A History of Pogroms: The Case for a Jewish State

By Huck Davenport   October 20, 2023

Beneath the seemingly civilized exterior of man lies tribal hatred, desperately trying to claw its way out. When it does, man can easily rationalize even the most heinous of his acts as virtuous. His target invariably becomes a demonized, marginalized group he can scapegoat as needed. No group has suffered more of this tribal hatred than the Jews.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, descendants of Jacob, inhabited the land now known as Israel since antiquity. Ten of those Tribes ruled the Kingdom of Israel until the Assyrians expelled them in 722 BCE. The other two tribes ruled the Kingdom of Judah until the Babylonians dispersed them in 586 BCE. Jews restored Judah by around 538 BCE. It was only in the Second Century AD that the Romans ended the Jewish Kingdom, starting 1,800 years of colonial occupation.

Meanwhile, in the early 7th century, an Arabian warlord started a new religion: Islam. Mohammed, forced out of Mecca, found refuge with three Jewish tribes of Medina. Relations deteriorated quickly as Mohammed raided and plundered Jewish trade caravans. Mohammed banished two of the tribes, and defeated the third at the Battle of the Trench (627). Mohammed was merciless in victory. All men were slain, and all women and children enslaved.

Although Mohammed never set foot in now-Christianized Palestine, he claimed it as his own. By the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks claimed the land, holding it until the end of WWI in 1918.

Under Islam, Jews would live uneasily as dhimmi, a non-Muslim underclass, forced to pay jizya (tax), forbidden to own arms, and required to differentiate themselves from Muslims in their dress. Even oppressed, Jews managed to find success, bringing even greater resentment. When Joseph Neghrela became vizier to the king in Muslim-controlled Spain, simmering bitterness and rampant antisemitic writing incited the Massacre of Granada (1066). Neghrela was crucified and 1,500 Jewish families butchered.


Image: A boastful depiction of the massacre of Jews in Belgium during the Black Death. Public domain.

Islam wasn’t alone in hating Jews. Christian Germans accused Jews of deicide for their alleged role in Christ’s death. They also created the blood libel that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals.

As would play out repeatedly, hatred for the Jews would fester before periodically erupting in mass murder. In the 1096 Rhineland Massacre, bloodthirsty mobs swarmed Jewish homes. Terrified, Jews escaped to their synagogues for safety, only to be locked inside and burned alive while Crusaders sang, “Christ, we adore thee,” to drown out the screams. Fleeing Jews were slaughtered and thrown into the sea. Flourishing communities of Jews on the Rhine and Danube were utterly destroyed.

France was no different. French clergy exhorted Crusaders to avenge themselves on the Jews who had crucified Christ. As did the Muslims, the Fourth Lateran Council forced Jews to wear badges. Merely raising the blood libel was enough to incite mobs into madness. In the Massacre of Bios (1171), an entire Jewish community was rounded up into a Jewish home and set ablaze. That began the serial expulsion of the Jews from France that would continue for centuries.

Across the Channel, Jews in England fared no better. Despite often deadly discrimination, Jews survived, often as money lenders, a job banned for Christians. Having to pay back money borrowed from Jews was unbearable. Antisemitism was a powder keg ready to ignite.

When prominent Jews arrived to pay homage to Richard I at his coronation, Englishmen exploded with rage that the Jews’ presence had dirtied the proceedings. The Jews were caught, flogged, and expelled, ushering in murderous pogroms that would climax in the Massacre at York (1190), which exterminated the entire Jewish community of 150 families.

Twenty-five years later, the Magna Carta established basic human rights in England—but Jews were excluded. In 1290, King Edward evicted all Jews from England. He was not alone. There were at least 27 recorded expulsions from 17 different countries between 1100 and 1600.

When the Black Death raged in the 14th century, Jews were inevitably scapegoated. Accused of poisoning wells, Jews were murdered all over Europe. In the Massacre of Strasbourg (1349), the entire Jewish community of several thousand men, women, and children was burned alive by its Christian neighbors.

As if in a competition of depravity, Spain’s Massacre of 1391 would leave 50,000 Jews dead. One eyewitness account:

The pattern was invariably the same. A wild mob, roused by fanatical priests and monks, stormed into the Jewish quarter. They set fire to Jewish homes, shops and synagogues, giving the Jews one choice: conversion to Christianity or death. They killed mercilessly those who refused to be baptized.

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, who famously sent Columbus to discover a new world, simultaneously expelled all Jews to find a new home, citing usury and “subverting the holy Catholic faith.” It would be one of the greatest dislocations in pre-modern history as 200,000 Jews were stripped of their property and forced to flee.

Serial massacres continued into modern times. When Tzar Alexander was assassinated in 1881, pogroms erupted throughout Russia. Terror reigned across the countryside. Frenzied mobs pillaged hundreds of Jewish towns and villages. The pogroms resurfaced in 1903 but were bloodier, broader, and lasted much longer. The NY Times reported one such incident:

The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews”, was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babies were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.


October 21, 2023 | Comments »

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