London (Apr. 27)
Fifty years ago to-day, the first pogrom occurred at Elizabethgrad, starting the terrible series of massacres of Jews that swept over the Russian Empire, and ultimately broke open the floodgates to the stream of Jewish emigration which has built up the great Jewish centre of 4Â½ million people in the United States and big Jewish settlements in England, Germany, France, South Africa, and other countries.
Czar Alexander II had been assassinated by Nihilists in the midst of his reformist activities, among which were the measures admitting Jews to the high schools and universities, and giving Jewish university graduates, wholesale merchants, manufacturers and artisans the privilege of residing outside the pale. The Jews deeply mourned the death of the benevolent Czar and liberator. Nevertheless, the participation of a few Jewish youths in the Nihilist activities was made the pretext for a campaign to induce the Russian people to believe that the Jews as a whole had been concerned in the conspiracy which had resulted in the murder of Alexander II. Soon after his son, Alexander III. had ascended the throne, the first pogrom broke out at Elizabethgrad on April 27th. and 28th. and during the following six months pogroms occurred in 160 other places in Southern Russia. Thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, many families reduced to destitution, women were outraged and large numbers of men, women and children were killed or injured.
It was clear, the Jewish Encyclopaedia says, that the riots were premeditated. To give one example, a week before the pogrom broke out in Kiev, the Chief of Police of Kiev warned some of his Jewish friends of the chief of Police of Kiev warned some of his Jewish friends of the coming riots. Appeals to the authorities for protection were of no avail. All the police did was to prevent the Jews from defending their homes, families and property. To a delegation of the Jews of Kiev, the Governor-General, Drentelen, said that he could do nothing for them. For the sake of a few Jews he would not endanger the lives of his soldiers.
The pogroms aroused the indignation of all Europe. Meetings were held by the citizens of London, New York, and other cities, expressing sympathy with the persecuted Jews in the Russian Empire and protesting in the name of civilisation against the spirit of medieval persecution revived in Russia. The only response to these appeals was the issue of the May Laws, which made the condition of the Russian Jews almost unbearable.
At the Guildhall meeting in London in 1890, it was resolved “that a suitable memorial be presented to the Emperor of all the Russias respectfully praying His Majesty to repeal all the exceptional and restrictive laws and disabilities which affect his Jewish subjects and begging His Majesty to confer upon them equal rights with those enjoyed by the rest of His Majesty’s subjects”. This memorial was not even read by the Czar, and was returned unopened through the Foreign Office to the Lord Mayor of London.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews left Russia for England, America, Palestine and other countries, with incalculable consequences to Jewish history. The doors of America were wide open to the refugees; the President of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (Hias) said when he spoke last month at the annual meeting of his organisation in New York at which the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Jewish mass immigration to America was being commemorated. The Godess of Liberty, holding aloft the flaming Torch of Freedom, he went on, welcomed the refugees. These defenceless men, women and children, fleeing from man’s inhumanity to man, hoped to find, and did find, here the opportunities and the peace denied them in their native country. In 1881 the total Jewish population of the United States was 250,000 out of a total of 45 million. Today, he said, there are approximately 4Â½ million Jews out of a general population of more than 120 million.