By Daphne Anson
From the historical archives, a reminder of the thin line between barbarity and civilisation, and that civilisation cannot be taken for granted. (The image at left is of still-breathing victims of the Kiev pogrom of 1919; the pogrom described below seemingly occurred in 1885, and the author briefly mentions one that took place in 1905.)
This article was printed in The Australian Worker, 16 August 1933; it was entitled ‘What a Jewish Pogrom Means’.
For centuries the Jews have been persecuted. But have you ever realised the terror of a pogrom? This description of anti-Jewish riots by David Katharas refers to pre-war Russia, but it might easily be Germany to-day.
This story may help Christians to realise the. horror with which world Jewry has heard of the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Germany, and the depth of feeling behind the protests of our people against the Nazi attacks on the Jews.
I am a trader in the City of London, but Russia is the country of my birth.
I am one of many thousands of Jews in this country and America who have lived through the terror of persecution in Eastern Europe, and who know what anti-Semitism can mean at the hands of the more brutal of the European peoples.
My mind goes back to a spring evening in the town of Kiev in South Russia [Ukraine].
There are five of us huddled in a corner of a back room — my parents, my two young sisters and myself. We children are clutching my father’s arms, too terrified to speak or even to weep.
There is a rumble in the distance which grows louder every minute until, we hearthe howls and curses of a mob of people. They are in our own street It is filled with yelling fiends.
My father creeps oyer to the window, lean see his face now against the light, his eyes wide open and his features petrified. I crept over beside him.
‘It is Mordecai Wienarski’s baby . . . Mordecai Wienarski’s baby,’ he kept repeating.
The mob is dancing in frenzy and shrieking maledictions on the Jews. They are surging against Mordecai Wienarski’s house, and some men are leaning out of the upper windows. They are shouting, ‘He has hidden his gold! He has hidden his gold!’
Among the crowd there is a squad of Cossacks. One of them points to the ground, and laughs. The Cossacks make no move to disperse the crowd. My father suddenly realises that I am beside him and pushes me back to the corner. There we remain, the five of us clinging to each other, weeping with terror.
The din outside gradually dies. As darkness comes down the sky is lit with flames. We can hear the crackling of fires nearby. We remain closer together in our corner. We dare not flee. They are burning houses nearby.
For weeks after that night in May we children never left the house. There was a reign of terror for the Jews of Kiev. For a few days there would be peace, and then a drunken mob would storm the house of a Jew. That would be the signal for a renewed outbreak of murder and pillage.
We had come from Odessa only a month before. I remember what high hopes I had. Some Russian boys had spat on me in Odessa, and Kiev was a sort of Mecca, for I had been told that nearly all the people in the town were Jews. Actually there were about 20,000 out of a population of 140,000.
It was years later, after we had gone to live in Moscow, that my father told me the full story of those riots in Kiev.
He was an eye-witness of many of the terrible events. The. ostensible cause of the pogroms was the assassination of the Czar Alexander. The Russian Government was having trouble with its own people, and it wanted a scapegoat. As with Hitler now, it blamed the Jews.
The attacks on the Jews were organised. Stories were spread about that the Government had ordered the property of the Jews to be handed over to the Russians, and ignorant people believed that they had a right to take all we had.
The day of which I have spoken was the Christian Sabbath. A mob of the lowest elements in the town had broken into the dram shops and looted the vodka.
Frenzied with drink, they set out to seize their ‘rightful property’ from the Jews.
At the house of Mordecai Wienarski they found nothing to plunder. He was a poor man. Enraged, they seized his child of three and threw it out of the window.
The Cossacks, who were supposed to preserve law, and order, did nothing to restrain the mob. Elsewhere they joined in the orgy.
Many Jewesses were attacked on the same day, some of them mere children.
There was Rosje Feldman, whom we knew. She was thirteen. Several brutes attacked her, while others held her hands and feet. She died a month later.
Another girl of fourteen met the same fate. One married woman was stripped and maltreated. She was kicked while unconscious.
On the Monday all was quiet, but on the Tuesday morning the news spread round the terrified Jewish community that the houses of Christians in Kiev were being marked with crosses. We waited for the worst, and it happened.
The mob was more murderous than ever.
A Jewish wine shop was broken into, and after drinking themselves mad, the fiends cut the throats of the proprietor’s wife and six children. My father saw the bodies next day in the cellar.
In another part of the town, a widow of fifty who was trying to save her daughter from dishonor was herself attacked.
Mrs. Leah Chajet was one woman whose house was entered by a dozen raving madmen. They struck her on the head with a hammer. A fortnight later she gave birth to a child.
The child lived. She died.
Even worse things were happening in some of the smaller towns.
At one place while the Jews were at the synagogue, all the Jewesses were attacked. The younger were ill-treated, three dying as a result. The older were driven into the river, many of them dying later of exposure.
When the Jews heard that their women were in danger, they rushed out of the synagogue to attempt a rescue.
Several were stoned to death.
In other villages Jewish houses were burned down. One mother was forced to look on while her two children were roasted alive. In the same village a mother was ill-treated and then burnedto death in the house. Her little girl lay crouching in a ditch watching the home go up in flames.
Meanwhile the village innkeeper, a Jew, had been cooped in one of his own barrels and thrown into tlie river.
These things did not happen in the Middle Ages! I am only sixty now, and they are within by own memory. Many of my relatives were victims.
As I said, we went to Moscow soon afterwards. Tlie terror broke out there again as late as 1905. I was married by this time and had two young children.
The authorities were faced with a revolution, and again they blamed the Jews.
My part of the town was in danger, and I fled with my family in the dead of night in a closed coach. We took refuge in the house of a friend, a professor, who lived near the university. After an hour or two, news came that the mob was making for the university.
We moved off again for the house of another friend. Our coach came right into the mob, on the embankment of the Moskva River. We had to move slowly, and I was able to see them throw a man into the river, which had then a thin coating of ice.
Every time his head appeared, the soldiers fired at him and the mob threw stones. I learned afterwards that he was not a Jew; but a Gentile student.
That happened’ in 1905, and the South Russian terror only twenty years earlier.
Human nature does not change in a generation. And we Jews do not forget that the pogroms started in East Prussia be fore they spread to Russia. That is why the name of Hitler is a nightmare to all Jewry.