Anti-Semitism in Europe

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The Bialystok Pogrom*
June 1906


The Białystok pogrom occurred between 14–16 June 1906 (1–3 June Old Style) in the Polish town of Białystok, then under Russian rule. During the pogrom between 81and 88 people were killed, and about 80 people were wounded.

The Białystok pogrom is often seen as one of the series of violent outbreaks against Jews which were organized by Czarist authorities between 1903 and 1908, including the Kishinev pogrom, the Odessa pogrom, the Kiev pogrom and the Yekaterinoslav pogrom.

At the beginning of 20th century Białystok was city with a predominantly Jewish population. In 1895, the Jewish population numbered 47,783 (out of 62,993, or about 76%). Bialystok was primarily a city known for its textile manufacturing, commerce and industry. During the 1905 Russian Revolution city was center of radical labour movement, with strong organisations of Bund and Polish Socialist Party as well as more radical anarchists of Black Banner association.

photo: Printed caricature by painter Henryk Nowodworski, depicting pogrom białostocki of 1906. Note the assailant wearing a Tsarist army hat with a cockade sideways. From Wikipedia.

Before 1906 and the Revolution of 1905 the city was a hotbed of revolutionary activity which usually resulted in subsequent reprisals by the authorities. Among other incidents, owners of factories (including Jewish ones) were attacked by anarchists and socialists, as well as policemen and Russian soldiers that were stationed in the city. These events led to a demoralization and disorganization of police in the city. In 1905-1906 seven police chiefs changed. Police did not enter some quarters of the city, especially Suraz street, which was considered stronghold of anarchists.

On 11 June 1906 the police chief of Białystok Derkacz was murdered, most likely on the orders of the Russian commissar and fervent anti-Semite Szeremietiev Derkacz, who was Polish, was known for his liberal sympathies and opposition to anti-Semitism; for this he was respected by both the Jewish Bund and the Polish Socialist Party. On a previous occasion, when Russian soldiers attacked Jews in the marketplace, Derkacz had sent in his policemen to put down the violence and had declared that a pogrom against the Jews would occur “only over his dead body”. His murder was a foreboding of the violence to come, as people in the city noted that after Derkacz’s death Russian soldiers began preparing for a pogrom.

On 14 June, two Christian processions took place; a Catholic one through the market square celebrating Corpus Christi and an Orthodox one through Białystok’s New Town celebrating a founding of a cathedral. The Orthodox procession was followed by a unit of soldiers. A bomb was thrown at the Catholic procession and shots were fired at the Orthodox procession. Watchman of the local school Stanislaw Milyusski, and three women (Anna Demidyuk, Aleksandra Minkovskaya and Maria Kommisaryuk) were wounded. These incidents constituted signals for the beginning of the pogrom. Witnesses reported that simultaneously with the shots someone shouted “Beat the Jews!” After the pogrom, a peasant who was arrested for unrelated charges in the nearby town of Zabłudów confessed that he had been paid a substantial amount of money to fire on the Orthodox procession in order to provoke the pogrom. Russian authorities announced that Jews had fired on the Orthodox procession.

Once the shots were fired, the violence began immediately. Mobs of thugs, including members of the Black Hundreds, began looting Jewish owned stores and apartments on Nova-Linsk Street. Policemen and soldiers who had earlier followed the Orthodox procession either allowed the violence to happen or participated in it themselves. The first day of the pogrom was chaotic. Units of the Czarist army, brought to Białystok by Russian authorities, opened fire on Jewish civilians while thugs armed with knives and crowbars, often escorted by Czarist soldiers, dispersed through out the main areas of the city to continue the pogrom. Some Jewish sections of the city were protected by self-defense units, usually organized by the labor parties, which moved against the thugs and looters.They were in turn fired upon by Czarist dragoons. Thanks to the Jewish self-defense units several working class sections of the city were spared the violence and thousands of lives were saved.

The following two days were not as violent, but the attacks on people and property were more systematic and directed, resembling a coordinated military action more than a spontaneous outbreak of violence. Marauding mobs and Russian soldiers broke into many Jewish homes and either killed people on the spot or dragged them outside to murder them. It was only at the end of the third day that Stolypin, the Minister of Internal Affairs, instructed regional governors and mayors to suppress the pogrom.The violence ended abruptly upon the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city.

During the course of pogrom 88 people were killed, including 82 Jews, although some sources list a higher number of 200. A total of 169 shops and houses had been plundered, among them the largest stores in the city. The pogrom was the subject matter of many news reports and articles, including a special manifesto issued by the Polish Socialist Party condemning the occurrence.

Russian authorities tried to blame the pogrom on the local Polish population in order to stir up the hatred between two ethnic groups (both of which generally opposed the Tsar). However Jewish survivors of the violence reported that the local Polish population had in fact sheltered many Jews during the pogrom and did not participate in it. Apolinary Hartglas, a Polish Jewish leader and later a member of the Polish Sejm, together with Ze'ev Jabotinsky, managed to obtain secret documents issued by Szeremietiev which showed that the pogrom had been organized well in advance by Russian authorities who had actually transported Russian railroad workers from deep within Russia to participate. A comission set up by the Duma charged with investigating the pogrom came to similar conclusions. In 1908, on the initiative of Constitutional Democratic deputies in the Duma, some of the perpetrators of the violence were tried but the trial was widely criticized for handing out light sentences to those convicted and for failing to bring the real organizers of the pogrom to justice.

The victims of the pogrom were buried in a mass grave in the Bagnowka cemetery and a memorial obelisk was erected with a poem in Hebrew by Zalman Sznejur inscribed upon it. The poem begins with the words "Stand strong and be proud, you pillar of sorrow" and the monument came to be known as the Pillar of Sorrow. The monument survived through World War II and the Holocaust. According to one source, it was destroyed after the war by unknown, possibly local Polish vandals;according to another, it still remains there. A monument memorializing the pogrom victims, resembling the one erected before the war, currently stands in the cemetery. more on the Bialystok pogrom ►►

* - Text adapted from Wikipedia.





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