Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire

Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire

Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire, in particular, these of the late 19th century gave rise to the internanional loanword "pogrom" as a reference to large-scale, targeted, and repeated antisemitic rioting. The term saw its first use in the 19th century.

Early 19th century

The first pogrom is often considered to be the 1821 anti-Jewish riots in Odessa (modern Ukraine) after the death of the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul, in which 14 Jews were killed. [ [ Odessa pogroms] at the Center of Jewish Self-Education "Moria"] Other sources, such as the Jewish Encyclopedia, indicate that the first pogrom was the 1859 riots in Odessa.


The term "pogrom" became commonly used in English after a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots swept through south-western Imperial Russia in 1881–1884.

The trigger for these pogroms was the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, for which some blamed "the Jews." ["Jewish Chronicle", May 6, 1881, cited in Benjamin Blech, "Eyewitness to Jewish History"] The extent to which the Russian press was responsible for encouraging perceptions of the assassination as a Jewish act has been disputed. [Stephen M Berk, "Year of Crisis, Year of Hope: Russian Jewry and the Pogroms of 1881–1882" (Greenwood, 1985), pp. 54–55.] Local economic conditions are thought to have contributed significantly to the rioting, especially with regard to the participation of the business competitors of local Jews and the participation of railroad workers, and it has been argued that this was actually more important than rumours of Jewish responsibility for the death of the Tsar.I. Michael Aronson, "Geographical and Socioeconomic Factors in the 1881 Anti-Jewish Pogroms in Russia," "Russian Review", Vol. 39, No. 1. (Jan., 1980), pp. 18–31] These rumours, however, were clearly of some importance, if only as a trigger, and they had a small kernel of truth: one of the close associates of the assassins, Gesya Gelfman, was indeed Jewish. The fact that the other assassins were all Christians had little impact on the spread of such antisemitic rumours.

During these pogroms, which started in Elizavetgrad (Kirovograd, Ukraine) in April of 1881, thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, and many families were reduced to poverty; and large numbers of men, women, and children were injured in 166 towns in the southwest provinces of the Empire such as the Ukraine). The new Tsar Alexander III initially blamed revolutionaries and the Jews themselves for the riots and issued a series of harsh restrictions on Jews. The pogroms continued for more than three years, and were thought to have benefited from at least the tacit support of the authorities, though there were also attempts on the part of the Russian government to end the rioting.Although the pogroms claimed the lives of relatively few Jews (two Jews were killed by the mobs, while 19 attackers were killed by tsarist authoritiesru icon Vadim Kozhinov, [ Russia. XX Century (1901–1939)] ] , the damage, disruption and disturbance were dramatic. The pogroms and the official reaction to them led many Russian Jews to reassess their perceptions of their status within the Russian Empire, and so to significant Jewish emigration, mostly to the United States. These pogroms were referred to among Jews as the 'storms in the negev', negev being a Biblical word for the south. Changed perceptions among Russian Jews also indirectly gave a significant boost to the early Zionist movement. [Leon Pinsker (1882) ""]


A much bloodier wave of pogroms broke out in 1903–1906, leaving an estimated 2,000 Jews dead, and many more wounded, as the Jews took to arms to defend their families and property from the attackers. The number of people of other nationalities killed or wounded in these pogroms exceeds Jewish casualties. "The New York Times" described the First Kishinev pogrom of Easter, 1903:

"The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia (modern Moldova), are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Orthodox Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, "Kill the Jews," was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 [Note: the actual number of dead was 47–48 [Hilary L Rubinstein, Daniel C Cohn-Sherbok, Abraham J Edelheit, William D Rubinstein, "The Jews in the Modern World", Oxford University Press, 2002.] ] and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babies were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews." ["Jewish Massacre Denounced," in "The New York Times", April 28, 1903, p. 6]

Some historians believe that some of the pogroms had been organized ["Nicholas II. Life and Death" by Edward Radzinsky (Russian ed., 1997) p. 89. According to Radzinsky, Sergei Witte appointed Chairman of the Russian Council of Ministers in 1905, remarked in his "Memoirs" that he found that some proclamations inciting pogroms were printed and distributed by Police.] or supported by the Tsarist Russian secret police, the Okhrana. Such facts as the alleged indifference of the Russian police and army were duly noted, for instance, during the three-day First Kishinev pogrom of 1903, as well as the preceding publication of articles in newspapers inciting anti-Jewish violence, suggesting to some that pogroms were in line with the internal policy of Imperial Russia. Niall Ferguson, however, suggests in his recent book "War of the World" that it was real or alleged Jewish involvement in contemporary left-wing politics that brought on the 'waves' of violence against the aforementioned southern areas of the Pale. There is also evidence which suggests that the police knew in advance about some pogroms, and chose not to act.


Even outside of these main outbreaks, pogroms remained common—there were anti-Jewish riots in Odessa in 1859, 1871, 1881, 1886 and 1905 in which hundreds were killed in total.

During the Revolution and the Civil Wars in Russia

Many pogroms accompanied the Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War, an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000. In his book "200 Years Together", Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn provides the following numbers from Nahum Gergel's 1951 study of the pogroms in the Ukraine: out of an estimated 887 mass pogroms, about 40% were perpetrated by the Ukrainian forces led by Symon Petliura, 25% by the Ukrainian Green Army and various Ukrainian nationalist gangs, 17% by the White Army, especially the forces of Anton Denikin, and 8.5% by the Red Army(the Red Army pogroms were not sanctioned by the Red Army leadership).

Russian pogroms in arts and literature

In 1903, Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik wrote the poem "In the City of Slaughter" [ [ "In the City of Slaughter"] ] in response to the Kishinev pogrom.

Elie Wiesel's "The Trial of God" depicts Jews fleeing a pogrom and setting up a fictitious "trial of God" for His negligence in not assisting them against the bloodthirsty mobs. In the end, it turns out that the mysterious stranger who has argued as God's advocate is none other than Lucifer. The experience of a Russian Jew is also depicted in Elie Wiesel's "The Testament".

A pogrom is one of the central events in the play "Fiddler on the Roof".

In the film "An American Tail", Fievel and his family's village is destroyed by a pogrom (with cats being their Cossack attackers).

ee also

* History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
* Emancipation of the Jews in England#Pogroms in Russia


External links

* Lenin's speech: About Anti-Jewish Pogroms (, audio|Lenin - Anti-Jewish Pogroms.ogg|record)
* [ History of pogroms in Odessa]
* [ Jewish history of the Russian Federation (through the Second World War)]
* [ Kishinev pogrom history]
* [ The Pogrom of 1905 in Odessa: A Case Study]
* [ Modern History Sourcebook: The Jewish Chronicle: Outrages Upon Jews in Russia, May 6, 1881]

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