How many may have died in the Odessa pogrom?

After a year of strikes and unrest across Russia and the demoralising defeat of the Russians in the Russian Japanese war of 1904-5, the Czar issued a manifesto on 17 October 1905 granting more rights to the people – freedom of speech and assembly, and the right for men to vote. Socialists were doubtful that the rights would ever materialise and protested against pro-czarist marches and gatherings the day after the proclamation. Clashes of socialist students and pro-autocracy marchers signalled the beginning of what was to become, on 19 October, a vicious pogrom against the Jews.

odessa 1905 illus london news

odessa 1905 pogrom

In Odessa, shortly before the pogrom, on 14 October, the police injured several high school students who were boycotting school in sympathy with strikers. Radical students and revolutionaries were encouraging workers to join a general strike. On 16 October students and workers built barricades in the city and gunfire was exchanged between them and the police and military. On 17 October many workers were on strike. On 18 October news of the Czar’s manifesto spread and thousands of people gathered in the streets to celebrate. The crowd was joyous at first but some revolutionaries did not trust the manifesto and saw it as a way to undermine real change. The crowds in the street began to divide into the pro-autocracy groups and socialists who wanted a true democracy. A riot soon began between the two groups. The pogrom began the next day, 19 October, when groups of Russians gathered for patriotic marches at the harbour, carrying flags, icons and portraits of the Czar. They marched through the city, some of them supposedly shouting ‘Down with the Jews’. Violence began when a shot was fired from a building and a young boy carrying an icon was killed. No one knew who fired the initial shot, and blame for later shootings from rooftops and apartment windows variously fell on revolutionaries, student self-defence units and the police. What followed was a rampage against Jewish shops, factories, workshops and homes.

In the weeks following Nicholas II’s granting of fundamental civil rights and political liberties, pogroms directed mainly at Jews but also targeting students, intellectuals, and other national minorities, especially Armenians, broke out in hundreds of cities, towns and villages resulting in deaths and injuries to thousands. In the port city of Odessa alone, the police reported that at least 400 Jews and 100 non-Jews were killed and approximately 300 people, mostly Jews, were injured, with slightly over 1,600 Jewish houses, apartments, and stores incurring damage. These official figures undoubtedly underestimate the true extent of the damage, as other informed sources indicate substantially higher numbers of persons killed and injured. For example, Dmitri Neidhardt, City Governor of Odessa during the pogrom and brother-in-law of the future Prime Minister Peter Stolypin, estimated the number of casualties at 2,500, and the Jewish newspaper Voskhod reported that over 800 were killed and another several thousand were wounded. Moreover, various hospitals and clinics reported treating at least 600 persons for injuries sustained during the pogrom. Indeed, no other city in the Russian Empire in 1905 experienced a pogrom comparable in its destruction and violence to the one unleashed against the Jews of Odessa. (Robert Weinberg, “The Pogrom of 1905 in Odessa: A Case Study” in Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, eds. (Cambridge,1992): 248-89)

Жертвы погрома 22 октября 1905 года в Одессе
22 October 1905 Odessa pogrom victims

In an earlier article, ‘Workers, Pogroms, and the 1905 Revolution in Odessa’ (1987) Robert Weinberg simply uses the figure 400 Jewish deaths reported by the police and then in a footnote mentions the figures 302, 800 and 1,000 from other sources. He quotes 608 for the people recorded as treated in hospitals. The figure 302 must have come from the rabbinical records. Is there a copy of the police report recording 400 Jewish deaths? And where do the figures of 800 and 1,000 come from? While looking for the pogrom list, I found an article written in 1910 about Odessa in an online Russian Jewish Encyclopaedia which lists the Odessa birth and death figures for 1899-1910. The death figure listed for 1905 is 4209 which is 413 more than I found in the index. Later in the article it mentions that more than 400 dead Jews were reported to the police. (викитека ЕЭБЕ/Одесса Еврейская энциклопедия Брокгауза и Ефрона also on google books). It also says that 298 were buried in the Hebrew cemetery and 86 in a Christian cemetery, while 73 bodies were taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine and 97 to the old municipal hospital. On 23 and 24 October, 250 Jews were buried common graves, and on the 30th day of burials prayers were said for the victims. These few sentences suggest that counting the number of dead is very complex and 30 days of burials in mass graves seems to indicate a much higher figure than 400. Other figures may have come from the very varied reports of journalists in Russia writing for newspapers around the world. The Julian calendar was used in Russia in 1905, so the European and American newspapers, which used the Gregorian calendar, were 13 days ahead of the Russian dates.

odessa 1905 pogrom 2

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 New York Tribune 3 November

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Spokane Press 6 November

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New York Times 5 November

The Times
5 November Every Jewish bakery has been destroyed, and 600 families have been rendered homeless. Some of the ruffians put their victims to death by hammering nails into their heads. Eyes were gouged out, ears cut off, and tongues were wrenched out with pincers. Numbers of women were disembowelled. The aged and sick, who were found hidden in the cellars, were soaked in petroleum and burnt alive in their homes… The police would not allow any assistance to be given to the wounded, actually firing upon the Red Cross workers. At an early hour this morning the work of plunder was still being carried on in the more remote suburbs. The casualties in yesterday’s disturbances do not exceed 140.

6 November 1905 (written on 4 November)
The events in the suburbs of Moldavanka, Slobodka and Burgaiovka last night were of a most terrible nature. Bands of ruffians accompanied by policeman invaded all the Jewish houses and slaughtered the occupants. Men and women were felled and decapitated with axes. Children were torn limb from limb and their brains dashed out against the walls. The streets were littered with the corpses which were hurled out of the windows. The houses of the murdered Jews were then systematically destroyed, and the Jewish population of the district was wiped out.
In the poorest quarter of the town the inhabitants began to massacre the students. The newly formed citizen militia offered some resistance and saved the lives of many of the students. The police, however, appeared on the scene and, after disarming the militia, shot them all with their own revolvers.

It is impossible to estimate the number of those killed in the rioting, but the total must be enormous. In the Jewish hospital this morning 3715 wounded, most of them seriously, were under treatment, in the municipal hospital 1140, and at the different ambulance stations 682. The number of hooligans killed is roughly 120. Yesterday 4 wagons full of killed, each containing 30 corpses, were driven to the cemeteries and 180 bodies have been removed today. A citizens committee has been organised to relieve the distress.

8 November
The suburb of Dalnik has been the scene of great carnage. All the Jewish houses and shops have been plundered and burnt. In the large villages of Severinovka and Anatolievka and in the towns of Ovidiopol, Maiaka, Akerman, Ataki, Olviopol and Winitza similar scenes have been witnessed. Hundreds of persons have been killed and thousands wounded and rendered homeless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Odessa 1907

The area described most in the pogrom reports is the predominantly Jewish Moldovanka, and the streets most mentioned are in the bottom left in the map above. Those who were in the Jewish death records were may also have been mainly from this area, as several names from the death records are mentioned in the report. The Jewish cemetery is a small rectangle at the bottom of the Christian cemetery in the bottom centre of the map just to the right of the large letters of the word Moldavanka(МОЛДАВАНКА). The centre of town is the grid of streets to the right of Moldavanka directly above the cemetery, and the area on the right were originally fishing villages on the cliffs above the sea but were rapidly becoming a middle-class area along with dachas and also larger mansions built on land running down to the sea. The centre was also greatly affected by the pogrom as the marchers went through the town destroying Jewish shops and the apartments of wealthier people. No place was left untouched.

odessa brown map moldavanka
Close-up Moldavanka, Christian cemetery at the top with Jewish cemetery to its right

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Ransacking of the Rabinovich tea import business

1905 odessa dead

The Manchester Guardian 7 November
Anti-Jewish disorders near Odessa – slaughter and pillage
Of the 6000 victims of the riot in Odessa, it has been ascertained (says Reuter) that 964 were either killed outright or died of their wounds. The bodies of 313 of these have been removed to the Jewish cemetery, and 651 are lying in the various Christian cemeteries. The ferment against the Jews has spread to the villages in the Odessa district.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 7 November
Quiet prevails in Odessa – number of dead definitely fixed at 1087. Wounded at several thousand.
Odessa, 6 November – The town was quiet today. It is now estimated that the killed and wounded during the recent riots here number 6000. The city hospital alone contains 2000 wounded. Out of the 6000 casualties, those who were killed or who died of wounds aggregate up to midday 1087, of which number 438 were taken to Jewish cemeteries and 651 to Christian cemeteries.

New York Times 6 November
3500 dead at Odessa. About 12,000 wounded – sick Jews burned to death by rioters.
London, Monday 6 November – the Odessa correspondent of The Standard, telegraphing yesterday, says: There have been horrifying massacres and fiendish cruelties, but the districts where these took place are now cordoned by troops. Probably the total killed will number 3500 and wounded 12,000. In the suburb of Moldavanka alone 1000 victims remained in the streets from midnight until noon, when the authorities hastened to collect and bury the bodies in great pits in order to conceal their numbers.

Aberdeen Daily Journal Tuesday 7 November
The Odessa massacre – secret burials
Odessa, Monday. The city has at length been tranquilised, but it presents a gloomy aspect… One sees long processions of lorries loaded with the bodies of those who have been killed in the recent massacres. These are enclosed in rough coffins and are born to the cemeteries and graveyards, followed by multitudes of mourners… 500 victims have been interred since yesterday. Large numbers of the dead have been hurriedly consigned to their graves during the night in order to keep the fact from becoming known to the general public, and thus preventing demonstrations. These interments have been carried out by the military quite secretly. ‘Morning Leader’

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Wenatchee Washington 6 November

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Wenatchee Washington 8 November

Wenatchee, Washington
Odessa, 6 November – The latest estimates of the casualties in Odessa proper, which are founded on statements made by police authorities, are that 3500 persons were killed and 12,000 were wounded. In the suburbs of Moldavanka 1000 dead lay in the streets from midnight until noon Sunday, when the authorities dug large pits in the graveyards and buried them without coffins or regard to age or sex, simply throwing them into a hole and shovelling dirt over them in order to conceal the number of dead. In Brokhorva a neighbourhood in the Jewish quarters, men, women and children, and even women with infants in their arms, were butchered ruthlessly by marauders…. Two private doctors attended more than 300 children of both sexes who had been horribly gashed about the head and shoulders with sabres.
It is alleged that the police and soldiers everywhere marched at the head of the mobs, inciting them to destroy the Jews…

Wednesday 8 November
412 victims of mob buried at Odessa – Pitiful scenes where bodies of Jews are buried – were slain after their houses had been destroyed and goods stolen.
Odessa, 8 November – 412 Jews, victims of the massacres of last week, were buried today. A majority of the shops were closed, including many of those belonging to Christians. The scenes of grief were heartrending and almost indescribably as the bodies were placed in trenches, each containing 70. Similar funerals will continue for three days, 240 of the victims being in such a condition that today they could not be recognised.

The Yorkshire Post 14 November
Reuter’s Odessa correspondent says that of the Jews wounded in the recent disturbances 114 more have died.

The Times 10 November
Odessa, 9 November
Odessa has not yet recovered from a very severe week – how severe can be realised when it is understood that even today the gravediggers in the cemeteries have not been able to complete their work after last week’s carnage. I have myself seen unburied bodies of men, women, and many children – a gruesome testimony of what a national upheaval means when so many conflicting agencies are at work as exist at Odessa.

Jewish Chronicle 10 November
The scenes at the cemetery, said another description, were ghastly and indescribably piteous – rows upon rows of uncoffined dead, distorted, mutilated, dismembered, with their lineaments partially revealed through the scanty winding-sheets, in which they were buried in common trenches. There were also laid out small human bundles, representing the poor infant martyrs in their bloodstained cerements.

24 November
The Daily Chronicle printed on Saturday the following statement written by an English resident in Odessa to his father, a well-known tradesman in the Crystal Palace district: In one house on the Moldavanka, the Jews tried to defend themselves from the infuriated mob by pouring boiling water down and keeping up an incessant revolver fire but all to no purpose. The mob gained access to the house and after screwing the inmates arms and legs off, hurled the mutilated bodies to the wild beasts below. From this one house alone three wagon loads of dead were removed, estimated at a hundred souls, including women and children.
The Times correspondent at Odessa, telegraphing on Sunday, stated that the Jewish advocates committee reports that 8000 Jewish families were affected in a lesser or greater degree by the outbreak. Of these 5000 were the families of clerks and persons of the merchant classes. The remainder belong to the labouring classes.

It is obvious from the quotes above, especially the last three, that many more women and children were killed in the pogrom than were registered with the rabbinical death records in the archive. Many bodies were unrecognised, many were burnt, many may have been buried unofficially for various reasons, and many were not buried until later.

When you begin to count up the numbers of dead buried on different days, 250 on 23 and 24 October, 412 on 26 October, 30 days of burials, 651 buried in Christian cemeteries, 114 dying later in hospital from injuries, and many more who died in villages outside the town, or who were buried hurriedly in the night to hide the numbers, it is impossible to how many of these numbers overlap or were accurate. A letter to the Times on 23 December 1905 criticised a journalist for first saying that 400 Jews died and then reducing the figure to 250. The author carries on to say, ‘In corroboration of my statement, I will quote you a passage from the report of an English eyewitness of the burials: “They (the Jews) made a place for him on the top of a wall, where he could see into the trenches. There were four trenches, each to contain 140 persons – two rows of 70 each, placed beside each other, foot to foot; and they told him that there would be four burials of the same number, four days running; that makes 2240 in all but you must remember that there are others of a better class buried privately. And, in addition, I may add that no less than 3400 orphans of the poorer classes miraculously escaped the slaughter which has overtaken their parents.”

There was no comparison between the pogroms in other cities compared with Odessa. The nearest large city was Kiev, with three quarters the population of Odessa and 60 dead. Minsk, with the much smaller population, had proportionately the most destructive pogrom. The Jews of Minsk had been disarmed by the police shortly before the pogrom.

American Jewish Year Book, Volume 8 (1906-1907)
Lists of pogroms 1903-1905 with number of dead, injured and property destruction
Odessa over 800 dead
Kiev 60
Kishinev 35
Minsk 100
Rostov-on-Don 34
Orsha 30

I will return to what happened to the people whose homes and businesses were destroyed, those who lost family in the pogrom, and those who became orphans. But first I will look at the huge population increases that had occurred in Odessa in the period leading up to the pogrom which must have led to heightened tensions precipitating a far worse pogrom than other towns, and then the rapid depopulation afterwards as Jews fled the city.

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One response to “How many may have died in the Odessa pogrom?

  1. Pingback: Counting the dead – the Odessa 1905 pogrom and the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire | odessasecrets: the 1905 pogrom

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