Op-ed: What the Kishinev Pogrom Means to Americans

What the Kishinev Pogrom Means to Americans

By Kent Logsdon, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova

In the early days of the 20th century, very few of the names of the small cities dotting the periphery of the Russian Empire would have evoked much recognition or emotion among Americans.  

Perhaps only one would have resonated: Kishinev.

The response to the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 was an early example of a classic American trait: regular people rallying to the cause of victims of disaster and oppression in faraway corners of the world.  When news of the Pogrom reached our shores, Americans banded together to support the victims.  Several American non-governmental organizations founded in response to the Pogrom still exist to this day, continuing the fight for justice, equality, and dignity for all people.  The Pogrom also set in motion a wave of emigration that forever changed the fabric of both our countries.

In retrospect, we can also see clearly now what those who were alive in 1903 did not.  The Kishinev Pogrom and others that came before and after – these storms of hatred – were building toward a cataclysm in Europe.  Four decades later, Americans would come to learn the names of other distant places.  Dachau.  Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Treblinka.

While the perpetrators were different, they were driven by the same hatred that we had collectively failed – both in America and in Europe – to stamp out.  This is how we got from Kishinev to Kristallnacht.  The Nazis emerged not in a vacuum, but in the same environment that had enabled this wave of pogroms, the Dreyfus affair, and the publication of vile anti-Semitic forgeries and blood libels.     

Today, when I walk the streets of downtown Chisinau, I see a vibrant, European city.  I see a place that is moving forward.  As you pass Strada Ierusalim, you might see friends relaxing on the patio of a café or families strolling, enjoying one of those classic Chisinau evenings together.  What took place in this neighborhood in 1903 – and later, with the establishment of the Jewish Ghetto here in 1941 – can feel so distant.

As this distance grows greater, 120 years now, it is all the more important that we remember what happened.  The Monument to the Victims of the Pogrom in Alunelul Park provides a solemn reminder.  Missing today from the vibrant streets of Chisinau are the descendants of those who were murdered in the name of hate.  We can never bring them back, but we can honor their memory and seek a measure of justice.

The Moldovan government and local authorities have worked with the Jewish community to memorialize the victims of anti-Semitism from both the Kishinev Pogrom as well as the Holocaust, as well as celebrating the many contributions of Jewish Moldovans throughout this country’s history.  I was honored to attend the opening of the Jewish History Museum in Orhei earlier this year and look forward to the creation of a national museum in Chisinau.  We hope to see Moldova join the other countries of Europe by beginning the process of restoring confiscated communal property, such as synagogues, to the Jewish community.

Reckoning with the past and building a more tolerant, inclusive future is never easy, and the work never finishes.  We know this well in the United States as we grapple with our own history to this day.  But as I stand beside Moldovans of all faiths to mark this solemn anniversary, I can say with confidence that this hard work is well underway here.

When I look at Moldova – when I walk the streets of Chisinau that saw so much pain in the 20th century – I see a country that is modern, tolerant, and diverse.  All Moldovans, regardless of religion, language, or ethnicity, are part of Moldova’s European future.