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The Russian Jew Under Tsars And Soviets

jan peczkis|Monday, June 25, 2012

A Gloomy Portrayal of Jews in Tsarist Russia and the USSR; Jewish Boycott Irony, etc., This review is from: The Russian Jew Under Tsars And Soviets (Paperback) In contrast with some of his other books, Baron takes a rather lachrymose-history viewpoint in this one. (If accurate, it adds to the refutation of the argument that the pro-Russian, and later pro-Communist, orientation of Polish Jews owed to a pro-Jewish Russian mindset.) Owing to its breadth, I can only touch on a few topics.


Baron indirectly confirms Dmowski on the "so-called Litvaks (Litwaks)". In 1816-1913, the high Jewish birthrate combined with migration from the northwest led to the Jewish population of Congress Poland rising from 7.8 to 14.97%--thus increasing 822% against the Poles' 381%. (p. 64).

The author briefly mentions pogroms. Interestingly, Baron cites indirect evidence for Russian planning and staging of the Christmas Day, 1881, Warsaw pogrom: "Here, too, some Russians were the chief instigators; one of the arrested, a former Russian colonel, was found in possession of a detailed list of Jewish shops singled out for pillage." (pp. 44-45).

In 1897, 97% of Russia's Jews spoke Yiddish. (p. 226). Jewish separatism and particularism was demanded, for instance, by the Bund, which was anti-clerical (p. 150), called for Jews to be granted national-cultural autonomy (p. 144), and to be recognized as a full-fledged nationality, on par with, for instance, the Poles. (p. 143).

Baron mentions the contradictions of anti-Semites, who variously attack the Jews for being nationalists (Zionists) as well as for being internationalists (Marxists), and variously as freethinkers as well as "too religious". (p. 145). Ironically, these contradictions also played out within the Jewish community. For instance, the Bund first promoted Marxian internationalism before emphasizing Jewish national autonomy. (p. 142). The Poale Zion advocated that Jewish workers ally themselves with both the Zionist World Organization AND the Socialist International. (p. 149). Both socialists and Zionists promoted secularism. (p. 150). Religious Jews, tending to be apolitical (if not anti-political) and anti-Zionist, nevertheless formed a pro-Zionist movement among themselves. (p. 151).

Long before Poles started boycotting Jews, the reverse had been taking place. Baron notes: "...illustrative of the basic trends everywhere. In 1810 the Jewish tailors of Lodz successfully fought off the incursion of non-Jewish competitors. Fifteen years later we find the first 2 Christian tailors in the city." (p. 82). The self-perpetuation of Jewish monopolies also occurred passively: Jewish communities embraced Jewish tailors for socioreligious reasons, and Jewish factories employed Jewish workers. (p. 88).

Influential foreign Jews such as the banker Gerson Bleichroeder, Bismarck's trusted advisor, philanthropist Baron de Hirsch (p. 50), and many entrepreneurial local Jews (pp. 88-on), had a major impact on tsarist Russia. [This also meant that Jews understandably increasingly acquired a stake in the perpetuation of the status quo, and, by implication, the non-resurrection of subjugated Poland.]

Although Baron does not mention this, Polish fears of a literal Judeopolonia had a rational basis. For instance, Israel Zangwill and some other Zionists suggested that Jews colonize ANY territory (not necessarily Palestine) in order to make it into a new Jewish homeland. (p. 150). [Since foreign-ruled Poland already had a large fraction of the world's Jews, why then not convert Poland into a new Jewish state under the auspices of the ruling powers?]

Ironic to the much-condemned Dmowski-led Endek boycotts of Jews in the wake of the 1912 Duma election, Jews themselves had conducted earlier boycotts--against their own. Baron comments: "Jews actively participated in the elections to the First Duma (Parliament), voting wherever advisable for Jewish candidates and elsewhere throwing the weight of their ballots on the side of liberals and moderate labor leaders. The Jewish socialists, however, boycotted the election...Despite the boycott the Jews succeeded in electing twelve of their own coreligionists to the Duma..." (p. 59). [Evidently, to some, if Jews boycott Jews, it is a nonissue but if Poles boycott Jews, then it is a horrible anti-Semitic act.]

Fast forward to WWII. Jewish and non-Jewish Communists tried creatively to explain away the unexpected Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939-1941: "Yet the Jewish officials active in the `information services' of the Soviet Union, domestically and internationally, strained all their ingenuity to explain this new turn as but a part of Marxian dialectics which, though transcending the reasoning capacities of average men, was fully comprehended by the superior minds of the Soviet regime and the Third International." (p. 249). The substantive (not merely tactical) nature of the Nazi-Communist alliance is illustrated by the fact that the USSR sent to Nazi Germany no less than 500,000 tons of phosphates, 900,000 tons of oil products, 1,500,000 tons of grain, and even rubber and zinc purchased from German-enemy England. (p. 249).

In post-WWII USSR (as in Poland), the wartime devastation had caused a housing shortage (as in Poland), and this was a factor in locals' hostility towards Jews returning to reclaim their property (as in Poland). The new owners had acquired the properties by having bribed the Nazi or Communist officials. (p. 266). Comment Comment | Permalink
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