On this day: the Kishinev pogrom

April 6 1903: Concealed and cowering - the sons of the Maccabees

By Jennifer Lipman, April 6, 2011

In the aftermath of the terrible events on Easter Sunday in Kishinev, in modern-day Moldova – then the capital of Bessarabia - poet Chaim Bialik wrote his notorious verse "In the City of Slaughter".

In the poem, completed after a visit to meet Kishinev survivors, he lamented that the Jews "said nothing, you choked back the roar in your throat… Why do you cry, son of man, why hide…Your face in your hand?".

The Kishinev pogrom, in which 49 people were killed in two days, some 500 wounded and almost 2,000 left without homes in a city of which half the population of100,000 was Jewish, was a shocking, but not unusual, bout of antisemitic violence.

The pogrom was not a spontaneous uprising, but a medieval-type blood libel, sparked by the death on a non-Jewish patient in a Jewish hospital – his demise was later discovered to be from suicide - and the murder of another non-Jewish child by a relative.

The violence was systematically encouraged in the government-sponsored newspaper, Bessarabets. An Irish journalist, Michael Davitts, author of a book about what happened, noted that not only did the police do little to stop the killings, the pogrom was planned "with the passive connivance of the Chief of Police and the active encouragement of some of his officers."

That riot, and the many pogroms and murderous rampages that followed in Kishinev and across the Pale, destroyed communities and changed the fabric of Jewish Eastern Europe.

Many emigrated to America and elsewhere in the West, while others, including future leaders from Ze'ev Jabotinsky to David Ben-Gurion, awoke to the growing Zionist movement and determined to behave, as Bialik implored, as "the descendants of the Maccabees?"

What the JC said: The events of 100 years ago at Kishinev could be said to have represented, for Jews at the beginning of the 20th century, what Sept-ember 11 represents to the West today. They were a harbinger showing that a new century did not guarantee sweetness and light… The attack came during Easter, coinciding with the final days of Passover, during which the antisemitic passions of the locals were inflamed against the "Christ-killing" Jews.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 3:57pm, May 6 2011