The spark that put the Kishinev anti-jewish pogrom

The spark that put the Kishinev anti-jewish pogrom of 1903 in action was, once again a fictive accusation widely believed to be genuine; it was pieced together from a slew of precise details and finely refined over ages. By the late nineteenth century, its constituents were the following: Jews were required to use the blood of a young Christian for ritual purposes, particularly before the Passover holiday; this entailed murdering their victims, draining their blood, and then incorporating it into their festive matzos.

The spark that put the Kishinev anti-jewish pogrom of 1903

The difficulties of opposing a practice that never existed proved to be taxing on numerous occasions. It was frequently essential that those defending Jews give proof that the dead had not been drained of blood, leaving open the possibility that ritual murder could have been the cause. This is exactly what had happened in Dubossary, a slow-paced fortress town on the Dniester with a population of about 5,000, half of whom were Jewish; it sat in the shadow of nearby Tiraspol and Kishinev.

Despite their numbers, the majority of the Jews worked as retailers, wine pressers, timber and tobacco workers. In the months leading up to Kishinev’s pogrom, a bizarre and ultimately fatal tale developed.

The episode at Dubossary began, as was so often the case, with the discovery of a dead Christian youngster, this time a fifteen-year-old male. The orphan stayed with his grandfather, who named him as his heir. Police quickly examined if the crime was a ritual murder, motivated by widespread reports and the numerous stab wounds on the boy’s body.

They concluded that it could not have been a ceremonial murder because the body had not been drained of blood. Nonetheless, the report’s credibility was largely rejected; many individuals, most notably Bessarabets, claimed that authorities had been bribed by Jews. Even a second autopsy report failed to dispel allegations that Jews were the killers, a belief shared by the dead boy’s grandfather.

Rioting broke out in the town, and residents from adjacent towns and villages joined in as well. According to reports received to authorities on March 10, 1903, Jews were beaten and a market full of Jewish shops, the majority of which sold cheap manufactured goods and food, was pillaged. Police sought to arrest a rabble-rouser who was inciting the gathering, arrested many local “village lads,” and ordered Jews to close their businesses. The episode concluded with no deaths or serious injuries, but there were riots elsewhere.

A subsequent police inquiry revealed that the murderer was a cousin desperate to inherit. A local man, who was unemployed, inebriated, and severely in need of money, testified that the killer approached him to assist with the crime. He claimed that the murderer described to him how he intended to kill his relative while diverting all attention to Jews by faking a ritual murder. This exchange occurred as the two were seated over glasses of wine at the Jewish-owned “red-haired Yankel’s liquor store.” It was a small, empty space where they sat and plotted on one of two wooden benches.

Officials realized that in order to determine whether Jews were engaged in the assassination, the body’s blood had to be drained; if so, this would be evidence of a ritual murder. The assumption that this was part and parcel of Jewish practice, perhaps only practiced by a restricted group, possibly solely by Hasidism, but nonetheless a feature of mainstream Jewish activity explains why news of Dubossary’s fury could so easily motivate rioting there or elsewhere.

Such suspicions rarely erupted into violence, and when they did, Krushevan or his close allies were to blame for fueling the fires. The fact that such embers were ever ready to combust is uncontested. Those responsible for the Kishinev pogrom were likely just as certain, with no doubts, pangs of conscience, or any sense of wrongdoing, that ritual murder had been practiced by Jews since time immemorial. Their war on Jews was justified from the start as self-defense, a fair response to a pariah people capable of any and all crimes, whose toxic deeds, as old as history itself, ought to be put an end to.

The sciences were the first to be looted. Liquor establishments, given their appealing contents, were quickly targeted; by the end of the violence, not a single Jewish-run liquor store remained unharmed, with several practically torn apart. Rioters later rationalized their actions by claiming that they had visited the establishments solely to ask the Jewish owners for free beverages and only pillaged when they were refused. Throughout the conflict, similar explanations with a roughly equivalent interplay of apparent rationality and absurdity circulated and were repeated in following trials.

Rioters either drank all of the liquor from the pillaged businesses on the spot or poured what was left onto the street.

Tobacco establishments were the next to be plundered, with the remnants of their merchandise littering the streets, which were now flooded with rainfall and liquor. Arriving at the New Market, a mile and a half from where the violence began and also lined with Jewish stores, a shoe shop was empty of its stock as people inside dressed themselves. These incursions, however devastating, were limited to the stealing of commodities that could be eaten, drunk, or worn.

The rage continued westward through a cluster of a few streets, several of which were rather big, where Jewish merchants coexisted with non-Jewish stores; they were left unattacked; the mayhem came to an end at the New Market, about a half mile from the city center. Still, hardly more than two or three dozen persons were involved for the riots, and they could readily be dismissed as drunks or unruly teenagers. However, by 4:00 p.m., the gathering had expanded, with seminarians and others leading the mob to Jewish homes, which they began pelting with stones.

Jews claimed that lists of Jewish addresses had been prepared in advance, but no such lists ever materialized. The first home to be attacked was Herman Feldman’s, an expensive residence just down the street from Kishinev’s mayor, Karl Schmidt. It was also next door to the city’s most upscale brothel, whose employees had previously been relocated elsewhere.

Nearby, Bessarabets’ office had its windows stoned when a radical student misled the mob, thinking it was Jewish property. Jews found on the street became targets of abuse: an old Jew, his wife, and grandchild were threatened but were able to flee after a police officer intervened to protect them. Others begged the police for assistance, but were warned that the crowd had grown beyond their ability to control.