A re-examination of one of the most lavishly remembered events of Russian Jewish history that is also the most edited and misunderstood.
As Zipperstein (Jewish Culture and History/Stanford Univ.; Imagining Russian Jewry, 2015, etc.) shows, the April 1903 pogrom at Kishinev was neither the first nor the last atrocity against the Jews, but it stands out for a number of reasons. Due to the explosion of worldwide communications and Kishinev’s proximity to Europe, the news spread quickly. It was only 100 miles west of the notoriously porous Romanian border, favorable to unchecked smuggling and the dissemination of Czarist suppressed news. After the tragedy, there was a singular coherence of all Jewish political movements to condemn and provide relief. Michael Davitt and Hayyim Nahman Bialik, two writers, ensured that the news of Kishinev dominated the press. Both writers condemned Jewish male cowardice, but neither mentioned the 250 men who gathered to fight back, perhaps because it was ineffective. Throughout the decades since, debate has been robust, particularly regarding Bialik’s pogrom poem, “In the City of Killing,” which was intended as commemoration rather than history but was included in many courses of Jewish study. Like many politicized lessons, this ended up a product of half-truths, mythologies, and forgeries, even a century later. Looking for a cause of the massacre, the author points to Pavel Krushevan, an anti-Semitic local publisher whose publications were rife with blood libel. Zipperstein shows with little doubt Krushevan’s hand in fomenting the riot and his role as principal “author” of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a ridiculous, fabricated text that nonetheless became the most influential anti-Semitic text ever produced. The author ably illustrates the wide influence of this pogrom, with comparisons to American violence against Southern blacks, the formation of the NAACP, and, especially, Hitler’s reliance on the Protocols.
A thorough and fair examination of an event whose mystery seems so misplaced.