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Kishinev Pogrom


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Kishinev Pogrom - 1903 - Kishinev was a town in Moldavia, now called Chisinau.  In 1903 and again in 1905, anti-Jewish pogroms broker out in Kishinev and in surrounding villages. These disturbances are known as the "Kishinev pogrom." The first Kishinev pogrom began with a blood libel, in February of 1903. A peasant found  the corpse of Mikhail Rybachenko, aged 14, bruised and covered with stab wounds, in a garden. The murder  fuelled wild rumors that he had been killed by local Jews in need of his Christian blood to prepare their matzot. 

A poisonous anti-Jewish campaign was led by Pavel Krushevan, publisher of the Bessarabian newspaper Bessarabets, who incited the population through a constant stream of journalistic invective since 1894. He was evidently encouraged by the infamous Minister off the Interior Vyacheslav von Plehve.  Some of the most virulent articles were penned by local police chief, Levendall. The newspaper Ceem (World) likewise printed allegations about the blood libel. It was later proved that the child was murdered by his relatives. An additional suicide by a Christian girl in a Jewish mental institution helped to fuel the furor.

On or about March 30, 1903, a proclamation letter was reportedly posted at a local tavern in Kishinev. It began with the announcement of the coming Easter holiday and a brief description of how Jesus Christ was “tormented by the Jews” and crucified. It ended  with a battle cry for the holiday: “Down with the Zhids! Beat these mean degenerates, blood suckers drunk with Russian blood! Remind them [of the] Odessa pogrom. . . .” It was signed by a fictitious official. The real author may have been  Pavel  Krushevan, the abovementioned newspaper magnate.

The first Kishinev pogrom began on April 19, 1903 (April 6 by the Julian Calendar). Three days of rioting resulted in about 49 Jewish dead (the yearbook of the Kishinev Jewish community claimed slightly fewer fatalities)  and more than 500  injured, some of them seriously.  700 houses were looted and destroyed and 600 businesses and shops were looted. The total property loss was estimated at  2,500,000 gold rubles, and about 2,000 families were left homeless. Both Russians and Romanians joined in the riots. Russians were sent in from other towns and the students of the theological seminaries and the secondary schools and colleges were also active. Police and soldiers did nothing initially. Police took part in the riots.

On May 18 London Times published a letter from von Plehve to the governor, dated 12 days before the riots, advising the governor not to act against rioters. The Russian government asserted that it was a forgery and provided a bogus claim that the riots had started when a Jewish carousel owner hit a Christian woman. Christians defended themselves and then the Jews attacked them, killing one gentile. It is impossible to prove or disprove the authenticity of the von Plehve letter. It is certain however, that on May 23 he rebuffed a Jewish delegation that asked for a condemnation of the massacre and relaxation of anti-Jewish rules. 

The New York Times reported:

  "The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plain for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian 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 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes 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," New York Times, April 28, 1903, p 6)

Hearst's New York American also ran a series of passionate articles. A relief fund of $400,000 was collected, $100,000 in the US. The Hebrew poet  Chaim Nachman Bialik commemorated the pogrom in his poem, "Be-Ir ha-Haregah" ("In the City of Death"). "Bei-Ir Ha-Haregah" had an enormous influence on Jewish thought and on Zionism in particular. The poem became a staple of Zionist culture, literature and ideology, and a way to symbolize and focus on the issue of Jewish helplessness in the Diaspora. However, there were in fact attempts at self defense. The pogrom was also condemned by major Russian literary figures, including Korolenko, Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. In the United States, both President Theodore Roosevelt and former President Grover Cleveland spoke out against the pogrom and pressured the Czar for reform. Von Plehve was soon assassinated. A Zionist student tried to kill Khrushvan, but barely wounded him. Monty Noam Penkower, “The Kishinev Pogrom of 1903: A Turning Point in Jewish History,” in Modern Judaism 24 (2004) 187-225 


Ami Isseroff

April 1, 2009


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: pogrom anti-Semitism Time-Line: Anti-Semitism

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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