Open main menu

Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1702/The Jews in the East

From The Saturday Review.


A great gathering of the leading Jews of Europe was held a few days ago at Paris, under the presidency of M. Crémieux. The race was represented by delegates from most European states, the attendance of Austrian and German Jews being exceptionally large. Jewish intelligence and Jewish wealth came in all their force to do battle for some of the most wretched of the many wretched members of the Jewish community. The meeting had been called together to draw the attention of Europe to the wrongs which Jews habitually undergo in the tributary states of European Turkey. In Turkey itself the Jews have no special cause of complaint. They are not on an equality with the Mahomedans, but they are treated like all the subject populations of the Porte. They are tolerated, and in religious matters left to themselves; and if they are misgoverned, and are often the victims of officials and policemen, they do but share the fortunes of all Christians and many Mahomedans; and as they do not meddle with politics, and find the Turks very considerate as rulers in comparison with many Christian governments, they have no antipathy to the Turks, and are regarded by the Turks without aversion and with a kind of contemptuous friendliness. But they have very good reason for thinking that, if the Christians got the upper hand in any part of European Turkey, they would be cruelly persecuted. Semi-barbarian Christians are far more tyrannical in their fanaticism than the Turks are, and how they govern and how they persecute the Jews know by painful experience in Servia and Roumania. These wretched little states are dependent enough to need that Europe shall continually nurse them and protect them from the consequences of their own rashness, but independent enough to contend that persecution is one of their own internal affairs, and that they must be allowed to carry it on in their own way. And, as it is their fancy to persecute, they certainly indulge their fancy in a most comfortable and thorough way. They hate the Jews, and take every means to show their hatred. The Paris meeting drew up a memorial on the subject of the persecutions of the Jews in Roumania and Servia to be presented to all the great powers; and the memorial was formally presented to Lord Derby, by Baron de Worms and Mr. Serjeant Simon. Lord Derby, and through him the English public, was invited to take notice of what the treatment of Jews in those provinces has been and is. We are told of synagogues burnt, of Jews thrust into the water by Roumanian soldiers using their bayonets and the butt-ends of their muskets, of murders, ravishment, expulsion of whole families in the midst of the winter, exclusion from trade, and general reduction to beggary. "Every crime," as Serjeant Simon stated, "committed by Bashi-Bazouks in Bulgaria has been practised by Christians upon Israelites in Roumania; the barbarity has only been on a smaller scale." The scale, no doubt, makes a great deal of difference. If only ten Bulgarians had been massacred at Batak, as there were only ten Jews drowned by the soldiers at Galatz, Europe would have heard and thought nothing of the Bulgarian atrocities. But as an indication of the spirit in which government is carried on in Servia and Roumania, and as it would be carried on if fresh Christian tributary provinces were carved out of European Turkey, the murder of ten Jews by servants of the government is as instructive as the murder of a hundred would be. It is a crying wrong which Europe in one way or another ought to find the means to remedy.

It is interesting to inquire why the Jews are so hated and persecuted in Servia and Roumania — that is, in countries where Christianity presents itself in its lowest form. It is not so very long since Jews were treated with a very imperfect degree of toleration in most European countries, and it has evidently required that a Christian nation should be something more than Christian, and have reached a high degree of civilization, before it will really consider Jews on an equality with Christians. It would have seemed very strange to Englishmen of the last generation to see a Jew master of the rolls, and even now no Jew can sit in the House of Lords. Practically, however, there is now complete toleration of the Jews in France and Austria, and almost complete toleration of them in Germany and England. The first cause of the hatred of the Jews was of course the religious one. They were in Christian eyes an accursed race, who had despised and rejected the founder of Christianity. When this special cause of animosity had lost something of its force through the increased intercourse of the Christian with the non-Christian world, the Jews fell into the general rank of the unorthodox. This is the light in which they are at this day regarded in Russia. They share the general condemnation of those who refuse to dwell in the light of the Greek Church. They are treated as an iron and relentless despotism treats those who do not please it; and, like the Roman Catholics, are kept down, harassed, and worried by all the arts of bureaucratic ingenuity. Russia, backward as it is, does not go further than this; but in Roumania and Servia other feelings are allowed to come into play. There the Jews are hated, not only because they are not Christians, but because they are an alien race, keeping to themselves, having their own traditions and customs, marrying among themselves, and seeming like wanderers encamped on a territory which does not belong to them. They rouse the distrust which gipsies pitching their tents on a wayside green rouse in the breasts of English villagers. In accordance with this view, the Roumanian courts have held that a Jew cannot be considered a Moldavian or Wallachian by birth, and therefore that the clause in the constitution by which the affairs of the principalities are regulated, providing that all persons born Wallachians or Moldavians shall be regarded as civilly equal, does not apply to the Jews. The Roumanian government has even gone so far as to insist that the subjects of those countries with which it has concluded treaties of commerce shall, if Jews, not reap the benefits of those treaties; so that, whereas an Austrian or an English Christian is entitled to hold land or trade in the principalities, an Austrian or an English Jew is not. In the eyes of a Roumanian there is not, and cannot be, any such person as an Austrian Jew or a Roumanian Jew. All Jews are born, live, and die as aliens to every government. Lastly, these barbarous Christians are afraid of the commercial cleverness of the Jews. They do not see how they are to do business if Jews compete with them. One of the greatest causes of offence which the Jews have given is that they have offered to lend money at lower rates than the native usurers would take. Accordingly the Jews are kept out of every branch of trade by which it was thought they would thrive. They may not sell drugs, or liquors, or tobacco, or raw articles, or colonial produce. This prohibition reduces them to something like starvation, but it is really only an instance of protection gone mad. That the laws should be so shaped as to injure the consumer, and that the energy of those who could do business well should be debarred a field in order that those who do business badly may flourish, is the basis of protection all over the world; and if the Jews are once looked on as aliens, they are logically excluded as foreign interlopers. That they happen to live in the same country with the protectionists, and must starve before their eyes if protection asserts itself to the full, is only an accident in the development of a great principle.

Lord Derby received the Jewish deputation with every mark of cordial concurrence of opinion, and promised that what he could do to further their wishes should be done. So far as Turkey goes, everything is easy. England is certainly not going to interfere in Turkey in order to make the condition of the Jews worse than it is. It will not acquiesce in any settlement which will enable people on a level with the Servians to treat Jews as Jews are treated in Servia. If good government is introduced, it must be a government good for Christians, Jews, and Mahomedans alike. But how to get at Servia and Roumania seemed to Lord Derby a more difficult matter. Something may be done, perhaps, whenever there is an opportunity of concluding or revising a treaty of commerce. We do not regard Jews here in England as aliens, and we need not accept any treaty with a country which says that, in its eyes, English Jews are not Englishmen. But there are very few English Jews who dream of settling or trading in Roumania. With us, therefore, the question is merely a theoretical one. It is not so with Austria. There Jews abound, and a few steps would take them from Austrian into Roumanian territory. It is a matter of considerable importance to Austrian Jews that they should be allowed to hold land and trade on the Roumanian side of the frontier. Austria has every motive for not allowing its treaty of commerce to be construed in the Roumanian sense; and the most practical thing that England can do is to uphold Austria in its contention. But it may be doubted whether this is all that we can do and ought to do. Why do we interfere in European Turkey? Because we say that European Turkey exists through our countenance and assistance, and when we countenance and assist we have a right to insist on good government. What is true of Turkey is still more conspicuously true at this moment of Servia. Why is Servia to pay none of the penalties of defeat in war? and, although utterly at the mercy of its enemy, is even to receive an accession of territory at her expense? Simply because it is countenanced, assisted, and protected by the great powers. It is to them that Servia now owes its national existence. In a country that is not so much under our wing as absolutely our creature, we have as much right to insist on what we think to be good government as we can possibly have in European Turkey. The Servians are at the mercy of Europe, which can treat them as it pleases, and the call of duty to protect the Jews in Servia is quite as strong as it is to protect the Christians in Turkey. There is no reason why the Servians should be so petted and favored that they shall retain the luxury of persecution; and if the Jews were adequately protected in Servia by a formal covenant with Europe, the pressure of so striking an example would inevitably tell before long on Roumania.