Anti-Semitism in Europe

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The Kishinev Pogroms
April 1903, September 1907

Homer Davenport (1867-1912).
The Crime of the New Century, 1903.
Pen and ink drawing.
Prints and Photographs Division (148)

This is a drawing depicting Czar Nicholas II and Lady Columbia. She appears to be scolding him, and he averts his eyes in apparent embarrassment. There is a poster with several skulls and bones behind them that reads "Kishenev Massacre of 400 Jews--700 Jewish Homes Looted --Dead Left Bleeding in the Streets. Tiraspol--General Slaughter of Jews--Young and Old Killed and Wounded."
Herman S. Shapiro.
"Kishinev shekhita, elegie"
[Kishinev Massacre Elegy].
New York: Asna Goldberg, 1904.
Irene Heskes Collection.
Music Division (149)

The illustration in the center of this elegy depicts the April 1903 Kishinev massacre.


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." ---from the Library of Congress, "From Haven to Home" exhibition. (See the letter by Secretary Hay below.)


                                           October 31, 1903

     Leo N. Levi, Esquire,
            President of the Executive Committee of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith
            723 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y.

My dear sir,

            I have received at the hands of the Honorable Simon Wolf, your  letter of the 5th of October. He has also delivered to me the sound copy of the Kishineff Petition.
            It gives me pleasure to accept the charge of this important and significant document, and to assign it a place in the archives of the Department of State.
            Although this copy of your Petition did not reach the high destination for which it was intended, its words have attained a world-wide publicity, and have found a lodgement in many thousands of minds. This Petition will be always memorable, not only for what it contains, but also for the number and weight of the signatures attached to it, embracing some of the most eminent names of our generation of men renowned for intelligence, philanthropy and public spirit. In future, when the students of history come to peruse this document, they will wonder how the petitioners, moved to profound indignation by intolerable wrongs perpetrated on the innocent and  helpless, should have expressed themselves in language as earnest and eloquent and yet so dignified, so moderate and so decorous. It is a valuable addition to public literature, and it will be sacredly cherished among the treasures of this Department.
                                                              I am, Sir,
                                                                            Very respectfully yours,

 John Hay

Letter above is courtesy of the Philip and Mildred Lax Archive of B'nai B'rith


"Kishineff" Petition, 1903
Wood case with bound manuscript petition
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (146)

The Czar's Shield:
My Beloved Jews

 year unknown

Courtesy Philip and Mildred Lax Archive of B'nai B'rith
The Outpost of
year unknown

Courtesy Philip and Mildred
Lax Archive of B'nai B'rith

There were two pogroms in Kishinev (now called Chisinau, located in the country of Moldova). The first one, on 6-7 Apr 1903, was said to have begun because of the rumors that were spread that Jews were involved in the murder of a Christian Russian boy two months earlier. Two anti-Semitic newspapers published these rumors, one going as far as saying that the Jews killed the boy so they could use his blood to make matzoh. This was an age-old accusation made of the Jewish people.


Emil Flohri (1869-1938).
Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews, 1904.

Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Foundation Collection.
Prints and Photographs Division (14

The print above was produced after one of the Kishinev pogroms. Depicted in this print is an old Russian Jew, whose is carrying the burden of oppression on his back, weighted down by "autocracy," "robbery," "cruelty," "assassination," "deception," and "murder." In the background on the right a town filled with Jews burn. On the left, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt poses the question to the then Emperor of Russia, Czar Nicholas II, "Now that you have peace without, why not remove his burden and have peace within your borders?"

Many writers spoke out about the violence in Kishinev. Articles and plays were written about it. Elegies, such as the one mentioned above, were composed in memory of the violence that had occcurred.


The second pogrom took place on 19-20 Oct 1905. The violence against the Jews in Kishinev occurred during political protests against Nicholas II.

These two pogroms became a symbol of the inability of the Jews to defend themselves in a world that was hostile to them. This compelled many Jews to emigrate from Russia for other lands such as those countries in the West and Palestine.

There were more acts of violence against Jews in Kishinev (Kishineff), Bessarabia, and elsewhere. Here are some accounts according to two New York newspapers:

From the The Sun, May 15, 1903:




He Saw His Grandfather, Who Trusted The Mob, Clubbed to Death – Christian Debtor Saved Him – Stories of Mutilation of Dead – More Riots Threatened.

The first Jewish refugee from Kishineff to reach America and bring a personal account of the recent massacres of Jews by Russian Christians there arrived in the steerage of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which got in Wednesday from Hamburg.  He is Jacob Friedman, a retail glass dealer in the riot-ridden city.  He fled from Kishineff with his wife and children the second day of the disturbances, after his grandfather had been clubbed to death before his eyes.  He hadn’t enough money to bring his family to this country with him, but he will send for them later.

Friedman came from Ellis Island yesterday and was taken to the Jewish Daily News office, where he told of his experiences in Kishineff and his flight.

On Easter Sunday, which was also the last day of the Jewish Passover, Friedman said he, his wife and four children and his grandfather, who was also a partner in business, were seated at a holiday dinner when they heard a great turmoil outside.

“We rushed to the windows,” he said, “and saw a mob coming down the street, breaking and smashing everything as they came.  I knew at once that a bloody riot was beginning and, seizing my youngest child, exclaimed: ‘Come, they will kill us; we must hide in the cellar.’

But my grandfather wouldn’t have it so.  He said the mob was harmless, that they were only drunk and not dangerous.  Finally he said: ‘To show you that they will not harm any one I shall go out into the street and watch as they go by.’

He had only gone a few steps from the door when the mob rushed at him.  The first to reach him knocked him down with a club, and then the others closed in around him and struck him many times.  I ran out and tried to save him, but had to run for my life without getting to where he lay.

photo: Jew from Kishinev, cir 1889.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.


I managed to get away by running through side streets to the house of a Christian who owed me quite a sum of money.  I begged him to save me and my family and told him that if he would help us I would free him of the debt.

He hid me in the cellar until the next morning and kept the mob from harming my wife and little ones. Before daylight the next day he got a wagon and took my family from the house to the house of another Christian in a neighboring village.  Later the second Christian took us to the railway station and we went first to Grodno and afterward to Sepetkin, where I left my family with relatives.”

Friedman said that as he was hurrying through the side-streets of Kishineff he saw a Jew terribly wounded lying in the gutter.

“When a number of other Jews came creeping out of their houses to try to carry the man away so that he could be cared for,” said he, “the mob rushed down upon them and there was a terrible fight. Several Jews, I think, must have been killed, but I am not sure for we got away as fast as we could.”

The refugee was an object of much interest on the steamship coming over and an American Jew, who was in the second cabin, finding that Friedman’s 100 rubles, with which the fugitive’s mother-in-law had supplied him before he left Russia, were gone, gave him money and did much to add to his comfort.

The man is a typical Russian Jew, about thirty-five years old.  He did not know what to make of the attention he received yesterday.  After he told his story in the newspaper office some of the newspaper employees led him away and put him into a bathtub as a first step toward Americanization.

When photographers got to taking his picture later for the papers, he became greatly scared, imagining, until the thing was explained, that he was being hounded by Russian spies.

Letters received yesterday by Jews on the East Side and published in the Jewish Daily News show that anti-Semitic out-breaks like that at Kishineff are threatened in other parts of Russia.  One letter, written from a small town, briefly confirms the cable dispatches, reported a serious massacre in Tiraspol, near Odessa.

A letter from Kilea, a town of about 10,000 inhabitants in Bessarabia, says that on May 1 the Jews are barricaded in their houses, ten families to a house, with two regiments, sent by the Governor of the province, guarding them.  “A Christian girl 4 years old was killed by an unknown assassin,” the letter states, “and the body was thrown into the Jewish quarter.  Now the Christians claim that the Jews killed the child for ritual purposes.  We are in constant fear of attack and we hardly dare close our eyes.”

From a town called Tatar-Bunary comes word that the Christian population is threatening an attack like that on the Kishineff Jews and that soldiers are on guard.  A correspondent writes from Akerman, a city of about 40,000 inhabitants, that expected riots were prevented by the soldiers and that all Jews are guarding their shops.

The American Hebrew,  [in] its issue of to-day, will say in speaking…] the accounts of the anti-Jewish riots[… ] Russian newspapers:

From the information thus gathered, it appears that there was a pre-arrangement as to the riots, for they started in many places at the same time, all under control of trained leaders from other towns.

Many stories are given for the inciting cause of the outbreak.  The Novosti, a reliable publication says that a servant girl who had taken poison was placed in the Jewish hospital of Kishineff, where she died.  The anti-Semites, of course, claimed that she was killed for sacrificial purposes.

Not only did the rioters kill and maim people, but they vented their brutish instincts upon the bodies of the dead.  Nails were driven through their nostrils, bodies were opened and stuffed with feathers, tongues pulled out, breasts cut off the bodies of women.  Nor were these the only ghoulish acts perpetrated.

Jews tried to save themselves in every way.  Many sought safety in flight only to find, as they reached the railroad station, that mobs were awaiting them who tore them from their carriages and beat them to death.

The fund of the Kishineff Relief Committee was swelled by about $2,000 yester-day, bringing the total to about $22,000.  According to Treasurer Kohn, the contributions have been getting larger in the last few days, and sums ranging from $5 to $50 are more frequent.  Mr. Kohn says this is the result of the increased attention which the daily newspapers have been giving to the relief movement.  A Jewish rabbi in Toronto sent a check for $115 yesterday.

Both performances on Saturday of the Play “The Destruction of Kishineff,” now running at the Windsor Theatre on the Bowery, will be benefits for the relief fund.  All seats for both afternoon and evening have been sold.  Treasurer Kohn wants to get Gov. Odell to attend the evening performance and asked the Governor by telegraph on Wednesday if he would come.

Gov. Odell wrote yesterday saying that he would be on hand if possible,  but that his daughter was ill and that he might not be able to come for that reason.  The management of the Windsor has agreed to give half of the receipts from the theatre to the relief fund as long as “The Destruction of Kishineff” runs.

The Tammany General Committee of the Fourth Assembly district and the John F. Ahearn Association condemned the Kishineff massacres at a joint meeting last night and called on the Secretary of State to send a protest to the Russian Government.  They subscribed $100 to the relief fund.

From the New York Times, Sept. 13, 1907:

Did Nothing to Stop the Pogrom--47,020 Victims of Russian Revolt.

VIENNA, Sept. 12 -- According to reports received here the disturbances began at Kishineff, Bessarabia, on the night of Sept. 8. A band of rowdies which arrived there from Odessa was joined by a Kishineff mob and committed fearful outrages in the suburbs. The rioters set fire to a lumberyard into which the Jews, were were aroused from their sleep were driven.

The police during the disturbances, were entirely passive.

BUCHAREST, Sep. 12 -- Numerous Jewish refugees, including whole families from Kishineff and Odessa, have fled to the frontier at Ungeni and the villages along the River Pruth.

   The Rumanian authorities have issued the strictest orders to prevent the entry of the refugees into Rumania.

ST. PETERSBURG, Sep. 12 -- The Slovo to-day publishes statistics regarding the revolutionary movement, prepared by the noted Russian statistician Dzhdankoff.

   The total number of victims of the "dramatic epidemic" is placed at 47,020, of whom 19,144 were killed. It is further shown that 2,381 sentences of death were carried out, that 1,350 prisoners committed suicide, and that 21,405 persons were wounded. The largest loss of life, 12, 953, resulted from encounters with the soldiers of police.

   The anti-Jewish riots numbered 7,962 and there were 4,540 anti-Armenian riots and 2,193 mutinies. The agrarian disorders were comparatively insignificant., only 533. The revolutionists assassinated 83 Generals or Governors, 61 Prefects, and 8,079 officials of various ranks.

Read about the pogrom in Kielce, Poland in 1946.





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