[puh-gruhm, -grom, poh-]
pogrom, Russian term, originally meaning "riot," that came to be applied to a series of violent attacks on Jews in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th cent. Pogroms were few before the assassination of Alexander II in 1881; after that, with the connivance of, or at least without hindrance from, the government, there were many pogroms throughout Russia. Soldiers and police often looked on without interfering. These pogroms encouraged the first emigration of Russian Jews to the United States. After 1882 there were few pogroms until 1903, when there was an extremely violent three-day pogrom at Chisinau resulting in the death of 45 Jews. Although it has not been conclusively proved that the czarist government organized pogroms, the government's anti-Semitic policies certainly encouraged them. After the abortive revolution of 1905, pogroms increased in number and violence. With the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, pogroms ceased in the Soviet Union; they were revived in Germany and Poland after Adolf Hitler attained power.

See E. H. Judge, Easter in Kishinev: Anatomy of a Pogrom (1992).

A pogrom is a form of riot directed against a particular group, whether ethnic, religious, or other, and characterized by destruction of their homes, businesses, and religious centres. Historically, the term as used in English has very often been used to denote extensive violence against Jews — either spontaneous or premeditated — but it has also been applied to similar incidents against other, mostly minority, groups.

Pogroms are usually accompanied by physical violence against the targeted people, sometimes by rape and sometimes even murder or massacre.


The word "pogrom" came from погром = "violent outbreak", from громить, "to wreak havoc, to demolish violently".

Disputed defintions

Every pogrom is, by definition, a kind of riot - though there are many riots which are not pogroms. Some pogroms involve killing, and some escalate to mass killing which can be defined as a massacre. However, even a violent non-lethal attack on members of an ethnic group can count as a pogrom, and on the other hand there are massacres which are not pogroms (when the victims are not targeted by ethnicity, or when the killing is carried out by an army or police under orders).

For many disputed events, the borderlines between these three terms - "riot", "pogrom" and "massacre" - can be very vague and hard to define. In cases which are the subject of controversy, typically the victimised side and its supporters tend to use "pogrom" and/or "massacre", while apologists for the agressor side tend to reduce the debated event to having been "a riot".

Pogroms against Jews

Before the nineteenth century

There were antisemitic riots in Alexandria under Roman rule in AD 38 during the reign of Caligula.

Evidence of communal violence against Jews and Christians, who were seen as a Jewish sect, exists dating from the second century AD in Rome. These riots were generally precipitated by the Romans because Jews refused to accept Roman rule over Palestine and early Christians were seen as a Jewish sect that proselytized actively. It should be noted that Romans were generally quite tolerant of other religions.

Massive violent attacks against Jews date back at least to the Crusades such as the Pogrom of 1096 in France and Germany (the first to be officially recorded), as well as the massacres of Jews at London and York in 1189–1190.

During the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, beginning in the ninth century, Islamic Spain was very welcoming towards Jews. The eleventh century, however, saw several Muslim pogroms against Jews; those that occurred in Cordoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066. In the 1066 Granada massacre, a Muslim mob crucified the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred about 4,000 Jews.

In 1348, because of the hysteria surrounding the Black Plague, Jews were massacred in Chillon, Basle, Stuttgart, Ulm, Speyer, Dresden, Strasbourg, and Mainz. A large number of the surviving Jews fled to Poland, which was very welcoming to Jews at the time.

In 1543, Martin Luther wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, a treatise in which he advocated harsh persecution of the Jewish people, up to what are now called pogroms. He argued that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated.

Jews and Roman Catholics were also massacred during the Khmelnytsky Uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks in 1648–1654, as well as in the following century during the Koliyivshchyna.

Russian Empire

The term pogrom as a reference to large-scale, targeted, and repeated antisemitic rioting saw its first use in the nineteenth century.

The first pogrom is often considered to be the 1821 anti-Jewish riots in Odessa (modern Ukraine) after the death of the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul, in which 14 Jews were killed. Other sources, such as the Jewish Encyclopedia, indicate that the first pogrom was the 1859 riots in Odessa.

The term "pogrom" became commonly used in English after a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots swept through south-western Imperial Russia in 1881–1884.

The trigger for these pogroms was the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, for which some blamed "the Jews. The extent to which the Russian press was responsible for encouraging perceptions of the assassination as a Jewish act has been disputed. Local economic conditions are thought to have contributed significantly to the rioting, especially with regard to the participation of the business competitors of local Jews and the participation of railroad workers, and it has been argued that this was actually more important than rumours of Jewish responsibility for the death of the Tsar. These rumours, however, were clearly of some importance, if only as a trigger, and they had a small kernel of truth: one of the close associates of the assassins, Gesya Gelfman, was indeed Jewish. The fact that the other assassins were all Christians had little impact on the spread of such antisemitic rumours.

A much bloodier wave of pogroms broke out in 1903–1906, leaving estimated thousands of Jews dead and many more wounded, as the Jews took to arms to defend their families and property from the attackers. The number of people of other nationalities killed or wounded in these pogroms exceeds Jewish casualties. The 1905 pogrom of Jews in Odessa was the most serious pogrom of the period, with reports of 400 to 2,500 Jews killed.

Some historians believe that some of the pogroms had been organized or supported by the Tsarist Russian secret police, the Okhrana.

Even outside these main outbreaks, pogroms remained common; there were anti-Jewish riots in Odessa in 1859, 1871, 1881, 1886 and 1905 in which hundreds were killed in total.

Many pogroms accompanied the Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War, an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000.

Outside Russia

Pogroms spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Anti-Jewish riots also broke out elsewhere in the world.

In the Arab world, there were a number of pogroms which played a key role in the massive emigration from Arab countries to Israel. These occurred during rising tensions and violence in Palestine as Jews tried to secure a homeland there.

  • In 1945, anti-Jewish rioters in Tripoli, Libya killed 140 Jews.
  • The Farhud pogrom in Iraq killed between 200 and 400 Jews.

There is also said to have been a Limerick Pogrom, in Ireland in the late nineteenth century. This pogrom was less violent than the others. Although it involved campaigns of intimidation, it chiefly took the form of an economic boycott against Jewish residents of Limerick.

During the Holocaust

Pogroms were also encouraged by the Nazis, especially early in the war before the larger mass killings began. The first of these pogroms was Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, often called Pogromnacht, in which Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed and up to 200 Jews were killed.

A number of deadly pogroms occurred during the Holocaust at the hands of non-Germans, for example the Jedwabne pogrom of 1941, in which Polish citizens killed between 400 and 1,600 Jews (estimates vary), with German assistance. The region was previously occupied by the Soviet Union, (Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact) and the Jewish population was accused of collaboration with the Soviets.

In the city of Lviv, Ukrainian nationalists allegedly organized two large pogroms in June-July, 1941 in which around 6,000 Jews were murdered, in apparent retribution for the alleged collaboration of some Jews with the previous Soviet regime (see Controversy regarding the Nachtigall Battalion).

In Lithuania, Lithuanian nationalists (led by Klimaitis) engaged in anti-Jewish pogroms for similar reasons as well, on 25 and 26 of June, 1941 (after the Nazi German troops had entered the city), killing about 3,800 Jews and burning synagogues and Jewish shops. Perhaps the deadliest of these Holocaust-era pogroms was the Iaşi pogrom in Romania, in which as many as 13,266 Jews were killed by Romanian citizens, police, and military officials.

After World War II

Even after the end of World War II, there were still a few pogroms in Poland, such as the Kraków pogrom on August 11, 1945 or the best known Kielce pogrom of 1946 , in which thirty-seven Jews were killed.

Until today, the debate in Poland continues as to whether the murderers in Kielce were leftists or rightists, and who inspired the killings, but the 1946 massacre was a turning point in the attempt to rebuild a Jewish community and convinced many Holocaust survivors that they had no future in Poland.

Anti-Jewish riots also broke out in several other Polish cities where many Jews were killed. (see: Anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944-1946)

Soon after, Jews began to flee Poland. The vast majority of survivors left for several reasons. Many left simply because they did not want to live in a communist country. Some left because the refusal of the Communist regime to return prewar property. Others did not wish to rebuild their lives in the places where their families were murdered, and others wanted to go to British Mandate of Palestine, which soon became Israel.

As a result the number of Jews in Poland decreased from 200,000 in the years immediately after the war to 50,000 in 1950 and to 6,000 by the 1980s.

Influence of pogroms

The pogroms of the 1880s caused a worldwide outcry and, along with harsh laws, propelled mass Jewish emigration. Two million Jews fled the Russian Empire between 1880 and 1914, with many going to the United Kingdom and United States.

In reaction to the pogroms and other oppressions of the Tsarist period, Jews increasingly became politically active. Jewish participation in The General Jewish Labor Union, colloquially known as The Bund, and in the Bolshevik movements, was directly influenced by the pogroms. Similarly, the organization of Jewish self-defense leagues (which stopped the pogromists in certain areas during the second Kishinev pogrom), such as Hovevei Zion, led naturally to a strong embrace of Zionism, especially by Russian Jews.

Modern usage and examples

Other ethnic groups have suffered from similar targeted riots at various times and in different countries. In the view of some historians, the mass violence and murder targeting Black people during the New York Draft Riots of 1863 can be defined as pogroms, though the word had not yet entered the English language at the time. The same could be said of the Chinese massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles, California, and of the killing of Koreans in the wake of the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake in Tokyo, Japan, after newspapers printed articles saying Koreans were systematically poisoning wells, seemingly confirmed by the widespread observation of wells with cloudy water (a little-known effect after a large earthquake).

In the 1955 Istanbul Pogrom, ethnic Greeks were attacked and overwhelmed by ethnic Turkish mobs. In the years leading up to the Biafran War, ethnic Igbos and others from southeastern Nigeria were victims of targeted attacks. The term is therefore commonly used in the general context of riots against various ethnic groups. Other examples include the pogroms against ethnic Armenians in Sumgait in 1988 and in Baku, in 1990, both of which occurred in Azerbaijan. The Jakarta Riots of May 1998 were pogroms targeted against ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. Businesses associated with Chinese were burnt down, women were raped, tortured and killed. Fearing for their lives, many ethnic Chinese, who made up about 3–5% of Indonesia's population, fled the country.

Sikhs have also experienced a pogrom in India, most notably those occurring in November 1984 when India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh guards acting in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. In these 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots, Sikhs were killed in pogroms led by government loyalists, with the government allegedly aiding the attacks by furnishing the mobs with voting lists to identify Sikh families.. The current Congress party leader, Sonia Gandhi, officially apologized to the Sikh community in 1988 for the pogrom and began reconciliation efforts, as well as efforts to provide justice for the victims, the most notable being the Nanavati commission.

Another notorious pogrom in India happened in the state of Gujarat in March 2002, when Muslims were systematically targeted and killed . This was in response to killing of Hindu pilgrims by setting a train compartment on fire by alleged Muslim miscreants. Estimates of the numbers killed range from below a thousand to two thousand. Some thirty cities and towns in the state were reported to be “still under curfew” till the end of March

In 1999, after NATO troops took control of the Serbian province of Kosovo, the non-Albanian population of the capital Pristina was driven from their homes by ethnic Albanians and their property sacked and demolished, witnesses report that NATO forces stood back and refused to intervene.

In May 2008, there were pogroms against foreigners across South Africa that left almost 100 people dead and up to 100 000 displaced.

In recent years, a few anti-Arab attacks by Jewish mobs in Israel have been described as pogroms by peace activists, Israeli press, and Israeli officials . In October 2000, for instance, following then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's speech in which he asserted to have no peace partner, after suicide bombings all over Israel, planned and executed by the Palestinian terror organizations, in which a lot of Israeli citizens were killed and after the destruction and defilement of Joseph's grave (Biblical Joseph) in Nablus by the Palestinians , Jewish adolescents launched an attack against an empty mosque in Jaffa. In March 2008, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a rabbinic center in Jerusalem, a frenzied crowd of dozens of Jews entered the Arab village Jabal Mukkaber in East Jerusalem from which the Palestinian shooter was, threw stones and broke the windows of houses and cars for some time, until Israeli Police forces arrived, stopped and arrested some of the attackers . The leftist daily Haaretz observed that a "synchronized pogrom of this kind could never take place in a Jewish neighborhood."

On Saturday 13th September 2008, in response to an attack by a Palestinian man armed by knife against a 9 years old Jewish child from Yitzhar settlement (He stabbed the child and then threw him from a high fence, and also set fire to a few houses in the settlement ), a Jewish mob attacked the Arab village which the stabber ran to. Soon after, the Israeli army arrived and interfered in order to stop the altercation , later described by Israeli PM as "intolerable". However a committee of pro-settlement rabbis praised the "courage and heroism" of the Yitzhar settlers, saying their reaction was in accordance with Jewish law, the Haaretz newspaper reported .

See also


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