The voice of my brothers’ blood


Kniga pogromow. Pogromy na Ukrainie, v Biełorussii i yevropeyskoy chasti Rossii v pieriod grazhdanskoy vojny 1918-1922 gg. Editor in chief: Miliyakova, L. B. Main contributors: Zuzina, J.A., Miliyakova, L. B., Rosenblat, E.S., and Jelenskaja, I. E. With the participation of Sereda, W.T. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2007, 996 pages.


Although I am a historian, I write this appraisal foremost as a Jew whose grandmother survived two pogroms in 1905 as a child in Belarus, and whose father survived the Petliura pogroms in Podolia in 1919. Pogroms are stored in my genetic memory. In my view, The Book of Pogroms is a work of paramount importance, especially in the post-Soviet void in the book market on this topic. The book is important not only for its research, but also for its social implications.  Only a few today have access to S. I. Gusiev-Orenburgsky’s Bookon Jewish Pogroms in Ukraine in 1919 published in Petrograd in 1921, or to Jewish Pogroms in 1918-1921 by Z. S. Ostrowski, published in Moscow in 1926. Two more books on this subject were published in the 1920s in Moscow and Kharkov. The work of Jewish historian Ilya Tcherikower (1881-1943), who devoted one third of his life to the collection and publication of documents on pogroms, as well as contemporary research, has been published in Berlin and Harbin, in London, Paris, Israel and the USA, but never in the USSR or the Commonwealth of Independent States (SNG).

After so many discoveries and exposures made by the post-Perestroika historians, The Book of Pogroms is clearly late in coming, and in view of the new rewriting of history one might have assumed that it would never be published. That is why, upon hearing that this book was in the bookstore, I quickly ran to the publisher only to be told that the entire edition had been ‘confiscated in order to correct some misprints’. I decided that it was the hand of the censors and that the entire edition would be destroyed. Who, after all, could imagine in our times that a book would be removed because of misprint details? Luckily I was mistaken-- the misprints on the title page were corrected and the book returned for sale.

My very first impression of the book when I took it into my hands was a feeling of the authors’ reticence, or some ‘timidity.’ Why, for example, is the word ‘Jewish’ absent from the title, when all of the work’s documents relate specifically to the Jewish pogroms, and not the Armenian or Molokansky ones? Why is the Jewish pogrom in the Introduction called ‘a form of ethnic violence,’ when the word ‘pogrom’ in all European languages is associated exclusively with Jews? Nonetheless, these first impressions dissipated thanks to the design of the cover with the Star of David and the text of a ‘Kiddush’ prayer (artist D.A. Morozov).  These images made the theme unmistakable.

The hypothesis presented in the introduction concerning irregularities in a large part of the armed forces and other groups taking part in the Civil War sounded to me, at first, like an excuse to remove responsibility for the pogroms from the military leadership. Reading this, you might think that the military leaders were completely unable to restrain armed individuals brutalized by the long war. Also, it seemed to me that the reference to the participation of ‘the Northern Caucasus countries’ in Denikin’s pogroms is an offering which legitimizes contemporary Moscow’s relationship towards ‘the people of Caucasian nationality’ and simultaneously attempts to whitewash the White movement.  However, the documents presented in the book speak for themselves, presenting and unaltered picture of pogroms.

The majority of the 364 published documents are housed in GARF (principally the fund of the Jewish Social Committee designated to help victims of pogroms, which is subsidized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). These documents are devoted to the subject of pogroms during the Civil War and during the following Soviet period, and they also present stories about help offered to the victims of pogroms, the nature of Jewish self-defense, and the relationship of the Bolsheviks toward pogroms. The Soviet archives relating to pogroms were closed to research for a long time; therefore the majority of these documents are published for the first time in The Book of Pogroms.

Chronologically the documents span 1918-1922; territorially they include Ukraine, Byelorussia and the European part of Soviet Russia. In the latter location, as the author of the Introduction, L. B. Miliyakova, correctly notes, relatively few pogroms occurred, due to the relatively small Jewish population, the distance of this region from the theater of war and its associated demoralizing effects, and also due to the very strong anti-pogrom position of the Bolsheviks (p. III-IV).

The pogroms of the Civil War surpassed all earlier pogroms by their geographical range, by the number of pogroms and the numbers of people killed (according to different estimates, from 35,000 to 200,000), as well as by the frequency of repeated pogroms in the same places. If in 1905 (Odessa) the number of people killed in one city was a maximum 400-500, in 1919, 500 and more was the average number killed in each pogrom in the Kievskayia  (p. XI). As a result, property, houses, animal stock, and other possessions were often totally destroyed, and it became impossible for Jews to survive in the location of the pogrom. In this way the Jews were ‘squeezed out’ (Miliyakova’s expression) from a given territory. Is this not ethnic cleansing?

According to an analysis provided by Nakhum Gergel, an employee of the Department of Victims’ Assistance of the Russian Red Cross in Ukraine, 39.9% of the total number of pogroms were carried out by the Armies of the Ukrainian Directorate Armies, 24.8% by different partisan groups and bandits, 17.2% by White Army connections, 8.6% by the Red Army, 4.2% by fighters of Ataman Grigoryev, and 2.6% by the Polish Army (p. XIV).

The author of the Introduction names one of the paragraphs ‘Ideology of the Pogroms’. It is devoted to the underlying causes of this ‘form of ethnic violence.’ The striking example of this type of violence was the famous Proskurov pogrom (February 1919), in which the Cossacks from the division under Simon Petliura, on orders of their commanding officer Colonel Semosenko, murdered and slaughtered 1650 men, women, children and elderly during the rest day of Saturday. Semosenko, sending his soldiers to kill the Jews, proposed that they see the pogroms as a ‘national duty’ and explained that the Yidy (Jews) are ‘the most dangerous enemies of Ukrainian people and Cossacks and they should be exterminated in order to save Ukraine and themselves.’ He also demanded that the Cossacks swear not to ‘take part in the robbery of Jewish belongings’ when killing the Jews.

Because the pogroms were not only violence on the part of the ‘inhuman face of the mobs,’ but also an ideologically approved myth of ‘Żydokomuna – Judaeo-communism,’ this chapter is the proper place for the citation by Miliyakova of an article by the late Israeli historian Abraham Greenbaum: ‘Since there are times when murders are - committed as a variety of “national duty”, without common robberies, they can be compared to the Holocaust’ (p. XV). In this context I would like to underscore the fact that the family of Abraham (Alfred) Greenbaum fled Germany after the pogroms of the Kristallnacht. Looking at the ideology behind the pogroms, L. B. Miliyakova comes to the conclusion that the pogroms of World War I and the Russian Civil War prepared society for the Holocaust. I would like to add myself that these wars--and not the Holodomor—primed the soil for the cooperation of the local population of Ukraine and Belarus with the Nazis in order to annihilate the Jews and divide their possessions upon the territories occupied by the Wehrmacht.

An important part of this publication is the chapter ‘Historical – Geographical Reference’ (authors E. S. Rosenblat and I. E. Elenskaya). The borders, administrative divisions, powers, laws, agreements and treaties in the regions of pogroms underwent constant changes, and one cannot read the documents without this ‘guide for the confused’ (to use the words of Maimonides).

The comments and footnotes are of high quality and they enrich the reader with the details of organizations and personalities sometimes difficult to find in reference books; they also supply additional facts that freeze one’s blood in one’s veins. In the names index I found two people who share my name: L. and M. Beiser. However, on the referenced pages I found just one of them (author of notes to the Hillerson report on the Felshtin pogrom). Nonetheless, small omissions of this type are permissible in view of the enormous job done by the authors.

A Russian proverb says: ‘You cannot whitewash a black dog.’ This book is important not only for researchers, but also for the wider public, because in our times the whitewashing of the pogroms’ perpetrators has become a growing phenomenon. First, there was the whitewashing of Father (Batka) Makhno.  He was an honest anarchist. Anarchists are all saints, internationalists, and some of them are even Jewish.  This saintly gentleman prohibited pogroms and he killed the pogroms’ perpetrators. If this is true, how can we account for the following testimony:

I, the undersigned, escaped two weeks ago with my husband and two children from Orechov, which was attacked by Makhno bandits. These bandits attacked Jewish houses almost every night --killed, robbed and divided. Before my own eyes the Sheinfeld family of four was destroyed, and there are many other examples of killings’ (p.530).

On the basis of such documents, the authors of The Book of Pogroms claim that ‘Makhno soldiers also energetically participated in pogroms.’ The ‘legendary’ Budyonny Cavalry Army did not escape either. Members of the 6th cavalry division of the 1st Cavalry Army distinguished themselves by ‘mass robberies, killings, pogroms’ (October 1920) and they killed their own commander, who attempted to stop them. The Red Army Command had to disband one such rowdy division. Documents related to this story are included in The Book of Pogroms (p. 422-428).

In Ukraine they completely whitewashed Simon Petliura (as they now do Stepan Bandera) despite the fact that during the pogroms in territories controlled by the Ukrainian Directory’s armies and their allies 54% of all Jews were killed. 1 Things went so far that two years ago in Jerusalem, through the initiative of the Israeli-Ukrainian Friendship Association and with the help of members of the Ukrainian Embassy, a special meeting of refugees from The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (former USSR) was convened, to pass a resolution rehabilitating Petliura. Proponents argued that Petliura did not want pogroms, forbade pogroms and cried when told about the pogroms. However, what Petliura wrote, thought or felt is not at issue (and there exists evidence to the contrary); the question remains whether Petliura was responsible for mass murders committed by his army in the territory he controlled. He could have resigned if the pressure was too much. Luckily the majority of participants were not fooled. It would have been great for the contemporary political leadership if the grandchildren of the murdered victims had absolved the chief Ataman of Ukraine Republic of responsibility for pogroms.

It is true that not only Bolsheviks fought against pogroms. See for example the order issued by the command of the Ukrainian Republic Army (April 1919) to cease the pro-pogrom campaign in the army (p.105). However, the cited documents prove that only the Bolsheviks fought against the pogroms’ perpetrators with consistency and without compromise. Since participation in pogroms is a clear indicator of army decay, the losses of the Directorate and White Armies were caused to a large degree by infection with the pogrom virus.

The process of white-washing the perpetrators does not only take place in Ukraine. The editor of the collection L.B. Miliyakova observes that that in Poland, where more than 40 people were killed in 1946 in the Kielce pogrom, contemporary accounts blame the Soviet secret service. The Bolsheviks bear a heavy burden of guilt, but Kielce is not a part of it.

One could analyze the documents in the book and conclude that the pogroms conducted by Ataman Grigoryev’s Green Army were the bloodiest, that Denikin soldiers raped more and killed less than the Petliura people, and that the Polish and Red Armies ‘kept their snouts in the cannons.’ Many conclusions might be drawn from reading these bloody 996 pages. One is clear: the responsibility for all the atrocities committed by regular and irregular armed forces lies at the doorstep of military commands and political leaders. To absolve them from this responsibility would be a larger crime than ‘laundering’ money. From the whitewashing of the perpetrators of pogroms to Holocaust denial is only a small step.


Michael Beizer

Hebrew University in Jerusalem



1Henry Abramson, A Prayer for the Government, Harvard University, 1999, p.120.