Pogrom-Driven Migration: The Case of Kalarash

Posted on April 10, 2014


Were Jewish immigrants from the Pale of Settlement to the United States really driven by pogroms? This is a question with which I deal empirically, using data on migration and on events of anti-Jewish violence. But before zooming out to the large statistical picture, it is important to verify anecdotally that one can find particular cases in which pogrom-driven migration did clearly occur. For this, I chose to dwell into a case study of a single Jewish town—Kalarash—that experienced a rather gruesome pogrom in October [o.s.] 1905. In this rather extreme case, I show here that indeed there was such a thing as pogrom-driven migration. That is, the pogrom was so devastating that the data shows without doubt that many Jews of Kalarash that would not have immigrated otherwise, were driven out by it in search of a safe haven in a new land. This is how it looked.

A view of the street fair in Kalarash. Source: Sefer-Kalarash (Kalarash's memorial book) http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kalarash/kalph068.html

A view of the street fair in Kalarash. Source: Sefer-Kalarash (Kalarash’s memorial book) http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kalarash/kalph068.html

Kalarash and its Vicinity

Kalarash, also known by the name Tuzora, was a shtetl situated about 50 kilometers north-west of Kishinev. It is now in the middle of present-day Moldova, and its surrounding countryside was mostly settled by Moldovan peasants. During the Late Imperial Period it was a small market town in the district of Orgieev, part of the province of Bessarabia in the southern region of the Russian Empire known as New-Russia. According to the 1897 census, the total population of the town was 5,153, of which 4,593 (89.1 percent) were Jews. Although this share of Jews was atypically high, it was certainly not unheard-of either. In fact, in two other similarly-sized shtetls in the district of Orgieev Jews constituted an overwhelming majority: Rezena (87.1 percent) and Teleneshty (88.5 percent). In Orgieev itself, the district’s main city, 58 percent of the town’s 12.3 thousand residents were Jews.


What else do we know about the Jewish population in this area? The 1897 census provides a few more interesting details. Orgieev district as a whole counted 26,680 Jews (12.5 percent of total population), of which 73.3 percent were located in one of six localities identified in the shtetlach data. The share of females among the Jewish population was 50.3, and 38.3 percent of the Jews were literate, compared to only 8.4 percent of the non-Jews. The rate of literacy at the most literate Jewish group, males aged 20-30, was 75 percent.

Kalarash Street Map

A Street Map of Kalarash. The town was stretched along three main commercial streets, and was linked to Kishinev by railway, seen at the bottom. Source: http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/calarasi/Streetmap.html

Like most Russian lands, Orgieev mainly grew grains, but the mild climate also permitted the cultivation of grapes, as well as plums and other fruits. There was a wine industry, in which Jews took part as growers, makers, and traders. As is still the case today, it catered mainly to the Russian wine market that lacks sufficient lands suitable for wine cultivation. The dual ethnic nature of Orgieev’s labor market is apparent in the census data on the occupational distribution of the different ethnicities. Among the non-Jewish labor force, 79 percent of the workers were employed in agriculture, more than five times than among Jews (in fact, Jewish participation in agriculture was unusually high in Orgieev district, relative to other districts in the Pale; in only a handful of the Pale’s 236 districts did it exceed 10 percent, whereas the Pale’s overall average was a mere 2.6 percent). On the other hand, a third of Jewish workers were employed in commerce, compared to 0.8 percent among non-Jews. Manufacturing captured a further 21.6 percent of the Jewish labor force. Kalarash was a local market-town, and the fact that an overwhelming majority of the population was Jewish, and that almost all shops and commercial businesses were owned by Jews, played a crucial rule during the pogrom.

Immigration before the Pogrom

For all we know, the province of Bessarabia as a whole was a late-comer to US-bound migration, relative to the northern parts of the Pale of Settlement. For the period before 1900, the best indication on the geographic origins of Jewish migrants comes from the incorporation of landsmanshaftn, Jewish hometown-based associations in the United States. In the data I compiled on the incorporation of these associations, the first landsmanshaft founded by immigrants coming from a particular Bessarabian shtetl was incorporated only in 1891. By that time, almost all other provinces in the Pale of Settlement had already been represented by some New York landsmanshaftn.

The town of Kalarash had two such associations. The first, First Kalarasher Benevolent Association, was only incorporated in 1906. The second, Karalasher Bessarabian Progressive Association, followed in 1916. That was rather late, compared to other regions, and it is fairly clear that very few migrants had left prior to 1900. Orgieev district had only one more landsmanshaft identified in the data, this was the Progressive Orgeyeve Aid Society, which was incorporated in 1919 and was presumably related to the district’s capital town.

The Kalarash Pogrom

Bessarabia province was mostly spared during the first wave of pogroms that started in 1881, with only a single pogrom reported in the city of Kishinev. In contrast, 55 pogroms were reported in the neighboring province of Kherson in 1881. However, during the second wave of pogroms (1903–1906) it found itself in the eye of the storm, starting with the shocking 1903 Kishinev pogrom, and followed by dozens of other violent events during October 1905 [o.s.]. Kalarash and the district of Orgieev were well within the destruction path.

Destruction of the building Talmud-Torah and the yeshiva

The destroyed building of the Talmud-Torah and the Yeshivah (religious study houses). Source: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kalarash/kalph353.html.

A comment on sources: The following description is based on several accounts of the Kalarash pogrom. A section in Die Judenpogrome in Russland (vol 2., pp. 97–102), a report on the second wave of pogroms compiled by the Leo Motzkin of the Berlin-based Zionist Organization, chronicles the events of the pogroms. A detailed account of Kalarash in the aftermath of the pogrom was given within the memoires of Philip Cowen (pp. 212–223), a Jewish American immigration officer working in Ellis Island who was nominated by President Theodore Roosevelt to travel to Russia and study the causes of the Jewish migration. A section in Sefer-Kalarash (pp. 331–370), the Yizkor (memorial) book for Kalarash community written after it was all but wiped out during the holocaust, was dedicated to the pogrom. This section included a witness account published first as a Yiddish pamphlet in Odessa in 1906 by a young man by the name of Yaakov Chiplester. The accounts are generally consistent with one another, including on many minute details.

At ten o’clock in the morning of Sunday, October 23, 1905 [o.s.], a group of twenty Russian “hooligans” arrived at the railway station of Kalarash from Kishinev. They did not waste much unnecessary time. The market was already filled with a crowd of Moldovan peasants who came to purchase and sell in the market. Within a few minutes, according to one of the reports, after initiating a quarrel with a Jewish woman at her bread stall in the market, one of the hooligans stood up and called a short incitement speech ending with the battle cry “Now, brothers, it is time to slaughter the Jews!”.

The wave of pogroms that started a few days earlier had not gone unnoticed, and the people understood well what was happening: Jews locked their shops and hid while the hooligans raided the commercial streets, plundering taverns, stores, homes, and storages. Some farmers turned their carts and escaped back toward their villages, while others followed the inciters, tempted by the opportunity to pillage with impunity. Police was absent, and a handful of members of a poorly armed self-defense group tried in vain to keep the perpetrators at bay.

For a few hours the pogrom raged, and the town was filled with scenes of drunkenness, pillaging, beating, shooting, raping, killing, and mutilation of bodies. Many buildings and all shops were burned down to the ground, including houses where entire Jewish families were hiding in cellars and attics. Dozens were burned alive. At four o’clock in the afternoon, a company of 55 soldiers arrived in town with the vice-governor, and the crowd was dispersed. But as the night came down, they raided the town once again and the pogrom resumed, finally ending only in the morning, when plunder opportunities were all but exhausted.

The Outcome of the Pogrom

According to Motzkin’s report (p. 101) the outcomes were the following: 60 Jews killed, excluding an unknown number buried under the rubble. Further 75 were severely wounded and 200 were lightly wounded (According to a list of pogroms published in the American Jewish Yearbook of 1906/7, there were 100 dead and 80 (severely?) wounded; according to Cowen (p. 218), 42 were killed outright, and 53 were (severely?) wounded, of whom some died subsequently.) Two synagogues, a Talmud Torah (religious school), and 230 houses with 412 apartments were burned down, reducing 2,500 persons, more than half of the community, to “virtual beggary”. The total material damage was estimated at 1 million (according to the AJYB list and Chiplester’s account, the estimated damage exceeded 2 million Rubles). To give a sense of the magnitude of this loss, a yearly wage of a skilled worker would amount to roughly 300-500 Rubles in this region. Thus, an average Jewish household in Kalarash lost the equivalent of several years of income. That was a 9.0 earthquake.

While some pogroms during the wave of 1903–1906 were equally violent and deadly, relative to the modest size of the town, the number of casualties and the magnitude of the material damage make Kalarash a rather extreme case. Long time after the pogrom, despite support from donation funds,  the town remained little more than its own wrecks:

“[T]he once lively commercial center was transformed to a miserable pile of rubble, where blackened walls stand screaming to heaven as witnesses to the atrocity, and the homeless who shortly before have rejoiced in prosperity, are left to cry over the ruins of their property and reach for alms.” (translated from Motzkin’s report, pp. 101–102).

Other Cases in the Vicinity of Kalarash

Other Jews in Orgieev district shared Kalarash’s misfortune. According to the AJYB list, Orgieev itself experienced a pogrom, although no damage was specified and Motzkin’s report remained mute on that. The district’s other two large Jewish communities were not listed as suffering a pogrom, but six villages that were noted on Motzkin’s report were identified as situated in the district. The number of families affected in each ranged between 9 and 47, and the estimated material damage from 12 to 42.8 thousand Rubles. As these were surely very small countryside Jewish communities, this material damage must have been severe. One of these communities, in the village of Onishkany, was specifically mentioned in Chiplester’s account among a list of Jewish countryside communities that were ravaged by farmers returning to their villages after taking part in the Kalarash pogrom. He reported on two murdered Jews that were not listed in Motzkin’s report.

Immigration from Kalarash

On December 24, 1906, less than fourteen months after the pogrom, a group of Kalarash Jews was recorded embarking Steamship Smolensk on the Russian Atlantic port of Libau (Libava), en route to New York.  Among them were the Axenfelds (mistakenly written as Axelfeld): Hinde, a 67 years old widowed grandmother; Itzik and Chane, parents in their mid-thirties; and five children under the age of ten. Itzik Axenfeld, the only one in the family with an occupation, was listed as a tradesman. In later American documents I found him as a wine trader. Given the prominence of the wine industry within the economy of Kalarash, this was likely his specific occupation also prior to migration (more details learned from American genealogical resources were used here to expand the description of this group of immigrants).

Kalarash Immigrants Jan 15 1907 - details

Part of a manifest of arrival records submitted to Ellis Island, containing details of Jewish immigrants from Kalarash. The records are from the voyage made by SS Smolensk from Libau to New York, Dec. 24, 1906-Jan. 15, 1907. Source: data of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, http://www.ellisisland.org/search/shipManifest.asp?pID=101877070421.

The Axenfelds were said to be joining a certain Samuel Spiwak, Itzik’s brother in law, who lived on 511 Harrison St., Syracuse, NY. Indeed, I was able to verify that there was a Samuel Spiwak living in Syracuse. He immigrated in 1906 and a couple of years later he was residing within two blocks from the address reported by the Axenfelds. Samuel’s son, a nine year old Jankel Spiwak, was also among the group, and so was another nephew, (a second) Idel Axenfeld, eleven years old. A childless couple in their mid-thirties, Jankel and Feige Grünberg, was adjunct to the Axenfelds. They were also the brother and the sister in law of Itzik and Chane. The Axenfelds came with $600, equivalent to 1200 Rubles, a hefty sum that was rarely in the possession of ordinary Jewish immigrants. Notwithstanding the pogrom, they must have been rather well-off in Kalarash.

Transcription part of the details of the Kalarash immigrants in the image above. First names were corrected when necessary, the inaccurately transcribed names are presented in brackets. The family "Axenfeld" was also misspelled in the manifests. Further fields common to all immigrant in this group are Nationality: Russia; race or people: Hebrew; last place of residence: Kalarasch; Destination: Syracuse, NY. Literacy was separated to ability to read and write, but for all immigrants in this groups the two fields had the same values. Paid by (col. 8): by whom was the passage paid. Money (col. 9): how much money the person possess (U.S. dollars).

Transcription of part of the details of the Kalarash immigrants in the image above.

Finally, there were two more immigrants listed as coming from Kalarash together with the Axenfelds: Blume Grobokopatel, a sixteen year old tailoress, and Naftole Schwarzman, a twenty-five year old tradesman. I was unable to determine a certain family relation between the latter two and the Axenfelds, or that they indeed continued to travel with them to Syracuse. I suspect that they joined them only for the voyage and later separated upon arrival to New York.

The Axenfelds and their company were unlike the quintessential labor migrants, men in their early working life, ready to take advantage of the opportunities offered to the young and able-bodied in the American labor market. Out of a group of fourteen, only four were labor-force participants. Were they driven out of Kalarash by the pogrom? No direct evidence can tell. Having depended on trade for their livelihood, it is more likely than not that their businesses were wrecked during the pogrom and the devastation it brought upon the town.

Furthermore, two hints suggest that they may have experienced personal losses. Naftole Schwarzman, the adjunct twenty-five year-old tradesman, was already a widower. He could, of course, have lost his wife through natural circumstances, such as maternal death, but this would still make him an unusual case (out of 12,003 Jewish-Russian males aged twenty-five in the Ellis Island data, only 13 were widowers). It is not unlikely that he was among the twenty-three widowed by the Kalarash pogrom (Cowen’s memoir, p. 218). Additionally, a certain Selig Greenberg, seventy-five years old, was listed among the known pogrom victims in Sefer-Kalarash. While Greenberg was not the rarest of Jewish names, within a single town it is not far fetched to guess that Jankel Grünberg was his son, or otherwise a close relative.

A Few More Details on the Axenfelds

In fact, the story of the Axenfelds is more complex than I have shown here. Other documents that I found report that not all of them really made it aboard the ship that embarked on December 1906. Although they were written on the manifest, meaning that they intended to travel, purchased tickets, and were listed as passengers, they changed their mind. The women and some of the children stayed behind for a few more years while Itzik was establishing himself in America with the eldest son. He spent a couple of years with the relatives in Syracuse, left his son there with the childless brothers in-law, the Grünbergs, and moved on with his own brother Moritz (Moses) to Canada, perhaps in an attempt to develop some wine trade business. In 1913 they returned to the United States, and at the same year the Axenfelds reunited when the women and the remaining children finally immigrated to the United States. Eventually, they all settled in Philadelphia.

To summarize the story of the Axenfelds, it appears that they were part of an extended family that decided to leave Kalarash and migrate to the United States around 1906. However, they immigrated gradually, relying on relatives that had previously immigrated, making one step at a time. All the Axenfelds planned to immigrate together in December 1906, but for some reason the plan was changed and the household was split to two for a few years.

Kalarash Immigrants in Figures

The Axenfelds make one group of post-pogrom immigrants from Kalarash who decided on migration in the wake of the pogrom. Were they representative of Kalarashers as a whole?

Kalarash Immigration observed in the Ellis Island Sample 1900--1914.

Kalarash Immigration observed in the Ellis Island Sample 1900–1914.

Aggregating the available data on all Kalarash immigrants for the period 1900–-1914 reveals that they were part of a general movement of immigrants that started almost suddenly right after the pogrom took place. The plot above reports the number of Kalarash immigrants identified in the Ellis Island data in each of the sample (fiscal) years 1900–1914. It shows a very clear structural break around the year of the pogrom: prior to 1906, there were no more than ten immigrants identified yearly coming from Kalarash. Suddenly their number peaked to almost eighty in FY 1906 (fiscal years go from July 1 of the previous calendar year to June 30 of the current year). Of those, only four had immigrated in the first four months of the year (July-October 1905), prior to the outbreak of the pogrom. After a couple of years, the flow came down (as was the case for all U.S. immigration in the wake of the 1907 Panic and the ensuing recession), but remained above the pre-pogrom levels.

Indeed, Philip Cowen was right to conclude the account of his visit to Kalarash by quoting from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village:

“And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away, thy children leave the land.”

Kalarash immigrants were driven by the devastating pogrom they had experienced. However, Kalarash was an extreme case. It shows that a severe pogrom could drive migration of Jews from one town; but was Kalarash representative of the Pale of Settlement as a whole, and of cases that did not amount to such calamity? Or was it just an odd case? My answer to that is a rather complicated combination of a “Yes” and a “No”. Pogroms can drive migration, but it depends on the circumstances. Here are the details.

Further Reading

The following are the main sources I used to cover the Kalarash pogrom:

  • Leo Motzkin, Die Judenpogrome in Russland, Berlin 1910.
  • Noah Tamir, Joseph Vinokor, Joseph Uchitel, and Aharon Kidron (eds.) Sefer Kalarash: Le-Antsaḥat Zikhram Shel Yehude Ha-ʻayarah She-Neḥrevah Bi-Yeme Ha-Shoʼah (in Hebrew, Kalarash Book: For the Perpetuation of the Memory of the Jews of the Town That Was Destroyed during the Holocaust), Tel Aviv 1966.
  • Phillip Cowen, Memories of an American Jew, New York 1932.

There are two edited volumes with studies on the pogroms, some of them refer to the pogroms of the second wave (1903–1906):

Cognac from Calarasi Divin, a Kalarash distillery that dates back to the late nineteenth century, could be ordered here. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee the quality. Order at your own peril.