The Manifesto of 17 October marked the beginning of a qualitatively new period in Russian history, which was later consolidated by a year of Stolypin’s government: the period of the Duma or of limited Autocracy, during which the previous principles of government—the absolute power of the tsar, the opacity of the ministries, the immutability of the hierarchy—were rapidly and sensibly restricted. This period was very difficult for all the higher spheres, and only men with a solid character and an active temperament could enrol with dignity in the new era. But public opinion also found it difficult to get accustomed to the new electoral practices, to the publicity of the debates in the Duma (and even more to the responsibility of the latter); and, in its left wing, the enraged Leninists as well as the enraged of the Bund simply boycotted the elections to the first Duma: we have nothing to do with your parliaments, we will achieve our ends by bombs, blood, convulsions! And so “the attitude of the Bund towards the Jewish deputies of the Duma was violently hostile.”1
But the Jews of Russia, led by the Union for the integrality of rights, were not mistaken and, expressing their sympathy for the new institution, “participated very actively in the elections, voting most often for the representatives of the [Cadet] party who had placed the equality of rights for the Jews on its agenda.” Some revolutionaries who had regained their spirits shared the same dispositions. Thus Isaac Gurvitch, who had emigrated in 1889—an active supporter of the Marxist left, was the co-founder of the American Social-Democratic Party—, returned to Russia in 1905, where he was elected to the Duma Electoral College.2—There were no limitations on the Jews in the elections, and twelve of them sat in the first Duma; it was true that most of them came from the Pale of Settlement, while the Jewish leaders of the capital, who did not have the property qualifications, could not be elected: only Winaver, L. Bramson3, and the converted Jew M. Herzenstein (to whom Prince P. Dolgorukov had given his place).
As the number of Jews in the Duma was significant, the Zionist deputies proposed forming an “independent Jewish group” abiding by “the discipline of a real political party”, but the non-Zionist deputies rejected this idea, contenting itself “to meet from time to time to discuss matters of direct concern to Jewish interests,”4 agreeing however, to comply already to “a genuine discipline in the sense of strictly abiding by the decisions of a college composed of members of the Duma and those of the Committee for the integrality of rights”5 (the “Political Bureau”).
At the same time a solid alliance was formed between the Jews and the Cadet party. “It was not uncommon for the local chapters of the Union [for the integrality of rights] and the constitutional-democratic party to be composed of the same people.”6 (Some teased Winaver by calling him the “Mosaic Cadet”.) “In the Pale of Settlement, the overwhelming majority of the [Cadet] party members were Jews; in the interior provinces, they represented in number the second nationality… As Witte wrote, ‘almost all Jews who graduated from higher education joined the party of People’s Freedom [that is, The Cadets]… which promised them immediate access to equal rights.’ This party owes much of its influence on the Jews who provided it with both intellectual and material support.”7 The Jews “introduced coherence and rigour… into the Russian ‘Liberation Movement’ of 1905.”8
However, A. Tyrkova, an important figure in the Cadet party, notes in his memoirs that “the chief founders and leaders of the Cadet party were not Jews. There were not, among the latter, any personality sufficiently prominent to drive the Russian liberals behind it, as the Jew Disraeli had done for the English Conservatives in the middle of the nineteenth century… The people that mattered most within the Cadet party were Russians. This does not mean that I deny the influence of these Jews who have joined our masses. They could not fail to act upon us, if only by their inexhaustible energy. Their very presence, their activity, did not allow us to forget them, to forget their situation, to forget that they had to be helped.” And, further on: “Reflecting on all these networks of influence of the Jews [within the Cadet party], one cannot overlook the case of Miliukov. From the beginning, he became their favourite, surrounded by a circle of admirers, more precisely feminine admirers… who cradled him in muted melodies, cajoled him, covered him without restraint of praise so excessive that they were comical.”9
V. A. Obolensky, also a member of the party, describes a Cadet club during the time of the First Duma at the corner of Sergevskaya and Potmekinskaya streets. The elite of the secularised Jewish society and the elite of the Russian politicised intelligentsia were mingled: “There were always a lot of people, and the public, composed mostly of wealthy Jewish Petersburgers, was very elegant: the ladies wore silk robes, shiny brooches and rings, the gentlemen had the airs of well-nourished and self-satisfied bourgeois. Despite our democratic convictions, we were somewhat shocked by the atmosphere that prevailed in this ‘Cadet club’. One can imagine the embarrassment experienced by the peasants who came to attend the meetings of our parliamentary group. A ‘party of gentlemen’, that is what they said to each other when they ceased to attend our meetings.”10
At the local level, cooperation between the Union for the integrality of rights and the Cadet Party was manifested not only in the presence of “as many Jewish candidates as possible”, but also in the fact that “the local factions of the Union [for the integrality of rights] was instructed to support [non-Jews] who promised to contribute to the emancipation of the Jews.”11 As explained in 1907 the cadet newspaper Retch, in reply to questions repeatedly asked by other newspapers: “Retch has, in its time, formulated very precisely the conditions of the agreement with the Jewish group… The latter has the right to challenge the electoral college and to oppose nominations to the Duma.”12
During the parliamentary debates, the Duma, following the logic of the Imperial Manifesto, raised the question of equal rights for Jews within the general framework of granting the same rights to all citizens. “The State Duma has promised to prepare a ‘law on the full equalisation of the rights of all citizens and the abrogation of any limitations or privileges associated with membership to a social class, nationality, religion or sex’.”13 After adopting the main guidelines of this law, the Duma lost itself in debates for another month, multiplying “thunderous declarations followed by no effect”14, to be ultimately dissolved. And the law on civil equality, especially for the Jews, remained pending.
Like most Cadets, the Jewish deputies of the First Duma signed Vyborg’s appeal, which meant that it was now impossible for them to stand for elections; Winaver’s career particularly suffered from it. (In the First Duma, he had made violent remarks, although he would later advise the Jews not to put themselves too much in the spotlight to prevent a recurrence of what had happened in the revolution of 1905.)
“The participation of the Jews in the elections of the second Duma was even more marked than during the first election campaign… The Jewish populations of the Pale of Settlement showed the strongest interest in this election. The political debate reached all levels of society.” Nevertheless, as the Jewish Encyclopædia published before the Revolution indicates, there was also an important anti-Jewish propaganda carried out by right-wing monarchist circles, particularly active in the western provinces; “the peasants were persuaded that all progressive parties were fighting for the equal rights of the Jews to the detriment of the interests of the ethnic population”15; that “behind the masquerade of the popular representation, the country was governed by a Judeo-Masonic union of spoliators of the people and traitors to the fatherland”; that the peasant should be alarmed at the “unprecedented number of new masters unknown to the elders of the village, and whom he henceforth had to nourish with his labour”; that the Constitution “promised to replace the Tatar yoke by that, injurious, of the international Kahal.” And a list of the existing rights to be abrogated was drawn up: not only were Jews not to be elected to the Duma, but they all had to be relegated to the Pale of Settlement; prohibiting them from selling wheat, grain and timber, working in banks or commercial establishments; confiscating their properties; prohibiting them from changing their names; to serve as publisher or editor of news organisation; to reduce the Pale of Settlement itself by excluding the fertile regions, to not grant land to the Jews within the province of Yakutsk; in general, to regard them as foreigners, to substitute for them military service by a tax, etc. “The result of this anti-Semitic propaganda, spread both orally and in writing, was the collapse of progressive candidates in the second Duma throughout the Pale of Settlement.”16 There were only four Jewish deputies in the second Duma (including three Cadets).17
But even before these elections, the government addressed the issue of equal rights for Jews. Six months after taking office as Prime Minister in December 1906, Stolypin had the government adopt a resolution (the so-called “Journal of the Council of Ministers”) on the continuation of the lifting of restrictions imposed on Jews, and this in essential areas, thus orienting itself towards integral equality. “They considered to eliminate: the prohibition of Jews from residing in rural areas within the Pale of Settlement; the prohibition of residing in rural areas throughout the Empire for persons enjoying the right of universal residence”; “the prohibition of including Jews in the directory of joint stock companies holding land.”18
But the Emperor replied in a letter dated 10 December: “Despite the most convincing arguments in favour of adopting these measures… an inner voice dictates with increasing insistence not to take this decision upon myself.”19
As if he did not understand—or rather forgot—that the resolution proposed in the Journal was the direct and inescapable consequence of the Manifesto he had signed himself a year earlier…
Even in the most closed bureaucratic world, there are always officials with eyes and hands. And if the rumour of a decision taken by the Council of Ministers had already spread to the public opinion? And here we are: we will know that the ministers want to emancipate the Jews while the sovereign, he, stood in its way…
On the same day, 10 December, Stolypin hastened to write to the Emperor a letter full of anxiety, repeating all his arguments one by one, and especially: “The dismissal of the Journal is for the moment not known by anyone,” it is therefore still possible to conceal the equivocations of the monarch. “Your Majesty, we have no right to put you in this position and shelter ourselves behind you.” Stolypin would have liked the advantages accorded to the Jews to appear as a favour granted by the tsar. But since this was not the case, he now proposed to adopt another resolution: the Emperor made no objections on the merits, but did not want the law to be promulgated over the head of the Duma; it must be done by the Duma.
Secretary of State S. E. Kryjanovski said that the emperor then adopted a resolution which went along in this direction: that the representatives of the people take responsibility both for raising this issue as well as resolving it. But, no one knows why, this resolution received little publicity, and “on the side of the Duma, absolutely nothing happened.”20
Widely to the left, penetrated by progressive ideas and so vehement towards the government, the second Duma was free! Yet, in the second Duma, there was still less talk of the deprivation of rights suffered by the Jews than in the first.”21 The law on equal rights for Jews was not even discussed, so, what can be said about its adoption…
Why then did the second Duma not take advantage of the opportunities offered to it? Why did it not seize them? It had three entire months to do it. And why did the debates, the clashes, relate only to secondary, tangential issues? The equality of the Jews—still partial, but already well advanced—was abandoned. Why, indeed, why? As for the “Extra-Parliamentary Extraordinary Commission”, it did not even discuss the plan to repeal the restrictions imposed on Jews, but circumvented the problem by focusing on integral equality “as quickly as possible.”22
Difficult to explain this other than by a political calculation: the aim being to fight the Autocracy, the interest was to raise more and more the pressure on the Jewish question, and to certainly not resolve it: ammunition was thus kept in reserve. These brave knights of liberty reasoned in these terms: to avoid that the lifting of restrictions imposed on the Jews would diminish their ardour in battle. For these knights without fear and without reproach, the most important, was indeed the fight against the power.
All this was beginning to be seen and understood. Berdyaev, for example, addressed the whole spectrum of Russian radicalism with the following reproaches: “You are very sensitive to the Jewish question, you are fighting for their rights. But do you feel the ‘Jew’, do you feel the soul of the Jewish people?… No, your fight in favour for the Jews does not want to know the Jews.”23
Then, in the third Duma, the Cadets no longer had the majority; they “did not take any more initiatives on the Jewish question, fearing that they would be defeated… This caused great discontent among the Jewish masses, and the Jewish press did not deprive itself of attacking the party of the People’s Freedom.”24 Although “the Jews had participated in the electoral campaign with the greatest ardour and the number of Jewish voters exceeded that of the Christians in all the cities of the Pale of Settlement,” they were beaten by the opposing party, and in the third Duma there were only two Jewish deputies: Nisselovitch and Friedman.25 (The latter succeeded to remain up to the fourth Duma.)—Beginning in 1915, the Council of State included among its members a Jew, G. E. Weinstein, of Odessa. (Just before the revolution, there was also Solomon Samoylovich Krym, a Karaim.26)
As for the Octobrists* whose party had become a majority in the third Duma, on the one hand they ceded, not without hesitation, to the pressure of public opinion which demanded equal rights for the Jews, which led to the criticism of Russian nationalist deputies: “We thought that the Octobrists remained attached to the defence of national interests”—and now, without warning, they had relegated to the background both the question of “the granting of equal rights to the Russians of Finland” (which meant that this equality did not exist in this “Russian colony”…) and that of the annexation by Russia of the Kholm region in Poland, with all Russians that inhabit it—but “they have prepared a bill to abolish the Pale of Settlement.”27 On the other hand, they were attributed statements “of manifestly anti-Semitic character”: thus the third Duma, on the initiative of Guchkov, issued in 1906 “the wish… that Jewish doctors not be admitted to work in the army health services”28; likewise, “it was proposed to replace the military service of the Jews by a tax.”29 (In the years preceding the war, the project of dispensing the Jews from military service was still largely and seriously debated; and I. V. Hessen published a book on this subject entitled The War and the Jews.)
In short, neither the second, third, nor fourth Dumas took it upon themselves to pass the law on the integral equality of rights for the Jews. And every time it was necessary to ratify the law on equality of rights for peasants (promulgated by Stolypin as of 5 October 1906), it was blocked by the same Dumas, under the pressure of the left, on the grounds that the peasants could not be granted equal rights before they were granted to the Jews (and the Poles)!
And thus the pressure exerted upon this execrated tsarist government was not relieved, but doubled, quintupled. And not only did this pressure exerted on the government not be relieved, not only were these laws not voted upon by the Duma, but it would last until the February Revolution.
While Stolypin, after his unfortunate attempt in December 1906, quietly took administrative measures to partially lift the restrictions imposed on the Jews.
An editorialist from Novoie Vremia, Menshikov, condemned this method: “Under Stolypin, the Pale of Settlement has become a fiction.”30 The Jews “are defeating the Russian power by gradually withdrawing all its capacity to intervene… The government behaves as if it were a Jew.”31
Such is the fate of the middle way.
The general outcry of the parties of the left against a policy of progressive measures, this tactical refusal for a smooth evolution towards equal rights, was strongly supported by the Russian press. Since the end of 1905, it was no longer subject to prior censorship. But it was not only a press that had become free, it was a press that considered itself a full-fledged actor in the political arena, a press, as we have seen, that could formulate demands, such as that of withdrawing the police from the streets of the city! Witte said it had lost its reason.
In the case of the Duma, the way in which Russia, even in its most remote provinces, was informed of what was going on there and what was said there, depended entirely on journalists. The shorthand accounts of the debates appeared late and with very low circulation, so there was no other source of information than the daily press, and it was based on what they read that the people formed an opinion. However, the newspapers systematically distorted the debates in the Duma, largely opening their columns to the deputies of the left and showering them with praise, while to the deputies of the right they allowed only a bare minimum.
A. Tyrkova says that in the second Duma, “the accredited journalists formed their own press office,” which “depended on the distribution of places” among the correspondents. The members of this office “refused to give his card of accreditation” to the correspondent of the Journal the Kolokol (favourite newspaper of the priests of the countryside). Tyrkova intervened, noting that “these readers should not be deprived of the possibility of being informed about the debates in the Duma by a newspaper in which they had more confidence than those of the opposition”; but “my colleagues, among whom the Jews were the most numerous…, got carried away, began shouting, explaining that no one was reading the Kolokol, that that newspaper was of no use.”32
For the Russian nationalist circles, responsibility for this conduct of the press was simply and solely the responsibility of the Jews. They wanted to prove that almost all journalists accredited to the Duma were Jews. And they published “whistle-blowing” lists listing the names of these correspondents. More revealing is this comical episode of parliamentary life: one day, answering to the attacks of which he was the object, Purishkevich pointed, in the middle of his speech, the box of the press, located near the tribune and delimited by a circular barrier, and said: “But see this Pale of Settlement of the Jews!”—Everyone turned involuntarily to the representatives of the press, and it was a general burst of laughter that even the Left could not repress. This “Pale of Settlement of the Duma” became an adopted wording.
Among the prominent Jewish publishers, we have already spoken of S. M. Propper, owner of the Stock Exchange News and unfailing sympathiser of the “revolutionary democracy”. Sliosberg evokes more warmly the one who founded and funded to a large extent the cadet newspaper Retch, I. B. Bak: “A very obliging man, very cultured, with a radically liberal orientation.” It was his passionate intervention at the Congress of the Jewish mutual aid committees at the beginning of 1906 that prevented a conciliation with the tsar. “There was no Jewish organisation devoted to cultural action or beneficence, of which I. Bak was not a member”; he was particularly distinguished by his work in the Jewish Committee for Liberation.33 As for the Retch newspaper and its editor-in-chief I. V. Hessen, they were far from limiting themselves to Jewish questions alone, and their orientation was more generally liberal (Hessen subsequently proved it in emigration with the Roul and the Archives of the Russian Revolution). The very serious Russkie Vedomosti published Jewish authors of various tendencies, both V. Jabotinsky and the future inventor of war communism, Lourie-Larine. S. Melgounov noted that the publication in this body of articles favorable to the Jews was explained “not only by the desire to defend the oppressed, but also by the composition of the newspaper’s managing team.”34 “There were Jews even among the collaborators of the Novoie Vremia of Suvorin”; the Jewish Encyclopædia quotes the names of five of them.35
The newspaper Russkie Vedomosti was long dominated by the figure of G. B. Iollos, called there by Guerzenstein who had been working there since the 80s. Both were deputies to the First Duma. Their lives suffered cruelly from the atmosphere of violence engendered by political assassinations—these being the very essence of the revolution—a “rehearsal” of 1905-06. According to the Israeli Jewish Encyclopædia, the responsibility for their assassination would rest with the Union of the Russian People.* For the Russian Jewish Encyclopædia, if the latter bore responsibility for the assassination of Guerzenstein (1906), Iollos, him, was killed (1907) by “Black Hundreds Terrorists.”36
Jewish publishers and journalists did not restrict their activities to the capital or to highly intellectual publications, but they also intervened in the popular press, such as the Kopeika, a favourite reading of the concierges—a quarter of a million copies in circulation, it “played a major role in the fight against anti-Semitic denigration campaigns.” (It had been created and was led by M. B. Gorodetski.37) The very influential Kievskaya Mysl (to the left of the Cadets) had as editor-in-chief Iona Kugel (they were four brothers, all journalists), and D. Zaslavski, a wicked rascal, and, what seems to us very moving, Leo Trotsky! The biggest newspaper of Saratov was edited by Averbakh-senior (brother-in-law of Sverdlov). In Odessa appeared for some time the Novorossiysky Telegraf, with strong right-wing convictions, but measures of economic suffocation were taken against it—successfully.
The Russian press also had “migrant” stars. Thus L. I. Goldstein, an inspired journalist who wrote in the most diverse newspapers for thirty-five years, including the Syn Otetchestva, and it was also he who founded and directed the Rossia, a clearly patriotic newspaper. The latter was closed because of a particularly virulent chronicle directed against the Imperial family: “These Obmanovy gentlemen”. The press was to celebrate Goldstein’s jubilee in the spring of 1917.38—As well as the discreet Garvei-Altus, who had a moment of glory for his chronicle “The Leap of the Passionate Panther”, in which he poured a torrent of calumnies on the Minister of the Interior, N. A. Maklakov. (But all this was nothing compared to the unheard-of insolence of the “humouristic leaflets” of the years 1905-1907 which covered in muck, in unimaginable terms, all the spheres of power and of the State. The chameleon Zinovi Grjebine: in 1905 he published a satirical leaflet, the Joupel; in 1914-1915 he directed the right-minded Otetchestvo, and in 1920 he set up a Russian publishing house in Berlin in collaboration with the editions of the Soviet State.39)
But if the press reflected all sorts of currents of thought, from liberalism to socialism, and, as far as the Jewish thematic was concerned, from Zionism to Autonomism, it was a position deemed incompatible with journalistic respectability: which consisted in adopting a comprehensive attitude towards power. In the 70s, Dostoyevsky had already noted on several occasions that “the Russian press is out of control.” This was even to be seen on the occasion of the meeting of 8 March 1881, with Alexander III, newly enthroned emperor, and often afterwards: the journalists acted as self-proclaimed representatives of society.
The following statement was attributed to Napoleon: “Three opposition papers are more dangerous than one hundred thousand enemy soldiers.” This sentence applies largely to the Russo-Japanese war. The Russian press was openly defeatist throughout the conflict and in each of its battles. Even worse, it did not conceal its sympathies for terrorism and revolution.
This press, totally out of control in 1905, was considered during the period of the Duma, if we are to believe Witte, as essentially “Jewish” or “semi-Jewish”40; or, to be more precise, as a press dominated by left-wing or radical Jews who occupied key positions. In November 1905, D. I. Pikhno, editor-in-chief for twenty-five years of the Russian newspaper The Kievian and a connoisseur of the press of his time, wrote: “The Jews… have bet heavily on the card of the revolution… Those, among the Russians, who think seriously, have understood that in such moments, the press represents a force and that this force is not in their hands, but in that of their adversaries; that they speak on their behalf throughout Russia and have forced people to read them because there is nothing else to read; and as one cannot launch a publication in one day, [the opinion] has been drowned beneath this mass of lies, incapable of finding itself there.”41
L. Tikhomirov did not see the national dimension of this phenomenon, but he made in 1910 the following remarks about the Russian press: “They play on the nerves… They cannot stand contradiction… They do not want courtesy, fair play… They have no ideal, they do not know what that is.” As for the public formed by this press, it “wants aggressiveness, brutality, it does not respect knowledge and lets itself be deceived by ignorance.”42
At the other end of the political spectrum, here is the judgement that the Bolshevik M. Lemke passed on the Russian press: “In our day, ideas are not cheap and information is sensational, self-assured and authoritative ignorance fills the columns of the newspapers.”
More specifically, in the cultural sphere, Andrei Bely—who was anything but a right-wing man or “chauvinist”—wrote these bitter lines in 1909: “Our national culture is dominated by people who are foreign to it… See the names of those who write in Russian newspapers and magazines, literary critics, musical critics: they are practically nothing but Jews; there are among them people who have talent and sensibility, and some, few in number, understand our national culture perhaps better than the Russians themselves; but they are the exception. The mass of Jewish critics is totally foreign to Russian art, it expresses itself in a jargon resembling Esperanto, and carries on a reign of terror among those who try to deepen and enrich the Russian language.”43
At the same time, V. Jabotinsky, a perspicacious Zionist, complained of “progressive newspapers financed by Jewish funds and stuffed with Jewish collaborators,” and warned: “When the Jews rushed en masse into Russian politics, we predicted that nothing good would come of it, neither for Russian policy nor for the Jews.”44
The Russian press played a decisive role in the assault of the Cadets and the intelligentsia against the government before the revolution; the deputy in the Duma A. I. Chingariov expresses well the state of mind that reigned there: “This government only has to sink! To a power like this we cannot even throw the smallest bit of rope!” In this regard, it may be recalled that the First Duma observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the Bialystok pogrom (refusing to admit, as we have seen, that it was an armed confrontation between anarchists and the army); the second Duma also paid tribute to Iollos, murdered by a terrorist; but when Purishkevich offered to observe a minute of silence in memory of the officers and soldiers who had died in the course of their duty, he was removed from the sitting and the parliamentarians were so manic that they thought it unthinkable to pity those who ensured security in the country, that elementary security which they all needed.
A. Koulicher drew up a fair assessment of this period, but too late, in 1923, in emigration: “Before the revolution there were, among the Jews of Russia, individuals and groups of individuals, the activity could be characterised… precisely by the lack of sense of responsibility in the face of the confusion that reigned in the minds of the Jews… [through] the propagation of a ‘revolutionary spirit’ as vague as it was superficial… All their political action consisted in being more to the left than the others. Confined to the role of irresponsible critics, never going to the end of things, they considered that their mission consisted of always saying: ‘It is not enough!’… These people were ‘democrats’… But there was also a particular category of democrats—moreover, they referred to themselves as the ‘Jewish Democratic Group’—who attached this adjective to any substantive, inventing an unsustainable talmud of democracy… With the only end to demonstrate that the others were not yet sufficiently democrats… They maintained an atmosphere of irresponsibility around them, of contentless maximalism, of insatiable demand. All of which had fatal consequences when the revolution came.”45 The destructive influence of this press is undoubtedly one of the weaknesses, of great vulnerability, of Russian public life in the years 1914-1917.
But what became of the “reptilian press”, the one that laid down in front of the authorities, the press of the Russian nationalists? The Russkoye Znamya of Dubrovin—it was said that things fell from your hands so much he was rude and bad. (Let us note, in passing, that it was forbidden to circulate it in the army at the request of certain generals.) The Zemshchina was hardly better—I do not know, I have not read any of these papers. As for the Moskovskiye Vedomosti, out of breath, they no longer had readers after 1905.
But where were the strong minds and sharp pens of the conservatives, those who were concerned about the fate of the Russians? Why were there no good newspapers to counterbalance the devastating whirlwind?
It must be said that, in view of the agile thought and writing of the liberal and radical press, so accountable for its dynamism to its Jewish collaborators, the Russian nationalists could only align slow, rather soft, spirits who were not at all prepared to fight this kind of battle (but what is there to say about this state of affairs today!). There were only a few literary types exasperated by the left press, but totally devoid of talent. Moreover, right-wing publications were facing serious financial difficulties. While the newspapers financed by “Jewish money”—as Jabotinsky used to say—offered very good wages, hence the profusion of wordsmiths; and, above all, all these journals without exception were interesting. Finally, the left-wing press and the Duma demanded the closure of the “subsidised newspapers”, that is to say, supported in secret and rather weakly by the government.
State Secretary S. E. Kryjanovski acknowledged that the government was providing financial support to more than 30 newspapers in various parts of Russia, but without success, both because the right lacked educated people, prepared for journalistic activity, and because the power itself did not know how to do it either. More gifted than others was I. I. Gourland, a Jew of the Ministry of the Interior, a unique case—who, under the pseudonym of “Vassiliev”, wrote pamphlets sent in sealed envelopes to prominent public figures.
Thus the government had only one organ which merely enumerated the news in a dry and bureaucratic tone, the Pravitelstvenny Vestnik. But to create something strong, brilliant, convincing, to openly go to the conquest of public opinion even in Russia—let us not even talk about Europe!—that, the imperial government either did not understand the necessity of it, or was incapable of doing so, the enterprise being beyond its means or intelligence.
The Novoie Vremia of Suvorin long maintained a pro-governmental orientation; it was a very lively, brilliant and energetic newspaper (but, it must be said, equally changing—sometimes favourable to the alliance with Germany, sometimes violently hostile to it), and, alas, not always knowing how to make the difference between national revival and attacks on the Jews. (Its founder, old Suvorin, sharing his property among his three sons before dying, gave them as a condition to never yielding any of their shares to Jews.) Witte ranked Novoie Vremia among the newspapers which, in 1905, “had an interest to be of the left…, then turned right to become now ultra-reactionaries. This very interesting and influential journal offers a striking example of this orientation.” Although very commercial, “it still counts among the best.”46 It provided a great deal of information and was widely disseminated—perhaps the most dynamic of the Russian newspapers and, certainly, the most intelligent of the organs of the right.
And the leaders of the right? And the deputies of the right in the Duma?
Most often they acted without taking into account the real relationship between their strengths and their weaknesses, showing themselves both brutal and ineffective, seeing no other means of “defending the integrity of the Russian State” than calling for more bans on Jews. In 1911, the deputy Balachov developed a programme that went against the current and the times: reinforcing the Pale of Settlement, removing Jews from publishing, justice, and the Russian school. Deputy Zamyslovski protested that within the universities, the Jews, the S.-R.s, the Social Democrats enjoyed a “secret sympathy”—as if one could overcome by decree a “secret sympathy”—In 1913 the Congress of the Union of the nobility demanded (as had already been done in 1908 under the third Duma) that more Jews be taken into the army, but that they be symmetrically excluded from public functions, the territorial and municipal administration, and justice.
In the spring of 1911, Purishkevich, striving with others against an already weakened Stolypin, proposed to the Duma these extreme measures: “Formally forbid the Jews to take any official duty in any administration… especially in the periphery of the Empire… The Jews convicted of having tried to occupy these functions will have to answer before justice.”47
Thus the right reproached Stolypin for making concessions to the Jews.
When he had taken office in the spring of 1906, Stolypin had had to consider the Manifesto of 17 October as a fait accompli, even if it had to be slightly amended. That the Emperor had hastily signed it without sufficient reflection—it no longer mattered, it had to be applied, the State had to be rebuilt in the midst of difficulties, in accordance with the Manifesto and in spite of the hesitations of the tsar himself. And this implied equal rights for the Jews.
Of course, the restrictions imposed on the Jews continued, not only in Russia. In Poland, which was considered—as well as Finland—to be oppressed, these limitations were even more brutal. Jabotinsky writes: “The yoke that weighs heavily on Jews in Finland is beyond measure even with what is known of Russia or Romania… The first Finnish man, if he surprises a Jew out of a city, has the right to arrest the criminal and take him to the police station. Most trades are forbidden to Jews. Jewish marriages are subject to compulsory and humiliating formalities… It is very difficult to obtain permission to build a synagogue… The Jews are deprived of all political rights.” Elsewhere in Austrian Galicia, “the Poles do not hide that they see in the Jews only a material used to strengthen their political power in this region… There have been cases where high school students were excluded from their establishment ‘for cause of Zionism’, one hinders in a thousand and one ways the functioning of Jewish schools, manifests hatred towards their jargon (Yiddish), and the Jewish Socialist Party itself is boycotted by the Polish Social-Democrats.”48 Even in Austria, although a country of Central Europe, hatred towards the Jews was still alive, and many restrictions remained in force, such as the Karlsbad baths: sometimes they were simply closed to the Jews, sometimes they could only go there in the summer, and the “winter Jews” could only access it under strict control.49
But the system of limitations in Russia itself fully justified the grievances expressed in the Jewish Encyclopædia as a whole: “The position of the Jews is highly uncertain, inasmuch as it depends on how the law is interpreted by those responsible for applying it, even at the lowest level of the hierarchy, or even simply their goodwill… This blur… is due to… the extreme difficulty of achieving uniform interpretation and application of the laws limiting the rights of the Jews… Their many provisions have been supplemented and modified by numerous decrees signed by the emperor on the proposal of various ministries… and which, moreover, were not always reported in the General Code of Laws”; “Even if he has an express authorisation issued by the competent authority, the Jew is not certain that his rights are intangible”; “A refusal emanating from a junior official, an anonymous letter sent by a competitor, or an approach made in the open by a more powerful rival seeking the expropriation of a Jew, suffice to condemn him to vagrancy.”50
Stolypin understood very well the absurdity of such a state of affairs, and the irresistible movement that then pushed for a status of equality for the Jews, a status that already existed to a large extent in Russia.
The number of Jews established outside the Pale of Settlement increased steadily from year to year. After 1903, the Jews had access to an additional 101 places of residence, and the number of these was still significantly increased under Stolypin, which implemented a measure which the tsar had not taken in 1906 and which the Duma had rejected in 1907. The former Jewish Encyclopædia indicates that the number of these additional places of residence amounted to 291 in 1910-191251; As for the new Encyclopædia, it puts the number to 299 for the year 1911.52
The old Encyclopædia reminds us that from the summer of 1905 onwards, in the wake of revolutionary events, “the governing bodies [of educational establishments] did not take into account the numerus clausus for three years.”53 From August 1909 onwards, the latter was reduced from what it was before in the higher and secondary schools (now 5% in the capitals, 10% outside the Pale of Settlement, 15% within it54), but subject to compliance. However, since the proportion of Jewish students was 11% at the University of Saint Petersburg and 24% at that of Odessa55, this measure was felt to be a new restriction. A restrictive measure was adopted in 1911: the numerus clausus was extended to the outside world56 (for boys only, and in girls’ institutions the real percentage was 13.5% in 1911). At the same time, artistic, commercial, technical and vocational schools accepted Jews without restrictions. “After secondary and higher education, the Jews rushed into vocational education” which they had neglected until then. Although in 1883 “Jews in all municipal and regional vocational schools” accounted for only 2% of the workforce, 12% of boys and 17% of girls in 1898.57 In addition, “Jewish youth filled private higher education institutions”; thus, in 1912, the Kiev Institute of Commerce had 1,875 Jewish students, and the Psycho-Neurological Institute, “thousands”. Beginning in 1914, any private educational institution could provide courses in the language of its choice.58
It is true that compulsory education for all was part of the logic of the time.
Stolypin’s main task was to carry out the agrarian reform, thus creating a solid class of peasant-owners. His companion in arms, Minister of Agriculture A. V. Krivoshein, who was also in favour of abolishing the Pale of Settlement, insisted at the same time that be limited “the right of anonymous companies with shares” to proceed with the purchase of land, to the extent that it was likely to result in the formation of a “significant Jewish land capital”; indeed, “the penetration into the rural world of Jewish speculative capital risked jeopardising the success of the agrarian reform” (at the same time he expressed the fear that this would lead to the emergence of anti-Semitism unknown until then in the countryside of Greater Russia59). Neither Stolypin nor Krivoshein could allow that the peasants remain in misery due to the fact of not owning land. In 1906, Jewish agricultural settlements were also deprived of the right to acquire land belonging to the State, which was now reserved for peasants.60
The economist M. Bernadski cited the following figures for the pre-war period: 2.4% of Jews worked in agriculture, 4.7% were liberal professionals, 11.5% were domestic servants, 31% worked in commerce (Jews accounted for 35% of merchants in Russia), 36% in industry; 18% of the Jews were settled in the Pale of Settlement.61 In comparing the latter figure to the 2.4% mentioned above, the number of Jews residing in rural areas and occupied in agriculture had not increased significantly, while according to Bernadski, “it was in the interest of the Russians that Jewish forces and resources were investing themselves in all areas of production”, any limitation imposed on them “represented a colossal waste of the productive forces of the country.” He pointed out that in 1912, for example, the Society of producers and manufacturers of an industrial district in Moscow had approached the President of the Council of Ministers so that the Jews would not be prevented from playing their role of intermediary link with Russian industrial production centres.62
B. A. Kamenka, chairman of the Board of Directors of Azov Bank and the Don, turned to the financing of the mining and metallurgical industry and sponsored eleven important enterprises in the Donets and Urals region.63—There was no restriction on the participation of Jews in joint-stock companies in the industry, but “the limitations imposed on joint-stock companies wishing to acquire property triggered an outcry in all financial and industrial circles.” And the measures taken by Krivoshein were to be abrogated.64
V. Choulguine made the following comparison: “The ‘Russian power’ seemed very ingenuous in the face of the perfectly targeted offensive of the Jews. The Russian power reminded one of the flood of a long and peaceful river: an endless expanse plunged into a soft sleepiness; there is water, oh my God there is, but it is only sleeping water. Now this same river, a few versts farther away, enclosed by strong dikes, is transformed into an impetuous torrent, whose bubbling waters precipitate itself madly into turbines.”65
It is the same rhetoric that is heard on the side of liberal economic thought: “Russia, so poor… in highly skilled workforce…, seems to want to further increase its ignorance and its intellectual lagging in relation to the West.” Denying the Jews access to the levers of production “amounts to a deliberate refusal to use… their productive forces.”66
Stolypin saw very well that this was wasteful. But the different sectors of the Russian economy were developing too unevenly. And he regarded the restrictions imposed on Jews as a kind of customs tax that could only be temporary, until the Russians consolidated their forces in public life as well as in the sphere of the economy, these protective measures secreted an unhealthy greenhouse climate for them. Finally (but after how many years?), the government began to implement the measures for the development of the peasant world, from which were to result a true and genuine equality of rights between social classes and nationalities; a development which would have made the Russians’ fear of the Jews disappear and which would have put a definitive end to all the restrictions of which the latter were still victims.
Stolypin was considering using Jewish capital to stimulate Russia’s economy by welcoming their many joint-stock companies, enterprises, concessions and natural resource businesses. At the same time, he understood that private banks, dynamic and powerful, often preferred to agree among themselves rather than compete, but he intended to counterbalance this phenomenon by “nationalising credit”, that is, the strengthening of the role of the State Bank and the creation of a fund to help entrepreneurial peasants who could not obtain credit elsewhere.
But Stolypin was making another political calculation: he thought that obtaining equal rights would take some of the Jews away from the revolutionary movement. (Among other arguments, he also put forward: at the local level, bribery was widely used to circumvent the law, which had the effect of spreading corruption within the State apparatus.)
Among the Jews, those who did not give in to fanaticism realised that, despite the continued restrictions, in spite of the increasingly virulent (but impotent) attacks on right-wing circles, those years offered more and more favourable conditions to the Jews and were necessarily leading to equal rights.
Just a few years later, thrown into emigration by the “great revolution”, two renowned Jewish figures meditated on pre-revolutionary Russia:
Self-taught out of poverty at the cost of the greatest efforts, he had passed his bachelor’s degree as an external candidate at the age of thirty and obtained his university degree at thirty-five; he had actively participated in the Liberation Movement and had always regarded Zionism as an illusory dream—his name was Iosif Menassievich Bikerman. From the height of his fifty-five years of age he wrote: “Despite the regulations of May  and other provisions of the same type, despite the Pale of Settlement and numerus clausus, despite Kishinev and Bialystok, I was a free man and I felt as such, a man who had before him a wide range of possibilities to work in all kinds of fields, who could enrich himself both materially and spiritually, who could fight to improve his situation and conserve his strength to continue the fight. The restrictions… were always diminishing under the pressure of the times and under ours, and during the war a wide breach was opened in the last bastion of our inequality. It was necessary to wait another five or fifteen years before obtaining complete equality before the law; we could wait.”67
Belonging to the same generation as Bikerman, he shared very different convictions and his life was also very different: a convinced Zionist, a doctor (he taught for a time at the Faculty of Medicine in Geneva), an essayist and a politician, Daniil Samoylovich Pasmanik, an immigrant as well, wrote at the same time as Bikerman the following lines: “Under the tsarist regime, the Jews lived infinitely better and, whatever may be said of them, their conditions of life before the war—both materially as well as others—were excellent. We were then deprived of political rights, but we could develop intense activity in the sphere of our national and cultural values, while the chronic misery that had been our lot disappeared progressively.”68—“The chronic economic slump of the Jewish masses diminished day by day, leaving room for material ease, despite the senseless deportations of several tens of thousands of Jews out of the Front areas. The statistics of the mutual credit societies… are the best proof of the economic progress enjoyed by the Jews of Russia during the decade preceding the coup. And so it was in the field of culture. Despite the police regime—it was absolute freedom in comparison with the present Bolshevik regime—Jewish cultural institutions of all kinds prospered. Everything was bursting with activity: organisations were booming, creation was also very alive and vast prospects were now open.”69
In a little more than a century, under the Russian crown, the Jewish community had grown from 820,000 (including the Kingdom of Poland) to more than five million representatives, even though more than one and a half million chose to emigrate,70—an increase of a factor of eight between 1800 and 1914. Over the last 90 years, the number of Jews had multiplied by 3.5 (going from 1.5 million to 5,250,000), whereas during the same period the total population of the Empire (including the new territories) had multiplied by only 2.5.
However, the Jews were still subject to restrictions, which fuelled anti-Russian propaganda in the United States. Stolypin thought he could overcome it by explaining it, inviting members of Congress and American journalists to come and see, in Russia itself. But in the autumn of 1911, the situation became so severe that it led to the denunciation of a trade agreement with the United States dating back eighty years. Stolypin did not yet know what the effect of a passionate speech of the future peacemaker, Wilson, might be, nor what the unanimity of the American Congress could mean. He did not live enough to know.
Stolypin, who imprinted its direction, gave its light and name to the decade before the First World War,—all the while he was the object of furious attacks on the part of both the Cadets and the extreme right, when deputies of all ranks dragged him in the mud because of the law on the Zemstvo reform in the western provinces—was assassinated in September 1911.
The first head of the Russian government to have honestly raised and attempted to resolve, in spite of the Emperor’s resistance, the question of equality for the Jews, fell—irony of History!—under the blows of a Jew.
Such is the fate of the middle way…
Seven times attempts had been made to kill Stolypin, and it was revolutionary groups more or less numerous that had fermented the attacks—in vain. Here, it was an isolated individual who pulled it off.
At a very young age, Bogrov did not have sufficient intellectual maturity to understand the political importance of Stolypin’s role. But from his childhood he had witnessed the daily and humiliating consequences of the inequality of the Jews, and his family, his milieu, his own experience cultivated his hatred for imperial power. In the Jewish circles of Kiev, which seemed ideologically mobile, no one was grateful to Stolypin for his attempts to lift the restrictions imposed on the Jews, and even if this feeling had touched some of the better off, it was counterbalanced by the memory of the energetic way in which he had repressed the revolution of 1905-1906, as well as by the discontent with his efforts to “nationalise credit” in order to openly compete with private capital. The Jewish circles in Kiev (but also in Petersburg where the future murderer had also stayed) were under the magnetic influence of a field of absolute radicalism, which led young Bogrov not only to feel entitled, but to consider it his duty to kill Stolypin.
This field was so powerful that it allowed the following combination: Bogrov-senior rose in society, he is a capitalist who prospers in the existing system; Bogrov-junior works at destroying this system and his father, after the attack, publicly declares that he is proud of him.
In fact, Bogrov was not so isolated: he was discreetly applauded in the circles which once manifested their unwavering fidelity to the regime.
This gunshot that put an end to the hope that Russia ever recovered its health could have been equally fired at the tsar himself. But Bogrov had decided that it was impossible, for (as he declared himself) “it might have led to persecution against the Jews,” to have “damaging consequences on their legal position.” While the Prime Minister would simply not have such effects, he thought. But he was deceived heavily when he imagined that his act would serve to improve the lot of the Jews of Russia.
And Menshikov himself, who had first reproached Stolypin with the concessions he had made to the Jews, now lamented his disappearance: our great man, our best political leader for a century and a half—assassinated! And the assassin is a Jew! A Jew who did not hesitate to shoot the Prime Minister of Russia!? “The gunshot of Kiev… must be considered as a warning signal… the situation is very serious… we must not cry revenge, but finally decide to resist!”71
And what happened then in “Kiev the reactionary” where the Jews were so numerous? In the first hours after the attack, they were massively seized with panic and began to leave the city. Moreover, “the Jews were struck with terror not only in Kiev, but in the most remote corners of the Pale of Settlement and of the rest of Russia.”72 The Club of Russian Nationalists expressed its intention to circulate a petition to drive out all the Jews of Kiev (which remained at the stage of intentions). There was not the start of a beginning of pogrom. The President of the youth organisation “The Two-Headed Eagle”, Galkin, called for destroying the offices of the local security and for busting some Jew: he was immediately neutralised. The new Prime Minister, Kokovtsov, urgently recalled all Cossack regiments (they were manœuvring away from the city) and sent a very firm telegram to all the governors: to prevent pogroms by any means, including force. The troops were concentrated in greater numbers than during the revolution. (Sliosberg: if pogroms had broken out in 1911, “Kiev would have been the scene of a carnage comparable to the horrors of the time of Bogdan Khmelnitsky.”73)
No, nowhere in Russia there was the slightest pogrom. (Despite this, there has been much written, and insistently, that the tsarist power had never dreamed of anything but one thing: to organise an anti-Jewish pogrom.)
Of course, the prevention of public disorder is one of the primary duties of the State, and when this mission is fulfilled, it does not have to expect recognition. But that under such extreme circumstances—the assassination of the head of government—, that it was possible to avoid pogroms, the threat of which caused panic among the Jews, it nevertheless merited a small mention, if only in passing. Well, no, we did not hear anything like that and no one spoke about it.
Difficult to believe, but the Kiev Jewish community did not publicly express condemnation nor regret regarding this assassination. On the contrary. After the execution of Bogrov, many Jewish students were ostensibly in mourning.
However, all this, the Russians noted it. Thus, in December 1912, Rozanov wrote: “After [Stolypin’s assassination] something broke in my relationship [to the Jews]: would a Russian ever have dared to kill Rothschild or any other of ‘their great men’?”74
If we look at it from a historical point of view, two important arguments prevent the act committed by Bogrov from being considered on behalf of the “powers of internationalism”. The first and most important: it was not the case. Not only the book written by his brother75, but different neutral sources suggest that Bogrov really believed that he could work this way to improve the lot of the Jews. And the second: to return to certain uncomfortable episodes in history, to examine them attentively to deplore them, is to assume one’s responsibilities; but to deny them and wash one’s hands, that’s just low.
Yet this is what happened almost immediately. In October 1911, the Duma was arrested by the Octobrists on the murky circumstances of the assassination of Stolypin. This provoked an immediate protest from the deputy Nisselovitch: why, when formulating their interpellation, did the Octobrists not conceal the fact that the murderer of Stolypin was Jewish? It was there, he declared, anti-Semitism!
I shall have to endure this incomparable argument myself. Seventy years later, I was the object of a heavy accusation on the part of the Jewish community in the United States: why, in my turn, did I not conceal, why did I say that the assassin of Stolypin was a Jew*? It does not matter if I have endeavoured to make a description as complete as possible. It does not matter what the fact of being Jew represented in the motivations of his act. No, non-dissimulation betrayed my anti-Semitism!!
At the time, Guchkov replied with dignity: “I think that there is much more anti-Semitism in Bogrov’s very act. I would suggest to the Deputy Nisselovitch that he should address his passionate words not to us but to his fellow co-religionists. Let him use all the force of his eloquence to convince them to keep away from two profane professions: that of spy in the service of the secret police and that of terrorist. He would thus render a much greater service to the members of his community!”76
But what can one ask of the Jewish memory when Russian history itself has allowed this murder to be effaced from its memory as an event without great significance, as a smear as marginal as it is negligible. It was only in the 80s that I started to pull it out of oblivion—for seventy years, to mention it was considered inappropriate.
As the years go by, more events and meanings come to our eyes.
More than once I have meditated on the whims of History: on the unpredictability of the consequences it raises on our path—I speak of the consequences of our actions. The Germany of William II opened the way for Lenin to destroy Russia, and twenty-eight years later it found itself divided for half a century.—Poland contributed to the strengthening of the Bolsheviks in the year 1919, which was so difficult for them, and it harvested 1939, 1944, 1956, 1980.—With what eagerness Finland helped Russian revolutionaries, she who could not bear, who did not suffer from the particular freedoms at her disposal—but within Russia—and, in return, she suffered forty years of political humiliation (“Finlandisation”).—In 1914, England wanted to put down the power of Germany, its competitor on the world stage, and it lost its position of great power, and it was the whole of Europe that had been destroyed. In Petrograd, the Cossacks remained neutral both in February and in October; a year later, they underwent their genocide (and many of the victims were these same Cossacks).—In the first days of July 1917, the S.-R. of the left approached the Bolsheviks, then formed a semblance of a “coalition”, a broad platform; a year later they were crushed as no autocracy could have had the means to do so.
These distant consequences, none of us are capable of foreseeing them, ever. The only way to guard against such errors is to always be guided by the compass of divine morality. Or, as the people say: “Do not dig a pit for others, you will fall into it yourself.”
Similarly, if the assassination of Stolypin had cruel consequences for Russia, the Jews neither derived any benefit from it.
Everyone can see things in his own way, but I see here the giant footsteps of History, and I am struck by the unpredictable character of its results.
Bogrov killed Stolypin, thus thinking of protecting the Jews from oppression. Stolypin would in any case have been removed from office by the Emperor, but he would surely have been recalled again in 1914-16 because of the dizzying deficiency in men able to govern; and under his government we would not have had such a lamentable end neither in the war nor in the revolution. (Assuming that with him in power we would have engaged in this war.)
First footstep of History: Stolypin is killed, Russia works its last nerves in war and lies under the heel of the Bolsheviks.
Second footstep: however fierce they are, the Bolsheviks reveal themselves as being more lame than the imperial government, abandoning half of Russia to the Germans a quarter of a century later, including Kiev.
Third footstep: the Nazis invest in Kiev without any difficulty and annihilate its Jewish community.
Again the city of Kiev, once again a month of September, but thirty years after Bogrov’s revolver shot.
And still in Kiev, still in 1911, six months before the assassination of Stolypin, had started what would become the Beilis affair*. There is good reason to believe that under Stolypin, justice would not have been degraded as such. One clue: one knows that once, examining the archives of the Department of Security, Stolypin came across a note entitled “The Secret of the Jews” (which anticipated the “Protocols”**), in which was discussed the “International Jewish plot”. Here is the judgement he made: “There may be logic, but also bias… The government cannot use under any circumstance this kind of method.”77 As a result, “the official ideology of the tsarist government never relied on the ‘Protocols’.”78
Thousands and thousands of pages have been written about the Beilis trial. Anyone who would like to study closely all the meanders of the investigation, of the public opinion, of the trial itself, would have to devote at least several years to it. This would go beyond the limits of this work. Twenty years after the event, under the Soviet regime, the daily reports of the police on the progress of the trial were published79; they can be commended to the attention of amateurs. It goes without saying that the verbatim record of the entire proceedings was also published. Not to mention the articles published in the press.
Andrei Yushchinsky, a 12-year-old boy, pupil of a religious institution in Kiev, is the victim of a savage and unusual murder: there are forty-seven punctures on his body, which indicate a certain knowledge of anatomy—they were made to the temple, to the veins and arteries of the neck, to the liver, to the kidneys, to the lungs, to the heart, with the clear intention of emptying him of his blood as long as he was still alive, and in addition—according to the traces left by the blood flow—in a standing position (tied and gagged, of course). It can only be the work of a very clever criminal who certainly did not act alone. The body was discovered only a week later in a cave on the territory of the factory of Zaitsev. But the murder was not committed there.
The first accusations do not refer to ritual motives, but the latter soon appears: the connection is made with the beginning of Jewish Passover and the construction of a new synagogue on the grounds of Zaitsev (a Jew). Four months after the murder, this version of the accusation leads to the arrest of Menahem Mendel Beilis, 37, employed at the Zaitsev factory. He is arrested without any real charges against him. How did all this happen?
The investigation into the murder was carried out by the criminal police of Kiev, a worthy colleague, obviously, of the Security section of Kiev, which had gotten tangled up in the Bogrov affair* and thus caused the loss of Stolypin. The work was entrusted to two nobodies in all respects similar to Kouliabko, Bogrov’s “curator”, Michtchouk, and Krassovsky, assisted by dangerous incompetents (they cleaned the snow in front of the cave to facilitate the passage of the corpulent commissioner of police, thus destroying any potential indications of the presence of the murderers). But worse still, rivalry settled between the investigators—it was to whom the merit of the discovery of the guilty person would be attributed, by whom the best version would be proposed—and they did not hesitate to get in each other’s way, to sow confusion in the investigation, to put pressure on the witnesses, to stop the competitor’s indicators; Krassovksy went so far as to put makeup on the suspect before introducing him to a witness! This parody of inquiry was conducted as if it were a trivial story, without the importance of the event even crossing their minds. When the trial finally opened, two and a half years later, Michtchouk had run off to Finland to escape the charge of falsification of material evidence, a significant collaborator of Krassovsky had also disappeared, and as for the latter, dismissed of his duties, he had switched sides and was now working for Beilis’s lawyers.
For nearly two years, we went from one false version to another; for a long time the accusation was directed to the family of the victim, until the latter was completely put out of the question. It became clearer and clearer that the prosecution was moving towards a formal accusation against Beilis and towards his trial.
He was therefore accused of murder—even though the charges against him were doubtful—because he was a Jew. But how was it possible in the twentieth century to inflate a trial to the point of making it a threat to an entire people? Beyond the person of Beilis, the trial turned in fact into an accusation against the Jewish people as a whole—and, since then, the atmosphere around the investigation and then the trial became superheated, the affair took on an international dimension, gained the whole of Europe, and then America. (Until then, trials for ritual murders had taken place rather in the Catholic milieu: Grodno (1816), Velij (1825), Vilnius, the Blondes case (1900), the Koutais affair (1878) took place in Georgia, Doubossar (1903) in Moldavia, while in Russia strictly speaking, there was only the Saratov affair in 1856. Sliosberg, however, does not fail to point out that the Saratov affair also had also a Catholic origin, while in Beilis’s case it was observed that the band of thieves who had been suspected at one time was composed of Poles, that the ritual crime expert appointed at the trial was a Catholic, and that the attorney Tchaplinski was also Polish.80)
The findings of the investigation were so questionable that they were only retained by the Kiev indictment chambre by three votes to two. While the monarchist right had sparked an extensive press campaign, Purishkevich expressed himself in the Duma in April 1911: “We do not accuse the Jews as a whole, we cry for the truth” about this strange and mysterious crime. “Is there a Jewish sect that advocates ritual murders…? If there are such fanatics, let them be stigmatised”; as for us, “we are fighting against many sects in Russia,” our own81, but at the same time he declared that, according to him, the affair would be stifled in the Duma by fear of the press. Indeed, at the opening of the trial, the right-wing nationalist Chulguine declared himself opposed to it being held and to the “miserable baggage” of the judicial authorities in the columns of the patriotic Kievian (for which he was accused by the extreme Right to be sold to the Jews). But, in view of the exceptionally monstrous character of the crime, no one dared to go back to the accusation in order to resume the investigation from scratch.
On the other side, the liberal-radicals also launched a public campaign relayed by the press, and not only the Russian press, but that of the whole world. The tension had reached a point of no return. Sustained by the partiality of the accusation, it only escalated, and the witnesses themselves were soon attacked. According to V. Rozanov, every sense of measure had been lost, especially in the Jewish press: “The iron fist of the Jew… falls on venerable professors, on members of the Duma, on writers…”82
However, the ultimate attempts to get the investigation back on track had failed. The stable near the Zaitsev factory, which was initially neglected by Krassovsky and then assumed to have been the scene of the crime, burned down two days before the date fixed for its examination by hasty investigators. A brazen journalist, Brazul-Brouchkovsky, conducted his own investigation assisted by the same Krassovsky, now released from his official duties. (It must be remembered that Bonch-Bruevich* published a pamphlet accusing Brazoul of venality.83) They put forward a version of the facts according to which the murder was allegedly committed by Vera Cheberyak, whose children frequented Andrei Yushchinsky, herself flirting with the criminal underworld. During their long months of inquiry, the two Cheberyak sons died under obscure circumstances; Vera accused Krassovsky of poisoning them, who in turn accused her of killing her own children. Ultimately, their version was that Yushchinsky had been killed by Cheberyak in person with the intention of simulating a ritual murder. She said that the lawyer Margoline had offered her 40,000 rubles to endorse the crime, which he denied at the trial even though he was subject at the same moment to administrative penalties for indelicacy.
Trying to disentangle the innumerable details of this judicial imbroglio would only make the understanding even more difficult. (It should also be mentioned that the “metis” of the revolution and the secret police were also involved. In this connection, mention should be made of the equivocal role and strange behaviour during the trial of Lieutenant-Colonel Gendarmerie Pavel Ivanov—the very one who, in defiance of all laws, helped Bogrov, already condemned to death, to write a new version of the reasons which would have prompted him to kill Stolypin, a version in which the full weight of responsibility fell on the organs of Security to which Ivanov did not belong.) The trial was about to open in a stormy atmosphere. It lasted a month: September-October 1913. It was incredibly heavy: 213 witnesses summoned to the bar (185) presented themselves, still slowed down by the procedural artifices raised by the parties involved; the prosecutor Vipper was not up to the standard of the group of brilliant lawyers—Gruzenberg, Karabtchevski, Maklakov, Zaroudny—who did not fail to demand that the blunders he uttered be recorded in the minutes, for example: the course of this trial is hampered by “Jewish gold”; “they [the Jews in general] seem to laugh at us, see, we have committed a crime, but no one will dare to hold us accountable.”84 (Not surprisingly, during the trial, Vipper received threatening letters—on some were drawn a slipknot—and not just him, but the civil parties, the expert of the prosecution, probably also the defence lawyers; the dean of the jury also feared for his life.) There was a lot of turmoil around the trial, selling passes for access to hearings, all of Kiev’s educated people were boiling. The man in the street, him, remained indifferent.
A detailed medical examination was carried out. Several professors spread their differences as to whether or not Yushchinsky had remained alive until the last wound, and how acute were the sufferings he had endured. But it was the theological-scientific expertise that was at the centre of the trial: it focused on the very principle of the possibility of ritual murders perpetrated by Jews, and it was on this that the whole world focused its attention.85 The defence appealed to recognised authorities in the field of Hebraism, such as Rabbi Maze, a specialist in the Talmud. The expert appointed by the Orthodox Church, Professor I. Troitsky of the Theological Academy of Petersburg, concluded his intervention by rejecting the accusation of an act of cold blood attributable to the Jews; he pointed out that the Orthodox Church had never made such accusations, that these were peculiar to the Catholic world. (Bikerman later recalled that in Imperial Russia the police officers themselves cut short “almost every year” rumours about the Christian blood shed during the Jewish Passover, “otherwise we would have had a ‘case of ritual murder’ not once every few decades, but every year.”86 The main expert cited by the prosecution was the Catholic priest Pranaitis. To extend the public debate, the prosecutors demanded that previous ritual murder cases be examined, but the defence succeeded in rejecting the motion. These discussions on whether the murder was ritual or not ritual only further increased the emotion that the trial had created through the whole world.
But it was necessary that a judgment should be pronounced—on this accused, and not another—and this mission went to a dull jury composed of peasants painfully supplemented by two civil servants and two petty bourgeois; all were exhausted by a month of trials, they fell asleep during the reading of the materials of the case, requested that the trial be shortened, four of them solicited permission to return home before its conclusion and some needed medical assistance.
Nevertheless, these jurors judged on the evidence: the accusations against Beilis were unfounded, not proved. And Beilis was acquitted.
And that was the end of it. No new search for the culprits was undertaken, and this strange and tragic murder remained unexplained.
Instead—and this was in the tradition of Russian weakness—it was imagined (not without ostentation) to erect a chapel on the very spot where the corpse of young Yushchinsky had been discovered, but this project provoked many protests, because it was judged reactionary. And Rasputin dissuaded the tsar from following up on it.87
This trial, heavy and ill-conducted, with a white-hot public opinion for a whole year, in Russia as in the rest of the world, was rightly considered a battle of Tsou-Shima.* It was reported in the European press that the Russian government had attacked the Jewish people, but that it was not the latter that had lost the war, it was the Russian State itself.
As for the Jews, with all their passion, they were never to forgive this affront of the Russian monarchy. The fact that the law had finally triumphed did nothing to change their feelings.
It would be instructive, however, to compare the Beilis trial with another that took place at the same time (1913-15) in Atlanta, USA; a trial which then made great noise: the Jew Leo Frank, also accused of the murder of a child (a girl raped and murdered), and again with very uncertain charges. He was condemned to be hung, and during the proceedings of cassation an armed crowd snatched him from his prison and hanged him.88 On the individual level, the comparison is in favour of Russia. But the Leo Frank affair had but little echo in public opinion, and did not become an object of reproach.
There is an epilogue in the Beilis case.
“Threatened with revenge by extreme right-wing groups, Beilis left Russia and went to Palestine with his family. In 1920 he moved to the United States. He died of natural causes, at the age of sixty, in the vicinity of New York.89
Justice Minister Shcheglovitov (according to some sources, he had “given instructions for the case to be elucidated as a ritual murder”90) was shot by the Bolsheviks.
In 1919 the trial of Vera Cheberyak took place. It did not proceed according to the abhorred procedures of tsarism—no question of popular jury!—and lasted only about forty minutes in the premises of the Cheka of Kiev. A member of the latter, who was arrested in the same year by the Whites, noted in his testimony that “Vera Cheberyak was interrogated exclusively by Jewish Chekists, beginning with Sorine” [the head of the Blumstein Cheka]. Commander Faierman “subjected her to humiliating treatment, ripped off her clothes and struck her with the barrel of his revolver… She said: ‘You can do whatever you want with me, but what I said, I will not come back on it… What I said at the Beilis trial, nobody pushed me to say it, nobody bribed me…’” She was shot on the spot.91
In 1919, Vipper, now a Soviet official, was discovered in Kaluga and tried by the Moscow Revolutionary Tribunal. The Bolshevik prosecutor Krylenko pronounced the following words: “Whereas he presents a real danger to the Republic… that there be one Vipper less among us!” (This macabre joke suggested that R. Vipper, a professor of medieval history, was still alive.) However, the Tribunal merely sent Vipper “to a concentration camp… until the communist regime be definitively consolidated.”92 After that, we lose his track.
Beilis was acquitted by peasants, those Ukrainian peasants accused of having participated in the pogroms against the Jews at the turn of the century, and who were soon to know the collectivisation and organised famine of 1932-33—a famine that journalists have ignored and that has not been included in the liabilities of this regime.
Here is yet another of these footsteps of History…