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Jews and Poles Oppressed by the Tsar. Insights into Jewish Business Advantages. Jews Have Expelled Other Jews,

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

This work follows a lachrymose approach to the Jews of 19th-century tsarist Russia, but is also cognizant of the sufferings of the Poles. (My review is based on the 1970 reprint of the original 1892 edition).



Interestingly, author Harold Frederic wrote of 6 million Jews in danger of expulsion, beginning in 1890. (p. 150). [This adds to other examples where the figure of six million Jews came up—decades before the Nazi Holocaust.]

I focus on some items of particular interest.

JEWISH AND RUSSIAN BUSINESS HABITS CONTRASTED

After noting that the Russian tradesman is prone to mark a fifty- or sixty-percent profit on this goods, Frederic quips, (quote) The Jew, on the other hand, comprehends to its utmost the value of turning his money as rapidly as possible, and he has a real delight in activity. He will sell each week at a profit of 10 or 5 percent a stock of goods as big as that which cumbers the Russian’s store for six months. If 5 percent is not forthcoming, he will take less, down to the lowest margin which will effect a sale and return something. (unquote)(p. 99). Unfortunately, Frederic does not go deep enough. He does not, for example, factor the commercial family ties that enabled Jews to acquire and sell a large volume of goods--at low profit per item.

YIDDISH GIVES JEWS A DECISIVE BUSINESS ADVANTAGE OVER NON-JEWS

Frederic clarifies this, (quote) The importance of this it is impossible to exaggerate. The poorest and lowliest Russian, Polish, Bohemian, or Hungarian Jew, through his Jiddish [Yiddish], knows enough of German to transact business in it. This gives him an enormous advantage, with strangers, over his neighbors who speak only the outlandish language of the country. But of course it also makes him all the more hated by those neighbors. (unquote)(p. 92).

EXPULSIONS OF JEWS FROM TOWNS, CODEPENDENCIES, AND THE JEWS RETURN

The author points out this apparent paradox: Christian merchants were the ones petitioning for the expulsions of Jews, and later, with local commerce suffering, the ones begging for the petition to be revoked. (p. 84). (This, of course, repeated itself many times in history, and not just in Russia.) Again, Frederic does not go deep enough. He does not, for example, factor the commercial dependencies that Jews had created. These dependencies had made it very difficult for non-Jewish merchants to learn to function independently of Jewish commercial activity.

JEWS HAVE EXPELLED OTHER JEWS

Frederic quips, (quote) Even queerer is the record of how, in 1829, the Karaim Jews of Trok [Troki, Trakai], in the Government of Wilna [Wilno, Vilnius], obtained a decree expelling the other Jews from the town. We see that the basis alike of antagonism and concession was economic. (unquote)(pp. 84-85).

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THE BRUTAL TSARIST RUSSIAN RULE OVER POLAND

Frederic comments, (quote) In Poland, the brute Gourko [Iosif Gurko] instituted a reign of terror novel even in that unhappy land. In mid-winter [1890] 14,000 Polish engineers, conductors, firemen, and mail clerks on the railways were summarily thrown out of employment, and the decree was posted up that henceforth none but Russians should be allowed to work on Polish railways…Poles who dared to comment upon these outrageous measures were knouted to death, or marched publicly in chains off to Siberia. The huge and ever-increasing Army of Occupation—already furnishing in Poland one soldier for every twelve men, women, and children of the civic population—assumed fresh license to plunder, maltreat, and outrage the people in imitation of their General. Poles cannot trust themselves to talk of the horrors which since Christmas of 1890 have been their portion. I have myself been told by eye-witnesses… (unquote)(pp. 181-182).

THE CONFISCATION OF POLISH LANDED ESTATES BY THE TSARIST RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES

Kiev, despite being severed from Poland for multiple centuries, had retained a large Polish presence until at least the late 19th-century. Frederic describes the de-Polonization of the Kiev area, (quote) Kieff [Kiev] and the district to which it gives its name really belonged to Old Poland. There is a large Catholic element in the city. Many ancient families of the Polish nobility hold big estates in the country roundabout—or did until with the last few years. For generations cruel Russian laws have existed for the purpose of breaking up these estates and preventing the children of the Polish owners from inheriting them, but until recently the officials were bribed to let them remain a dead letter. With the rise to power of Pobiedonostseff [Konstantin Pobedonostsev] this parleying came to an end. (unquote)(p. 259).
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