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In previous articles, centred round the 1881-2 pogroms, I've shown, or at least suggested, that modern English language research on Russian-Jewish supports Solzhenitsyn's view that the pogroms were not provoked, or at all wanted, by the Russian government, that government representatives, whatever their personal feelings about Jews, tried to suppress them, though often in a fumbling manner. Zipperstein broadly goes along with this. He points out that internationally Russia had the reputation of being a highly efficient police state. In this respect he quotes (p.90) Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology: “Russia, as well as ancient Peru, Egypt, and Sparta, exemplify that owning of the individual by the state . . . for a social system adapted for war.” Hence the difficulty in believing that anything like a pogrom could occur without government compliance. 'In reality' he continues, 'Russia was far less militarised than then believed. The guidelines for the use of the military in civil disturbances were hopelessly complicated and designed largely for rural disturbances, not urban ones. The military typically resented being used for such purposes, and, more often than not, befuddlement or obtuseness were the main reasons why Russian officials like those in Kishinev so mishandled urban riots - which were increasingly common at the turn of the century, mostly in the form of ever-more-violent industrial disputes.'

In the earlier articles I made great use of writings by the specialist in nineteenth century Russian Jewish relations, John Klier. It happens that in the case of the Kishinev pogrom we have an article by Klier directly commenting on Solzhenitsyn's account. (6) He again agrees that the government did not instigate the pogrom. We remember that in Dubnow's account the government had encouraged the virulent anti-semitism of Bessarabets, that the pogrom had been preceded by the arrival of the mysterious Okhrana (secret police) official, Baron Levendahl, who had just as mysteriously disappeared after it and, as the most convincing proof, there was the letter from Plehve to the governor, von Raaben, instructing him, in the event of a pogrom, not to use force to suppress it.

(6)  John Klier: 'Solzhenitsyn and the Kishinev pogrom - a slander against Russia', European Jewish Affairs, Vol 33, No 1, 2003, pp.49-59.

According to Solzhenitsyn, the finger was pointed at Levendahl by 'the famous lawyer Zaroudny, sent to Kishinev by the Jewish Defence Committee to investigate the situation.' He quotes a report by a member of the committee, M.Krohl, published in 1903, as saying 'it was on his order that the police and the army helped the murderers and looters.' According to Krohl, Levendahl planned the pogrom with 'a merchant named Pronin and a notary called Pissarjevsky.' Zipperstein hardly bothers mentioning Levendahl (only in passing as the possible model for the villain in the New York play celebrating the heroism of Michael Davitt, Kishineff) but he does take the view that a group gathered round 'the builder Georgi Pronin' had a role in directing events. His book includes a photograph of Pronin's house which is a very grand mansion. Pronin was expelled from Kishinev by von Raaben's successor, Sergei Urussov.

Klier, like Solzhenitsyn, sees no reason to think that 'Levandal' had anything to do with it. Far from disappearing after the events he stayed in post in Kishinev and in May (before Urussov's arrival in June) participated in a meeting to organise measures against another possible outbreak.

The Plehve letter, which Zipperstein says was of huge importance as a rare documentary proof of government compliance, was published in the Times in London on 18th May 1903. In response, the government, in Solzhenitsyn's account, 'could think of nothing better than to produce a casual denial signed by the chief of the police department A [Alexei] Lopukhin, and that only on the ninth day after the scandalous publication of the Times but instead of investigating the forgery it merely expelled Braham [the Times journalist who published it - PB] from the territory.'

He continues:

'We can say with certainty that it was a fake, for several reasons. Not only because Braham never advanced the slightest proof of the letter's authenticity. Not only because Lopukhin, a declared enemy of Plehve's, himself denied the text [he was police chief under Plehve. Zipperstein says he reaffirms Plehve's innocence of the letter in his often very frank and revealing memoirs - PB]. Not only because Prince Urussov, very sympathetic to the Jews, who succeeded von Raaben and took charge of the governorship archives, found no "Plehve letter". Not only because poor von Raaben, sacked, his life and career broken, never, in his desperate efforts to restore his reputation, complained of having received instruction "from above" - which would have immediately saved his career and made him the idol of liberal society. The main reason lies in the fact that the state archives had nothing in common with the faked up archives of the Soviet era when any old document could be put together on demand, while another could be got rid of secretly. No. In the Russian archives everything was kept, inviolably and for ever. Right after the February revolution, a commission of enquiry set up by the provisional government and, even more zealous, the "Special Commission for the study of the history of the pogroms", with investigators as serious as S.Dubnow and G.Krasny-Adnoni, found neither in Petersburg nor in Kishinev, the incriminating document, nor any record of it having been received or sent. They only found the translation of Braham's English text ...' (p.368)

Dubnow's History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, vol iii, published in English in 1920, does concede (p.77) that 'The authenticity of this letter is not entirely beyond suspicion. But', he continues, 'there can be no doubt that instructions to that effect, rather by word of mouth than in writing, probably through the secret agent Levendahl, had been actually transmitted to the authorities in Kishinev.'

Klier regards the letter as a forgery but nonetheless indicates an element of doubt, saying that, according to the archive Dubnow and his colleagues examined, there should have been four files relating to Kishinev but they only found one. And he adds that the letter was convincing because it corresponded so well to the behaviour of the government. It didn't actually call for a pogrom. It said that in the event of actions against the Jews they should be stopped by 'admonitions ... without at all having recourse, however, to the use of arms' in order to avoid 'instilling, by too severe measures, anti-governmental feelings into the population, which is not yet affected by [revolutionary] propaganda.' It wasn't until he had authorisation from Plehve, late on Monday afternoon, that von Raaben gave von Bekman, commander of the local garrison, freedom to act, which he did very quickly and efficiently, bringing the whole thing to an end in a couple of hours (with 600 arrests - there were 900 altogether).

Klier's main criticism of Solzhenitsyn is that he doesn't take sufficient account of the atmosphere of the time created by a government which gave little indication that violence against Jews would not be tolerated. In 1881 the government had promoted the idea that Jews were exploiting the peasantry, in 1903 that they were over-represented in the revolutionary movement. Plehve had, only shortly before the Kishinev pogrom, made a speech to that effect in neighbouring Odessa. And the government had indeed, as Dubnow complains, permitted the vicious anti-semitism of Bessarabets. Klier also says (p.54) that Solzhenitsyn 'fails to appreciate the impact of the pogrom on Russian Jewry.' He gives a brief account of it. And it was indeed huge, not just on Russian Jewry but on Jewish politics in New York, on the wider Zionist movement and on Palestine since, together with the events surrounding the 1905 'revolution', it prompted the second aliyah. It is indeed for that reason that I've devoted so much space to this one single pogrom, one among many, but the one that had probably a much greater impact than any of the others.

Scene in St Petersburg after the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve in 1904