Białystok pogrom

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Pogrom caricature by Henryk Nowodworski. Note the assailant wearing a Tsarist army hat with a cockade sideways.

The Białystok pogrom occurred between 14–16 June 1906 (1–3 June Old Style) in Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire, now in Poland. During the pogrom between 81 and 88 people were killed, and about 80 people were wounded.

The Białystok pogrom was one of a series of violent outbreaks against Jews between 1903 and 1908, including the Kishinev pogrom, the Odessa pogrom, and the Kiev pogrom.[1]


At the beginning of 20th century, Białystok was a city with a predominantly Jewish population. In 1895, the Jewish population numbered 47,783 (out of 62,993, or about 76%). Białystok was primarily a city known for its textile manufacturing, commerce and industry. During the 1905 Russian Revolution the city was a center of the radical labour movement, with strong organisations of the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party as well as the more radical anarchists of the Black Banner association.

In the summer of 1904, an eighteen-year-old anarchist, Nisan Farber, stabbed and seriously wounded Avraam Kogan, the owner of a spinning mill, as he walked to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. On October 6, Farber threw a bomb into a police station, injuring several policemen inside. Farber himself was killed by the explosion.[2]

On February 21, 1905, the district's Chief of Police, Yelchin, was killed, and on June 8 the city's new Police Chief, Pelenkin, was wounded by another bomb blast. In July 1905, two police officers were wounded by a bomb thrown by Jewish anarchist Aron Elin (Gelinker).[3] In the same year, police officers Mozger, Moneshko and Barancevich were killed and eight other policemen were wounded.

As a consequence of the violence, martial law was declared in Białystok in September 1905, which lasted until March 1906. After martial law was lifted, the series of assassinations and acts of terror began anew. On March 4, the police officer Kulchitsky was killed, followed by the killings of gendarme officer Rubansky, and NCO Syrolevich, who were killed on March 18. In May 1906, police officer Sheyman was killed by anarchists.[3] Later, the policemen Zenevich and Alekseychuk were wounded, three privates of the Vladimir infantry regiment were wounded and the Cossack Lopatin was killed.

These events led to a demoralization and disorganization of the police in the city. Between the years 1905 and 1906 there were seven police chiefs. The police did not enter Surazh Street, which was considered a stronghold of anarchists.[3]

On 11 June 1906 the Police Chief of Białystok, Derkacz, was murdered, most likely on the orders[4] of the Russian commissar and fervent anti-semite Szeremietiev.[5] Derkacz, who was Polish, was known for his liberal sympathies and opposition to anti-semitism; for this he was respected by both the Jewish Bund and the Polish Socialist Party. On a previous occasion, when Russian soldiers attacked Jews in the marketplace, Derkacz had sent in his policemen to put down the violence and had declared that a pogrom against the Jews would occur “only over his dead body”. His murder was a foreboding of the violence to come, as people in the city noted that after Derkacz’s death Russian soldiers began preparing for a pogrom.[6]

On 14 June, two Christian processions took place; a Catholic one through the market square celebrating Corpus Christi and an Orthodox one through Białystok’s New Town celebrating the founding of a cathedral. The Orthodox procession was followed by a unit of soldiers. A bomb was thrown at the Catholic procession and shots were fired at the Orthodox procession. A watchman of a local school, Stanislaw Milyusski, and three women Anna Demidyuk, Aleksandra Minkovskaya and Maria Kommisaryuk, were wounded. These incidents constituted signals for the beginning of the pogrom. Witnesses reported that simultaneously with the shots someone shouted “Beat the Jews!”[7] After the pogrom, a peasant who was arrested for unrelated charges in the nearby town of Zabłudów confessed that he had been paid a substantial amount of money to fire on the Orthodox procession in order to provoke the pogrom.[8] Russian authorities announced that Jews had fired on the Orthodox procession.[9][10]

The violence[edit]

Once the shots were fired, the violence began immediately. Mobs of thugs, including members of the Black Hundreds, began looting Jewish owned stores and apartments on Nova-Linsk Street. Policemen and soldiers who had earlier followed the Orthodox procession either allowed the violence to happen or participated in it themselves. The first day of the pogrom was chaotic. While units of the Czarist army, brought to Białystok by Russian authorities, exchanged fire with Jewish paramilitary groups,[11] thugs armed with knives and crowbars dispersed throughout the main areas of the city to continue the pogrom.[10] Some Jewish sections of the city were protected by self-defense units, usually organized by the labor parties, which moved against the thugs and looters.[9] They were in turn fired upon by Czarist dragoons. Thanks to the Jewish self-defense units several working class sections of the city were spared the violence and thousands of lives were saved.[6]

The following two days were not as violent, but the attacks on people and property were more systematic and directed, resembling a coordinated military action more than a spontaneous outbreak of violence. Marauding mobs and Russian soldiers broke into many Jewish homes and either killed people on the spot or dragged them outside to murder them. It was only at the end of the third day that Stolypin, the Minister of Internal Affairs, instructed regional governors and mayors to suppress the pogrom.[12] The violence ended abruptly upon the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city.

Causes and effects[edit]

During the course of the pogrom 88 people were killed, including 82 Jews, although some sources list a higher number of 200.[13] A total of 169 shops and houses had been plundered, among them the largest stores in the city. The pogrom was the subject matter of many news reports and articles, including a special manifesto issued by the Polish Socialist Party condemning the occurrence.[14]

Russian authorities tried to blame the pogrom on the local Polish population in order to stir up the hatred between two ethnic groups (both of which generally opposed the Tsar). However Jewish survivors of the violence reported that the local Polish population had in fact sheltered many Jews during the pogrom and did not participate in it.[9] Apolinary Hartglas, a Polish Jewish leader and later a member of the Polish Sejm, together with Ze'ev Jabotinsky, managed to obtain secret documents issued by Szeremietiev which showed that the pogrom had been organized well in advance by Russian authorities who had actually transported Russian railroad workers from deep within Russia to participate.[5][9] A commission set up by the Duma charged with investigating the pogrom came to similar conclusions.[9][15] In 1908, on the initiative of Constitutional Democratic deputies in the Duma, some of the perpetrators of the violence were tried but the trial was widely criticized for handing out light sentences to those convicted and for failing to bring the real organizers of the pogrom to justice.[12]

Monument to the victims[edit]

The victims of the pogrom were buried in a mass grave in the Bagnowka cemetery [16] and a memorial obelisk was erected with a poem in Hebrew by Zalman Sznejur inscribed upon it. The poem begins with the words "Stand strong and be proud, you pillar of sorrow" and the monument came to be known as the Pillar of Sorrow.[17] The monument survived through World War II and the Holocaust, and it still remains there,[18][19] though one source falsely claims that it was destroyed after the war by unknown, possibly local Polish vandals.[6]

References in literature[edit]

The pogrom is mentioned in Yevgeni Yevtushenko's famous poem Babiyy Yar, about the murders of Jews in Babi Yar in Ukraine by Nazi Germany.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Samuel Joseph, "Jewish immigration to the United States, from 1881 to 1910", Columbia University, 1914, pgs. 65-66, [1]
  2. ^ Peter Medding. Jews and violence: images, ideologies, realities.
  3. ^ a b c Anarchist Almanac. 1909. (Russ.)
  4. ^ P.Korzec, Pogrom Białostocki w 1906 and political repercussions, "Rocznik Białostocki", t. III, Białystok 1962, page. 149 - 182.
  5. ^ a b Michał Kurkiewicz, Monika Plutecka, "Zapomniane pogromy" (Forgotten pogroms) Nowe Państwo 4 (364), Winter, 2006, [2] Last accessed 3/30/09
  6. ^ a b c David Sohn, “The Pogrom Against the Jews” from the Bialystoker Memorial Book, 1982, [3]
  7. ^ Yaacov Ro'I, “Jews and Jewish life in Russia and the Soviet Union”, Routledge, 1995, pg. 136, [4]
  8. ^ Yaacov Ro'i, "Jews and Jewish life in Russia and the Soviet Union", Routledge, 1995, pg. 138 [5]
  9. ^ a b c d e Sara Bender, “The Jews of Białystok during World War II and the Holocaust, pg. 16 [6]
  10. ^ a b Simon Dubnow, Israel Friedlaender, “History of the Jews in Russia and Poland”, Avotaynu Inc, 2000, pg 484, [7]
  11. ^ Yaacov Ro'I. Jews and Jewish life in Russia and the Soviet Union. Pg. 137. [8]
  12. ^ a b Ascher, Abraham Ascher, “The Revolution of 1905: A Short History”, Stanford University Press, 2004, pg. 149 [9]
  13. ^ Sarah Abrevaya Stein, “Making Jews Modern”, Indiana University Press, 2004, pg. 113 [10]
  14. ^ Resolution of the workers of Białystok, condemning the Białystok pogrom (1906), Wikisources, Polish Wikipedia [11]
  15. ^ Samuel Joseph, Jewish Immigration To The United States From 1881 To 1910, READ BOOKS, 2008, pg. 66 [12]
  16. ^ Bagnowka cemetery video
  17. ^ "Bialystok (Bagnowka) - Grodno Guberniya Poland Imaging Project". 2008-08-10. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  18. ^ Bialystok, Oficjalny Portal Miejski (Official Municipal Portal of Białystok), "Cmentarz Żydowski (ul. Wschodnia)", [13]
  19. ^ "Bagnówka". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  20. ^ "BABI YAR By Yevgeni Yevtushenko". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Białystok pogrom at Wikimedia Commons