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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

3. THE POGROM AT KIEV

The movement gained constantly in momentum, and the instincts of the mob became more and more unbridled. The "Mother of Russian cities," ancient Kiev, where at the dawn of Russian history the Jews, together with the Khazars, had been the banner-bearers of civilization, became the scene of the lawless fury of savage hordes. Here the pogrom was carefully prepared by a secret organization which spread the rumor that the new Tzar had given orders to exterminate the Jews, who had murdered his father, and that the civil and military authorities would render assistance to the people, whilst those who would fail to comply with the will of the Tzar would meet with punishment. The local authorities, with Governor-General Drenteln at their head, who was a reactionary and a fierce Jew-hater, were aware not only of the imminence of the pogrom, but also of the day selected for it, Sunday, April 26.

As early as April 23 a street fight took place which was accompanied by assaults on Jewish passers-by--a prelude to the pogrom. On the day before the fateful Sunday, the Jews were warned by the police not to leave their houses, nor to open their stores on the morrow. The Jews were nonplussed. They failed to understand why in the capital of the governor-general, with its numerous troops, which, at a hint from their commander, were able to nip in the bud disorders of any kind, peaceful citizens should be told to hide themselves from an impending attack, instead of taking measures to forestall the attack itself. Nevertheless, the advice of the police was heeded, and on the fateful day no Jews were to be found on the streets. This, however, did not prevent the numerous bands of rioters from assembling on the streets and embarking upon their criminal activities. The pogrom started in Podol, a part of the town densely populated by Jews. The following is the description of an eye-witness:

  At twelve o'clock at noon, the air saddenly resounded with, wild   shouts, whistling, jeering, hooting, and laughing. An immense crowd   of young boys, artisans, and laborers was on the march. The whole   city was obstructed by the "bare-footed brigade." [1] The   destruction of Jewish houses began. Window-panes, and doors began to   fly about, and shortly thereafter the mob, having gained access to   the houses and stores, began to throw upon the streets absolutely   everything that fell into their hands. Clouds of feathers began to   whirl in the air. The din of broken window-panes and frames, the   crying, shouting, and despair on the one hand, and the terrible   yelling and jeering on the other, completed the picture which   reminded many of those who had participated in the last   Russo-Turkish war of the manner in which the Bashi-buzuks [2] had   attacked Bulgarian villages. Soon afterwards the mob threw itself   upon the Jewish synagogue, which, despite its strong bars, locks and   shutters, was wrecked in a moment. One should have seen the fury   with which the riff-raff fell upon the [Torah] scrolls, of which   there were many in the synagogue. The scrolls were torn to shreds,   trampled in the dirt, and destroyed with incredible passion. The   streets were soon crammed with the trophies of destruction.   Everywhere fragments of dishes, furniture, household utensils, and   other articles lay scattered about. Barely two hours after the   beginning of the pogrom, the majority of the "bare-footed brigade"   were transformed into well-dressed gentlemen, many of them having   grown excessively stout in the meantime. The reason for this sudden   change was simple enough. Those that had looted the stores of   ready-made clothes put on three or four suits, and, not yet   satisfied, took under their arms all they could lay their hands on.   Others drove off in vehicles, carrying with them bags filled with   loot.... The Christian population saved itself from the ruinous   operations of the crowd by placing holy ikons in their windows and   painting crosses on the gates of their houses.

[Footnote 1: The Russian nickname for a crowd of tramps.]

[Footnote 2: Name of the Turkish irregular troops noted for their ferocity.]

While the pogrom was going on, troops were marching up and down on the streets of the Podol district, Cossaks were riding about on their horses, and patrols on foot and horse-back were moving to and fro.

  Here and there army officers would pass through, among them generals   and high civil officials. The cavalry would hasten to a place whence   the noise came. Having arrived there, it would surround the mob and   order it to disperse, but the mob would only move to another place.   Thus, the work of destruction proceeded undisturbed until three   o'clock in the morning. Drums were beaten, words of command were   shouted, the crowd was encircled by the troops and ordered to   disperse, while the mob continued its attacks with ever-increasing   fury and savagery.

While some of the robber bands were "busy" in Podol, others were active in the principal thoroughfares of the city. In each case, the savage and drunken mob--"not a single sober person could be found among them," is the testimony of an eye-witness--did its hideous work in the presence of soldiers and policemen, who in a few instances drove off the rioters, but, more often, accompanied them from place to place, forming, as it were, an honorary escort. Occasionally, Governor-General Drenteln himself would appear on the streets, surrounded by a magnificent military suite, including the governor and chief of police. These representatives of State authority "admonished the people," and the latter, "preserving a funereal silence, drew back," only to resume their criminal task after the departure of the authorities.

In some places there were neither troops nor police on the spot, and the rioters were able to give full vent to their beastly instincts. Demiovka, a suburb of Kiev, was invaded by a horde of rioters during the night. They first destroyed the saloons, filling themselves with alcohol, and then proceeded to lay fire to the Jewish houses. Under the cover of night indescribable horrors were perpetrated, numerous Jews were beaten to death or thrown into the flames, and many women were violated. A private investigation carried on subsequently brought out more than twenty cases of rape committed on Jewish girls and married women. Only two of the sufferers confessed their misfortune to the public prosecutor. The others admitted their disgrace in private or concealed it altogether, for fear of ruining their reputation.

It was only on April 27--when the pogrom broke out afresh--that the authorities resolved to put a stop to it. Wherever a disorderly band made its appearance, it was immediately surrounded by soldiers and Cossaks and driven off with the butt ends of their rifles. Here and there it became necessary to shoot at these human beasts, and some of them were wounded or killed. The rapidity with which the pogrom was suppressed on the second day showed incontrovertibly that if the authorities had only been so minded the excesses might have been suppressed on the first day and the crime nipped in the bud. The indifference of the authorities was responsible for the demolition of about a thousand Jewish houses and business places, involving a monetary loss of several millions of rubles, not to speak of the scores of killed and wounded Jews and a goodly number of violated women. In the official reports these orgies of destruction were politely designated as "disorders," and _The Imperial Messenger_ limited its account of the horrors perpetrated at Kiev to the following truth-perverting dispatch:

  On April 26, disorders broke out in Kiev which were directed against   the Jews. Several Jews received blows, and their stores and   warehouses were plundered. On the morning of the following day the   disorders were checked with the help of the troops, and five hundred   men from among the rioters were arrested.

The later laconic reports are nearer to the facts. They set the figure of arrested rioters at no less than fourteen hundred, and make mention of a number of persons who had been wounded during the suppression of the excesses, including one gymnazium and one university student. Yet even these later dispatches contain no reference to Jewish victims.



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