The Kishinev Massacre of 1903, in which forty-nine Jews were murdered and hundreds were wounded, aroused universal condemnation and protest. For the first time, Jews in the United States took the lead in organizing nationwide protests. In addition to hundreds of demonstrations and meetings held throughout the nation, a massive petition drive protesting the slaughter was organized. Since the Russian authorities refused to accept the petition, it was deposited instead in the State Department's vault in a special box constructed to house it. In his letter accepting the petition, Secretary of State John Hay wrote: "It is a valuable addition to the public literature and it will be sacredly cherished among the treasures of the Department." ---from the Library of Congress, "From Haven to Home" exhibition. (See the letter by Secretary Hay below.)
October 31, 1903
Leo N. Levi, Esquire,
President of the Executive Committee of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith
723 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y.
My dear sir,
I have received at the hands of the Honorable Simon Wolf, your letter of the 5th of October. He has also delivered to me the sound copy of the Kishineff Petition.
It gives me pleasure to accept the charge of this important and significant document, and to assign it a place in the archives of the Department of State.
Although this copy of your Petition did not reach the high destination for which it was intended, its words have attained a world-wide publicity, and have found a lodgement in many thousands of minds. This Petition will be always memorable, not only for what it contains, but also for the number and weight of the signatures attached to it, embracing some of the most eminent names of our generation of men renowned for intelligence, philanthropy and public spirit. In future, when the students of history come to peruse this document, they will wonder how the petitioners, moved to profound indignation by intolerable wrongs perpetrated on the innocent and helpless, should have expressed themselves in language as earnest and eloquent and yet so dignified, so moderate and so decorous. It is a valuable addition to public literature, and it will be sacredly cherished among the treasures of this Department.
I am, Sir,
Very respectfully yours,
Letter above is courtesy of the Philip and Mildred Lax Archive of B'nai B'rith.
There were more acts of violence against Jews in Kishinev (Kishineff), Bessarabia, and elsewhere. Here are some accounts according to two New York newspapers:
From the The Sun, May 15, 1903:
OUT OF KISHINEFF SLAUGHTER
JEWISH REFUGEE ARRIVES HERE
TELLING OF THE RIOTS
He Saw His Grandfather, Who Trusted The Mob, Clubbed to Death – Christian Debtor Saved Him – Stories of Mutilation of Dead – More Riots Threatened.
The first Jewish refugee from Kishineff to reach America and bring a personal account of the recent massacres of Jews by Russian Christians there arrived in the steerage of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which got in Wednesday from Hamburg. He is Jacob Friedman, a retail glass dealer in the riot-ridden city. He fled from Kishineff with his wife and children the second day of the disturbances, after his grandfather had been clubbed to death before his eyes. He hadn’t enough money to bring his family to this country with him, but he will send for them later.
Friedman came from Ellis Island yesterday and was taken to the Jewish Daily News office, where he told of his experiences in Kishineff and his flight.
I managed to get away by running through side streets to the house of a Christian who owed me quite a sum of money. I begged him to save me and my family and told him that if he would help us I would free him of the debt.
He hid me in the cellar until the next morning and kept the mob from harming my wife and little ones. Before daylight the next day he got a wagon and took my family from the house to the house of another Christian in a neighboring village. Later the second Christian took us to the railway station and we went first to Grodno and afterward to Sepetkin, where I left my family with relatives.”
Friedman said that as he was hurrying through the side-streets of Kishineff he saw a Jew terribly wounded lying in the gutter.
“When a number of other Jews came creeping out of their houses to try to carry the man away so that he could be cared for,” said he, “the mob rushed down upon them and there was a terrible fight. Several Jews, I think, must have been killed, but I am not sure for we got away as fast as we could.”
The refugee was an object of much interest on the steamship coming over and an American Jew, who was in the second cabin, finding that Friedman’s 100 rubles, with which the fugitive’s mother-in-law had supplied him before he left Russia, were gone, gave him money and did much to add to his comfort.
The man is a typical Russian Jew, about thirty-five years old. He did not know what to make of the attention he received yesterday. After he told his story in the newspaper office some of the newspaper employees led him away and put him into a bathtub as a first step toward Americanization.
When photographers got to taking his picture later for the papers, he became greatly scared, imagining, until the thing was explained, that he was being hounded by Russian spies.
Letters received yesterday by Jews on the East Side and published in the Jewish Daily News show that anti-Semitic out-breaks like that at Kishineff are threatened in other parts of Russia. One letter, written from a small town, briefly confirms the cable dispatches, reported a serious massacre in Tiraspol, near Odessa.
A letter from Kilea, a town of about 10,000 inhabitants in Bessarabia, says that on May 1 the Jews are barricaded in their houses, ten families to a house, with two regiments, sent by the Governor of the province, guarding them. “A Christian girl 4 years old was killed by an unknown assassin,” the letter states, “and the body was thrown into the Jewish quarter. Now the Christians claim that the Jews killed the child for ritual purposes. We are in constant fear of attack and we hardly dare close our eyes.”
From a town called Tatar-Bunary comes word that the Christian population is threatening an attack like that on the Kishineff Jews and that soldiers are on guard. A correspondent writes from Akerman, a city of about 40,000 inhabitants, that expected riots were prevented by the soldiers and that all Jews are guarding their shops.
The American Hebrew, [in] its issue of to-day, will say in speaking…] the accounts of the anti-Jewish riots[… ] Russian newspapers:
From the information thus gathered, it appears that there was a pre-arrangement as to the riots, for they started in many places at the same time, all under control of trained leaders from other towns.
Many stories are given for the inciting cause of the outbreak. The Novosti, a reliable publication says that a servant girl who had taken poison was placed in the Jewish hospital of Kishineff, where she died. The anti-Semites, of course, claimed that she was killed for sacrificial purposes.
Not only did the rioters kill and maim people, but they vented their brutish instincts upon the bodies of the dead. Nails were driven through their nostrils, bodies were opened and stuffed with feathers, tongues pulled out, breasts cut off the bodies of women. Nor were these the only ghoulish acts perpetrated.
Jews tried to save themselves in every way. Many sought safety in flight only to find, as they reached the railroad station, that mobs were awaiting them who tore them from their carriages and beat them to death.
The fund of the Kishineff Relief Committee was swelled by about $2,000 yester-day, bringing the total to about $22,000. According to Treasurer Kohn, the contributions have been getting larger in the last few days, and sums ranging from $5 to $50 are more frequent. Mr. Kohn says this is the result of the increased attention which the daily newspapers have been giving to the relief movement. A Jewish rabbi in Toronto sent a check for $115 yesterday.
Both performances on Saturday of the Play “The Destruction of Kishineff,” now running at the Windsor Theatre on the Bowery, will be benefits for the relief fund. All seats for both afternoon and evening have been sold. Treasurer Kohn wants to get Gov. Odell to attend the evening performance and asked the Governor by telegraph on Wednesday if he would come.
Gov. Odell wrote yesterday saying that he would be on hand if possible, but that his daughter was ill and that he might not be able to come for that reason. The management of the Windsor has agreed to give half of the receipts from the theatre to the relief fund as long as “The Destruction of Kishineff” runs.The Tammany General Committee of the Fourth Assembly district and the John F. Ahearn Association condemned the Kishineff massacres at a joint meeting last night and called on the Secretary of State to send a protest to the Russian Government. They subscribed $100 to the relief fund.
From the New York Times, Sept. 13, 1907:
BUCHAREST, Sep. 12
-- Numerous Jewish refugees, including whole families from Kishineff and
Odessa, have fled to the frontier at Ungeni and the villages along the
Sep. 12 -- The Slovo to-day publishes statistics regarding the
revolutionary movement, prepared by the noted Russian statistician
Read about the pogrom in Kielce, Poland in 1946.