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What I've been trying to do so far has been to set the scene for the territory Russia inherited from Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, the same time more or less that it defeated the Tatars and got control of the Black Sea and Azov coast, including Crimea. It was a society in which class divisions coincided almost exactly with religious and ethnic divisions - Polish Catholic landlords, Orthodox 'Ukrainian' (the term at this time may be a little anachronistic but I shall use it anyway) peasants, Jewish middlemen. Hans Rogger, a historian specialising in the pogroms, summarise the situation as follows:

'When the Russians in 1772, 1793 and 1795 took from Poland the provinces that were later to form the bulk of the Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement, they found large numbers of Jews living as merchants and traders in the countryside, playing a part in nearly every transaction that peasant and lord had with the outside world and with one another. Only thirty per cent of Polish Jews in the eighteenth century were engaged primarily in trade and commerce, but nearly all retail trade was in their hands, as was buying up of agricultural produce and the sale of liquor in the countryside. They were the nobles' agents and sometimes the managers of their estates; and so frequently did landowners lease or farm out to them the subsidiary branches of the manorial economy - fish ponds and grain mills, distilleries and taverns, dairies and orchards, forests and ferries, the sale of salt, vodka, and other gentry prerogatives - that in some regions the word leaseholder, arendator, had become synonymous with Jew.' (5)

(5)  Hans Rogger: 'Government, Jews, Peasants and Land in Post-Emancipation Russia: The Pre-Emancipation background: stirrings and limits of reform', Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, Vol 17, No 1 (Jan-Mar, 1976), p.5.

Most Jews in the area were very poor but in the roles outlined by Rogger Jews still exercised immense power over the lives of the peasantry. Under these circumstances, and given the violence in the eighteenth century, one could almost be surprised that the pogroms which made such an impact on world opinion arrived so late, starting in Elzavetgrad on the Western bank of the Dnieper (modern day Kropyvnytskyi, formerly Kirovograd, formerly Zinovievsk) in 1881. Two conditions strike me as having prepared the way - the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 and the failed Polish rebellion of 1863. With emancipation the peasants were now better placed to fulfil the roles traditionally ascribed to the Jews and with the defeat of the Polish rebellion the Jews lost the support and protection they had had from the Polish landlords.

I'm not going to go into any sort of proper account of the pogroms - they weren't all attributable to the Ukrainian peasantry. Kishinev, probably the most notorious pogrom, is in Moldova, Gomel in Belarus. Odessa in 1905, with many more deaths than on previous occasions, was more like a war than a pogrom. The 'Christian' side was mainly made up of dockworkers. (6)

(6)  Details on the pogroms will be found on my website at