The Odessa pogrom of 1905
First hand testimony of Harry and Elizabeth Fogel
By Becky Fogel Anderson
My grandparents, Harry and Elizabeth (Mitnik) Fogel, were born in Odessa in 1898. My grandfather’s father was a kosher butcher in Odessa, and my grandmother’s father was the chief foreman at the Krakhmalnikov Brother’s candy factory. They were married in February 1920 and my father, Ephim, was born in Odessa at home in November 1920.
Both of my grandparents were 7 at the time of the 4-day pogrom that took place between October 18 and 22, 1905. According to Wikipedia, this was the worst anti-Jewish pogrom in Odessa’s history where ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, and Greeks killed over 400 Jews and damaged or destroyed over 1600 Jewish properties.
We are fortunate that we have two rich sources of information about my grandparents’ lives: my grandfather’s handwritten autobiography, which he wrote in an adult education course when he was in his early 60’s, and an oral history of both my grandparents recorded by my uncle, Robert Fogel, on reel to reel tape in 1966 (and since digitized).
From their reminisces below, we can see that the terror of this event had not faded over 60 years later.
Harry and Lisa Fogel Wedding - Picture with parents
My grandmother’s memories have been transcribed and lightly edited by me from the audio tape recorded in 1966:
I will never forget when I was a girl when I was about 7. It was 1905 and there was a massacre. I have a terrible fear from that time that remained with me forever. I remember my father came into the house and told my mother we had to run. We lived not far from the markets … where there were boxes with knives because of the butchers and we were afraid that we would be cut up in pieces. I remember the terrible fear of my father for his family. I remember all the people who fought in the street. So we dressed hurriedly and he took us out a couple of blocks over. There was a German family running a motel who was a very good friend of my father’s. When we came there he said “Samuel don’t be afraid. (she also says this in Russian). Your family will be safe here. They will have to go over my dead body to get to them. We will protect them – my wife and my family.” And he immediately closed the motel – he had a strong iron gate. My father put on a short coat and a peasant hat and high boots and he had a big basket with all kinds of rags and food and he ran to the samabaronas (the protectors) who were fighting the hooligans who were raiding the Jewish homes and raping the Jewish girls. And I will never forget I heard the screams of the people calling for help. You could hear it up to the motel. I remember I was crying and burying my face into the pillow and my mother said “don’t cry , it will be over soon. Try to sleep” and I could feel her hand was shaking and she was very much afraid and she was afraid for my father But my father looked like a real peasant – nobody would take him for a Jew. He was able to go between the hooligans and go to the street to help those the people who were in dire need of help. When it finally stopped they found 600 people – women, children and even some men –dead. You can imagine the funerals of those people? And in the streets there were the rows and rows of boxes going into the cemeteries. And the Christian people they could not look in the faces of the Jews – a lot of them were crying. Not all of them were hooligans. [But] many of the hooligans were the police themselves. You couldn’t find protection – you couldn’t find a policeman. They were told not to take care of us and they were told to hide and they were also told to do what they want and a lot of them got drunk and that is probably why they did this. That is forever in my mind: When they were calling [she talks dramatically in Russian]– “Friends, please help us, anything to help us. Please come and help us.” After that, natural, it took months until people to get over it, but they got back to their usual things, working, making a living, They had to get back to their business. But it was forever in their hearts, especially the Jews, that there was a reason – a strong reason – to go away from Russia. “
She goes on to discuss her father’s Zionism directly after sharing her memory of the pogrom:
I remember when my father was dreaming and his dream was Palestine. He had lots of friends and friends who were of high education like doctors and lawyers. And they used to make meetings in our house and this was forbidden by the law. If you were caught you could go for several years to jail – to Siberia. But he still was making those meetings. I remember that the superintendents of our building were always very nice to him. They never gave him out. They knew about the meetings and If they were asked about it they said that they did not know anything about. And that was how he was able to do it and that was his dream that Palestine some time he would be able to go. His dream was never accomplished – it was just a dream.
My grandfather, Harry Fogel (Foigel before the name was Americanized) was also 7 at the time of the pogroms. His father owned a kosher butcher business (he alludes to their shop and their Christian workers). Like my grandmother, my grandfather ties the pogrom to the beginning of an exodus of the Jews in the region.
He took a more literary and historical approach to his subject and recorded his memories in a written autobiography. This excerpt focuses on the 1905 pogrom:
In 1905, when the first political upheaval took place the 1st week September, thousands of men, women and children walked to the main street—Deribasofskaya, where political speeches were made from a balcony in the foremost hotel in the city declaring that Emperor Nicholas II promised to issue an edict to form a Duma—elected by the people and meeting in St. Petersburg, but only to advise the Emperor on needed legislation. Of course, the advice would not necessarily result in producing legislation, but it was a beginning . . . And after the announcement the French Marseillaise was played on a cornet from the balcony and the people in the street singing along. Before the singing ended, rumors spread—which soon proved to be true—that a pogrom was in progress on the Moldovanka—the poor predominantly Jewish section of the city. Cries: "Arm yourselves comrades!" were heard and an urging to all able bodies: "Arm yourselves to defend our brethren!" Those who had no pistols broke down young trees for clubs and ran to the outskirts to organize a defense. Two of our family were involved—my uncle Dave Talnoper ( who had a pistol hidden in our home, as he lived with us), and Yehouda, who was not yet in our family, but whose parents had a hat and cap store and lived under our apartment in the back of the store. The defense was formed quickly and was effective; a cordon was set up between the central part and the Moldovanka and in addition there happened to be a liberal commander of a local military unit, who boosted up the self-defense and in spite of the overpowering odds (400 defenders to 10,000 attackers) the results of the 4-day battle was losses of 1 to 10—the latter for the Hooligans.
There were many Christian people who joined in defense of the Jews with home-made defense tools: clubs, metal bars, small metal objects on a string or rope to hit attackers on their heads and of course some pistols and guns as well. Heavy house gates of wood were barred on the inside and sentries posted around the clock. There was no help from the city police—they were either hiding or the bolder ones in civilian clothes in the ranks of the marauders. . . For the entire 4 days victims in the streets remained on the ground—badly wounded ones dying from wounds—while some of the others [were] able to reach home or seek refuge away from home to the despair of families not knowing their whereabouts . . .
In our family things were a bit more favorable—3 of our Christian workers remained in our apartment for the entire 4 days, armed with home-made "weapons": knives from the factory, "sling" weapons made from small scale weights attached to a tri-woven rope, heavy billy clubs. I, too, had fashioned my own defense equipment, but fortunately none had to be use in our area of the central part of the city.
When the pogrom came to an end horse-driven wagons normally used for carrying building materials were used to gather the bodies to the cemetery and most of them were buried in a common grave—few could afford the expense of a funeral—by the Jewish Communal Organization. Many tears were shed by those who lost someone in the massacre and it was in everyone's memory for many years to come, if not forever!
When normality returned many of [the] robbers confessed to their Jewish neighbors that they were told by the police that it was because of the Jews that they were not having a better life . . . it was the Jews who grabbed the better jobs and settled in all business enterprises to [the] detriment of the Christians.
The pogroms broke out in several cities of large Jewish concentration, but mostly in the "pale" areas where the percentage of Jews predominated. But it also spread to villages where there were but a few Jewish families. The Friedman family, [who traveled with us when we left Odessa in 1923], lost a son that was shot when a hooligan knocked on the door and just shot him without a word said. That made them leave the village where they lived and come to Odessa with the object of seeking to make a living in the big city where they would no longer be isolated. A track out of the country also began to rise....
My grandparents finally left Russia in 1923 with the intention of joining my grandfather’s father and some siblings, who had emigrated to Palestine in 1922. My grandfather became quite ill in Constantinople and by the time the family was ready to travel again, his father wrote warning them not to come, because there was a famine in Palestine. They changed destination and arrived in New York City in 1924, where they joined my grandfather’s maternal uncle, David Talnoper, who is mentioned in his memory of the pogrom. Their second son, Robert, was born in New York in 1926.