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May 31: Victor Hugo and the Jews

May 30, 2015

portraitFrench novelist Victor Hugo led a protest meeting in Paris on this date in 1882 to denounce the pogroms in Russia that were devastating Jewish communities and producing a mass exodus to Western Europe and the United States. Later in 1882, Hugo would publish his historical play Torquemada, written in 1869, with the head of the Spanish Inquisition as its anti-hero and Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain as money-hungry anti-Semites. Hugo dedicated the volume to the Jews of Russia. On July 4, 1882, Hugo wrote in the London Standard that in Russia, “Christianity is martyrizing Judaism; thirty cities at this very moment are prey to pillage and extermination; passing events in Russia inspire horror... past centuries... are rushing on the Nineteenth and seeking to strangle it...” The piece was reprinted in the New York Times and many European journals.

“ ‘On the one side, the people; on the other, the crowd! On one side light; on the other, gloom! Choose!’ ” —Victor Hugo