From the diary of Heinrich Heine, Trieste, December 1849 (published in part in the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung).
This is the second night I have not been able to sleep. I went down to the harbor watching the embarkation of hundreds of Jews on the steamships which had been rented by Hirsch commuting between this harbor and Jaffa. Five hundred are leaving every day, even on Sabbath, the rabbis having decided that this was a case of pikuah nefesh – the commandment of saving souls overrides the full observation of the Sabbath laws. Another 500 are leaving daily from Odessa.
What heartrending scenes! Tears came to the eyes of an old cynic like me. The children of the ghetto leaving a continent that has wrought them so much misery, burned on the stake in the Middle Ages, pogroms in the present new Middle Ages. No one was mourning to leave this continent of suffering and humiliation, and yet who had thought that a history of almost two thousand years would end like this?
By the waters of Babylon we were sitting and weeping – from the desert we came and to the desert we shall return. Judaism is not a religion, it is an affliction. As I watch the children of the ghetto, the poorest of the poor entering the ships with their few bundles, I cannot dispel dark forebodings. It was not just the separation of families for a long period, with husbands and young bachelors traveling as an avant garde and their families and friends following once they will have taken care of elementary living conditions. Will they be able to survive in wholly unfamiliar, often hostile conditions or will they disappear without a trace in the deserts of Arabia? They will have to fight nature, an inclement climate and diseases. They cannot and should not transfer the ghetto but will have to begin a new life in every respect. Will they be able to defend themselves against the elements in a bandit-infested country? Sometimes I feel that there still are enormous energies in this old people which only wait to be released, at other times an inner voice tells me, "Too late."
Montefiore and Disraeli were at the harbor with words of encouragement, promising all kind of help, narrating stories about their travels in these parts. Disraeli approached me, he knows my poems and recited two by heart. He told me to be of good cheer, what do they have to lose but their chains? Montefiore, a giant of a man, and Disraeli, in his red waistcoat speaking with the help of translators to some of the departing Jews and Jewesses, sounded genuine. But they have been over there for a short time as honored guests with red carpets wherever they went. How will these poor wretches, Europeâ€™s stepchildren, fare – pale, weak, so defenseless? Perhaps this is another desert generation and whatever hope there is rests with the next generation. But the odds are against them.
I went to bed with a heavy heart, not at all sure whether I had witnessed the last act of a long tragedy or the beginning of something wholly new.
Marx in London to Heine in Paris, January 1850.
[…] I share your misgivings. In fact I am certain nothing can come of this project. After so many centuries in the ghetto, the Jews are not capable of doing any constructive work. Degeneration has proceeded too far and lasted too long. You talk about new industries – but what and where? Weaving silk and carpets? The Persians are doing it better. There are no raw materials upon which new industries could be based in the Ottoman empire, except may be salt from the Dead Sea and that stinking substance called petroleum which is good for nothing except perhaps putting tar on our streets. […]