Attacks on Jews Spread; Seek Sanctuary Away from War Zone

Special to The Great War Project

(9 October) In October a century ago, the war lets loose vicious attacks on Jews in the eastern war zones.

Orthodox Jews watch German troops in World War One, date and place uncertain.

Orthodox Jews watch German troops in World War One, date and place uncertain.

Historian Martin Gilbert reports that on the vast Eastern Front, as the Germans press their offensive into the areas of Poland controlled by Russia, “the local population turned savagely against the Jews who had lived in their midst for several centuries. Shops, homes and synagogues were looted.”

According to the French ambassador to Russia “Jews are being hanged every day, accused by the Russians of being secretly sympathetic to the Germans and wanting them to succeed.”

Hundreds of thousands of Jews, reports Gilbert, are “driven from their homes in Lodz, Piotrkow, Bialystok and Grodno, and from dozens of other towns and villages.”

They take to the road and head east and west, looking for places where they hope to be safe, “far from the hysteria of the war zones.”

But often their hopes are smashed.

“Hundreds of Jews perished in Galicia, and many more lost everything they possessed.”

Most of the suffering of the Jews, writes historian Max Hastings, comes at the hands of the Russians. Many Russians developed “a pathological suspicion of merchants in general and Jews in particular.”

The writer John Reed described Polish Jews this way: “Bowed, thin men in rusty derbies, cringing from police, soldiers and priests,” the subjects of extortion and abuse.

According to Hastings, in October of 1914 Poles living in an apartment bloc in Warsaw tell local police that Jews are gathering there. The residents claim the Jews are hatching a conspiracy to “dismember” them. When the police investigate the claim, they conclude the Jews are discussing possible routes to leave Warsaw and find safety.

In Galicia which counts the largest population of Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, talk spreads of “the Jewish question,” reports historian Geoffrey Wawro.

Jews are routinely mistreated by Russian troops. Wawro tells of a Russian officer who observed: “The shadow of pogroms fell everywhere we operated.”