RIVERS OF JEWISH BLOOD

Published March 3, 2015 by rochellewisoff

At a writer’s conference four years ago a prominent New York agent took an interest in PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME. She asked me to add twenty-thousand words to it and then send her a hard copy.

For months I made a point of rising three hours before going to work at 7:00 am to write. Heart pounding, I sent the fruit of my labors only to have it returned in a matter of weeks. In her rejection letter she said it was “too much like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” and it was “a story that everybody already knew.”

Ironically, I’ve told others that my book could be subtitled “The dark side of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.” On the other hand, does my novel tell a story that everyone knows?

Often, when I’m asked what my book is about and I answer that it’s about a woman who survives the pogrom in Kishinev, the capital city of what is now known as Moldova, the next question is, “What’s a pogrom?” It is that the question that convinced me to continue writing.

“‘Kill the Jews!’ Frenzied shouts came from the tailor shop sending icicles down Havah’s back. Sounds of machines toppling and tearing cloth ripped through her.”PSKFM

 On April 19, 1903, as Christians celebrated Easter, the pogrom began at noon. Fueled by the rumor that a Christian child had been murdered in a Jewish ritual and the blood used to make unleavened bread, a frenzied mob rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods for two days.

Reportedly, local police made no attempt to interfere with rioters wielding iron bars and axes. Those who were taken into custody were soon released.

By the time the violence ended two-thousand families were left homeless, five-hundred were wounded and fifty Jewish people were dead.

“Crushing silence, heavy and cruel, closed in on Havah like a burial garment. She opened her eyes. Her soul pleaded for a sound. Children’s laughter. She longed to hear it. Craved it like sweet raisins. But only more quiet answered her plea.”PSKFM

“Crushing silence, heavy and cruel, closed in on Havah like a burial garment. She opened her eyes. Her soul pleaded for a sound. Children’s laughter. She longed to hear it. Craved it like sweet raisins. But only more quiet answered her plea.” PSKFM

No one needed to identify the last corpse in the row for it was draped in his father’s tallis. He took off his hat, scraped a handful of dirt from the street and sprinkled it over his bare head. With a muffled sob he fell beside Evron’s body, clutching the prayer shawl’s fringes. Then he uncovered his brother’s face for one last goodbye, kissed his cold forehead and replaced the cover.

“No one needed to identify the last corpse in the row for it was draped in Itzak’s father’s tallis. Itzak took off his hat, scraped a handful of dirt from the street and sprinkled it over his bare head. With a muffled sob he fell beside Evron’s body, clutching the prayer shawl’s fringes. Then he uncovered his brother’s face for one last goodbye, kissed his cold forehead and replaced the cover.” PSKFM

News of the bloody pogrom sent shockwaves around the world. Rallies were held in London, Paris and New York. President Theodore Roosevelt urged the Czar to denounce the massacre. The Czar refused.

The New York Times reported:

“The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.” (“Jewish Massacre Denounced,” New York Times, April 28, 1903, p 6)

Historians have called pogroms such as these the dress rehearsal for the Nazi Holocaust. Over a hundred years have passed since Kishinev and other such pogroms. Do we remember them? Is this really a story that everybody already knows?  

71 comments on “RIVERS OF JEWISH BLOOD

    • Dear Scott,

      Thank you for commenting. I appreciate the support. Over ten years my passion for this shows no sign of fizzling. I’ve been fortunate in finding an agent who completely understands my motives.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 2 people

  • No, everyone DOES NOT know the story. The problem is that the general public THINKS that because they have heard about the holocaust and seen movies about it (which have it pretty watered down too) they then know about the horrible attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. But just hearing about the Nazi holocaust does no more than open the book on the actual story. Almost no one is telling it now, and I’m concerned that the open window for being able to tell it honestly and completely is rapidly closing even in this country. So keep writing and pushing for publication. Don’t let an agent’s — or a publisher’s — ignorance keep you from doing the job God has obviously given you to do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Sandra,

      Truthfully, although I was flattered that the NY agent showed an interest, she did me a favor by turning me down. In retrospect she wouldn’t have been a good fit. Although I thought she might be since she is Jewish! Go figure.

      My story takes place 36 years before the holocaust and is one that people know even less about than Auschwitz. It’s true that as the survivors are passing, so is the interest. It’s up to the next generation to keep their memories, and the memories of those before them, alive.

      Thank you for understanding my motivation, my friend.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

  • Incredibly sad. It just screams ignorance to me. Oh, the ignorance of people. When will we ever learn? I have read many books about the Holocaust and I have not read a single one about this. I think your book will be different than those already written, at least from my POV.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Dreadful stories that should never be forgotten. Oher tragedies are taking place now – other pogroms, if one can use that word for other ethnic attacks. Why does hatred flourish? The answer is beyond civilised imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Liz,

      The word “pogrom” is actually of Yiddish origin, referring to massacres of the Jews. However, I think ethnic genocide can be referred to as pogroms. Same thought, different people, unspeakable insanity.

      Thank you for coming by to read and add your thoughts.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • I thought this was both powerful and nothing whatever like Fiddler, which actually underplays the pogroms (fine for a musical, but not for the truth). It’s a story which has to be told over and over, and isn’t; I’m glad you’re telling it. Right now, the Nazi movement is on the rise in America, so now it’s more important than ever to tell the stories. Liz Young’s comment above about other ethnic attacks only makes it more universal. Stories are what make history more immediate for us; your excerpt definitely did that for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Kestrel,

      As much as I’ve always loved the music and story of Fiddler on the Roof, it’s rather startling to see how watered down it really is. I didn’t go into some of the grislier aspects of pogroms such as rape and decapitation.

      One of my favorite sayings is that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Naturally, as the granddaughter of Eastern European refugees, the stories of the pogroms are up close and personal to me. I agree, though, that any ethnic attack is unconscionable.

      Thank you for coming by.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • While I was studying Russian history (a good 100 years of it so there was a lot to take in!), the subject of pogroms came up…I can safely write that horrifying would be an understatement.
    But when discussing events such as these, I first have to explain what the terms mean (which is strange because they were truly vile events so I would presume that they were common knowledge), so please continue to write about this.
    In my opinion, it does not matter if there are books already written on the subject because each individual account of such events should be told.

    Like

    • Dear Francesca,

      I’ve been asked by many what a pogrom is, thus I continue to write and write some more. 😉 Not that many books have been written about the events before the Holocaust.

      Thank you for commenting. I appreciate the support.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

  • When people on Twitter think Paul McCartney and Missy Elliot are new acts…we need all the histories and told that we can. I don’t get all of your references, but you tell great stories. Real stories. Whether historical fact or historical fiction, if the story is real and meaningful enough to reteach (or teach for the first time) us a lesson, to hopefully prevent us from repeating the errors of the past, keep telling the story. The more voices the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jenn,

      The little flashes are fun and I learn a lot from them myself. The research on my novels has been an eye opening experience for me.

      Much has been written about the Holocaust as well it should be. We must never forget just as we should never forget the genocide of indigenous Americans.

      The pogroms in Eastern Europe are part of my family history and it’s my burning desire to tell the story.

      Thank you for the support and affirming comments.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • Similar stories might have already been told, but each time a voice is added, we are reminded of history. We are reminded of past atrocities. We are reminded of what ignorance and hatred can do if left unchecked. We ignore stories of the past to our great peril. The pogroms of 100 years ago, Hitler’s genocide of Jews, Gypies, and anyone else he felt was “undesirable”, the ISIS situation of today, the Sudanese civil war of today…the list of stories that NEED to be told goes on and on and on. Perhaps stories similar to yours have been told, but until the world begins to truly LISTEN…they need to be told more. Add your voice. It is necessary. Perhaps your words will increase compassion and reduce hatred…even a little bit.

    Like

    • Dear Bryan,

      I know of a few stories similar to mine, but FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is what people think of when they think of Jews turn of the century Russia. Indeed, I love the music and the flavor of FOTR. Always have. Always will. But there’s so much more to it that’s rarely told.

      There seems to be no limit to human cruelty. There’s been too much of it in the name of racial or religious purity.

      Your words of encouragement and affirmation spur me on. Thank you.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • I am convinced that this story is to important to be left unpublished, and therefore, unread. You are so talented in your writing skills that you pull every character and event to the readers conscious. Those who ignor the past will pay the price in the future. It’s important to understand what leads up to these atrocities and how to deal with it before they happen again.

    Like

  • Hmmm. When she said it was “a story that everybody already knew,” did she mean literally or thematically? I’ve never heard of it, not even in school. Such a sad story, and it needs to be told. So many stories dealing with human rights and religious intolerance have been retold over and over throughout the years. Why should this one be dismissed? Push on, sister.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Nortina,

      I’m not sure if she meant literally or thematically…a good question. Either way, I believe she was wrong, and fortunately, so does Jeanie, my agent.

      Alas this portion of history has been relegated to a musical. (albeit a musical that I love. 😉 )

      After nine years of writing, rewriting and editing there’s no turning back now.

      Thank you for commenting. It means a lot.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • I’ll echo the other readers who say you should keep trying. This is what I’ve done–despite agents who said the book was too long or wouldn’t appeal to a mass readership. Your conviction and the truth must win! –Patti

    Like

    • Dear Patti,

      Fortunately, I didn’t take that agent’s word for anything other than she was looking for an excuse to turn it down. She threw down the gauntlet at the end of her letter, saying that she wished me luck finding an agent to prove her wrong. I believe I have. Jeanie believes in my books as much as I. She won’t give up and neither will I.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

  • A powerfully ugly story that demands to be told. You have a strong voice, Rochelle, whether you’ll admit it to yourself or not. I foresee a lot of tears before I’m finished reading this. Best of luck to you in finding a publisher.

    Like

  • A very dark side of “Fiddler on the Roof”. This is not common knowledge, and is such an important part of history that sadly could be repeated. There is an unspeakable interest in Neo-Nazi, white supremacist groups in the U.S. No one talks about it, but it is out there. A whole new generation of racism is on the rise. Please press on with your efforts. We need to be reminded. Van

    Like

    • Dear Van,

      I feel that in many ways, Fiddler on the Roof has done more harm than good in furthering understanding of that era. Mind you, I love FOTR, the story, the music, the characters, but it waters down the true history of what proved to be a shadow of what was to come in Germany. I do know about the rise of Neo-Nazism and it chills me to the marrow.

      Thank you for weighing in with your comments.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

  • Editors are notorious for rejecting stories that everyone already knows. Maybe, to suit her, you should have a character not unlike Dracula or Nosferatu who hides his deeds within the context of the pogroms? Then realizes living men are worse than he ever could be? Would that suit this woman? Of course, I’m kidding, but what story hasn’t been told a million times before? It’s in the telling that changes the story, makes it thrilling or boring or a national best seller. How many movies and novels and memoirs are filled with Nazis and Jews and the camps? The Holocaust? What attracted her to your story in the first place then made her reject the longer version? Maybe your short story should remain just that. A short, powerful vignette of a larger story!

    Like

    • Dear Emilio,

      Your comments have me smiling. Who knows why she was attracted or why, after I did as she asked, she rejected it. As for the lengthening of the story, I ended up cutting it back to about 82,000 words. However, some of the parts I wrote in to make it longer are the parts I liked the best and left them in.

      She wished me luck in finding an agent to prove her wrong. I believe Jeanie is that agent.

      Alas, I could find no place for zombies or vampires.

      Thank you for your encouragement.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

      • But vampires and zombies are big right now! True they my be passe by the time this is published. You have to lead the wave, not ride it. I don’t want to make light of one of the worst parts of our collective history, so I will shut up for now. Enough joking around.

        Like

  • No Rochelle this is a story that must be told again because most have forgotten it and it has not been repeated to the generation that is now arising and in forgetting the past we doom ourselves to repeat it. Already we are seeing the seeds of pogrom being planted once again in the fields of Europe and even here in America.

    Like

  • First off, no, I don’t think it’s a story that’s very well-known. I’d heard the term pogrom and had a vague notion of it, but no real knowledge. Fiction is a good way to keep our history alive and make it real for people who cannot live as people lived in the past (sometimes, mercifully). And even well-known parts of history can be valuably retold – just look at the success of Wolf Hall and its sequel in the UK, where every other school child can recite Henry VIII’s six wives and what happened to them.

    What retellings of known stories do need, is a fresh perspective or style. Otherwise they are just re-hashes. It sounds to me like your novel is sufficiently different from Fiddler to fit this, but not having read it, I suppose that could have been the agent’s complaint. Or else it just wasn’t a fit and they were looking for a way to say that. People aren’t always accurate (consciously or unconsciously) when they explain their motives for not liking something.

    This is all IMHO, of course. Which is also true of my reaction to the last extract (under the final picture). I found the number of men referred to in pronouns hard to follow. Maybe it’s clearer with the whole text in front of you, but just a quick reaction. That aside, your book sounds harrowing (I mean that in a good way, look at The Book Thief or Anne Frank’s Diary for examples of how that is no bar to success) and fascinating. I look forward to buying and reading it.

    Very best,

    Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jen,

      I’m pretty certain the agent in question was covering her motives. I had that sense when I read her letter and my opinion hasn’t changed. I’m pretty sure, from the pristine condition of the returned manuscript that she didn’t read enough of it make a judgment call. Fortunately I now have an agent who believes I have a story that needs to be told.

      As for the confusion in the photo caption. It’s an excerpt from the book. I copied and pasted as is, but in looking at it again, I see what you mean and did some reworking. After all it’s my own writing so…;)

      Thank you for coming by and commenting. The support means a lot.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • We can never have too many stories about the sorts of things that we must never forget. In addition, there are those who try to deny that these things happened as well as those that are doing this sort of thing (or would like to!) again. Keep telling, Rochelle.

    janet

    Like

    • Dear Janet,

      Well there are those that are trying to deny the Holocaust. I don’t think anyone remembers the pogroms of the 19th and early 20th century enough to deny them. After all we have Tevye to tell us what happened. 😉

      It’s happened in too many places to too many ethic groups in the name of racial purity.

      Thanks for the encouraging words.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • These stories must be told. Especially when people are still saying the Holocaust never happened. History such as this cannot be swept under the rug. Fiddler on the Roof my eye. Tell the story, Rochelle!!!!! Tell it loud, tell it clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Alicia,

      There’s even more documentation about the Holocaust than the pogroms in Czarist Russia. None of it should be swept under the rug. Not to worry, I’ll keep telling the story. 😉

      Thank you for your affirming comments. Much appreciated.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

      • Rochelle,
        I apologize. The spelling for the former U.S.S.R. region (Moldavia) is close to the newer (Moldova), and I assumed.

        The dictionary I’ve used for ages is…well, ages old, and reflects the early ’90s. The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition. Chișinău isn’t in there, in any spelling.

        This part of history is horrific. And though the attitudes and inhuman treatment of peoples exist all over, it is not to be lumped together.

        I see you found an agent that understands your motives in telling it.
        Adam

        Like

        • Not to worry, Adam. If I were going by the dictionary I’d be confused, too. 😉

          I guess I’m compelled most to tell this story as I’m the granddaughter of Eastern European Jewish refugees. So in a small way I’m telling my own story.

          Yes, I’ve found a wonderful agent who really understands.

          Thank you for commenting.

          Shalom,

          Rochelle

          Liked by 1 person

  • I am forever thankful and grateful my grandfather’s family (all except for my great grandfather’s sister and family who perished there under the Czar’s rule) had immigrated from (Odessa, Russia in 1889) before the pogrom of Kishinev since they all came from villages of the Bessarabia territories (German Jewish villages of Bergdorf and Hoffnungstal). The Pale of Settlement in southern Russia was the largest of territories in the 1800-1900’s of Jewish persecution in history. Kishinev was in the Pale. We can be thankful for men like Benjamin Netanyahu who vow to never let it happen again. Our church is such staunch supporters of Israel, for which I am thankful too, to be part of.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Such a horrifying account of human experience and nothing can undo the damage. We read happy stories all the time but its such horrific accounts of human lives that helps us to question our existence time and again and so it needs to be written.
    I didn’t know about this and read for the first time. Thank you Rochelle for posting this.

    Like

    • Dear Norma,

      I believe there are millions who’ve never heard these stories. Although I grew up hearing about the pogroms to some degree, the Holocaust was still fresh in our memories and I had no idea how bad things were.

      Thank you for reading and your affirming comments.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

  • I agree with the others here. EVERY story needs to be told. I’m currently taking an online class on the Holocaust at Univ of Mass and what little we’ve covered so far has been very enlightening. We started with an introduction to anti-Semitism going back centuries. I knew of some of the atrocities of the Holocaust. What I didn’t know was how long the persecution has been going on, how many people hated the Jews simply for being Jewish. The horrible things said by Martin Luther, a man who is still revered in the Christian faiths, left me flabbergasted. So much time and so much hate. It hurts to think about it.

    I’ve been working on my family history for quite a while and recently saved up enough to order the DNA test through Ancestry. I now know I’m 6% European Jewish as well as German. The only way to know about both parts of my lineage is to read as much as I can and hope I don’t have such hatred in my background.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Luna,

      I think what all of know about history (myself included) could fit in a thimble and leave room to swim laps.

      My maternal grandparents came over from Poland at the turn of the twentieth century to escape the persecution. But even with my mother’s stories, I had no idea how violent the pogroms were. And then we have Fiddler on the Roof to water it down for us, don’t we?

      At first I was disappointed when that agent turned me down and then appalled because she is Jewish herself. Definitely not the right agent for me.

      Best wishes on finding your ancestry. I know a few people who have done this with happy results.

      Keep your fingers crossed that Jeanie finds just the right publisher for my two novels.

      Thank you for coming by.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Liked by 1 person

  • Dear Rochelle,

    You are honoring the victims with your words. That thought alone should strengthen your resolve when things seem overwhelming. Carry on. Still work to do and you’re the one to do it.

    ILY.

    Aloha,

    Doug

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Doug,

      Your words and support are as the wind beneath my wings. I will strive to remember them in times of overwhelmed-ness in the work ahead.

      Thank You

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Much love from Vasily with-a-space.

      Like

  • As you say, people see a movie like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and think that’s what a progom was like. I’ve heard they were worse, but not the terrible facts. Just like many other things, people have to be educated. A book like yours and a movie(s) or TV program(s) need to be made that tell the truth just as has been done with facts of WWII. Of course, some don’t want to know the truth. There’s nothing to be done about them, but others would want to know. I’m glad you found someone interested in the publishing of your book, Rochelle. — Suzanne

    Like

    • Dear Suzanne,

      I do love FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. The characters, music and dancing are part of the warp and woof of my ancestors. As a young girl I read the Sholom Aleichem stories on which the play is based. I can recite lines and have the songs memorized. However…

      Thank you for your supportive comments. I appreciate your taking the time in the midst of your own upheaval and pray your husband’s test results are all good.

      So far, we haven’t found someone who wants to publish, but I do have an agent who’s bound and determined to find a publisher. That’s half the battle.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

    • Dear Anne,

      I was told early on that was a great pitch line so to be told that my book was too much like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was disappointing. To be fair, the book needed a lot of work at that point, so that agent really did me a favor on many levels. .

      I’m not about to stop now. Thank you so much for your kind words.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • Dress rehearsal? I’d say more like last stage of a long sickening illness!

    Expulsions from France ranged throughout the Crusade era with the original Jewish identification badges inherited from Islam as omen to the yellow star ones and even the Talmud being tried, convicted and burned.
    The same happened in England. And while we all remember 1492 as the year Columbus “discovered” America, it was that of the expulsion from Spain sending Sephardim Jews mostly to the South as Ashkenazim ones from earlier mostly to the East … where the practice of Pogroms took hold.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/vjwtoc.html

    The only consolation a Gentile can have over the treatment of Jews throughout history is that humans never ceased being murderously unfair to each other in any case.

    Tay.

    Like

    • Dear Tay,

      When the pogroms are referred to as dress rehearsal, historians mean that part of the world was warming up for the Nazi Holocaust.

      I’m well aware of the history of Jewish persecution, but for those who aren’t, thank you for the reminder and for the link. It could come in handy in further projects.

      Humans are vicious creatures, aren’t they?

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It’s much appreciated.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

    • Dear Kathy,

      With rare exceptions in school, I found history incredibly dull and unnecessary. The exception was a teacher in middle school who made history come alive.

      Perhaps my desire to learn history came with the fact that, at this stage of my life, there’s so much of it behind me. 😉 Being Jewish and the descendant of Eastern European refugees, this subject is near and dear to my heart.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      Shalom,

      Rochelle

      Like

  • Dear Rochelle,
    For what it’s worth, and perhaps I’m an outlier, I don’t know the story of Fiddler on the Roof that well (I don’t watch a lot of musicals), much less the 1903 pogrom. There is so much of history to know, and, even then, to not scratch below the surface at all. I suppose you could have simply pointed the agent to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59. In any case, I’m glad you didn’t quit writing; I sometimes wonder if some agents or editors relish in rejections, if only to think “hey, I helped mold that author’s elephant hide” or, perhaps on the flip side, that was the “one that got away.” In sum, keep on keeping on, Rochelle.

    Like

  • With Anti-Semitism on the rise, around the world, this is a chilling reminder of how things begin… and where they lead. Very moving post, Rochelle. Can’t wait to see your book in print!

    Ironically, I have written a post about Moldova… because I’ve had a series of “hits” and a follower from there. It intrigues me, and is that much more interesting to find Moldova, again, in your story! So proud of you for powering through and getting your book out there!

    Like

  • I find it inspirational that you make time to write before going to work each day. Every storyteller deserves to tell their story, no matter how many times it has been told before. Wishing you all the best for the book and the quest for a publisher (self publishing these days is another option).

    Like

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    - one day, they'll say "because of you, I didn't give up" -

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