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December 26: The Warsaw Pogrom, 1881

Lawrence Bush
December 26, 2016
Rioting against Jews in Warsaw entered its second of three days on this date in 1881, after a shout of “Fire!” in the Holy Cross Church on Christmas Day led to a stampede in which twenty-eight people died. A false rumor spread that a Jewish pickpocket had been apprehended in the church and had raised the alarm as a diversion. Soon a mob was attacking Jews and Jewish homes until the Russian police and military intervened, arresting some 2,600 people. Two Jews were killed, twenty-four were hospitalized (as were more than two dozen pogromists), numerous Jewish women were raped, and more than 1,000 Jewish families had their homes and businesses ransacked. “The chief casualty,” writes John Klier in Russians, Jews, and the Pogroms of 1881-82, “. . . was the moral superiority of the Poles. . . . The ease with which the pogrom was used to discredit both the alleged tolerance of the Poles and moderate Jewish emancipation that had been implemented in the Kingdom in 1862 led some observers . . . to claim that the pogrom had been stage-managed by Russian agitators.” (Many historians disagree.) The Warsaw Pogrom took place early in the wave of pogroms that swept through the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1884 and jolted Jews into mass emigration to the United States. “Evidently, someone had an interest in having the capital of Poland repeat the experiments of Kiev and Odessa, and in seeing that the ‘cultured Pole’ should not fall behind the Russian in order to convince Europe that pogroms were not exclusively a Russian manufacture.” --Simon Dubnow

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.