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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.2 (2002) 217-254

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The "Jewish Policy" of the Late Imperial War Ministry:
The Impact of the Russian Right

Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern

"The Talmud provides us with innumerable passages that make clear how observant Jews should avoid the fulfillment of any promise or any oath. The Jews mock and jeer at oaths. Now, if a soldier does not respect an oath, violates an oath, and even considers that his religious cult approves his scorn of an oath, it is obvious that we can get nothing but evil from him... It is shocking that the War Ministry hesitates to cut this sore out of the noble pure body of the Imperial Russian Army." 1 This harsh assessment of the role of Jewish soldiers in the Russian Army was given on 2 December 1911 during the discussion of the draft of the new Statute on Military Service. It came from the Duma deputy Nikolai Evgen´evich Markov II, one of the most extreme politicians of the Russian Right, who later became an advisor to the Propaganda Department in Nazi Germany. 2 He advocated the removal of all Jews from the Russian army, arguing that any Jewish soldier, like all Russian Jews, followed the dictates of a secret international Jewish government based on the Talmud. He expressed a view shared by many right-wing Duma members, as well as by conservative officials in the War Ministry. It is to their fertile imaginations he appealed by alluding to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the most xenophobic and anti-Jewish fabrications of the Russian Right, which was produced on the eve of the Russian Revolution. Later, translated in most European languages, it became a source par excellence of antisemitic propaganda in Germany and elsewhere. 3

To be sure, Markov II was not alone in his extreme anti-Jewish sentiments. At the turn of the century, and especially during the post-revolutionary period [End Page 217] between 1907 and 1914, the armed forces experienced a sharp growth in xenophobia that reflected wider developments in Russian society. 4 The army's antisemitic credentials were established with numerous circulars of a restrictive anti-Jewish character issued by the War Ministry in the 1890s; the army's participation in the pogroms of 1905-6; the calls for the expulsion of Jews from the army in the 1910s; and the mass antisemitic excesses during the occupation of Galicia by Russian troops during World War I. 5 All this has given the army the reputation of being thoroughly antisemitic, perhaps the most antisemitic institution in pre-revolutionary Russia. This point of view is widely accepted, but it requires qualification.

In order to understand the reasons for this evolving anti-Jewish policy, it is necessary to consider a number of conflicts and tensions within the triangle "Jews, the military, and the Russian far Right." It was within this triangle that the "Jewish policy" of the War Ministry evolved. This article will argue that this policy coincided with mainstream state policies towards ethnic minorities only on the level of public discourse, but not in practice. It will question the common understanding of the Russian military as an antisemitic institution, providing evidence for an assessment that it was not inherently so. It will demonstrate that there existed a significant conflict between middle- and high-ranking officers over the treatment of Jews in the army. The article thus attempts to reassess the research on the ideology of far-right Russian nationalism carried out by Hans Rogger and Heinz-Dietrich Löwe through analysis of its military aspect. In addition, it will provide a broader socio-political framework for the "Jewish policy" of the War Ministry, a policy that needs to be understood as something more complex than what Deitrich Beyrau has called the "new army antisemitism." 6 [End Page 218]

The Making of the Jewish Image in the Military

The myth of the irreconcilable enmity between the army and the Jews was...


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