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Kishinev Pogrom


A Singular Event in Jewish History


Immediately after the pogrom Shimon Dubnov, assisted by Ehad ha-Am, Bialik, Ravnizky, and Ben-Ami founded the Historical Council in Odessa, the purpose of which was to investigate Kishinev affairs. The council commissioned Bialik to collect oral testimonies and material required for detailed analysis. The report of Israel Berman, the assistant to Bialik said that 49 Jews had been killed, 587 injured, 1350 houses and 588 shops destroyed in the period lasting from the 6th to 8th of April, 1903. Bialik’s huge report, however, was published neither by the Council nor by Bialik himself.  Three notebooks incorporating wide evidence testifying to not only the Jewish tragedy, but also the attempts of the Jews to organize self-defense lay in Bialik's personal archives and were published only 80 years later. Why the report was not published at the time of its completion still remains a mystery. Perhaps, he could not accept the thought that the report could turn the tragedy into the currency for making political dividends. Bialik depicted the tragedy in his well known poem “In the City of Slaughter” and questioned and accused the God of the Chosen People in “On the Butchery”. 

The number of resolutions and protests to the massacre in Kishinev was astonishing for those times. Their first part includes the reactions expressed by various Jewish political parties, which did not stop at condemning the massacre and the part the Government took in it, but also for eliciting lessons for the future. For Zionists, it was another sad proof to justify their political demands of the state for the Jews and elimination of the Diaspora. Herzl wrote: “There is one consoling message in this grief - Let us be united in the grief as in the happiness, to liberate our people from its bondage.” The Bund, professed the view according to which the Jews should fight for political rights in Russia with the world proletariat. Those attached to Lenin’s Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party believed that Zionists and the Bund are squarely wrong, for the only genuine purpose to which they should lead the Jews was the creation of a union with other parts of revolutionary proletariat on equal basis, without any national distinction. Other reactions came from various Jewish communities spread all over the word came to console with the Jews of Kishinev and help their condition by raising funds in the Pale of Settlement and abroad.

Another group of reactions includes those of non-Jews. Russian Intelligentsia led by the writers of name, such as Korolenko, Tolstoy, Gorky, intellectuals and clergy published an official condemnation of the event. Korolenko wrote the famous story House 13 in which he described the fate of a Jewish family inhabiting this house and how its members were killed. Graf Tolstoy contributed three stories to the book edited by Shalom Aleichem, in which he called for the love of mankind, preserving God's image in humanity, and acting according to the universal wisdom “Act upon others the way you would prefer they act upon you”.

Finally, many newspapers in America and Europe condemned the Czar’s policy against the Jews, concluding that the government knew about the pogrom, but did not make any attempt to stop it. Moreover, in the middle of July 1905 the American government sent the petition signed by 12,544 well known people which condemned the pogrom and claimed that this was act of unprecedented lawlessness. All this, however, had little impact upon Czar Nicholas II, who refused to accept the petition as he refused to condemn the massacre.

As it is observed by Urussov:

But after 1903 it became apparent to everybody that a hostile feeling towards the Jews was also entertained by the Czar's immediate family. All efforts to induce the latter to express some condemnation of the pogroms, or even to give vent to some sympathy for the sufferers by granting them any material aid, met with complete failure; yet a single authoritative word or action in this direction would have helped immeasurably to the maintenance of order in the provinces of the Pale.

And as it was put by Irish journalist Michael Davitt, who tried to portray the life in the Pale in Settlement and understand the rationale of the Russian policy towards Jews in general and its interest in the Kishinev pogrom in particular:

... as an educated Russian official said, in discussing this question with the author, “What can we do with them? They are the racial antithesis of our nation. A fusion with us is impossible, owing to religious and other disturbing causes. They will always be a potential source of sectarian and economic disorder in our country. We cannot admit them to equal rights of citizenship for these reasons and, let me add, because their intellectual superiority would enable them in few years’ time to gain possession of most of the posts of our civil administration. They are a growing danger of a most serious nature to our Empire in two of its most vulnerable points, - their discontent is a menace to us along the Austrian and German frontiers, while they are the active propagandists of Socialism of Western Europe within our borders. The only solution of the problem of the Russian Jew is his departure from Russia.

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