The Odessa pogrom and the records

So I began to look up Odessa 1905, and discovered the 19-23 October pogrom. I read books and articles by Robert Weinberg (‘Workers, Pogroms, and the 1905 Revolution in Odessa’, 1987, The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa: blood on the steps, 1993) and John Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, (Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, 1992), who were mainly interested in the politics of pogroms,, the year of strikes and unrest, the tensions between different groups, particularly workers, and the lead-up to the pogrom, but not in the people’s experiences. Weinberg has some fascinating insights into the differences between the politicised skilled workers interested in rights and revolution in contrast to the angry unskilled and often unemployed workers who were looking for a scapegoat like the Jews, many of whom were also unskilled workers, and the advantage to the government of such a split. To find out more about the pogrom itself, I turned to the newspapers of the time, which I expected to be exaggerated but also to hold kernels of truth. I looked for memoirs and autobiographies, and found two Russian published reports of the Odessa pogrom, one written in 1906, Одесскiй погромъ и самооборона, The Odessa pogrom and self defence, and the other in 1925, Еврейские погромы в Одессе и Одесщине в 1905 г., The Jewish pogroms in Odessa and surrounding area in 1905, by C. Семенов, which uses official reports, quoting from witnesses with their names and addresses, mostly streets in the Moldavanka area.

jan dudas flickr moldavanka 2008

j dudas moldavanka
j dudas moldavanka flickr

I wanted to get closer to what actually happened in various parts of the city, to look at old maps and photographs, and walk down the streets on Google Streetview. I wanted to get a little closer to seeing what had happened. While trying to find out more about Odessa I discovered websites with old maps, old postcards and photographs, photographs of the old buildings in the centre street by street, and old directories from the early 1900s. I studied the directories closely finding two other people with exactly the same name and patronymic as my grandfather but there was no sign of my family and eventually I realised that the directories covered only a very small proportion of the people Odessa, probably only the property owners themselves. I also wanted to try and get closer to what my grandparents life might have been like in Odessa, where and how they might have lived. The directories were filled with advertisements and I looked for shoe-shops, shoe factories and other shops the family may have used.
Link to directories 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902-03, 1904-05, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1914

weinshtein ad 02

grinberg ad 2
Odessa directory вся одесса 1902

I also knew that in New York my grandfather had grown grapes in his garden and made wine, and I thought this must have been something he had learned in Odessa, so I looked for places they might have lived on the edge of the city, places where the houses had gardens. The Odessa Jewishgen website began a project of translating birth and death records that people had given to them and I started doing some of the translating, eventually moving on to translating the 1902 birth index after they acquired the entire index of the Jewish birth, marriage and death records from 1875 to 1920.
I was hoping that the birth records would have the patronymics, the middle name which is also the father’s name, as I didn’t know the first names of the two children I was looking for and the last name was one of the most common Jewish names. Unfortunately there were no patronymics until 1906 so there was no way I could work out who my uncles might be. I did have a look at the birth index for 1905 to see if I could find the youngest son, Mikhel. There were no Mikhels in 1905 but towards the end of the year there were two Mikhails, so I asked a Ukraine researcher if she could check those records for me and I found they were not my family. That can only mean that Mikhel was not born in Odessa and the family probably left around the time of the pogrom in late October or early November. But was no closer to finding the two children who died. I also checked the 1905 death index to see if there were more deaths in late October but there weren’t. I finally discovered in an article on the Odessa archive website that there were pogrom death records somewhere in the records but no one seemed to be able to tell me where they were. Then one day when I was looking at a map of Odessa to see where various landmarks were, like the Jewish area Moldavanka, the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery, I came upon some recent photos on the internet of a monument to the victims of the 1905 pogrom in the Jewish cemetery, not just the large stone gate -like structure I had seen before, but a series of large stone slabs covered with the names of people who died in the pogrom. ( )

1905 monument

pogrom monument 1

Using different search terms in English and Russian I tried to find more photographs of the monument or lists of the names on the monument. I used the word ‘list’ (список) and various terms for ‘dead’ (смерть) or ‘killed’ (убитый ) and words for ‘monument’ or ‘memorial’, памятник, мемориал. I finally found several more recent photographs, one showing the names close-up, on a Russian website run by a tour guide. There were also pictures showing that this was a huge quadrangle of stone slabs. (

pogrom monument 2

Мемориал жертв погрома 1905 г.
Memorial to the victims of the 1905 pogrom

It was on this Russian website that I saw the word жертва ‘victim’, which I added to my search terms. Eventually I came upon an article about an Odessa writer, Simon Hecht, a student of Isaac Babel, whose parents were said to have died in the 1905 pogrom ( The author checked in the Odessa archive, didn’t find the parents’ names, and concluded that they must have been living elsewhere at the time. It did not occur to them that not every death during the pogrom was registered. A reference was given to the page numbers of the 1905 pogrom death records in the Odessa archive, possibly the only online reference to the exact whereabouts of those records.

pogram memorial-3

Список погибших во время погрома 1905 года в Одессе занимает в книге одесского раввината об умерших 23 листа . Но записи о смерти мужа и жены Гехт там нет. (ГАОО, Ф. 39, оп.5, д.118, л. 323—344.)
The list of those killed in the time of the Odessa 1905 pogrom fills 23 pages of the Odessa rabbinical book of the dead. But records of the deaths of the Hecht husband-and-wife are not there. (GАОО, F. 39, оp.5, D.118, p. 323—344.)

Now, having the actual page numbers, the researcher who had acquired the Odessa births, marriages and deaths index for the Jewishgen Odessa website, photographed the pogrom records as well. After several years of trying to find some evidence of my grandparents in Odessa, here at last was something tangible from the pogrom that they may have been caught up in. I didn’t expect to find anyone from my family in these records, as I felt these were not complete and they may have lived on the outskirts of the city, possibly in one of the little places by the sea, but I felt I finally had a piece of their history.

I read through the names in the death records expecting to find many families with small children and babies as mentioned in numerous newspaper articles. Seeing that most of the names in the records were young and middle-aged men, and that there were only 12 children up to age 15 and 5 under age 5, I wondered who these people were, and whether they came from one area of the city or were killed on one day. Were some of the men in the records in the self defence units or socialists encouraging the recent strikes, people the police had been keeping an eye on? Or were they simply in their workshops or shops on the ground floors, the first people the hooligans would have come upon? Wanting to answer these questions, I went back to the directories, articles and databases to see if I could find out where these people might have lived and who they might have been. Wanting to honour all the people who died in the pogrom, I wanted to prove that this figure was not the final number of deaths even though it was the only hard evidence that seems to be available. As I began to search for evidence of these people’s lives, the most obvious thing I noticed was that it was very rare to find the people themselves anywhere, in the directories or on a list of Jewish business people, or remembered anywhere on the internet. Finally I found one story which was extremely moving for the story itself and even more for the story it didn’t tell.


Leave a comment

Filed under archives, history

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s