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Russian Pogroms of 1905

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Russian Pogroms of 1905The Russian pogroms of 1905 were a continuation of similar disturbances that had taken place in 1903. Following the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, there was an abortive revolution. Some reforms and freedoms were granted briefly. The Tsarist government feared revolutionary ferment and identified "the Jews" with the social revolutionaries. The unrest  was accompanied by pogroms. After a long period of negotiation and pressure, the Tsarist government finally issued a Manifesto of liberal reform on October 17, 1905. But the plan was violently opposed by reactionary forces, apparently encouraged by the Tsarist police apparatus. The opposition was conveniently vented on the Jews.   Major pogroms took place, among other places in Odessa and Kiev, as well as a pogrom in Kishinev, site of the major 1903 pogrom. Self defense efforts were only slightly more successful in saving lives in 1905 than they had been previously. In Kishinev, 19 Jews were killed and 64 were injured. In Bialystok, perhaps the most extensive single pogrom took place in June of 1906. Eighty Jews lost their lives.

Simon Dubnow explained how the Tsarist manifesto of October 17, which was supposed to have brought emancipation to the Jews, instead ignited pogroms. Almost everywhere the manifesto was read, considered or celebrated, pogroms followed:

In the course of one week, nearly fifty anti-Jewish pogroms, accompanied by bloodshed, took plase in various cities (Odessa, Kiev, Kishinev, Kalarash, Simferopol, Romny, Kremenchug, Chernigov, Nicholayev, Yekatrinoslav, Kamenetz-Polosk, Yelisavetgrad, Orsha etc.) in addition to several hundred "bloodless" pogroms, marked in the regular fashion by the destrution of property, plunder, and incendiarism. This disproportion alone shows the direction in which the organized dark forces were active. The strict uniformity and consistency in the carrying out of the counter-revolutionary conspiracy was too palpable to be overlooked.

The customary procedure was as follows: In connection with the manifesto of October 17, the progressive elements would arrange a street procession.... Simultaneous, the participants in in the "patriotic demonstration" -- consisting mostly of the scum of society, of detectives and police officials in plain clothes -- would emerge from their nooks and crannies, carrying the  portrait of the Tsar under the shadow of the national flag, singing the national anthem and shouting, "Hurrah, beat the Zhyds! The Zhyds are eager for liberty. They go against our Tsar to put a Zhyd in his place." These "patriotic" demonstrators would be accompanied by police and Cossack patrols (or soldiers), ostensibly to preserve order, but in reality to enable the hooligans to attack and maltreat the Jews and prevent the victims from defending themselves. As soon as the Jews assembled for self-defence, they would be driven off by the police and troopers. Thereupon, the "patriotic" demonstrators and the accomplices, joining them on the way, would break up into small bands and disperse all over the city, invading Jewish houses and stores, ruin, plunder, beat, and sometimes slaughter entire families. (Dubnow, Simon, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Tr Israel Friedlander, Avoteynu, N.Y. 2000, 479-480)

Most of the pogroms happened upon publication of the Czarist reform manifesto. Anti-Jewish violence assumed a mass character during the events of the Russian Revolution of 1905 to 1907. Equating Jews with “revolution,” loyalist groups -- later to be formally organized in such bodies as the Union of the Russian People (“The Black Hundreds” ) -- attacked Jews and other groups of suspect loyalty. The riots in Odessa and Kiev claimed hundreds of Jewish victims - about 400 were killed in Odessa alone, and the death toll around the country was well over a thousand. In Odessa,  sailors and skilled factory workers were not involved, and often joined defense forces that protected the Jews   Both civilian and military authorities were widely condemned for their ineptitude and passivity during these events, Evidence of official connivance is reasonably extensive. General Kaulbars, governor of Odessa  refused to stop the Odessa pogrom, which began on October 19.  Eyewitnesses also reported seeing policemen directing pogromists to Jewish-owned stores or Jews' apartments, while steering the rioters away from the property of non-Jews. (Robert Weinberg, "The Pogrom of 1905 in Odessa: A Case Study" in Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, eds. (Cambridge,1992): 248-89

The idea that the regime was behind the pogroms at various times has been challenged (See Unravelling of the conspiracy theory: a new look at the pogroms. Klier, John D.. East European Jewish Affairs, 23(2), 1993, p. 79-89). After the breakup of the USSR it became fashionable and ideologically convenient to "revise" the "narrative" of persecution in Tsarist Russia. From a distance, it is easy to discount old accounts of the evils of the Tsarist regime as biased. There is no doubt as well that the Soviet government was interested in demonizing the Tsarist regime and that Soviet propagandists exaggerated the pogroms of the Tsarist era, which were very mild compared to the slaughter that followed in the Russian Civil War Pogroms. But Dubnow and the eye witnesses who recounted the horrors of the Tsarist pogroms were not Soviet propagandists. They told what they saw and knew. The revisionist account ignores a mountain of contemporary evidence, that shows a consistent pattern of Anti-Semitism and direct or indirect involvement of government officials and agents in stirring up hate against the the Jews, as well as the activities of the ubiquitous Tsarist secret police. Only the credulous could believe that the government, which had put down the 1905 revolution with decisive force, could not control repeated outbreak of violence against Jews. Strange that the masses did not attack students or others identified with the revolution but only the Jews. A New York Times dispatch of February 22 1907, insists that General Kaulbars,  encouraged another  pogrom in Odessa in 1907 and was behind the excesses of the Black Hundreds, which it describes as bands of 11-17 year old boys. It notes that Jews were hanged for trying to protect themselves, and that police provided no protection.  Kaulbars refused to disarm the Black Hundreds.

Sporadic violence continued in the aftermath of the failed revolution, most notoriously on  June 3 - June 6 1906 in Białystok, in the Kingdom of Poland (annexed to Russia), where a pogrom claimed eighty dead. Jewish self defense was apparently effective in preventing a far worse massacre. The district attorney was reportedly one of the main organizers of the pogrom ref

The increasing incidence of Jewish self-defense, complicates the attribution of responsibility for these events. The Russian government, for its part, sought to characterize the pogroms in Gomel and Białystok as “Jewish pogroms,” or attacks by Jews against the Christian population. The government issued  a report insisting that there had been a series of Jewish "outrages," beginning in February of 1905. The Jews had murdered and terrorized police officials, rendering the police inefficient, the report claimed. The Jews had fired on government forces to prevent them from stopping the plundering of Jewish property, and the Jews had attacked government property. The government promised that those responsible (meaning the Jews) would be punished. (Say Jews Caused Bialystok Massacre, NYT July 5, 1906). Revisionist historians who claim to "debunk" conspiracy theories actually takes this sort of cynical claptrap seriously, and imply that the Jewish defense groups, which had scant arms, were willing to provoke a confrontation with fully armed government troops.  

Ami Isseroff

March 29, 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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