Pogrom: Definition & Meaning

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Generally defined, a pogrom is a violent attack on Jewish people. However, the term has been expanded to include attacks on homosexuals, African-Americans, Muslims or anyone else considered 'outside' the standard life of society.

What is a Pogrom?

The simplest definition of a pogrom is a violent gathering, riot or attack, usually organized but sometimes spontaneous, directed at one ethnic or religious group, particularly Jews. A pogrom usually results in destruction of property, physical harm and death. Originated from a Russian derivative of to harm, a pogrom now refers to almost any situation where one group actively seeks out to destroy, defame or molest another group.

History of Russian and Eastern European Pogroms

For most of Russian (empire and the Soviet Union) and Eastern European history, there have been sporadic attacks on Jews, some more virulent than others. Long before World War II (1939-1945) and the greatest pogrom of them all, the Holocaust, Jews have been targeted during periods of social unrest, economic decline or political chaos. Successive governments, in attempts to deflect blame at inefficiencies and lack of services, would use pogroms as a safety valve for the general public.

During World War II, even without assistance from the Nazis, Russian and Eastern European Jews suffered violence and death from local populations. Local citizens took advantage of the anti-Jew climate in Europe to conduct wholesale destruction and theft of much of Jewish property as well as mass killings.

Russian and Eastern Europe are not alone. Pogroms have been conducted against Jews in as varied places as Ethiopia (1991), Great Britain (1947) and the United States.

Pogroms in the United States

In the United States, the word pogrom has been used to define attacks, violent and otherwise, on selected groups targeted by others. The United States has a long history with the broader definition of pogrom as well.

The Salem witch trials (1692-1693)

The Salem witch trials were thinly veiled attempts at discouraging female empowerment and continuation of the development of an earlier, theocratic form of government of the American colonies. A complete disregard for due process with elements of false witness, the Salem witch trials were key to the evolution of a working legal system in the United States.

-African-American lynchings (late 1900s-1960s)

The involvement of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a white supremacist semi-religious order, in near endless harassment and systematic violence against Jews, African-Americans and immigrants, was a cornerstone of mob justice in much of American history. The pogroms continue to this day. In 1998, African-American James Byrd, Jr. was dragged behind a truck by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, severing his head.

Anti-communism (1950-1956)

Under Senator Joseph McCarthy, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (1885-1972) and attorney Roy Cohn (1927-1986) orchestrated a campaign against Hollywood, Jews and homosexuals. Hollywood, and its production of media, were signaled out as a fifth column (coming from the inside) attack on the United States. Many careers and reputations were destroyed in one of the uglier periods in American politics.

Homosexuals

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