The Slaughter of the Jews in the Ukraine in 1919 – Elias Heifetz
The Ukrainian pogroms of 1919 constitute a striking exhibition of mass savagery. Approximately 120,000 men, women and children were killed; whole villages were wiped out; the entire Jewish population of southern Russia was reduced to the brink of complete destruction. But Dr. Heifetz is not content merely to set down a tale of horrors. He seeks to analyze the social and psychological factors which lie behind this explosion of wholesale murder. He discovers three separate sets of motives, which hold good for the three classes of pogroms, those committed by Denikin, those committed by Petlura, and those committed by the Ukrainian guerilla leaders. The political viewpoint of General Denikin, widely hailed in western Europe and America as a champion of democracy against Bolshevik tyranny, was very simple. He believed that all the troubles of Russia should be ascribed to the overthrow of the Tsar, which, in his opinion, was brought about by the intrigues of Jews and professional revolutionists. His remedy was correspondingly simple. Kill off as many Jews and revolutionists as possible. Then the peasants would gladly surrender their land ; the workers would hasten to give up their factories; all classes again be well with Holy Russia. Something miscarried in Denikin’s calculations: for the Red Army routed his Cossacks near Orel; and his defeat was completed by tumultuary uprisings of the Ukrainian peasants in his rear. But, before he was obliged to seek a hospitable refuge in England, he enjoyed the satisfaction of killing about 50,000 Jews. Dr. Heifetz adduces many eye witness reports of pogroms committed by Denikin’s troops, together with specimens of the violently anti-Semitic literature distributed by order of his propaganda department. The case of the Ukrainian nationalist leader, Petlura, is somewhat different. Petlura claimed to be a Socialist; and he can scarcely have regarded pogroms as a necessary part of his political and economic policy. But he was unable to resist the temptation to make political capital by denouncing “the Jews at Moscow” and to attract the ruffianly elements to his side by offering prospects of unlimited looting. The protestations of Petlura’s apologists that he actively opposed anti- Jewish outrages are effectively invalidated by the number of massacres unquestionably committed by his troops, by his appointment of a notorious organizer of pogroms, Colonel Petrov, to the post of Minister of War, and by the fact that he was present at a pogrom in Zhitomir without making any effort to stop it. Such bandit leaders as Makhno and Grigoriev may be considered, in a very crude and direct sense, representatives of the economic desires and interests of the Ukrainian peasants. These peasants were very good Bolsheviki, so far as driving out the landlords was concerned. But, having gained possession of the land, they resented and opposed the existence of any strong central government, whether communist or monarchist. What they wanted was complete freedom of their manufactured goods, and incidentally, to murder the Jews. Of all the contending factions the Soviet government alone consistently and vigorously repressed every anti- Jewish manifestation in the territory under its control. Dr. Heifetz gives many instances of the humanity and discipline of the Red troops. Whenever the Soviet forces were compelled to retreat even the Jewish bourgeoisie fled with them for protection.
The Slaughter of the Jews in the Ukraine in 1919.
Excerpt from the text:
CHAPTER I SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CAUSES
THE terrible Jewish massacres in the Ukraine in the year 1919, which set the whole land aflame, cannot be compared with the pogroms in the eighties and during the first decade of our century. The latter form, in essence and scope, a chapter in themselves. The tsarist regime endeavored to divert the attention of the socially and politically discontented masses in another direction, the direction of least resistance. This they did by inciting the ignorant and intimidated lower classes against the defenseless Jews, who, they alleged, were responsible for the misery of the people. The Jews were represented as the exploiters of the people, as leeches, who sucked the blood of the peasant and robbed him of the fruits of his economic activity. Later, when the elemental forces of the revolution burst forth and whipped the waves of passion into high fury, the Jews were depicted by the agents of tsarism before the lowest classes of the people as the “leaders of unrest and rebellion, who were rising against the Fatherland and the ‘Little Father* (the tsar).” The Jewish pogroms coincide with the critical moments of the then regime and follow in scope and intensity a course parallel to that of the revolution.
The pogroms of the eighties correspond to the revolutionary movement of the intelligentzia organized as “Narodniki” (“Zemlya i Volya,” “Narodnaya Volya”). Those in the beginning of our century, to the time of the first revolution ( 1903-1905 ) correspond to the great revolutionary strikes in the south of Russia. Finally, the third pogrom wave, which came right after the revolution (end of 1905 and 1906), corresponds to the outbreak of the first revolution itself. The aim of the pogroms in the eighties was mainly the destruction of Jewish possessions. There was robbery and plunder, down and feathers were scattered to the wind, furniture was broken to pieces, valuables and money were taken away. In many cases women were violated, men beaten, but “with moderation,” not to death. The pogroms, however, in Kishinev (1903), Gomel (1903) and Zhitomir (April, 1905), already began to assume a bloody course. Jews were murdered, the victims numbered many dozens. After the revolution (1905 and 1906) the pogroms expanded both in space and in time, with about a thousand victims. The organizing activity of the lower and middle administrative officers was clearly visible, as was shown in the judicial investigations. The parliamentary commission of the first imperial Duma, the revelations of the former active minister of internal affairs, Prince Urussov, and of the former director of the police department, Lopuchin, confirmed what was generally known, that the threads of the entire pogrom propaganda were held together in the hands of the highest representatives of the state force, the all-powerful minister of internal affairs and the director of the police. They determined the places where pogrom dramas were to be enacted, and gave proper instructions to the local authorities.
The pogroms of the tsarist period took place almost exclusively in the south, in the Ukraine, and particularly in the Ukrainian cities. The large Ukrainian cities like Kiev, Odessa, and Yekaterinoslav formed favorable grounds for anti-Jewish agitation by reason of the great wealth and economic activity, the accentuated class differences and the numerous tramp class existing in those places. The officials and the professional classes (teachers, clergy, partly also the professors) in the southern cities were almost exclusively on the side of the Black Hundred. The central government took great care to see that all those who were in their service were thoroughly “reliable,” i.e., that they were in complete accord with the reactionary politics of the central government and carried out their orders in their several localities.
The pogroms of the tsarist period were almost exclusively confined to the cities. There were none in the Ukrainian villages. Insurrection, robbery and violence were done by the city hoodlums in the larger centers. Not so the massacres in the year 1919. Here the Ukrainian village played the main role, the Ukrainian peasants, the bands of military insurgents as well as the more or less organized bands of insurrectionists. The wave rolled from the village to the city and in concentric circles embraced the whole land. But the village occupied the center. The impulse and the radii proceeded from the village. The urban crowd played a subordinate role, and merely participated, actively to be sure, in the events. Large cities like Odessa and Kiev (before the invasion of Denikin) were overwhelmed by this wave, which spread over about 700 localities and almost annihilated the entire Jewish population in the Ukrainian villages and districts.
This is not the first time in the history of the Ukrainian Jews that they had to suffer from persecution. Twice before have they been the object of horrible attacks and cruel murder, in the times of the Ukrainian period of storm and stress when the peasants rose against their Polish oppressors.
The Jews settled in Ukraine at the end of the sixteenth century. The emigrants from Lithuania and Poland found here uncultivated land and sparsely populated villages. Gradually there grew up cities, castles and settlements. The Polish nobility attracted as colonists the petty nobility, the serfs and also the Jews as a class engaged in commerce and industry. Thanks to the Jewish spirit of enterprise there soon developed an extremely energetic commercial activity. The greatest variety of industries, the production of nitric acid and potash, fishing and hunting as well as the liquor business were in the hands of the Jews. Only a very small part of the Jews were rich. According to the investigations of Berschadski (Die litauschen Juden), the commercial and credit operations of the great majority of the Jews must be measured in dozens of rubles, and consisted merely in the granting of small loans to the peasants, the poorer middle class and the Tartars. But this is not all. The operations were carried on with the moneys which they themselves borrowed from the Christian clergy, nobility and poorer middle class. Often they borrowed this capital by pledging household articles, even body linen.
Is it true that the Jewish masses were guilty of abusing the Christian population? The Ukrainian historian Ivan Franko, points out that the sources of the Khmelnitzky period say nothing about the accusations that were later brought against the Jews, such as putting mortgages on the churches. “The unfair practices of the Jews, so far as there were such,” says Franko, “are insignificant as compared with the abuses committed by the Polish government and the Polish military.” To be sure, the Cossack population did not investigate with any degree of care as to who was really responsible for their enslavement. When the Ukrainian population rose in rebellion, with Khmelnitzky at their head, and freed themselves from the chains of political and economic enslavement, they swept away not only the lords, but also their agents, the Jews, who were their leaseholders and tenant farmers. The events of the years 1648-1658 with their heroes, Krivonos, Ganai, Morosenko, Timofei (son of Bogdan Khmelnitzky) , Koloda and others, cost the Ukrainian Jews, according to the careful computations of Sabbatai Cohen, about 100,000 lives (the “Chronicler” speaks of a half million.) Several hundred Jewish settlements were completely destroyed.
One hundred years later, the Ukraine was again the scene of insurrections. The Gaidamaks (this was the name of the insurrectionary Cossack bands in the 18th century) were no whit inferior in savage cruelty to the Cossack rebels under Bogdan Khmelnitzky. All the hatred that had accumulated up to that time on account of the political and economic enslavement ot the people (introduction of serfdom, persecution of their faith, cruel practices of the administration, by state authorities as well as landed proprietors) was let loose in this moment. As formerly under Khmelnitzky, so a hundred years later, when the Jewish tenant farmer, the “inevitable attendant of the Polish lord” and the executor of his will in relation to the village, had again settled down, the fury of the peasants once more was directed against him. The rebellion of 1734 under the leadership of Griva adopted the following motto, “It is permitted to plunder the Jews and kill the Polaks.”
In the forties of the eighteenth century, the “leader and great Hetman of the Gaidamak troops”, Wasski Washchilo, shows clearly in his proclamation that the purpose of the rebellion was to destroy the Jewish people for the protection of Christianity. “Guided by zeal for the holy Christian religion, and anxious that the anger of the Lord for all these crimes may not fall upon innocent persons, I have decided, so far as it lies in my power, together with other good people who love Christianity, to exterminate the accursed Jewish people. I have already with God’s help killed the Jews in the communities of Krichev and Propoisk, and although the Jews succeeded in having government troops sent against me, the just God gave me his protection in all cases. Trusting in the grace of God, I shall bring to end this holy war against the traitors.” The year 1767 in which the insurrection under Zhelezniak and Gonta took place was pregnant with fate for the Jews. A terrible massacre of the Jews took place at Uman. There were also excesses against the Jews in Fastov, Granov, Zhivotov, Tulchin and Dashev.
According to the reports of eye witnesses, 50,000 to 60,000 Jews lost their lives at the time of the Gaidamaks.
A hundred and fifty years had passed since then.
The Ukrainian village became quiet again and found its equilibrium. It cost the Jews in Ukraine much toil and labor to re-establish their economic existence. Now as before the village population dealt principally with the Jewish merchant and middleman, coming very rarely in contact with the poor Jewish population, the manual laborers. In the mind of the village people the Jew still occupied an intermediate place, “between the working people on the one hand and the landlords and rich cities on the other,” being essentially nearer to the latter than to the former. The historical I antipathy to the Jew remained, but there was no hatred. The Jew was merely distrusted as a stranger and the Ukrainian villagers, blessed with the craftiness of the peasant, showed contempt for the Jewish middleman and inhabitant of the city. Nevertheless peaceful and neighborly relations developed between the Jew and the Ukrainian peasants, which suffered no change during the last four decades of Russian rule. Jews who lost their entire possessions and most of their relatives in the fearful storms of 1919, testify unanimously that in a great number of cities and districts, peaceful and neighborly relations had existed between the Ukrainian peasants and the Jews, and in some cases they were very friendly to one another.
These neighborly relations were somewhat disturbed during the German occupation. The well-being of the population both Christian and Jewish had increased considerably. It was the time of unlimited speculation in goods and money, of smuggling in and out of Soviet Russia and the neutral zone. The peasants, however, could not increase their earnings in the same measure as the others. The products of the land were taken from them by force, at low prices, and carried to Germany. On the basis of exaggerated reports of “the wealth of the Jews,” there developed among the peasants a feeling of envy and a desire for city products (manufactured goods, shoes), of which there was nothing in the Ukrainian village, rumor having it that the Jews in the larger centers enjoyed a superfluity of such things.