Russian Civil War Pogroms - The Bolshevik ("October") revolution of 1917 was followed by a civil war and a war with Poland. A large number of Jews, between 50,000 and 100,000 or even 200,000, died in riots and massacres. In the long history of European anti-Semitism, these were probably the largest-scale massacre of Jews to date. Because of the chaos prevailing in that period, and because of the interests of various sides in covering up the violence, the post-revolutionary pogroms are the least discussed and researched, and data about them are scarce.
The neglect of this period cannot entirely accidental. The Proskurov pogrom, in which about 2,000 Jews were murdered on February 15, 1919, was a horrendous event.Eventually, about 10,000 Jews were murdered in that district. The events are barely remembered by Jews, and certainly not by anyone else whose ancestors were not from that unfortunate town. Yet at the time, the New York Times wrote:
These pogroms were indeed a new and "improved" twentieth century version, which foreshadowed the mass murders of the Holocaust, Armies, rather than disorganized bands, often conducted the massacres, sometimes using machine guns. One might think that these events were simply overshadowed by the Holocaust, but, for example, the pogroms of Kishinev are quite well documented, though they killed far fewer people.
History of the Civil War Pogroms
Most of this violence was not the "natural consequence" of war, but rather the result of pogroms, aimed specifically at Jews. It is difficult to get more accurate numbers, or to know how many were murdered because they were Jews, how many died of starvation and disease and how many died fighting in the various armies.
The area of the greatest concentration of pogroms corresponded roughly to the Tsarist Jewish pale of settlement. It included Ukraine, Galicia, Belarus ("White Russia" in the map), Moldavia, Eastern Poland, Easter Romania, and Western Russia. The borders shifted around with the confused fighting.
Most of the pogroms and deaths occurred in the Ukraine, for several reasons. The first was that the Ukraine had the largest concentration of Jews in Russia. The second is that the Ukraine was the scene of the bitterest and most prolonged fighting. In addition to the "White" (Volunteer) counter-revolutionary forces of General Anton Ivanovich Denikin, that operated in Greater Russia, and the Soviet Red Army, there were the Ukrainian nationalists of Petliura, and the Polish forces. Several wars occurred in the Ukraine and vicinity between Polish, Ukrainian, "White" Russians (not to be confused with the geographic region of Byelorussia - also called "White Russia) and Soviet troops. Western Russia had been the scene of fighting with the German and Austrian forces, and it held major concentrations of demobilized, hungry, armed and unruly troops. We cannot ignore, as well, the long history of Ukrainian anti-Semitism, going back to the time of Bogdan Khmelnytsky (Chmielnitsky).
The reasons or excuses for the pogroms were diverse. Everyone hated the Jews for religious reasons. The Poles accused them of being anti-Polish. The Ukrainians hated the Jews first because they were merchants and exploiters (bourgeois) and then because they were communists.
Russian human catastrophes of the twentieth Century tend to have a mind-boggling scale. There was chaos during this period, and afterwards the authorities destroyed or hid whatever documentation existed, though some of it is coming to light following the fall of the USSR.
Extent of the Civil War Pogroms
Regarding the total number of victims, one recent study states:
A document by Vladimir Danilenko, State archivist of the Kiev Oblast, which introduces an archive of aid documents related to the pogroms and newly declassified following the fall of the USSR stated;
Since this estimate may not include other areas of Russia or Poland, it indicates a horrific death toll.
It is not clear if the above estimates include the pogroms that took place in Poland.
Rulers in the period of the Pogroms
A confusing sequence of coups and counter coups and invasions that beset the Ukraine and Russia and formed the background of the pogroms. These were affected by the Soviet Revolutions, the war with the Central powers and the war with Poland, as well as the fortunes of the Reds and the "White Russians" (the anti-Soviet armies of Denikin and others, not to be confused with "White Russia" - Belarus).
From March 17, 1917, following the Keresnky revolution in Russia, the Ukraine was controlled by the Rada under Semyon Petlyura, which at the time professed to be a progressive government, and in fact enacted legislation favorable to Jews.
From January 25, 1918, the Rada, under the "Fourth Universal" proclaimed itself independent of Russia, which was attacked by the Soviets. The Ukrainians signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk as allies of the Central powers. The Central powers occupied the Ukraine, disbanded the Rada, and made Hetman Pavlo (or Pavel or Paul) Skoropadsky, scion of an old Cossack aristocratic family, into the ruler of the Ukraine. This period was characterized by minor disorders and notable enmity to Jews. As can be expected however, the Germans kept order to a reasonable extent, relative to what followed.
In November of 1918, the Central Powers were forced to withdraw and a new government, the directorate, was formed by Petliura. This government was constantly pressed by the Soviet Russians, the Poles and the White Russian "Volunteer" army of Denikin and was eventually absorbed into the USSR. The Reds entered Kiev in February 1919, but were forced to withdraw in the autumn, precipitating a wave of pogroms.
At the same time, in Western Galicia, the West Ukrainian People's Republic was proclaimed on November 1st, 1918 with its capital in Lviv (Lvov). This soon united formally with the Petliura government, but faced revolts from the large number of Poles living in the Galicia. They were supported by Poland, and eventually, this territory was overrun by Polish forces. See-saw movements of large forces in 1919 and 1920 helped encourage chaos and destruction.
The 1919 period included of the worst pogroms in the Ukraine area, though later, there were pogroms in Poland as well.
Perpetrators of the Pogroms
As can be expected, nobody wants to take "credit" for the pogroms of the civil war. Viewing all the contradictory claims and taking them at face value, one would have to conclude that the pogroms never took place, since the partisans of each side profess their love for the Jewish people. But the pogroms did, nonetheless, take place.
In Poland, the Polish army took an active part, machine gunning Jews in Lemberg, demanding huge sums of money and destroying and expropriating property. In Russia, the situation is less clear. Until the end of 1918, Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky ruled under German-Austrian protection. At the end of 1918, the central powers withdrew from the Ukraine and the Ukrainians formed their own government under Semyon Petliura. In reality, however, their rule was enforced by semi-independent warlords, who often did as they pleased. Several armies and warlords, leading bands of undisciplined soldiers who were the remains of the disintegrated Russian army, caused chaos. Then the Red army came, and as the Ukrainian nationalists were forced to withdraw from Kiev they began a wave of pogroms. Then the Reds were vanquished by the Whites for a while, and the White Russians under Denikin and his "associates" likewise carried out pogroms. The first pogrom of the Ukrainian nationalists was evidently carried out by an Ataman called Kosir Zirko, in Avrutch, in the province of Wohlin (Volhynia), against the orders of Petliura and the central government.
Pogroms were also undeniably carried out by forces allied with the Red Army or nominally a part of it. In addition to the major culprits, the leaders of forces that carried out pogroms included a character named Zeleny (or Zeliony) Nestor Makhno, Gergoriev, Struk and Sokolovsky. These warlords often switched sides and often as not became independent, so that Makhno and Zeleny can be found professing socialism and brotherly love in one period, and reaction and anti-Semitism in another.
It is certain that troops of both Petliura and Denikin and Makhno, as well as troops of other Atamans and occasionally Red Army troops as well, participated in pogroms. It is clear that each side has a political bias in evaluating these events and the role of different factors in them. But eye witness testimony of Jews is also contradictory. For example, this compilation about Makhno has people insisting he was an anti-Semite and others insisting that he was in no way involved with pogroms A possible source of the confusion is that there was another warlord called Mikhno, allied with Zeleny. But at least one contemporary source is pretty definite that Makhno went from being an anarchist to supporting Denikin and thereupon started carrying out pogroms (NYT Jan 2, 1920).
An additional problem in evaluating guilt is that many of the culprits are known to have made speeches and sometimes to have given orders denying anti-Semitism and forbidding pogroms, but often these were hollow or equivocal. Zeleny, who was notorious, stated:
And from the same source:
Ukrainians deny that Petliura had a role in pogroms, It is impossible to make a final judgment, as was pointed out by Professor Yury Shapoval. Petliura's troops undoubtedly did murder Jews in large numbers, but often it was done in direct disobedience to orders from the central government. Petliura was assassinated in Paris, in exile in 1926 by a Jew named Sholom Schwartzbard. He was acquitted on the grounds that Petliura was held responsible for murdering his family as well as other Jews. Prosecution witnesses insisted that Schwartzbard was a Bolshevik agent and that Petliura (also Petlura, Petlyura) was a friend of the Jews. Time Magazine related the testimony of a defense witness:
General Alekseev, of the volunteer (White Russian) army equivocally told a Jew who pleaded to stop the pogroms:
Denikin likewise told Jews:
Petliura made similar ambiguous disclaimers, and both issued orders to their bands not to murder Jews, but the value of such declarations is doubtful, and even if they were sincere, they were not effective.
Jews made various statements in support of this or that army or government. These are often used as "evidence" by revisionists and apologists that their army or government was not anti-Semitic and not involved in pogroms. The value of these statements is dubious. understood that it would be very unwise to oppose any such force that represented "the government" and which, as far as they were concerned, had overwhelming force at its disposal. We can more or less dismiss various statements of Jewish leaders at the time supporting Petliura, Makhno or Denikin as evidence of any kind. There was indeed a sincere hope by Jews that the Volunteer ("White") army would restore order and some Jews supported this army, just as some joined Petliura.
For example, the Ukrainian forces of Petliura, the Rada government and the Directorate, which overthrew the regime of the Hetman Skoropadsky toward the end of 1918, were welcomed by the Jews. Initially, Shalom Goldman, a member of the Poalei Tziyon, was a minister in the Ukrainian government. The Jews had high hopes that this government would put an end to the chaos and minor pogroms that characterized the Skoropadsky government. But then the Ukrainian nationalists began committing terrible pogroms. Goldman found himself out of a job and trying to help pogrom victims. By September, 1919, he was decrying the fate of Ukrainian Jewry as reported in the New York Times. Likewise, the Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky anxious to improve the lot of the Jews in the Urkaine and anxious as well to secure legitimacy and recognition for the Zionist cause, concluded an agreement with Semyon Petliura. Petliura did not keep his part of the agreement, and in any case was out of power quite soon. Nestor Makhno was originally allied with the reds and professed liberal ideas. At that time he cooperated with the Jews and protected them. Later, Makhno switched sides and his forces began committing pogroms against Jews. Zeleny (Zeliony or Zelionyi) also switched sides and changed his behavior to the Jews. The simple villagers who told their stories often did not follow these changes in allegiance and therefore the testimonies are confused and contradictory. Ukrainian nationalists and other partisans also make either ignorant or deliberate and cynical use of laudatory testimony like that of Shalom Goldman in order to exonerate their cause and their national heroes of anti-Semitism.
The Ukrainian government still had in fact, Jewish officials at the end of 1919. In the circumstances, it is apparent that they were deluding themselves and being used. Arnold Margolin represented the Ukrainian government at the Paris Peace Conference. He noted that the Ukrainian government officials included a number of Jews, and "explained" the pogroms, which he acknowledged in a limited way, as follows:
In the same document, The Jewish Pogroms in Ukraine. Authoritative Statements on the Question of Responsibility for Recent Outbreaks Against the Jews in Ukraine, another Ukrainian Jewish official, Mark Vishnitzer, claims that the Ukraine had a very liberal policy toward the Jews and granted them full rights of self-determination. The document was compiled by "The Friends of the Ukraine," a lobby group, and submitted (evidently to the U.S. government) in 1919. It must be evaluated against the background of the horrendous extent of pogroms taking place in this period.
The sequence of pogroms
The Ukrainian pogroms began in 1918, and intensified in 1919. Danilenko claims that a number of Pogroms were committed by what he called the Haidamaki in 1918 (perhaps reference to the Skoropadsky regime), but the pogroms intensified beginning in February 1919. According to an account published January 13, 1920 in the New York Times, based on the report of General Jadwin to President Woodrow Wilson, as many as 29,000 Jews were murdered up to September 9, 1919, before the big pogrom in Kiev. A Jewish group provided a list of 10,712 Jews who had been killed, naming the towns where the pogroms took place. Jadwin described an incident in Fastiv ("Fastow" or "Fastov"), where 400 people were "understood" to have been killed, but it is not clear whether these were the total deaths during fighting between Bolsheviks and Whites, or Jews killed in massacres. As a measure of the uncertainty of the estimates, we may note that Danilenko reported a thousand deaths in Fastov,
We should be wary of schemes that try to make order in the progression of violence. One source (0. V. Kozerod, S.Ya.Briman, A.I. DENIKIN'S REGIME AND THE JEWISH POPULATION OF UKRAINE IN 1919-1920) claims:
That may be so, but there were certainly pogroms before June. Kenez states in fact that the largest pogrom of all took place in Proskura, in February of 1919, where about 2000 people were murdered. Kenez, Peter, Pogroms and White Ideology in the Russian Civil War, in Klier, John Doyle and Shlomo Lambroza, eds. Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, New York: Cambridge, 1992, p 295 (other sources give larger numbers, but these may be for the entire province or totals fo repeated pogroms). Danilenko, as noted, describes pogroms in 1918 as well as early 1919.
A New York Times report of April 21, 1921 notes a wave of pogroms in the White Russian district of Gomel in which "thousands" were killed according to the Joint Distribution Committee. The victims who survived were said to number 60,000. In one town, Iutchaydnka, every Jew was killed except two babies. That wave of pogroms was only one of several in that region. In Poland and Galicia, there were extensive pogroms with the active participation of the Polish legionaries and authorities, as well as confiscation of Jewish property by the state and huge fines levied on the destitute population.
Jewish Self-Defense in the Civil War Pogroms
One noteworthy feature of the pogroms both in Ukraine and Poland that repeated itself was that, where the Jews had formed self-defense committees, they were first disarmed by authorities, allowing the irregular troops to carry out the pogrom. In Poland, the legion did not bother with intermediaries often and would themselves carry out the murder of the Jews. In any case, these self-defense committees armed with small arms could have no chance against an army like Denikin's. This pattern was repeated in the Kielce pogrom of 1946.
Tabulations of the Pogroms of the Civil War
Some of the massacres that took place:
The above list is illustrative only. It has not proven possible to compile a definitive list or even one that is representative because the data are too fragmentary.
The New York Times of September 11, 1919 (List Ukrainian Pogroms) published a list of pogroms announced at the Versailles peace conference by the American Jewish Committee, taken from a small Odessa publication called Le Temps. These data too are obviously fragmentary and unsystematic and do not include major pogroms such as Proskurov and Fastov, but they give us an idea of the extent and nature of the violence:
March 29, 2009
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Further Information: pogrom
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.
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