished and loomed large there. Yet this ethnic complexity, and the proximity of a rural peasantry that was more Ukrainian and Moldavian than anything else, made Russianness all the more a universal ideal to live up to in Odessa, especially among its Jews.

In a sense, their Odessa—located well within the Pale—was something the Jews had had to invent, since Moscow and Petersburg were all but completely closed to them. It was as much an immigrant center as any overseas city, and Jews swarmed into it not only from the impoverished townlets and villages of the Pale, but also from other countries—from Turkey, from Germany, and, in particularly large numbers, from Austrian Galicia. Cosmopolitan and ethnocentric all at once, the Jews of Odessa had made their city the capital of Russian-Jewish literature—in Hebrew, in Yiddish, and in Russian at the same time—and of a certain folk-vision of the good life. Like God in Odessa was to be the popular Yiddish expression denoting ease, contentment, and prosperity, and by 1881 some seventy-five thousand Jews—one-quarter of the city’s population—were there seeking this quasi-divine status.

Latecomers, the Jews of Odessa were making rapid advances in its economy and had recently displaced the Greeks as the majority owners of grain export businesses. And it was between Greeks and Jews in particular that tensions had grown over the years—especially among their youth, two participating groups in the raucous street life of the city. The main synagogue and the Greek church were near each other, and brawling among younger members of the crowds spilling from them during the Passover-Easter season had become virtually an annual occurrence.

Indeed, ten years earlier—during Easter week of 1871—a few months after the city had emerged from the ravages of a cholera epidemic, there had been something much worse.

The Jewish Chronicle had conveyed the unhappy news to the English-speaking world at that time, reporting on April 21, 1871, that

during the Russian Easter holidays the mob pillaged the houses of the Jewish inhabitants at Odessa, forcibly entering counting houses and shops, and causing great devastation. There is a panic also amongst Christians. The damage is enormous. The authorities could not do anything to protect the population.

Noting that anti-Jewish riots took place in Odessa every Easter, the Chronicle stressed that they had nevertheless not assumed such dimensions for the last 12 years. What had happened this time?

The Chronicle was able to put the story together in the ensuing weeks. It was rumored, the paper reported in June,

that some Jewish students had thrown a dead cat upon the altar of the Greek church; others circulated a report that a holy image had been pelted with stones by them. Nothing more was wanted to incite the mob to give a beating to the Jews on Easter Sunday, and no importance was attached to this fact, because it constitutes a regular feature of the annual program of the Easter amusements of the Russian populace. But the administration of blows increased, and took place simultaneously in several localities.

Suddenly the lid had blown off this exercise in conventional ruffianism. Then would have been the proper moment to take energetic measures, the Chronicle chides; the arrest of a few young rowdies would have nipped the riot in the bud. But this was not done.

Instead, the city was taken over by a hellish anarchy. Odessa was in the hands of about twenty-five or thirty bands, according to the Chronicle, forming a complete force of robbers. Nothing escaped their violence. Homes and shops where no signs of Christianity, such as images of saints or Easter loaves, were displayed, were bombarded with stones and plundered; and doors and windows broken in. But destruction rather than looting was the principal goal. Banknotes were torn to pieces; the most costly furniture was wantonly destroyed. Beds were ripped up, the feathers strewn through the streets so that for several days some portions of the city looked quite white, as if a heavy fall of snow had taken place. Whole families were stripped of their clothing. The cries of women and children were fearful. Brutal outrages on women, and the most horrible scenes took place. As for the bystanders, not all of them were innocent. Russian ladies in carriages were noticed driving in the streets, and even pointing out to the bandits the houses occupied by Jews.

Night fell on that brutal Sunday at last, but the mob’s fury had not died; it reawoke and grew worse the next day. On Monday afternoon the work of destruction was resumed on a larger scale, the Chronicle relates. The rioters now gathered in the main Jewish residential street and went from house to house, smashing windows and doors. Scarcely a pane of glass remained entire in the Jewish quarter. Even the highest windows of the Temple were broken with a dexterity worthy of a better cause. The popular fury increased hourly. On Italian Street in the commercial center, a large Jewish banking establishment was broken into:

The large panes of glass of the superb building were destroyed, without exception. The multitude penetrated into the house and into the office; the heavy business books, accounts, copies, everything, was thrown out of the windows, picked up among loud hurrahs by those on the street below, and torn into small fragments. The whole street was literally strewn with account currents, bills and documents of all kinds.

Another type of business establishment in which Jewish owners were prominent was also not forgotten: One liquor store after another was taken by storm, and the audacity of the rioters increased with the consciousness of their impunity. The methods of destruction became more severe with evening. What could not be destroyed by hand and stones was burnt, and many houses fell a prey to the flames.

The scene was prolonged into yet another day. On Tuesday there was hardly one street left where some houses were not demolished or pillaged. Disorder reigned and authority had disintegrated:

Cossacks were dragged out of their saddles; like an avalanche the mania of destruction was hurled onward from quarter to quarter, and finally human life was no more respected. A Cossack was stabbed and the multitude cried out: Hurrah, it is but a Cossack! The feathers of the destroyed beds lay from 3 to 6 inches high on the street, and about thirty soldiers were silent spectators when a ruffian, encouraged by the cheering of the populace, dragged a piano toward a balcony for the purpose of hurling it down into the street, in spite of the officer who was standing below.

In the end, about a thousand homes had been destroyed. Four thousand Jewish families are in utter destitution, through the pillage of three whole days, the Chronicle reported;

sixteen persons have been murdered; sixty seriously wounded; females have been brutally violated; a mother, who was trying to prevent her daughter from being outraged, had her ears cut off and died from loss of blood; Jewish synagogues have been pillaged; the books of the Law torn and trodden upon.

Entire sections of the city lay in ruins.

What, indeed, had happened to the enforcers of law and order? The part the authorities have played in the affair is highly exasperating, the Chronicle observed. It has been asserted that the governor … forbade on the first day of the outrage the despatch of any other communications than commercial intelligence to St. Petersburg. The Chronicle subsequently relayed a report from the St. Petersburg correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna

which states that great irritation is manifested in Odessa against the officials who, if they did not connive at the outrages, permitted them…. The judicial investigation amply demonstrates that the people were convinced that the Government permitted the outrages, for some persons said, If such were not the case, would the authorities have let us go on three days with the work without hindrance? Such logic gravely compromises the officials.

Clearly, it was the local authorities who were compromised. Saint Petersburg was far away and had been ill-informed. When Prince [S. G.] Stroganoff was Governor of Odessa similar excesses were never committed, the Jewish Chronicle pointed out with regard to a well-known Russian liberal; he prevented them, but the present Governor took no notice of them, nor did the police interfere. With all due propriety, Governor Kotzebue was in fact promptly removed from his post; but he was soon to be Governor of Warsaw, and the incident seems to have done no harm to his career. The initial ignorance of Saint Petersburg—and the government of the Tsar Liberator, Alexander II—regarding what had been done to the Jews of Odessa in Easter week of 1871 was followed by indifference. This did not bode well for the future.

But now, at any rate, at Eastertime ten years later, and in a moment of grave national crisis, the Governor-General of Odessa was prepared.

• 2 •


"If a statement made by the St. Petersburg Exchange Gazette is correct," the Jewish Chronicle had written just after the riots in 1871,

the population of Southern Russia is hopefully looking forward to some fresh sport in the way of Jew-baiting. The account of the deeds of the Greeks and inhabitants of Odessa, writes the Gazette, arouses wild instincts in the South Russian people, and especially in the Cossacks. A new outrage on the Jews is spoken of as imminent. Our population is not remarkable for mildness of temper, and there is hardly an atrocity that it may be expected to shrink from.

There had been no further trouble at the time, perhaps because of the appointment of a new governor for the region. But these words were a grim reminder that attacking Jews had once been a major southern Russian pastime: there had been the slaughters waged by the Zaporogian Cossacks during their uprising under the Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky in 1648, and the depredations of the unruly haidamak Cossack bands through the first half and more of the eighteenth century. Much had changed, of course, since those primitive times; the Ukraine, now in the forefront of Russian economic progress, was in the first stages of a surge of industrialization that would startle the world with its rapidity. But the Jews, forcibly confined there, remained a prominent and, for many, irritating presence, whose economic gifts often enabled them to outstrip the efforts of the Christian populations among which they lived. And this was even truer in the hinterland towns than amid the fiercely competitive atmosphere of Odessa.

Such a town was Yelizavetgrad, about 150 miles northeast of Odessa, midway along the road to Poltava. Yelizavetgrad had fully enjoyed its share in the fortunate history of the region. Like Odessa, it had been a Turkish village at the beginning of the century and had grown dramatically. By 1881, it was a prosperous community of about fifty thousand that not only figured prominently in the region’s grain commerce and milling of flour, but also had some substantial industries all its own, notably tobacco. In the eyes of a small Jewish farm boy, Lev Davidovich Bronstein—the future Trotsky—arriving there on a visit with his father just four years later, it was a lovely metropolis. Not a single capital in the world, he was to recall, neither Paris nor New York, made in after years such an impression on me as Yelizavetgrad with its sidewalks, green roofs, balconies, shops, policemen and red balloons. For several hours, with my eyes wide open, I gaped at the face of civilization.

This civilization, like the one in Odessa, had a large Jewish component. The crucial parts of its economy were mainly in Jewish hands—the grain brokerages, the flour mills, the tobacco industry, and the liquor trade, which had been a predominantly Jewish activity in Poland and Russia since time immemorial. Moreover, the fifteen thousand or so Jews of Yelizavetgrad—forming almost a third of the population-were strongly drawn to the Russian culture and had a modern rabbi, trained in one of the government seminaries, who dressed in the European manner and spoke the language well. This, after all, was the new frontier, far from the ancient and often impoverished Jewish centers to the northwest, where the Yiddish language and narrow religious traditionalism formed barriers against the wide world.

A good example of the bright younger generation of Yelizavetgrad Jewry in 1881 was the editor of Yuzhni Krai (Southern Frontier), one of the town’s Russian newspapers. Born near Poltava in 1853, Jacob Gordin was eventually to settle in New York and become the first major playwright in the Yiddish language; but at this time his grasp of the ancestral mother tongue had become shaky (in later years some of his critics were to say he never quite recovered it). He was utterly Russian now, something of a socialist, like so many of the acculturated intellectuals of his generation, and a Tolstoyan, largely preoccupied with a quasi-religious sect of his own making, the Duchovno-Bibleyiskoye Bratsvo (Spiritual-Biblical Brotherhood), which preached a life of Old Testament simplicity and rejected Talmudic orthodoxy. His criticism of the Jewish life of his time was once summed up by him in Yuzhni Krai like this:

Brother Jews … why do all elements of the Russian society hate you? Is this only a religious hatred? … Our love of money, … stinginess and rush for profits, our arrogance, quarrelsomeness, our silly and slavish aping of the inflated and dissolute Russian nobility, our usury, saloon-keeping, and tactlessness … turn the Russian people against us.

He was to write these words two years after the disaster had struck in Yelizavetgrad.

It began that tense Easter week of 1881 at one of the inevitable sites of Jewish-Christian confrontation in Russia—a tavern. Since those ancient days when Polish landlords had favored them in the granting of rights to distill and sell liquor in the villages, Jews had remained—in the lands that Russia had taken over from the Poles—prominent in the risky business of catering to the drinking habits of the rural and smalltown populations. It was a situation disliked not only by Jews who were more fortunate than to have to sell liquor to live, but also by the Russian government, which usually blamed Jews for the chronic drunkenness of the peasantry and had spent the better part of the century trying to force them out of the villages and the liquor trade. Jews had indeed left the villages for the most part, usually in great distress, but in the towns and cities of the Pale they went right on being the chief purveyors of vodka and brandy. The drunkenness of Ivan was a conception in Jewish folklore to serve attitudes of prim and invidious self-satisfaction; but for the Jewish tavernkeeper it also was a grim and occasionally violent fact of life.

In the perturbed atmosphere following the assassination of the Tsar, other elements now were added to this traditionally hazardous situation. On Saturday, April 11, bands of young strangers began appearing at the Yelizavetgrad railroad station and circulating through the streets and public places of the town. The next day, Easter Sunday, the members of these barefoot brigades organized street-corner conversations, claiming that the Tsar had issued his long-awaited ukase, and that it commanded Orthodox Russians to beat up the Zhids and take their property.

Jewish leaders promptly appealed to the municipality for protection. The local police responded with concern and called in a detachment of soldiers from some distance away to help maintain public order. Their vigil lasted three days, and nothing untoward occurred during that time. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, April 15, the troops withdrew, and in virtually the next moment, trouble began.

At four o’clock, a fight broke out in a tavern between its Jewish proprietor and a gentile customer who had smashed a drinking glass and refused to pay for it. Pushing the customer into the street, the proprietor found a hostile crowd gathered there, as if the incident had been prearranged. Immediately the cry went up: The Zhids are beating up our people! A scuffle ensued, during which some members of the mob flung themselves upon Jewish passers-by and others forced their way into the tavern. Inflamed by the drink thus obtained, according to one contemporary account, the rioters proceeded to the Jewish quarter, and commenced a systematic destruction of the Jewish shops and warehouses. At first some attempt was made by the Jews to protect their property—a few of the sterner defenders fired at their assailants with revolvers—but this only served to increase the violence of the mob, which proceeded to attack the dwellings of the Jews and to wreck the synagogues.

The attacks subsided as darkness fell and the police reassembled; but the latter were now without the aid of troops, and, as on a similar night in Odessa ten years before, the mob’s excitement proved to be only temporarily damped. At seven the next morning, the rioting resumed, spreading with extraordinary violence all over the city, according to an official inquiry that was later to be held. Clerks, saloon and hotel waiters, artisans, drivers, flunkeys, day laborers in the employ of the Government, and soldiers on furlough—all these joined the movement. Houses with Easter loaves in their windows or crosses on their doors were once again avoided by the mob. Soon this lovely city of balconies and green roofs

presented an extraordinary sight: streets covered with feathers and obstructed with broken furniture which had been thrown out of the residences; houses with broken doors and windows; a raging mob, running about yelling and whistling in all directions and continuing its work of destruction without let or hindrance.

Troops had been summoned again, but when they arrived, according to the official report, they were without definite instructions, and at each attack of the mob on another house, would wait for orders of the military or police authorities, without knowing what to do. This, after all, was not Odessa, with its well-organized system of public security and large garrison of its own. The authorities were wholly unprepared, according to Madame Zinaida Ragozin, a contemporary Russian observer not at all unsympathetic toward the rioters. The ordinary police force was far too small to be of any use, and of the military, only four squadrons of cavalry were on hand—a force particularly ill-suited for action in narrow, crowded streets—not quite five hundred men in all against a mob of many thousands. More severe critics were to accuse the troops called in of acting at first as spectators and afterwards as active participators. At any rate, the troops were ineffectual, with the further result, according to the official inquiry, that the mob was bound to arrive at the conclusion that the excesses in which it indulged were not an illegal undertaking but rather a work which had the approval of the Government.

Toward evening, the report continues,

the disorders increased in intensity, owing to the arrival of a large number of peasants from the adjacent villages, who were anxious to secure part of the Jewish loot. There was no one to check these crowds; the troops and police were helpless. They had lost all heart, and were convinced that it was impossible to suppress the disorders with the means at hand.

At 8:00 P.M., a merciful downpour, accompanied by a cold wind, dispersed the crowd. At eleven, fresh troops arrived, and the next morning a full battalion of infantry was in place. Order was restored to the town.

Hundreds of shops and homes had been demolished, one Jewish man was dead, and there had been a number of rapes; but few were seriously wounded and, miraculously, there had been no fires. In short, it was not another Odessa. But was this the end of the rioting?

After order had been restored in Yelizavetgrad, more than a week went by quietly, and many must have felt the threat of public disturbance had passed. But the barefoot brigades had not had enough. The first new outbreak occurred on Saturday, April 25, at Smela, a town about a hundred miles southeast of the provincial capital of Kiev. It took on a ferocity unknown at Yelizavetgrad. So also did the riot that broke out the following day in Kiev itself.

This ancient and beautiful city, the first seat of Russia’s monarchy and cradle of its Christianity, was in some ways an anomaly. The natural capital of the Ukraine, Kiev was an island of Great Russian culture amid a countryside that was increasingly claiming the status of separate nationhood. By tradition the chief city of southern Russia—even though Odessa had grown larger—it was excluded by law from the Pale of Settlement surrounding it. Jews were not supposed to live there unless, as in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, they were rich or belonged to certain other privileged categories. Yet Jews, beating as an ocean on all sides against the crumbling walls of this fortress, were everywhere to be seen in Kiev. By 1881, the official Jewish population of the city, confined by law to residence in the suburbs of Lyebed and Podol, was about fifteen thousand, or some 10 percent of the whole; but this figure does not include the untold numbers who had settled there illegally, or the many who streamed in daily on temporary permits for the purpose of conducting their affairs. With its important Stock Exchange and its air of higher civilization, Kiev had by now become, in spite of everything, a main center of Russian-Jewish life.

It may therefore have been deliberately chosen as the best place for an object lesson by the barefoot brigades, who had gone there and established a secret printing press from which to issue fake tsarist proclamations against the Jews. But there had also been another good reason for them to set up there. The Governor-General of Kiev and of the entire province—including unhappy Smela—was General Adjutant A. P. Drenteln, a man who, according to one of his colleagues, hated the Jews from the bottom of his heart.

Jewish community leaders got a foretaste of this attitude on Saturday, the 25th, when, hearing rumors of an impending riot in Kiev—and perhaps news of what was happening in Smela that very day—they asked for police protection. In response, they were told not to leave their homes or open their shops the following day—even though Sunday was the main business day of the week for Russian-Jewish merchants. Stunned by this evident capitulation to unlawfulness, the Jews of Kiev nonetheless complied.

But the precaution was of no use. On Sunday morning, bands of ruffians began to assemble in the streets of the Podol district. Then, at noon, as if a signal had been given, the air suddenly resounded with wild shouts, whistling, jeering, hooting and laughing, according to an eyewitness:

An immense crowd of young boys, artisans, and laborers was on the march. The whole city was obstructed by the bare-footed brigade. The destruction of Jewish houses began. Window panes and doors began to fly about, and shortly thereafter the mob, having gained access to the houses and stores, began to throw upon the streets absolutely everything that fell into their hands. Clouds of feathers began to whirl in the air.

The mob soon found its way to the synagogue, which, despite its strong bars, locks and shutters, was wrecked in a moment.… The scrolls were torn to shreds, trampled in the dirt, and destroyed with incredible passion. The streets filled rapidly with the trophies of destruction. Everywhere fragments of desks, furniture, household utensils, and other articles lay scattered about.

By about two o’clock, the rioters had inundated the Jewish markets and bazaars, shut up for the day and all the more ripe for looting. Barely two hours after the beginning of the riot, according to the eyewitness,

the majority of the bare-footed brigade was transformed into well-dressed gentlemen, many of them having grown excessively stout in the meantime. The reason for this sudden change was simpie enough. Those that had looted the stores of ready-made clothing put on three or four suits, and, not yet satisfied, took under their arms all they could lay their hands on. Others drove off in vehicles, carrying with them bags filled with loot.

When I reached the grain bazaar, wrote a reporter for a Kiev newspaper,

the Jewish shops were already demolished and plundered; the mob was just attacking the taverns. Having broken in doors and windows, they rolled the barrels out on the street and broke them to pieces. Vodka flowed in streams. The rioters waded—they bathed—in vodka. The marauding women carried it away by the pailfuls.

A correspondent for The Times also saw the market district. The streets, he wrote, were littered with all imaginable kinds of wares, including groceries, drapery, mercery, confectionery, etc., and flooded with wines and spirits. The mob even tore up the paper money and scattered the pieces to the wind. With all that alcohol and paper lying about, it was no wonder that, as he wrote, a quantity of matches which were thrown out of a shop caused a fire.

The scene had taken on, as even Madame Ragozin was to concede, a rather more malignant character than the one at Yelizavetgrad a week and a half before. Through the uproar, the Kiev reporter writes,

I could clearly distinguish the shouts coming from all sides: The Jews have lorded it over us long enough! It is our turn now. They have got everything into their own hands!They grind us to death! etc. Some well-intentioned persons went about amongst groups of idlers, who were evidently anxious to begin operations … and tried to dissuade them. How can you be so foolish? they would say. Don’t you know that you will be punished? The reply in almost every case amounted to this: "No matter; we will take our punishment—it will be only once. The Jews torture us all our lives."

This was the mood carried later that day into the Jewish slum quarter of Demiovka—whose inhabitants had little in their hands—where several persons, including at least one small child, were beaten to death, and where there were numerous rapes. More fires were started, with the depredations continuing until about three o’clock the following morning.

That Monday, another Kiev journalist wandered into an enclosure that serves as an ammunition store for the arsenal, and

beheld a truly heartrending sight. Packed together like ants in an anthill were more than eighteen hundred Jews, with their wives and children—many of them mere infants. They were clad in rags and barefooted. Many of them bore traces of ill-treatment, and a number of them had bandaged heads. All were ghastly pale and terror-stricken. As I approached them I saw a boy of ten dying in terrible agony. His mother sat by him, tearless, as if too deeply afflicted to weep.

These were the homeless.

Throughout the Kiev riots, General Drenteln and his entourage made their way through the crowds, stopping now and then to deliver a speech of admonition, only to move on so the lawlessness could resume. As for the police, the Austrian consul in Kiev wrote to his Foreign Ministry, The entire behavior of the police leads one rightfully to the conclusion that the disturbances are abetted by the authorities. General V. D. Novitsky, chief of police for the province, laid the blame squarely on Drenteln and complained to the government in Saint Petersburg. He was able to prove his point a few days later, when rioting again broke out in Kiev, and he took charge and quickly put a stop to it.

But the anti-Jewish fever that had spread through southern Russia could not be quenched so easily. In the ensuing week, it struck in several more towns and villages, as well as in the small city of Berditchev, where a Jewish self-defense group succeeded in halting the attacks. On the following Sunday, May 3, it came full circle and hit Odessa, where Governor-General Dondukov-Korsakov was caught off guard, having dispatched troops to put down riots in other towns and villages. He nevertheless acted swiftly, and though there were two deaths, the disturbances in Odessa were brought to an end after only six hours.

Still, the rioting continued to spread.

• 3 •


How had it all come about? Bigotry, envy, ignorance and excitement combine to make the mind of the Russian peasant particularly inflammable just now, reasoned the Jewish Chronicle,

after the remarkable tragedy recently enacted at St. Petersburg. It is intensely to be regretted that, in addition to this source of evil, a further and more potent instrument is at work in the general official distrust of the Jews in Russia. When … the peasant is aware that the object of his persecution is unfavorably regarded by the police and official authorities, all checks to license are removed and scenes of violation, like that which occurred at Kiev this week, become only too common.

This much was understood right away—and something else as well before the wave of rioting had passed. A government inquiry was begun at Smela after the outbreak there, which had left thirteen dead, and a dispatch sent abroad from Kiev on May 5 could announce as a result:

It is officially stated that the investigation instituted by the authorities shows that the ringleaders were persons not belonging to the place, and that the population were only induced to take part in the riots by false representations made to them by evil-disposed persons, who even circulated proclamations calling upon the people to commence an anti-Jewish agitation, which it was alleged would accord with the wishes of the Government.

There is evidence to show, read another report, this time dealing with Kiev itself, that the ringleaders were strangers who came from the North.

Beyond this, however, there was some confusion as to the political identity of these mysterious barefoot agitators—usually young men of some education, who often dressed as peasants or workers and even, on at least one occasion, as police. Eventually there was to be little doubt among those who understood the Russian scene that these young men represented forces opposed to social and political progress. Ever since the German anti-Semites had raised an outcry against their Jewish fellow-citizens, a writer in The Times would be able to observe the following winter, it had been feared that the movement would spread to Russia, and there take a form more adapted to the less civilized state of the country. Indeed, it was the rise of a new political anti-Semitism in Germany that had been commanding worldwide attention in the preceding few years and had raised fears of popular reprisals against the Jews there.* Pastor Adolf Stoecker of Berlin and his Christian Social Workers’ Party had been demonstrating how Jew-hatred could be used as an instrument to arouse the masses to the side of reaction. German anti-Semitism had now come to perceive the Jew—at all times considered by it to be the enemy of Christian values—not only as the usurer and capitalist of old, but as the new socialist and revolutionary as well. For the true modern anti-Semite, the seeming opposition between a Rothschild and a Karl Marx was only a cover for a Jewish conspiracy to subvert the Christian world.

In Russia, this notion—endorsed by no less a figure than Fyodor Dostoevsky—was bound to take on a special potency. Russia’s enormous Jewish population was both a constant source of resentment among the peasantry and a constant object of suspicion for the ruling classes. Anti-Semitism allied the two disparate groups, even if the one saw Jews mainly as rapacious merchants and the other, increasingly, as nihilists. Everyone knows, the conservative Saint Petersburg daily Novoye Vremya (New Times) had written even before the assassination, that these Jews, since time immemorial the representatives of the revolutionary spirit, now stand at the head of the nihilists. Since then, the barefoot brigades could, according to a correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, hold up the Jews to popular reprobation as the assassins of the late Czar, and Jessie [Hessia] Helfman, the Jewess, who was implicated, as having been the soul of the whole plot. The hooligans were thus achieving two goals at once for their princes—diverting the potentially revolutionary excitement of the masses into the politically harmless channel of Jew-baiting, and trouncing Jewish nihilists at the same time.

Yet, in those first weeks of rioting, the feeling had persisted among many that the barefoot brigades themselves were nihilists, stirring up the first stages of a more radical revolt. The Daily Telegraph correspondent relayed the assurances of Russian informants that the anti-Jewish movement in Russia is entirely the work of the revolutionarists. They understand, he continued,

that it would be of no avail to appeal to an ignorant and bigotedly loyal peasantry on the grounds of political emancipation.… The revolutionists have, consequently, touched another chord, and have excited [the peasant’s] religious fanaticism. They have represented the Jews as the source of all the evils with which Russia is affected.… The object of the revolutionists is to create a popular rising, in which the troops would be called upon to defend the Jews against the Christians.

Since the troops, according to this theory, would ultimately refuse such a call, a general collapse of government authority would ensue. Even the Tsar and some members of the government accepted this notion of what was going on. The persecution of the Jews in Southern Russia, said the new Minister of the Interior, Count Ignatiev, shows how people otherwise devoted to the throne yield to the influence of evil-disposed persons and unsuspectingly serve their rebellious plans.

The revolutionaries themselves vehemently denied the charge. Late in May, The Times conveyed an announcement by the Narodnaya Volya leadership that the assertion of the Emperor and the Government attributing the attacks upon the Jews to [revolutionary] political propagandists is altogether untrue. Then, not hesitating to pour some fat into the fire, the statement added that it was not the organization’s policy to incite the people against the Jews, because the latter are too numerous and too useful in the ranks of the party, many of the most intelligent and redoubtable of the Revolutionists having been Jews.

In general, their responses in this moment indicate that the radicals were, in their own way, as confused by what was happening as many members of the government and of the press. They knew that their people were not implicated in the riots, but this did not stop them from believing that these events might indeed be the first signs of oncoming revolution. A well-known Ukrainian socialist, M. Dragomanov, had concluded in the immediate wake of the Yelizavetgrad and Kiev outbursts that these were

the beginning of a social war long foreseen by those familiar with the condition of the Ukraine.… Through [the Jews’] hereditary vocation as usurers, spirit dealers, traders, etc., they have made themselves masters alike of the indebted landlords and of the unfortunate peasants. It is the deep-rooted detestation of the peasant for the money-lender which is breaking out in the Ukraine.

Perhaps, then, the radicals reasoned, this deep-rooted detestation was the momentum of revolution and should be encouraged. A growing enthusiasm for this notion soon caused the Executive Committee of Narodnaya Volya to abandon its own principles; at the end of August, it issued this proclamation:

Good people, honest Ukrainian people! Life has become hard in the Ukraine, and it keeps getting harder. The damned police beat you, the landowners devour you, the Zhids, the dirty Judases, rob you. People in the Ukraine suffer most of all from the Zhids. Who has seized the lands, the woodlands, the taverns? The Zhids. Whom does the peasant beg with tears in his eyes to let him near his own land? The Zhids. Wherever you look, whatever you touch, everywhere the Zhids. The Zhid curses the peasant, cheats him, drinks his blood. The Zhid makes life unbearable.

Surely, the peasants would now move more quickly through the preliminary task of assaulting Jews and on to the main one of stamping out the tsarist regime.

But some Jewish revolutionaries were beginning to wonder.

How great a presence in fact were Jews in the Russian revolutionary movement at this time? One authoritative estimate has given their proportion among its adherents as about 4 percent, or roughly the same as the proportion of Jews in the general population. But since large areas of the country had few Jews or none, their proportion in the radical movement must have been much higher in areas where Jews actually were settled. There can be no doubt that radicalism was by this time exercising a powerful attraction among a younger generation of secularly educated Russian Jews. And, indeed, how could it have been otherwise? Awakening to a regime of oppression in which they were themselves prominent among the insulted and the injured, they were responding to it in a way befitting the inheritors of a great moral tradition. The enthusiasm for an idea, so characteristic of the Jewish nation, conceded even the bourgeois, antiregicide Jewish Chronicle, has led some more ardent members of the race to cast their lot with the fanatical apostles of liberty, equality and fraternity, who possess only the ‘patriotism of dynamite.’

In these early years of the Russian revolutionary movement, however, a Jew who chose to participate was understood to be abandoning his or her Jewish commitments. As one was to say in summing up his outlook, "We are Narodniki, the muzhiks are our natural brothers. There was to be no difference between a Jew and a Russian, least of all a peasant. I still remember, when I first read [Ferdinand] Lassalle," said Paul Axelrod, later to be one of the founders of Russian Marxism,

how ashamed I became because I was interested in Jewish affairs. What significance can the interests of a handful of Jews have, I thought, compared with the interests and the idea of a working class, with which socialism was imbued? For there is actually no Jewish problem, but only the general question of liberating the working masses of all nations, including also the Jewish masses. With the victory of socialism, this so-called Jewish question will be solved.

Some Jewish radicals of relatively privileged background went beyond this, concurring, as Jacob Gordin did, in the view that Jews were mainly a class of exploiters. I will never forget those evenings, wrote Chaim Zhitlovsky of his bourgeois childhood in the 1870s,

when our handyman, a Russian peasant, sat in a corner of our dining room, his plate on his knees, while my father regaled himself at table with jokes about Jews outwitting the stupid Russian peasants. Who would have thought then that I would regard our Russian servant as the symbol of the whole Russian people? That I would feel we all lived and enjoyed ourselves at his expense and thought ourselves toweringly superior to him, whereas in truth we owed him so much—this indebtedness of ours rested most heavily on me.

Such ardent young spirits had yet to discover the depth and extent of poverty among the Jews of Russia and Poland, or foresee the misfortune that now came in the spring of 1881.

Even news of the riots was at first met by many of them with indifference or worse. I must admit, Abraham Cahan later wrote, this matter was of little interest to me and to the other Jewish members of our cell. We considered ourselves to be ‘human beings, not Jews.’ Jewish matters had no special appeal for us. Another young Jewish radical, recalling shortly afterward the whooping and howling of the mob in Yelizavetgrad, and the groans and screams of the Jews, declared: We, of the Populist circle, were joyful. We thought these were the signs of the Russian revolution, expressing itself first on the Jews; but then it would develop in length and breadth. To be sure, he noticed, the mob was not making distinctions, not excepting the poor, nor the women; but, as one of his comrades put it even after witnessing with horror the grislier riots in Kiev, We were convinced that all Jews were swindlers and that we ought to stand on the sidelines and not interfere.

Time and unrelenting violence would cause many of these attitudes to yield to dismay. How comical we were, the young Kiev observer was soon to admit, how childishly naive. The blood runs cold in the veins, another young Narodnik would say, when we look at the insulted and humiliated [Jewish victims].… At all levels of society, from the university intelligentsia to the ignorant peasant, a savage attitude toward Jews can be observed. Paul Axelrod was to concede that the Jewish radicals had made a mistake not to realize "that the Jews as a people are in a unique situation in Russia, hated