Pogrom of 1903: executioners, victims and lessons. IPN debate

Today it has been 120 years of the start of the organized killing of Jews known as the Chisinau program and those events will most probably continue being called so while Chisinau and history exist. Why did those tragic happenings occurred and why namely in Chisinau? Why did it remain in history as a special event if similar events of a larger scale and with more serious consequences happened in the Tsarist Empire before and after it? What lessons can be learned for such events to never repeat again in Chisinau and elsewhere? These were the main subjects discussed by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Pogrom of 1903: executioners, victims and lessons”.

According to Igor Boțan, the permanent expert of IPN’s project, the pogrom is defined as violent mass actions aimed against any group of the population because of their race or religion, often motivated by extremist or police organizations. It included physical attacks and destruction of houses, businesses and religious building, being often accompanied by torture and crime, mutilation, burglary, rape. The Jewish pogroms in southern and western Russia of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century were especially spread in the modern period. In connection with them, the Russian word “pogrom” entered most of the European languages, meaning destruction with collective executioners and victims, which starts suddenly.

Article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Moldova says that the organization or management of mass disorder, accompanied by the use of violence against persons, pogroms, arsons, destruction of goods, use of firearms or other objects used as a weapon and putting up of violent or armed resistance to the representatives of the authorities, is punished with four to eight years in jail. “It is believed that the programs are spontaneous, but history shows that there are much more profound phenomena behind such outbursts, which pave the way for such events,” stated Igor Boțan.

Doctor of history Andrei Kushko said the Chisinau program saw the intertwining of a number of forms of anti-Semitism, especially economic and religious anti-Semitism, which are spread among the lower sections of the population, especially peasants, workers and soldiers. This pogrom lasted for a day and a half, from Easter Day, April 6 (according to old calendar, April 19 according to new calendar, e.n.) until the afternoon of April 7, 1903. It was a pogrom with shocking consequences in the epoch. The violence started by attacks staged by groups of 30-50 persons. There were allegedly 35 groups. The consequences were absolutely disastrous for the Jewish community in Chisinau, which represented 45% of the city’s population. Forty-nine Jewish people and two Christians were killed and another about 500 people were hurt. The caused damage was enormous – 2 million rubbles – a colossal sum for those times. About one third of all the buildings in Chisinau were affected.

Andrei Kushko noted that the developments started with a conflict close to a church situated on Ciuflea St, after which the pogromists began to attack homes in the Jewish quarter. It is presumed that some of the pogromists had lists with Jewish owners, traders and residents on them. This shows that it was an organized event. The apogee of the pogrom was on the night of Monday and on Monday morning, when the victims among the Jews were the largest in number. The most important aspect is that the pogromists were convinced of their impunity as the authorities practically didn’t intervene in the conflict. The lack of reaction generated the conclusion that the Government was behind the pogrom or encouraged the participants,” stated the historian.

Journalist Alecu Reniță, a member of Moldova’s First Parliament, said it seemed that there were no authorities in Bessarabia on that tragic day. “In this connection, a number of aspects should be clarified, as regards the horrible crime that was committed in the context of Easter. This way, very important subjects arise about the secret police in Chisinau, the way in which the tsarist authorities, the media of that period, the business circles behaved and whose interests were touched in those events, the trade, the economy and the beneficiaries of what was there in Chisinau, and also the Orthodox church, etc.” he stated.

According to Alecu Reniță, the anti-Semitism itself was an urban, not rural phenomenon, while Bessarabia was then 90% rural. The aggressive character of the Bessarabian population is this way excluded. “Basic investigations should be conducted and a huge crime should not be extrapolated to a general issue that didn’t exist. The contribution of the mass media was very important as the instigation of the Christian population against the Jewish one was not one day or two days old. The authorities didn’t try to diminish the anti-Jewish message that existed at the start of the 20th century. That’s why, beyond this odious crime, there were mechanisms that favored the pogrom in Chisinau,” stated the journalist.

The public debate entitled “Pogrom of 1903: executioners, victims and lessons” was the eighth installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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