This Passover, Jews around the world will recite: “In every generation, our enemies rise up to destroy us.” Passover, Purim, Chanukah, the Inquisition, the Holocaust…we are well aware of the major attempts by our enemies throughout history to try to destroy us.

“In every generation” was all too real for the Jews of Bessarabia, in Imperial Russia, on Passover in 5663 (1903). They had just survived what came to be called the “Kishinev Pogrom,” a two-day riot that left 47 Jews dead, 92 wounded and hundreds of Jewish homes looted and destroyed.

A few months earlier, a young non-Jewish boy had been found beaten and stabbed to death (by, it was latter discovered, a relative). For the next two months, Pavel Krushevan, director of the Bessarabian newspaper Bessarabets, fermented hatred against the Jews, accusing them of murdering the boy for his blood to make matzah (the classic blood libel). Fuel was added to the fire by the suicide of a Christian girl in a Jewish mental institution.

The violent sentiments of the population came to a head on April 6, a day or two after the Russian Easter celebration. The Russian police stood by as the people attacked. According to most opinions, this inaction was deliberate (ordered by the Minister of Interior).

The appearance of state sponsorship for this pogrom resulted in an incredible backlash. Poems were written of the riot (see: Chaim Nachman Bialik’s “On the Slaughter”) and funds were collected for the victims. President Theodore Roosevelt and former President Grover Cleveland both expressed their anger over the incident. Some of the rioters were punished (following international pressure) but were given light sentences for their actions.

When discussing the Kishinev pogrom, history texts also include the riots of October 19-20, 1905, in the same region, in which 19 Jews were killed and 56 injured. These two pogroms had a major impact on Jewish life as it spurred many Russian Jews to leave Russia.

This Treat was originally posted on April 6, 2011. 

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