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This article is part of the History of the Jews in Bessarabia.
File:Kishinev elegy.jpg

Herman S. Shapiro. "Kishinever shekhita, elegie" [Kishinev Massacre Elegy]. New York: Asna Goldberg, 1904. Irene Heskes Collection. The illustration in the center of this elegy depicts the April 1903 Kishinev massacre.

The Kishinev pogrom was an anti-Jewish riot that took place in Chişinău, then the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire (now the capital of Moldova) on April 6-7, 1903.

First pogrom

File:After Kishinyov pogrom.jpg

Funeral of copies of the Sefer Torah which were damaged in the Kishinyov pogrom

The riot started after an incident on April 6 when a Christian Russian boy, Mikhail Rybachenko, was found murdered in the town of Dubossary, about 25 miles north of Kishinev. Although it was clear that the boy had been murdered by a relative (who was later found), the Russian-language anti-Semitic newspaper Бессарабец (Bessarabetz, meaning "Bessarabian"), published by Pavel Krushevan, insinuated that he was murdered by the Jews. Another newspaper, Свет (Svet, "Light"), used the ages-old blood libel against the Jews (alleging that the boy had been killed to use his blood in preparation of matzo).

The Kishinev pogrom spanned three days of rioting against the Jews. Forty-seven (some put the figure at 49) Jews were killed, 92 severely wounded, 500 slightly wounded and over 700 houses and many businesses looted and destroyed. The Times published a forged dispatch by Vyacheslav von Plehve, the Minister of Interior, to the governor of Bessarabia, which supposedly gave orders not to stop the rioters,[1] but, in any case, no attempt was made by the police or military to intervene to stop the riots until the third day. This non-intervention is an argument in support of the opinion that the pogrom was sponsored or, at least, tolerated by the state.

The New York Times described the first Kishinev pogrom:

The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. 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. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews. [2]

The Kishinev Pogrom captured the attention of the world community and was mentioned in the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine as an example of the type of human rights abuse which would justify United States involvement in Latin America.

Second pogrom

File:1904 Russian Tsar-Stop your cruel oppression of the Jews-LOC hh0145s.jpg

The US President Theodore Roosevelt to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia: "Stop your cruel oppression of the Jews." A lithograph in relation to the first Kishinev pogrom. (Library of Congress)

A second pogrom took place on October 19-20, 1905. This time the riots began as political protests against the Tsar, but turned into an attack on Jews wherever they could be found. By the time the riots were over, 19 Jews were killed and 56 were injured. Jewish self-defense leagues, organized after the first pogrom, stopped some of the violence, but were not wholly successful.

Results of the pogroms


A rejected petition to the Tsar of Russia by US citizens, 1903, now kept at the US National Archives

Despite a world outcry, only two men were sentenced to seven and five years and twenty-two were sentenced for one or two years. This pogrom was instrumental in convincing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to leave to the West and eventually to the land of Israel.

As such, it became a rallying point for early Zionists, especially what would become Revisionist Zionism, inspiring early self-defense leagues under leaders like Vladimir Jabotinsky.

A large number of artists and writers addressed the pogrom. Russian authors such as Vladimir Korolenko wrote about the pogrom in House 13, while Tolstoy and Gorky wrote condemnations blaming the Russian government — a change from the earlier pogroms of the 1880s, when most members of the Russian intelligentsia were silent. It also had a major impact on Jewish art and literature. Playwright Max Sparber took the Kishinev pogrom as the subject for one of his earliest plays. Poet Chaim Bialik wrote "In the City of Slaughter," about the perceived passivity of the Jews in the face of the mobs:

...the heirs
Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,
Concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees!
The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!
Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,
So sanctified My name!
It was the flight of mice they fled,
The scurrying of roaches was their flight;
They died like dogs, and they were dead!


  1. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research: Pogroms
  2. "Jewish Massacre Denounced", New York Times, April 28, 1903, p 6.


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