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NOTE: Although I am still giving page references to the French translation of Solzhenitsyn's Two Centuries Together I have found that an unofficial translation of the whole text can be found on the internet (previously there was a selection, mainly from Vol ii, the Soviet period) at


Solzhenitsyn's main argument throughout the period covered so far has been that the Russian government was not involved in fomenting anti-Jewish pogroms: 'Why has the simple truth about the Kishinev pogrom seemed to be insufficient? Probably because the truth would have revealed the real nature of the government - an organism that had become sclerotic, guilty of anti-Jewish provocations ["brimades" in the French translation] but which remained unsure of itself, incoherent. So, with the help of outright lies, it has been represented as a deliberate persecutor, sure of itself, wicked. Such an enemy could only deserve a complete annihilation.'

The importance of this argument (and modern academic research seems to agree with it) is that throughout the world many people - the great majority of people who took an interest in the matter and certainly the great majority of Jews, saw the Tsarist government in much the same light as they were later, with much more justification, to see Nazi Germany. Within the Russian Empire itself the sense of moral outrage led many Jews into the Revolutionary movement with intense divisions as to whether Jews should work with other radical forces, Socialist or Liberal, or assert their own separate interest - an autonomous legal system, territorial or non-territorial, within the Russian Empire, or seeking a territory of their own outside the Empire, whether it had to be Palestine or not.

What all the tendencies had in common was a contempt for the Tsarist system. It should be said that this was not absolutely universal. In his book The Education of a true believer, Solzhenitsyn's old friend Lev Kopelev (the sympathetic 'Stalinist' Lev Rubin of In the first circle) talks of the portrait of the Tsar and family loyalty in his own Jewish childhood home in Kiev. Which he presents as having been wholly sincere. But one of Solzhenitsyn's recurrent complaints is that many professional or commercially successful Jews who themselves had done well out of the Tsarist system (and for that very reason tended to move in Liberal circles) still gave moral support to their own more radical children.

The Kishinev pogrom was followed in August 1903 by a pogrom in Gomel. Gomel, or Homel, in the south eastern part of modern Belorussia, had been the site of a major massacre of Jews during the Khelmnitsky rising in the seventeenth century. It had been incorporated into the Russian Empire in the first Polish partition. According to an account in the Jewish Encyclopaedia:          

'Anti-Jewish outbreaks occurred in Gomel in Sept. 1903. Rumours of impending riots had been circulated in the latter part of the previous month. The trouble arose on Friday, Sept. 11, when a watchman wished to buy from a Jewish woman a barrel of herring worth six roubles for one rouble fifty copecks. In the fight which followed between the Jewish pedlars of the market-place and the Christians who came to the aid of the watchman, one of the Christians was injured and died the same day. The riot was renewed on the following day, and when it had been quelled the town was practically under martial law.  Meanwhile a number of anti-Semitic agitators, probably executing the orders of the authorities, inflamed the passions of the mob, exhorting them not to leave their fellow Christians unavenged. On Monday, Sept. 14, about 100 railway employees gathered and began to break the windows and to enter and plunder the houses of the Jews in the poorest quarters of the town, one of which is called "Novaya Amerika" ("New America"). A number of Jews armed and began to defend themselves, but the soldiers prevented them from entering the streets where the plundering was going on, and forced them back to their homes, beating and arresting those who resisted. According to a reliable report, other soldiers and the police looked on in an indifferent way while the mob continued its plundering and committed all kinds of excesses. The shrieks of children could be heard in the streets which the soldiers had blocked against the Jews without; and when some of the Jews tried to force their way down the side-streets, the soldiers fired on them, wounding several among them and killing six. The total number of Jews killed is given as 25; seriously injured, 100; slightly injured, 200. Three hundred and seventy-two Jewish houses and 200 stores were plundered and destroyed.' (1)

(1)  Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1905), Volume 16 pp. 450-451

Solzhenitsyn, basing his account on police reports and on the accounts of the trial, describes it as confrontation between two equally aggressive sides. In March 1903, he says, the Bund had organised celebrations of the assassination of Alexander II. We saw in the article on Kishinev (2) that one of the major effects on Jewish consciousness was shame at the failure to fight back (though we also saw from Steven Zipperstein's account that there had been more resistance on the part of the Jews than was publicly acknowledged at the time). An article by Stefan Wiese quotes 'a leaflet published soon after the pogrom and authored by eminent Jewish writers from Russia, among them Bialik, Simon Dubnov and Ahad Ha'am' as saying:

'Had we not been deprived of fundamental human rights, had the masses not seen us daily in our humiliation in this country and not felt the hatred and contempt showered upon us from on high, the power of a few agitators would not have been strong enough to lead the masses to robbery and murder in broad daylight. But [...] as the boorish masses see our degradation and hear our shame day in and out - it is only natural that this constant agitation implants a strong belief in the hearts of the rabble that a Jew is not human; that there is no obligation to treat him justly, like other human beings; that his property, his honour, and his very life are  disowned, and for spilling his blood no one is held accountable. [...] Do we still intend to remain contented with tears and supplications in the future? It is a disgrace for five million human souls [... ] to stretch their necks to slaughter and cry for help, without as much as attempting to defend their own property, honour and lives. [...] Brothers! The blood of our brethren in Kishinev cries out to us! Shake off the dust and become men! Stop weeping and pleading, stop lifting your hands for mercy to those who hate and exclude you! Look to your own hands for rescue! A permanent organisation is needed in all our communities, which would be standing guard and prepared to face the enemy at the outset, to quickly gather to the place of riots any men who have the courage to face danger.'

He continues:

'This new development among Jewish intellectuals coincided with another among socialists. Not long before the onset of the new wave of pogroms, various revolutionary parties began to establish their own armed detachments as a defensive measure against the government's apparatus of repression and, in the long run, as a nucleus for a future revolutionary uprising. The Bund, for example, established its first "battle squads" in 1902 and re-designated most of them as self-defence units in 1903. Since Jewish and socialist circles most widely interpreted the pogroms as instigated by the state, there was a great tendency to see the goals of opposition to autocracy, resistance to pogroms and an emotional rehabilitation of Russia's Jews as being congruent.

'This was the situation when, after the Kishinev pogrom, a self-defence movement emerged. Young men (and some women) willing to risk their lives joined with experienced political activists providing organisational knowledge and skills, while the more wealthy Jews granted material support. When the next significant pogrom came in September 1903 in the city of Gomel, a well organised self-defence unit was present, and its actions were seen as a major success. It motivated Vladimir I. Zhabotinskii to modify Bialik's then famous words on Kishinev ("the grief is huge but so is the shame"). With regard to Gomel, Zhabotinskii wrote:

'"The Jewish street before and after Kishinev is by far not the same [...] The shame of Kishinev was the last shame. Then came Gomel. Jewish grief was repeated even more merciless than before - but not the shame."' (3)

(2)  Church and State, No.142, October-December, 2020 and

(3)  Stefan Wiese: "Spit Back with Bullets!" Emotions in Russia's Jewish Pogroms, 1881 — 1905, Geschichte und Gesellschaft - Gefühle gegen Juden, October - December 2013, pp. 472-501. Passages quoted, pp.488-90. Stefan Wiese is (or was, in 2016), Research assistant at the Department of History of Eastern Europe in the Humboldt University of Berlin. The lacunae in his quotations ([...]} are in his original.

At the trial in October 1904, according to Solzhenitsyn, the Jewish lawyers walked out because Jews (the self-defence groups) were being tried together with the Christians (44 Christians and 36 Jews). Solzhenitsyn also says (p.371) that in Autumn 1903, liberal lawyers had been willing to  defend those accused of engaging in the Kishinev pogrom provided they gave evidence that they had received government support; they resigned collectively because the court had refused to arraign the Minister of the Interior, Plehve.