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Petlyura and the Ukrainian Pogroms

Lawrence Bush
January 3, 2018

On this date in 1919, Simon Petlyura, Ukrainian writer, Cossack commander, and head of the breakaway Ukrainian state during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, began attacking Jews in a sustained wave of violence that took the lives of tens of thousands. Hundreds of cities and towns were attacked; thousands of Jewish women were raped; half a million Jews were left homeless. In 1926, Petlyura was assassinated in Paris by Sholom Schwartzbard, a Jewish anarchist and Yiddish writer who had lost fifteen members of his family, including his parents, in pogroms in Odessa. Testimony at Schwartzbard’s trial revealed the depth of the anti-Jewish carnage in the Ukraine (committed both by Ukrainian nationalists and White Russian forces) and led to his acquittal. In Ukraine, Petlyura is a nationalist hero, with a street named for him in Kiev. In Israel, Schwartzbard is honored with a plaque on Ha-Nokem (“The Avenger”) Street in Beersheba.

“I have killed a great assassin.” —Sholom Schwartzbard

​​​​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.