Pogrom is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” Historically, the term refers to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire. In Nazi Germany, public violence against Jews was tolerated and even encouraged when Nazi leaders calculated that it would “prepare” the population for harsh antisemitic measures. For example, the summer before the announcement of the Nuremberg Race Laws in September 1935 saw frequent violence against Jews across Germany, including burning down synagogues, destroying Jewish-owned homes and businesses, and physical assaults. Similarly, the orchestrated nationwide campaign of street violence known as Kristallnacht of November 9–10, 1938, was followed by a surge in anti-Jewish legislation. Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) received orders to tolerate and even encourage the populations in newly conquered Soviet territory to launch pogroms. On June 29, 1941, Romanian officials and military units, assisted at times by German soldiers, killed at least 8,000 Jews during a pogrom in Iasi, in the Romanian province of Moldavia. On July 10, 1941, residents of Jedwabne, a small town located in the Bialystok district of occupied Poland, participated in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.
Pogroms did not end with World War II. In Kielce, Poland, local residents launched a pogrom against surviving and returning Jews in the city on July 4, 1946. Mobs attacked Jews after false rumors spread that Jews had abducted a Christian child whom they intended to kill for ritual purposes. The rioters killed at least 42 Jews and wounded approximately 50 more. A fear of violent pogroms was one motivation that led the vast majority of Jews who had survived the Holocaust to seek to leave postwar Europe.