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Pogroms in Russia: 1880-1914: From Alexander IIs Assassination to World War I

The date was March 13th, 1881, and following a violent attack on the convoy
of Czar Alexander II in St. Petersburg, the sixty three year old czar lay dying and
following his return to the Winter Palace died of his wounds. Following Alexanders
death, Jews were scapegoated throughout the empire despite the fact that the
conspirators had only one Jew amongst them and were ethnically Slavs. The reigns
of Alexander III and later his son, Nicholas II, who was to be Russias last czar, saw
an outbreak of increasingly violent Anti-Semitism in the last years of the Russian
empire. Pogrom, a Russian word meaning to wreak havoc took on special
meaning for Russians and eventually entered international language usage in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries where violence against Jews was an all too
common occurrence in the Russian Empire. In addition to violent, physical attacks
on Jews and Jewish owned property during this time period, attacks on the Jewish
people through the written word took off as well. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
a notorious forgery detailing what its believers saw as proof of a Jewish conspiracy
for global domination was used as justification of violence against Jews and the
Jewish people being regarded as second class citizens in the empire. Violence
against Jews rose widely in these years of crisis and turmoil throughout the Russian
empire. Questions remain today; nearly a century after the last Romanov czar was
on the throne, in Russia just how culpable Russias elites were of the Anti-Semitism
both violent and written directed towards Russias Jews in the last years of the
empire. Pogroms were most likely to occur in times of anxiety and stress due to
factors such as an assassinated czar but also the stresses of modernization, war,
and a failed revolution. The heavy prevalence of Anti-Semitism and violence in
Russia is a thought provoking issue when it comes to understanding later Anti1

Semitic regimes such as Nazi Germany and Russian history itself today after the fall
of both the Romanovs and later the Soviet Union.
The story of how Russia became the center of Anti-Semitic violence in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries goes back to the eighteenth century
and the rule of Catherine the Great and the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth into the Russia, Austrian, and Prussian empires. Lands that are now
the nations of Lithuania and Poland were throughout the centuries home to large
numbers of Jews, dating back to the Polish kingdoms unique policy of Jewish
tolerance. This had made Poland home to the worlds largest Jewish population.
However, by the end of the eighteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth had ceased to exist and had been partitioned three times by the
Prussian, Austrian, and Russian empires. Russia had obtained most of PolandLithuania and thus a very large Jewish population despite the fact that Russian
Orthodoxy, the dominant religion of Russia, was known to be hostile to Jews. The
Jews in what had been the Poland Lithuanian Commonwealth were forced by their
new Russian rulers to stay in that area, which became known as the Pale of
Settlement. Thus, most Jews in the Russian empire at the time of Alexanders
assassination in 1881 lived in the western part of the empire. Russian Jews faced a
tough life before the wave of Anti-Semitism spread throughout Russia in the late
nineteenth century. They were treated with suspicion and seen as a threat to the
monarchy and autocracy. However, the czars death did mark an ending to the
relative peace Russian Jews enjoyed in Alexander IIs reign. Zvi Gitelman writes of
the czars death and its impact on Jews in A Century of Ambivalence that A quarter
century of relative tranquility and modest progress for the Jews had ended. 1
1 Zvi Gitelman, A Century of Ambivalence, page 2
2

Alexander III, like his grandfather Nicholas I marked a return to conservatism


following the death of a relatively progressive czar. It was this world that the Jews of
Russia lived in from Alexander IIIs crowning to the February Revolution of 1917.
Russian Jews were not accepted by Russian Christians into society. The
Russian concept of Jewish religious fanaticism mirrored certain obvious features of
Jewish life in Eastern Europe, such as their persistent differences in dress, language,
and religious and communal organizations. Russians assumed that the Jews
considered themselves to be not only a chosen people, but also endowed with a
God-given superiority over the despised non-Jews. They were a people apart, devoid
of loyalty to the state or any commitment to a proper civic relationship with the
non-Jewish population.2 Christian Russian hostility towards perceived Jewish
religious fanaticism is ironic given Russias own reputation of being stuck in old
ways and religious fanaticism from the perspective of outsiders and those inside
Russia who wanted Russia to modernize. Jews were prominent in Russias
revolutionary movement early as Russia moved toward revolution. This allowed antiSemites to both attack the Jews as revolutionaries even while at the same time,
many of these same Anti-Semites attacked the Jews on religious grounds.
Anti-Semitism was common in Europe in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries but Anti-Semitism in Russia was particularly hostile and often
violent. The Dreyfus Affair of France, in which a Jewish French army captain, Alfred
Dreyfus despite all evidence to the contrary was accused of spying for Germany
showed how even in 1890s Western Europe which was supposedly enlightened and
free from religious bigotry. However, it is worth noting that Dreyfus was eventually

2 John Doyle Klier: Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881-1882, Page 3
3

vindicated which was in large part due to a press campaign by the writer Emile Zola
who attacked Anti-Semitism and also showed that the prosecution made errors.
Had the Dreyfus Affair taken place in Russia however, it is highly unlikely that
Dreyfus would have been vindicated, due to both popular Anti-Semitism that
seemed to unite Russias richest and poorest citizens, and an oppressive autocracy
that would have never allowed a man like Emile Zola to use the press to critique the
governments actions on such a high level. Even before Czar Alexander IIs
assassination in March 1881, the Russian government saw Jews as a threat to the
stability of the empire since Jews were seen as being disloyal to the empire and part
of Russias growing revolutionary movement. It was true that Jews were active in
Russias revolutionary movement but the question has to be asked about the role of
Anti-Semitism in creating an atmosphere where revolutionaries Jewish and Gentile
alike hoped to overthrow the government. Time and resources that could have been
spent on real threats to the empire such as the Narodnaya Volya terrorist
organization that killed Czar Alexander II were instead spent on a perceived Jewish
conspiracy. John Doyle Klier writes in Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881-1882
that P.A Cherevin, the chief of gendarmes and acting head of the Third Section, the
security police wrote on April 6th, 1880 to the province governors in the Pale of
Settlement asking them to search out a universal Jewish kabal, a body with
objectives which were inimical to the Christian population. This kabal, said to rely
on the support of all Jews, capitalists, and proletarians alike, was described as an
important source of material support for the revolutionary movement. 3 The Pale of
Settlement was the area where Jews were allowed to be present and reside within
the Russian Empire. Cherevins conviction that there was a Jewish conspiracy
3 Klier, page 1
4

against the regime led by Jewish Capitalists and Leftists alike was a foreshadowing
of later Anti-Semitism that linked Capitalism and Bolshevism together not just in
revolutionary era Russia but the Nazis during their rise to and reign of power.
Cherevins fears of a grandiose Jewish conspiracy were shown to be unfounded,
since when the czar was assassinated, less than a year later all but one of the
conspirators had non Jewish ancestry and was furthermore comprised of children of
Russias elites and were atheists. Conspiracies about Jews being behind plots
against the empire would continue to endure with the support of Anti-Semitic
conspiracy theorists like Cherevin administrating important government posts.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion more than any other document played a
role in inciting and justifying violence against the Jewish people in twentieth century
Russia. The Protocols have been a proven forgery but believers of their legitimacy
promoted them as proof of a Jewish conspiracy for global domination. Furthermore,
the source material for the Protocols is a French political satirical novel written
about a dialogue in hell between the philosophers, Machiavelli and Montesquieu,
both non-Jews. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern argues that the Protocols were likely
written between 1903 and 1907.4 The early 1900s was a tumultuous time period
for the Russian Empire. Russia suffered a crippling defeat to the Japanese Empire in
the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution had resulted in Nicholas II being
forced to share power with the Duma. Russias powerbrokers needed a convenient
scapegoat and the Jewish people made an easy one due to the hostility directed to
them throughout the empire The exact author of the Protocols remains unknown
but many scholars suggest that the Okhrana, the Russian secret police played a big
4 Yohanan Petrovsky Schtern: Contextualizing the Mystery: Three Approaches to the
Protocols of Elders of Zion, page 395
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role in writing the Protocols. Who in fact wrote the Protocols if not Petr Ivanovich
Rachkovskii himself, the chief of the Russian secret police in Paris asks Yohanan
Petrovsky-Shtern5. Others think that while the Okrana played a vital role in writing
the Protocols that they were written by a professional writer instead. Michael
Hagemeister cites research from 1999 by French weeklies that point to Matvei
Golovinskii, a noted reactionary journalist and writer as the author of the Protocols
of the Elders of Zion. Hagemeister, through the French sources suggest that
Golovinskii wrote the Protocols on orders from Rachkovskii, the Okhrana head in
Paris.6 Violence against Jews was frequent even before the writing of the Protocols
but the Protocols being penned by Russian reactionaries and security services
suggests that the Russian government had an interest in scapegoating Jews to
district the public from the empires problems. The Protocols were presented to the
public as proof of a Jewish conspiracy for global domination and thus the reactionary
right of Russia felt vindicated their calls for violence and mistreatment of Jews.
Religion plays a big part in understanding Russian Anti-Semitism during the
reigns of Alexander III and later Nicholas II. Most Russians were Russian Orthodox
and like many churches of the time period were not immune from Anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism in Christianity often included the charge that Jews were responsible
for the death of Christ. The Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 is considered by many
scholars to be the most violent pogrom and it was ripe with examples of clergy
either ignoring violence or even encouraging violence directed at Jews. Monty Noam
Penkower writes that Orthodox Bishop Iakov blessed the predominately Orthodox
5 Petrovsky-Schtern Contextualizing the Mystery page 396
6 Michael Hagemeister: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Between History and
Fiction, page 83
6

attackers.7 The violent mob was thus convinced that the violence directed at Jews
was morally defensible. There were occasions when Orthodox clergy discouraged
violence against Jews and Anti-Semitism. The clergy were ordered by the Holy
Synod to preach anti-Pogrom sermons, and a number of Russian Orthodox clergy
were given medals and commendations for their efforts to prevent pogroms. 8A key
difference in the reactions of clergy seems to be that in 1881 as opposed to 1904
was that Anti-Semitism was actually more widespread in 1904 due to increased
propaganda directed against Jews.
Orthodox theology, however, remained Anti-Semitic. An example of religion
based Anti-Semitism, The Way of the Pilgrim, a very popular and influential late
nineteenth century Orthodox spiritual book. Donald Grayston writes that the
spiritual contained many Anti-Semitic passages that Christian perceptions of Jews.
The most blatant is of the Christian pilgrim protagonist visiting a Jewish inn owner
telling of his father who as a young man was an avowed enemy of Christians and
rabbinical student who mocked and desecrated a Christian skull that he found in a
cemetery. The young man was then haunted by the ghost of the skull and so
haunted was he that he converted to Christianity. 9 The narrative in the story reflects
Christian perceptions of Jews hating Christianity and in this case even resorting to
desecrating skulls. Citing the same spiritual, Grayston criticizes the writer for
describing Jewish criticisms of Christian theology as gossip or chit-chat adding
7 Monty Noam Penkower: The Kishinev Pogrom: A Turning Point in Jewish History,
page 187
8 Klier, page 68
9 Donald Grayston, AntiSemitism in a Russian Spiritual Classic, The Pilgrims Tale,
page 113
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that this was even sadder given the writer of The Pilgrims Tale was the son of a
Jewish convert to Christianity.10 Russian Christians can be summarized by the
reactions of their leaders to pogroms and their writings about Judaism saw Judaism
as a threat to their religious faith and saw the Jewish people as evil villains. Religion
played a key part in developing Russian Anti-Semitism but it was far from the only
factor
Anti-Semitism was found not only at middle and lower levels of society but at
the very highest a well. The Romanov royal family had a mixed record in dealing
with its Jewish subjects. It had been Catherine the Great who through the partitions
of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth brought large numbers of Jews in to the
empire. The predecessors of czars Alexander III and Nicholas II, explains Donald
Grayston responded to Russias Jewish population differently. Alexander I, who ruled
from 1801-25, who, was raised in the Enlightenment Era expanded many liberties to
Russias Jewish subjects. His successor and brother, Nicholas I, 1825-55 was much
more restrictive and harsh. Nicholass son, Alexander II, 1855-81 was less harsh but
the legacies of his father loomed heavily on Judeo-Christian relations. Alexander IIs
1881 assassination would spark waves of Anti-Jewish activity throughout the
empire.11 During the pogrom of Elisavetgrad, writes Omelian Pritsak, a common
shout heard was The Jews killed the emperor. There is an order to beat them. The
local authorities are hiding it.12 Thus the pogromshchiki saw themselves as
avengers of their murdered czar.
10 Ibin page 114

11 Grayston page 112


12 Omeljan Pristak, The Pogroms of 1881, page 18
8

Alexander IIIs attitudes about the Jewish people are particularly worth
examining since it was in his reign when violence against the Jews took off in Russia
following his fathers assassination. Alexander in the early years of his reign
appeared to have been disturbed by reports of violence against Jews. I. Michael
Aronson notes that following the April 1881 the czar expressed surprise at the deep
hatred of the population for the Jews and felt the rioters, especially the instigators,
should be punished harshly.13 Despite his horror at violence against the empires
Jews, Alexander III was not immune from prejudice against Jews or thinking that
they were victims. In 1883, he wrote Very sad, but I see no end to this; these Jews
make themselves too repulsive to Russians and as long as they continue to exploit
Christians this hatred will not diminish.14 Alexanders beliefs reflect Russians in
positions of authority. Yes, the violence against the Jews was awful and regrettable
but the Jews were far from blameless and they were responsible in some way for the
violence brought upon them. The czars writings show a man somewhat sensitive to
the suffering of his Jewish subjects but at the same time oblivious to the reality of
what was happening in his kingdom. He also ignored the fact that children were
being beaten during the pogroms. Alexander III cannot be blamed directly for the
violence against Jews that occurred in his reign but his reaction is worthy of
criticism.
Alexanders son Nicholas II demonstrated a more hostile attitude to his Jewish
subjects than his father had. His reign was marked by turmoil both domestic and
abroad for the empire. Sergei Podbolotov writes that Russias last czar was well
13 I. Michael Aronson, The Attitudes of Russian Officials Towards Jewish Assimilation
and Emigration, page 3
14 Aronson page 3
9

suited for acceptance of Anti-Semitism. His rejection of modernization, his


mysticism, his confusion about the modern world, and his application of moral
values to his allies and enemies.15 Nicholas was naturally strongly inclined to
mysticism and religion due to the illness of his only and son heir presumptive, Alexi.
Nicholas also Podbolotov notes derided, his Jewish subjects as Yids and like many
in Russias elite saw the Jews as the biggest runners of Russias growing
revolutionary movement.16 The czar also showed sympathy to rioters which
contrasted him from his father who wanted rioters punished. The tsar refused
clemency for 78 pogromists; his decisions on 147 others remains unknown; for
1,713 cases an overwhelming majority petitions for clemency were
satisfied.17Nicholas, in contrast to his father, seems to have seen violence directed
against Jews as acceptable and the vast majority of clemency requests show that
the czar sympathized with them and their actions. The rioters had always seen the
czar as their strongest ally and by granting clemency towards large numbers of
rioters; Nicholas did nothing to alter that perception. Nicholas may have been more
favorably disposed to Anti-Semitic attitudes than his father because during
Nicholass reign as czar the empire experienced a higher level of tumultuous
activity.
Anti-Semitism amongst Russias security and military forces was also
prevalent during this time period. Jews who were traditionally involved with
business were considered more interested in making money than caring about the
15 Sergei Podbolotov, and the Entire Mass of Loyal People Leapt Up, page 197
16 Ibin page 197
17 Ibin page 205
10

welfare of the Russian empire and people. A prominent author who influenced these
beliefs was Vsevolod Krestovskii, who was also a noted member of the Slavophile
movement in Russia. The Slavophiles were conservatives within Russian society who
opposed modernity and supported Slavic philosophies and religious practices in
contrast with the modernizers who like their name suggests supported
modernization but also whom looked to the west for inspiration especially in
philosophy. Vsevolod Krestovskii, writes Yohanan Petrovsky-Schtern after 1881
Krestovskii rejected the notion that Jews could be loyal to the empire. He also
claimed that Jewish support for the empires military intervention in the Balkans was
not due to love or their desire to help out Slavs but rather materialistic. 18 The
perception that Jews cared more about economic self-preservation than the empire
was held throughout the empire. In Siberia, as well as in the heart of the empire,
Jews could serve as scapegoats for all the regimes military and supply failures. 19
Anti-Semitism, already a problem in the empire got even worse following the 1905
Revolution and the empires humiliating defeat to the Japanese empire in the RussoJapanese War of 1904-05.
Russias security forces shared the armys Anti-Semitism and were convinced
of a grand Jewish conspiracy to topple the government especially in the aftermath
of Czar Alexander IIs assassination. John Doyle Klier summarizes the paranoia by
the secret police that the newly formed Okhrana did not put an end to the use of
police resource against Jews. In the summer of 1881, they extensively investigated
18 Yohanan Petrovsky Schtern, The Jewish Policy of the Late Imperial War Ministry,
page 225
19 Lilla Kalmina. The Possibility of the Impossible: Pogroms in Eastern Siberia, page
138, part of Jonathan Dekel-Chens Anti-Jewish Violence
11

a phantom International Jewish Convention that was apparently meeting on


Russias frontier with sinister intent. The Vilna division of the Okhrana even sent a
special agent to follow an elderly rabbi around the city of Konigsberg in the hope of
uncovering the conspirators and blocking plans to import revolutionary contraband
into Russia.20 As shown by Klier and Kalmina, Anti-Semitic activity and belief
flourished in the minds of those administering the empire the most in times of
turmoil in the empire such as following the czars assassination and later in the
years following the unsuccessful Revolution of 1905.
The Russian media especially those of the Russian right helped shape AntiSemitism in Russia during this time period too. The Russian right was traditionally
Anti-Semitic due to their staunch monarchism, often strong Christian Orthodox
beliefs, and tendency to be Slavophiles in the Slavophiles versus modernization
debate that divided Russia during this time. The czars assassination sparked a
wave of Anti-Semitism and calls for violence rose against Jews in Russias right wing
newspapers explains Omeljan Pritsak. During the latter half of March an intensive
anti- Jewish campaign was launched in the Russian right-wing press, spear- headed
on March 20 by Novorossiiskii telegraf published in Odessa. The press spread
rumors that the Christian population of Novorossiia (New Russia) was planning to
mount anti-Jewish pogroms during the Easter holidays to avenge the killing of the
"beloved Tsar."21 The reactionary press in Russia was willing to give voice to those
who thought violence against Jews should occur and consequently violence against

20 Klier page 2
21 Pristak, page 10
12

Jews did occur. The transition from simple Anti-Semitic prejudice to horrific and
brutal Anti-Jewish violence had begun.
Pogroms had occurred before 1880 but the 1880s were when some of the
worst pogroms occurred. The basic spark for the rise of pogroms in the 1880s was
the assassination of the czar and Russias Jewish population was blamed for that
assassination despite only one of the Narodnaya Volya conspirators being Jewish but
each outburst had its own specific spark. Most of these early pogroms took place
within the Pale of Settlement, naturally due to that area having the highest
concentration of Jewish population in the empire. The pretext for many pogroms
was accusations of Jewish violence towards Christians which many Russian
Christians used as justification to attack all Jews regardless of age or gender. In the
late afternoon of 15 April, a fight broke out in the tavern of the Jew Shulim
Grichevskii. One account claimed a holy fool, Ivanushka, was manhandled for
breaking a glass worth three kopeks, another that the pretext was the simpletons
noisy singing of the Easter anthem Kristos Voskres (Christ Is Risen) .In any
event, his cries attracted a large crowd. A police sergeant arrived and urged the
crowd to disperse. Instead, they shouted The Yids are beating our people! and
began to beat Jews.22 While undoubtedly violence against Christians by Jews did
occur, the rioters used it as an excuse and pretext to attack all Jews during pogroms
which leads to the conclusion that they were motivated by something more sinister
than just avenging Christians. The Pogromschiki, the Russian word for those who
took part in the pogroms were in the early 1880s convinced that they were doing
what their czar wanted following the assassination of the previous czar. The
pogrom in Ananev on 26 April was triggered by claims of a local man, Ignat
22 Klier, page 26
13

Leshchenko, that the authorities had suppressed a czarist order to beat the Jews
supposedly issued in retaliation for their murder of Alexander II. 23The pogromschiki
were strongly convinced that they were doing following orders of Alexander II
himself but to the contrary, Czar Alexander III condemned the violence against his
Jewish subjects and that the police in these early years repeatedly attempted to
prevent pogroms from occurring. John Doyle Klier in Russians, Jews, and the
Pogroms of 1881-82 suggests that police intervention did not deter the
pogromschiki, who used the polices attempt to stop the riots as proof of a false
belief that the police being bribed by Jews suggests that their intervention did not
matter to the pogromschiki A fight in the bazaar escalated into a pogrom, during
which the pogromschiki shouted Beat the Jews, the killers of our tsar and The
police are in the pay of the Yids, and have hidden the order to attack them. (Klier
32) Thus conspiracy theories were strongly linked with Anti-Semitism since the
pogromschiki were convinced what they were doing was lawful in the eyes of the
czar but also believed that the police were part of the Jewish conspiracy against the
state. The early pogroms following Alexander IIs death also show why pogroms
were linked to the right wing and nationalism since the pogromschiki did many early
beatings and killings of Jews in the name of the czar.
Lithuania whose lands were absorbed into the Russian empire during the
three partitions during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was also
home to pogroms during the 1880s. Darius Staliunas echoes John Doyle Kliers
writings that the non-Jewish populace in the Pale of Settlement believed that the
new czar had ordered the Jewish people to be punished for the death of the czar. In
1881 the situation deteriorated still further following the assassination of Alexander
23 Ibin, page 31
14

II, and there were rumours that the new tsar had issued a decree punishing the Jews
for taking part in the assassination.24 Thus the belief that the new czar had even
written an order that Jews be attacked in retaliation for Alexander IIs death was a
widespread belief throughout the empire. Residents of the North-Western provinces
suggests Darius Staliunas further felt their actions were state sanctioned when
rumors of an order signed by Interior Minister Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatev encouraging
people to beat Jews and steal their property circulated. 25 Ignatev was a noted AntiSemite and conspiracy theorist according to John Doyle Klier, in August 1881 had
confided to the Austrian ambassador that Poles and Jews were behind the Nihilist
movement in his view.26 The belief that Jews were to be beaten in retribution for
Alexander IIs death was prevalent throughout the empire.
Yet there is other research that suggests that these early pogroms have a
simpler cause. Staliunas observes that drunkenness played a big role in Anti-Jewish
outbreaks. Official correspondence shows that many brawls broke out in inns or inn
houses, where the conflicting parties divided along ethnic lines. These conflicts
arose in villages as often as in towns or cities. Disagreement over payment for
alcohol, Jews refusal to sell vodka, and accidental encounters were pretexts for
violence.27Excessive alcohol use is well known to cause both impaired judgment
and occasionally violence, so alcoholic brawls, in addition to a population already
predisposed to Anti-Jewish prejudice could be said to be prone to anti-Jewish
24 Darius Staliunas: Anti-Jewish Disturbances in the North-West Provinces in the
Early 1880s, Page 119
25 Ibin, page 121
26 Klier, page 2
27 Staliunas, page 121-22
15

violence. Drunkenness and Anti-Semitism were not limited to the civilian world. But
in 1883 a drunken gang of conscripts wandered around the town all day, attacking
every Jew they found, covering them in mud, and breaking house windows and
shutters. This bombing of Jewish houses continued the next day too and only the
intervention of local officials put a stop to it.28 Drunken behavior alone cannot
explain the violence that griped Russia during this time however since often
pogroms and violence towards Jews took place on Sundays and holy days following
church services.
Anti-Jewish violence could also be linked to economic resentments as well.
Despite Alexander IIs 1861 liberation of the serfs, poverty was still prevalent in the
Russian Empire. Jews through popular and religious culture were often linked with
wealth and the exploitation of Christians. Heinz Dietrich-Lowe observes It is,
therefore not surprising that in the beginning of many or even most pogroms
(especially in 1881-1882) that wealthy Jews were the prime target of attacks. 29
Jews were linked with greed historically because of their positions as moneylenders
in the Christian communities in which they resided and because they charged
interest which Orthodox Christians saw as immoral. Interest was used as validation
of Christian perceptions of Jews as greedy in spite of the fact that other Christian
faiths practiced interest in moneylending. The May Laws of 1882, for example,
prohibited Jews from trading during Sundays and Christian holy days. Yet the
peasantry interpreted the laws to forbid trade at any time during those days and
that writes Darius Staliunas led to conflicts between Jews and peasants, the incident
28 Ibin, page 122
29 Heinz-Dietrich Lowe, Pogroms in Russia: Explanations, Comparisons,
Suggestions, page 20
16

started over Jewish merchants setting up stalls outside the church and following the
mass banged scythes which according to peasant testimony angered the peasants.
But the pretext Staliunas writes was an argument between a merchant and peasant
over the price of a scythe. Insults were exchanged and eventually the carts of the
merchants were overturned carts resulting in the damage valued at 508 roubles. 30
Violence directed at Jews involving economic resentments was not limited to the
early 1880s and was a part of early 1900s violence directed towards Jews as well.
Shlomo Lambroza describes an incident between a Jewish merchant and peasant
woman that started as a dispute over the price of a scarf that nearly ended with the
merchant being beaten nearly within death by a mob. 31 The peasantry was long
prone to Anti-Semitism due to the heavy influence of Anti-Semitism in their lives as
well as a general ignorance of the laws about what Jews could and could not do
under the law.
The local authorities also deserve some of the blame for remaining indifferent
to Anti-Semitic activity and their tendency to side with the peasants in disputes like
this one. local officials, basing themselves on evidence from the peasants, claimed
that the damages suffered were negligible. The interpretation of the local officials
clearly sought to absolve the peasants of guilt. It was claimed that had the Jews
responded politely to the questions put to them by the peasants, there would have
been no disturbance.32 The local authorities, instead of showing a bias to the
empires Christian citizens should have been upholding the law but long held Anti30 Staliunas, page 123
31 Shlomo Lambroza, The Tsarist Government and the Pogroms of 1903-1906, page
181
32 Staliunas, page 123
17

Semitic attitudes prevented them from doing so efficiently. It is true that the officials
did not directly commit the pogroms and did intervene to stop violence but the
noticeably indifferent reactions to Jewish suffering and overt bias to peasant point of
views cannot be overlooked in observing the polices response to the pogroms. The
violence directed towards Jews was not going to be eradicated but had the officials
of the empire aggressively gone after violence, the amount of violence easily could
have been decreased. It was a situation similar to the pre-civil rights era southern
United States where African Americans like Jews in the Russian empire were blamed
by the authorities whenever violence did occur and showed little sympathy for
victims. And there can be no doubt that the authorities had little interest in
protecting the empires Jewish subjects. Russian officials themselves were
uncomfortable in the guise of defenders of the Jews, and repeatedly complained
about that the Jews were taking advantage of this protection. 33 The pogroms of the
early 1880s and their violent nature must be inevitably linked to popular AntiSemitic attitudes in the Russian culture as well as weak enforcement against them.
Had there been heavy Jewish violence towards Christians, there can be no doubt
that the security officials of the empire would have cracked down fast and hard on
them but Anti-Jewish attitudes persisted.
Pogroms declined some after the troubling early years of Alexander III but the
pogroms started to take off again in the early 1900s during the reign of Czar
Nicholas II especially in 1905-06 following the disaster of the Russo-Japanese war.
Sergei Witte, later the first prime minister of Russia and a key pusher of
modernization contended that the drop in pogroms following the violent early
1880s had much to do with a change in leadership at the interior ministry.
33 Klier, page 76
18

Pogroms were one aspect of the Jewish question. Under Count Ignatev they were
particularly violent. When Count Tolstoi took office, he put an immediate stop to
them. After Plehve became minister of interior there was a new round of
pogroms.34 Czar Nicholas II was much more noticeably Anti-Semitic than his father
had been so Russias reactionaries saw him legitimately as an ally for their cause.
Pogroms were returning before this and Kishinev; arguably the most notorious
pogrom occurred in 1903. These pogroms would garner a much bigger response
than the pogroms of the 1880s.
The Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 is perhaps the most notorious pogrom of the
many that happened in the Russian Empire. Kishinev, now known as Chiinu is the
capital of the nation of Moldova. In 1903, it sat in the western part of the Russian
Empire, which was where much of the Empires Jews resided. Moldova was an
unlikely place for a pogrom, Monte Noam Penkower suggests, The fertile
countryside witnessed good relations between Jews and their neighbors (primarily
Moldavian) to the extent when pogroms swept across the whole of Southern Russia
during 1881-1883 that the London Times called them a scandal to civilization, the
Bessarabia peasants refused to take part. 35 Kishinev happened like many acts of
violence towards Jews during the religious holidays. One of the things that made
Kishinev memorable was its brutality. In past pogroms, Jews were often beaten, but
in Kishinev acts of unspeakable cruelty occurred. Monty Noam Penkower in
describes the following: Meyer Weissman, blinded in one eye from youth, begged
for his life with the offer of sixty rubles; taking the money, the leader of the crowd
destroying his small grocery store gouged out his other eye, saying You will never
34 The Memoirs of Count Witte, page 380
35 Penkower, page 188
19

again look upon a Christian child.36 Nails were driven through heads, bodies,
hacked in half, split open and filled with feathers, Women and girls were raped, and
some had their breasts cut off.37 The indiscriminate and savage violence is why
Kishinev is still remembered and its savagery undoubtedly inspired later barbaric
acts against the Jewish people. Aside from its violence, Kishinev can also be noted
that with few exceptions the non-Jewish residents of the city did little to help their
Jewish neighbors. The better class of the public, the semiofficial St.
Petersburgskiye Vedomosti subsequently reported, walked calmly along and gazed
at these spectacles with the utmost indifference. 38 A group of one hundred fifty
Jews writes Monte Noam Penkower succeeded in defending Jews in the New Bazaar
from being attacked but amazingly these individuals were arrested by the police. 39
The Kishinev pogrom was like many past and future pogroms but its barbarism left
its mark on history.
What had made Kishinev the site for what many historians call the worst
pogrom in history? Monte Noam Penkower finds the main culprit to be the 1894
arrival of a Moldavian nationalist, Pavolachi Krushevan to the city whom soon
bought the citys only daily newspaper and used it to print vicious attacks on the
Jews and was encouraged in his writings by the Vice-Governor of the region who
was also the official censor. Krushevans attacks on the Jews recalled the old blood
libel charge which in effect said Jews wanted to use the blood of Christians in
36 Ibin, page 187
37 Ibin, page 187
38 Ibin, page 188
39 Ibin, page 188
20

sacrifices. Krushevan even had his allies distribute a pamphlet, The Rabbis
Speech which very much resembled the later The Protocols of Elders of Zion in
that it was apparently proof of a Jewish conspiracy for global domination. In
February of 1903, Krushevan, however, found the incident he was looking for in the
brutal murder of a Christian boy in the suburb of Dubossary. Monty Noam Penkower
writes that Khrushevan pushed the tragedy as proof Jewish bloodlust against
Christians although evidence proved that it was the boys uncle that was
responsible for the boys murder.40 Shlomo Lambroza further notes that Jews were
accused of killing the boy to use his blood to make Passover matzoh. 41 This
allegation may appear impossible to believe but the blood libel as it was called was
in fact an age old attack on the Jewish people. Despite the falseness and the
absurdity of the charges, Khrushevans newspaper, Bessarbets called for revenge
against the citys Jews and a few days before the pogrom a sizable group of
Albanians and some Moldavians arrived by train. 42 Even in the aftermath of the
pogrom, Khrushevan still continued to publish Anti-Semitic propaganda according to
Penkower. In August and September, he published an abridged version of the
Protocols of Elders of Zion which for many readers for their first time reading the
forgery and the next year he published another noted forgery, The Rabbis speech
which much like the Protocols stoked Anti-Semitic fears. 43 Ultimately Khrushevan
and his newspaper must be found responsible for what occurred at Kishinev in April
40 Penkower page 189
41 Sholomo Lambroza, The Pogrom Movement in Czarist Russia, 1903-1906, page
180
42 Penkower, page 189
43 Ibin, page 201
21

of 1903. Khrushevan had used his newspaper to drum up popular Anti-Semitic


sentiment and worse he had spread a blatant lie which ended up being what is seen
as the final straw that sparked the violence in Kishinev directed at Jews.
Khrushevan and his political allies certainly deserve blame for the pogrom
but the reactions of the citys government and religious officials made this tragedy
even greater than it ought to have been. Penkower notes that Kishinevs prominent
Jews asked the citys officials to put a stop to Krushevans activities but were turned
down because the officials agreed with Krushevans ludicrous charges against the
Jews. The civil and police authorities thus had shown they had no vested interest in
protecting the citys Jewish population from violence. 44 It was not just Kishinevs
civic leaders that ignored Jewish pleas for help in the days leading up to the pogrom
though. As rumors of an impending pogrom came on to Kishinev, the citys Jewish
leaders writes Monty Noam Penkower pleaded with Bishop Iakov to announce
publically that the Orthodox Church had rejected the blood libel charge but Bishop
Iakov replied that he felt he believed in fact that some Jews did practice ritual
murder.45 The citys Jews therefore like many Jewish communities in Russia found
few allies and even parts of the state and societal structure that were in strong
sympathy with their tormentors. With the condescending and bigoted attitudes that
they showed to the citys Jewish leaders, its not surprising that when the Kishinev
Pogrom began on Easter 1903 that it ended up being among the violent pogroms
that Russian history had seen to that point in time.
Pogroms and Anti-Semitic activity were spreading rapidly through Russia
during the early twentieth century and the Kishinev pogrom was one of many
44 Penkower, page 201
45 Ibin, page 189
22

pogroms to occur. Shlomo Lambroza writes in The Tsarist Government and the
Pogroms of 1903-1906 that After Kishinev, there were over 650 pogroms during the
next three year period. These statistics indicate that during these three years that
a pogrom in the Russian empire was occurred at the rate of at least three to four a
week during this time frame. Siberia seemed like an unlikely place for a pogrom as
it was outside the Pale of Settlement and had been tolerant to Jews relative to the
rest of the empire. Even the Russian Orthodox Church in Siberia, long elsewhere in
the empire hostile to Jews and sympathetic to Anti-Semitic violence and outbursts
took a stand against Anti-Semitism in Siberia. In Irkutsk, for example, Orthodox
Church leaders rejected the wave of xenophobia that swept over Russia and
stressed the sinfulness of pogrom mongering. 46 It can be said that the small
population of Jews in Siberia was a reason why Anti-Semitic violence never took off
since it would be harder to argue that the Jews were exploiting the local populace
which was commonly used to drum up Anti-Semitic sentiment in the Pale. AntiJewish activity did occur in Siberia though, Lilia Kalmina writes that following a
counter-revolutionary protest against striking railroad workers, Though democratic
forces had succeeded in blocking previous attempts by the Black Hundreds to
provoke mass demonstrations, agitators successful induced a mob to rob Jewish
shops, and began to beat Jews and other opponents alike. Even after the
suppression of the strike and the restoration of public order, Jews had reason to fear
pogroms for another few days.47 One of the big elements in secular Anti-Semitism
was the linking of the Jews to revolutionary movements and anti-Jewish violence in
Siberia was linked to counter-revolutionary activity that resulted in non-Jews
46 Kalmina, page 133
47 Ibin page 135
23

targeted with Jews alike. The governments response in Siberia somewhat differed
from that in the Pale. Lilia Kamina writes that In 1905, the governor-general of
Irkutsk Irkutskoe General-Gubernatorsivo, one of two Eastern Siberian generalgovernorships, in contradiction to the city of Irkutsk), Pavel Innokentievich Kutaisov,
took no action to prevent pogroms, but at the same time did not oppose the
organization of public self-defense units, which included non-Jews as well as Jews.
Although local Jews expressed gratitude that he did not authorize patriotic (i.e.,
hooliganistic) demonstration, his failure to take preventive measures embodied
these elements.48 Kutaisovs actions or there lack of certainly did encourage the
violent elements of the population but his silent acceptance of Jews defending
themselves cannot be overlooked in understanding why Siberia was a relatively safe
place for Jews in the revolutionary period. Kalminas essay also shows that many of
Siberias Gentile population in a sharp contrast to those in the Pale actually fought
to protect their Jewish neighbors from harm. Anti-Semitic activity while it did occur
in Siberia was not only rare but not embraced by the local Christian population.
Following the unsuccessful 1905 Revolution, Czar Nicholas II was forced to
issue the October Manifesto which had the potential to change many aspects of
Russian life. In October of 1905 at the height of the 1905 disorders, a violent
pogrom erupted in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Odessa fit the model for a pogrom
eruption as it was inside the Pale of Settlement and Odessa was a city with a large
Jewish population. The pogrom had many roots both social and economic. Robert
Weinberg explains in that the city of Odessas Jewish population had gone from 14%
(15,000 people) in 1858 to 35% (140,000 people) in 1897. 49 Anti-Semitism
flourished in the parts of the empire that had large Jewish populations so thus its
48 Ibin, page 139
24

not a surprise to see that hostilities in Odessa went up as the citys Jewish
population and presence rose. A common Anti-Semitic attitude was that the Jews
controlled financial interests and used that for political power. This was no exception
in Odessa but Robert Weinberg suggests that Jews were not the powerful entity that
Anti-Semites portrayed them as. Weinberg acknowledges that Jews had a big role in
the citys banking and trading interests but the Jewish population as a whole had
little political influence which was in direct contradiction to claims that the Jews had
lots of political power. In fact in 1892, Jews had been disenfranchised and denied
representation on the citys council and Jewish representation on the main council
had been limited to six members out of sixty. So, therefore despite what AntiSemites claimed, the Jewish residents of Odessa had limited political influence. As
for wealth and poverty, Odessas Jews were in fact predominately impoverished. L
Brodovskii, in his study of Jewish poverty in Odessa at the turn of the century,
estimated that 50,000 Jews were destitute and another 80,000 were poverty
stricken. In 1905, nearly 80,000 Jews requested financial assistance from the Jewish
community during Passover in order to buy matzoh, a telling sign that over half of
the Jews in Odessa experienced difficulties making such ends meet. (Weinberg 57)
Yet Jews were still scapegoated as capitalistic exploiters of wealth. The war with
Japan in 1905, Weinberg writes explains why economic problems were occurring.
Conditions continued to deteriorate as the year 1905 approached, due to the
outbreak of war between Russia and Japan in 1904. Trade, the mainstay of Odessa's
economy, declined and the city's industrial sector entered a period of
retrenchment. It was this environment that led up to October 1905.
Demonstrations following the October Manifesto made Odessa even more unstable.
49 Robert Weinberg, Workers, Pogroms, and the 1905 Revolution in Odessa, page
55-56
25

Robert Weinberg notes that the likely spark for the pogroms that occurred in Odessa
was the shooting death of a young boy carrying an icon possibly by a Jewish
revolutionary.50 This Weinberg explains sent the pro-czar demonstrators into a rage
where Jewish shops were looted and Jews beaten indiscriminately and often killed.
Unfortunately, the police in Odessa not only did little to stop the violence in Odessa
committed against the Jews but Weinbergs evidence suggests they took part and
encouraged it. Eyewitnesses reported seeing policemen directing pogromists to
Jewish-owned stores or Jews apartments, while preventing the rioters from
damaging the property of non-Jews. 51 The fact that the police in Odessa were not
merely indifferent to the violence directed at the Jews but actively encouraged
violence and vandalism of Jews and Jewish property suggests that the authorities
were culpable for much of the violence against Jews in the revolutionary period.
There were parts of the empire that avoided pogroms in the turbulent years
of 1904-1905. The industrial and Ukrainian city of Kharkiv managed to avoid the
wave of Anti-Jewish violence that swept the empire during those tumultuous two
years. Kharkiv was outside the Pale of Settlement where most of Russias Jews
resided but the city of Kharkiv had a large Jewish presence and history. Michael
Hamm writes of the citys Jewish population in the years leading up to the revolution
By 1897, 9,848 Jews officially resided in Kharkiv; by 1913, 13,592. Both figures
represented 5 to 6 per cent of the citys population. Of the cities outside the Pale,
only St. Petersburg and Kyiv had larger Jewish populations. 52 Anti-Semitism was not

50 Weinberg, page 63
51 Ibin. page 64
52 Michael Hamm, Jews and Revolution in Kharkiv, page 158
26

absent in Kharkiv and it was no more or less Anti-Semitic than the average city.
During the Russo-Japanese war, the usual rumors about Jewish loyalty to the empire
were spread in Kharkiv. During the summer, fears escalated again as right-wing
agitators spread rumours that the well-known Jewish Ponizovskii commercial firm
had aided the Japanese by providing gold. 53 Kharkiv would be an important city as
the 1905 Revolution drew closer.
The 1905 Revolution hit Kharkiv like it did other industrial cities. Michael
Hamm explains that year; a group of some three hundred locomotive workers took
control of the citys largest industrial enterprise and began firing and hiring
employees. A Black Hundred group led by a local merchant responded and started
beating Jews and students on the street. 54 It looked like Kharkiv could erupt into a
pogrom but this miraculously did not happen. Kharkiv, like other industrial cities had
a rising socialist movement during this time period. Michael Hamm writes that a
group of Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, and SRs formed a battle group to protect workers,
students, and Jews from retaliatory assaults. The militia went house to house
arresting thieves and plunderers and taking them to a farm machinery assembly
where they were photographed and warned if they were caught in a Black Hundred
mob again that they would be shot.55 The battle group and militia succeeded due
to their actions. Michael Hamm notes but it was the Kmitet borby (battle group),
police acknowledged, that virtually overnight acquired general public sympathy and
well-known authority. Its militias, which almost certainty had a Gentile worker

53 Ibin, page 161


54 Ibin, page 161
55 Ibin, page 162
27

majority, drove the pogrom mob from the city and brought order to the streets. 56
Interethnic and religious cooperation had allowed the city of Khrakiv to avoid the
pogroms that had swept throughout the Russian empire in 1905 but why? Kharkivs
Social Democrats, Michael Hamm explains had campaigned forcefully against
pogroms, particularly after the Kishinev massacre in 1903. They also sought to
prevent the socialist movement from fragmenting into ethnic factions. 57 Bold
leadership and preventive measures by Kharkivs left wing during the 1905
revolution allowed the city to avoid pogroms.
The question of who exactly were the people committing the pogroms is a
provoking question to ask since Anti-Semitism was widespread in Russian society.
John Doyle Klier writes that of the 4,052 people whose gender was noted upon
arrest following the 1881 riots all but 222 were women. 58 This is not surprising given
crime is traditionally committed by men as well as Russia being a male dominated
society. Klier also writes that occupation wise a majority of these early
pogromshchiki were from the peasant class.59 Shlomo Lambroza echoes Kliers
observation that Peasants and workers were the majority of the pogrom crowd. 60
The peasants were seen as hostile to the Jews because the peasants with their
poverty and low education level were more susceptible to beliefs that the Jewish
people were exploiting them and their low educational level meant that they were
56 Ibin, page 162
57 Ibin, page 168
58 Ibin, page 48
59 Ibin, page 49
60 Lambroza Pogrom Movement and Russia, page 191
28

more likely to accept outlandish anti-Jewish conspiracies as fact. The rioters were a
predominately male and lower class group but one that also had help from the
military and police authorities on occasion.
Soldiers both on and off duty took part in the pogroms as well. Yohanan
Petrovsky-Scthern explains that the military was filled with Anti-Semitism and, had a
strong Anti-Semitic culture. Khmentovskii, an adviser on the war ministry and an
active participant of the Commission on Combating Jewish Draft Evasion writes
Petrovsky-Schtern came to the conclusion that Jews always found a loophole in
legislation that allowed them to evade their military responsibilities. 61 Jews were
seen by the military as disloyal to the empire and as exploiters of the military. The
police themselves also took part in some pogroms as well despite an official policy
that condemned pogroms. Robert Weinberg writes in that during the lead up to the
1905 pogrom in Odessa that plainclothes police officers handed the rioters vodka
but also guns and money.62 Weinberg also writes that during the pogrom itself a few
low ranking policemen in and out of uniform participated in the looting and killings
of Jews.63 Shlomo Lambroza adds that data from 1903-06 shows 23% of
police/troops actively participated in all pogroms. Active participation is defined as
Lambroza as looting, pillaging, murder, and the physical abuse of Jews. And that
further 18% did nothing to stop illegal activity. Lambroza further notes that in at
least twenty eight documented cases, members of the police or local troop

61 Petrovsky-Schtern, Impact of Russian Right, page 220


62 Weinberg, page 62
63 Ibin, page 64
29

regiments were leaders or instigators of pogroms. 64 The police and military were
often not just participants of pogroms but the leaders of them as well.
The responses of Russias czars to the pogroms are important to understand since
the rioters often thought they were doing their czars orders to brutalize Jews. The
individuals who committed the pogroms following Alexander IIs assassination
convinced themselves that not only were the pogroms moral but they were
sanctioned by the new czar, Alexander III. Alexander III is often painted in history as
a rabid Anti-Semite with no sympathy for the plight of his Jewish subjects but I
Michael Aronson suggests that the Czar could not be so easily pigeonholed. As early
as April 27th, 1881, Alexander was said to have labeled the anti-Jewish riots as very
deplorable and the next day he referred to the participation of a military officer in
the riots as disgraceful.65 Alexander III cannot be exonerated for the pogroms
since as czar and therefore autocrat of the Russian Empire; he had both the
credibility and the power to call out publically the pogroms and violence against the
Jews. If the rioters, many of whom thought they were acting in the czars name had
been told that the czar disapproved of their actions and was horrified by what he
heard, theres arguably a possibility that the violence against the Jews would have
been cut down in Alexander IIIs reign. But Alexander III did not call out the rioters
publically. Aronson suggests that while Alexander was horrified by Anti-Jewish
violence, in one instance, he blamed the Jews themselves saying that their
exploitation of Christians had led to the troubles between Jews and Christians. 66

64 Lambroza Pogrom Movement in Russia, page 216


65 Aronson, page 3
66 Aronson, page 3
30

Alexander III must be criticized since he should have firstly dispelled any rumors of
a direct order by him to attack Jews and two, he should have clarified immediately
that there had not been a Jewish plot to kill his father which is what many of the
early rioters were motivated by. Alexander IIIs sin wasnt encouraging the pogroms;
rather it was that he did not use his power to condemn the violence against the
Jewish people on strong terms.
Alexander IIIs son and successor, Nicholas II, like his father faced pogroms in
his reign but Nicholas IIs responses to anti-Jewish violence differed from his
fathers. Nicholas II, like many of Russias elite saw the Jews as being behind the
revolutionary movement. Sergei Podbolotov writes And the Entire Mass of Loyal
People Leapt Up: The Attitudes of Nicholas II towards Pogroms that at a meeting in
early 1907 that Nicholas II told the German ambassador that a mass union of Jews
and Masons were behind the 1905 Revolution. Nicholas II felt the Jews were part of
an international conspiracy to take his power. Where Nicholas most differed from his
father was his responses to the pogroms however. Following the brutal Kishinev
pogrom, one of Nicholas IIs associates quoted the czar and the czars interior
minister, I heard from Plehve as well as from the tsar that Jews needed to be given
a lesson that they had become too conceited and they are leading the revolutionary
movement. (Podbolotov 198) Nicholas IIs response to the Kishinev pogrom shows
he had little sympathy for his Jewish of all ages subjects who were being brutalized.
Nicholas IIs views on the pogroms did evolve in the lead up to World War I.
Podbolotov cites another one of Nicholas IIs advisers who quotes the czar as saying
in September 1911, What a nightmare to take revenge upon the guiltless mass for
the guilt of one Jew.67 Yet Nicholas II still made himself an ally of Russias Anti67 Podbolotov, page 200
31

Semitic forces. Sergei Podbolotov writes that a count from Odessa and one of the
czars favorites complained to the czar about the lack of sympathy shown towards
what he called patriots, the emperor assured the man he thought the courts were
too hard on the participants too and he would soften the sentences upon petition. 68
Nicholas IIs actions show that this was reality and not mere rhetoric. According to
Podbolotov the czar granted clemency to rioters for 1,713 cases seen in the record,
a strong majority.69 Nicholas IIs responses to the pogroms emboldened violence
against the Jewish people since his sympathies were entirely with those who
committing the violence and he offered very little in the way of condemnation.
The responses by government civil servants and officials to the pogroms in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries need to be understood. Some of
Russias imperial officials responded to the pogroms with surprising sympathy for
the Jewish people. I Michael Aronson writes that State Secretary, E.A Peretts, in a
diary entry dated November 16th, 1882, accused ex Minister of the Interior, Ignatiev
and others of having wanted the almost destruction of the Jews. 70 Ignatiev was a
noted Anti-Semite who had played a big role in lending credence to the conspiracy
theory that Jews had been behind the murder of Czar Alexander II. Sergei Witte
seemed like an unlikely critic of Anti-Semitism and Russian policies towards the
Jewish people since he had been a career long public servant and served as the first
Prime Minister of the empire in 1905. Shlomo Lombroza writes that Witte had
repeatedly urged the government to begin a gradual process of Jewish

68 Podbolotov, page 204


69 Ibin, page 205
70 Aronson, page 4
32

emancipation. He was convinced that Jews had to be elevated to the position of


Russian citizen, with equal rights and privileges. 71 Witte in his memoirs condemned
Minister of the Interior Plheves policies towards Jews. Yet, as I learned from many
talks with Plehve, he had nothing against Jews and he was intelligent enough to
realize that this policy was incorrect, but he knew this policy pleased Grand Duke
Sergei Aleksandrovich and evidently his majesty as well, and he tried to please. 72
Wittes memoirs suggest that Russian government officials such as Plehve
embraced Anti-Semitic policy not out of principle but because they knew it would
curry favor with the then czar, Nicholas II who was Anti-Semitic. Witte was one of
the few prominent insiders in Russias government to understand the problems the
past treatment of Jews had caused. Lombroza writes while Witte condemned Jewish
involvement in revolutionary politics, he understood why they were drawn to radical
politics in response to their treatment and even expressed to Zionist leader,
Theodor Herzl that he believed the Jews were too oppressed. Witte was a modernist
who saw violence towards Jews as being detrimental towards the process of
modernization.
The responses of government authorities to the rise of pogroms and AntiSemitism werent always as sympathetic as Wittes. Monte Noam Penkower writes
that following the Kishinev Pogrom the government first denied the massacre in
Kishinev and then instructed its ambassador to blame the Jews for starting the
conflict in the first place.73 The ambassador was not the only prominent Russian

71 The Tsarist Government and Pogroms, Lambroza, page 289


72 Witte, page 380
73 Penkower, page 190
33

official to blame the Jews for the massacre. Plehve, the Minister of the Interior,
falsely said the incident started when a Jewish carousel owner hit a Christian women
and violence ensued. Penkower also writes that Plehve repeatedly refused Jewish
requests both to end the pogrom and to revise anti-Jewish policies. 74 Russian
officials showed that they could be sympathetic to the plight of the Jews or willing to
fabricate events to justify violence.
The Russian right was long tied with the monarchy and hostility towards Jews
in the Russian empire. It was the Russian right wing press that spread The Protocols
of Elders of Zion as fact. Following the pogroms, the right wing press kept on
attacking Jews and demonizing them as to justify the violence and hostilities. The
editorialist for Birzhevye vedomosti compared Jews to the southern grain beetle,
whose depredations had such a disastrous effect on the local economy. 75 The
dehumanization of the Jews by the Judeophobe press worked as a means to
convince non-Jewish readers that not only were the Jews not worthy of protection
but they were barely human. It was a tactic later used by Nazi propagandists during
the Third Reich. The creation of the state Duma following the Revolution of 1905 did
little to change Anti-Semitic attitudes on Russias right. A major proposal in the
Duma of 1906 was to grant equal rights to Russias Jews. Many on Russias right in
the Duma opposed this measure writes Shmuel Galai in that during the first Duma,
Prince N.S. Volkonskii: He said that, as far as he knew, nowhere had the Jewish
question been fully solved. By trying to solve it immediately in Russia, he continued,
the Duma might do more harm than good to society. However, the vast majority of
deputies rejected Volkonskiis views, considering the abolition of the legal
74 Ibin, page 190
75 Klier, page 140
34

restrictions on Jews to be a simple matter, and objected to any delay in preparing


the bill on civic equality. Indeed, from that moment onward, the plight of Russian
Jewry became the main argument in favour of urgent promulgation of the bill. 76
Opponents of Jewish equality like Volkonskii ignored the fact that in many parts of
the empire that Jews were still being subject to violence and questions of their
loyalty had persisted not ceased. Even after the heavy debates in the Duma about
Jewish equality, Anti-Semitic attitudes and belief in Jewish conspiracies were popular
on Russias right. Yohanan Petrovsky Schtern notes that on December 2 nd, 1911,
Nikolai Evgenevich Markov II advocated for the removal of all Jewish soldiers from
the military and argued that any Jewish soldier like all of Russias Jews followed the
dictates of a secret Jewish government based on the Talmud. Markov II went even
further by alluding to The Protocols of Elders of Zion.77 Markov IIs opinions
represented many on the Russian right who were convinced of a great Jewish
conspiracy for global domination and of inherent Jewish disloyalty to Russia. Markov
II later went on to be a supporter of the Third Reich in years following the Russian
Revolution.
The responses of Russias left towards growing Anti-Semitism and violence
towards Jews are more difficult to measure given the Russian lefts range from
liberal democratic capitalists to radical socialists and many who were in between.
A common response of many liberals in the news media was to attack the idea of
the Pale itself following the early pogroms in the early 1880s. John Doyle Klier
writes that a: A Golos editorial offered a liberal twist of a legal perspective: the
fault lay in the legal status of the Jews that confined them to the Pale and forced
76 Shmuel Galai, The Jewish Question as a Russian Question, page 45
77 Yohanan Petrovsky-Schtern, Impact of Russias Right, page 217
35

them to be a burden to the neighbors. 78 To many Russian liberals therefore the


problem was that Jews were forced into living in the Pale. Narodnaia volia, the far
left group behind the assassination of Czar Alexander IIs response to the early
pogroms is interesting given that Jews had been linked with the group and
conspiracy to kill the czar by conspiracy theorists. The Ukrainian chapter reports
John Klier wrote a declaration on August 30 th, 1881 that accused the Jews of taking
land from peasants and even repeated the blood libel charge. 79 It urged violence
against the Jews but differed from right wing declarations against the Jews in that it
urged violence against landowners and the czar as well. Narodnaia volia, which in
English means the Peoples Will was comprised mostly of Russias elite. In fact,
the mastermind behind Alexander IIs assassination, Sophia Perovskaya was a
daughter of St. Petersburgs military governor and the writer of the Ukrainian
declaration writes Klier was the son of a Bessarabia landowner. 80 Plus as populists
they saw themselves as representing the people who they felt were exploited by
Jews. The biggest difference in their perspective and the rights Judeophobes was
groups like Narodnaia volia wanted violence against other elites.
Responses to Anti-Semitism and violence against Jews though among the
Russian left started to change in the early twentieth century. The Kishinev Pogrom,
unlike past pogroms generated heavy responses from Russias left wing
intelligentsia. Monty Noam Penkower writes that the famed writer, Leo Tolstoi whom
had been silent during the pogroms of the 1880s condemned the criminals and

78 Klier, page 143


79 Ibn, page 166
80 Ibin, page 167
36

suggested that the government and clergy keeps the people in a state of ignorance
and fanaticism.81 Tolstoi though did encourage the Jews to adapt virtuous living. 82
However other Russian left wingers such as Maxim Gorki were more adamant in
their condemnation, Gorki railed against the killers and instigators and called on
men of conscious to help Russias Jews in a series of essays designed as a
fundraiser for the victims.83 The Ukrainian liberal, Vladimir Korolenko had been
railing against the pogroms and injustices since the 1880s and described in vivid
detail the violence of the pogroms. 84 Russias few liberal elected officials also took
stances against the pogroms in the early 1900s. Michael Hamm explains, A. K.
Pogorelko, a chemistry professor and liberal activist who served four consecutive
terms as mayor between 1900 and his death in 1912, stood firmly against mob
violence and, in October 1905, helped organize the Committee of Public Safety to
mediate between radicals and government troops. Pogorelko also supported the
idea of a peoples defense militia and used city funds to pay for the funerals of
those killed in October.85 Arguably, if there had been more elected officials like
Pogorelko in Russias cities then perhaps violence could have been avoided.
Russias left became more critical of violence in the early twentieth century because
of the lefts political philosophy of equality and legal rights.

81 Penkower, page 190


82 Penkower, page 190
83 Ibin, page 190
84 Ibin, page 190
85 Hamm, page 170
37

The Jewish response from within the Russian empire is important to


understand as well. Some replies were religiously based. The selihot service had
evolved in Jewish communities over centuries as a response to threats and crises.
Since, in the eyes of the religiously orthodox, disasters and persecutions were a
divine punishment for the sins of the community; appeals for forgiveness might, in
the words of believers, avert the evil decree. 86 Given the importance of religion in
the Jewish community, it is not surprising that many Jews turned to prayer in
response to violence. Yet other Jews responded with a more pragmatic approach and
this was emigration. John Doyle Klier writes Most of the Jewish refugees who
eventually arrived in America were the playthings of fate. They had little ideological
motivation, but only a desire to escape the violence and destruction of the pogroms
and to find economic opportunity in a new land. 87 Zvi Gitelman writes how the
pogroms caused massive Jewish emigration from the Russian Empire. Between
1820 and 1870 only some 7,500 Russian and Polish Jews had gone to settle in the
United States. Between 1871 and 1880 the number of those who went to America
rose to 40,000 but in the decade following the 1881 pogroms it jumped to 135,000.
The stream became a torrent between 1891 and 1910, when nearly one million Jews
fled the Russian Empire for the United States. Tens of thousands of others emigrated
to Canada, Western Europe, Australia, South America and South Africa. 88
Emigration largely to Britain and the United States started the foundations of large

86 Klier, page 257


87 Klier, page 273
88 Gitelman, page 12
38

exile populations that used the power of a free press to bring to the attention of the
rest of the world the situation in Russia.
It is not surprising that Theodor Herzl first started to advocate Zionism during
the period of the pogroms. Zionist ideas rose in the Russian Empire during this time
as Zvi Gitelman writes. Distressed by an emigration which they regarded as trading
one exile for another, they dare to propose a specifically Jewish solution, one which
would entail purposeful emigration with the goal of founding a Jewish state thereby
achieving international respectability for Jews. 89 The Zionist ideas pushed by Herzl
and other early Zionists would eventually result in the forming of the state of Israel
but long after the pogroms.

Jewish intellectuals also responded to the pogroms

and increased hostility to Jews in the empire. Stephen Cassedy writes that By its
June 5, 1881 issue Razsvet had grown even bolder. It ran a lead story in which it first
asserted that the peasants participating in the pogroms thought they were acting in
accordance with official policy, and then chided the government for failing to take
action against the rioting mobs.90 The Jewish intellectual community within Russia
was aware of the false allegations thrown against the Jewish people and took the
bold step of responding to those allegations.
Other Jews in the empire responded with calls for self-defense. SocialistZionist ideologue Nahum Syrkin wrote an article in Yiddish urging fellow Jews to go
out to the street with weapons in hand. Poalei Zion activist Michael Helpern, under
the rallying cry Remember the shame! organized Jewish fighting groups in Vilna
and other towns. In Kiev, nineteen-year-old Pinhas Dashevsky, with two other left89 Ibin, page 18
90 Steven Cassedy, Russian-Jewish Intellectuals Confront the Pogroms of 1881-82,
page 146
39

wing Zionist student friends, authored a letter calling for resistance. 91 Many Jews
from outside the Russian empire also believed that self-defense was a solution to
the pogroms. A letter from an Elias Margolis wrote A gun in the hand of a Russian
Jew may save his family from death, his woman from a fate worse than death or will
at least give him the God-given right to do die like a hero in defense of his own. 92 It
is easy to understand why an American Jew like Margolis would feel this way. There
were few protections against the pogroms for the Jewish people as the police had
shown a reluctance to protect them and in some cases even join the rioting and
murdering. The pogroms and the Russian governments inaction and in many
cases even sympathy towards Anti-Semitic violence had understandably radicalized
many Jews.
Jewish responses abroad to the pogroms are another factor since
international pressure needed to be applied on the Russian government to deter
violence. Monte Noam Penkower writes Responding to a call from the Alliance
Israelite Universelle, German-born Jewish magnates Oscar Straus, Jacob Schiff, and
Cyrus L. Sulzberger in New York raised a relief fund of $100,000 by June, a quarter
of the total sum collected worldwide.93 These charities served a dual purpose in
both raising awareness of the plight of the Jewish people and raising money to help
out victims. American Jews were also active in opposing immigration restrictions A
Washington Post article dated April 4th, 1910 tells of Adolf Kraus, an officer in Bnai
Brith was leading the fight against immigration restrictions and had in his

91 Penkower, page 193


92 Margolis, page 6
93 Penkower, page 191
40

testimony to the Senate brought up the atrocities committed against the Jewish
people in Russia.94 Jewish refugee communities outside the Russian empire helped
bring attention to the pogroms.
The legacy of pogroms and Anti-Semitism in Russia is important in
understanding not just Russian history following the revolution but world history as
well. The pogroms inspired Jews to emigrate from the Russian Empire in large
numbers and modern political Zionism was born during this era. The legacy also
includes Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories later embraced by the Third Reich which
ultimately culminated in the Holocaust but also Zionism and the ultimately
successful Jewish search for a homeland. And even though they have long and
widely been disproved, forgeries and theories about a secret Jewish conspiracy bent
on global domination have persisted into the twenty first century. Ultimately Russian
authorities must be faulted for the violence and hostiles towards Jews. It is true that
the authorities did not start the pogroms but they were at best guilty of inaction,
encouraging religious and ethnic hatreds, and not doing enough to stop the violence
when they had the power to do so. The Russian empire ended nearly a century ago
but its legacies play an important role in understanding modern European history.

Works Cited
Primary Sources
94 Washington Post, April 4th, 1910, page 2
41

1.) Margolis, Elias, Relief and Defense, New York Times, December 3rd, 1905
This was a helpful source in getting the perspective of Jewish immigrants
living abroad about responding to the pogroms.
2.) Witte, Sergei. The Memoirs of Count Witte. Armonk: M.E Sharpe, 1990.
Wittes memoirs were useful in understanding the inner circle of the
Russian government and their towards both Jews and pogroms.
3.) "SEE UNITED ISRAEL; B'nai B'rith Delegates Hopeful of Future of Race.
ORDER OPENS CONVENTION Constitution Grand Lodge Begins Sessions at
Arlington. Message of Adolf Kraus, President of Executive Committee,
Chief Feature of Afternoon Meeting -- Reviews Fight of American Jews to
Stop Russian Massacres -- Seeks to Defeat Legislation Imposing
Immigration Restrictions. PROGRAM FOR TODAY. ." Washington Post, April
4, 1910
Not the best source but it did help show how the foreign Jewish
community was responding. Kraus was a German Jew and from what I
understand in those days German Jews were the leaders of the Jewish
community in America and the UK too.
Secondary Sources
1.) Aronson, Michael, I. "The Attitudes of Russian Officials in the 1880s toward
Jewish Assimilation and Emigration." Slavic Review. 34. no. 1 (1975): 1-18.
This article was useful in understand Alexander IIIs attitudes about Jews
and pogroms.
2.) Cassedy, Stephen. "Russian-Jewish Intellectuals Confront the Pogroms of
1881: The Example of "Razsvet"." The Jewish Quarterly Review. 84. no. 2/3
(1993-1994): 129-152.
This was a helpful source for understanding the response of the Jewish
intellectual community to early pogroms.
3.) Dekel-Chen, Jonathan, David Gaunt, Natan Meir, and Israel Bartal. AntiJewish Violence Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.
42

Only used one essay from this and it was the Siberian article by Kalmina
but it was a useful article.
4.) Dietrich-Lowe, Heinz. "Pogroms in Russia: Explanations, Comparisons,
Suggestions." Jewish Social Studies. 11. no. 1 (2004): 16-23.
This was somewhat useful in seeing the role of economic resentment as a
factor in violence especially towards wealthier Jews.
5.) Galai, Shmuel. "The Jewish Question as a Russian Problem: The Debates in
the First State Duma," Revolutionary Russia. 17. no. 1 (2004): 31-68.
I didnt use this source that much but Galai did show how reluctant the
Russian right was about granting Jews equal rights.
6.) Gitelman, Zvi. A Century of Ambivalence. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 2001.
Gitelmans book was very helpful in showing how the pogroms created a
huge mass of emigration from Russia by Jews in the years that this paper
is set in.
7.) Grayston, Donald. "Antisemitism in a Russian Spiritual Classic: The
Pilgrim's Tale." Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, 3. no. 1 (2003):
110-26.
This was an important article in understanding the Christian Orthodox
Churchs contribution to Anti-Semitism.
8.) Hagemeister, Michael. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Between
History and Fiction." New German Critique. 35. no. 1 (2008): 83-97.
Like Petrovsky-Schterns article, vital to understanding the history of the
Protocols and how they were used.
9.) Hamm, Michael. Jews and revolution in Kharkiv: How one Ukrainian city
escaped a pogrom in 1905. New York: Routledge, 2005.
This was an excellent source for understanding why Kharkiv avoided a
pogrom.
10.) Heywood, Anthony, and Jonathan Smele. The Russian Revolution of
1905: Centenary Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2005.

43

I only used the article by Hamm on Kharkiv but as mentioned above that
was extremely useful in writing a couple of paragraphs about a city that
bucked the trends.
11.) Kalmina, Lilla, The Possibility of the Impossible: Pogroms in Eastern
Siberia, from Jonathan Dekel-Chens Anti-Jewish Violence Rethinking the
Pogrom in East European History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
2011.
Siberia was an interesting topic because Siberia unlike most of what I
explore in this essay was inside the Pale and Kalmina also showed military
attitudes towards Jews too.
12.) Klier, John. Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881-82. New York City:
Cambridge University Press, 2011.
I used Kliers book quite a bit and found it valuable to understanding
Russian attitudes about Jews and pogroms but also for Jewish responses to
the pogroms as well.
13.) Lambroza, Shlomo. "The Tsarist Government and the Pogroms of 190306." Modern Judaism. 7. no. 3 (1987): 287-96.
Helpful secondary source that was used together with Wittes memoirs to
illustrate Wittes disgust with pogroms but also contrasting his attitude
with others.
14.)
Lambroza, Shlomo, The Pogrom Movement in Tsarist Russia, 19031906. (Thesis Submitted to Rutgers Graduate School, 1981)
Helpful in seeing just who the rioters were and an assist to my findings
that the police not only turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering but
sometimes participated.
15.) Penkower, Monty-Noam. "The Kishinev Pogrom: A Turning Point in
Jewish History." Modern Judaism. 24. no. 3 (2004): 187-227.
I found this useful not just for understanding Kishinev but also responses
from people like Tolstoy and Gorky.

44

16.)

Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan. "Contextualizing the Mystery: Three

Approaches to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Explorations in Russian


and Eurasian History,. 4. no. 2 (2003): 395-409.
This was incredibly helpful in understanding not just the history of the
Protocols but their use.
17.) Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan. "The Jewish Policy of the Late Imperial
War Ministry: The Impact of the Russian Right." Explorations in Russian
and Eurasian History, 3. no. 2 (2004): 217-54.
Article was used to understand Anti-Semitisms role and impact on military
officials.
18.) Podbolotov, Sergei. "... and the Entire Mass of Loyal People Leapt up":
The attitude of Nicholas II Towards thePogromsAuthor(s):." Cahiers du
Monde russe,. 45. no. 1/2 (2004): 193-207.
This article was very helpful in understanding Nicholas IIs attitude to the
pogroms and Jews.
19.)
Pritsak, Omeljan. "The Pogroms of 1881." Harvard Ukrainian Studies.
11. no. 1/2 (1987): 8-43.
This like Staliunas article helped support the idea brought forth that
rioters believed they were avenging the dead czar.
20.) Staliunas, Darius. "Anti-Jewish Disturbances in the North- Western
Provinces in the Early 1880s East European Jewish Affairs. 34. no. 2
(2004): 119-38.
Useful for seeing how rioters saw themselves as avenging Alexander IIs
death but also pogroms in Lithuania as well as economic roots of pogroms.
21.) Weinberg, Robert. "Workers, Pogroms, and the 1905 Revolution in
Odessa." Russian Review. 46. no. 1 (1987): 53-75.
This was very important in understanding Odessas pogrom but also the
police not only turning a blind eye but taking part in pogroms.

45