The Pogrom Against The Jews

By David Sohn

from the Bialystoker Memorial Book, 1982

Bialystok pogrom casualties

For three whole days, June 1 to 3, 1906, Czarist murderers ravaged the people and property of the defenseless Jewish community in Bialystok. "Green Thursday," June 1, 1906, the first day of the pogrom, did not come as a complete surprise to the Jews. In fact, the town of Bialystok had expected an onslaught for a long time. Ever since the chief of the Czarist police force had been assassinated, people noticed that the police, together with the military garrison in Bialystok, were preparing for a bloodbath against the Jews.

Ironically, the police chief was liberal, beloved by the entire city. The revolutionary parties of Bialystok at that time had no reason to be hostile toward him. One Sunday, when Russian soldiers ran wild in the marketplace, wishing to implement a "hard line" policy against the Jews, the chief of police sent his forces to quiet them. He then uttered an historic declaration: "As long as I live, there will be no pogrom in Bialystok."

The then-prosecutor of the town, however, was a fervent anti-Semite who conspired against the police chief because of the latter’s liberalism. That district attorney was one of the main organizers of the pogrom. As was later revealed, plans were made for the attack to occur on "Green Thursday," a Christian holiday, when many gentiles gathered to march in a religious procession through the main streets. On that day two processions took place: the first was a Catholic parade that started from the Polish church in Bialystok, and the other a Russian Orthodox march originating from the Russian church. When the second procession reached "New City," a section of Bialystok, someone fired a shot as a signal for the pogrom to begin, and the slaughter of the Jews commenced. Hundreds of hooligans armed with crowbars, knives and axes, escorted by police and soldiers, fanned out into the center of the city, smashing doors and windows of houses and stores, looting and pillaging everything in sight. The unarmed Jewish population, terrified by these murderous acts, ran for cover in airless cellars and attics, where they hid for the entire three days, hungry and prostrate, anticipating death at any moment. The sound of gunfire echoed throughout the city. Armed soldiers and police went shooting in the streets and houses while bandits broke into and robbed the stores.

On Thursday and Friday nights the shooting increased. The town went deathly still whenever steps were heard outside on the sidewalks. This meant the marauders were near and might, to the horror of Jews concealed in their homes, enter. In fact, on both these nights soldiers, police and hooligans did break into many Jewish homes, committing brutal murders. Either they shot people on the spot or forced a whole group out into the street and killed them there. Worst of all was when these vicious criminals gouged people’s eyes out with their nails or stuffed their cut-open abdomens with feathers. Some of the victims included small children, whose heads and other organs were removed.

A particularly grim scene unfolded at the Bialystok railroad station, where hooligans helped by the railroad personnel killed many Jewish passengers arriving on the train. The stationmaster laughed at this tragic scene.

Several Jewish leaders risked their lives by appealing to the authorities, pleading with them to stop the killing and the looting, but to no avail. One of these leaders did manage, however, to steal out of Bialystok, and from a neighboring town he sent a telegram to the Duma, the Russian parliament in St. Petersburg. This cable, revealing the pogrom in Bialystok, generated a storm of protest in the Duma, which immediately sent a delegation of three deputies to Bialystok. They arrived on Saturday, June 3rd, the third day of the pogrom. As soon as they appeared on the scene, the bloodshed ended and the police unsuccessfully attempted to erase the grisly signs of the slaughter. The deputies saw for themselves the great destruction in the city, as well as the large number of victims. Their bodies were gathered from the streets and from their homes and taken to the Jewish hospital, where they were laid out in long lines. The observers also saw pools of warm blood that extended from the streets to the hospital — the blood of murdered and wounded Jews.

Eighty dead bodies lay outside on the hospital grounds and more than two hundred wounded were treated in the hospital, nineteen of whom later died from their wounds.

The Jewish Self-Defense League played an important role in saving Jews during those pogrom days. The league was organized by the labor parties. It saved thousands of Jewish lives and a great deal of their property. Thanks to this defense league, several major Jewish working-class sections of the city were spared ruination.

As soon as the pogrom began, a company of soldiers on horses eagerly rode into these areas with the intent of razing them to the ground. But before they could enter, a Jewish anarchist tossed a grenade that exploded with a fierce impact, smashing many windows and devastating the surrounding houses. The horses panicked and their riders rode away. From then on, not one of the soldiers or police officers dared come near those streets.

At every corner of the poor section of Bialystok, patrols of the Jewish Self-Defense League were stationed with revolvers and grenades, each group under one leader. They guarded the streets and fired warning shots into the air. If a gentile went by carrying loot, these Jewish protectors would frighten him until he threw down the stolen package and fled. The stolen items were gathered together and later brought to a central location. Many more tragedies would have occurred had it not been for these self-defense groups.

All the victims of this pogrom were buried in a mass grave, in a prestigious place within the old Jewish cemetery in Bialystok. Above this grave a tall monument was erected, inscribed with a special epitaph, in Hebrew, by the well-known poet Zalman Sznejur. This inscription was translated into Yiddish by L. Fajans and into English as follows:

PILLAR OF SORROW

Stand strong and be proud, you pillar of sorrow,
Like marble melt not in the blood of the holy martyrs beneath you,
Nor dissolve into a flood of tears.
Even as states and peoples change, never move from your place.
Strike fear into them at night, hover over them like a curse.
A cold witness shall you be, telling what occurred
to the children who will come after us.
For the honor and the blood of our people were
defiled, — witnessed by the summer heavens.
The sun shone unabashed; the eyes of the world were not blinded.
Many fell dead, gunshots thundered, smoke plumed upward.
As many wept yet did they frivol, accepting the old plague.
To be sure they also shed tears to our God,
who granted eternity to His people.
To it he also gave death, the death of a sacrificial
lamb swimming in its own blood.
A son estranged, straying from his father, tarrying in
pain among strangers.
The father beckons to him from afar, return at once,
only to feel your cold rows of dead.
Your dark glance he should understand, why is he sick
of the world around him that erected these monuments.
Stand strong and be proud, you pillar of sorrow, like marble.
As states and peoples change do not move from your place.

By,

Zalman Sznejur

 

The large monument near the mass grave of the pogrom victims stood for decades in the Bagnowke Jewish Cemetery in Bialystok. It reminded many of the three horrible days for Jews in Bialystok in early June 1906. But after World War II the Poles vandalized this stately headstone, cutting it into three pieces and discarding it near the outskirts of the cemetery.

 

Click to enlarge photo of pogrom victims

The Martyrs of the 1906 Pogrom

Izchok Gebel 56 Chaim Gebel 30 Jona Kon 26 Fajwel Rybalowski 23 Nosen Note Bachrach 21 Menachem Manes Hurwic 19 Izchok Safir 18 Arje Lejb Zakhajm 10 Mojsze Liberman 3 Boruch Elije Frejdkin 62 Szmuel Calewicz 59 Awrom Kac 49 Mendel Makel 43 Mordechaj Lewin 38 Izchok Gewircman 35 Falk Chmelnik 28 Mordechaj Lapidus 21 Aron Mojsze Lapidus 21 Blume Lapidus 19 Awrom Arje Segal 20 Chaje Pesze Segal 58 Zalman Grinberg 50 Pesze Atlas 43 Cwi Arje Wajncimer 48 Awrom Szymon Epsztejn 35 Izchok Szwarc 24 Mojsze Kustin 22 Zorach Fande 18 Cwi Hirsz Taszman 63 Jehuda Tajcman 51 Awrom Izchok Kerszensztejn 47 Awrom Grynhojz 26 Pinches Asz 20 Lejb Chaim Szmid 28 Awrom Machaj 24 Szlojme Furman 22 Zalman Mojsze Lamcewicki 20 Ruwen Szuszan 18 Mojsze Owec 18 Isroel Kustin 3 Josef Burle 3 Mordecbaj Kruglianski 60 Chaim Szapiro 43 Lejzer Ajnsztejn 40 Szejne Ajnsztejn 40 Rachmiel Ajnsztejn 21 Sonja Ajnsztejn 20 Szmuel Ajnsztejn 19 Jakow Surawicz 35 Szlojme Isroel Suszycki 36 Joel Twarkowski 29 Nochum Jakow Grabowski 27 Awrom Hersz Najfeld 71 Jakow Lewi 50 Szlojme Pruzanski 43 Szoul Wolf Nowjazki 41 Szolem Aron Nowik 28 Ajzik Bachrach 24 Zumel Cukerman 22 Mordechaj Szmukler 18 Izchok Lejb Rawicki 16 Cwi Hirsz Hefner 63 Josef Mendi Gilewic 48 Mojsze Simche Branski 45 Dowid Izchok Cemnik 32 Simche Walersztejn 25 Mordechaj Basin 19 Awrom Izchok Lewartowski 18 Mojsze Berl Pat 16 Arje Lejb Mazur 14 Chane Rubinowski 19 Ziate Fejgel Szlachter 50 Chaim Welwel Szlachter 16 Dowid Chwartowski 15 Tojbe Kac 71 Rochel Klajnbard 48 Sore Yewrirowski 20 Chane Blume Ginzburg 20 Cywja Gutkin 10

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