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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


When the July pogroms were over, it seemed as if the pogrom epidemic had died out, and no one expected that it would soon break out afresh. The greater was the surprise when, in December, 1881, the news spread that a pogrom, lasting three days, had taken, place in the capital of the Kingdom of Poland, in Warsaw. Least of all was this pogrom expected in Warsaw itself, where the relations between the Poles and the Jews were not yet marked by the animosity they assumed subsequently. But the organizers of the pogrom who received their orders from above managed to adapt themselves to local conditions, and the unexpected came to pass. On the Catholic Christmas day, when the Church of the Holy Cross in the center of the town was crowded with worshippers, somebody suddenly shouted "Fire!" The people rushed to the doors, and in the terrible panic that ensued twenty-nine persons were crushed to death, and many others were maimed. The alarm proved a false one. There was no trace of a fire in the church, and nobody doubted but that the alarm had been given by pick-pockets--there were a goodly number of them in Warsaw--who had resorted to this well-known trick to rob the public during the panic. But right there, among the crowd which was assembled in front of the church, gazing in horror at the bodies of the victims, some unknown persons spread the rumor--which, it may be parenthetically remarked, proved subsequently unfounded--that two Jewish pickpockets had been caught in the church.

At that moment whistles were suddenly heard--nobody knew whence they came--which served as the signal for a pogrom. The street mob began to assault the Jews who happened to pass by, and then started, according to the established procedure, to attack the Jewish stores, saloons, and residences in the streets adjoining the church. The hordes were under the command of thieves, well known to the police, and of some unknown strangers who from time to time gave signals by whistling, and directed the mob into this or that street. As in all other cases in which the danger did not threaten the authorities directly, there were but few policemen and soldiers on hand--which circumstance stimulated the rioters in their further activity.

On the following day the rioters were "busy" on many other streets, both in the center of the town and in its outskirts, except for the streets which were densely populated by Jews, where they were afraid of meeting with serious resistance. [1]

[Footnote 1: In some places the Jews defended themselves energetically, and in the ensuing fight there were wounded on both sides.]

The police and the troops arrested many rioters, and carried them off to the police stations. But for some unknown reason they did not summon enough courage to disperse the crowd, so that the mob frequently engaged in its criminal work in the very presence of the guardians of public safety.

In accordance with the well-known pogrom routine, the authorities remembered only on the third day that it was time to suppress the riots, the "lesson" being over. On December 15, the governor-general of Warsaw, Albedinski, issued an order dividing the town into four districts and placing every district under the command of a regimental chief. Troops were stationed in the streets and ordered to check all crowds, with the result that on the same day the disorders were stopped.

This, however, came too late. For in the meantime some fifteen hundred Jewish residences, business places, and houses of prayer had been demolished and pillaged, and twenty-four Jews had been wounded, while the monetary loss amounted to several million rubles. Over three thousand rioters were arrested--among them a large number of under-aged youths. On the whole, the rioters were recruited from the dregs of the Polish population, but there were also found among them a number of unknown persons that spoke Russian. The _Novoye Vremya_, in commenting upon the pogrom, made special reference to the friendly attitude of the Polish hooligans to the Russians in general and to the officers and soldiers in particular--a rather suspicious attitude, considering the inveterate hatred of the Poles towards the Russians, especially towards the military and official class. Here and there the soldiers themselves got drunk in the demolished saloons, and took part in looting Jewish property.

The Polish patriots from among the higher classes were shocked by this attempt to engineer a barbarous Russian pogrom in Warsaw. In an appeal which the representatives of the Polish intellectuals addressed to the people not later than on the second day of the pogrom they protested emphatically against the hideous scenes which had been disgracing the capital of Poland. The archbishop of Warsaw acted similarly, and the Catholic priests frequently marched through the streets with crosses in their hands, admonishing the crowds to disperse. It is interesting to note that, while the pogrom was going on, the governor-general of Warsaw refused to comply with the request of a number of Poles, who applied for permission to organize a civil guard, pledging themselves to restore order in the city in one day. It would seem as if the official pogrom ritual did not allow of the slightest modification. The disorders had to proceed in accordance with the established routine, so as not to violate the humane commandment: "Two days shalt thou plunder, and on the third day shalt thou rest." Evidently some one had an interest in having the capital of Poland repeat the experiment of Kiev and Odessa, and in seeing to it that the "cultured Poles" should not fall behind the Russian barbarians in order to convince Europe that the pogrom was not exclusively a Russian manufacture.

As a matter of fact, the opposite result was attained. The revolting events at Warsaw, which completed the pogrom cycle of 1881, made a much stronger impression upon Europe and America than all the preceding pogroms, for the reason that Warsaw stood in close commercial relations with the West, and the havoc wrought there had an immediate effect upon the European market.

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