The Wissotzky/Высоцкий family

One pogrom victim in the death records, written about in the newspapers, who was brutally murdered by the police, was Leon Victor Vysotsky, 26, a teacher and member of the Self Defence League. An excerpt from the article in the Jewish Chronicle is in the blog entry Who was or wasn’t on the pogrom death list? Where did they live? Stories from the reports and newspapers.

 Jewish Chronicle 15 December 1905

A Jewish female teacher was hastening to the house of her parents in Peressip when she was stopped by a ruffian who, assuring her he was not going to do any harm, asked her to show him her teeth. To humour him she opened her mouth into which he immediately fired, killing her on the spot. Another incident is now corroborated by a Sister of Charity. A man named Leon Vyssotosky was wounded while fighting front rank of the defenders. He was placed on an ambulance to be removed, when he was violently dragged to the ground by soldiers and then handed over to a disguised policeman, who put an end to his sufferings. Vyssotosky was one of the most energetic members of the Self Defence League, and was a remarkable orator. It is presumed that he was known to the police as such, and this was the reason of his being murdered.

Yet another horrible story. In Prochovskaya Street, while the pillage went on, a Sister of Mercy drove along with a wounded old man in her carriage. Four little children ran crying in the middle of the street, begging her to take them to their parents, whom they could not find. Before they could reach the carriage, two were shot and the other two run through by bayonets. In the same street five children were thrown out of third story windows. Two of them, one two months and the other 12 months old, died immediately.

 Yet again, there is evidence of many children being killed while so few were registered in the Jewish records. It seems that possibly someone wanted to hide the extreme horror of this massacre, or the great loss, not just of men, but women and children.

When I first wrote about Leon Vysotsky, I looked up his name in Odessa directories and found that there was a large Moscow tea company with a warehouse and tea packing factory in Odessa called В Высоцкий & Ко, (V. Vysotsky & Co or Wissotzky & Co). There was a possibility that Leon Victor was related to this family but I didn’t look into it further. Then, a few weeks ago, information about my own family brought me back to the first pages of my great aunt’s memoir where she describes her grandfather and his eight children. She makes the comment that he was not so lucky in his sons but that two of his daughters married well – one to a very well off textile merchant from Bialystok, Leon Sackheim, and the other to the son of one of the richest merchants in Moscow, Wisozki, the Moscow Tea King. Many years ago I had tried looking up this Moscow tea company using the wrong spelling and had not got anywhere but now I found quite a few histories of the Wissotzky tea company online and several family trees. It is the only Russian tea company from that time that is still operating. It moved to Israel in the 1930s having left Russia for other European countries after the revolution. From the early 1900s it had had offices in Warsaw, London, Paris, New York and Philadelphia.

visotsky house 2Vysotsky house Moscow

Vysocky_3Vysotsky tea advertisement

From the online family trees, I discovered that the founder, Kalman Wolf Yakov Wissotzky, who was from Zagare in Lithuania, had only one son, David, in 1861. On the family trees, his wife was Anna Borisovna. His wife’s maiden name was unknown except on one family tree where it was Sackheim. David Wissotzky supported many artists in Moscow and his wife was painted twice by Leonid Pasternak, a close family friend. His son, Boris Pasternak, tutored the Wissotzky children one summer after he had left school, and was inspired by his love for one of the daughters, Ida, to become a poet. The name on Anna’s 1911 portrait is AB Vysotskaya-Gotz, so I assumed that Anna was a member of the Gotz family, a family one of her daughters also married into, producing two famous revolutionary sons, Mikhail and Abram Gots. One way or another she did not seem to be my great great aunt, as her surname was Piker.

A.B.Visotskaya-Gotz_by_L.Pasternak_(1911)AB Vysotskaya-Gotz, Leonid Pasternak

I was interested that Anna was thought to belong to the Sackheim family, and began to investigate who Leon (Leib) Sackheim was. I found his birth record: he was born in Bialystok in 1848 to Khaim Ber Shmul and Kreina, and he died in 1905. I could not find his marriage but I found the birth of one of his children, Feiga, in 1879, born to Lev and Asna Zakheim. I originally found my great great aunt, Asna Piker, as an eight-year-old, on the 1858 revision list (tax census) from  Gorodische, near Novogrudok, Belarus, with her parents Meer Hirsh Piker (my great great grandfather), and Rivka, and her four siblings. So Asna was born in 1850 and would have been 29 when Feiga was born. Another four children were registered to a Leib Khaim Ber Zakheim between 1872 and 1884, Abram, Moisei, Dvora and Hersh. I then found the marriage certificate for David Vulf Visotzky (St Petersburg) and Khaia Khaim-Berko Zakheim (Bialystok) who married in Vilnius in 1876. In Russian, Khaia Khaim-Ber, became Anna  Borisova. So, it was not my great great aunt who married into the wealthy Wissotzky family, but Leon Zakheim’s sister and Asna Zakheim’s sister-in-law.

The Wissotzkys and Odessa

In the online Wissotzky  family trees, there is a puzzling 15 year gap in children between David’s 2 elder sisters born in the 1840s, and the 2 later children, David and another sister born in the early 1860s. The father and founder of the great tea company must have been desperate for sons to carry on his business and name, and I assume there must have been children in between who died, especially as none of the family names, such as Jacob and Rafael, Wolf’s father and grandfather, appear to have been used. Two sons-in-law and one sister went into the business with David. They also needed reliable people to run offices in other Russian cities and around the world. An especially important city was Odessa where the tea was shipped in, and from the 1890s, blended, and packed. The symbol of the Wissotzky  tea company was a ship as they were one of the first companies to take advantage of new shipping routes and being able to transport tea by sea rather than overland from China. So I began to wonder whether, if Wolf Wissotzky did not have a son to organise their business affairs in Odessa, other family members, nephews or cousins, had worked for him there.

wissotsky tea packing odessaWissotzky tea packing factory, Kanatnaya and Troitskaya

Wolf Wissotzky was also a Hebrew scholar and Zionist who belonged to a Zionist group in Odessa and funded a Zionist journal in the 1890s. The men he trusted with running his offices around the world were Zionists from Odessa merchant families. When the company became incorporated in the 1890s and he was able to set up a tea packing factory in Odessa, he hired a Zionist friend, Karl Tauer, to run the company, and other Zionist friends, Abraham Lubarsky and Asher Ginsberg, ran his offices in New York and London. However, previous to the 1890s, he would have needed someone in Odessa to keep charge of the affairs. Puzzling over why so many Odessans were hired to manage the foreign offices, I realised that only very successful established Jewish merchants were allowed to live in Moscow, so it would have been difficult to find people to train in the business there. Wissotzky managed to come to Moscow in the 1840s, before he had a business, and worked for a successful Jewish tea merchant, Botkin, and only set up his own company in 1853, when Botkin died. But in 1871 there were only about 8000 Jews in Moscow, and even in 1880 there were only 16,000 (8000 officially registered).

At the time of the 1905 pogrom, Abraham Lubarsky, the wealthy Odessa merchant who ran the Wissotzky company in New York, returned to Odessa and wrote of his experiences during the pogrom in a series of letters which were published in New York newspapers while he was also fundraising in America for the people affected by the pogrom. Lubarsky was involved with setting up the Jewish self defence league after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, alongside other Zionists like Jabotinsky. Below is an excerpt from one of the newspaper articles:

The Sun New York 17 November 1905

2 November: At dawn the massacre of Jews was renewed. They are now pillaging the Deribasovsky (the Broadway of Odessa) under the protection of the Cossacks, who are driving back the “Self-Defence” in order that the hooligans may pursue their bloody work without hindrance. A delegation of Jews visited Baron Kaulbars, the military commander, who is known as a rabid Jew baiter. After being told that the police are engaged in pillage and murder he said it was untrue and declared that he would take action only when he will be convinced by facts. The younger Wissetzky (a son of the largest tea merchant in Russia) took his life in his hands and ventured to the Jewish hospital where lay a “Self-Defence.” Wisetzky demanded of the authorities a certificate about their presence there. At first the Jewish doctors were fearful to sign a certificate of that kind, but they complied at last. Presently a military patrol with an officer came to remove the injured policemen. The younger Wissetzky demanded that the officer in charge of the patrol should also certify to the effect that he took away the injured. He did so. Armed with this evidence Wissetzky returned to Baron Kaulbars, and it was thought that the commander would keep his word and put down the massacre. But nothing-of the kind. The pillage and massacre is kept up to-day.

The ‘younger Wissotzky’ must refer to Wolf’s son David, although at first I thought it might refer to another son who was working in Odessa. David might have come to Odessa to meet with Lubarsky, or he had arrived because of the unrest in the city and fears for their factory. It is unknown whether he had any relations working for the business. His cousin, the revolutionary Mikhail Gots, who had belonged to the People’s Will from 1885 and had spent many years in Siberia, had been allowed to move to Odessa from Siberia in 1899 because of ill-health, and he had worked for the tea company until 1901 when he went abroad and continued his revolutionary activities. He died in 1906 from a spinal tumour which was thought to be caused by blows to his spine while he was in Siberia. But one wonders if David went to the hospital to see a member of the self-defence league because he knew Leon Vysotzky and heard that he had been attacked.

When Lubarsky returned to New York he was interviewed by the New York Times:

New York Times 5 March 1906

‘During the riot I got out of my carriage in front of my office. A policeman lifted his pistol as if to shoot me, and I brandished my cane as though I would strike him. Seeing me do this, he thought I must not be a Jew, for surely no Jew would threaten a policeman! But just then my employees began to shout my name ‘Lubarsky!’ from the windows. At that the officer knew I was really a Jew. As I went in the door he shot, but the bullet went past.

It was 1000 times worse in Moscow. A month and a half after the Odessa riots I left for Moscow. Three days later general Dubassov came to put down the revolution that he knew was going to take place. It did take place in three more days. The people were slaughtered by the hundred.’

It was interesting that Lubarsky commented on the revolution in Moscow, as one Wissotzky grandson, Alexander Wissotzky was involved in the 1905 Moscow uprising, and there were three other well-known revolutionaries in the family, grandchildren of Wolf Wissotzky, Mikhail Gots and his younger brother Abram Gots, plus the husband of Amalia Gavronsky, Ilya Fondaminsky, who went to France after the revolution and edited an emigre journal publishing the early work of Vladimir Nabokov.

Anna Wissotzky died in 1921 in Paris and her husband died in 1930. Several members of the Wissotzky family were deported from Paris to Auschwitz where they died. There was also an Isaac Sackheim, born in 1884 in Bialystok, the much younger brother of Anna Wissotzky, who was also deported to Auschwitz from Paris. On the Wissotzky online family tree one of Anna’s nieces, Vera Gots, married an unknown Sackheim who could have been Anna’s brother, Isaac. There was quite poignant detailed information online about his deportation. He left the Paris holding camp Drancy on 2 September 1943 and died on 7 September. He probably spent those five days travelling in the cattle cars and was immediately put to death in Auschwitz, as he was already in late middle age. Nothing is known about his wife or whether they had any children.

Quite a large number of emigrants from Odessa to Paris, mostly born in the 1890s and early 1900s, with names in the pogrom death records, were deported to Auschwitz – Groisman, Goichmann, Goldenberg, Guralnik, Meniock, Scher, Schneider, Segal, Tartakowsky.
To be continued…

Introducing Moldavanka: Dalnitskaya and the beginning of the pogrom

Having read that Isaac Babel’s The Story of my Dovecote was semi-autobiographical, I thought he had seen the events of the 1905 pogrom in Nikolaev and that his grandfather had been killed. However, he was writing fiction and much of his biography has remained a mystery. There was very little of himself in the little boy of the story, although his family did have a dovecot in Nikolaev. Though he passed the gymnasium examination like the boy in the story, he did not get a place because of the Jewish quota, and was sent to Odessa to a commercial school for the sons of merchants of the first and second guilds where he lived for the first year with two aunts, one a midwife and the other a dentist, who lived on Tiraspolskaya Street.

tyraspolskaya st

Tiraspolskaya Street

The next year, his parents returned to Odessa, moving into an apartment on Rishelievskaya Street, an elegant street in the centre. Babel did not write much about his own family although the parents in Nikolaev had some resemblance to his own. His father was not a shopkeeper but a dealer in farm machinery who worked his way up and became quite wealthy. Closer to his life was At Grandmother’s, the story of a strict grandmother beadily watching her grandson doing hours of homework in silence in a gloomy, stuffy room behind the kitchen of the family apartment.

babel 13

Isaac Babel, 13

Unfortunately, the story of his two independent aunts who possibly never married or had children remained untold, and it is these independent, unassuming, hard-working women who fascinate me the most.
Babel is most famous for The Odessa Stories, which took place in the poor Jewish area of Moldavanka, an area where he was thought to have been born and which fascinated him when he returned to Odessa as a schoolboy. His stories seemed to be a way into seeing Moldavanka, the streets, the courtyards and the alleyways, their colours, sounds and smells, the area of Odessa where the pogrom began, was most violent, and where most of the people in the pogrom death records probably lived.

moldavanka babel character home


The larger-than-life, exuberant, violent, and often grotesque Moldavankan thieves, shady characters and prostitutes Babel created probably would never have been killed in the pogrom, as they had connections to all the warring factions, and, if anything, helped save many Jewish lives. Maybe this was why he wanted to create them. Many of those who did die were simply getting on with their jobs and looking after their children, muddling through their daily lives. There are no iconic stories of the Odessa pogrom in Moldavanka, like the story of Elena Weingurt and the Weitzman family. Instead there are scraps and fragments, street names and numbers of buildings where all the inhabitants were killed. This colourful, noisy area of Odessa with its exciting life of passion, desire, deception and trickery turned out to have no words for the excesses of the pogrom and the deaths of so many ordinary citizens.

moldavanka flea market 2

Moldavanka flea market

The official boundary of Moldavanka is the wide street running from north to south on this 1905 German Baedeker map of Odessa, the Staroportofrankovskaya (the Old French Port Street) with Moldavanka to the west, but the area of angled streets between Moldovanka and the centre was also the home to many Jews, including Babel’s two aunts, and he considered the area part of Moldavanka.


1905 Baedeker map of Odessa

Possibly this area was a step up for Jews who were moving from the working to middle-class. Another predominantly Jewish Street was Malaya Arnautskaya which runs from Moldavanka through the southern part of the centre. In his memoir, A mosaic of life: memoirs of a Russian child, Kataev describes an early memory of a trip with his mother to her dressmaker, Fanny Markovna, on Malaya Arnautskaya, and his horror at the poverty and the dingy rooms filled with families. But unlike Babel, it is the machines not the people who create the din.


Moldavanka courtyard

There was a street called Malaya Arnautskaya, which seemed to me at the time to be a long way away, but was, in fact, quite close to where we lived. When we went there, we were immediately engulfed in the world of Jewish poverty, with all its confused colours and sour-sweet smells. We entered a wooden, glass-roofed arcade that surrounded the yard. Here, mamma had to keep her head bent the whole time to avoid breaking the eagle’s feathers in her hat on some protruding object or other – garments suspended on a close line, or a low cross-beam supporting the arcades rickety, boarded walls, half-destroyed by death-watch beetles. The arcade possessed innumerable windows and doors. All the windows were dirty and half of them broken. Most of the doors were open and, in the darkness beyond them, nested families of Jewish shopkeepers and craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, watchmakers, ironmongers, dressmakers. Mingled together were the sounds of hammering, the squeak of cutters’ huge scissors, the sharp protest of torn calico, the screech of unoiled treadles on the sewing-machines. Pungent kitchen smells were blended with the smoke from kerosene lamps with little mica windows, which lit up the apartments so that they looked like a scene in a toy theatre, representing a town on fire with corrugated card-board tongues of flame. …A chest of drawers, the colour of a beetle, stood out in the semi-darkness; it was covered with a canvas cloth, on which a small plaster vase filled with paper roses was reflected in a frameless mirror on an ashwood stand… I was filled at one and the same time with repulsion and a tormenting pity for that poor race, condemned to live in such crowded and ugly conditions among the two wheeled carts with curved handles and the shops selling evil-smelling kerosene in barrels, small sacks of coal, rust-coloured salted herrings, bottles of olives, glass jars of cucumbers in clouded, milky water, bunches of dill, and halva that looked like blocks of window putty.

And here is a description by Babel, from his story, The Father, of life on Dalnitskaya Street in Moldavanka, the street where the pogrom began.

The old man drank vodka out of an enamelled teapot and ate his meatball, which smelled of happy childhood. Then he picked up his whip and walked out the gates. Basya came out after him. She had put on a pair of men’s boots, an orange dress, and a hat covered with birds, and sat down next to him on the bench. The evening slouched past the bench; the shining eye of the sunset fell into the sea beyond Perecyp and the sky was red, like a red letter day on a calendar. All trading had ended on Dalnitskaya Street, and the gangsters drove by on the shadowy street to Ioska Samuelson’s brothel. They rode in the lacquered carriages and were dressed up in colourful jackets, like hummingbirds…Old Jewish women in bonnets lazily watched the flow of this everyday procession – they were indifferent to everything, these old Jewish women, it was only the sons of shopkeepers and dockworkers who envied the Kings of the Moldavanka.

dalnytska st

Dalnitskaya Street

The Odessa pogrom and self defence has a chapter called ‘The beginning of the pogrom – the pogrom at Dalnitsa, a girl’s story’. When I first began translating the story the girl tells of Krugliak, I could see the story was not going in a way that was going to be comfortable. If a death is violent, we would rather it had been inevitable, and that preferably the victim had fought heroically, tried to save himself and others, or attempted to escape, but Krugliak, a well-off man in his 40s, whose family was in the centre of town, was hiding with Russians on Dalnitsskaya Street. Whether he lived or worked there is not clear. As the hooligans marched down the street, he panicked, running out of the house in terror, shouting ‘Save me!’ Among the ruffians, two blacksmiths set at him with sharp iron implements, beating him on the head. They finished him off with bottles and sticks. Then one of the blacksmiths lept to his feet and danced on the chest of the corpse which lay on the street for the next two days. A Jewish woman witnessed the scene as she scurried out to find bread for the neighbours she was hiding with. She fainted at what she saw. I try to imagine what Krugliak’s family must have been thinking when they could not find him after the pogrom and how they found out what had happened. In the pogrom death records, there is a Shaya Itskov Krugliak, 48, from Boguslav.
In his chapter “The Pogrom of 1905 in Odessa: A Case Study” in Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, 1992, Robert Weinberg describes the first clashes between Jews and Russians the day before the pogrom began.
Armed confrontations between Jews and Russians originated near the Jewish district of Moldavanka in the afternoon and early evening of 18 October. The clashes apparently started when a group of Jews carrying red flags to celebrate the October Manifesto attempted to convince a group of Russian workers to doff their caps to the flags. Harsh words were exchanged, a scuffle ensued and then shots rang out. Both groups scattered, but quickly reassembled in nearby streets and resumed fighting. The clashes soon turned into an anti-Jewish riot, as Russians indiscriminately attacked Jews and began to vandalize and loot Jewish homes, apartments, and stores in the neighborhood. The rioters also turned on policemen and troops summoned to quell the disorders, actions suggesting that pogromists were not yet fully focused on Jews in their attacks. The military on October 18 was equally vigilant in its efforts to restrain both Russian and Jewish rioters, vigorously suppressing these disturbances and restoring order by early evening. Four Russians were killed, dozens of Russians wounded – including policemen – and twelve Russians arrested as a result of the unrest. The number of Jews who were injured or arrested is unknown.
The newspapers add their own take on that first day.
New York Times 26 November
Southwest of Odessa in the Dalnitskaya Street, leading to the village of Dalnik, where many poor Jews are living. The news of the Tzar having granted a constitution caused great exhortation among these Jews also, whereas the Russian population was made jealous and got irritated by the provocative behaviour of some fanatics who carried red flags and declared that now they would have the same rights as the Russians, and soon would get the better of them. At night already a Russian mob commenced to destroy and loot Jewish shops and houses. When the students heard of the disorder in the Dalnitskaya, part of them hurried their armed with sticks and revolvers to defend the Jews, but were fired at by Cossacks and infantry, and many of them killed and wounded. This was the signal for the outbreak of the Civil War and indescribable anarchy which rained Odessa for the following three days.


The Times 8 November
The suburb of Dalnik has been the scene of great carnage. All the Jewish houses and shops have been plundered and burnt.


privos moldavanka

Privoz Market late 1800s

The pogrom then moved on into Moldavanka.

What was it like for people? Where did they hide? Who fled the city and what happened to the homeless?

I first read about the Odessa pogrom in articles by Robert Weinberg, who uses descriptions from the Russian reports, Одесскiй погромъ и самооборона, The Odessa pogrom and self defence, 1906, and Еврейские погромы в Одессе и Одесщине в 1905 г, C. Семенов ,The Jewish pogroms in Odessa and surrounding area in 1905, by S Semenov, 1925

The lurid details of the pogrom can be found in several eyewitness and secondary accounts. Although the list of atrocities perpetrated against the Jews is too long to recount here, suffice it to say that pogromists brutally and indiscriminately beat, mutilated, and murdered defenceless Jewish men, women and children. They hurled Jews out of windows, raped and cut open the stomachs of pregnant women, and slaughtered infants in front of their parents. In one particularly gruesome incident, pogromists hung a woman upside down by her legs and arranged the bodies of her six dead children on the floor below.(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)
The only eyewitness accounts in English that I found were from the newspaper correspondents in Odessa or elsewhere in Russia – and between the many newspaper accounts one can begin to build up more of a picture.

The Guardian, 6 November
Immense bands of ruffians, accompanied by policemen, invaded all the Jewish houses and mercilessly slaughtered the occupants. Men and women were barbarously felled and decapitated with axes. Children were torn limb from limb and their brains dashed out against walls. The streets were littered with the corpses which were hurled out of windows. The houses of murdered Jews were then systematically destroyed, not the smallest piece of furniture being left intact.

western times pogrom witness

A British sailor’s account

The Western Times Monday 20 November
During that eventful day (first day of the pogrom) there were 120 killed and 500 wounded. During the following days the mob walked about the streets in multitudes, with the soldiers and policemen in front, and every Jew’s shop they came across they began looting, the soldiers helping them. When the Jews inside the house fired on the mob to keep them from damaging their property, the soldiers fired on the inhabitants, and then the mob rushed into the houses and killed the occupants, throwing them from the windows into the street, and tearing the children limb from limb, and smashing in their faces beyond recognition. Young women had their arms completely torn from them, and their breasts cut off, and nails driven into their bodies. Old men and women, too feeble to walk, were saturated with oil and burnt. In all, 341 men women and children were treated in this manner. The officers gave orders to bash the killed about so that no one could recognise them. No one knew if any belonging to them were killed, as the dead were taken away and dumped in a heap in a kind of outhouse attached to the burying ground. The captain of the ship went and had a look at some of the bodies, and he said it was awful, things having happened too bad to appear in print. I went through the streets where the shops were plundered. Every Jewish shop was completely wrecked, windows smashed and everything taken away. China shops have all the crockery smashed and strewn about the streets, and all the walls and windows of the houses were marked with revolver shots. Only one quarter of what has really happened has been printed. Every ship in the harbour was sheltering refugees.

Looking for some eyewitness descriptions by people who had actually experienced the pogrom, when I first began this research, I wrote ‘pogrom’ and ‘biography’ into Google and found writers like Shalom Aleichem (Fiddler on the roof) and Isaac Babel. I also found some references to Mark Rothko. Several biographical articles about Rothko, who was born in Dvinsk, Russia in 1903, mention him telling a family story of Cossacks making Jews dig large square communal graves before they were slaughtered, which influenced his paintings. The biographies suggest that his story was not believed as they had never heard of mass graves during the 1905 pogrom.


Mark Rothko 1962

Isaac Babel was born in Odessa but brought up nearby in Nikolaev and in ‘The story of my dovecote’ he describes a pogrom of 1905 when he was nine years old. Most incredible was the contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary. He described working very hard to get into the lycee, as there were strict quotas for Jews, but then writes of the joys of buying a new pencil case, notebooks and a school bag, experiences of so many children. On the day he goes to the market to buy doves, his present for passing the exam, he is beaten up, the doves killed, and when he gets home finds only his grandfather there, beaten to death. Then the scene reverts to a scene of such outward normality — his parents have taken refuge at their next-door neighbour’s and he finds his mother sitting in the glassed-in veranda having tea. It is difficult to switch between the neighbours’ normal day and what was happening to the Babel family.
The glassed-in veranda is a long way from the traditional image of the shtetl with its poverty-stricken inhabitants, rough log houses and streets of mud, which is often the only image presented of Jewish life in Russia, possibly because it distances people from the victims of massacres. I knew that my grandmother’s family had lived in large townhouses but I had never thought of what they might have looked like. My grandmother’s parents ran a hotel near the railway station in the new railway town of Baranovichi in Belarus.

baranavichy 1907 near station

Baranovichi street near station 1907

I had never been able to conceive, until recently, that my family was Russian as it was never spoken about. As a small child I knew that my parents always spoke Yiddish when they got together, but I had no idea where they were from until, when I was possibly 5 or 6, I asked my mother where my grandparents were from, and she said ‘Russia’. She did not elaborate and I always assumed that there was nothing more to be said on the subject. Somehow, that one brief word was not enough to have any meaning for me, or only enough to believe and yet not believe that they were Russian. I did not meet my eldest uncle until I was 12 and by that time I knew he had left Russia when he was about seven, so the first thing I asked him was whether he remembered any Russian. He turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him, and I knew from that time that something had happened there that I was not supposed to ask about.

At the time I read about Rothko, I had not read the newspaper articles about the mass graves in the cemetery of Odessa. I did not even know then where my grandparents had lived in Russia. I wondered why people doubted the story of the mass graves, and I wondered what happened to all the people whose homes were destroyed. Were there refuges, did people remain for days in cellars or attics, did they flee? Looking in the New York Times archive I found several articles on fundraising for the refugees, one of which included a letter written to a sister in New York on 27 Oct 1905 about the Odessa pogrom. It mentions “until today we have all been lying hidden in a cellar”. The next paragraph describes that after three days of burying the dead, the graves take up one half of the field “and 35 bodies are buried in one grave. Bodies are scattered all over the graveyard, so battered that they are unrecognisable. Limbs and heads of the children are strewn about. They lie in thick heaps, covered with tarpaulin. The morgues are full.” At the end of the letter, the author writes: “We find ourselves in a stable. Do not ask about food. The only thing that could help us would be to take us out of this accursed land.” (New York Times 29 Nov 1905).

The Jewish Chronicle had many articles on the pogroms throughout November and December, quoting from correspondents and letters from people in Odessa.

Two private doctors have attended over 300 children of both sexes horribly gashed on head and shoulders with sabres…Today I visited a building containing 2500 refugee Jewish children. They were half famished owing to the scarcity of bread during the last few days.

All the localities in Odessa which could be used as places of refuge were full of victims and wounded, among them the two principal hospitals, clinics of the university, private clinics, the high schools and Jewish schools.

The horrors witnessed in all these places are simply incredible. There were women who had lost the faculty of speech by shock, occasioned by the horrors witnessed and experienced, men who had been thrown from the upper stories of their dwelling houses, young girls who had voluntarily cast themselves from the windows to escape being violated, old men and infants mutilated, whole families found in cellars and attics where they had remained without food for over 48 hours.

Some of the Jews fled their lives to the steamers in the harbour. Others crowded the hotels.

The Jews were leaving the city, in a state of terror, many taking refuge in steamers.

A train from Odessa to Kiev yesterday was held up at Rasdjelna and 12 Jews found in it were dragged from the wagons and shot.

Odessa1905Pogrom postcard

Postcard Odessa pogrom 1905

As many who had lost everything or had friends or family elsewhere were fleeing Odessa, others were trying to survive in the city, returning to their wrecked houses when the violence died down.

Wenatchee, Washington 8 November
All is quiet here today. The town councils and the newspapers have opened collections in behalf of the victims of last week’s slaughter. The municipality headed the list with $12,500 and has re-established temporary refuges and food kitchens. The losses total many millions and no less than 800 families are ruined.

Jewish Chronicle 17 November
The Odessa correspondent of the Morning Leader estimated that 3300 orphans of Jewish victims in the recent slaughter had been thrown upon public benevolence. Over 7700 Christian and Jewish adults who have been plundered, were destitute, and were being assisted by public subscriptions. Twice that number were being temporarily sustained by their relatives and friends.


After the pogrom

The Times 30 November
Inquiry into the working of the Central Hebrew Committee’s Relief Fund, which was originally organised to distribute aid to the wives and families of reservists sent out to Manchuria, show that 150,000 rubles were locally available for immediate distribution. Some 8000 Jewish families, over 40,000 people, nearly all of the poorest classes dwelling in the suburbs, have been affected by the outbreak. The losses, irrespective of life, comprise furniture, clothes, household goods, implements of crafts and labour, and the stock of countless petty tradesmen and sutlers. The Hebrew Committee, which derives its funds from the rich Jewish mercantile houses in Odessa, distributed 40,000 rubles during the first week of the outbreak, and reckons that 1,500,000 rubles will be required in Odessa to furnish adequate redress.

One of the chapters in The Odessa pogrom and self defence is called ‘Slaughter in the attic: a woman’s story’, a first person account about 50 people, mostly women and children, hiding in an attic on Prokhorovskaya St in Moldovanka. The caretaker of the building told the hooligans that no one was left in the building, but they didn’t believe him, forced open the gate and entered. Seventeen were slaughtered in the attic and more than 30 in the courtyard. It is difficult to believe, that with the death of so many women and children in this one building, there were so few women and children in the death records.

I gradually began to picture that possibly my grandparents might have been hiding in a cellar or attic. If they lived in a house on the edge or outside the town rather than an apartment, they might have had less choice about whether to flee to a public refuge, like a school or a public building. Instead, they would have had to hide away on their own or a neighbour’s property. There were several reasons why I felt that my grandparents had not lived in the middle of the city, one of which came from an old, badly copied tape-recording of my mother just before she died in 1972. It is almost incomprehensible, but after many years of trying to understand it, I finally heard my mother saying that when her parents first arrived in New York, eight months after the pogrom, her mother did not like the tenement life, where small children rarely when outdoors, and wanted a house with a garden as she had been used to. Six weeks later they moved out of the city and rented a house in an immigrant area on the edge of New Rochelle, not far from the sea. Another reason was discovering from a cousin that my grandfather had grown grapes and made wine in his garden in New Rochelle. My grandfather could only have learned about growing grapes in a wine producing area like Odessa, not in his original home near Baranovichi. The map below shows New Rochelle in 1900, a few years before my grandparents arrived. The street they lived on, Oak Street, at the top of the map near the railway line, ends abruptly with no more building beyond. Echo Bay, the inlet off the Long Island Sound near their house is where the youngest son, Michel, who was born around the time they left Odessa, drowned.

new rochelle 1900

New Rochelle 1900

Postcards from the early 1900s from both New Rochelle and Odessa show some eery similarities, stretches of sandy beach with rocks and boulders, the boathouses, the wooden walkways, the white sails gleaming…

New Rochelle, New York

new rochelle rowing club


Odessa, Bolshoi Fontan

odessa b fontan

odessa new switzlerland beach

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


 New York Tribune 3 November


Spokane Press 6 November


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.



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


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’


Wenatchee Washington 6 November


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.