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[Page 73]

The Pogrom of 1903

Translated by Sheli Fain

When we evaluate today the Kishinev bloody events of 1903 it seems they were pale when compared with the volcano of atrocities that our people suffered in the Holocaust, when millions were murdered. The real meaning of the events of 1903 is that they were a severe warning for our entire nation and its fate in history.

The Kishinev Pogrom of Passover 5663 (6–7 April 1903) hit like a lightning storm on the heads of the world Jewry in general and on the Jews of Russia in particular. It came at the time when new and progressive movements started to appear in the Russian public life, when the oppressive tsarist regime started to pay attention to the demands of the people and at the time when the Jews of Russia found some hope for their plight. The Pogrom represented a cruel retreat from all this progress. The Pogrom found the Jews of Russia emotionally unprepared for the events and left long lasting wounds in their hearts. This caused a deep soul searching in the various circles of the community and resulted in a search for new ways of life. [Page 74]

This event shocked many, but it did not come as a surprise to the Jews of Kishinev. About four–five years before the Pogrom, the newspaper “The Bessarabets” (Bessarabian) that was published in Kishinev by Pavolaki (Pavel) Krushevan poured venom and incited against the Jews and threatened that the Jews want to take over Russia. The local authorities and the central authorities appreciated the work of Krushevan's newspaper. Indirectly, they supported this “cultural endeavor” and prohibited the publications that could deny the poison that was spread by “The Bessarabets” among the Christian masses. The Black Gang active around the newspaper did not stop at writing; they also organized gangs of bullies to spread pamphlets against the Jews and to get ready for the big day of slaughtering the Jews. Krushevan's dossier is full of vile incitement against the Jews and he was not less despicable than the ones who came after: Cuza, Goebbels, Julius Streicher and others.

In February 1903 a rumour spread that the Jews killed a young Christian boy, Mikhail Rybachenko in Dubossary in order to use Christian blood for Passover. The Bessarabets used this rumour to incite against the Jews and called for beating and killing them. The Jewish community asked the authorities to investigate this murder and the conclusion was that the youth was killed by a Russian Christian. They asked the paper to publish a retraction and they did it, but only on the last page and in very tiny letters. That did not stop the provocations. Krushevan gathered a group of bullies among them the group called “Representatives of Christian Intellectuals” lead by Pronin, a rich man, and a number of priests. They met in the centre of the city in a tavern called Moscow.

During the holiday of Passover of 1903 (5663) the Christians were preparing to riot. The representatives of the Jewish community begged numerous times that the authorities take steps to prevent upheaval. The authorities did not give a lot of importance to the request of the Jews. The District Minister, von Raaven, a cynical and negligent man, did not pay attention to the Jewish delegation and repeated the slogan that they are waiting for decisions from von Plehve, the Minister of Interior in Petersburg. The delegation was disheartened. The attitude of the authorities only encouraged Krushevan's thugs. Also the Vice Governor Ustrugov liked the idea of revenge against the Jews and did all he could to encourage the Pogrom.

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The bloody riots started on the last day of Passover, on April 6 and lasted the entire day and until the evening of the next day. In the same day the mob gathered on the Chuflinsky square in Kishinev and was ready together with Krushevan's gangs for the riot. The Christian youth started throwing stones at the Jews on the streets shouting “Kill the Jid (Jew)!” In a very short time a big mob of more than a couple of hundred people concentrated at the Moscow tavern. The orders were given and immediately the mob organized itself in groups of 10–15 people who started throwing stones at the Jews and vandalizing the Jewish stores in the centre of the city and in the suburbs. They entered the houses and burglarized them[1]. The streets filled with broken furniture and feathers from the bedding. The rest of the curious population among them intellectuals, priests, clerks, seminary students, old people, women and children did not stay idle; they participated to the “cleaning of the streets” and “picked up” all that was valuable. They robbed the jewelry, clothing and shoes and everything they could grab. The authorities cared that the mobs be entertained and ordered the military band to play in the centre of the city as usual and disregarded what was happening a few meters away[2].

On Sunday after the Pogrom, the authorities still refused to give any answers to the Jews and the police and the army that patrolled the streets encouraged the murderers with their indifference. The chief of police Tchemzenkov patrolled the street in his carriage and did not lift a finger to stop the wild mob. When the mob saw that the police was not interfering, it got even bolder. When night fell the city became a ghost town quiet and empty. But the murderers did not sleep, they planned how to massacre and vandalize. During the night they marked with chalk

[Page 76]

View of one of the streets after the Pogrom


the Jewish homes to make it easier to identify them and not to hurt the Christians. At 4:00 A.M. the riots started again.

April 7, 1903 – This day was marked by the savage vandalism of the hooligans and the helpers who came to the city to assist with the “Holy Operation.” The murderers worked according to a detailed plan and this time they did not stop at robbing and destroying property, they wanted to see the Jewish blood spilled. They knew that the police or the army will not interfere with their actions and mostly will prevent the Jews from defending themselves.

The most serious damage was done when the vandals descended on the Jewish homes in the suburbs: they destroyed, killed, violated and strangled. The Jews were powerless and helpless and could not defend themselves. The Jewish butchers in the market got together to form a defence, some fights started, but the police appeared from nowhere and chased them away,

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and some Jews were arrested. The police actions encouraged the assassins who interpreted that as a green light to continue to kill and destroy.

Berthold Feiwel writes in his book[3] that the atrocities in Kishinev were more brutal and more savage than any other suffering of the Jews in the Diaspora until then – in the time of the Crusaders, the Inquisition, during Khmelnitsky's rule or in the Damask riots. Then, in 1903, no one could have imagined that such a dreadful event will be a prelude to the catastrophe that awaited our people on their way to the gas chambers and to mass destruction in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau and all the other death infernos.

The riots did not stop for a few days and the toll was enormous. 49 people were murdered (24 were women and children), more than 550 wounded and some very serious, 2.080 houses and stores destroyed some of them completely ruined, thousands


Remnants of Vandalized Torah scrolls

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of families were left homeless. Most of the victims were the poor people, the middle class suffered less and the rich were not touched, apparently because they secretly bribed the organizers.


The Jewish Defence

We can't deny that the riots came for most as a surprised, because they believed in the authorities that promised to disperse the rioters, but even with an advance preparation the Jews did not stand a chance against the thugs. When they saw that the police or the army did not interfere with the rioters, they understood that they have to defend themselves. There is even a version of the events where they say that the Jews did not even try to defend themselves, but the reality was different – every effort of defence was stopped by the police. The truth is that there was a network of self–defence groups, and that they performed courageous deeds in saving lives and defending the women and children. They also defended a lot of synagogues for the sanctity of God (Kidush haShem). The actions of self–defence in Kishinev were described by Josef Rabinovich, who participated in one of the groups[4].

I was 15 year old then. I was walking in the centre of town and witnessed the vandals smashing the windows of the Jewish stores. They took me for one of the Christian youngsters and I walked with them in the area called the New Market (Bazaar). I walked on these streets until sundown and then I came close to my neighborhood, the area next to the Church Vovnesenskaya Tserkovy. To get to this area I had to cross part of the city inhabited only by Jewish people. On one of the streets I encountered a group of Jewish youth who were guarding against the rioters. They also took me for a Christian, but I shouted to them in Yiddish that I am a Jew and they let me pass. When I got home I found my father very worried and he told me that all the residents on our street should organize a self–defence group. We gathered on one of the backyards not far away. All the men armed themselves with iron clubs and with stones. I met there one Jewish engineer, who was in vacation from his factory in one of the cities in the Caucasus. He was wearing a metal helmet with a sign that had 2 crossed hammers and he organized us.

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He was the only one with a gun. We started to prepare ourselves against the rioters who were only one street away next to the church. We stayed near the church gate and waited for the rioters. Our intention was to stop them near the gate. After pillaging the homes on the other street, the rioters crossed the church courtyard and came to the gate that opened to our street. When they got to the gate, the engineer shot them with his gun and we all charged at them with our iron clubs. One of the rioters was hit and the others retreated. That's how we saved our street.

I have to emphasise that this is just one self–defence action I participated with my father. I know of one more operation: on the street called Karl Alexandrovich Shmidt that leads to the New Market area there were many Jewish blacksmith shops and other stores. One of the shop owners defended the neighborhood by shooting at the rioters from one of the store roofs. He killed many of them.

There were other actions that prevented the destruction of Torah Scrolls in the synagogues. The one that made a lasting impression on me was at the Gotslober Shul. When the rioters stormed into the synagogue the shamash (beadle), Moshe Kigel did not let them get to the Ark and he was murdered on the spot.

Another witness was Moshe Kira a Kishinev born journalist who wrote many years for the journal Ha–Melitz. He writes[5]:

Early morning a lot of able youngsters gathered under the lead of Hayyim Frideles, known for his courage and strength. The youth were ordered to attack the rioters and this gave some of the residents hope that the victory will be ours. But only after half an hour the army assaulted us and arrested us. They kept us locked until the end of the Pogrom. The “Bessarabets” reported that Hayyim Frideles wanted to organize an action to overthrow the government.

There are many more cases of self–defence – an old father defending his daughter's honour only to be killed by the mob, the son who defended his mother and both were murdered on the spot and many other examples of Jews defending their honour and lives.


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The Most Culpable for the Pogrom

Most historians consider that Pavolaki Krushevan is the most culpable chief instigator of the Kishinev Pogrom, but there is no doubt that he was just a servant of the central authorities in Petersburg, that used him to implement the atrocities in Kishinev and in other places. It is certain that the Minister of Interior, von Plehve played an important role in the Pogrom together with von Raaben, the Minister for Bessarabia and his deputy Ustrugov. Prime Minister Levendal and Tchemzenkov, the commander of the local gendarmes and civilians like Pronin, the notary Pisarchevsky, Semigradov, Bolinsky, I. Popov, the judge Davidovich and many more played important roles in the incitement and organization of the Pogrom. The Prime Minister of Russia before the First World War, Count Sergei Witte writes in his memoirs[6] about the role of von Plehve, the Minister of Interior in his government:

When von Plehve was Minister of the Interior he searched psychological methods to crash the revolutionary movements of the masses especially during the Japan War. Von Plehve believed that the Pogroms against the Jews are just the ways to stop the revolutions. This is how we can explain the big number of these brutal pogroms, especially the one in Kishinev, during his time in office.”

Count Witte continues: “Count Musin–Pushkin, the military commander of the Odessa district reported that he visited Kishinev immediately after the Pogroms in order to investigate the behaviour of the army during the Pogrom. He described the atrocities done to the helpless Jews and added that all this happened because the army could not act due to the interference from the civilian authorities. Musin–Pushkin concluded that this method resulted in demoralizing and undermining the army.

The district prosecutor A. Polan, who was not very sympathetic to the Jews, but wanted to show his objectivity about the Kishinev Pogrom, notes in his report to the director of the Justice Ministry that the authorities are to be blamed:

“In the first day of Easter (the last day of Passover) no measures were taken to prevent the riots or to stop them. They would never have happened if someone would have intervened, because they were not very serious.”

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“Satan has not yet devised the vengeance for the blood of a little child.” H.N. Bialik:
“Al ha–Sheḥitah”
(“On the Slaughter,” 1903)


He adds that the Prime Minister met with the head of the Church who visited the city in the same day, but no special attention was given to the incidents in the city. The list of the culprits can't be finish without mentioning Tsar Nicolai II and his entourage. It is known that during the Pogrom there was a rumour that the tsar himself gave orders for the riots against the Jews during the Easter holiday. Since there was no denial or any official action to stop the riots the masses decided on their own to carry out this “patriotic deed” against the Jews. Tsar Nicolai's behavior immediately

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after the Pogrom, such as: his refusal to receive the American Consul and the petition signed by thousands of American citizens against the Pogrom, the note sent to Krushevan thanking him for the book “Bessarabia” and other details, affirm that Nicolai II had a deep hate for the Jews. Vasily Shulgin, a politician at the time, describes in his memoirs the true character of the Russian tyrant and his affinity for Pogroms.

There is no doubt that if we try to connect the lines between all the different factors from Kishinev to Petersburg and back, we will understand that the roots of the atrocities of 6–7 April 1903 lie in the deep general hatred against the Jewish people in the Diaspora and the desire of many to persecute and annihilate them.


The “Righteous Among the Nations”

We should remember a number of Christians who did everything possible to help the suffering victims and who tried to stop the atrocities. These Christian never imagined that their actions were like rays of light in the ocean of horrors and atrocities. Among them we have to mention the priest Laskov, who saved a few families in his home, despite the fact that his son participated in the riots. The engineer Kosh, one of the fire fighters, saved some people by using the water canon against the attackers.

Berthold Feiwel mentions the officer Michailov who came with his troupes from Benderi and defended the Jews without hesitation. At the beginning he was admonished by his superiors for not following the orders, but due to the intervention of Musin–Pushkin, the commander of the army in Odessa, Michailov was able to help the Jews.

The landowner Kropenski also did his best to help the victims. He helped Dr. Muchnik to send a telegram to Petersburg where he reported on the riots. (At that time it was impossible to send private telegrams to Petersburg). Kropenski also donated money to the victims and turned his home into a hospital to care for the wounded.

Among this small group, one person who did the most to help was Kishinev Mayor Karl Shmidt. Shmidt was a friend of the Jews even before he was elected mayor. He was born in 1847 and held numerous functions in Kishinev. Close to the days of the riots

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he warned that the authorities are indifferent to the pleas of the Jewish delegations and he could not believe that his Christian brothers are able of such crimes. Dr. Shlutski mentions that when the Jewish delegation came to him after they were refused by von Raaben, Shmidt started to cry. These were real tears that he shed, because even if he was the mayor, he was powerless. The authorities did not listen to him, but he did all he could to help as a private citizen and he even went to the hospitals to enquire and to help the victims. When Shmidt was investigated at the Pogrom trial he was not afraid to lay the responsibility for the atrocities on the army and the authorities that did not intervene to stop the Pogrom on time. In his testimony he mentioned[7] the criminal role that the newspaper the “Bessarabits” played in poisoning the good relations between the Jews and the Christians. His testimony was not overlooked and after the riots he was attacked by the anti–Semites about his relationship with the Jews. He did open his own investigation on the rioters but did not have great success because Krushevan's goons elected Krushevan to the city council. Shmidt could not stand to be in Krushevan's company and retired from public life and until he died he was angry that a bunch of thugs are now running the city using force and corruption.

We also have to mention the head of the District hospital (zamstva) Dr. Nicolai Doroshevsky. He helped the Jewish victims and also opened his house for them during the riots. He appeared in front of the murderers and tried to convince them to stop their actions. He also exposed the real culprits by publishing the gory details of the Pogrom in the newspaper “Novosti” (The News) that was published in Petersburg. The public opinion was incensed by these details. The queen Maria Fyodorovna was impressed and she expressed her sorrow and disappointment to General Bekman, the commander of the Kishinev district. The Vice Governor of Bessarabia, Ustrugov tried immediately to deny these facts[8]. There was also an attempt to persuade

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Doroshevski to deny the facts from the “Novosti” article and when he refused they started to persecute him. His house was searched by the secret agents who were looking for the manuscript of a book he allegedly was planning to publish on the Pogrom and to expose the real role of the authorities[9]. They did not find the manuscript, but they found a list of Christian donors who gave money to the victims of the Pogrom. This enraged the authorities and Doroshevski was fired from his post. That's how they rewarded a great humanitarian worker for helping the Jews.


The End of the Riots

A curtain of despair and isolation was pulled on the Jews of Kishinev and they did not recover for a long time. The physical signs of destruction and vandalism highlighted the tragedy. The authorities that were most responsible for the riots tried to erase all signs, but they did not succeed. The Jews did not open the shops and the stores and neglect reigned all over the city. To help the victims, the heads of the community assembled to elect a Relief Society, lead by Dr. I. Sh. Muchnik. Members of this society were: Dr. Bernstein–Cohen, Elenora Halperin, Sh. M. Grosman, A. Sh. Kenigshatz, Israel Kiproser, M. Glickman, I.M. Krisilshtik, Sh. Perlmuter, A. I. Reidel, Tz. Rosenfeld, Dr. M.B. Slutsky, M. Fokelman and Rabbi M. Sh. Etinger. This committee started immediately to assist the victims. The first money was collected from the rich people in the city and when the cry for help reached other cities in Russia, in America and other places, a lot of help started arriving[10].

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The echo of the Pogrom angered the public opinion in Russia and forced the authorities to take measures to lift the cover up. A few hundred instigators were arrested, but were released after a short time. Lopukhin, the Chief of the secret police visited Kishinev on April 14, 1903 and received a Jewish delegation. The delegation handed him a detailed report on the Pogrom and its causes, but due to fear, the details and names of the main instigators were omitted. A week after Lopukhin gave his report to von Plehve and the Interior Ministry issued an official statement. The statement falsified all facts and indirectly blamed the Jews. The statement also decreed that in order to avoid future riots all self–defense activities should be stopped. It is interesting to note that many years after, Lopukhin recognized in front of one of the Jewish leaders in Russia, G.B. Sliozberg[11] that his report was completely different from the one von Plehve issued. Count Musin–Pushkin, the district military commander also issued an account on the Pogrom where he accused the local authorities for the atrocities. Von Plehve thought that it is sufficient to issue a statement, but the public opinion in Russia and in the world forced him to take drastic measures. He fired the governor von Raaben and replaced him with a liberal governor, Prince Urussov, and he also fired the chief of the police in Kishinev. He concocted a very foggy report, half blaming the local authorities for the riots.

The Jewish delegation led by A. Greenberg, A.Sh. Kenigshatz and Goldshtein that was received by von Plehve on April 6, 1903 heard only words of accusation from him. He accused the Jews of interfering with the police and uttered that the Jews are the majority of the revolutionaries who want to topple the government.

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Members of the Relief Society


Dr. J. Bernstein–Cohen visited Petersburg and met with Prince Meshchersky, who promised to take measures to punish the people responsible for the Pogrom. We mentioned that there were some arrests, but they were immediately released due to “lack of evidence.” The judge did not allow the lawyers for the Jewish victims to deviate from the official script that was given to them and did not agree to put any representatives of the local authorities on the list of the accused even if there was evidence that they planned and participated in the riots. The best lawyers for the victims were A.S. Zarudny and N.D. Sokolov from Petersburg. They did not stop at just questioning the few miserable wretches who were sitting in the accused box; they strived to prove that the Chief of the Bessarabia Gendarmerie, Levendal, pulled all the strings to carry out the riots. They also accused a few members of the civil authorities. The judge did not approve to enlarge the list of the accused. He warned

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Zarudny that his presence in Kishinev is not wanted and that the police will not be responsible for his life. Zarudny was forced to leave Kishinev, but he took with him a lot of documents showing who the real culprits for the Pogrom[12] were. When the investigations finished and the trials started, a group of new liberal lawyers were appointed. Some of them already represented the Jews in many cases. The Petersburg lawyer, N.F. Korbachevsky, Oscar Grusenberg, Kalmanovich and Zarudny defended the rights of the victims. Korbachevsky and his team proved again that many suspects who instigated and planned the Pogrom were missing from the accused list. They demanded that the trial be stopped and that a new investigation ordered. When the judge refused, Korbachevsky and his team left the room in protest because they felt that the outcome of trial was already decided. Their action had an enormous influence on the public opinion that understood that this is von Plehve's “fair trial!” The entire world was made aware of the Pogrom trial.

In 15 of July 1904 von Plehve collapsed and bled to death on a Petersburg street. In Kishinev they saw that as a sign from G–D. The Jews of Russia did not forget his criminal role in the Kishinev Pogrom.


The Echo through the Diaspora

The lives of Jews of Russia and of a large part of the enlightened Christians were shuddered by the Kishinev Pogrom. The famous people of the generation, authors, intellectuals, public workers protested sincerely against this criminal act. They recognized the role of the rioters and of the instigators. Leo Tolstoy, Prince Torovotskoy, Professor Storojenskoy, Professor Ozurov and others wrote about their collective shame and penned their indignation in their writings. Maxim Gorky[13] speaks with rage about the Russian intelligentsia who tolerated such a heinous crime. Some came to Kishinev immediately after the Pogrom to see

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the destruction. One of the writers, Vladimir Korolenko came to Kishinev after the Pogrom and described the reality in the city in his story “House No. 13.” Some groups of liberal priests were also angered by the wreckage in Kishinev. The episcope Antony strongly condemned the crimes against the Jews in a speech he gave in Zytomir.

The spirits did not rest; the more the public outcry grew the stronger the Anti–Semitism spread. All over Russia there was great tension and sometimes clashes erupted in the cities. Western Europe and America reacted strongly to the Pogrom[14]. Thousands of protests took place in America and the government agreed to officially intervene. Actions to help the victims started at same time.

When summarizing the world general reactions, the Pogrom came as a shock to many who could not believe the extent of the destruction done by a throng of Christians savages. The people who were educated to have patience and wait for a liberal democratic government got frightened by the degree of hate displayed in the days of the Pogrom.

How did the Jewish street react?

There is no doubt that the Pogrom shook the Jewish public opinion in the world. The lesson learned from the Kishinev riots not only raised the awareness of self–defense among the Jews, they also generated a deep soul searching about the future of the Jews in the Diaspora. In this stormy period the community leaders looked at ways to educate the Jews and to organize the self–defense groups especially among the youth. The self–defense among the vast majority of Russian Jews came from the depth of the suffering in Kishinev. The Secrecy Tractate[15] (Megilat Setarim) written by Ahad Ha–am (Asher Ginsberg) two weeks after the Pogrom and that was widely distributed to the Jewish communities by the Writers Union caused great furor in the Jewish public. The pamphlet stressed: “The crimes and the destruction in Kishinev are of an extent never seen since the times of Khmelnitsky and the Junta – they force us to open our eyes and see beyond

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this country, to force us to chose a way that will not add more suffering and empty hope.”

Sh. Dubnov (Dubnow) wanted to collect detailed Pogrom documentation in order to publish them. He sent Hayim Nakhman Bialik to Kishinev to collect the testimonies. The extensive documentation was not published by Dubnov (at the advice of the Historical Society). The poet Bialik shaken by the reality he saw and from the material he collected from witnesses expressed his rage in two poems: “Al ha–Sheḥitah” (“On the Slaughter) and “Be'ir Ha–haregah” (In the City of Killing). These two poems that are pearls of the Hebrew literature represent a cornerstone in the revolutionary path of the Jewish youth in the Diaspora in the search of independence. These poems shook the conscience of the youth and directed them towards independence.

The poet Shimen Shmuel Frug also expressed his outrage about the Pogrom in his poem “Hut Rahmones” (Have Pity!). He was touched by the suffering of the victims and devoted his poem to the martyrs. He cried out: “Have Pity! Bring bread for the living and bring shrouds for the dead!

The spiritual reaction woke up the desire of the Jews of Russia to defend their national pride. This caused people like Pinhas Dashevski to stand up and act. He attempted to murder the main instigator of the Pogron, P. Krushevan. Berl Katznelson[16] writes that the Kishinev Pogrom caused for the first time in history that a Jewish youth avenges the honor of Israel. At his trial on June 4, 1903 in Petersburg, Dashevski declared that even if he confessed that he attempted to murder Krushevan, he is not guilty because as a Jew he is obliged to defend the national honor. In order to highlight the nationalistic aspect of his action, Dashevski declared that he was not in Kishinev during the riots and no one from his family was hurt and he believed his act is justified because he is a Zionist[17]. The Jewish youth considered Dashevski's action revolutionary because it was never heard before of a Jewish youngster who will take upon himself such a courageous deed in the name of national honor.

The events in Kishinev influence not only the literature, but also the social movements, especially the Bund and

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other Zionist movements that started to appear at the time.

In a letter sent to the Jewish Community in Kishinev on May 19, 1903 Theodore Herzl, the Zionist leader is asking “Until When? (Ad matai?)” This was a warning to the Diaspora to be conscious of the dangerous environment around them. Here is what he wrote on the letterhead of the Zionist Congress in Vienna.


Herzl's Letter to the Jewish community of Kishinev

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To the Honored Council of the Jewish Community of Kishinev!

The entire Jewish world was horrified by what has happened in Kishinev. For hundreds of years the Jewish solidarity was not as strong as now. Innocent women and children had to learn that in their despair. We are deeply troubled by this national disaster and we want to shake your hands and express our sorrow. The victims were our people, our flesh and blood and the monuments on their graves cry out. Until When? (Ad Matai?)[18]

In this sadness there is one expression of comfort: we have to be united in our difficulties like a family in order to deliver our people from slavery. And we will find enough men who are thinking alike to accomplish this common endeavor. With the Blessing of Zion. Dr. Herzl

The Pogrom in Kishinev produced two conflicting currents – the Uganda movement and the support for the Second Aliyah. The Jewish world was shaken by this Pogrom more than by any prior catastrophes[19]. There was already a Zionist movement that strengthened the ties among the Jews and “Kishinev gave the people a big motivation to think about the future.” The Zionist leaders were still greatly confused about finding an immediate solution for the needy Jewish masses and not to wait until the possibility to establish a Jewish State arrives, therefore they thought to look for a temporary place to “accommodate.” Herzl understood that this is only short–term and serious. The Uganda solution preoccupied all the Zionist movement, but the Russian Jews were against it, because they did not want to give up their dream for Eretz Israel. The President of Israel, Chaim

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Weizmann writes in his Memoirs:[20]

From the beginning it was clear to me that the Pogrom in Kishinev and the oppressive regime in Russia were not good news for our movement. In days of fear many plans lose their meaning and unthinkable ideas sprout. The “immediate solution” haunted us many years because the open terror that the Pogrom created. This solution was discussed at every Congress and was on many people's minds. These small decisions were only a step towards the big triumph

The tragedy caused a strong desire among the Jewish youth to go to Eretz Israel and to fulfill their national dream. The Pogrom demonstrated to the people that postponement could have tragic consequences. Hundreds of young men and women and after that thousands left their studies or their jobs and armed with the will to establish a Jewish homeland in Israel went to Eretz Israel. In fact the youth of Kishinev were an example to many who wanted to cut the ties with the Diaspora. They created a strong foundation for practical work in Israel. The Second Aliyah opened a new chapter in the history of the Zionist movement and the history of Yishuv.

We have to mention the initiative to settle the Pogrom orphans in Eretz Israel. The plan was to transfer the orphans to an agricultural training school and after the end of the studies they will be settled on land purchased by the Zionist movement. Israel Belkind, founder of Bilu and of Rishon Le–Zion, came to Kishinev to organize the school and Menahem M. Ussishkin was in charge of purchasing the land for the settlement. Belkind organized a group of 33 orphans in November 1903 to go to Israel and after that a second group followed. Bilkind's efforts to settle everybody together was not successful and the group dispersed in Israel and took divers jobs.


The Pogroms of 1905

The new governor of Bessarabia, Count Urussov, a liberal man and a Jew sympathizer, tried to improve the relations between the Jews and the Christians in the city, but his actions did not please the regime in Petersburg and in 1905 he was replaced by the new governor Khruzin who continued von Raaven anti–Semitic policies.

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The Pogrom of 1905, sculpture by A. Patlagean


Khruzin was also given the task to crush the leftist groups that started at the time. The Krushevan and Pronin people formed an organization in Kishinev called the “Patriotic League” with the purpose to instigate against the Jews. The war with Japan brought defeat to the Russians. The government tried to distract the attention of the masses from the heavy losses in the war by inciting the populace against the Jews. They were rumours that the Jews gave lots of money and sold ships to Japan. There was a rumour that the Jews want to establish a “Respublica,” their own country, in the South of Russia led by

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the lawyer Pragmant from Odessa and Dr. Muchnik from Kishinev and they will replace the Governor Khruzin. Dr. Lev Kogan will be the Chief of Police. These rumors were the oil on the wheels of the incitement.

The leftist parties in Kishinev called for a general strike on October 16, 1905, the day they will present their demands to the government. While many Christian workers refused to participate, many Jewish workers participated in the strike and the demonstrations and there were many clashes between these two groups. The tension that took over the city was a prelude to the riots. The riots erupted even thought the authorities tried to assure the Jews that it will be quiet.

Many large meetings took place on October 18, 1905 that was declared the “Day of the Constitution.” On October 19 the Patriotic League organized a large demonstration against the Constitution, but their main intent was to do a Second Pogrom in the city. The army and the police were indifferent and the rioters considered that a sign of cooperation.

The gangs of rioters assembled again in the Chuflinsky Square and started to invade the city streets. The first gang of 100 rioters were met by a group of armed Jews on Alexander Street and they had to flee. On their retreat they managed to kill a young Jewish man and a Jewish girl. The second attempt to attack another street also met the Jewish defense. The Jewish resistance did not succeed because the gendarmes appeared and positioned themselves between the Jews and the rioters and that allowed the rioters to continue with the destruction and looting while the Jews were prevented to act. In the same time most of the stores on Pushkin Street were raided and all the properties were robbed and burned.

About 200 Jews participated in the defence, but only 100 had guns; the rest tried to defend with “cold” weapons. Many groups came out to defend themselves but they had to deal with the rioters and with the army and the police that was silently assisting them.

This Pogrom resulted in 29 dead and 56 wounded and many Jewish properties had extensive damage, but this time there were also dead rioters.


  1. The most accurate and serious account of the Pogrom was given by Told (Berthold Feiwel) in his book on the Pogrom in Kishinev that was published by the Der juedische Verlag –Yiddishe Ferlag (Yiddish Publisher), Berlin, pages 21–42. Return
  2. The prosecutor of the Odessa District tribunal confirmed the atrocities in the minutes of the trial of the Pogrom. S. Dubnov and G. Admoni: Documents of the History of the Pogroms. Return
  3. Told (Bernhold Feiwel), page 27 Return
  4. Josef Rabinovich came to Eretz Israel with the Second Alyia. He is now the director of the Labour Division of the Jewish Agency (Hasohnut Hayehudith) in Jerusalem Return
  5. For more details see the Ha–Olam (The World) 5688 (1928), issue 24 Return
  6. Memoirs of Count Witte (in Russian), Paris, 1922, pages 192–193 Return
  7. S. Dubnov and G. Admoni, pages 213–218 Return
  8. S. Dubnov and G. Admoni, pages 251–253 Return
  9. Idem, pages 231–234 Return
  10. The American Jewish Year Book of 1904 (5685) edited by Henrietta Szold and Cyrus (Koresh) Adler, Philadelphia, pages 378–380, published a report on the money collected to help the Pogrom victims. The Society ended its activities in January 25, 1904. They collected 1,010.343 rubles from 728 cities (663 of them from Russia). The following table shows the distribution of the money.
    533.573 Rubles to the victims
    100.000 Rubles to the orphans
    156.071 Rubles to the store owners
    15.390 Rubles to the immigrants
    23.047 Rubles to the community kitchen
    581 Rubles to care for the burial of the desecrated Torah Scrolls
    14.700 Rubles for legal matters
    4051 Rubles for the expenses of the Society
    16.748 Rubles to repair community and private buildings
    50.000 Rubles for the establishment of a settlement centre for the Kishinev families in Eretz Israel

    50.000 Rubles to establish an agricultural settlement in Bessarabia Return
  11. Memoirs of Sliozberg, volume 3, pages 60–67 Return
  12. Memoirs of Sliozberg, volume 3, pages 61–64 Return
  13. See his letter in the “Documents” section Return
  14. Cyrus Adler: “The Voice of America on Kishineff” – Additions and Corrections, American Jewish Committee (AJC), Jewish Publication Society (JPS), 1905 Return
  15. See The Secrecy Tractate of Ahad Ha–Am in the “Documents” section Return
  16. B. Katznelson: Writings, vol. 11, page 37 Return
  17. Documents on the Pogrom, edited by Sh. Dubnov and A. Admoni, pages 308–311 Return
  18. The expression “Ad Matai?” caused a lot of discussions in the press. Mr. M. Ungerfeld writes in an article in the “Ha–Tsofeh” that Herzl was inspired by his Hebrew teacher, Dr. Michael Rabinovich who introduced him to Bialik's poem “Al Ha–shehitah” and used the words Ad Matai?. B. Katznelson tried to prove in an article in Haaretz that Bialik saw the letter before he wrote the poem and that he was inspired by Herzl. F. Lachower proved in his book on Bialik (Bialik, His Life and Work) that these two theories are wrong. Bialik wrote the poem and sent it to the journal Ha–Shiloah at the end of April and Herzl wrote his letter in Vienna on May 19. Return
  19. B. Katznelson, Writings, vol 11, page 36. Return
  20. C. Weizmann: Masa u–Maas (Trial and Error), page 87 Return

Translator's footnote

  1. This verse comes from the poem, “Al ha–Sheḥitah” (“On the Slaughter,” 1903) that Bialik penned shortly after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. Bialik, who spoke of a crisis of faith, wrote earlier in the same stanza, “cursed be he that shall say: avenge this!” His hope as the final lines of the poem indicate was that the blood of the slaughtered, for which there was no fitting revenge, would seep into the earth and de–stabilize the very foundations of humanity. Return


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