Pogrom: Definition and Meaning

A violent disturbance called a pogrom is started by someone with the intention of killing or driving out a particular racial or religious community, usually the Jews. Assaults on Jews in the Russian Empire throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly in the Pale of Settlement, are described by the phrase, which originated in Russian.

Pogroms are similar attacks against Jews that happened in the past at various times and locations. The phrase is sometimes used to refer to attacks on non-Jewish groups that have received popular approval as being purgative. The elements of a pogrom might vary greatly depending on the exact incident, occasionally leading to or culminating in massacres.

Meaning of Pogrom

The word "pogrom" derives from a Russian verb that means "to destroy, to wreak havoc, to demolish violently." The word was initially used to describe attacks on Jews by non-Jewish street mobs in the Russian Empire between 1881 and 1884. Pogroms persisted in the early 20th century as well as during and immediately following World War II in Eastern Europe, Germany, and other countries.

According to historian John Klier, "By the twentieth century, the word 'pogrom' had become a generic term in English for all forms of collective violence directed against Jews," including occurrences that preceded the name. Later, the term was also extended to similar violence against other ethnic minorities.

A pogrom is often thought of as a violent attack against a group based on their ethnic identity, while the specifics of a pogrom vary greatly depending on the exact incidents. It is most often used to refer to attacks against Jews in 19th and 20th-century Europe.

Where Did the Pogrom Start

The majority of the first pogrom occurred in what came to be known as the Pale of Settlement, which was a territory that the Russian Empire seized between 1791 and 1835. The Pale of Settlement, which covered portions of modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Poland, was an area where the Russian government prevented its new Jewish subjects from living. Although an attack in Odessa in 1821 is occasionally cited as the start of the Russian pogrom phenomenon, most historians point to 1881 episodes commencing in Elizavetgrad (in modern-day Ukraine).

Seven districts in southern Russia and Ukraine experienced a quick expansion of the Elizavetgrad violence, which saw peasant attackers rape women, destroy property, and rob Jewish shops and residences. In these pogroms, numerous people were beaten and/or killed. A hundred additional places, including Kiev and Odessa, had pogroms in 1881. At this time, Novorossiysk University students in Odessa began to organise the first Jewish self-defense groups.

Worst Pogrom in History

Early in the 20th century, pogrom persisted. The pogroms from 1903 through 1906 were particularly bloody. Thousands of Russian Jews fled after the horrifying 1903 pogrom in Kishinev, in what is now Moldova, which left dozens of Jews dead and hundreds of houses and businesses destroyed.

In the famous poem "City of Slaughter," written by the Zionist poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik in response to the Kishinev pogrom Approximately 2,500 Jews were killed in the Odessa pogrom in 1905. In Kiev in 1919, Cossacks—paramilitary fighters who had been assimilated into the Russian military—led a pogrom that resulted in 14 fatalities as well as numerous injuries and rapes.

Pogrom World War II

Security Police Chief Reinhard Heydrich gave orders to Einsatzgruppen (commonly known as mobile death groups) during World War II to accept and even encourage the native communities residing in recently acquired Soviet territory to start a pogrom. The pogroms, which ranged in spontaneity from mild to severe, in cities like Bialystok, Kovno, Lvov, and Riga added to the German strategy of deliberately eradicating entire Jewish communities in the Soviet Union.

Romanian officials and military units murdered at least 8,000 Jews during a pogrom on June 29, 1941, as Nazi Germany and its Axis partner, Romania, attacked the Soviet Union. In Iasi, in the Romanian region of Moldavia, you can view this term in the glossary. Polish citizens of Jedwabne, a small town in the Bialystok District of Poland that was first under Soviet and later German occupation, took part in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbours on July 10, 1941.

Scholars have confirmed that at least one German police presence was present in the town at the time of the deaths, despite the fact that culpability for organising this "pogrom" has not yet been entirely established.

Is the Word Pogrom Still in Use Today?

Even today, the word "pogrom" is in used to describe events. The Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn were referred to as a pogrom in the Jewish press in 1991, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used the phrase to characterise Jewish settlers' attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2008. Although there is disagreement over the precise definition of a pogrom, it is still frequently used to describe organised street violence against Jews and occasionally other ethnic groups.


Pogrom The phrase, in its broadest sense, describes a violent assault on the people and property of any less powerful ethnic, religious, or national group by members of a dominant group. For example, in some records from the time, the actions performed against the Ukrainian community during the Russian occupation of Galicia in 1914–15 were referred to as "Galician pogroms." To use the term "pogrom" in its most straightforward sense.

However, one must think of the attacks, which included looting and bloodshed, that occurred against the Jews of the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The phrase specifically refers to three waves of massive anti-Jewish persecution that took place as a result of wider crises in the Russian Empire as a whole in 18881, 19036, and 191821. In reality, the first unrest of this kind happened in 1859 after the Crimean War (1853–1866), as well as in 1871 in Odessa, when Greeks and Jews fought over the grain trade.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. How to use pogrom in a sentence?

Ans. Following are some of the examples −

A provocateur was set up by the Whites prior to a pogrom in Russia.

I recall a day when I believed a pogrom had broken out in our street, and I often wonder how I survived the terror.

Q2. Who created Newspeak?

Ans. George Orwell first used the phrase in his 1949 book Nineteen Eighty-Four. The ubiquitous enforcers of Big Brother spoke Newspeak, a language "designed to diminish the range of thought."

Q3. What do you mean by ethnic cleansing?

Ans. In order to create an ethnically homogeneous area, ethnic, racial, and religious groups are systematically expelled from a certain area. It also includes indirect tactics like murder, rape, and property devastation that are intended to force the target group to escape and prevent their return, in addition to direct removal, extermination, deportation, or population transfer.

Updated on: 10-May-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started