Thursday, May 14, 2009

April 6-7, 1903: The Kishinev Pogrom

It has now been just over a century since the tragic Kishinev Pogroms, an outbreak of antisemitic violence that shocked the world at the tiime and galvanized Jewish national identity into the modern era. In my family, my Grandfather was a witness to the pogroms, and when I was growing up listening to his stories it felt like the events had happened only recently: for most Moldavian Yidn, that still is the case. Sometimes it seems a bit anachronistic to be singing songs in Yiddish about the Cossacks in the 21st century, but the truth is that is exactly what I used to hear while sitting at a kitchen table in the Bronx when I was growing up. The Forward writer J.J. Goldberg wrote in 2003: Kishinev, the capital of the czarist province of Bessarabia, today's Republic of Moldova, was a town of some 125,000 residents, nearly half of them Jewish. Ethnic tensions were running high that spring, thanks to a noisy, months-long campaign of antisemitic incitement by local nationalists.The rioting began on Easter Sunday, after rumors spread through town that a Christian had been killed by Jews in a ritual murder. Mobs rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods for two days, burning, smashing, raping and killing. When it was over, 49 Jews were dead and 500 wounded, 1,300 homes and businesses were looted and destroyed and 2,000 families were left homeless.The brutality sent shock waves across Russia and around the world. Leo Tolstoy spoke out. Mass rallies were held in Paris, London and New York. Western governments protested the apparent complicity of the czar's police, who had refused repeated pleas to intervene. The Forward reported the news with a banner headline: "Rivers of Jewish Blood in Kishinev."The pogrom is generally remembered to have broken out at a house at number 13 Asia Street - seen below - which is still there today. Yiddish Poet Haim Nahman Bialik wote a long ode to the victims, The City of Slaughter. A Ukrainian journalist named Kholodenko visited Kishinev after the pogrom and wrote about the destuction: "House No. 13 is situated in the fourth district of Kishineff, in a by-street bearing the name of Asiasky, at its juncture with another by-street, Stavrisky; the names of these narrow and tortuous little streets are known but indifferently even to the inhabitants of Kishineff themselves. The Jewish cab-driver who drove us (many Jewish cab-drivers were among the killed and wounded) did not understand at first where we wanted to go. Thereupon my companion, who for the last three weeks had been breathing the air of Kishineff, and was able to find his way to all the principal places of interest connected with the massacres, explained to the driver, "House No. 13; where they killed!" " Ah! I know!" replied the driver, nodding his head and whipping up a horse as dejected, as miserable, and as half -starved as himself. I could not see the man's face, but I heard him mutter through his beard words that sounded like "Nisensen" and "the glazier." Nisensen and the glazier were a short time ago living men. Now they are but symbols, representing the concentrated horrors of recent massacres."House no. 13 as it stands today. Across the street lies the new Jewish Scool of Chisinau, but with business demands for real estate in the Moldovan capitol city a lot of the older Jewish neighborhood is being developed at a fast rate. Here's Asia St. 13 seen from a different angle...The Jewish community of Chisinau is about 15,000, very well organized, and well integraqted into the national life of the country. As in many post-Soviet countries, the main force behind religious education and community renewal is Chabad Lubavitch, who have done a nice job on the Synagogue.Sadly, today's news also brings reports of rioting and demonstrations in Moldova. The BBC reports that the riots are a result of a contested election, and my friends in Chisinau tell me that at least this time the unrest does not seem be marked by the ethnic tension between speakers of Russian and Romanian that marred the elections of a decade ago. I can only hope that things calm down over the next few days. And I wish a peaceful Peysakh for everyone this year.