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Jews in the Soviet-Polish War

Lawrence Bush
August 24, 2017

The decisive Battle of Warsaw ended in an enormous defeat for the Soviet Red Army by the Polish armed forces on this date in 1920. Russian Jews had already been caught for a year in the middle of a war among warring Red and White Russian armies as well as Ukrainian and Polish forces, with some 100,000 Jews killed. The anti-Bolshevik White Russian troops led by Anton Denikin conducted pogroms against Jews in every contested town in the northern Caucasus and southern Russia; in Ukraine, Simon Petlyura killed some 50,000 Jews; there were massacres committed, as well, by some Polish forces, though these were far less systematic and resulted in the loss of hundreds, not thousands, of Jewish lives. The Battle of Warsaw preserved the newly regained independence of Poland following World War I and foreclosed the possibility of the Red Army giving assistance to communist uprisings in Germany, Lithuania, and other European lands. In keeping with the devastation of World War I and the chaos of the Russian Civil War, the Soviet-Polish War was quite brutal, with prisoners of war on both sides dying in the thousands, and numerous appalling atrocities. For the Jews of the region, the casualties would be exceeded only by the Nazi Holocaust.

“The result was the treaty of Riga, signed on March 18, 1921, in the Latvian capital. Poland received a significant portion of her pre-partition frontiers, including the city of Lwow, and took possession of territories inhabited by about 12 million Lithuanians, White Russians and Ukrainians. Little remembered in the West, the Battle of Warsaw was in fact one of the most significant land engagements of the 20th century.” --Robert Szymczak, Military History

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.