A Singular Event in Jewish History
The pogrom in Kishinev started on 6 April, the first day of Easter. A week before the pogrom the notorious document below circulated among the tea houses of the city.
Proclamation Letter received by the owner
of the tavern “Moscow” in Kishinev
not later than 30 March, 1903
Here comes the great day of Christ resurrection. Many years ago Our Saviour, tormented by the Jews, atoned our sins and the sins of the whole world by His blood ... Meanwhile the base Zjids are not satisfied with the blood of Our Saviour crucified by them ... Every year they shed the innocent blood of Christians and use it for their rituals. Have you not heard that they crucified a Christian boy in Dubossari (Kishinev's neighbourhood) and bled him? Yes, it is true. It is known to the authorities, but they do not declare it not to excite us against these bloody bastards, who should have been expelled from Russia long ago ...
This is the way of their jeering at us, Russians. And how much harm do they bring to our Mother Russia! They want to take possession of her … they publish various proclamations to the people in order to excite it against the authority, even against our Father the Czar, who knows the mean, cunning, deceitful and greedy nature of this nation, and does not let them liberties ...
But if you give liberty to the Zjids, he will reign our holy Russia, take everything in his paws and there will no more Russia, but Zjidowia. Brothers, in the name of our Saviour, who shed his blood for us; in the name of our Father the Czar, who cares for his people and grants them alleviating manifests, let us exclaim in the forthcoming great day: Down with Zjids! Beat these mean degenerates, blood suckers drunk with Russian blood! Remind them Odessa pogrom, during which even the army was on the side of the people; no need to say, they will help us this time ...
The party of workers, true Christians. Let it be read by your guests, otherwise we will smash the tavern.
Although the letter was signed by the fictitious name of an official representative, its authorship is not difficult to determine. In the previous section of this essay, we have indicated that the economic and legal position of Bessarabian Jews worsened significantly after 1881 as the result of reactionary policy applied towards the Jews. But the worst trouble came when Kishinev became the headquarters of the newspaper Bessarabetz, the only one published in Kishinev. Its editor P. A. Krushevan led systematic anti-Semitic propaganda, instilling the hatred against the Jews within the population of Bessarabia. All the attempts to protest submitted were of no avail. The official reaction coming from the head of the Main Office for the Press said that the activities of Bessarabetz was quite useful, had the sound ground and that from the government’s point of view it was undesirable to suspend its publication.
Krushevan’s paper caricatured Jewry from “all the possible angles”, and combined all the forms of anti-Semitism. The Jews were represented as exploiters of the people, who did not produce anything of economic value, but only pocketed the product of the toil of others; they were said to be those who attempted to violate the existing political order by their destructive revolutionary activities; and finally the Jews were accused of the world conspiracy theory the ultimate aim of which was to seize and rule the whole world. The last accusation was quite unique; it was the central motiv of “The Protocols of Zion Elders” published anonymously in Russian two years later, which had profound impact not only upon the Russian society, but also upon many educated people in Europe. Similarly to the story of bloody calumny which possessed minds of folk, conspiracy theory took a broad space, but this time, in the intellectual world. Just as Paps failed to make their flock get rid of the belief in the bloody calumny plot, so no official refutations and court investigations claiming that “The Protocols of Zion Elders” was a fraud document could make people change their belief in its veracity. The first target upon which this accusation was approbated was the Kishinev Jews.
However, to make the mob rise, Krushevan had to resort to something familiar, deeply engraved in the superstitious mind of layman against which no logic or authority will work – “something which is always there”. This was the old motif of bloody calumny - the belief that Jews perform a ritual murder of Christian boy or girl to use their blood for the preparation of Passover Matzos. Already in 1902 Krushevan attempted to set a bloody calumny case in moving, when a murdered boy found in the well just before the Easter, was declared by him to be the victim of Jewish ritual murder. But his plan was spoiled, because the real murderer was found. Krushevan had to publicly admit that the story was untrue. But the next year Krushevan was luckier. In the first days of February 1903, a body of a boy with a huge number of knife-wounds was found in Kishinev neighbourhood. Taking advantage of the fact that the murderer was not found yet, Krushevan published a number of articles with chilling details about the way the Jews murdered him. It was a spark dropped inside the cask of gun powder.
In the month preceding the pogrom, the town was full of sinister rumours about the Jews, and as the Easter approached, the rumours that the Jews would be revenged grew stronger. Frightened Jews sent their representatives to the local authorities, the chief of police and archbishop, but that was of no avail. The authorities assured the Jews that all the measures would be taken in the case of rioting and archbishop refused to calm the masses. As was expected, the pogrom began on the first day of Easter. Twenty groups, each having 20-25 persons, moved towards the Jewish quarter from the square where all the festivities took place at the same time. As it seems, they were well instructed, they moved silently and each has its own area of action. They started to break the windows and rob houses and small shops. These actions did not face any police resistance, and the rioters, inspired by this, become assured of their impunity. Moreover, the new rumour was spread, that the Czar himself gave the permission to beat and raid the Jews during three days. As the dusk felt, the crowd broke up.
The next day, the pogrom took on wide scope and massive character. Small groups of raiders were joined by the masses of people. The pogrommers proceeded in three waves: first, boys throwing stones and breaking windows; then, adults using crow bars to destroy everything that came into their sight, and finally came the wave of collectors, who took everything of value they could carry. Jews were hiding. By 11 o’clock a large part of the city was covered with the broken glass, furniture, papers; and feathers from disemboweled pillows like the snow covered the roadway. The governor stayed at his residence and refused to intervene in the affairs occurring. The archbishop made his holiday visits while passing through the rioting crowd. The policeman observed the disorder and did not intervene; excusing themselves by saying they did not have any orders to intervene. Quite frequently, they stopped to be passive bystanders and even directed the actions of the rioting mob, showing the houses and the places where Jews were hiding.
Around noon, the mob intoxicated by the feeling that anything is permitted, turned into a herd of wild beasts. They started to kill the Jews in the most brutal way, and rape women and girls. The attempts of Jews to organize the resistance were prevented by the police; the groups of Jewish men, who took anything which could be used as a weapon to defend their lives and the lives of others, were disarmed and arrested. But due to these attempts, the number of killed and injured was certainly less than it could have been.
Only in the late afternoon, when the administration became afraid that the riots would turn into complete anarchy, the governor gave the order to restore the order and the police started to disperse them. The official explanation offered later in the court said that the directive to use arms in order to stop the riots was received only on April 7. Between the time the order was received and the beginning of its implementation at 6 o'clock in the evening of the same day, the crowd, drunk with the Jewish blood and tired of their work, dispersed. Order in the city was restored in less then two hours, and, as sadly noted a famous eye-witness: “There was no one to fight, beastly murderers and thieves went through backyards and over fences; they hid themselves, smelling the scent of gun powder and the proximity of jail.” In the suburbs of Kishinev the order was restored only the day after.