With its entry on August 1, 1914 (Tisha b’Av of that year), into what some still call the Great War, tsarist Russia declared war not only on the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires but also on its own Jewish people.
Organized by the Russian Imperial Army and its General Staff, with the full approval of Tsar Nicholas II, the destruction (in Yiddish, KHURBM) of Jewish life became the first twentieth-century genocide in Europe.
During the war, Russian authorities expelled more than one million Jewish civilians from their homes, leaving them homeless and penniless; some estimates indicate that at least 300,000 -- and possibly more than half a million -- of them died from hunger and disease in the process and shortly thereafter as a result. In an unprecedented move, the Russian Army took more than 35,000 leading members of Jewish communities hostage, hanging and executing by firing squads more than 150 of them. That is on top of tens of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children who had been murdered, maimed and raped in the terrifying pogroms staged by Cossacks and regular army units.
During the following eight years, as European empires collapsed and nation-states were born, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Chechens, Belarussians, Romanians, Gypsies, and Slovaks of various political persuasions joined White Russians and Ukrainian warlords in the slaughter. Many Jews who were able to flee to other lands met death there at the hands of Moldovans, Argentinians, and Palestinian Arabs.
However, it was not the end but only the beginning of the much greater Jewish tragedy. The eight years of destruction became only the prelude of what was to follow twenty years later during World War II which was the continuation of “the Great War”: the extermination of two-thirds of the European Jewry organized now by Nazi Germany.
Because of censorship in tsarist and later in Soviet Russia, active suppression of news of the Jewish genocide by Russia’s French and British allies, and seeming spinelessness on the part of the Jewish establishment in those countries and the USA, the victims of the Khurbm have been forgotten. It is to recover the memory of them that The Center for Jewish Life Studies has been established.
One of the Center’s projects is the translation into English of archival material gathered by the Moscow-based professor Lidia Miliakova.
After her trip to Auschwitz in 1996, Miliakova used her access to the Russian State Archives to compile The Book of Pogroms, which is today the largest published collection of documents and eyewitness testimonies regarding Khurbm. The Center for Jewish Life Studies secured permission to translate these documents into English.
The project of translating and publishing so many documents is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking and can’t be done without outside sponsorship.
Please consider becoming a donor.
The Center for Jewish Life Studies has speakers available to provide your community with lectures and educational programming on the subject.
If you need help in establishing the fate of your relatives or have general questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
THE LIVING MEMORIAL
What you see here are drawings by Abel Penn.
Khurbm, the destruction, was started by the Russian Imperial Army in August 1914, when Tsar Nicholas II and his General Staff decided to use antisemitism to rally Slavs -- especially because of the religious differences between Russia's Orthodox state religion and the catholicism of Poles and Western Ukrainians -- in Russia’s war against the German and Austro-Hungarian empires.
For all the death, mayhem, and misery that they caused, however, these atrocities were, unfortunately, only the foretaste of the massacres that took place in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War following the 1917 Russian Revolution.
It is then, between 1918 and 1922, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered at the hands of Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Romanians, and others . . .
Like WWI, which was the prelude to even deadlier second Worlds War, Khurbm was the prelude to the Holocaust, the Catastrophe (Shoah) that took place twenty years later and resulted in six million more of Jewish martyrs who were murdered only because they were Jews.
About the Book of Pogroms
". . . a remarkably detailed description of the anti-Jewish violence. . . eyewitness testimony, oral histories, diary excerpts, local press coverage, memos, field reports, letters by army officials, investigative commissions, and humanitarian organizations."
-- Eugene M. Avrutin, University of Illinois
". . . a work of paramount importance. "
-- Michael Beizer, Hebrew University in Jerusalem
Why this project is important?
Because the ghosts of the martyrs are calling upon us not to forget them.
Because remembering Amalek is a mizhvah, G-d's commandment, that must be observed until Israel, and the world, is at peace.
Because this genocide played a crucial role in the history of humanity, and its lessons must not be ignored, especially today.
Because, despite its significance, even the websites of organizations devoted to the prevention of future genocides fail to mention it.
Because there are no surviving eyewitnesses and without your help, the Jewish martyrs of that genocide will be forgotten.