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Minutes of Czarist Cabinet Disclose Startling Details of Period of Anti-jewish Persecutions During T

October 3, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

(Jewish Telegraphic Agency Mail Service)

A graphic picture of the growing concern with which the Russian Czarist Government was, during the war, beginning to regard the Jewish question in Russia and trying at its Cabinet meetings to find ways for internal and international reasons of putting a stop to the anti-Jewish activities of the General Command and generally of easing the position of the Jewish population in Russia, is given in the minutes of the secret meetings of the Russian cabinet held between July 16 and September 2, 1915, which have just been published in the eighteenth volume, the latest to appear, of the archives of the Russian Revolution. The minutes have been compiled for the archives by the ex-Assistant Secretary of the Cabinet, A. N. Yachontov from the records he took during the meetings of the Cabinet.


From the beginning of our retreat, Yachontov writes, our Cabinet constantly had to deal with questions concerning the Jews. At army headquarters they were convinced that the Jewish population in the areas around the Front were all spies and friends of the enemy. That gave rise to the idea of evacuating the Jews from the Front areas. The work of evacuation was started in Galicia. The authorities behind the Front evacuated by force tens of thousands of Austrian Jews into the interior of Russia. They were driven out in herds, irrespective of age or sex. There were sick, crippled, and women with children among the refugees who were expelled from their homes in masses.

The news of the evacuation and the acts of violence by which it was accompanied spread all over Russia and abroad. Influential Russian Jews began to protest. The Allied Governments too protested and drew attention to the dangers which would result of such a policy. The Ministry of Finance found itself faced with difficulties in carrying out its financial operations. The Cabinet by word of mouth through the President of the Cabinet and through several of the Ministers as well as in writing tried to get the Commander-in-Chief and General Yanushkevitch to see the necessity of stopping this persecution of the Jews and of withdrawing the accusation of mass treason made against them. Internal and international reasons, it was explained to them. made it imperative to stop the evacuation. But army headquarters turned a deaf ear to all the entreaties of the Cabinet. In fact when our retreat made it necessary to evacuate also some of the Russian provinces, the forced evacuation of the Jewish population was carried out first in Courland and then in other places and special troops were appointed to supervise the evacuations. The things that were done in the course of this evacuation baffle description. Even avowed anti-Semites were shocked and made complaints and protests to the Government against the terrible ill-treatment of the Jews in the Front zone. Life became simply unbearable in those places of the Jewish Pale where the refugees driven out by the military were herded together with the native Jewish population. The whole area was affected by a succession of severe crises-shortage of food, shortage of housing, and infectious diseases began to spread. Feeling grew to be dangerous. The Jews were incensed and the native population was wild with fury against the refugees who had been forced upon them as intruders and who came there under the stigma of being traitors and spies. The Jewish intellectuals and Russian Society were outraged. The Press, the Parliamentary groups, many organizations and important representatives of Russian Jewry all united in demanding the stoppage of these mass persecutions. In the allied countries and in America proclamations were issued appealing for help for the suffering Jews in Russia and protest meetings were held against the policy of the Russian Government. This resulted in setting up fresh difficulties in the way of our obtaining credits both in the country and abroad. Matters became especially difficult in this respect in the United States which at that time was growing increasingly influential as the bankers of Europe at war.


The Minister of the Interior, Prince N. B. Shtcherbatov, realizing the extent of the crisis, rose at a meeting of the Cabinet and declared that it was essential to find a way of easing this difficult situation. All our efforts to bring army headquarters to reason are without effect, the Prince said. All of use, collectively and individually, have spoken, written, complained, implored, but the all-powerful Yanushkevitch does not think himself bound by reasons of State. It is part of his plan to keep alive in the army the feeling of prejudice against all Jews, and to accuse the Jews of being the real cause of the defeats at the Front. This policy is bringing its results in the shape of a pogromist agitation among the soldiers. I don’t like saying it, but as we are among ourselves I will not hide my suspicion that the Jews are to Yanushkevitch one of those alibi which Krivosheine mentioned last time. However that may be. we, it seems, have no means of combating this evil at the root and we have to find a way of diminishing its evil influence in the interests of the State. Even if army headquarters were now to give orders to stop the persecutions against the Jews, the evil had already gone so far that we would be unable to do anything without taking very drastic steps. At the present moment the situation is as follows:

Hundreds of thousands of Jews of all sexes, ages and social position have been driven out from their homes and are being driven eastwards from the Front area. To settle this great mass on the outskirts of the Jewish Pale is not only difficult, but impossible. The local Governors report that their provinces are filled to capacity and if there is any further influx they will not be able to answer for the safety of the new refugees, because of the general excitement among the population and the pogrom agitation carried on especially by the soldiers who are returning from the Front. Not only local, but also general economic and sanitary reasons, demand a thinning out of the population. This makes it necessary to settle the forcibly evacuated Jews outside the Pale. I must say that even now this prohibited line is in many cases violated. Pupils of the middle and high schools evacuated from the occupied territories, Jewish soldiers-those who have been awarded the Cross of St. George and have been wounded and other elements are being expelled everywhere. There are also many cases of Jews living outside the Pale by bribing the police, but in many cases the violations of the law are permitted knowingly by the Ministry itself, for the law was issued during the time of peace and we are now living in conditions of catastrophe and have to adapt ourselves to the unexpected demands of the time. Single exceptions cannot overcome the evil or in any way render the crisis less acute. The fact remains a fact.


The leaders of Russian Jewry demand steps of a general and legal nature to ease the position of their coreligionists. During my conversations with them I have been told that the revolutionary movement is gaining a hold among the Jewish masses, that people are in the last stages of despair, that it is becoming more difficult to fight against the tendencies of active self-defence, that big disorders are expected, and so on. I was also told that people abroad are losing patience and that it is very possible that Russia will not be able to raise a kopek of credit. In other words their demands are assuming almost the character of an ultimatum. If you want to have money for the carrying on of the war, then… The demand is made that the Government should issue an Act which by making easier the position of the Jewish refugees should also serve as a rehabilitation of the Jewish masses who have been stamped as traitors. I do not doubt that the Minister of Finance will support my proposal to issue at once a Government Act to suspend temporarily the law of the Pale of Settlement, that is to say, to give a definite form to what already partly exists. If we agree to do this, we shall also have to make use of it politically: we shall have to call together the Jewish leaders and put certain demands to them-we come to meet you, and you please exert your influence of calm the Jewish masses and then we will consider any further steps that are to be taken. But we must hasten so that we should not be too late, otherwise the importance of this gesture will be lost and we shall not be able to obtain anything by it. From the practical point of view there is one thing which still remains doubtful, namely, how far should the Jews be allowed to leave the Pale. Should we allow them to settle in the towns outside the Pale, or also on the land and the villages. I would advise that we keep to the first only. The police force has grown so weak that it would be very difficult for them to manage the situation in the towns. In the villages there could be practically no supervision at all.


I support whole-heartedly the proposal of the Minister for the Interior, said Prince V.N. Shachovskoi. I do not want to consider the principle of the matter now, for the time has come when principles have to be disregarded. The political side of the matter has been fully explained to us by Prince Shtcherbatov. I would like to say only this, that the solution of the Jewish question one way or another is most important to us from the point of view of trade and commerce. You know that the evacuation has resulted also in the evacuation of a great many commercial, industrial and artisan enterprises. These are now all crowded together in small areas and it is making still more difficult the already difficult question of labor: it is making more acute the shortage of raw materials and business is gradually going to pieces. The losses of national capital are irretrievable. I would like to point out that the admission of Jews only into the towns would not solve the question because the factories and workshops are compelled in many cases to seek refuge in villages and as the majority of the evacuated enterprises are Jewish, serious difficulties would arise which would greatly weaken the economic importance of our proposal.


The Finance Minister who is at present engaged in the Duma, M. Krivosheine said, and will have no time to come to our meeting today, has asked me to inform you of his absolute agreement with the Minister for the Interior as to the absolute necessity of taking measures for the solution of the Jewish question and the desirability of passing an Act which will have a demonstrative significance not only in Russia, but also abroad. Kamenka, Baron Guenzburg and Varshavsky came the other day to M. Bark to tell him that it is becoming exceedingly difficult to place Government securities, that the internal loan has failed, that financial circles abroad are hostile to Russia and that everywhere people are outraged at the way the Jews are being treated. They did not hide the fact that the improvement of our financial operations depended to a considerable degree on a change of our policy with regard to the Jewish question. They further declared that they blame the Government for what is happening at the Front, that they expect the Government to do something to carry out their humanitarian demands. In short our conversation could be summed up as follows: You give and will give. This is the position into which the Government has been placed by Messrs. Yanushkevitch & Co. A knife has been put to our throat and we can do nothing. The Finance Minister comes to the same conclusions for financial reasons as the Minister for the Interior for Interior reasons. It is absolutely imperative to make a demonstrative act with regard to the Jewish question, and the sooner the better. If we do not act now, we may have to grant even more at a time less propitious. We must not drag along at the tail of events. We must take the bull by the horns. At present we are asked very politely and we can demand certain conditions. We have to put an openly worded ultimatum to the leaders of the Jews: We give you an alteration of the regulations concerning the Pale and a very important alteration too, and you please give us financial aid on the Russian market and abroad and help us with regard to the Press which is almost completely under the influence of Jewish capital so that it should change its revolutionary tone. If such an ultimatum is not accepted (which I do not believe) we shall have to take heroic measures to increase the capacity of the foreign market and we shall have to demand more assistance from our Allies.


M. Sazonov said: “The Allies too depend on Jewish capital and their reply will be to demand first of all that we should make peace with the Jews.”

Prince N. B. Shtcherbatov: “We are in a vicious circle. We are helpless, for the money is in the hands of the Jews and without them we shall not find a single kopek, and without money we cannot carry on the war.”

I. L. Goremykin: “We have to admit that we must make concessions. The question is how far. The Premier proposes that the Jews be allowed to live in the towns only and not in the villages outside the Pale.”

Prince Shtcherbatov: “I quite agree. We can give a very convincing reason. As I have already told you, in the villages there is a growing pogrom movement. Against that we cannot protest the Jews.”

S. V. Ruchlov, the Minister for Mines and Transport was the only one to speak against the proposal: “The whole of Russia,” he said, “is suffering from the war, and the Jews are the first to obtain alleviation. Somehow, my conscience does not allow me to agree to it.”

The Procuror of the Holy Synod, A. D. Samarin, said that he “fully understands the feeling of protest which was aroused in the soul of Serge Dimitrievitch (Ruchlov), but he agrees to Shtcherbatov’s proposal.”

The State Controller, P. A. Kharitonov, made the following remark: “But don’t you gentlemen fear any complications from the side of the police? For are we not depriving the police of a splendid source of income? The pristavs and the rest of them will declare a strike in protest against this intimidation by the Government or they will organize pogroms to show that this new state of things will not be agreed to by fullblooded Russians.”


At the next meeting of the Cabinet held on August 6, 1915, I. L. Goremykin informed the Cabinet that he had told the Emperor of the measures discussed at the last meeting of the Cabinet with regard to the Jewish question. The Emperor had given his consent in principle to the measure to permit the Jews to live in the towns outside the Pale. A debate took place with regard to the wording of the future “Act.” A. V. Krivoshiene expressed himself against any discussion of details. “The present situation, he said, demands quick and demonstrative action. Let us hasten. We cannot fight Germany and the Jews at the same time. Although General Yanush-kevitch is of a different opinion, I maintain that these two wars have to be fought at different times.”

I. L. Goremykin thought that the question had been exhausted. “It means, therefore,” he said, “that the Cabinet empowers the Ministry for the Interior to issue at once on the basis of Article 158 a circular permitting the Jews to live in the towns outside the Pale with the exception of the capitals and those places under the authority of the Court Ministry and the Ministry for War as long as the War lasts.”

S. D. Sasonov said: “As Minister for Foreign Affairs I welcome the decision. It will help me very much in my communications with the Allies who have been of late very much who have of late been very much worse with regard to the Jewish question in Russia and have been prone to regard it as a serious danger to our common interests. I know from a well-informed source that Leopold Rothschild demands nothing more than that the Jews shall be allowed to live in the towns.”

T. L. Bark: “I could add that the French Rothschilds are far from demanding absolute equality of rights. They want from us an Act sufficiently effective which would even for a short time quieten the more excited minds among Jewry abroad and would enable them to carry through the necessary credit operations. I want to point out that the Rothschilds are sincerely desirous of helping the Allies to defeat Germany. It is characteristic that Kitchener has many times said that one of the most important conditions for the successful outcome of the War is the amelioration of the position of the Jews in Russia.”

The “Act” was signed at the meeting of the Cabinet which took place on August 9th. S. V. Ruchlov refused to sign it, declaring that his conscience did not allow him to do so. The other Ministers signed the Act and several said in doing so that they did it against their own wish and only because of the War.

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