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  • Pogroms in Russia:Explanations, Comparisons, Suggestions
  • Heinz-Dietrich Löwe (bio)

In the context of the work of Hans Rogger, the history of the Jewish question—if I may use this expression—in Russia took a prominent place. In some ways one might even say that he established the field for modern historical research. He was probably the first to put the historiography of the Jews into its proper context of the Russian political, social, and economic conditions and developments, freeing it from the fetters of the history of suffering (Leidensgeschichte). Exemplary were his breadth of use of source materials, his search for new explanations beyond widely established stereotypes, and his avoidance of any oversimplifications, through which he broke new paths for those who followed his lead. Among these, I have been fortunate not only to be able to use his work but also to receive practical help, suggestions, and encouragement.

Typical of Rogger, it was not I who turned to him but he who turned to me after having heard of my first shaky steps in research on Russian antisemitism. It was Rogger who suggested that we exchange manuscripts (in my case, rather, first drafts) of our works, and so I was able to use his work before it was even published. Later, when Rogger came to Germany on a sabbatical, we had the opportunity for long conversations, which I greatly enjoyed and benefited from. After having waded [End Page 16] through a rather voluminous, still unpublished piece of mine on the Russian peasantry, he met me at the door of my house, manuscript in hand, and said, "Young man, I have a piece of advice—you should become a historian!" Rogger also helped me to gain a visiting professorship at St. Anthony's College in Oxford and, a little later, a permanent position there. For all of this I am tremendously grateful. Many others have also been the beneficiaries of Rogger's openness with German historians of the younger generation.

Here I have chosen as a point of departure Rogger's magisterial "Conclusion and Overview," which he contributed to a 1992 volume on the pogroms in Russia.1 That essay, because of the breadth of its horizon, the sheer extent of the sources and topics covered, and the thoughtful differentiations, will remain for a very long time the frame of reference for anybody who wants to study the pogroms in Russia or, in fact, ethnic violence in general. Rogger placed the pogroms in Russia against the background of European developments, especially in Germany with its Hepp-Hepp riots, and in relation to violence against blacks in America. What I want to accomplish here—without doing violence to the differentiations and nuances that Rogger developed—is to distill the main statements on the causes of the pogroms in Russia, to compare them with new research on pogroms in Germany, and to add my own observations on pogroms in Russia from reading the primary sources.

In an earlier piece, Rogger had effectively destroyed the notion that the Russian government organized the pogroms from the top by pursuing a policy of the hidden hand.2 In "Conclusion and Overview," he also discarded other elements of conventional wisdom in explaining the pogroms: prejudices in and of themselves, he maintained, do not cause pogroms. In addition, it does not really matter if a state where pogroms occur is liberal or authoritarian; state laws are not the root cause of pogroms. He even added that, in broad geographical comparison (looking at Prussia and Austria as the most conservative states after Russia), state-enforced discrimination could prevent pogroms, and he maintained that, though the actions of the police were important factors, their standing by without intervention could intensify pogroms but not cause them. What then were the necessary prerequisites of the pogroms in Russia?

  • • There is a positive correlation on a broad scale between the number of Jews and an increased likelihood of pogroms.

  • • Pogroms become likely when long-term sub- and superordination of social groups is in dispute, when exclusion is breached or relaxed, or when subordination is disappearing as groups or individuals within a minority [End Page 17] of lower status are climbing...


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