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A pogrom is a violent massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. The term originally entered the English language to describe 19th- and 20th-century attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire (mostly within the Pale of Settlement in present-day Ukraine); similar attacks against Jews at other times and places also became retrospectively known as pogroms. The word is now also sometimes used to describe publicly sanctioned purgative attacks against non-Jewish ethnic or religious groups.[2][3][4][5][6]

Significant pogroms in the Russian Empire included the Odessa pogroms, Warsaw pogrom (1881), Kishinev pogrom (1903), Kiev Pogrom (1905), and Białystok pogrom (1906), and, after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Lwów pogrom (1918) and Kiev Pogroms (1919). The most significant pogrom in Nazi Germany was the Kristallnacht of 1938 in which 91 Jews were killed, a further 30,000 arrested and subsequently incarcerated in concentration camps,[7] 1,000 synagogues burned, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.[8][9]

Notorious pogroms of World War II included the 1941 Farhud in Iraq, the July 1941 Iaşi pogrom in Romania – in which over 13,200 Jews were killed – as well as the Jedwabne pogrom in Poland. Post-World War II pogroms included the 1945 Tripoli pogrom, the 1946 Kielce pogrom and the 1947 Aleppo pogrom.

Pogroms against non-Jews include the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom against Igbos in southern Nigeria, and the 1988 Sumgait and Kirovabad pogroms, in which ethnic Armenians were targeted.


The Russian word pogrom (погром), with stress on the second syllable, is a noun derived from the verb gromit (громи́ть) meaning "to destroy, to wreak havoc, to demolish violently".[12] It is used in English and many other languages as a loanword, possibly borrowed via Yiddish (where the word takes the form פאָגראָם pogrom).[13] Its widespread international currency began with the anti-Semitic excesses in the Russian Empire in 1881–1883,[14] partly through the writings of Irish journalist Michael Davitt in his coverage of the Kishinev pogrom.


According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "the term is usually applied to attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, [and] the first extensive pogroms followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881",[2] and the Wiley-Blackwell Dictionary of Modern European History Since 1789 states that pogroms "were antisemitic disturbances that periodically occurred within the tsarist empire."[3] However, the term is widely used to refer to many events which occurred prior to the Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire. Historian of Russian Jewry John Klier writes in Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881–1882 that "By the twentieth century, the word 'pogrom' had become a generic term in English for all forms of collective violence directed against Jews."[4] Abramson wrote that "in mainstream usage the word has come to imply an act of antisemitism", since whilst "Jews have not been the only group to suffer under this phenomenon ... historically Jews have been frequent victims of such violence".[12]

The term is also used in reference to attacks on non-Jewish ethnic minorities, and accordingly some scholars do not include antisemitism as a defining characteristic of pogrom. Reviewing its uses in scholarly literature, historian Werner Bergmann proposes that pogroms be "defined as a unilateral, nongovernmental form of collective violence initiated by the majority population against a largely defenseless ethnic group, and occurring when the majority expect the state to provide them with no assistance in overcoming a (perceived) threat from the minority,"[5] but adds that in western usage, the word's "anti-Semitic overtones" have been retained.[14] Historian David Engel supports this, writing that "there can be no logically or empirically compelling grounds for declaring that some particular episode does or does not merit the label [pogrom]," but he offers that the majority of the incidents "habitually" described as pogroms took place in societies significantly divided by ethnicity and/or religion where the violence was committed by the higher-ranking group against a stereotyped lower-ranking group against whom they expressed some complaint, and with the belief that the law of the land would not be used to stop them.[6]

There is no universally accepted set of characteristics which define the term pogrom.[6][15] Klier writes that "when applied indiscriminately to events in Eastern Europe, the term can be misleading, the more so when it implies that "pogroms" were regular events in the region and that they always shared common features."[4] Use of the term to refer to events in 1918–19 in Polish cities including Kielce, Pinsk and Lwów was specifically avoided in the 1919 Morgenthau Report (preferring "excesses"), whose authors argued that the term pogrom was inapplicable to the conditions existing in a war zone and required the situation to be antisemitic in nature rather than political,[6][16][17] and media use of the term pogrom to refer to the 1991 Crown Heights riot caused public controversy.[18][19][20]

Pogroms against Jews


Massive violent attacks against Jews date back at least to the Crusades such as the Pogroms of 1096 in France and Germany (the first "Christian" pogroms 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 9th century, Islamic Spain was more tolerant towards Jews.[21] In the 11th century, however, there were several Muslim pogroms against Jews; notably those that occurred in Córdoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066.[22] In the 1066 Granada massacre, the first large pogrom on European soil, a Muslim mob crucified the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred about 4,000 Jews[23] In 1033 about 6,000 Jews were killed in Fez, Morocco, by Muslim mobs.[24][25] Mobs in Fez murdered thousands of Jews in 1276,[26] and again, leaving only 11 alive, in 1465.[26][27]

In Europe in 1348, because of the hysteria surrounding the Black Plague, Jews were massacred by Christians in Chillon, Basle, Stuttgart, Ulm, Speyer, Dresden, and Mainz. By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities had been destroyed.[28] A large number of the surviving Jews fled to Poland, which was very welcoming to Jews at the time and remained a haven for displaced Jews until the Nazi conquest and purge.[29]

In 1506, after an episode of famine and bad harvests, a pogrom happened in Lisbon, Portugal,[30] in which more than 500 "New Christian" (forcibly converted Jews) people were slaughtered and/or burnt by an angry Christian mob, in the first night of what became known as the "Lisbon Massacre". The killing occurred from 19 to 21 April, almost eliminating the entire Jewish or Jewish-descendant community residing in that city. Even the Portuguese military and the king himself had difficulty stopping it. The event is today remembered with a monument in S. Domingos' church.

In what is present-day Israel, the 1517 Safed pogrom had mass-murder, theft, and beatings against Jews.

Tens of thousands of Jews were massacred by Cossacks in Ukraine during the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648–1657,[31] and thousands more during the Koliyivshchyna in 1768–1769.

In Morocco there was a pogrom in 1790 in Tetouan, started by sultan Yazid. The Jewish quarter was pillaged and many women raped.[32]

19th century

Pogroms against Jews known as the Hep-Hep riots began on August 2, 1819, in Würzburg, Germany and soon reached as far as regions of Denmark, Poland, Latvia and Bohemia. Many Jews were killed and much Jewish property was destroyed.[33]

The 1821 Odessa pogroms marked the start of the nineteenth century wave of pogroms in the Russian empire, with further pogroms in Odessa (now in Ukraine) in 1859. However, the period 1881–1884 was a peak period, with over 200 anti-Jewish events occurred in the Russian Empire, notably Kiev, Warsaw and Odessa.

There were pogroms too in the nineteenth century in the Arab and Islamic worlds. There was a massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828.[34] There was another massacre in Barfurush in 1867.[34] In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, a mob burst into the Jewish Quarter, burned the synagogue, and destroyed the Torah scrolls. This is known as the Allahdad incident. It was only by forcible conversion that a massacre was averted.[35]

In what is present-day Israel, the 1834 Safed pogrom, and 1838 Druze attack on Safed were mass-murders, theft, and beatings.

The Damascus affair occurred in 1840, when an Italian monk and his servant disappeared in Damascus. Immediately following, a charge of ritual murder was brought against a large number of Jews in the city. All were found guilty. The consuls of England, France and Austria as well as Ottoman authorities, Christians, Muslims and Jews all played a great role in this affair.[36]

Early 20th century

Russian Empire

There were several waves of pogroms throughout the Russian Empire.

See Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire.

During the Civil War period in Ukraine

Many pogroms accompanied the post-1917 period of the Russian Civil War: an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000. In his book 200 Years Together, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn[unreliable source?] provides these numbers from Nahum Gergel's 1951 study of the pogroms in Ukraine: out of an estimated 1,236 incidents of anti-Jewish violence, 887 mass pogroms occurred, the remainder being classified as "excesses" not assuming mass proportions. Of the pogroms, about 40% were perpetrated by the Ukrainian People's Republic forces led by Symon Petliura, 25% by the Ukrainian Green Army and various Ukrainian nationalist gangs, 17% by the White Army, especially the forces of Anton Denikin. A further 8.5% of Gergel's total figure is attributed to pogroms carried out by men of the Red Army – although these pogroms were not sanctioned by the Red Army leadership, and where Red Army troops had perpetrated pogroms, the Bolshevik high command subsequently disarmed entire regiments and executed individual pogromists to deter further outbreaks.[37][38] The Ukrainian People's Republic of Symon Petliura did also issue orders condemning pogroms and attempted to investigate them.[39] But it lacked authority to stop violence.[39] In the last months of its existence it lacked any power of creating social stability.[40]

There were exceptions, however, as related by author and future Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin. On May 15, 1919, Bunin wrote in his diary,
"Members of the Red Army in Odessa led a pogrom against the Jews in the town of Big Fountain. Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky and the writer Kipen happened to be there and told me the details. Fourteen comissars and thirty Jews from among the common people were killed. Many stores were destroyed. The soldiers tore through the night, dragged the victims from their beds, and killed whomever they met. People ran into the steppe or rushed into the sea. They were chased after and fired upon – a genuine hunt, as it were. Kipen saved himself by accident – fortunately he had spent the night not in his home, but at the White Flower sanitorium. At dawn, a detachment of Red Army soldiers appeared 'Are there any Jews here?' they asked the watchman. 'No, no Jews here.' 'Swear what you're saying is true!' The watchman swore, and they went on farther. Moisei Gutman, a cabby, was killed. He was a dear man who moved us from our dacha last fall."[41]

Gergel's overall figures, which are generally considered conservative, are based on the testimony of witnesses and newspaper reports collected by the Mizrakh-yidish historiche arkhiv, which was first based in Kiev, then Berlin and later New York. The English version of Gergel's article was published in English in 1951 in the YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science titled "The Pogroms in the Ukraine in 1918–1921"[42]

Outside Russia

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

During the Holocaust

The first pogrom in Nazi Germany was Kristallnacht, often called Pogromnacht, in which at least 91 Jews were killed, a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps,[7] over 1,000 synagogues burned, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.[8][9]

During World War II, the Nazis also encouraged pogroms by local populations, especially early in the war before the larger mass killings began, for two reasons: first, every Jew killed by locals meant one fewer that would have to be killed by the Germans, and second, the pogroms helped make the local populations share responsibility for the killings.[51] One pogrom took place on 8 October 1939, carried out by the local Germans on the occasion of Joseph Goebbels's visit to Lodz.[52]

A number of pogroms occurred during the Holocaust at the hands of non-Germans. 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.[53]

On 1–2 June 1941, the two-day Farhud pogrom in Iraq, in which "rioters murdered between 150 and 180 Jews, injured 600 others, and raped an undetermined number of women. They also looted some 1,500 stores and homes".[54][55]

In the city of Lwow, some Ukrainian police along with occupying Nazis organized two large pogroms in June–July, 1941, in which around 6,000 Jews were murdered,[56] in alleged retribution for the collaboration of some Jews with the Soviet regime and the large number of communists who happened to be of Jewish descent (see The Lviv pogroms controversy (1941)).

In Lithuania, some Lithuanian police led by Algirdas Klimaitis and the Lithuanian partisans — consisting of LAF units reinforced by 3,600 deserters from 29th Lithuanian Territorial Corps of the Red Army[57] engaged in anti-Jewish pogroms in Kaunas along with occupying Nazis. On 25–26 June 1941 about 3,800 Jews were killed and synagogues and Jewish settlements burned.[58]

During the Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941, some non-Jewish Poles burned at least 340 Jews in a barn-house (final findings of the Institute of National Remembrance) in the presence of Nazi German Ordnungspolizei. The role of the German Einsatzgruppe B remains the subject of debate.[59][60][61][62][63][64]

After World War II

After the end of World War II, a series of violent anti-Semitic incidents occurred throughout Europe, particularly in the Soviet-liberated East, where most of the returning Jews came back after liberation by the Allied Powers, and where the Nazi propagandists had extensively promoted the notion of a Jewish-Communist conspiracy (see Anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944–1946 and Anti-Jewish violence in Eastern Europe, 1944–1946). Anti-Jewish riots also took place in Britain in 1947.

In the Arab world, there were a number of pogroms which played a key role in the massive emigration from Arab countries to Israel.

  • Anti-Jewish rioters killed over 140 Jews in the 1945 Tripoli pogrom.
  • The 1945 Cairo pogrom marked the start of a series of violent acts against Egypt's Jews.
  • Half of Aleppo's 10,000 Jews left the city in the wake of the 1947 Aleppo pogrom.
  • The 1947 Aden pogrom brought to an end the existence of Aden's almost two-thousand-year-old Jewish community.
  • The 1948 Oujda and Jerada pogrom and 1954 Petitjean pogrom were pogroms in Morocco.[65]

The 1991 Crown Heights Riot in Brooklyn, New York has been referred to as a "pogrom" by persons such as Rudy Giuliani[66] and the New York Times columnist A. M. Rosenthal.[67]

Pogroms against other ethnic targets

Diverse ethnic groups have suffered from these targeted riots at various times and in different countries. The term "pogrom" has been used in the general context of violence against various ethnic groups. Werner Bergmann proposes that "[b]y the collective attribution of a threat, the pogrom differs from other forms of violence, such as lynchings, which are directed at individual members of a minority group, while the imbalance of power in favor of the rioters distinguishes pogroms from other forms of riot (food riots, race riots, or 'communal riots' between evenly matched groups), and again, the low level of organization separates them from vigilantism, terrorism, massacre and genocide".[68]

  • The Istanbul riots of September 6–7, 1955 (sometimes known as the "Istanbul pogrom") killed over a dozen people, and greatly accelerated the emigration of ethnic Greeks from Turkey. Other ethnic minorities were also targeted — 500 stores in the Jewish quarter were damaged or destroyed.[69][70]
  • In the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom Igbos in Nigeria were targeted
  • In 2012, Muslims called the Rohingyas were targeted in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar.[71][72]
  • A series of anti-Christian, anti-Hindu, and anti-Buddhist pogroms in Pakistan[73][74] and Bangladesh.[75]

See also


Further reading

  • [1]
  • Dekel-Chen, Jonathan, et al. eds. Anti-Jewish Violence: Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History (Indiana University Press; 2011) 220 pages; scholars examine pogroms of the late 1800s and early 1900s in Poland, Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, Crimea, and Siberia.
  • Horvitz, Leslie, and Christopher Catherwood, eds. Encyclopedia of War Crimes And Genocide (Facts on File Library of World History, 2006)
  • Shelton, Dinah, ed. Encyclopedia of genocide and crimes against humanity (Macmillan Reference, 3 vol. 2005)
  • Thackrah, John, ed. Encyclopedia of terrorism and political violence (1987)
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