Responding to a Pogrom

Violence was much on Tolstoy’s mind. Some eight months before Bryan’s visit a terrible pogrom against the Jews had occurred in Kishinyov. Horrified by this event, Tolstoy readily lent his name to a protest signed by a group of distinguished scholars. More clearly than most, he recognized that the pogrom was not simply the result of the traditional hatred of gentiles for the Jews, but had been deliberately fomented by reactionary police authorities in order to divert the public mind from the threatening activities of revolutionists. And with his characteristic courage, he did not hesitate to proclaim publicly the bloodguilt of the Russian government. For when the North American Newspaper cabled him for a statement that would place the blame for the frightful massacre, he answered: “The fault is that of the government, in the first place for excluding the Hebrews, as a separate caste, from the common law, and in the second place for forcefully inspiring the Russian people to substitute idolatry for Christianity.” When the well-known Jewish writer, Sholom Aleikhem (the pseudonym of S. N. Rabinovich) requested him to contribute something to a literary collection to be published to aid the pogrom sufferers, Tolstoy willingly responded by writing three short tales. [The titles of these tales, translated into Yiddish by Sholom Aleikhem and first published in Warsaw in 1903, are “The Assyrian King Esarhaddon,” “Three Questions,” and “Toil, Death and Disease.”]

–Ernest J. Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, 623-624

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