Rioters banged on the boarded‐up windows and doors on all sides of the house. Inside, a young boy clung to his mother’s dress in the midst of relatives and neighbors who had gathered to provide a common defense. Spurred on by the ranting rabble in the street, the assailants screamed and shouted in Russian, a language the boy recognized but did not understand. He knew it all had something to do with him being Jewish and them Christian, as he had overheard the adults say the day before when the riot first began, but it made no sense. The only thing clear to him was the hatred the rioters had for them.

Many of the men inside prepared to make a stand and brandished knives, kitchen utensils, narrow boards, even pieces of furniture, or scrambled to arm themselves with something. Someone hollered that a defense would be futile; they had to escape. “To where?” another replied scornfully. “We’re surrounded.” A feeling of dread filled the air. It was evident to the boy, though he was just six years old, that an attack could not be averted and, absent a miracle, that blood would spill and people would die.


Victims of the 1903 Pogrom.

Suddenly, a man cried out, “Bring the children. We can put them on the roof,” and the boy’s mother immediately grabbed him and shoved him toward the door leading to a bedroom.

“Quickly,” she said, hustling him into the room, where, in the far corner, sunlight spilled onto the floor through a freshly cut hole in the ceiling. A man standing beneath the hole grabbed the first child to reach him, a girl, and lifted her onto his shoulders. Two other children stood in line ahead of the young boy.

“What do I do after I get up there?” he asked his mother, as the man who had summoned them joined the other man to help heave the girl on his shoulders through the hole onto the roof.

“Lie there and be still. Wait for them to leave,” she said.

A woman ahead of them turned and said to the boy’s mother, “The attackers will look on the roof when they see the hole and then kill the children to get rid of witnesses.” Then she told the boy upon whose shoulders her hand rested, “Jump off the roof when no one is looking and run to the outhouse.”

From the other room the loud sound of wood splintering startled them. The boy turned and saw the infuriated mob barge through the front door wielding cudgels hewn from tree branches, which they immediately began swinging viciously at the men in the house. But they stood their ground and fought back. His mother shoved him forward. Another child had been pushed through to the roof and the two men helping the children grabbed for the boy in front of him.

“What are you going to do, Mother?”

“Don’t worry about me. Worry about yourself.”

Period illustration of the Pogrom.
Note the mounted soldiers
doing nothing.

The men in the corner grabbed him and started lifting, tearing him from his mother. In that instant, the intruders burst into the room, heading straight for them. Thrown into the air, he instinctively grabbed for the rim of the hole just as a second boost to his feet threw him upward onto the roof. Rather than scurrying away, he peered back down the opening.

The two men who had thrown him through the hole grabbed his mother in an attempt to lift her toward the hole when three or four of the attackers came at them. “Mother,” the boy cried, and reached out for her outstretched hand. One rioter grabbed his mother’s dress just as the two men began to lift her and the dress ripped, leaving the raider with a scrap of cloth in his hand. The boy grabbed his mother’s arm and pulled with all his might. Her other hand grabbed for the roof, and then she screamed and fell back, her arm slipping from the boy’s grip.

“Run, Isidor,” she screamed.

Kishev Molova Map

 Map of Moldova.

He hesitated, but then more rioters poured in and overcame the two men defending his mother. They beat the two men badly while other men tore the clothes off his mother and began fondling her. Overwhelmed with a sense of doom and the urge to escape, Isidor rose to his knees and scanned the rooftop and surrounding area. Three children crouched on the roof. He didn’t see the boy who had gone before him, but spotted the outhouse he must have escaped to.

He saw frenzied crowds in the streets watching and cheering on others who stormed homes and destroyed and looted every structure in their path. The city square was littered with broken glass and other debris. On a side street, he spied a patrol of soldiers, and was about to scream to them for help when it occurred to him that they could see the same things he was seeing – and were doing nothing to stop it. He looked around, spotted another patrol on another street smoking and talking amongst themselves, and then saw a policeman sitting idly on the corner of the street, right in the middle of it all.

His mother’s piercing scream jolted him. He spun around and looked at the hole. He felt the urge to return and rescue her, but knew he was powerless to do anything. And, afraid of what he might see, thought better of it. He scrambled to the lower edge of the roof in the front of the house, jumped down, and ran into the street. Rioters who saw him trying to escape shouted out to stop him, and two men chased him. Isidor ran for his life, jumping over puddles from the weekend’s rains. Beyond a courtyard which marked the boundary of the Jewish quarter he stepped into a very deep puddle – and fell.