This week marks the 111-year anniversary of the Kishinev pogrom, an anti-Jewish riot in today’s Republic of Moldova that left approximately 49 Jewish citizens dead, over 500 wounded and 2,000 families homeless.
The riot was triggered when a popular anti-Semitic newspaper in Russia reported the death of a small Christian boy and suicide of a young girl as caused by the hands of Jews. It was believed that the murders were committed in the name of blood libel, an archaic belief that the blood of children was needed in the preparation of Passover matzah.
With the urging of the town’s Russian Orthodox Bishop, the Christian population commenced a three-day riot against the Jewish citizens immediately following the cessation of church on Easter Sunday. A publication of the New York Times later that month reported, “The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, ‘Kill the Jews,’ was taken-up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep.”
One eyewitness told the Forward, “Armed with knives and machetes, the murderers broke into Jewish homes, where they began stabbing and killing, chopping off heads and stomping frail women and small children.” In addition to the direct physical attack on Jewish citizens, well over 700 of their houses and businesses were burglarized and destroyed.
Because the police and military did not step in and attempt to stop the riot until the third and last day, it has been argued that the state’s government supported the pogrom.
As a result, several Jewish self-defense leagues were organized but were not enough to completely stop a second pogrom in 1905. This one, just two years after the first, killed 19 Jewish citizens and injured 56.
The outpouring of anti-Semitism inevitably led to the beginnings of the Zionist movement, as tens of thousands of Russian Jews subsequently left Western Europe and migrated to Israel.
Additionally, the immigration to America from Russia nearly doubled by the end of 1903, leading to a notable growth of Jewish philanthropy and the formation of the American Jewish Committee. President Theodore Roosevelt then invited the committee’s more notable figure, Oscar Straus, to serve as the first Jewish person in an American cabinet. Roosevelt wrote, “I want to show Russia and some other countries what we think of Jews in this country.”