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Focus on Issues a Reminder of Terror and Brutality

April 5, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Kishinev is a term reminiscent of terror and brutality. The name of the Bessarabian city is a reminder of one of the most inhuman bestialities perpetrated against Jews.

On the 80th anniversary of the brutalities of Kishinev there also are reminders of the historic role that was played by America and Americans — Jews and Christians — in the protests against the Czarist-encouraged pogrom. A similar role is now being played by America and Americans in human rights declarations against the practice of the Kremlin to persecute and imprison Jewish as well as non-Jewish activists and dissidents in the Soviet Union.

Kishinev is now a mere memory, steeped in tragedy, denoting the destruction of generations of life and achievements of many Russian-Jewish communities. At the time of the Kishinev Czar inspired massacre in 1903 there were 80,000 Jews in that city’s population of some 115,000.

The present record of their existence there is a shambles of a synagogue, the last of the perhaps 25 or more of 80 years ago. (The Kishinev pogrom was not an isolated incident. It was followed by others in the Ukraine and White Russia. There was also a second pogrom in Kishinev on October 1905.)


The American protests then, in 1903, equate with the nationwide protests now when Jews who are denied visas to emigrate to Israel and dissidents who will not knuckle down to Communist bias dare to speak their minds against tyranny.

It was as a result of the tragedies in Russia, primarily after the inhumanities in Kishinev, that the American Jewish Committee was founded. That’s when Jacob H. Schiff, Cyrus Sulzberger, Julius Rosenwald, Louis Marshall and many of their associates came forth with a voice so strong that mankind was aroused.

Shortly, thereafter, the Jewish Publication Society issued a full-length volume, “The Voice of America on Kishinev,” in which there were recorded the hundreds of protest meetings, the many scores of sermons in churches, the innumerable editorials in newspapers throughout the land.


A great Christian, John Hay who served as Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt — the great scholar who had studied Hebrew — then gained a permanent place in American history as chief interpreter of our foreign policy under two Administrations. Hay first recorded his name in defense of Jews who were oppressed in Rumania. Then came the Kishinev outrages. Once again he played a historic role in defense of oppressed Jews.

The Russian and Rumanian questions first came to the fore during the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hay was then acting Secretary of State. On October 22, 1880, he wrote a note regarding “the expulsion of American citizens from Russian cities on no other ground then profession of the Hebrew faith.”

He continued the role of champion of religious freedom and on August 11, 1902, he stated that the United States “is constrained to protest against the treatment to which the Jews of Rumania are subjected, not alone because it has unimpeachable grounds to remonstrate against the resultant injury to itself, but in the name of humanity.”

Then, as Secretary of State, Hay registered a protest against the violation by Rumania of the Berlin Treaty of 1878 under which Jews were to be accorded protections by Rumania.

Hay, humanitarian, had earlier expressed his personal feelings when he sent a personal check for $500 to a relief fund that was established for Rumanian Jews. Yet there were some who felt that not enough was done for them. Schiff had written to him to express indignation and on May 30, 1903, Hay wrote to Schiff: “I feel precisely as you do in regard to it, but you are free to express your feelings and I am not.”


It was in this exchange of letters that there was evidenced the state of affairs effected by diplomacy and the caution that often prevents action. A statement had been prepared by B’nai B’rith for presentation to the Russian Czar protesting the Kishinev pogrom. John Hay then said: “The fact that no civilized government has yet taken action would bid us to proceed with caution.”

This statement is proof of the recurring eternal caution which often militates against prevention of repetitive crimes against humanity.

Roosevelt did receive on organized B’nai B’rith delegation that protested against the Kishinev pogroms, and he told them” “In any way by which beneficial action may be taken, it will be taken to show the sincerity of the historic American position.”

But all that ensued was a petition which the Czarist government rejected and the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Count Cassini, venomously attacked Jewry, thus adding insult to injury.

He did not succeed in securing assurances from Russia that there would be better protection for Russian Jews, but he had interceded and Roosevelt, in concert with him, expressed horror over the Kishinev happening. Is that experience being repeated today in the Communist language of rejecting Jewish protests against indignities?


The Kishinev agitation against the Jews started with the murder on February 1, 1903, of a wealthy young Russian, Michael Ribalenko. His body was found February 22, 1903, and it developed that he was killed by a relative who hoped to acquire his fortune. But the agitation against the Jews was pushed with vigor by the notorious anti-Semitic newspapers. The rumor was spread that Jews had used the murdered man’s blood for Passover. The hoary blood libel instigated the April 1903 pogrom that lasted for three days.

The Kishinev outrage affected 2,750 Jewish families, of whom 2,528 reported damages amounting to 2,332,890 rubles — about $1,190,000 in American money at the rate of exchange of that time. The dead numbered 47, while 92 were severely wounded and 345 were less seriously wounded.

Protest petitions were signed by some of the nation’s most prominent citizens, including former President Grover Cleveland. The voice of America spoke loudly against the discriminations, but the Russian Czar was too powerful to be swayed from anti-Semitic murderous instigations.

It was the Kishinev pogrom more than any other incident that inspired mass migration of Russian Jews to the United States, some to other countries, and an impressive number to Palestine. Then Zionism became recognized as the great liberatarian movement in the ranks of men and women who later became the leaders in the establishment of the State of Israel.

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