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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.