What is a Pogrom?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2019
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Simply stated, a pogrom is an act of mass violence or mass-murder of a certain group of people. Historically, this term -– Russian for "demolish violently or riot" -- has been applied more specifically to the mass killing of the Jewish people, perhaps because of the frequency with which pogroms were committed against them. But a pogrom goes well beyond mere killing; a pogrom is much like a riot aimed not only at killing, but also at destroying homes, businesses, and other forms of daily life and culture.

Throughout history, the Jews have suffered pogroms at the hands of various groups throughout Europe. They began in Eastern Europe and spread west, Russia and the Ukraine being sites of particularly concentrated violence. During a pogrom, a certain sect or group was targeted and violently attacked. Businesses were ransacked and looted, homes were destroyed, entire villages would be burned to the ground, and more often than not, people would die at the hands of their aggressors. In the case of the Jews, these pogroms persisted for decades after the first reported pogrom in Russia in the 1880’s, thereby perpetuating anti-Semitism and eventually culminating in the Holocaust.

In Nazi Germany, pogrom activity persisted under Hitler’s rule, though Hitler himself discouraged such disorganized violence. But Nazi troops and German police would often allow such rioting to take place, sometimes even encouraging it. Perhaps the most famous and devastating pogrom, Kristallnacht, occurred in 1938 and saw the destruction of approximately 2000 synagogues as well as the murder of almost a hundred Jews. Thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed and aggression toward the Jews ran wild, paving the way for Hitler’s Jewish eradication plans.

During this era, however, Germans were not the only aggressors toward the Jews. Polish citizens organized pogrom after pogrom throughout the war, even persisting after the war ended, leading Jews to believe they would never be welcome in Poland again. As a result of the Polish pogroms, as well as earlier pogrom events in Russia, other nations including the United States and the United Kingdom experienced a massive influx of Jews fleeing the violence.

Pogroms have occurred in other parts of the world to other groups: Sikhs in India endured a pogrom in the early 1980’s, and Muslims in India were targeted about twenty years later. Greeks were targeted in Istanbul in the 1950’s by Turks. In 1999 in Kosovo, non-Albanians were forced from their homes and saw the destruction of their property and businesses. NATO forces were present but did not intervene.

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