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Pogrom: Definition

A pogrom is generally an organized attack on lives and/or property of  Jews. The term has been generalized to include attacks on other minorities. The word came into use in Russia sometime in the 19th century, probably around 1882, but there were pogroms in Odessa in 1821, 1849 and 1859. ("Odessa Pogroms" article by John D. Klice in Levy, Richard S. ed, "Antisemitism," A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, ABC-CLIO, 2005, p 519). 

The word pogrom in Russian is погром, derived from the verb громить,  [grahm' it] "to break up, destroy, lay waste, to demolish violently." It came to English from the Yiddish.

The classic characteristics of a pogrom, applied to a greater or lesser extent are:

The victims are nationals of the same group as the attackers.

The attackers are organized and the attack is planned rather than spontaneous.

The attackers have the backing or complicity of at least some of the authorities.

The victims are not at war with the attackers and did not commit any act of war or violence against the attackers. A retaliatory raid or ordinary riot is not a pogrom, and acts of genocide or ethnic cleansing in times of war, such as occurred not long ago in the Balkans should be distinguished from pogroms.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "Pogrom" was first used in the Times of London on 17 March 1882 (“That the ‘Pogromen’ must be stopped . . .”), The Yiddish plural ending betrays the route that the word took into English. In the former Soviet Union, the word "pogrom" was applied to violence carried out by reactionary groups against opponents of the tsarist regime, perhaps in order to remove the "Jewish content" of the word and the violence it described, and turn it from an ethnic and national issue to a class violence issue. In contemporary Russian, "pogrom" is used for violence directed against any ethnic group.

While it is almost certain that later Russian pogroms were initiatives of groups like the "Black hundreds" and/or encouraged by the government, it is claimed, with dubious backing, that many of those attacks formerly thought to be the work of conspirators, with active or passive government intervention, may have been actually spontaneous, and due in large part to economic strife.  ( see: Aronson, I. Michael, Geographical and Socioeconomic Factors in the 1881 Anti-Jewish Pogroms in Russia, Russian Review, The 0036-0341 vol: 39 (1) 1980 p:18 - 31)  At the same time, very early "attacks on Jews" that occurred in the Dark Ages and Middle ages were often the work of organized bands like the Armleder, and/or were instigated with the connivance or assistance of local authorities. Therefore, the distinction between "massacres," "pogroms" and "race riots" is blurred. And how do we classify government initiated genocide, such as the Holocaust? But even if the government or authorities did not instigate pogroms in every case, if the authorities did little or nothing to stop the massacres, and especially if, as was always true, they maintained a constant stream of bigoted and inciteful invective, the "riots" cannot be considered "spontaneous" and are justifiably called pogroms in the true sense of the word.

The word "pogrom" has been applied retrospectively to massacres of Jews over the centuries, even when they were not necessarily supported directly by authorities, and it has also been applied with varying degrees of appropriateness to massacres of other minorities.

Some attacks of Jews against Arabs in Israel or the Palestinian territories may be more or less loosely be termed "pogroms,"  though the two populations are not at peace and the incidents should probably be considered part of war violence or private retaliation. For example, the anti-Arab riots of September/October 2000 were provoked by Arab violence and demonstrations, though as usual in such cases, retaliation was generally directed at peaceable citizens.  Likewise the Turkish attacks against the Greeks following World War I may or may not be considered pogroms, since the Greeks were "enemy aliens" - Greece was attacking Turkey at the time. This was not the peaceable scenario of the classic pogrom.

It is more difficult to decide whether or not the genocidal attacks of the government supported Janjawid gangs in the Sudan are pogroms. The word pogrom has been intentionally misused in war propaganda to characterize Israeli actions against belligerent populations in Lebanon and Gaza. The attack on the Palestinians of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps carried out by the Christian militias in 1982 was an act of ethnic cleansing and retaliation against the background of a civil war, but it may also be considered a pogrom.

The remainder of this article will discuss pogroms in the wider sense, but only as applied to Jews: that is, organized or semi-organized attacks on Jews from earliest times, excluding wars and military actions.

Pogrom Causes 

Pogroms against Jews took place because of religious prejudice. In Europe, the background for this prejudice was supported for a long time by the Church, because Jews were an unprotected minority, wearing identifiable dress and generally living in segregated areas. A parallel theology of hate and parallel regulations against both Jews and Christians were developed in Muslim lands.

Pogroms also took place for the motives of plunder as well as desire to eradicate debts against Jewish moneylenders, and social and political competition.  In general, they were expressions of anti-semitism. When they were actually instigated by the government or authorities, the purpose was evidently to deflect anger and violence from the government. Other causes were religious and other superstitions, such as a blood libel (accusation that Jews had killed a Christian child for ritual purposes) or an accusation that Jews had profaned the Host, accusations that Jews had poisoned the wells to cause the Black Death in Europe, desire to eliminate Jews as competitors in business and in some cases, desire of noblemen to eliminate their debts to Jewish lenders by eliminating the lenders. In ancient times, pogroms and anti-Jewish sentiment seems to have centered around hatred of monotheism, since the Jews insulted the gods by their disbelief. This was likewise the basis of persecution of Christians.  In modern Palestine, Arabs were frequently incited to riot by the false rumor that Jews were about to destroy or profane the Al-Aqsa mosque. Were these violent outbreaks pogroms, massacres, or part of "national competition?"

Pogroms in Historical Context

Pogroms must be understood in the context of the societies that created them and in the light of history. They were not just, as some may imagine, isolated instances of anti-Jewish violence that arose only because of special circumstances such as the Black Death, the Crusades, or a blood libel. In both Europe and the Muslim world, violence against Jews must be viewed as part of a systematic repressive apparatus and culture that intentionally set the Jews apart, educated the masses to believe that Jews are inferior and accursed and developed elaborate theological justifications and legal frameworks for persecution of the Jews, so that all of Jewish existence in the Diaspora was constantly imperiled, and all Jewish relations with their non-Jewish "protectors" were almost always conducted on the basis of special privileges granted to suppliants, that might be removed at will. The apparatus included ghettos, wearing of special clothing, imposition of taxes, denial of civil rights, restrictions on occupation and regular incitement in sermons.

Catholic Church and Pogroms

The Roman Catholic Church did not, for the most part, condone violence against  Jews. The fathers of the Church developed, and the later popes beginning with Gregory I elaborated, a doctrine wherein the Jews were to be preserved, so that their suffering would be testimony as to the correctness of Christian doctrine, until their final conversion at the end of days.  However, the church preached a theology and devised a legal code that made it clear to all that Jews were inferior and accursed. Worshippers were regularly reminded that the Jews murdered God, in Masses and later in passion plays and church art such as the Judensau.  Even those  Papal Bulls that granted the Jews protection generally reminded the recipients that the Jews were an accursed race. It could scarcely have been surprising then, that the mobs, and often secular armies, plundered and murdered Jews at almost every opportunity.

Jews in Pogroms

The Jewish reaction to pogroms and persecution was remarkable in itself. While during the pre-Christian era Jews often defended themselves against attackers, following the destruction of the temple and the Bar Kochba revolt, rabbinical Judaism developed a severe aversion to any sort of physical violence and any attempt to better the material condition of the Jews through community action. This was later reinforced by the disasters of the false messiahs such as Shabettai Tzvi. This was understandable to some extent, given the catastrophic results of national resistance. though it was certainly carried to an extreme. Jews made no attempt to learn any techniques of self defense. Only occasionally did they try to  band together in defense and use even the most primitive clandestine weaponry, not always with good results. In Russian and Polish pogroms, self defense groups were often disarmed by the authorities, a fact that makes the claims that there was no instigation very doubtful. In some cases, such as the 1906 pogrom in Bialystok, which was part of Russia at the time,  the authorities actually blamed the pogrom on the Jewish defenders.

Even more remarkable is the persistence with which Jews returned again and again, to rebuild communities that had been demolished by rioters or emptied of Jews by expulsions. In 1052 the Jews of Mainz were expelled, but they were back in time to get slaughtered in the pogroms of the first Crusade.  The only preparations made by Jews to greet an impending pogrom usually consisted of fasting and prayers, attempts at bribing local officials to gain protection, and occasionally, fleeing to other towns until the wrath of the mob had passed. This passivity was reinforced by a theological mythology which essentially accepted the dictum of the gentiles, that the suffering of the Jews was punishment from God for their sins. Considering the constant persecution, it is remarkable that there were relatively few attempts of the Jews to move to new lands to the east which were sparsely populated for many centuries, to move to the relatively safer Muslim lands, or later to emigrate to the newly discovered continents of America. 

The pogroms and other persecutions became part of Jewish culture, just as they became part of Christian culture. Gentile enmity to Jews, especially in Europe, was an elemental fact of life. Jewish enmity to Christians did not lag far behind, judging from some of the written records. It would be wrong, however, to portray the Diaspora as a uniformly bleak experience. Humans are infinitely adaptable. Just as every person can have good times and enjoy successes and momentary prosperity despite death and natural catastrophes, so Jews integrated the reality of sporadic violence and constant persecution into their individual and group psychic adjustment, both in Europe and in Muslim lands. Moreover, the really catastrophic persecutions were sporadic. In every quiet age, Jews could have the pleasant illusion that the "bad old days" were gone forever, and they are entering a new age of progress, understanding and security.

It is equally wrong to pretend however, that the history of persecution was an invention of the Zionists, as some anti-Zionist authors claim, and that Jewish culture did not reflect the reality of persecution. Evidences to the contrary in written records, songs, holiday and synagogue rituals exist in abundance.

Pogroms often happened during wars or other catastrophes and major events, such as  the Crusades, the Black Death, Russian Civil War and even earthquakes. Jews tended to remember all the deaths of these periods as due to pogroms, whereas general histories often ignore the pogroms and massacres that occurred or to ascribe the deaths to war or disease. Both views are not entirely correct. While Jews along with other citizens died, for example in the siege of Toledo and other towns in 14th century Spain, there were also specific pogroms that took place in towns that were otherwise at peace. Likewise, there were extensive pogroms in the Jewish areas of Russia, but there were also deaths of Jews and non-Jews in events such as the bombardment of Odessa and the shelling of Berditchev.   

Nor was it true that Zionism unjustly characterized Jewish history in the Diaspora as a series of pogroms and catastrophes. Zionism has a theory of history. Zionists sought to explain why pogroms and persecutions occurred, and therefore Zionist histories may have given these persecutions undue weight. Histories, in any event, tend to emphasize catastrophic events rather than commonplace ones. Most histories are histories of wars and catastrophes. The accession of Franklin Pierce or Calvin Coolidge to the Presidency of the United States is not given the same weight as is given to the accession of Adolph Hitler to the office of Chancellor of Germany, and, except perhaps in American history, the peaceful crossing of the Rocky Mountains by Lewis and Clark does not get the same attention as the crossing of the Alps by Hannibal and his army.

There were certainly Jewish philosophers and notables, Jewish feasts and weddings in the Diapora. But Zionist histories were interested in precisely the problem of persecutions rather than the philosophies of different rabbis, the weddings of the Rothschilds (regulated by ghetto law in Frankfurt) or other aspects of Jewish life, just as Marxist history tends to emphasize economic events.  Many Zionist histories were written in the early twentieth century, when the recent history of Russian Jewry in particular was dominated by pogroms and persecution. During that period of time, Russian Jews indeed lived from pogrom to pogrom, and the view of contemporaries must've been colored by this circumstance.

The Jews of France, Germany, England, Spain and elsewhere survived between expulsions and return, between pogroms and reconstruction, and when Jews arrived in Poland and Russia, the same process started there.  Jews were almost always immigrants from somewhere, and could rarely point to ancestors who went back 10 generations. In some Jewish communities of the Muslim world, the reality was admittedly far better, but that does not mean there was no persecution of  Jews in the Muslim world.


Pagan Pogroms

The first recorded organized riots against Jews evidently took place in Alexandria in 38 C.E.  Alexandria and Egypt may be singled out as the source of ancient anti-Semitism. The reasons for the alienation of the Jewish community may lie in their having sided first with Alexander and then with Julius Caesar against the Egyptians, An early, anti-Semitic Egyptian history of the Exodus, by Manetho (now lost, but mentioned elsewhere), cites a different reason. The Jews sacrificed animals such as the ram, which were Egyptian gods - the Jews were, in other words, God killers, an accusation that was later woven into Christian anti-Semitism.

There is only one extant account of the Alexandria pogroms of 38, that of Philo of Alexandria, In Flaccum. The event that evidently triggered the pogrom was the visit of Herod Agrippa to Egypt, which caused a stir among the Hellenized population. Flaccus enacted a law depriving Jews of local citizenship, and opening their property and persons to attack. About 400 homes were destroyed and numerous synagogues, and at least 40 persons were killed. In celebration of the birthday of Caligula, in August, Jews were marched into the theater and forced to eat pork. Those who refused were killed.  Subsequently, the emperor Caligula had Flaccus killed. ref ref

A second Alexandrian pogrom took place in 58 CE. Josephus tells of an especially vicious Alexandrine pogrom that took place in 68, in which about 50,000 Jews were supposedly killed in Alexandria. This number is probably greatly exaggerated.  (Josephus Flavius, Jewish Wars, 2:487-498).  There were evidently numerous other ancient pogroms that are only alluded to indirectly.

Early Christian Pogroms and Background

The writings of the early fathers of the Church were riddled with anti-Semitic rhetoric. Pope Clement I (died in 101), as well as Justin Martyr (101-165) blamed the Jews for persecution of Christians, an accusation later repeated by  Quintas Septimus Florens Tertullian (160-230).  Saint Hippolytus, 170-236, pioneered the theme that the Jews deserved punishment for the killing of Jesus:

"Now then, incline thine ear to me and hear my words, and give heed, thou Jew. Many a time does thou boast thyself, in that thou didst condemn Jesus of Nazareth to death, and didst give him vinegar and gall to drink; and thou dost vaunt thyself because of this. Come, therefore, and let us consider together whether perchance thou dost boast unrighteously, O, Israel, and whether thou small portion of vinegar and all has not brought down this fearful threatening upon thee and whether this is not the cause of thy present condition involved in these myriad of troubles." (Hippolytus Expository Treatise Against the Jews)

Origen (born 185) developed this theme:

"On account of their unbelief and other insults which they heaped upon Jesus, the Jews will not only suffer more than others in the judgment which is believed to impend over the world, but have even already endured such sufferings. For what nation is in exile from their own metropolis, and from the place sacred to the worship of their fathers, save the Jews alone? And the calamities they have suffered because they were a most wicked nation, which although guilty of many other sins, yet has been punished severely for none as for those that were committed against our Jesus." Origen, Contra Celsus, 2:8

These and other early writings, such as those of Eusebius of Caesaria, provided the theological and historical justification for Church anti-Semitism, which took root after Christianity was established as the state religion. St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan provides us with evidence of pogroms in early Christian times. In 388, a synagogue had been burned down during riots in Callinicum, a town in Mesopotamia, with the encouragement of the local bishop. The Emperor Theodosius ordered the rebuilding of the synagogue, and Ambrose protested. Rebuilding a synagogue was an act of impiety according to Ambrose, and the burning of synagogues was justified on the grounds that Jews had burnt Churches in the time of the Emperor Julian::

There is, then, no adequate cause for such a commotion, that the people should be so severely punished for the burning of a building, and much less since it is the burning of a synagogue, a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly, which God himself has condemned... ...

Ambrose also wrote to his sister, boasting that he had caused the emperor to rescind the decree concerning rebuilding of the synagogue ("The Letters of St Ambrose," in A select library of Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, X, pp 440 ff)

Theodosius later reissued decrees protecting the Jews. But Ambrose had initiated a tradition of  Church approval of violence of the Jews. The Church saw fit to canonize Ambrose.  The sanction and encouragement of violence against Jews was repeated in the writings of St. John Chrysostom. He stated:

(5) ... When brute animals feed from a full manger, they grow plump and become more obstinate and hard to hold in check; they endure neither the yoke, the reins, nor the hand of the charioteer. Just so the Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: "Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer". And still another called the Jews "an untamed calf".

(6) Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter.... (St. John Chrysostom, Eight homilies against the Jews 1.2.5-6

Pogroms in the Crusades

 There was, undoubtedly, continuous sporadic violence against Jews in the European Dark Ages and early Medieval Europe. However the records of this chaotic period are insufficient to record more than extraordinary events, such as various expulsions of the Jews from Spain, from France and from communities in Germany. We can infer that there was violent persecution since, for example, at Speyer, in 1084, a Ghetto was constructed for the Jews for their own protection.

The first well documented riots or pogroms took place during the Crusades. Though violence was forbidden officially by the various popes, the bands of knights who set out on the crusades were essentially lawless marauders. Rather than protecting the Eastern Christians, which was one of the official goals of the Crusades, they often as not destroyed and plundered their communities. The conquest of Jerusalem itself was accompanied by a horrific pogrom, in which all the Jews who were not expelled were murdered. In Europe, it is believed that well over 10,000 Jews were murdered. These were as much as a third of the total Jewish population of Europe, perhaps more. Notable massacres occurred in Mainz and Wurms. Mobs led by knights or friars screamed "Hep Hep" (Hierosolyma Est Perdita - Jerusalem is lost, or possibly a cry used  for calling farm animals) and burned, raped and plundered, throwing people off walls and burning them alive.

It should be emphasized that the Popes, and most officials of the Catholic Church, made great efforts to prevent these massacres, but they were not entirely successful. The availability of a theological justification for murder and plunder was too tempting - a circumstance that dictated much of the conduct of the crusaders. Lesser massacres of Jews took place in the second and third crusades.

Further details are given here; Crusades, Massacres of Jews in.

Rindfleisch Pogroms

The Rindfleisch (or Rintfleisch) pogroms were instigated by a Franconian knight.  Up to 100,000 Jews in Southern and Central Germany during a civil war between Adolph of Nassau and Albert I of Nassau. Rindfleisch  may have been heavily in debt to Jewish moneylenders.ref Rindfleisch  claimed a divine mission to exterminate "the accursed race of the Jews" following a rumor of desecration of the host.  The "desecration of the host" was a medieval superstition which maintained that Jews defiled the communion wafer with blood. It is now believed that the wafers were attacked by a brownish-red fungus that looked like blood. Rindfleisch  was helped by others. One Kraft I of Hohenlohe invented a rumor of desecration of the host in order to justify killing of the Jews, so that he could be free of his large debt to the Jews.

The Rindfleisch pogroms are detailed here: Rindfleisch Massacres

Pastoureaux Pogroms

The  Pastoureaux ("Shepherds") were French religious fanatics of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,  In the year 1251, a mendicant friar, one "Maître de Hongrie," began to preach the Crusade in the plains of Picardy. In a short time he gained numerous adherents, called  "Pastoureaux," or "Shepherds," who initiated riots against the Jews in  Paris, Rouen, Orleans, Tours, and Bourges.

In the spring of 1320 there was a renewal of "Pastoureaux" persecutions, which eventually spread to Spain. In both instances, the church and the lay authorities tried to stop the unruly mob, that attacked the chuch as well as the Jews.  The Pastoureaux of 1320  destroyed 110 Jewish communities in the south of France, among them those of Castel-Sarrasin, Agen, Albi, Gaillac, Condom, Bigorre, and Mont-de-Marsan. Pope John XXII tried to stop the massacres in vain.

They moved south into Spain . At Tudela and in Navarre all the Jews were killed, while at Lerida, in Catalonia, seventy of them were murdered. However, the King of Aragon soon checked the fury of the Pastoureaux, 2,000 of whom perished, while the remainder were put to flight (source: Jewish Encyclopedia).

See  Pastoureaux for further details.


Armleder Pogroms

The Armleder were groups of German ruffians who committed pogroms beginning about 1336 in the neighborhood of Franconia. The word means leather arm band, and refers to the armbands worn by their followers. Their leaders were John Zimberllin and Umbehoven of Dorlisheim. The ostensible motives were Desecration of the Host and vengeance for killing Christ, but the probable real motives were monetary. In at least one case Jews were persecuted in order to wipe out Jewish debtors, while in another, Jews managed to buy off Zimberlin.  The massacres continued until 1339, when a temporary armistice was concluded by civil authorities.  (sources: Jewish Encyclopedia,  Encyclopedia Judaica) 

For further details, see Armleder.


Black Death Pogroms

The Black Death or Black Plague epidemic of 1348-1349 was a general human catastrophe, but Jews were killed by people as well as the disease. They were accused of spreading the plague by poisoning wells and food and made to confess under torture. About 300 communities suffered pogroms, including Geneva, Mainz, Strassbourg and Frankfort. On September  26, 1348, Pope Clement VI issued a bull in Avignon, Quamvis Perfidiam,  denouncing the well-poisoning allegation, but nonetheless, the persecutions continued. Jews began migrating eastward to Poland and Lithuania.

Further details: Black Death, massacres of Jews.   

Blood Libels and Pogroms

The Medieval and reformation periods were also marked by a large number of blood libels. These engendered pogroms in which entire communities were sometimes wiped out. The advent of the blood libel was evidently inspired by the waves of anti-Semitism that attended the crusades. The first recorded "blood libel" was apparently the case of William of Norwich, recorded in England in 1144.   At Blois, in 1171, about 30-40 Jews were burned in one such famous case. Blood libels in Mainz 1281, 1283, Munich 1285 and Oberwesel, 1287, formed the background of the Rindfleisch massacres. Additional accounts may be found in the article on blood libel.

Spanish Pogroms

Jews had prospered in Spain despite occasional pogroms or massacres under Muslim rule. They attained an estimated population of half a million, but as Spain was reclaimed by Christians, their fortunes fell. In Christian Spain, pogroms against the Jews were initiated at the end of the fourteenth century. The problems of the Jews began in the conflict between King Pedro, a protector of the Jews and Henry of Trastamara. Wherever Henry or his supporters triumphed, Jews were murdered. The situation of the Jews gradually worsened, until in June of 1391, serious massacres broke out in Seville, and spread throughout much of Castille. The massacres were incited by the preaching of Vincent of Ferrer (later canonized) and others, and were religious in nature. Jews could escape death by baptism.

Details are given in: Massacres in Spain, Fourteenth Century

Pogrom in Lisbon

The 1506 Lisbon massacre is also known as the Easter Massacre, a pogrom of converted Jews. Between 2,000 and 4,000 “New Christians” (also called Maranos or Conversos), Portuguese Jews who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism by order of King Manuel about 10 years before, were massacred by a mob incited by Dominican friars. The violence followed a plague which was blamed on these newly converted Christians who were said to be "Judaizing" (carrying out Jewish rituals) in secret.

A detailed description is given here: Lisbon Massacre.

The Hep Hep Pogroms

The emancipation of the Jews and the rise of nationalism, helped to enhance anti-Semitism, because it brought Jews in closer conteact and competition with their neighbors. Germany was one of the most advanced countries in respect of Jewish emancipation and assimilation. It was the birthplace of the Haskalah. A reaction that limited Jewish rights about 1816, and the subsequent Jewish protests, brought on the Hep_Hep Riots in 1819. The rioters screamed "Hep, Hep," the medieval chant of the Crusades, illustrating the continuity of the anti-Jewish tradition. The riots spread from Wurzburg to Frankfurt and to Copenhagen. Authorities intervened to crush the riots, but at the same time refused to grant Jewish rights, on the grounds that these would kindle riots.

The Hep Hep riots are described in further detail here: Hep_Hep Riots.

Greek anti-Jewish Pogroms

During the Greek War of Independence from 1821-1829, there were several severe riots against Jews,  who were thought to side with the Turks, though European Jews had contributed generously to Greek independence.  The Jewish communities of Mistras, Tripolis, Kalamata and Patras were completely destroyed. A few survivors moved north to areas that remained under Ottoman rule. These massacres must be viewed in the context of the general massacres and disorder of this period in Greek history.

Russian Pogroms

The infamous Russian pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th century, the classical pogroms of Tsarist Russia, as well as those of the post revolutionary period, were not isolated or novel events. Russian history, like the history of much of Europe, is replete with numerous instances of anti-Jewish violence, whether or not it was encouraged by by the state.

Records show some early disorders in which Jews were killed. However, perhaps the earliest recorded massacre of Jews in Russia and Poland took place in 1563, in the war between the Russians and Poles over Smolensk. Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) captured Polotsk, ordered, according to the testimony of an eye-witness, that all the Jews who refused to adopt Christianity -- about 300  -- should be thrown into the Duna and drowned (Sapunov, "Vitebskaya Starina," iv. 119, 189, 232) (source: Jewish Encyclopedia).  (see also Klier, John, The Pogrom Paradigm in Russian History, in Klier, John Doyle and Shlomo Lambroza, eds.  Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, New York: Cambridge, 1992 p 13).

Cossack Pogroms in the Ukraine

The settlement of Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia was accompanied by a long series of violent disturbances, often associated with nationalist revolts or other disturbances. The Cossack uprising of Bogdan Khmelnytskyi (or Chmelnitsky) took place in several stages. It targeted Poles and it targeted Jews as religious aliens, and also as agents of the Polish feudal system. The Jews had migrated to Poland/Lithuania following the upheavals of the Black Death period, and then had been invited to the Ukraine as tax agents, a role which did not endear them to the local population. The peace of the massacres took place from 1648 to 1658.  Khmelnytsky achieved short-lived Ukrainian-Cossack independence, but the Ukraine was soon annexed to Russia. A Russian-Polish war followed, and an invasion of Swedes. A large number of Jews died, targeted for nationalist, economic and religious-cultural reasons, but a large number of Polish Christians and Ukrainians died as well in this anarchic period. Earlier Jewish historians estimated that over 100,000 Jews were killed. However, some modern researchers believe that of a total population of about 40,000, perhaps 20,000 were killed (Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, University of Toronto Press, 1996, ISBN 0802078206, p. 201). Large numbers of Jews and others also appeared for sale as slaves in Crimea. Some of them were ransomed by the efforts of Ottoman Jewry. Whatever its actual size, the disaster of the Khmelnytsky revolt was extremely traumatic and stimulated belief in the false Messiah, Shabettai Tzvi

Jews suffered similarly during the anarchy generated by the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, exemplified by the depredations of armed bands known as Haidamaky in the 1760s. The Haidamaky, a revival of the earlier revolt of Khmelnytsky.  slaughtered Jews where they went, as well as Poles and Roman Catholics. The revolt is remembered in the Ukraine as the Koliyivshchyna.  The first attacks swept through the towns of Lisyanka, Golta, Tulchin, Paulovich, Fastov, Zhivotov, Granov, and then spread to Teityev. Jews and Poles fled to the local fortified city of Uman for protection. However, the city was betrayed by the commissioner Ivan Gonta to the Haidamaky and a terrible slaughter followed in the spring of 1768. The Uman pogrom was a rare instance in which Jews defended themselves. One rabbi Leibish was said to have wielded a sword and killed a number of Haidamaky, while others were killed by Jews who had taken refuge in a barn cellar. About 12,000 to 30,000 Jews were estimated to have died in the slaughter, but documentation is poor. ref The Haidamaky and the Cossacks of Bogdan Khmelnytsky are fondly remembered by modern Ukrainian historians:

The Cossacks and the haidamaks are respected and worshipped in Ukraine. The Cossacks were soldiers that defended their motherland and fought against invaders. All Ukrainians seem to know who the Cossacks were. This word requires no special definition. The haidamaks were insurgents that fought against landlords, occupiers, and nobles. They defended social freedoms, the Orthodox faith and Ukraine's independence.,,

The haidamaks fought in bands against Polish occupiers, Jewish landlords and Uniats, whose church was in communion with the Roman Catholic Church but retained Orthodox rites and codes of canon law. Thus the movement was not only social and national but also religious...  Senchenko, Volodymyr, The Haidamaks, The Ukrainian Observer, Issue 222 

Once led by Bohdan Khmelnitsky to destroy Poland and regain their freedom, Ukrainians could not put up with tortures and humiliation.

Political and Social Background of the Pogroms

Various speculations have been offered for the causes of the wave of Anti-Semitism which led to the Russian pogroms of 1881-1917. In part, the "wave" was a perception. Pogroms had already occurred in Odessa and violence of this sort was an integral part of Russian and Ukrainian history.  However, several events and processes contributed to the Pogrom.  The freeing of the serfs in 1861 flooded the cities with unskilled, largely illiterate and uneducated peasants seeking employment. There they often ran into conflict with the better-educated and wealthier Jews, In 1863, many Jews supported the Poles in the Polish Rebellion, which cannot have increased sympathy for the Jews among Russians and Ukrainians. About 1869 a Jewish convert named Jacob Brafman published, at government expense,  “The Book of the Kahal”. Supposedly based on a book of minutes written in 1795-1803 by the Minsk community of Jews, it claimed to reveal a Jewish cabal and anti-Russian sentiments among the Jews. Evidently the Kahal had existed under previously laws, but had ceased to function by 1844. Brafman claimed that it continued to function, and was part of a universal Jewish Kahal that included the newly established Alliance Israélite Universelle. The thesis was embellished with the usual anti-Semitic "translations" from the Talmud. The effects of this popular libel on Russian attitudes to Jews were obviously not good. In the early 19th century, Jews had begun to emerge from ghettos, putting them into competition with non-Jewish businesses as well as workers. This was evidently the basis for the Odessa pogroms, and it fueled both reactionary and Social Democrat propaganda.

Many admired writers and intellectuals, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, were notorious Jew-haters. This no doubt helped to popularize anti-Semitism, but it does not explain it. 


Odessa Pogroms

Odessa was an exceptional Russian city. It was a balmy, cosmopolitan and bustling seaport. In the early 19th century it did not even have a Russian majority. It was a liberal city and a favorite of Jews. By the 1870s, about 27% of the population of Odessa was Jewish. Odessa is credited with being the site of the first pogroms by some authorities, though the massacres were not exceptional compared to the horrendous massacres of the Ukrainian "patriots," Khmelnytsky and the Haidamaky, and were overshadowed by far more lethal pogroms at the end of the 19th century. 

In 1821 and then again in 1859 and in 1871, serious riots occurred in which Jews were killed and wounded, and Jewish property and businesses incurred substantial damages. In addition to these dramatic outbursts, Jewish and gentile youths often engaged in bloody brawls. Every year at Eastertime rumors of an impending pogrom circulated through the city's Jewish community, giving rise to anxiety and fear. The Odessa pogroms of this period were instigated by the Greek population of Odessa. In 1821 Greek Odessans  accused the Jews aiding the Turks in the killing of the Greek patriarch of Constantinople. That pogrom resulted in 14 deaths. The 1859 pogrom was the result of a blood libel spread by Greek sailors.  The 1871 pogrom began with a rumor that Jews had desecrated the Greek Orthodox Church and cemetery on the eve of Orthodox Easter. The economic decline and resentment of the Odessa Greeks probably played a role as well. In the 1871 pogroms, the Russians and Ukrainians joined in the attacks, as they and others perceived the Jews as an economic threat. 

The 1871 Odessa pogrom began on the eve of Orthodox Easter and lasted several days while police looked on and did nothing. It continued until the governor ordered the police to stem the disorders. Rioters killed six persons, wounded twenty-one, and damaged over one thousand Jewish homes and businesses.  Still the pogrom was not as violent or as obviously fomented by government forces and the "Russian Union" (Black Hundreds) as the 1881, 1886, 1905 and 1907 pogroms that would follow.  (Weinberg, Robert, Visualizing Pogroms in Russian History, Jewish History 9 Volume 12, No. 2 9 Fall 1998, PP 71-92).

Pogroms of 1881

Pogroms: Map of pogroms in Southern Russia
Map of pogroms in Southern Russia. The white area
shows the Pale of settlement, but some Jews lived
outside the Pale and pogroms took place in surrounding
towns.  Source: Grossman Project: Pogroms 

In 1881, Czar Alexander the II was assassinated by a group of 15 conspirators. Only one of the conspirators, Gesya Gelfman (or Hesya Helfman), was Jewish by birth, but the assassination touched off a series of pogroms against Jews. The proximate causes of the pogroms are not entirely clear.

Even before the assassination of the Czar, the Russian press had been stirring up anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic journals that had been agitating against the Jews since the late 1870s included Kievlianin in Kiev, Vilenski vestnik in Vilna and Novorossiiski telegraf in Odessa. This agitation was stepped up after the assassination. However, the press did not intend, or at least pretended that they did not intend, to foment violence. ovorossiiski telegraf even defended itself against charges that it had incited violence. (Aronson, I. Michael,  the Anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia in 1881, in Klier, John Doyle and Shlomo Lambroza, eds.  Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, New York: Cambridge, 1992 p 46).

The Czar Alexander III evidently had an active part in instigating the pogroms. He may have really been overcome with anger at the murder of his father Alexander II, though it seems he understood that "the Jews" were not responsible. It is more likely that he feared for the Czarist regime and used the Jews as a scapegoat and escape valve  Publicly, the Czar spoke out against the Jews and he appointed  Nikolai Ignatiev, as the new Minister of the Interior. 

The government did little to stop the pogroms in most cases until late in 1881. A religious society was supposed to have had a hand in initiating and spreading the pogroms of 1881, A case has been made that the pogroms were due to economic unrest and competition, real or perceived, of Jewish workers, ( see: Aronson, I. Michael, Geographical and Socioeconomic Factors in the 1881 Anti-Jewish Pogroms in Russia, Russian Review, The 0036-0341 vol: 39 (1) 1980 p:18 - 31), Indeed, the Russian government itself adopted this idea, or used it as an excuse, to impose further restrictions on Jewish participation in Russian economic and social life in the infamous May laws of 1882. True or not, this interpretation of the reasons for anti-Semitism was paradoxically, also adopted by socialist Zionists, especially Ber Borochov. While there can be no doubt that economic and social factors encouraged Anti-Semitism, the economic explanation does not tell us why the pogroms broke out in 1881 and not at some other time or why they spread so quickly throughout southern Russia, supposedly with little or no government intervention at first. It seems likely that the government perceived that anti-Semitic violence would divert revolutionary fervor from further attacks on the Tsarist regime.

There were about 166-259 pogroms in the 1881 wave, varying  in length and severity. They produced about 50 fatalities, of whom half were pogromshchiki (pogromists) killed during the suppression of the riots. There were a number of rapes during the pogroms, but perhaps not in the massive numbers claimed by contemporary publicists.

The pogroms  of 1881 took place, among others, at  these places and dates:

(Dates according to the "old style" Calendar except as noted)

Elizavetgrad (April 15)

Aleksandriia (April 19)

Anan'ev (April 26)

Kiev (April 26)

Tiraspol (April 27)

Brovary (April 27)

Konotop (April 27)
Zhmerinka (April 27)

Kanev (April 27)

Vasirkov (April 27)

Zhitomir (April 29)

Cherkasy (April 29)

Aleksandrovsk (May 1)

Smela (May 3)

Mariupol (May 7)

Warsaw (December 25-27 new style)

Additionally, the Pereiaslav area was struck on June 30 and, along with Berezan, again on July 12-14. The Nezhin and Borzna areas suffered sporadic pogroms between July 15 and August 15. (Aronson, I. Michael, Geographical and Socioeconomic Factors in the 1881 Anti-Jewish Pogroms in Russia, Russian Review, The 0036-0341 vol: 39 (1) 1980 p:18 - 31)

The wave or waves of pogroms did not end in 1881. In 1885, for example, there was an additional pogrom in Kiev and in 1886 there was a pogrom in Odessa. All these pogroms as yet involved few dead, but numerous Jews were left homeless and impoverished. The situation of the Jews was further exacerbated by the May laws.

The 1881 pogroms and the 1882 May laws initiated a wave of Jewish emigration from Russia to the West. The pogroms also brought a bit of popularity for the Zionist movement.  Leon Pinsker was able to revitalize the Chovevei Tzion and the BILU movement was formed against the background of the pogroms.


Continuing Pogroms

It would be a mistake to believe, as some have asserted, that after the 1881 "wave" or waves of pogroms had ended about 1886, there were no more disturbances until 1903,  Dubnow's History of the Jews relates that a "wave" of  pogroms occurred beginning in 1897. On February 18 and 19, 1897 a pogrom took place in Shpola in the Kiev governorate. According to the account in the semi-official (and anti-Semitic) Novoye Vremya, an immense crowd of "peasants" wrecked all the Jewish stores and homes completey. The paper noted that the pogrom was pre-arranged, The local Jews had heard rumors of the pogrom and informed the police, who assured them that "nothing is going to happen." On August 16 and 17, the Christian inhabitants of Kantakuzenka in the government of Kherson, likewise staged a pogrom. Again the authorities were informed but were unable to stop the pogrom. The government cracked down. About 60 rioters served prison sentences of 8-14 months. Characteristically, one of those arrested exclaimed, "They told us we had permission to beat the Jews, and now it appears that it is all a lie."

An even larger pogrom took place during Easter (April 19-21) of 1899 in Nicholayev (or Nikholayev) a port in southern Russia. It began with an urban riot, which Cossack forces were unable or unwilling to put down. By the third day, peasants were heading to the city to carry off  Jewish property. By this time, the Cossacks had clamped down. Instead, the frustrated peasants wrecked the cemetery and then set out to attack Jewish agricultural settlements in the vicinity. In some places the Jews resisted. The zeal of the authorities in putting down the pogrom may have been related to Russian attendance at the Hague International Disarmament Conference of that year. Fatalities are not mentioned in the above pogroms.   Chenstokhov (Czestokhowa or Czestochowa) Poland, is a Catholic pilgrimage site as it is the home of the black madonnna of Czestchowa, and it also had a large Jewish population. This unfortunate combination was resulted in repeated pogroms and riots.  On August 19 1902 a pogrom began after an altercation.  It resulted in 14 deaths of Jews and one gendarme. The Cossacks had no qualms about promptly suppressing this disturbance.  (Dubnow, Simon, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Tr Israel Friedlander, Avoteynu, N.Y. 2000, 434-435, Theodore R. Weeks Polish-Jewish relations 1903-1914: The view from the chancellery, Canadian Slavonic Papers, Sep-Dec 1998) 


The Pogroms of 1903 and 1905

The pogroms of 1903 and 1905 greatly exceeded the earlier pogroms of the 1880s  in scope and violence and evidently got the more or less active aid of the Russian government as well the Black Hundreds society. These pogroms claimed thousands of lives and initiated large waves of immigration to the United States. They also were the catalysts for the Second Aliya - a wave of Zionist emigration to the land of Israel.


Kishinev Pogrom, 1903

The Kishinev pogrom of 1903 became, for various reasons, the best remembered Russian pogrom in history, though it was far from the largest. 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 pogroms." The first Kishinev pogrom was preceded by a blood libelin February of 1903. Likewise, Pavel Krushevan, publisher of the Bessarabian newspaper Bessarabets, had incited the population through a constant stream of journalistic invective since 1894. He was evidently encouraged by the infamous Minister of the Interior Vyacheslav von Plehve. 

Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 - The first Kishinev pogrom began on April 19, 1903 (April 6 by the Julian Calendar). About 49 Jews were killed,  and more than 500  were injured, some of them seriously.  700 houses were looted and destroyed and 600 businesses and shops were looted. 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.

The Hebrew poet  Chaim Nachman Bialik commemorated the pogrom in his poem, "Be-Ir ha-Haregah" ("In the City of Death") which became famous.  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

See also: Kishinev Pogrom which details the pogrom of 1903. 

The 1905 Pogroms

In 1905 following the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, there was an abortive revolution. Some reforms and freedoms were granted briefly. The unrest  was accompanied by pogroms. Major pogroms took place, among other places in Odessa and Kiev, as well as a second pogrom in Kishinev in 1905. Self defense efforts were only slightly more successful in saving lives. 19 Jews were killed and 64 were injured. In Bialystok in 1906, a pogrom took 80 lives. The Russian government blamed the pogrom on the Jews. 

A detailed account of these pogroms is given here: Russian Pogroms - 1905

Pogroms in the Russian Civil War

For a more  detailed account: Russian Civil War Pogroms

The worst of the Russian pogroms were yet to come. The Soviet revolution was followed by a civil war and a war with Poland. Between 50,000 and 100,000 or even 200,000 Jews died in pogroms during this period. It is difficult to get more accurate numbers, or to know how many were murdered because they were Jews, how many died of starvation and disease and how many died fighting in the various armies.

The reasons or excuses for the pogroms were diverse. Everyone hated the Jews for religious reasons. The Poles accused them of being anti-Polish. The Ukrainians initially the Jews first because they were merchants and exploiters (bourgeois) and then because they were communists. The White Russian armies hated the Jews because they were communists and because they had cooperated with the Ukrainians. All the armies were perpetual in need of money and supplies, and extortion of Jews was the easiest way to get them.

Russian human catastrophes of the twentieth century tend to have a mind-boggling scale. There was chaos during this period, and afterwards the authorities destroyed or hid whatever documentation existed, though some of it is coming to light following the fall of the USSR.

One recent review  estimates that between 50,000 and 200,000 Jews were killed in the pogroms of this period. (Budnitskii, Oleg, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 2.4 (2001) 751-772)

Most of the pogroms were concentrated in the Ukraine, and took place in 1919. Western Russia had been the front with Germany and held large numbers of soldiers who had never been demobilized. They formed ragtag armies that went about pillaging and killing. The Soviets, the "White Russians" (Volunteer armies of Denikin), the Ukrainian nationalists of Petliura and the Poles, all conquered and reconquered territory, along with various war lords like Zeliony who changed sides periodically. Each army was welcomed by the Jews to save them from the previous set of bandits, and with the exception of the Reds as a general rule, each army committed pogroms, accusing the Jews of having sided with the previous occupiers or the current enemy.  A more detailed  account of this chaotic period is given here: Russian Civil War Pogroms.

Berlin Pogrom 1921

The New York Times of February 28, 1921 (Students organize first Berlin Pogrom) reported that Berlin had experienced its first pogrom on February 27, as the result of a thwarted "reactionary plot." Hundreds of Jews were beaten that Sunday, and two died of their wounds. The perpetrators were not Freikorps, but rather, according  to the Times, students. They invaded the Jewish quarter armed with clubs and  stones, and then invaded the Kurfurstendamenstrasse. The police, led by Prussian officers, arrived in "auto trucks." Rather than stopping the rioters, they loaded the unconscious victims into the trucks and when students tried to attack Jews in the trucks, the police told the students to confine the disturbances to the streets.

Nazi Era Pogroms

The rise to power Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany was to seal the doom of European Jewry, though the Jews refused to recognize the danger for many years. Before the commencement of the Holocaust, the Germans and others initiated pogroms against Jews in several places, the first being Germany. After the war, murders of Jews and pogroms did not stop, since it was not only the German Nazis who hated Jews.


A series of humiliating and debilitating Nazi laws against the Jews culminated in the pogroms of Kristallnacht. These killed at least 91 and resulted in the burning of approximately 200 synagogues as well as destruction of numerous Jewish businesses. Large numbers of Jews were arrested and shipped off to concentration camps. Of these, about 2,000 died but the rest were freed.

See main article: Kristallnacht.

Iasi Pogrom

The Iasi Pogrom took place in Iasi, in Eastern Romania, beginning formally on June 28, 1941, during the Nazi and Romanian invasion of the USSR. As many as 15,000 Jews were murdered both in the actual pogrom itself, and during their transport out of the city to temporary lodgings elsewhere.  The Iasi pogrom was planned by the Romanian government in cooperation with the German Abwehr. This pogrom marked the start of violent transportation and murder of Jews, particularly in the eastern part of Romania and area conquered from the USSR. The United States government was aware of the extermination of Romanian Jews as early as November, 1941 or before, but evidently deliberately suppressed the information.

Detailed information: Iasi Pogrom 

Jedwabne Pogrom

On July 10, 1941, a month after Germany had retaken Jedwabne from the Russians, some or all of the Jews of Jedwabne were crowded into a barn and murdered. Their Polish neighbors took their houses and property. Whereas it had once been assumed that the Gestapo or SS had done the killing, two separate investigations concluded that the massacre was carried out by local Poles, probably on the instigation of the Germans. Before the war, about 1,600 Jews supposedly lived in Jedwabne, including about 600 refugees from other towns. From 250 to 1,600 Jews were killed by burning the barn down with them in it. A similar incident took place at Radzilow. What is most remarkable is the considerable resistance in Poland to accepting the facts as uncovered by historians, and the frankly anti-Semitic statements that the issue evokes.

See main article: Jedwabne Pogrom

Babi Yar Massacre

At Babi Yar near Kiev, the German Nazis and their Ukrainian helpers murdered over 33,000 Jews in two days - September 29 and 30, 1941. Additional Jews, Roma people, Soviet POWs and Ukrainians were also murdered at Babi Yar. This was the largest of many similar massacres carried out during operation Barbarossa by the SS Einsatzegruppen and their local helpers. Babi Yar is singled out because of the scale of the massacre and because of the signal reluctance of the Soviet authorities to admit that many of the victims were Jews. The issue became a cause of the Soviet underground and intellectual dissidents, and the facts of the massacre of Babi Yar were exposed to the Russian people and the world in a powerful poem by the courageous dissident poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko and a documentary by Anatoli Kuznetsov.

See main article: Babi Yar.  

Kielce Pogrom

The Kielce pogrom against Polish Jewish Holocaust  survivors began with an accusation of blood libel. It was a classic pogrom, actively assisted by local authorities. About 200 Jews, the remains of Kielce's Jewish population, had returned to the town. A father and his son falsely reported on July 4, 1946 that the boy had been kidnapped by the Jews, who were kidnapping and killing Polish children. The Poles stormed a Zionist building where the bodies of these children were supposedly kept in the cellar. The building had no cellar. The police and army spread rumors of the blood libel. About 40 Jews were killed. The pogrom helped to hasten the departure of Polish Jews for Palestine. Polish authorities are generally reluctant to discuss this pogrom, and anti-Zionists insist that the only reason Polish Jews left Poland is because of an anti-Semitism scare supposedly created by Zionists.

See main article: Kielce pogrom and blood libel

Pogroms in Muslim Countries

Though a belief has grown up that Muslim rule was tolerant of the Jews and that Jews were safe in Arab countries, examination of the historical record shows only partial evidence for that belief. Jews fared only relatively better in Muslim countries. Some of the early Muslim massacres were quite as bad as Christian pogroms, and in many cases we do not know the extent of the carnage owing to poor record keeping. In the modern era, even well before the establishment of the Jewish state and the rise of Zionism, the frequency of recorded pogroms in Muslim lands is much greater. This may be an artifact of historical recording.

Some of the major incidents are listed below. As in Christian countries, the pogroms were invited by the helplessness of the Jews, who were to allowed to bear arms,  by their position as a "protected" but inferior minority and by ambivalent theology. Sometimes there were proximate causes such as brigandage, or a Jew who had been appointed to a high post, or general disorders. But there were also incidents without a particular cause, and it was very often Jews who were singled out for killing in general disorders, though Christians suffered as well.

Khaybar Massacre

The Khaybar Massacre must be accounted the first Muslim pogrom or massacre of Jews. Invited to Medina by the Jews, Muhammad soon expelled the Jews from that town in 625. They migrated to Khaybar. In 628, having concluded the Hudna of Hudaybieh with the Meccans, Muhammad and his troops fell on Khaybar for no reason, massacring many of the men and taking the women as booty. Thus began the coexistence of Jews and Muslims. Unlike many other pogroms, the memory of which has been erased from history, Khaybar is well remembered in the Middle East. The Muslims remembered it, and at many subsequent massacres and in many wars against Israel, the cry of Khaybar! Khaybar! is heard. The Hezbollah launched Khaybar missiles against Israel in the Second Lebanon War

See main article for details: Khaybar

Fez Pogrom of 1033

A massacre of about Jews occurred in Fez, Morocco in 1033. It has been attributed to the Jewish support for the Maghrawas, the rivals of the Ifrenids. However, it was certainly not an isolated occurrence in Fez.

Granada Pogrom

The Jews mostly prospered in Spain under Muslim rule, so much so that they sometimes attained high office.

On December 30, 1066, a Muslim mob in Granada murdered the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population of the city. Over 1,500 Jewish families, numbering 4,000 persons, fell in one day. ref

Abu Ishaq. the distinguished Sharia law jurist, had composed the following poem, which is said to have inspired the deed:

Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on.

They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators?

How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent?

Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right

(see Qasida - Abu Ishaq of Elvira's polemic poem against the Jews)

For a long time, the Granada massacre was accounted one of the largest massacres in history. The notion that Jews did not suffer under Muslim rule nonetheless persists.


Fez Pogrom of 1276

On March 10, 1276, a massacre began in Fez, Morocco, because of a rumor that a Jew had behaved improperly to a Muslim woman. The riot stopped only when the Sultan, Yaqub bin Yusuf arrived. (Stillman, Norman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 1970 p. 80.)

Fez Pogrom of 1465

On May 14, 1464, the Jews of Fez, now confined to a mellah (ghetto)  for their own "protection" were almost completely exterminated. As in Granada, the cause was a Jewish vizier, Aaron bin Batash. The Jews in high posts in Muslim countries were put there because of their vulnerability, which made them easy to control, and because they were useful. In many instances they were eventually put to death to avoid a massacre of Jews. In this case, that did not suffice. A rebellion began which ended the Merinid dynasty. Similar massacres took place throughout the country.  (Stillman, Norman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 1970 pp. 79-81.)

Sana Expulsion

In 1679, the Jews of Sana'a and of Central Yemen were expelled from the main cities to a desolate area near the village of Mawza. Their synagogues were destroyed or converted into mosques. When they were allowed to return, they could only live in other, designated places. In Sana'a, they were moved to settle in the Qa'at al Yahud, outside the city.  (Stillman, Norman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 1979 p. 322) Some sources claim that in addition to destruction of property and synagogues, large numbers of Jews died in the process of expulsion.

Tetouan Pogrom 1790

Maulay Yazid, ruler of Morocco, had an intense hatred for the Jews and incited pogroms throughout the country between 1790 and 1792. He encouraged attacks on the mellahs of Tetouan and other cities.  The Jews of Fez were forced to leave the mellah for two years. Marrakesh Jews also received an expulsion order, and their mellah was pillaged.   

 On April 17, 1790, Yazid entered Tetouan for the first time. He ordered that all the Jews should be imprisoned in a house, while the Arabs were allowed to loot their homes. They also stripped the Jews naked and raped the women. The Jews were all thrown into prison for three days. About six or eight adults and many children were murdered by the Arabs. (See Report of the Tetouan Pogrom ). See also Stillman, Norman, The Jews of Arab Lands, 1970 pp. 308-309.

Safed Plunder of 1834

It is unclear how many Jews were killed in this extended riot, but the Jews of Safed were despoiled of their property and forced to flee the town of Safed for 33 days, from June 15 to July 17, 1834. Evidently, there had also been a previous massacre in Safed in 1660. The 1834 disorders were followed by an earthquake in 1837 and an attack by Druse in 1838 that killed several people.

For details see: Safed Plunder of 1834

Taza and Settat Pogroms of 1903

In 1903, 40 Jews were reported killed by Muslims during riots in Taza, as well as a number killed in Settat.

Casablanca Pogrom of 1907

In 1907, about 30 Jews were killed, and 200 women, girls and boys, were abducted and raped by Muslim rioters. The riots broke out as the result of a colonial dispute with the French. Nine Europeans were killed, and rioters looted the Jewish quarter.

Shiraz Pogrom 1910

The blood libel and pogrom  that took place in  Shiraz, Iran, in October of 1910, is one of the few recorded Muslim-instigated blood libels, though it is probably not the only instance. The blood libel was only an excuse, since no child had died at all. About 30 Jews were murdered and all 260 houses of the Jewish quarter were completely looted and destroyed.

For details, see: Shiraz Pogrom and Blood Libel

Fez Pogrom of 1912

In 1912, Morocco became a French "protectorate." The Muslims did not like being protected. In Fez, they rioted and killed about 60 Jews, leaving about 10,000 homeless. The Jews were given refuge in the palace of the Sultan.

Fez Pogrom 1912

Fez Pogrom of 1912 - Refugees

The Farhud Baghdad Pogrom

The Farhud was a pogrom of Jews in Baghdad, Iraq, beginning on June 1, 1941, during a coup that was supported by the Axis powers and instigated by the Palestinian Arab Nazi collaborator, Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, Estimates of the number of dead range into the thousands. Babies were disembowelled before their parents' eyes. 

For details, see: Farhud

Ethiopian Pogroms

Ethiopian Jews were not exempt from the persecution, pogroms and forced conversions suffered by Jews in the Diaspora, Though much of the earlier suffering of Ethiopian Jews were due to the ups and downs of fortune in their wars with the Christian monarchs, the end of the independent Jewish kingdom in Ethiopia was marked not by a war, but by a pogrom. The Jews under King Gideon had concluded a treaty with the Christian monarch Susneyos. At the time, the Jews had an estimated half a million adherents. Susneyos however, apparently egged on by Portuguese Jesuit fanatic advisors, reneged on his truce pledge and sometime between 1616 and 1624 committed a great pogrom of the Jews living between Lake Tana and the Semien mountains. Gideon was killed, and Falasha independence seems to have died with him.

James Bruce, a Scot who visited Ethiopia in the 18th century and published a travelogue account (Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile) in 1790, reported that a few Jews had escaped the massacre and survived under the rule of Phineas (Pinhas) who had succeeded Gideon. The children of those slain were sold for slaves and all the Falasha in the Dembea and the low countries under the power of the king were forcibly converted and made to plow on the Sabbath. The pogrom of Susneyos marked the beginning of a long period of active persecution of Jews and forced conversions, so that by the end of the 19th century there were less than 100,000 Jews in Ethiopia.

Ami Isseroff

April 6, 2009

Synonyms and alternate spellings:  

Further Information:  Inquisition anti-Semitism Time-Line: Anti-Semitism In Dutch: Geschiedenis Joden en antisemitisme in Europa en de Arabische wereld

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions::s::

'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.

chh - (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.

Definitions of Zionism  General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism

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