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Congress of Berlin

(June 13 - July 13, 1878)

The Congress of Berlin was a gathering of the great European powers in 1878 to settle problems concerning the Balkans and Near East arising after the war between Russia and Turkey in 1877. Held between June 13 and July 13, 1878, it was attended by representatives of Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and Turkey, with some participation of representatives of the Balkan states (Greece, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia). Among its most influential members was the head of the British delegation, Benjamin *Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield). The position of the Jews in the Balkan countries (Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria) was also placed on the agenda on the initiative of the "Zion" society in Bucharest, led by Adolf Weinberg and Adolf *Stern; these joined with the *Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris and the Council for the Defense of Romanian Jews in Berlin, led by Moritz *Lazarus. The Jewish community of Berlin petitioned the chairman of the congress and head of the German delegation, Count *Bismarck, on Feb. 28, 1878, to raise the question of equal rights for Romanian Jews at the congress. As a result, the German representatives were instructed to demand equal civil rights for the members of all religions in the Balkan countries and the inclusion in the peace treaty of special paragraphs to this effect explicitly providing for their implementation. The question of equal rights for the Jews in these countries was also discussed in the parliaments of France, Italy, Austria, and Hungary, and the representatives of these countries at the congress were requested by special resolutions to ensure an appropriate settlement.

To deal with the Jewish questions a special council was established in Berlin consisting of the representatives of the Committee for Jewish Affairs in Berlin (Gerson von *Bleichroeder, M. Lazarus, Jacob *Bernays, and Berthold *Auerbach), representatives of the Alliance (Sacki Kann, Charles *Netter, and Emanuel *Veneziani), the delegation of Romanian Jews (Adolf Stern, Marco Brociner, Taussig, and Hermann *Hirsch), and representatives of the Alliance in Berlin (Salomon Neumann, the banker Julius Platho, and Hermann Goldschmidt). This committee formulated a memorandum which was submitted to the entire congress, followed by a second memorandum to Bismarck. The memoranda contained a description of the plight of the Jews in the Balkan countries accompanied by a request that the members of all creeds and races should be guaranteed equal civil rights in the peace treaty (stipulated in special clauses). Special steps were also taken to submit the Jewish requests to the representatives of the different governments. To this end Baron Maurice de *Hirsch and Sir Moses *Montefiore began negotiations with the representatives of England and France, and Bleichroeder turned his attentions to Bismarck and the Russian representative, Count Shuvalov.

The members of the united committee also visited the representatives of the Balkan countries (Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria), who were not officially represented at the congress but were working behind the scenes. The Romanian representative, Kogaălniceanu, endeavored to persuade the Jewish representatives not to appeal to the congress since the question of equal civil rights for Jews was an internal affair of the Romanian government. Threats against the Jews of Romania appeared in Romanian newspapers which also attempted to influence the Western Jews to withdraw their demands. These tactics, however, were vehemently condemned and rejected by the representatives of the Alliance.

On June 24, 1878, the Jewish problem came up for discussion as part of the general consideration of Bulgarian affairs. The French representative, Waddington, proposed that a clause be inserted in the peace treaty recognizing the independence of Bulgaria on condition that it granted equal civil rights to members of all races and religions. The proposal was accepted. On June 28, during the discussions on Serbia, the Turkish representative, Karatheodori (Caratheodory) Pasha, and the English representative, Lord Salisbury, demanded that a similar clause be inserted in the peace treaty as a condition for the recognition of Serbian independence. The Russian representative, Prince Gorchakov, opposed this resolution on the ground that the Jews of Serbia, Romania, and Russia could not be put in the same category with the Jews of Paris, London, Berlin, and Vienna. Despite his opposition it was decided to insert in the peace treaty a clause (par. 35) guaranteeing equal rights.

Also during the discussions on Romania it was proposed by Waddington that recognition of that country's independence should be made contingent on her granting equal rights to the members of all religions within her borders. The proposal received the full support of Beaconsfield, Count Andrássy of Austria-Hungary, and Bismarck, and even the agreement of Shuvalov. By a separate resolution, introduced into paragraph 44 of the peace treaty, equal rights were granted to the members of all religions in Romania. This principle was also to be binding, according to a resolution introduced by Salisbury, on Turkey, Greece, and Montenegro.

The question of the future of Palestine was also touched upon by the congress indirectly. In June 1878 a group of Jews submitted a memorandum to the congress (addressed to Bismarck and Beaconsfield) requesting that the Jews in Palestine should be given their independence (in the same manner as had been restored to the Balkan peoples) and permitted to establish a constitutional Jewish monarchy in that country. This memorandum was listed in the protocol of documents submitted to the congress but was not discussed on the floor. Before the congress assembled, there were discussions in the English press concerning the political resurgence of the Jews in Palestine. After the congress was concluded, Serbia and Bulgaria complied with the clauses of the peace treaty obliging them to grant equal rights to their minorities, and even incorporated these clauses in their constitutions. Romania refused to meet her obligation, and the struggle to implement paragraph 44 of the peace treaty in this country extended over decades.


Kohler and Wolf, in: AJHSP, 24 (1916), ix; 1ff.; 40; J. Brociner, Die Judenfrage in Rumaenien und ihre Loesung (1879); B. Segel, Rumaenien und seine Juden (1918); L. Wolf, Notes on the Diplomatic History of the Jewish Question (1919), 23–26, 52; Gelber, in: HJ, 2 (1940), 39–48; idem, in: YLBI, 5 (1960), 221–48; idem, in: Sefer Yovel… S. Federbush (1960), 117–64; idem, in: Sefer Yugoslavyah (Tel Aviv, 1962); J. Meisl, Die Durchfuehrung des Artikels 44 des Berliner Vertrages in Rumaenien und die europaeische Diplomatie (1925); N. Leven, Cinquante ans d'histoire…, 1 (1911).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.