kishinev pogrom

That spring [1903], news of the pogrom at Kishinev, where hundreds of Jews were killed and wounded, sparked protest meetings throughout the United States, including small Southern towns…. Sensitive to the possible parallel to racial violence in America, rabbis, newspaper editors, and other opinion leaders argued that Russian pogroms were worse than lynching in the United States (which was then causing the deaths of at least a hundred African Americans annually).

Condemnations of the pogrom served to deflect concern about American racial problems. One striking reflection of this dynamic appeared in The Outlook, where George Kennan indicted the Russian government for failing to suppress anti-Semitic agitation and denied that pogroms were analogous to lynchings. At the same time, editor Lyman Abbott culminated a year-long campaign against reconstructing the South by endorsing segregation, condoning disenfranchisement, and insisting that the South was “not missionary ground.” Amid heated denunciations of his repudiation of the abolitionist legacy, Abbott (one of the founders of the Friends of Russian Freedom) hailed American protests against the Kishinev pogrom as evidence that American sympathy for the oppressed everywhere was unimpaired – a view shared by former President Grover Cleveland and other speakers at mass meetings.

—  David S. Foglesong, The American Mission and the Evil Empire (2007), 28.

In 1903, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Sergei Iulevich Witte, remarked to Theodor Herzl that Jews comprised nearly half of the membership of revolutionary parties, even though they were only six million people in a nation of 136 million. If Witte exaggerated, he did so only slightly.

From 1901 to 1903, Jews composed 29.1 percent (2,269 individuals) of those arrested for political crimes. From March 1903 to November 1904 more than half of those investigated for political activity were Jews (53 percent). This fact can most easily be explained as a reaction to the Kishinev and Homel pogroms. In 1905, Jews made up 34 percent of all political prisoners; of those exiled to Siberia, 37 percent were Jews. […] The number of Jews who were Social Democrats exceeded the number of Russians (according to police data) in both the southwestern (49.4 percent to 41.8 percent) and southern territories (51.3 percent to 44.2 percent). They also comprised the lion’s share of those under investigation in Odessa (75.1 percent Jews versus 18.7 percent Russians). […] Without a doubt, the Bund, the largest revolutionary party in Russia, contained the largest numbers of Jews involved in criminal political activity. In the summer of 1904, the Bund could claim 23,000 members; in 1905–7, 34,000. […] For comparison’s sake, in the beginning of 1905, the entire Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDRP) consisted of approximately 8,400 members. There was also significant Jewish representation in the Russian revolutionary parties and organizations. During the time of the 1905 revolution, approximately 15 percent of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party (PSR) was Jewish, and there were a number of “maximalist and anarchist terrorist groups that were almost entirely Jewish.” […] At the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party in London in 1907, nearly a third of the delegates were Jewish.

At the same time, however, it must be noted that regardless of the extent of Jewish participation in Russian or Jewish revolutionary parties, Jewish revolutionaries comprised a minute portion of the general Russian population, as well as an extremely small percentage of Russian Jewry. In the perception of the typical Russian resident—from the lumpenproletariat to the intelligentsia—the role of Jews in revolutionary activity was greater than it actually was. A typical example can be found in a joke from the satirical liberal journal Vampir from the 1905–7 revolutionary period. Though of limited wit, it is nevertheless telling. It reads, “Warsaw. Eleven anarchists were shot in the fortress prison. Of these, 15 were Jews.”

Oleg Budnitskii, Russian Jews Between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920

A rejected petition to the Tsar of Russia by US citizens, 1903, now kept at the US National Archives
The Kishinev Massacre of 1903, in which forty-nine Jews were murdered and hundreds were wounded, aroused universal condemnation and protest. For the first time, Jews in the United States took the lead in organizing nationwide protests. In addition to hundreds of demonstrations and meetings held throughout the nation, a massive petition drive protesting the slaughter was organized. Since the Russian authorities refused to accept the petition, it was deposited instead in the State Department’s vault in a special box constructed to house it. In his letter accepting the petition, Secretary of State John Hay wrote: “It is a valuable addition to the public literature and it will be sacredly cherished among the treasures of the Department.

April 19, 1903: Beginning of the Kishinev pogrom; 49 killed in two days

On April 19, 1903, anti-Semitic newspapers in Kishinev in the Russian province of Bessarabia (now Chișinău, Moldova) sparked a pogrom against the city’s Jews, leading to 49 deaths over the next three days. The newspaper Bessarabetz, published by Pavolachi Krushevan, as well as another paper Svet, had waged smear campaigns against the city’s Jewish residents for years. When a boy was murdered in a nearby village, and a Christian girl committed suicide in a Jewish hospital, the papers claimed they had been killed by Kishinev Jews for blood tiruals. The newspapers whipped the gentile population into a frenzy, aided in no small part by local Christian priests, and after Easter services the Christians began rioting. Over the next two days, forty-nine Jews were killed and nearly six hundred were wounded. The rioters destroyed seven hundred houses and looted six hundred Jewish-run stores. The police did not intervene until the third day, and the leaders of the riots were never charged. The handful of participants who were given show trials were given light sentences. Hundreds of families were ruined and forced to migrate to other areas to restart their lives.

Really, is it so hard to understand why Jews might not just nod along as they’re told about how privileged their experience is?

Let’s just take the twentieth century…

Got off to a smashing start with Kishinev. Then, pogroms, the Beilis trial, the Leo Frank lynching, Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron. The ethnic cleansing of Jews from Western Russia. The ethnic cleansing of the Jews from Afghanistan.The Soviet Union. The Evian Conference, the turning back of the St.Louis, the Wagner-Rogers Bill.  The Nuremberg laws, the death camps, and the murder of a third of all the Jews in the world. Baghdad. Then the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of nearly all of the Middle East and North Africa, another 900,000 displaced. The forcing out of the surviving Jews of Poland. The Doctors Plot trials. (Did we mention the Soviet Union? Continued persecution of Jews in Ethiopia. The Paris synagogue bombing. The Goldenberg restaurant attack. Refusniks. Arrests and executions in Iran. The LA JCC shooting.

And this is just a kind of haphazard Greatest Hits list. For one century. And this shit did not stop in 2000, either.

Looking at this, is it so hard to figure out why the response to “you get extra special treatment because you’re white, well, most of you, not all of you, but anyway, you’re rich and influential,” gets a response that is less “gosh, let’s examine our privilege!” and more “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT NOW, EVEN MORE BLOOD?”

Especially when our presumed wealth and influence, half the fucking time,was used as a REASON to come and kill us?