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Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History

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So shattering were the aftereffects of Kishinev, the rampage
that broke out in late-Tsarist Russia in April 1903,
that one historian remarked that it was “nothing less
than a prototype for the Holocaust itself.” In three days of violence,
49 Jews were killed and 600 raped or wounded, while
more than 1,000 Jewish-owned houses and stores were ransacked
and destroyed. Recounted in lurid detail by newspapers
throughout the Western world, and covered sensationally
by America’s Hearst press, the pre-Easter attacks seized the
imagination of an international public, quickly becoming the
prototype for what would become known as a “pogrom,” and
providing the impetus for efforts as varied as The Protocols of
the Elders of Zion and the NAACP. Using new evidence culled
from Russia, Israel, and Europe, distinguished historian Steven
J. Zipperstein’s wide-ranging book brings historical insight and
clarity to a much-misunderstood event that would do so much
to transform twentieth-century Jewish life and beyond.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published March 27, 2018

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Steven J. Zipperstein

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Profile Image for Jan Rice.
508 reviews426 followers
September 26, 2020

Map of Bessarabia from the Wikipedia page for Modern history of Ukraine

In 1903, what is now known as a pogrom took place in Kishinev, an event that the author claims looms large, even for those who never heard of it. That's what convinced me to read this book. How could something affect the way I think, even without my knowing anything about it? Not impossible, given our current awareness of misinformation, or disinformation. But I really couldn't think along those lines until after I read the book.

As the map shows, Bessarabia (now Moldova) is southwest of current-day Ukraine. Kishinev (now Chisinau) is in its center. Bessarabia, located at the far west of the Russian empire, was a sleepy area with a climate like southern California. There was no hurry to develop infrastructure, so that if Romania decided to reclaim it, their advance would be slowed by poor roads and transportation (which puts me in mind of local resistance to expansion of Atlanta mass transit to prevent feared incursion of urban population deemed undesirable -- resistance that is only now beginning to wane.)

In Bessarabia, the Jewish population was on the increase, due to population increase further east and westward migration. In addition to Jews and Moldavians, the author says the ethnic mix was diverse, including Russians, Germans, Swiss, Cossacks and more. Imperial Russia was uncomfortable with the diversity but despite some efforts, the groups were largely unassimilated. Despite the usual fears and myths, though, all had been living together relatively amicably. The illiteracy and infant mortality were high and despite some being well-to-do, most of the population was poor--the small-time Jewish grain and agricultural dealers as well as the Moldavian peasants. On the other hand, the area was very fertile, and despite all, the capital, Kishinev, was beginning to develop as an urban center. It was no shtetl. The mayor was a good guy who supported modernization, with local envy directed eastward toward Odessa, the nearby and more cosmopolitan port city.

The pogrom occurred on Easter Sunday 1903, April 6. Rumors of violence circulated yearly but didn't occur. This year, however, the local antisemite, an impoverished aristocrat with literary leanings named Pavel Krushevan, used his newspaper, Bessarabets, to inflame the peasants and local seminarians over a recent blood libel. Zipperstein makes the point that so much depended on (bad) luck, If the rainy weather that started the day had prevailed, the riot wouldn't have occurred: who wants to riot in bad weather? Unfortunately the weather turned springlike and beautiful. The riot began after church in the better part of town, spread, and only on the second day reached the poorest section, where, without modern communications, people didn't even know what had been happening.

Overall, 49 Jews died in the murder and mayhem, with many more raped and wounded. Around 4:00 PM of the second day, the governor general finally realized he needed to call in the troops. Once the army arrived, the violence was extinguished within two hours and with 500 of the 900 arrests occurring within that time frame. The rioting had eventually involved two thirds of the town, with the number of rioters involved rising from 200 to 2000 or more.

The impact on subsequent history divides into three streams. First, the world reaction in general: because of Kishinev's location at the westward edge of Russia and its rather porous borders, information went out to the world at large, which generated a lot of sympathy for Jews and contempt for Russia. For example, the U.S. restricted Chinese immigration in 1902, but given the sympathetic reaction over that pogrom, the Jewish flow of immigration remained open until 1924.

Some of that sympathy happened because of the mistaken belief that the imperial Russian government had actually organized or aided and abetted the pogrom. There was a letter in which a right-wing government member admitted as much -- but it was forged, by individuals who sincerely believed in the Tsar's guilt but had no proof until they constructed it.

Zipperstein also contends that the belief in the guilt of the tsarist regime cemented Jews to the political left and set in stone Jewish distrust of government.

Zipperstein is making the point that many of the sequelae of this influential pogrom -- even though it was far from the most violent or murderous of pogroms -- were based, not on correct understanding of what happened, but on misconceptions. Sometimes the stuff of misconception becomes history as we know it. The pogrom was instigated by local perpetrators, not the central government, and the shift to blaming the tsar soon led to underestimating and ignoring the local perps -- the main one of whom was Krushevan.

Yet another aspect of this pogrom's impact on the world is that American leftists of the day conceived of the persecution of Jews in Russia as being virtually the same as persecution of African Americans, which brought new attention from outside of the black community to ongoing injustices, resulting in the founding of the NAACP.

One reason for the widespread impact of the Kishinev pogrom is that it was the first such atrocity to be covered via photography -- another one of those cases in which a new technology made itself felt.

Image from a French Wikipedia page for the Kishinev pogrom

It was only in conjunction with the riots of the early twentieth century that the term pogrom became known outside Russia and in fact became the preferred term for such events. Before that they could have been called "atrocities," "southern storms," or "disturbances." So books and articles writing of pogroms as though they were a familiar nineteenth Russian phenomenon are anachronistic. Those that also speak of them as operations organized by the Russian imperial government are off target albeit lining up with the mythology about pogroms.

The second stream of historical impact is on the early Zionist view of diaspora Jews as being cowards, especially as reflected in Hayyim Nahman Bialik's famous and influential poem "In the City of Killing." Even though it wasn't true that the Jews of Kishinev, who taken together far outnumbered the rioters, didn't fight back, it was the case that they were attacked separately in their homes and taken by surprise.

"I'm not gonna budge until someone can explain why we should run when we outnumber them."
Non Sequitur comic strip by Wiley Miller for September 23, 2020

I was taken by surprise to learn from the author about the charge of cowardice just after I'd finished reading about the riot itself -- a literal case of adding insult to injury. After time to reflect I now think it's the consequence of nearly 2000 years of quietism -- powerlessness and inability to fight back -- and those seeking a new direction attempting to leave the stigma behind with those who hadn't (yet) made a similar decision, while also justifying their own position. If the Jews had continued to revolt a la the Jewish Wars back in the first and second centuries, they would have been obliterated -- no longer in existence to suffer the slings and arrows of insult or injury.

As it happened in Kishinev, those who did organize and attempt to fight back were disarmed by the local police, who did not then take the next step of protecting them from the rioters. Moreover, although the Zionist Jews portrayed the Kishinev Jewish men as cowards, the reverberations among the local antisemites were the opposite. According to the story they put forth, the riot occurred in response to Jewish aggression, along with the usual canards of taking financial advantage of the peasants, taking over the town, and, generally speaking, deserving what they got. To the antisemites, the Jewish benefit from the pogrom was greater than their loss, since in their eyes the Jews exploited it to gain worldwide sympathy and thus begin their campaign for worldwide domination.

The third stream of historical impact is that the awful press that put Russia in such a bad light led to retaliation via the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That the Protocols were likely written in their shorter but original form by the same man who instigated the riot in the first place, Pavel Krushevan, is one of the most exciting assertions of this book. While it's widely accepted now that the Protocols were first published by him in 1903 in his St. Petersburg daily, Znamia (Banner), the claim that he actually wrote it (maybe with a buddy) is another story, one I'm hoping to learn more about.

At any rate, I learned a great deal from this book: about pogroms and this particular pogrom, about Bialik, his mentor Ahad Ha'am, and about one other recorder of the history, the Irish journalist Michael Davitt, and finally about Pavel Krushevan and the history of the Protocols. Sometimes the author made me work hard to connect the dots -- the Russian names, the various personages, the previously unfamiliar territory -- but still I learned.

I'll mention one other individual: the low-level activist, Jacob Bernstein-Kogan, who had been the local Zionist coordinator in the area. As such, he had names and addresses, and he was able to solicit enough funds to send telegrams and issue press releases. He was positioned to get the word out about the riot. So even though he had been somewhat of an inconsequential guy, certainly not as well known as various of the other principals, he appeared in Krushevan's eyes as sitting on top of the world making drastic moves to impact the world's view of Russia and his beloved Bessarabia. For Krushevan, this little guy Bernstein-Kogan, was an "elder of Zion." For Krushevan, Kishinev was the testing ground for Jews to put in place their plan for world influence. For Bernstein-Kogan, Kishinev was a backwater town in which chickens from nearby lanes walked down even the widest boulevards.

May 5, 2019 update
I'm pleased to say that on the 1st of May, Professor Steven J. Zipperstein participated in our book group via Skype to answer questions and talk some more with us about his book.

Our questions that had led to his joining us had to do mainly with the origin and authorship of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He argues in his book that Pavel Krushevan is the original author or co-author. Currently the theory that Krushevan's obscure subscription newspaper Znamia originally published the Protocols in 1903 is widely accepted, but that version is still being called an abridged version. Prof. Zipperstein explained that Krushevan and his circle knew French. They were capable of plagiarizing Joly themselves, and in fact the Znamia version is 70% Joly. The professor reiterated the other evidence cited in the book about linguistic fingerprints, later removed, linking the Znamia version to the Bessarabia/Ukraine area. Some of the same scholars Zipperstein writes about are now being cited in the Wikipedia article on the Kishinev Pogrom.

Although one of those scholars, Cesare de Michelis, wrote a book called The Non-Existent Manuscript, the notion of a manuscript that was circulating in earlier years dies hard. Earlier scholars believed the Protocols had been written in the late 1890s, around the time of the First Zionist Congress -- but the Protocols makes reference to events current at the turn of the 20th century that hadn't yet happened before then, such as the Boxer Rebellion in China and the assassination of President William McKinley.

This is not to say that various antisemitic beliefs weren't circulating earlier. Those didn't originate with Krushevan -- only the first version of the Protocols.

For years the Church held that the Gospel of Mark was an abridgement of the Gospel of Matthew, and only with modern scholarship was Mark recognized to be the original gospel. Who's to say that the Znamia version won't be recognized likewise as the original version of the Protocols?

Professor Zipperstein also commented on the relative efficacy of mythology, as compared to fact, in shaping history.

Inherent in the term pogrom is the idea of government control, and that, too, was myth, not fact, when it came to Kishinev, as local ideologues were the perpetrators, and not the tsarist government of Russia -- the "common knowledge" of the day.

The professor was not only erudite, as I expected from interviews available on YouTube, but he also was personable, charming, and funny. It was great to have him with us.
Profile Image for Steven Z..
567 reviews111 followers
July 14, 2018
At a time when American society is confronted with pictures of immigrants incarcerated at the US border with Mexico it is a good time to step back and try and understand why people choose to flee their homelands and come to America. In the case of people arriving on our southern borders their motivations are diverse from economic hardship to fear of death. These reasons are in a sense universal when examined from a historical perspective. Earlier in American history we witnessed a flood of Jewish immigrants, roughly two million from Eastern Europe and Russia between 1890 and 1914. This has had a tremendous impact on our history and growth as a nation. This mass migration was due in large part because of the anti-Semitic policies of the Tsarist government that resulted in years of persecution, and violent acts against Jews. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century these acts, labeled “pogroms” seemed to occur on a regular basis fostering the need for Jewish families to begin a chain of migration to America and other areas of the world. Perhaps the most famous pogrom occurred in 1903 in the provincial city of Kishinev located at the edge of the Russian Empire which is the subject of Steven J. Zipperstein’s fascinating and informative new book POGROM: KISHINEV AND THE TILT OF HISTORY.

The term “pogrom” enters the western lexicon toward the end of the 19th century in Russia as violence and scapegoating of Jews proliferates. It would be invoked in numerous towns and villages reaching a crescendo between 1918 and 1920 as 100,000 Jews may have been victimized as they were thought to be Bolsheviks. Jews were supposed to be wealthy, but the vast majority lived in poverty. They were thought to be well educated and involved in commerce, but what the Russians resented the most was their secrecy and refusal to be absorbed into the larger society.

The accusation against Jews that seems to have been the foundation of many pogroms was that of the “ritual killing of Christian children” during the Passover holiday under government sanction. For an interesting novel that highlights this topic see Bernard Malamud’s THE FIXER which presents the major issues that Zipperstein discusses in a fictional format.

The Kishinev pogrom was seen as shorthand for barbarism, “for the behavior akin to the worst medieval atrocities.” It would become the only “significant event embraced by all sectors of the severely fractured Russian Jewish scene.” However, as the author argues throughout the narrative, though agreement was reached concerning the horrors that took place, it became an agreement wrought with myths, half-truths, and outright distortions. The strength of Zipperstein’s presentation is the dissection of the myths and other components by explaining what occurred in the spring of 1903 in the Kishinev district. The author carefully examines all aspects of the tragedy from its causes, the persons responsible, the victims and survivors, and the implication for Jewish history in the future. Kishinev would become the epitome of evil in the west, a jarring glimpse of what the 20th century would hold in store.

The theme of book rests on how “history is made and remade, what is retained and elided, and why.” The author examines how “one particular moment managed to chisel onto contemporary Jewish history and beyond that it held meaning even for those who never heard of the town, know nothing of its details, and nonetheless draw lessons from it.”

Forgeries and myths surround the history of the pogrom that greatly impacted how people who participated and survived viewed what they experienced, what had actually transpired, as well as how it was perceived years later. For example; there was supposedly a letter from the Russian Minister of the Interior, V.K. Plehve instructing the local authorities not to intercede once the massacre began. This is untrue, no letter existed, though a forgery may have appeared. Another example revolves around who wrote and was responsible for the dissemination of the PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION which accused Jews of a worldwide conspiracy to dominate all people and their lives. It was said to have been a creation of the Russian secret police, the Okhrana in 1897, when in fact it was most likely the work of Pavel Krushevan, a publisher, novelist and owner of the newspaper Bessarabets which made the scurrilous lies of the PROTOCOLS available to the public.

Zipperstein’s sources have been mined thoroughly ranging from the literary works of Alexander Pushkin to Serge S. Urussov, the Governor-General of Bessarabia’s diaries. The two most important sources are Hayyam Nahman Bialik, the Jewish national poet who wrote, “In the City of Killing,” describing the massacre; and Michael Davitt, an Irish revolutionary and a reporter for Randolph Hearst’s New York American, who would go on to write WITHIN THE PALE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE ANTI-SEMETIC PERSECUTIONS IN RUSSIA, published in 1903. Zipperstein examines the lives of these two important figures, how they went about their research and who they interviewed. Excerpts of their work dot the narrative as Zipperstein dissects what occurred hour by hour and both men reach a controversial conclusion that Jewish men were weak and cowards.

Bialik’s poem, “In the City of Killing” has impacted Jewish history up until today and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to it in his speeches. Zipperstein argues that Bialik conflated his entire life experience, particularly his childhood with the plight of Jews – one of helplessness. His “rage leads him to construct the Jews of Kishinev as abject, and in the process to reshape and reconstruct his own identity.” The poem recreates the violence, rape, and plunder perpetrated against the Jews, but the core of the poem is a devastating conclusion concerning Jewish male cowardice. The appearance of the poem would overshadow what had transpired as it focused on the moral failings of Kishinev’s men and soon it became “shorthand for the utter vulnerability of the Jewish people, their devastation of soul and body alike.” Zipperstein examines the poem line by line and concludes that Bialik’s approach is literary poetry, while Davitt ‘s account is accurate as a whole and is first rate journalism, in addition to being reliable history.

Zipperstein asks why did the pogrom occur in Kishinev, a town that was on the outskirts of the Russian empire. He concludes that a number of events, thought processes, and socio-economic relationships are responsible. First, though day to day relations among the population seemed amiable, the peasants felt exploited by Jews engaging in a significant amount of commerce. Second, in the spring of 1903 agricultural prices were on the decline reducing the supply of money. Third, right wing elements were obsessed with Jewish visibility in the town. Four, the supposed “ritual killings” in Dubossary, a town near Kishinev a few months before the pogrom. Five, the fanning of anti-Semitic flames by Pavel Krusheran and his newspaper. Lastly, Pogroms were seen as a reasonable response to a pariah people as rumors of ritual killing swirled. Keeping in mind that in 1897 the population of the Kishinev district was 280,000 of which 54.910 were Jewish; and of the city’s 39 factories, 29 were owned by Jews could help explain people’s exacerbated feelings reactions once the violence spread.

Zipperstein also dissects the political implications of the pogrom. He explores how it was used by different political factions for their own ends be they Zionists, socialists, Labor, Bundists etc. Many saw the pogrom as an opportunity to foster immigration to Palestine, others were resigned to trying to survive in Russia as they hoped the violence was spent. The pogrom also touched off a nasty debate in American politics as the pogrom was compared to the lynchings of blacks in the south. The American left used Kishinev as vehicle to make Americans aware of the treatment of blacks. This also created a schism within the black communities because of its response to Kishinev and dealing with their own issues. Interestingly, as Zipperstein describes at the end of the book, the uproar in the United States and its link to lynching’s helped push for the creation of the NAACP in 1909.

Overall the book is quite comprehensive and incorporates a great deal of information that is knew, i.e., Zipperstein’s acquisition of Krusheran’s teenage diaries among other sources. If you would like to try and understand what occurred in Kishinev, with its historical implications, POGROM: KISHINEV AND THE TILT OF HISTORY is an excellent resource.

Profile Image for Cărăşălu.
239 reviews72 followers
January 12, 2020
A bit less than what I expected. Only one of the book's chapters focuses on the events themselves. The rest deals with the impact and aftermath of the pogrom: how Krushevan spread anti-Semite propaganda and authored or co-authored the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, how Haim Bialik wrote his famous poem In the City of Killing, how Irish activist and journalist Michael Davitt came to Chișinău, interviewed the survivors and victims and how his reporting informed the rest of the world, how parallels between progroms and lynching of blacks in the US helped formed the NAACP, how the pogroms affected the balance between Socialist and Zionist Jews and so on. Pretty illuminating stuff. I wasn't aware the Chișinău progrom had had such a big historical impact. In history classes, the whole affair is mostly swept under the rug or mentioned as part of larger wave of anti-Semitic incidents in the Russian Empire. Quick, easy and useful read.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 28 books387 followers
May 9, 2018
It was the event that introduced the word "pogrom" to the world outside Russia.

It's name is little known elsewhere today, but among generations of Israelis and in the homes of many older Jews around the world, the murderous rampage that took place in the Eastern European city of Kishinev on April 19 and 20, 1903, is a household word. Four decades before the worst days of the Holocaust, the pogrom in the city now known as Chișinău epitomized the violence directed at the Jewish people in the Russian Empire. Forty-nine Jews were savagely murdered during those two days and at least forty Jewish women raped. While those numbers seem insignificant when compared to the millions who died under Nazi terror, the Kishinev pogrom shocked the world at the time and for years afterward.

Kishinev was the subject of sensational news stories worldwide; several widely read books about the event were written, along with an epic poem taught in Israeli schools for decades. Stanford University history professor Steven J. Zipperstein recalls this tragic event and its historic consequences in his splendid new book, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History. "No Jewish event of the time," he writes, "would be as extensively documented. None in Russian Jewish life would leave a comparable imprint" despite the fact that the Kishinev pogrom was "by no means worse than many others at more or less the same time." In fact, the 1903 massacre remained a symbol of the plight of the Jewish people even after the ferocity of the Russian Revolution more than a decade later. For example, Zipperstein notes, " it seems clear that no fewer than one hundred thousand Jews were murdered . . . and at least that many girls and women raped and countless maimed between 1918 and 1920" in the White Terror that followed the Bolshevik coup. Yet Kishinev endured as the epitome of anti-Semitism.

Today, Chișinău houses a population of nearly 700,000. It's the capital of the Republic of Moldova, a country of some three million people tucked between Ukraine and Romania in southeastern Europe. In 1903, the town was on the southwestern fringe of the Russian Empire.The city was the fifth most populous urban center in the Russian Empire at the time, even larger than Kiev. It held a population of nearly 110,000, of which well over one-third were Jews. (Some polls placed the proportion as high as forty-seven percent, according to Zipperstein.) "Jewish stores lined its streets, their stalls filled its marketplaces, and they were spread throughout the city in neighborhoods both poor and rich," the author notes.

The Kishinev pogrom, and the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion that followed it closely, were long thought to have been the work of the secret service of the Russian imperial government. Zipperstein's research reveals that this was almost certainly not the case. "Sufficient evidence exists," he writes, "to point to a clutch of local activists—not the imperial government—closely linked to [a rabidly anti-Semitic newspaper]; it was they who, with the help of right-wing student radicals, likely managed to stir up the riot's start . . ." The man Zipperstein identifies as "the key inspiration" behind the pogrom was a Russian newspaper publisher named Pavel Krushevan. This man "would become, soon after Kishinev's pogrom, the publisher—and almost certainly among the authors—of the first version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. None of the effects of the Kishinev massacre would prove nearly so consequential as this bizarre and spectacularly influential forgery." As Zipperstein explains, "nearly the entire document was lifted [verbatim] from a book [written in French] that had nothing at all to do with Jews." Henry Ford famously paid for the printing of 500,000 copies of a later version that was circulated throughout the United States.

Zipperstein largely centers his book on four individuals. Krushevan was one of them, of course, but two outsiders also played pivotal roles through their written accounts based on extensive research conducted in the wake of the event. An Irish nationalist named Michael Davitt, working as a journalist, wrote a series of sensational articles for William Randolph Hearst's New York American that Zipperstein finds remarkably accurate; a book followed under the title Within the Pale: The True Story of Anti-Semitic Persecution in Russia. A Hebrew poet named Hayyim Nahman Bialik's epic, "In the City of Killing," is "widely considered the most influential poetic work written in a Jewish language since the Middle Ages." (Bialik spent five weeks in Kishinev, most of it interviewing victims.) And a local Jewish community leader named Jacob Bernstein-Kogan was responsible for contacting newspapers throughout the world. Immediately after the pogrom, he rushed around town collecting money to pay for the telegrams that brought Davitt and Bialik to the city and brought the massacre to the attention of readers all around the globe.

One of the most consequential after-effects of the Kishinev pogrom was the role it played in the founding of the NAACP (originally the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). The outrage caused in the United States by the news of the massacre triggered widespread discussion comparing the murder of Jews in Russia to the lynching of African-Americans. A public campaign to highlight the similarity was promoted by "a remarkable now-little-known couple, William English Walling and [Russian-born and Yiddish-speaking] Anna Strunsky . . . The Wallings were the first to champion the cause of treating black lynching no less seriously than Russia's anti-Jewish pogroms. The founding meeting for what soon would emerge as the NAACP took place in 1909 in their New York City apartment." Walling became the first chairman of the organization.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
11 reviews
February 22, 2018
I had never heard about the riot of Kishinev until reading this book. Mr. Zipperstein has written a well researched book about the anti-Semitic sentiment in Russia. I am grateful to Goodreads Giveaway for being able to learn about this history. It gave me insight into how the stage was being set for the pogroms of Hitler many years later in WWII. We should learn from history and not be nonchalant about history possibly repeating itself, ie) North Korea and Russia today.

Profile Image for Margaret Heller.
Author 1 book35 followers
November 16, 2017
Reviewed for Library Journal. Looks grim, but the actual rape and murder part takes up relatively little of the book, the cultural history part is can't put it down.
Profile Image for Nate Merrill.
45 reviews2 followers
December 22, 2018
Very good. I expected the descriptions of the pogrom to be exceedingly horrifying, but they weren't, so that was good (I don't mean "good" but you know what I mean. I read the first three chapters in one sitting. The fourth, however, was the most intriguing on its own, with its description of how the pogrom fit into the zionism of ahad haam and bialik, which was a story I had only heard in passing before, and has inspired me to move Daniel Boyarin's Unheroic Conduct up my list. The 5th on krushevan the protocols was sorta mixed up, mostly repeating information that was mentioned previously. And the final chapter was a good look at attempts to connect kishiniev to race riots in the US. Lots to think about! Very worth reading!
Profile Image for James Crabtree.
Author 9 books30 followers
April 16, 2018
The pogrom that took place in Kishinev in what was in 1903 the Russian province of Besserabia was not the first nor the last nor even the worst of the pogroms which periodically rocked the Jewish population living in the Pale of Settlement but it was one which, for the first time, touched the imagination of people around the world to the plight of Jews living in the shadow of the Russian eagle, assuring the entry of the word "pogrom" into the English language. Zipperstein gives the reader an account of the attacks launched against the Jewish population of Kishinev, the acts of rape, murder and physical assault, the arbitrariness of the violence by the local Moldovan population and the seeming inability or unwillingness of the local police and military to get involved. Zipperstein also looks at the way the incident was captured by journalists and how it has effected the way we look at pre-revolutionary Russia to this day. Includes black and white photos and helpful maps. Recieved an advance copy of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway.
520 reviews47 followers
December 19, 2022
“My grandmother brought that pendant with her from RUSSIA, from a POGROM, JEFFREY!” I think it was the first season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where Susie shouts that at Jeff after a foster child lifts a beloved family heirloom from their home. The name “Kishinev” doesn’t come up, but historian of Eastern European Jewish life Steven Zipperstein attributes the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 as the event that lodged the word “pogrom,” and certain ideas of what the word constitutes, into historical consciousness, well beyond the Moldovan backwater where it occurred.

Why this massacre, and not others, Zipperstein asks? Why did the Kishinev pogrom become this tipping point, that figures from Vladimir Jabotinsky to W.E.B. Du Bois would attach many (often more or less fanciful) meanings to? There’s an extent to which Zipperstein undermines his own point when he says that Kishinev helped lead to a false impression that pre-1917 Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement was wall-to-wall pogroms, while also asking why this one pogrom would be elevated above others… but such are the risks of this kind of cultural history. Really, any amount of pogroms other than zero is the wrong amount, as I’m sure Zipperstein would agree. And we don’t really get why Kishinev became the flashpoint for world awareness of the brutality of Russia, towards its Jewish inhabitants and towards its people in general, other than the usual answer- concatenations of historical circumstances, actors with agendas shooting their respective shots.

The facts of the case are that one day, in 1903, Moldovan Christian inhabitants of the provincial city of Kishinev, sparked likely by an interaction between Moldovan children hassling Jewish adults and the Jewish adults rebuking them, formed mobs and attacked Jewish homes and businesses. Something like forty-three Jews were killed. Zipperstein’s investigation leaves the realm of the frankly ticky-tacky – wondering why they tagged Kishinev with the massacre, when really it all happened within a few blocks, is not that interesting of a question, in my opinion – when he gets into the process of making Kishinev and pogrom household words. It was basically a matter of contingency that as many people came to Kishinev as they did to investigate the pogrom. Zipperstein focuses on two. Hiayim Bialik came to Kishinev because his (at the time) small and beleaguered group of religious Zionists sent him to report on it. Michael Davitt, an Irish nationalist journalist who had a habit of pissing people off (more than usual for Irish nationalists, even), also made his way to Kishinev to write a report for the famously sensationalist Hearst newspaper empire.

Davitt and especially Bialik’s writings from Kishinev had a profound impact on how the world would understand what happened there, and what it all meant, for Jews, for Russia, for Europe, for people the world over. This was a time when relations amongst disparate and unequal communities that lived with each other were under strain all over the world, and people were looking for answers.

Probably the most notable cluster of agendas and answers hung around Kishinev were those related to Zionism, and particularly to Zionism’s depiction of the Jews of the diaspora. Cartoonist Eli Valley’s “Diaspora Boy and Israel Man” comics have only begun to explore (after decades of complicit silence in the Jewish community) this dynamic, and arguably, the poem that Hiayim Bialik produced after his extensive investigation of the pogrom, “In the City of Slaughter,” is the paradigmatic example of Zionist hatred for Diaspora Jews- for, that is, Jews like themselves, at least for those who partook of the dynamic before the first generation raised in Israel. Much of the emotional weight of the poem lies on the image of Jewish women being raped by Moldovan gentile men while Jewish men – husbands, brothers, sons, fathers – hid. This, and numerous other images of Jewish passivity, were pounded into the heads of Zionist youth from the day Bialik published the poem to the present: “In the City of Slaughter” was a standard in the Israeli literary curriculum, something like how American schoolkids are expected to memorize the Gettysburg Address, in Zipperstein’s telling. The solution to this supposed weakness and failure of Jewish manhood, in the Zionist worldview, was to start over again in Israel… and, the unsaid part, find their own people, the Palestinians, to ride roughshod over, to harden themselves through oppressing. We have seen what that means, more and more clearly as the years progress.

From Bialik’s own notes – he was a meticulous notetaker – we know that in at least some instances, Jewish men in Kishinev did flee the mobs and leave women relatives behind (the audiobook producers made the peculiar choice to allow the voice actor to read a block quote from one of these women’s descriptions of her experience in a kind of weepy, lightly-Yiddish-accented, womanly-pitched voice, which I wish they had not done). We also know that the woman he drew much of his imagery for his central scene of sexual assault told him, explicitly, that her husband fought her attackers until he was beaten unconscious, and that she fought, too, none of which shows up in the poem or in Zionist imagery of Diasporic Jewish weakness. Neither did Bialik, or most other reporters from Kishinev, discuss how Jews organized for self-protection. There were whole neighborhoods where neither the mobs, nor the police who protected them, could enter, because there were armed and organized Jews protecting them- and organized basically ad hoc, too. Riots are some of the more chaotic, “dynamic” situations you’re ever going to encounter, so it’s hardly a surprise that different people and groups of people break in radically different ways. Anyone trying to tell the story is trying to impose order on a basically chaotic event. You can – we are compelled to – come up with something. But in that chaos is also opportunity. What began as an attempt to alter linguistic politics – “In the City of Slaughter” was a major advance for secular(-ish) Hebrew poetry, as opposed to Yiddish or gentile-language Jewish writing – turned into a major node into the self-definition of a whole people and their history, and a pretty dark one.

The impact on the world outside of the Zionist movement was also interesting, though perhaps less revelatory than Zipperstein argued. This is roughly the Michael Davitt half of the story, though the man’s writings don’t loom over how Americans, Europeans et al reacted to Kishinev the way that Bialik’s poem does over Zionist understandings of Jewish identity, gender, and violence. Davitt was an odd duck, no one’s idea of a philo-Semite, possessed of some strange race ideas but the kind that wouldn’t go much of anywhere, given that one of them was a burning hatred of the English, who more or less ruled the roost at the time. Davitt was writing for the Hearst papers (he might have been blackballed from most papers, including Irish ones, closer to home, for being annoying and weird), and said papers did what they did and sensationalized the crimes committed there- accounts of hundreds or thousands dead, streets run red with blood, etc etc. This wasn’t Davitt’s faults – whatever else he was, he was a very thoroughgoing reporter – but Hearst will do his thing.

The contrasts between reality and perception here are, to my mind, less stark and less revelatory than that between the world depicted in “In the City of Slaughter” and the actual Kishinev pogrom. Yes, papers reported an inaccurate number of dead, but 43 dead, thousands assaulted, many of them raped, and hundreds of homes and shops burnt is no picnic. You could argue that the attention paid to Kishinev gave ammunition to antisemites. One of the lead antisemites of Kishinev, who arguably had more of a hand than anyone in creating the atmosphere that led to the pogroms, was also one of the writers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious anti-semitic forgery that lays down the ways that Jews supposedly manipulate most of modern life to the detriment of gentiles. The contrast between the reality of Kishinev – which of course antisemites downplay well past what the record will support – versus the reporting, and the upswell of condemnation for Czarist authorities, seemed to many anti-semities to justify their antisemitism- obviously, the Jews run the media, why else would everyone be so up in arms about a few dead shopkeepers, Moldovans will Moldovan, etc. etc. I mean… I don’t think Zipperstein accepts this logic, but to be honest, entertaining it at all, pretending that what anti-semites do and say and really anything that Jews do have a straightforward one-to-one relationship, is an odd read to me. Though, you have to figure that media-unsavvy provincial weirdos like the Kishinev anti-semitic publishers must have been thrown for a loop by this early example of the power of global mass media…

Similarly, it’s intriguing how the reporting from Kishinev helped inspire both black and Asian activists in the US – Chinese groups were the first non-Jewish groups in the US to donate to victims of Kishinev, and the founders of the NAACP cited Kishinev as an inspiration (that must have calmed the nerves of anti-semites!) – but maybe not the mind-blower Zipperstein presents it as. There are important differences between the lynch law that many people of color and immigrants faced in the US at the time, and the pogroms of the Pale of Settlement… but there were also some important similarities! And it kind of seems like solidarity is a good thing to build? Zipperstein doesn’t condemn it. I’m not sure what he’s doing with it. Maybe, as a historian who has immersed himself deeply in the life of Eastern European Jews in the centuries before the Holocaust, Zipperstein can’t help but rue the ways in which much of global culture has reduced that whole life to what happened at Kishinev, making it the central image of a whole way of life for millions of people. I get that. I guess I’m an organizer more than a historian of Jews and Judaism, so to me, it’s a step in the right direction… anyway, this is a pretty good book with some odd turns. ****
53 reviews
April 30, 2019
Not a particularly well written book, but it does convey the context of a very important event of history that has been, if not forgotten, then shunted out of the mainstream. My interest in the story is enhanced by the fact that my paternal great grandfather was from Kishinev and immigrated to the U.S. after his business was wiped out in the Pogrom. The author draws the story through the contemporary reportage and subsequent studies of the violence. He draws some conclusions as to responsibility and attempts to convey the international scope of the event as well as drawing attention to some curious consequences, such as the founding of the NAACP. I think that those with Russian Jewish background will be most interested in this book, but it will also be of interest to the general student of history.
2 reviews2 followers
July 6, 2018
In April, 1903, 49 Jews were murdered in the small city of Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, in the Pale of Settlement section of the Russian Empire. 600 Jews were raped or wounded, and over 1000 homes and businesses were ransacked.

Unlike previous such incidents (which have precedents going all the way back to the First Crusade and before) this time the Western press mobilized public opinion against the Russian Empire for allowing the carnage. Hearst Newspapers carried one lurid photo after another. Reporters and Jewish relief workers mobilized to document what had happened and to help the survivors. The political cartoon above is a rather mild example of the coverage.

Stephen J. Zipperstein has written a gripping and fascinating account of the events leading up to the pogrom and its aftermath. It had a cacophony of effects that would echo through the 20th century and beyond.

What do the founding of the NAACP, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the rise of Zionism, the “New Jew,” and the Hebrew poem “In the City of Slaughter” have in common? It’s Kishinev.

If you think you already know all about Kishinev, you probably don’t. If you think you know who write the Protocols, you might be surprised. If you are dreading an account of violence and gore, know that Zipperstien is more interested in causes and effects than in a salacious or bloody-minded account of the matter.

This book gave me a great deal to think about, especially about the power of publicity and its unintended outcomes. I heartily recommend it.
Profile Image for Kathy Reback.
521 reviews2 followers
July 31, 2018
While I learned so much about this event and the context in which it occurred, I can give it only three stars as the writing and organization of the book were challenging. I gather this was excerpted out of a much longer academic endeavor. Better transitions and clarifications would have been helpful. Also, the footnotes did not contain any information other than where to look. He makes some pretty big claims which we have to take on faith. Still, our coed book club had an excellent discussion on this.
Profile Image for Nathan Scheer.
1 review11 followers
August 28, 2019
I don't usually leave reviews, but I had to get this out of my system. I was genuinely interested in what this book had to offer. I'm a student, with Jewish history being an interest of mine. Three months ago, I completed my thesis for my bachelors in history about the Jewish American community during the American Progressive Era. I came across information about the Kishinev pogrom in my research, specifically the American reactions to the news of the massacre. I was very interested to see Zipperstein's interpretation on the pogrom itself, its causes and results. I must say, it was rather good. The writing was tolerable, even if the author has a tendency to write in circumlocutions. Perhaps this was his attempt to fit as much information into as few sentences as possible. I have never before read anything with so many parentheses and hyphens. But much of the information was the product of pretty good research.

As part of my thesis, I, much like Zipperstein tries to do in the last chapter, also tried to juxtapose American reactions to the Kishinev pogrom with the reactions to contemporary, domestic anti-black violence. As Zipperstein notes, the Evansville Race Riots occurred only a few months after the pogrom, and yet there were no relief funds for victims or petitions submitted to the government regarding Evansville as there had been for Kishinev. In fact, as Zipperstein correctly states, the mayor and entire city council of the city of Evansville had attached their signatures to the petition circulated by B'nai B'rith of Philadelphia to condemn the violence in Russia. I was excited to hear a fresh take on this connection, of the links between perceptions of Russian pogroms and American lynchings, what people said about it, and how people justified anti-black violence yet expressed unending sympathy to Jewish people suffering half a world away. While Zipperstein did offer some good information, there were a notable number of basic facts that got completely messed up.

The Evansville Race Riots of 1903 took place in the city of Evansville, Indiana. That is not up for debate. It is just a fact. And yet Zipperstein, all the editors, proofreaders, and everyone else that read this glanced over the fact that Zipperstein gave the location of the riots as Evansville, Illinois. When writing about William English Walling and Anna Strunsky's visits to Springfield, Illinois in their coverage of the race riots there in 1908, Zipperstein referred to the city of Springfield as "the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, it was a city Walling had often visited." Zipperstein may have confused a birthplace for a resting place, given that Lincoln's Tomb is located in Springfield, whereas his birthplace is not in Springfield, nor is it in Illinois, but rather in the state of Kentucky.

I understand that these mistakes do not add or detract from the overall bulk of information or its interpretation that the book presents; people make mistakes sometimes. But if Zipperstein could so casually overlook easily correctible mistakes like where someone was born or where a major historical event occurred, then how is anyone to know where else he got sloppy in his research? I'm not saying that the entire book should be rejected at face value. There's some good information here that serves as a great tool to learn about Jewish life in Imperial Russia, the international Zionist movement, the Russian revolutionary scene, the intricacies of anti-Semitism, and the international reactions to the Kishinev pogrom.
Profile Image for Alex Railean.
237 reviews37 followers
January 10, 2023
> "A similar interplay between intimacy—at least familiarity—and ferocious violence was evident in the slice of Kishinev’s Muncheshtskii or Manchester Way"

In case the author is reading this - how did you get from "Șoseaua Muncești" to "Manchester Way"? As far as I know, the etymology of "Muncești" or "Muncheshtskii" has nothing to do with Manchester.

Am ales să citesc cartea asta cu intenția de a afla mai multe despre cum a fost pe vremuri Chișinăul. Chiar la primele etape m-am ciocnit cu problema schimbărilor. Spre exemplu, autorul descrie acțiuni care s-au petrecut în str. Aziatskaia - o denumire pe care n-o cunosc. Dacă nu greșesc, numele actual e strada Romană. În mare parte, nu pot spune că am recunoscut în descrieri orașul meu (cu mici excepții, e.g. referința la casa actualului muzeu de etnografie, sau starea deplorabilă a râului Bîc). Așadar, e posibil că impresia lui Pușkin despre Chișinău era cel puțin parțial justificată.

În general, a fost o lectură dureroasă. E o pată neagră în istoria noastră și îmi pare rău că în programul școlar despre pogromul din 1903 am văzut doar un mic paragraf într-un manual.

Nu mă surprinde faptul că un rol important în desfășurarea evenimentelor l-a avut dezinformarea. "Бессарабец" de atunci era un soi de "Sputnik" de astăzi, sau un canal TV din care permanent curge noroi informațional. Nu mă surprinde nici faptul că autoritățile „looked the other way” și nu au intervenit prompt.

A trecut ~un secol, și tot mai avem oameni al' de Krushevan, care conduc instituții mass-media cu același nivel de calitate a materialelor și aceleași standarde etice. Mai avem oameni care cu entuziasm merg la "proteste" și toarnă apă la moara oricui, dacă-s plătiți; inclusiv instigatori a căror rol este să genereze agresiunea și apoi s-o catalizeze. Mai avem autorități care nu se implică atunci "când trebuie". Obiectiv vorbind... veștile nu sunt bune, pentru că unele lucruri au rămas neschimbate în Moldova.

De asemenea, cred că această carte aduce importante schimbări în imaginea "moldoveanului pașnic" aka "dă-mi o pace, și-ți dau două". Moldovenii de atunci au omorât, au violat, au bătut, au jefuit, și-au bătut joc. Desigur, nu toți; dar nu există pădure fără uscături.

Oare sunt suficiente motive să credem că astăzi nu s-ar întâmpla una ca asta? Nu mă refer anume la careva acțiuni antisemitice, dar în general: anti-X.
Profile Image for Davida.
455 reviews
April 28, 2019
p. 85
"Kishinev was said to have cut wide open a web of wretched, cowardly compromises stretching as far back as the last of the Maccabees, a welter of congealed terrors cleverly disguised that had over the centuries made Jews into who they now were: an overly cautious people who knew well how to negotiate but were incapable of fighting for their own lives or, for that matter, defending the honor of their kinfolk."

p. 111 (talking about Ahad Ha'am)
"This goal amounted to little less than the salvaging of Jewish civilization. No comparable challenge had faced Jews since the temple's destruction in the first century; this moment was no less momentous And, much as in the distant past, the tools essential for such work were cultural, not political--a marshaling of Jewry's spiritual timber with far-reaching influence on all aspects of Jewish life and profound impact on the rhythm of Jewish life in Palestine. The errors of Herzl's Zionism were not in its focus on Palestine but in its mindless aping of European nationalism."

p. 122 (about Irish writer Davitt)
"And then there were the Jews--harmless where gentiles were clever, such as in the United States, but justly feared in backward Russia. He never did rationalize their oppression, but it was a sufficient argument for Jewish mass migration elsewhere--preferably, as Davitt would come to see it, to Palestine."

p. 163 (from Krushevan's book)
"Yes, he says, there is nothing new to Jewry's self-imposed alienation: Jews have inspired hatred as far back as Kiev in 1092. Nothing has changed since then: "Remember Darwin's idea...that by the laws of heredity, with time humankind will lose its left hand which is increasingly atrophied? Jews are the left hand of the organism of humanity."

p. 188 (possibly on the origins of the word "ghetto," first used for Jews, then later for blacks and others)
"Kishinev's influence on the politics of the American left--with the Yiddish-inflected preoccupations of the Lower East Side suddenly overflowing well beyond its immediate confines--also helped create a lexicon for the condition of America's blacks with comparisons to that of Jews under the most barbaric of autocratic regimes)
Profile Image for Jeff Francis.
228 reviews
June 3, 2018
I remember considering whether to read Steven Zipperstein’s “Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History,” which I’d heard was good, when I saw that the main blurb came from Philip Roth. That sealed it. Roth had died two days earlier, and I was kind-of perturbed at how little attention his passing received. So at that moment it seemed like the universe was telling me to go ahead.

After reading “Pogrom” I was torn on whether to rate it 3/5 or 4/5, but in the end I decided on the later.

The dilemma was thus: while the subject was fascinating, Zipperstein’s research impressive and his prose compelling, the structure seemed choppy (definitely a subjective take, I know, but the chapter breakdown just didn’t say ‘cohesive narrative’ to me).

Also, “Pogrom” featured one of my pet peeves re: popular history books: it seemed to presuppose an acquaintance with the subject matter. Perhaps authors think that anyone who would read these books would already know the basic facts, but I for one had never heard of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom before seeing this book.

But, yeah, apart from some trips to the titular event’s Wikipedia page throughout the book, I thought highly of “Pogrom.”

Nothing to do with the review, but I couldn’t help but note two back-to-back passages that struck me as unintentionally (?) funny: [writing of anti-Semite Pavel Krushevan]
Krushevan acknowledged having overpowering obsessions: despair over his poverty; envy of the rich; nightmares of crabs devouring humans. (P. 154)
From the start, however, his favored themes [as a Russian writer] were financial decline, family humiliation, and above all the terrible, mysterious forces that undermine the best of intentions. (P. 155)
Profile Image for Lorenzo.
13 reviews
August 30, 2022
Likely the most enlightening thing about "Pogrom" is that more than eulogizing a horrific event, it puts the social context of anti-Semitism at the forefront. I was quite interested to learn the importance of intersectionality between the struggle of Jews in the Russian Empire and Black Americans in the United States. The message of Kishinev is that these violent outbursts are not limited to one specific community; they are common to all oppressed groups. I admit that, aside from the Holocaust and the Zionist movement in Israel, I am not particularly familiar with the Jewish experience and their struggle for representation and redress of grievances. The text itself alludes to many Jewish activists and writers, many of which are unfamiliar to me. The only major critique I would levy is that the book seems to have been written by and for a Jewish audience; it may be challenging for outsiders to understand. While Kishinev focuses much on the social, cultural, and political issues of the pogrom in 1903, it doesn't delve too much into the catalysts which let to Nazi Germany's "Final Solution," and perhaps this is a good thing. Having visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. myself, I am at least familiar with the degree of savagery that anti-Semites around the turn of the century exhibited. While I wouldn't call the book pessimistic, it does center around the gravity of an event that begs the question "how could this have happened?" It's this gravity that helps explain the determination of Jewish politicians and activists throughout the 20th century who wrestled with the idea of a safe Zion for the Jewish Homeland. That question is still being asked today, and much blood and ink has been spilt to answer it.
Profile Image for Michael Lewyn.
771 reviews18 followers
July 26, 2020
As the title indicates, this book is about the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The first half of the book discusses the pogrom itself- a riot that involving dozens of murders and dozens of rapes as well.

Much of the book, however, focuses on the post-pogrom spin. I had always thought that the Russian government was responsible for the pogrom; although local officials (like American mayors who have often been slow to act) did not act as rapidly as they could, they did try in good faith to stop the pogrom. Although newspapers published a letter from a cabinet minister suggesting that the national government should not stop pogroms, Zipperstein believes that this letter was a forgery, since it was not supported by materials in government archives. Instead, Zipperstein blames local right-wing radicals (including Pavel Krushevan who later wrote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) for inspiring the riot.

Zipperstein also discusses the early Zionist movement's spin about the pogroms. Chaim Bialik wrote a poem suggesting that the Kishinev Jews did not try to defend themselves- a claim that supported early Zionists' view that Jews needed a state on their own. (Zipperstein shows that this claim was an oversimplification, and that some self-defense efforts occurred). On the other hand, anti-Semites claimed that Jewish self-defense was provocative, and saw Zionism as evidence that Jews were too powerful.

Profile Image for M.J..
132 reviews4 followers
July 6, 2019
I give this 3.5 stars. The book tells of a series of massacres that took place over a few days against the Jewish community in 1903 in a "sleepy" part of the Russian empire known as Bessarabia, or modern day Moldova in the capital Chisinau. I am glad the author chose to write on this subject to educate others on the origins of the word "pogrom" and how the 1903 tragic events were known to the world, especially the United States. There are not a ton of available first hand sources and I understood the author worked with what was available, but I still had so many questions on who--authorities, important town figures, etc. were complicit in causing the 1903 pogrom and much felt unresolved...or rather justice felt unserved. I did find it interesting how he juxtaposed the pogrom with similar events happening in the U.S. during that time against African Americans, especially the race riots in Springfield, Illinois and how they were simultaneous liabilities for both Russia and the U.S. as they sought to criticize each other for their oppression of the two minority groups. For example, the 1903 pogram and Springfield race riots influenced the decision of a couple--an American man and a Russian Jewish female immigrant to create the NAACP--National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which I actually didn't know. Overall good book, but would have liked more!
Profile Image for Mike.
422 reviews
December 20, 2018
Zipperstein's book is a solid social commentary. It is not the sort of book I normally read. I typically read history books as opposed to books that combine heavy social commentary. This book is presented as five discrete essays on the event. The section detailing the actual event was short, too short. Although the events were horrific, it seemed to me that the section was too short to fully describe the horror and the author should have spent more time and detail on it. On the other hand the castigation of the often cited fake protocols of the Elders of Zion was well documented and very well done. I applaud the author for the work in exposing their fraudulent nature. This should be done often until the anti-Semites get it. I found the relationship between the Jewish issues and those of blacks in the United States and founding of the NAACP to be interesting, though I did find it a bit out of place in this book, though as the author says, this is 5 discrete essays.

I liked the book despite the shortcomings I mentioned above. If you are interested in the history of late Tsarist Russia or anti-Semitism I think this book is a good book to read. If you are looking for straight up history as opposed to social commentary, it is still readable as it is short.
20 reviews
December 24, 2019
Zipperstein gives a comprehensive overview of the different journalistic and literary perspectives on the 1903 Kishinev (Chișinău now) Pogrom, but also its political effects in the Russian Empire and in the US.
Zipperstein makes the case that the bloody Pogrom was the first event that penetrated all the Jews' conscience around the world. It led them to think about the environments they lived in for centuries, whether their future is still bright, causing waves among both the Zionist and the Socialist Jews, secular and religious Jews, rich and poor Jews, political and apolitical ones.
There is a certain point in Zipperstein claiming that the lamenting records of the Pogrom might have led to Jews aiming for statehood somewhere in Palestine and creating their own army later.
While I applaud his research work on the topic, I would have liked to know more about the perpetrators and the locals in Bessarabia and Kishinev. That said, all the digging into Krushevan's role in igniting the Pogrom is outstanding.
Perhaps, the book would deserve an updated edition with translated versions in Romanian and Russian.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Green.
142 reviews7 followers
April 20, 2019
Before reading this book, Kishinev was just a name for me, the name of a notorious pogrom, but I wouldn't have been able to tell you the date of the pogrom or where Kishinev is. Now, for me, Kishinev refers to a very real place, and I could probably point to it on a map of what was once Bessarabia, part of the Russian Empire, and what is now Moldova. This book is about much more than what actually happened in Kishinev in 1903. It is about the response the pogrom aroused throughout Western Europe and the United States, the heroes, the villains, the poets, historians, and journalists, and the reverberations of the event. For example, it was indirectly behind the founding of the NAACP and the forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Zipperstein writes with clear energy and takes the reader to unexpected places. In many respects, the response to the Kishinev pogrom was the Jews' first incursion into 20th century history, a painful inauguration into what would be infinitely more painful.
132 reviews1 follower
July 27, 2019
This summer I've been reading histories of short-lived, dramatic events: the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1721 ("The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics"), the sinking of the whaleboat Essex ("In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex"), and this book, about the pogrom in Kishinev in 1905. There is something so interesting when a write delves into a subject like this, trying to figure out the number of things that created the possibility for the event, that pushed for the event, but of course couldn't guarantee that the event would have occurred precisely as it did. In this sort of detailed study, one sees the gaps in the causality, that there are people making decisions, actors in the event, and that those decisions end up being a part of history, which we then label heroic, tragic, or something of that sort.
The event is this book is tragic, and doesn't seem to have been inevitable (does that word even make sense in human affairs?). There were certainly villains, heroes are harder to identify.
Profile Image for Ruth Adar.
15 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2018
In April, 1903, 49 Jews were murdered in the small city of Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, in the Pale of Settlement section of the Russian Empire. 600 Jews were raped or wounded, and over 1000 homes and businesses were ransacked.

Unlike previous such incidents (which have precedents going all the way back to the First Crusade and before) this time the Western press mobilized public opinion against the Russian Empire for allowing the carnage. Hearst Newspapers carried one lurid photo after another. Reporters and Jewish relief workers mobilized to document what had happened and to help the survivors.

Stephen J. Zipperstein has written a gripping and fascinating account of the events leading up to the pogrom and its aftermath. It had a cacophony of effects that would echo through the 20th century and beyond.

What do the founding of the NAACP, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the rise of Zionism, the “New Jew,” and the Hebrew poem “In the City of Slaughter” have in common? It’s Kishinev.

If you think you already know all about Kishinev, you probably don’t. If you think you know who write the Protocols, you might be surprised. If you are dreading an account of violence and gore, know that Zipperstien is more interested in causes and effects than in a salacious or bloody-minded account of the matter.

This book gave me a great deal to think about, especially about the power of publicity and its unintended outcomes. I heartily recommend it.
Profile Image for Judy G.
885 reviews9 followers
August 1, 2018
I am a jewish woman and I read many books about our history.
I think this book has a select audience of readers. It is about an event in 1900 in Russia where the men in a place there named Kishinev set out to destroy the jewish people in every way possible. Mass destruction
It is also about writers from that time who traveled there to record what had happened.
Pogroms were forerunners of the Nazi regime's destruction of the jewish people these were in Russia.
It is very interesting I think that the writers who wrote "about" this time during that time blamed the jewish men more than the non Jews who raped killed attacked stormed them.
Pogrom is a storm and acts of destruction the purpose being one of violence
Steven Zipperstein is an expert on this subject of Jewish history and I just realized my other book The Rich Brew about the cafe live and the Jewish culture is his writing

Profile Image for David Findley.
18 reviews
March 11, 2019
I learned a lot from reading the book: the Kishinev pogrom was not the first or the last or the worst of the many pogroms within the Pale of Jewish settlement on the western edges of imperial Russia. However, it was the most influential in capturing the interest of the West. It lead to forgeries on both sides of the issue: the antisemites produced the infamous “Protocols” to justify murder of Jews and (according to SZ) the Jewish left (likely) produced a forged letter from Russian government official to bolster their call for Jews to leave Russia for the West. The program produced the influential poem by Bialik that led to a more militant Zionism and self defense militias in pre mandate Palestine. The close simultaneity of the Kishinev pogrom and the Springfield, IL “pogrom” against Afro-Americans led to the formation of the NAACP by Jews and Afro-Americans.

This is a good read despite being an academic text. It is definitely not filiopietistic historiography.
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