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The Pogroms in Ukraine, 1918-19

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Nokhem Shtif

III. The Volunteer Army’s Own Style of Pogrom

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1Before the period of the Volunteer Army, Ukraine had already experienced many pogroms of various types, by Petliura’s military units, Atamans, and ordinary bandits. Nevertheless the Volunteer Army managed to be innovative, adding something new of its own that made it stand out from the earlier pogroms. The most prominent features of its style were: 1) its military character 2) the mass rape of women 3) special humiliations and tortures 4) the extermination of entire Jewish communities. In that aspect its only rivals were the slaughters by the Cossacks in the 17th and 18th centuries during the eras of Khmelnytsky (1648) and Gonta (1768).

The Military Character of the Pogroms. Relations with the Local Population

2Local Christians had taken part in the earlier pogroms of 1919, mostly the ignorant peasants and the reactionary wing of the intelligentsia, particularly those who felt they had been harmed by the Revolution; former officials from the Tsarist regime; and others of the privileged class. It was these reactionaries who prompted the pogroms, incited the poor peasants, and brought in the gangs.

3But under Denikin’s rule, pogroms were a military activity. Then it was the military that initiated them and carried them out. Most of the local Christians had nothing to do with them. They were apathetic or hostile to Cossack atrocities. In some cases peasants from surrounding villages took part, but they did nothing more than take the plunder that the Cossacks were throwing away, or taking household goods from houses that the owners had been forced to abandon. Local residents rarely took part in pogroms. This occurred in Rossovo, Bohuslav, Fastiv; Boryspil.

4Very seldom did local Christians actively participate or incite them, as in Boyarka and Rakitna (Kiev province). Rather we see local Christians treating Jews decently, hiding them in their homes, standing up for them, sending official delegations to the military commanders in the cities and various organizations, courageously and heroically risking their lives on their behalf, in Bila-Tserkava, Horodyshche, Hostomel, Veprik, Cherkasy (Kiev province); Borzna, Konotop, Niezhyn, Novy-Malyn; Boryspil; Dzhurin, Krivoye-Ozero (Podolia province); and in many other places. Many Jews owed their lives to that compassionate behavior, without which the devastation would have been much worse.

5But the situation grew worse with time: the state of permanent pogrom was demoralizing. Robbery, murders, slaughters were perpetrated day or night, not just by criminals but by the regular army and its officers. It was done right in front of everyone, and the superior commanders either pretended not to know or gave tacit assent by not prohibiting it and by not punishing anyone. Pogroms were a legal way of life. Jewish possessions were for the taking, and gradually some of the local Christians joined in the robbery. In many cases Christian farmers, especially those in nearby villages, would not let Jews hide in their homes, supposedly because they were not permitted to do so. In the town of Kozyn (Kiev province) farmers hid Jews at first, but seeing the actions of the military authorities, they themselves beat the Jews. The same occurred in Stepantsi, and especially in Tagancha (Kiev province).

6But the opposite also happened, and even where there was no moral repugnance at first, horrendous acts of violence elicited human compassion. For example in Niezhyn, where the Christian residents showed no sympathy towards the Jews, nevertheless, when they witnessed the horrors they hid Jews in their homes and sent a delegation led by priests to the military authorities to plead for the Jews. On those harrowing days some Christians showed great compassion by standing up for Jews at a time when just saying a good word about Jews was in itself a crime, and there were those who were beaten for doing that, in Borzna (Chernihiv province) and Horodyshche (Kiev province).

7A most unusual case should be noted in Horodyshche concerning one Haritsai. Although he was a bandit who had taken part in an earlier pogrom there, he was grateful to Jews who had saved him from death at the hands of the Soviets, and he showed up at the last minute when Cossacks were about to shoot a group of Jews. He defended them so vigorously, with such moral conviction and devotion, that it even moved the Cossacks, and in that way he saved them from certain death.

8In short, taking everything into consideration, the pogroms were simply a military tactic for the commanders of the Volunteer Army. In some cases state troopers (police) joined in. For example in Rossovo the police chief himself, along with his militia, shot Jews who had returned to the ruins of their homes after a pogrom. The militia did the same in Kokhnyn (Kiev province), police chief Pampushka in Stepanets, the militia in Stavishche (Kiev province), and elsewhere. By the way, the same Pampushka had been the leader of a partisan unit for the Bolsheviks. In general the police terrorized the Jews and extorted money from them. But the bulk of the pogroms were carried out by the regular Army. And by doing that it alienated itself even from the Christian population, even among the villagers, who were generally conservative, particularly in within the Pale of Settlement and who had looked upon the Volunteer Army as the liberators and “saviors” of Russia.

The Mass Rape of Women

9The mass rape of Jewish women was the most distinctive, striking feature of the Volunteer Army pogroms. It put its special stamp on them. There had been horrendous slaughters before. One need only mention the slaughters of Petliura’s Army in Proskurov and Felshtin in Feburary 1919; Grigoriev’s bloodbaths in Cherkasy and Yelizavetgrad in May 1919. Rapes had been rare, few in number. But with the Volunteer Army it became systematic, along with plunder and murder. They raped women everywhere, even in the “quiet pogroms” and in the larger cities. In Yekaterinoslav they raped thousands of Jewish women. In smaller towns, it was hundreds which meanswomen, almost all those who could not manage to escape or hide themselves for long.

10The manner in which it was done has already been noted. 1) It was done out in the open, in front of husbands, parents, and children. 2) No one was spared this horror for any reason or age, from little girls as young as 8 to elderly women. One might imagine that the reports from so many different local informers, as well as the special investigation on the rape of women, might be the nightmare of some delirium, but then one would have to draw the even more fantastic conclusion that hundreds of people who had never met each other had somehow colluded to make up the exact same story, using almost the very same words, even inventing the names of the victims. One would have to believe that masses of Jewish women went to doctors and midwives for help and, with no shame whatsoever, made up the foulest and vilest stories about themselves.

11So horrendous are the accounts that they are difficult to grasp. Here are a few of the countless reports. In Korsun (Kiev province) two cases are documented of the rape of women in their seventies: In Rossovo a 75-year-old woman in Rossovo in front of her husband and daughters; in Tomashpil; and elsewhere. In Kremenchug six Cossacks raped a woman who was suffering from typhus. In Korsun they raped a woman who was on her deathbed, and she died on the spot. In Niezhyn and in Rossovo they raped women in childbed. In Pryluk they stopped a girl in the street in broad daylight across from the district office, they stripped her naked and raped her. Eight to ten Cossacks would rape one child. In Cherkasy they bit a raped girl from head to toe, till she was all swollen. In Borzna they seized a group of girls in the street, whipped them, then raped them.

12They dragged Jewish women and girls out of their homes, and they never came back. Others were snatched straight out of trains. Many of the victims came down with the vilest venereal diseases. Others lost their sanity. They raped and then murdered many. Some women begged for death rather than be raped. And many Jews, old and young, ended up dead trying to protect their own from shame and tragedy. There are no words…

Humiliation and Torture

  • 1 Almost 2,000 people were murdered in one day in Proskurov. See Peter Kenez, ‘Pogroms and White Ideo (...)

13It would be hard to be original in cruelty after such pogrom criminals as those of Zelenyi’s gangs and Sokolovsky’s gangs, and Petliura’s Atamans, Palienko (during the first pogrom in Zhitomir January 1919), [Ivan] Semosenko (the slaughter in Proskurov), and others.1

14Yet in this respect the Volunteer Army managed to outdo them, both in the variety of violence and degradation and in the enthusiasm with which they committed them. First of all, there were methods reminiscent of the Inquisition. These were the primary means to extort money from people, to ransom their freedom. Their methods were so varied, so thought-out and consistent, that it seemed as though they were not simple murderers doing their usual quick work, but rather serious, pious monks of the Inquisition attempting to extract the truth. Such techniques as threatening people with a rifle, putting them against a wall, beating them, brutalizing them, breaking their limbs — this was “banal,” workaday.

15The Volunteer Army employed “more refined” methods, for example hanging people to frighten them. This is how they did it. They would put a noose around the victim’s neck and throw the rope over the first hook in the house, and they hanged him, not long enough to kill him — because they needed him alive to pay the ransom, or to show them where something was hidden — or just to watch him hanging there, between life and death. Then they let him down till he regained consciousness. Then they stuck a rifle into him, or hit him with a whip, and demanded that he show them what was hidden, that he give them money, etc. And they would do this until people brought the ransom money. There were cases where they hanged someone three times, Berkovich in Krivoye-Ozero; someone else seventeen times (Smilianski in Cherkasy, from whom they extorted half a million rubles); and a case where they compelled a high-school boy, Boris Zabarski in Fastiv, to put the rope around his father’s neck.

16They used medieval tortures using fire. They would burn someone’s face with a candle, and they threw people into fires. In Bila-Tserkava, for example, they did it to a man named Grossman, who had escaped the pogrom in Volodarka, and he died. They would burn the hair on your head, the soles of your feet, etc. And they combined the tortures. They would hang someone and burn the soles of their feet with candles, as they did in Kaharlik. It was just like the Inquisition torture rack. They ripped the hair from your beard. They stuck needles into your feet, etc. In Boryspil they demanded 25,000 rubles from a man named Lilegart. First they knocked him to the ground and kicked him, then they threw him into a box and stabbed him with knives. Then they pulled him out, half-dead, and shot him right in front of his mother and sister.

17The Volunteer Army murdered thousands of Jews, those gray-haired old “Communists” that they rounded up as they were studying Gemara in the prayer houses, those “Communist” infants in their cradles, along with their mothers and grandmothers. Among those murdered, the number of tortured elderly, women, and children is shocking. They shot people to death, but in greater numbers they stabbed them, slashed them with swords, chopped off their heads. Many died in homes that they set on fire, more than 100 in Fastiv alone, Lutshinets, Dzhurin, Yaruha (Podolia province). In Korsun they strangled 80-year-old Sukhodolski. They buried alive 90-year-old Frume Pekar in Rozhiv; two people in Tetiiv; Ben-Zion Evalenko in Obrukhov (but he got out alive), and more and more.

18But such a death might have been preferable for those who were tortured endlessly, their tongues cut out (like Kisman in Fastiv, who had already been wounded by a bullet), their ears, their noses, their eyes gouged out (like Yampolski in Fastiv), their hands and feet cut off, etc. What can we say of the “idyllic scenes” staged by Russian officers? They strung Jews to sleighs instead of horses, as in Horodyshche. Or they ordered brutalized, half-naked people whose parents and children were murdered right in front of them to hold hands and merrily dance a karahod while singing, “Murder the Jews and save Russia!” in Mykhailivka (Kharkiv province); Kaharlik (Kiev province); Borzna (Chernihiv province); and elsewhere.

The Extermination of Jewish Communities

19We have seen that the Volunteer Army was not satisfied with merely plundering Jewish possessions. They were just as inclined to simply destroy everything, and this annihilation was, so to speak, the ideal of the Volunteer Army: selflessly devoted to rooting out the Jews completely. We have already seen that the emptying out of household goods and furniture, and the burning down of homes and stores, was part of the plan, especially in the provinces of Kiev and Podolia. No other group had done this on such a massive scale, so systematically, or so thoroughly as the Volunteer Army. Many Jewish towns and villages had already suffered pogroms in 1919, but they had managed to hang on. The Volunteer Army now dealt them the death blow.

20Other towns, like Fastiv, which had happily avoided the first wave of pogroms, and which had welcomed thousands of unfortunates who had fled from that hell, first experienced that kind of systematic annihilation at the hands of the Volunteer Army. Many towns were decimated by the burning down of houses: Bohuslav, Bila-Tserkava, Horodyshche, Hostomel, Korsun, Makarov, Rakitna, Rossovo, Talne, Shpola (Kiev province); Boryspil; Niezhyn; Krivoye-Ozero, Tomashpil, Myaskova, Savran (Podolia province), and others.

  • 2 Hebrew and Yiddish: traditional Jewish elementary school.

21Towns like Fastiv, for example, with 10,000 Jewish residents, were left almost completely empty amidst the flames and smoke. In Fastiv alone, 200 Jewish houses were totally burned down, and as many shops. They systematically destroyed not only private property, but also community institutions. They demolished and burned Jewish prayer houses, hospitals, old-age homes, schools, free-loan associations, and cooperatives. In Bila-Tserkava they turned the Talmud-Torah2 into an outhouse, and one part of its courtyard into a horse-stall, although there was a deserted horse shed nearby. They smashed the window panes and the oven doors. In Rossovo they destroyed the free-loan association. The Cossacks tore apart the drawers, the cabinets, the tables, the accounts. They broke into the warehouse and plundered everything. They struggled for a long time to break into the safe. Finally at one in the morning they put pyroxylin under the safe and blew up the whole building.

22They destroyed Jewish homes and stores on a massive scale after first plundering them. One result of this was that economic life was paralyzed, because the terror and the attacks on Jews did not stop even in the “quiet pogroms.” All this resulted in dozens of Jewish communities being annihilated. Life became unbearable in the towns and villages where there reigned a “permanent pogrom.” So despite the fact that death lurked on the roads, the survivors fled wherever they could, starving, naked, barefoot, with the elderly and children. They would often stumble onto communities that had already been devastated. There these homeless would have to depend on charity.

23As more and more villages were destroyed, and more people were made homeless, the availability of assistance dwindled. Many ended up horribly cramped in prayer houses and poorhouses, dying in huge numbers from hunger, cold, and even more from epidemics, especially typhus. The death rate among Jews at that time was so high that it was often impossible to bury them in the proper time, and corpses had to wait for graves. It can be said that if Jews were murdered by the thousands by Cossack bullets and swords, but they died by the tens of thousands in the suffering after the pogroms, from starvation, the cold, and typhus.

24Indeed dozens of Jewish communities were rendered homeless: Boryspil, Boyarka, Hostomel, Dymer, Ignatovka, Yaruha, Kaharlik, Kobyzhcha, Kozyn, Krivoye-Ozero, Mironivka, Moshny, Orlovets, Pototsky, Rozhiv, Rosava, Tagancha, Tarashcha, Sharhorod, and others. Some of those who tried to return home were murdered, for example in Rosava, and at best they managed to escape again, as in Boyarka. The Cossacks burned down the ruined houses, or local peasants moved in. There was no going home.

25But the ruined communities that could not manage to escape and had to remain were no better off. They, too, died by the thousands from the cold, starvation, typhus. The situation of such a well-established and solid community as Fastiv, after the first pogrom of September 22–26, 1919, is described in a report on relief assistance: “We evacuated 75 seriously wounded people to Kiev. A number of them were murdered in the hospital in Kiev during the pogrom there. We requisitioned 2 epidemics barracks for 500 people and two shared-living quarters. We are feeding 6,500 people in soup-kitchens. Ten to twenty people die every day.” In such a small town as Vasilikov 400 Jews were sick with typhus in November 1919. In smaller towns, especially the more isolated ones, the situation was even worse.

26The Volunteer Army did not devastate only Jewish communities in the towns, but also the tiny Jewish settlements in the villages. Their experienced eyes uncovered Jews everywhere. In the village of Gogolenko (Chernihiv province) there lived five Jewish families. They had been allowed to buy land for the first time after the Revolution, just like the farmers. The Cossacks destroyed everything, and they barely escaped with their lives to Borzna.

27It was particularly painful to see Jewish farmers rooted out, along with so many other Jewish communities. Near Fastiv there were three Jewish agricultural colonies amidst a sea of farming villages. They were three Jewish islands of manual labor and the peaceful life of the plough: Koldubitskaya-Obraz-Tsovaya, Trilesy, and Tchervelenskaya. They had been granted the land even before Tsar Nikolai I. They had managed to prevent the Tsarist officials from taking their land for years. Three, four generations had worked the land. But the Volunteer Army destroyed them.

28A special investigator described the devastation in the Koldubitskaya Colony. Petliura’s Army committed the first pillaging when the Directorate escaped from Kiev, in February 1919. His gangs would not leave the Colony in peace all summer long. In August Petliura’s units again came and left. They stole food and cattle, set fire to several homes, and murdered several people. Still, the Colony hung on. The Volunteer Army came at the beginning of September, and they continued to rob and beat people. When the Cossacks pulled out, they murdered a colonist who was digging potatoes in the garden.

  • 3 Ukrainian: village headman.
  • 4 Ukrainian: district headman.

29During the battles between the Volunteer Army and the Bolsheviks outside Fastiv at the end of September, all the colonists, 200 souls, escaped to the village of Veprik, the district seat. Only the elderly stayed behind. A unit of the Volunteer Army soon entered Veprik, saw the Jews at the skhod (village square) and accused them of having joined the Bolsheviks, and of being spies. They began shooting them down. The starshina3 and the starosta4 were there, and they swore that the Jews had been with them the whole time, with the farmers.

30Then they marched them under guard to Fastiv. On the road they robbed them, brutalized them, and seized all the girls. Two of them never returned. The Jews in Fastiv gave them a prayer-house, and these working people had to live off charity. Back in the Colony, the elderly had been murdered, some burned alive. The food, the cattle, and the horses had been stolen. The Colonists who were in Fastiv later recognized their horses pulling wagons for the officers. One officer offered to sell them back the horses as 10,000 rubles a piece. The other two colonies were annihilated in the same way.

31Jewish farmers from the Rikun Colony (Dymer district, Kiev province) sent a letter to the supreme commander, General Dragomirov, protesting the fact that the Cossacks had stolen 10 cows, several horses, and all the poultry. Then they stole 60 head of cattle. They begged him to return their goods. The last lines of their complaint betray their deep anger as well as their naiveté: “If our horses and cows are not returned, our Colony will come to an end, we will have to go back to the city or take up business.”

The Officers

32Let us note here another aspect of the Volunteer Army pogroms. On October 17–20, during the mass pogrom in Kiev, you could observe in Jewish homes the refined manners of uninvited guests who had been “well-educated,” who spoke French, and even many musicians. These were officers of the Volunteer Army who had been members of the [Russian Imperial] Leib-Guard Preobrazhenska and Semyonov divisions and other regiments. They showed no “coarseness.” In a firm, and in a manner-of-fact tone, they extorted money, jewelry, and gold. Sometimes one would politely request a handkerchief of fine cloth, saying he would return it clean. Not all the officers were so “refined,” those commanders of the Ossetians, the Chechens, and other Caucasus tribes.

  • 5 Those infantry brigades were primarily formed by Kuban Cossacks.

33But when it came to committing pogroms, they were not inferior to their highborn comrades. On the contrary. As a general rule, the officers supported the troops under them, either openly or secretly. In Pryluk an officer of the Semyonov regiment saw a soldier in torn boots, and he said to him: “Why don’t you go up to the first Jew and take his boots?” In Bila-Tserkava officer Yakovlev of the Second Terek Plastun Brigade5 asked his commander, Colonel Shchepetilnikov, for clothes to dress in, and the reply was: “Rob a Jew. Nothing will happen.” We have reports of officers plundering in Bogodukhov, Borzna, Boryspil, Horodyshche (Lieutenant Captain Svetsky and Ensign Kalgushkin); in Dymer (Lieutenant Colonel Beznebov), in Korsun, Kremenchug, Niezhyn, Pryluk, Fastiv, Cherkasy, Tomashpil, Yampol, Kurilovtsy, Tetiiv (Prince Golitsyn and Prince Lvov), and others.

  • 6 This is undoubtedly Dr. Snisarenko who served in the Second Terek Plastun Brigade. The report dates (...)

34In some places the officers initiated the pogroms: Boyarka, Rossovo, Krivoye-Ozero (Officer Mlashevsky), Mohilev-Podolsk (Colonel Mizernitsky), Miaskova, and others. Dr. S.,6 on behalf of Dr. B., reports on pogroms led by officers in Bila-Tserkava: Ensign Kuzmichov recounts that Colonel Shchefetilnikov and other officers described how he had tortured a ten-year-old girl. He also told how his soldiers had raped women every day, and this account was gotten accurately straight from the Colonel.

35Centurion Zhivodyarov, who has a lot of Jewish suffering on his conscience, stole a cow from a Jew and sold it for 22,000 “Nikolayev” rubles. Cavalry Capt. Kundo loaded onto his wagon six fox pelts, a gold watch, and other things that he had plundered from Jews. Capt. Podshivalov (of the 4th Company) took a piano in his wagon. Ensign Inzhuarov made it a specialty to rob doctors. He bragged to the above-mentioned Dr. B that he had made 400,000 rubles just from the dental instruments that he had plundered. Cornet Bandarenko would ride into town dressed as a civilian to facilitate his robberies. He told Dr. B. that wounded Jews should be killed, not treated. There were cases of plundering by officers whose cynicism was really unbelievable. In Cherkasy an officer of the Volunteer Army was quartered at the home of Israel Halpern. He was friendly to the family and would often eat with them. But as the Volunteer Army was retreating from Cherkasy, the very same officer plundered them completely, gun in hand. In Kremenchug a colonel even dragged away his host’s furniture.

36But the officers were not always enthusiastic plunderers. Sometimes they could be convinced to make a deal, and for a sum of money they would protect Jewish homes and shops from the pogrom. For the right bribe he would offer to protect the home and the shop from the pogrom. There were even whole groups of officers who did this. In Zolotonosha the Jews paid officers from the commander’s guard 15,000 rubles per night, and they watched over many Jewish homes and stores. The same thing happened in Shpola. Officers were guarding there with one named Usov at the head. Similarly in Kiev, in Fastiv, and elsewhere.

“Contributions”: Legal Robbery

37Officers sometimes committed another kind of robbery, “legal” one could say. That was extortion, usually the privilege of the highest level of the Volunteer Army, the commanders and the garrison chiefs. Here is how they did it. While soldiers and lower officers “worked” the Jewish houses in a town, the commander or the garrison chief would send for the rabbi and the head of the community council and advised them “kindly” to bring a “gift” for the Volunteer Army. Sometimes he would be more honest and say that the Jews must pay such-and-such ransom money, to be paid within a day or two. There was some negotiating, and they would come to an understanding. That was how it was done in most cities. On December 22, 1919 (January 4, 1920) in Krivoye-Ozero, Dekonsky, the commander of the Volchanska Partisans, sent a written announcement, to this effect: “Inasmuch as the Jews have not helped the Volunteer Army at all, they have until the 24th to collect 200,000 rubles and 25 pairs of boots.” He did not keep his word. On the 24th he took the money, but still launched a horrendous pogrom in which more than 600 people were murdered.

38The worse the violence, the more Jews were willing to pay. And the more money the Volunteer Army earned from the activities of their commanders and garrison chiefs, the greater the ransom that was demanded. There was an instance in Lozovaya (Yekaterinoslav province) in which the commandant, in a great rage, first refused to hear of any “blood-stained Jewish money.” But he soon let himself be talked into accepting the “gift” of 50,000 rubles. When enthusiasm grew for pogroms among the lower ranks, it was an opportunity for the higher-ups to demand “presents” a second and a third time for the Volunteer Army, which was shedding blood for the good of Russia (in Bobrovytsia, Borzna, Fastiv, from Rabbi Braslavsky, and elsewhere). The “contributions” were extortion money “so that no pogrom should take place” (in Vasilikov and elsewhere); or “so that the pogrom should be stopped” (for 200,000 in Pryluk); or “so that they should stop setting the fires” (for 500,000 in Talne); or “so that the killings should stop, but there’s no guarantee against robbery” (Commandant Runtsev’s words in Fastiv).

39The Jews learned to fear the Volunteer Army and to give the required “gifts.” But it was no protection against plunder and murder. The pogroms did not abate, nor did they end. They were given brutal warnings: “If not, then…” In Novy-Malyn, for example, even after the pogrom, the commander demanded 200,000 rubles. If not, then he would drown them all in the river.

40Counter-espionage also took its share. In Pryluk, Palekha, the head of counter-espionage, demanded 250,000 rubles, in addition to the 200,000 that the commandant had extorted. If not, then there would be a pogrom. The militias, too, wanted their share. In Stepanets, Pampushka-Burlak, a well-known bandit whom the Volunteer Army had named chief of police, kept demanding “contributions.” His deputy, Borbatenko, did likewise.

41The Volunteer Army demanded not only money but clothes. In Konotop, for example, the commandant demanded 200 pairs of underwear. In Horodyshche they extorted 10,000 rubles worth of beef and chicken. The commander in Mykhailivka (Kharkiv province) surpassed all the others in his greed. He summoned Zelbet, the head of the Jewish community council, and ordered him to deliver 200,000 rubles in cash, a gold watch, two imported travel suitcases, two pairs of ladies’ slippers size 39, two pairs of ladies’ stockings, pepper, candles, tobacco, matches, etc. In addition, before he left town, he ordered Zelbet (as well as Limin and Vinitsky, who had already been plundered), to write a note certifying that the Volunteer Army had treated the Jews honorably, and that the Jews were happy with them.

42You may well be asking yourself: Can all of this really be true about the officers of the Volunteer Army? Could it be really possible that there were not ten righteous men in this Sodom… honorable, upstanding, decent men who had joined the Army for idealistic reasons? If there were, then they should have upheld the honor and the very existence of the Army itself, and stood up for the Jews in their bleakest days of death and shame. But where were they?

43It must be said that our people warmly hold in their hearts the memory of those who were decent and compassionate. We do not only remember the atrocities, but we create legends about our friends, about those who looked kindly on us. In almost every town we remember Christians who took the part of the Jews, those who hid them in their homes, and those who said a good word for us in those black days of calamity, and we bless them. But among these “righteous among the nations” you will rarely find the name of an officer. In Fastiv they tell of an officer named Ilyushin who protected several Jews (although some say he was paid for it). There is a report of three officers who warned the Jews in the village Gogolenko of the approach of soldier-criminals, and advised them to hide their best things. There is a story of an officer who tried to stop soldiers during the slaughter in Boyarka, and it is painfully recalled how he was insulted for it. There are very few instances. You can count them on your fingers.

44During this entire period we did not hear of a single group of officers who protested against the pogroms. People are more apt to exaggerate the good and the honorable, than to point a finger. But if they remain silent, that means that aside from the few cases mentioned above, there is nothing to discuss. If there was indeed a group of officers who treated Jews better in their hearts, but not in the open, then they were silent, either out of fear or small-mindedness. They stood quietly to the side and let the overwhelming number of criminal officers lead the way, without protesting, without complaining, and their names will be dishonored and cursed for generations to come.

Self-Defense

  • 7 The day on which the Volunteer Army entered Kiev, 18/31 August 1919, they murdered 37 Jewish youth (...)

45Jews, especially the youth, have long realized that during the constant state of warfare in Ukraine, they could only count on themselves for their lives, their dignity, and their few possessions, and only with a rifle in hand. Furthermore, self-defense was a question of honor among the Jewish youth. Ukrainian Jews in self-defense sacrificed many lives, among them the youngest and the best. Which doesn’t mean that it was effective.7 All the regimes were helpless against the countryside, which was armed from head to toe. None of them succeeded in removing the weapons, however they might try. By contrast, it was very easy to disarm the cities, and that was what each regime did right away.

46But Petliura’s regime did seize the few weapons held by Jews. They constantly searched Jewish homes for weapons, an excuse, by the way, to rob and commit violent acts. Needless to say, after so many searches, Jews were left with very few weapons. Nevertheless, groups of Jewish youth managed to arm themselves, sometimes as part of the city guard, sometimes as Jewish self-defense groups. Such groups could fight back aginst a gang but were not in a position fend off a pogrom army, and most of them were killed, victims of their idealism and weakness.

47There was no lack of provocation. In Horodyshche after the Soviets left on 3/16 August, a town guard was formed with 50 Jews and 20 Christians, which lasted several days. On 9/22 August a train transport of Cossacks arrived from Smila, headed by Lieutenant Captain Svetsky. A gang of 12 Cossacks entered the town and began plundering. An appeal was made to Svetsky, who was standing at the train station with the rest of the Cossacks, and he replied, “Those are not my Cossacks. Those are bandits in disguise.” Then the town guard shot into the air and the “bandits” ran away. Two hours later Svetsky came into town to complain that they had shot at his Cossacks, and he demanded that they surrender their weapons. The guard hesitated, arguing that the countryside was full of gangs, and that as soon as the Volunteer Army left, there would certainly be a massacre. To which Svetsky gave “his word as a Russian officer” that no harm would come to the town. The guard surrendered 50 rifles, and immediately the Cossacks launched a pogrom that lasted 9 days.

48In Korsun after the first pogrom (26/13 August) by the Volunteer Army, the authorities gave permission for Jews to organize a self-defense unit. In the middle of December, as the Volunteer Army began to retreat, the officer guard began to plunder. The Jewish self-defense unit drove them off and thing quieted down. Soon after that a unit of the Volchanska Partisans rode into town. They disarmed the self-defense unit, and then proceeded to launch a pogrom unimpeded.

49Incidentally, in those places where Jewish youth had somehow miraculously held on to their weapons, a strong resistance was put up against the soldier-criminals. In Steblev (Kiev province) the Jewish self-defense fought the Cossacks, and narrowly drove them out of town. Later they fought off an attack by 400 criminals under Ataman Tuz, and in the process took 3 machine guns, rifles, ammunition, etc. When the Volunteer Army was retreating from the area, the self-defense protected the town, and stopped them from entering.

Notes

1 Almost 2,000 people were murdered in one day in Proskurov. See Peter Kenez, ‘Pogroms and White Ideology in the Russian Civil War’, in Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, ed. by John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 293–313 (p. 295).

2 Hebrew and Yiddish: traditional Jewish elementary school.

3 Ukrainian: village headman.

4 Ukrainian: district headman.

5 Those infantry brigades were primarily formed by Kuban Cossacks.

6 This is undoubtedly Dr. Snisarenko who served in the Second Terek Plastun Brigade. The report dates from the time when the Volunteer Army was still strong in Ukraine [note by the author].

7 The day on which the Volunteer Army entered Kiev, 18/31 August 1919, they murdered 37 Jewish youth who were members of the city guard, in the most brutal way. But it must be noted that Petliura’s army had also entered Kiev, and retreated before the Volunteer Army a day later [note by the author].

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