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Jewish Representation in the Independent Ukrainian Governments of 1917-1920

  • Henry Abramson (a1)


The experience of Ukrainian Jewry from 1917 to 1920 is a paradox in modern Jewish history. At the same moment that the leaders of the Ukrainian revolutionary movement extended unprecedented civil rights to Ukrainian Jews, pogromists operating in the name of that same movement brutally terrorized hundreds of Jewish communities with violence and robbery. This strange incongruity has not been satisfactorily addressed; studies of the period have either concentrated on the pogroms or focused on Jewish socialists in Ukrainian politics. Linguistic barriers and subsequent developments, notably the 1926 assassination of Symon Petliura, have further polarized an already dichotomous history. This article attempts to synthesize these two trends.



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This paper is based on material collected for my dissertation, "Jews and the Ukrainian Revolution, 1917-1920," to be completed under the supervision of Paul Robert Magocsi, University of Toronto. I would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Respublikans'ka Asotsiatsiia Ukrainoznavtsiv (Kiev), and the Beth Tzedec congregation (Toronto), for their generous support.

1. An up-to-date scholarly monograph on Jewish autonomy in Ukraine between 1917 and 1920 does not exist in any language, and in many ways the work of Elias (Eliyahu) Tcherikower remains the most reliable source of information: Antisemitizm un pogromen in ukrayne 1917-1918 (tzu der geshikhte fun ukraynish-yidishe batzihungen) (Berlin: Mizrakh-yidishe historishn arkhiv, 1923), and Di ukrayner pogromen in yor 1919 (New York: YIVO, 1965). Aryeh Zaidman's “Ha-avtonomie ha-leumit ha-yehudit baukraina ha-atzmait ba-shanim 1917-1919” (Ph.d. diss., Tel-Aviv University, 1980) does not cover the period in its entirety and focuses on education. John Hewko's “The Ukrainian-Jewish Political Relationship During the Period of the Central Rada: March 1917 to January 1918” (M. Litt thesis, St. Anthony's College, Oxford, 1981) is similarly restricted in scope and is not based on Yiddish or Hebrew sources. This article is based primarily on the memoirs and memoiristic accounts of Jews active in political life during the civil war. While these materials are not free from political bias, those published before 1926 (the date of Petliura's assassination) are, relatively speaking, free of ethnic bias. Jewish socialist perspectives are represented by the works of Zilberfarb, Moshe, Dos idishe ministerium un di idishe avtonomie in ukrayne (a blete geshikhte) (Kiev: Idishe folks-farlag, 1919), and Revusky, Abraham [Revutzky] In di shvere teg oif ukrayne: Zikhroines fun a yidishn ministr (Berlin: Yidisher literarisher farlag, 1924 . [I am collaborating with Sam Revusky and Moishe Kantorowitz on an English translation of this work.] The principal Zionist source is Grosman, M. et al., eds., Di idishe avtonomie un der natzionaler sekretariat in ukrayne: Materyaln un dokumentn (Kiev: Idishe folks-farlag, 1920). Materials published after 1926 are more problematic (see below n. 10). Ukrainian memoir sources are less helpful regarding Ukrainian-Jewish relations during this period. The information found in the memoirs of Vynnychenko, Volodymyr, for example, Vidrodzheniia natzii (Kiev: Dzvin, 1920 , are diatribes against political opponents and must be read with extreme caution.

2. “Appendix: The Four Universals” in The Ukraine 1917-1921: A Study in Revolution, ed. T. Hunczak (Cambridge: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1977), 384-385. All dates in this paper have been converted to the Gregorian calendar. On autonomism, see Koppel S. Pimson's introduction in Dubnow, Simon, Nationalism and History: Essays on Old and New Judaism, ed. Koppel S. Pimson (New York Atheneum, 1970). I am grateful to Orest Subtelny for the observation regarding the Provisional Government and the Ukrainian parties.

3. The Bund initially voted against the first universal, claiming that it represented a breach in the common revolutionary front. See Hewko, “Ukrainian-Jewish Political Relationship,” 50-51.

4. See Mintz, M, “The Secretariat of Internationality Affairs (Sekretariat mizhnatsional'nykh sprav) of the Ukrainian General Secretariat (1917-1918),” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 6, no. 1 (1982): 2542.

5. Khrystiuk, Pavlo, Zamitky i materiyaly do istorii ukrains'koii revolutsii 1917-1920 rr., 4 vols. (Vienna: Vernay, 1921) 1: 96–97, 137; Doroshenko, D., Istoriia ukrainy 1917-1923 rr., 2 vols. (1932; rep, New York: Bulava, 1954) 1: 123 . Both the proportion of seats given to the minorities and the size of the Rada in general are confused. See John Reshetar Jr., The Ukrainian Revolution, 1917-1920: A Study in Nationalism (New York: Arno, 1972), 65 n. 21; Hewko, “Ukrainian-Jewish Political Relationship,” 63 n. 3. For Polish autonomy in Ukraine, see Jablonski, Henryk, Polska Autonomia Narodowa na Ukrainie, 1917-1918 (Warsaw: Trzaski, Everta, i Michalskiego, 1948). I have yet to find a work on Russian autonomy.

6. Zilberfarb, Idishe, 4-6; appendix 3-8, 48-58.

7. Ibid., 23. Zilberfarb maintains that the Agudat Israel was invited but declined because of poor organization on their part. The religious parties possibly refused to cooperate with the anticlerical socialist parties, who may not have extended a very welcoming invitation to join the Nationality Council.

8. Schechtman, Joseph, “Jewish Community Life in Ukraine (1917-1919)” in Russian Jewry 1917-1967, ed. Gregor Aronson et al. (New York: Yoseloff, 1969), 43.

9. Tcherikower, Antisemitizm, 197-98, 203-204, 207-208.

10. The issue of Petliura's involvement in the pogroms has dominated the historiography since his assassination at the hands of a Bessarabian Jew in 1926. Unfortunately, much of the debate relies on highly partisan materials published in connection with the Paris trial of his assassin. Documents that may have to a certain degree exculpated Petliura, for example, were not included in the influential English and French language publications of the Committee of Delegations, Jewish [The Pogroms in the Ukraine under the Ukrainian Governments (1917-1920) (London: Bale, 1927 ; Les Pogromes en Ukraine sous les gouvernements ukrainiens (1917-1920) (Paris: Beresniak, 1927)]. For Petliura's position favoring Jewish self-defense and his 28 November 1917 antipogrom decree, see Tcherikower, Antisemitizm, 204, 209. Petliura's assassination is a watershed in Jewish history of the period. Materials published after 1926 are often blemished by extreme bias, fixated with either polemics against Petliura [see for example Friedman, Saul, Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura (New York: Hart, 1976)] or apologies for participation in the Directory. The works of Solomon Goldelman [for example, Jewish National Autonomy in Ukraine 1917-1920 (Chicago: Ukrainian Research and Information Institute, 1968)] and Margolin, Arnold [Ukraina i politika antanty (Berlin: Efron, [1921])] fall into this category. Margolin's work, though published before Petliura's assassination, is the exception that proves the rule. Margolin plays down the role of the Directory in the pogroms, but he spent much of the civil war in western Europe, not in Ukraine. For a more detailed discussion of the issue of Petliura's involvement in the pogroms and its effect on Jewish historiography, see Henry Abramson, “Jewish Autonomy in Ukraine, 1917-1920” (Master's essay, University of Toronto, 1990), 123-131.

11. Tcherikover, Antisemitizm, 223. This position was reversed in January 1918.

12. “Universals” in Hunczak, Ukraine, 390.

13. See the 100 Karbovanetz note pictured s.v. “Currency and Coins,” Encyclopedia of Ukraine, ed. Volodymyr Kubijovyc 2 vols. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984-) 1: 632.

14. Dated 9 January (O.S.), retroactively. The Ukrainian original of the law appears in Doroshenko, lstoriia ukrainy 1: 274-276; the Yiddish is in Zilberfarb, Idishe, appendix, 75-78. Zilberfarb's version includes an eleventh article, allowing nationality unions of Ukraine to unite with similar institutions in the postulated Russian federated republic; this article was not included in the final version of the law.

15. “Universals,” in Hunczak, Ukraine, 392. The universal was dated 9 January 1918 [O.S.] and the anniversary of the fourth universal is customarily celebrated on that date [22 January N.S.]. The law was, however, not passed until the twenty-fifth because of the extensive debates on the Law of National-Personal Autonomy.

16. Goldelman, Jewish National Autonomy, 50. Goldelman himself abstained from the vote. Doroshenko, Istoriia ukrainy 1: 268; see Hewko, “Ukrainian-Jewish Political Relationship,” 172.

17. Zilberfarb, Idishe, 61-62.

18. Limited results are provided in Radkey, Oliver, The Election to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), 7980.

19. See Schechtman, “Community,” 53; Zilberfarb, Idishe, 73.

20. See M. Postan, “Tzu der shtats-secretar frage” in Grosman et al., eds., Avtonomie, 20-34; Zaidman, “Ha-avtonomie,” 76. Latsky also went by the name Latsky-Bertholdi.

21. Goldelman, Jewish National Autonomy, 74; the number of communities that held, and then ratified, elections to kehilot is not clear. Grosman, Avtonomie (210) cites 202 communities, whereas Goldelman, Jewish National Autonomy (78) uses a figure of 195.

22. Adapted from “Di idishe kehillos in ukrayne (stotistisher iberzikht),” Grosman et al., eds., Avtonomie, 210, table 4.

23. Elections were held in 168 kehilot; seven were not ratified (Goldelman, Jewish National Autonomy, 78).

24. See “Di tzeitveylige natzionale farzamlung un der idisher natzionaler sekretaryat in ukrayne,” in Grosman et al., eds., Avtonomie, 19.

25. See Adams, Arthur, Bolsheviks in the Ukraine: The Second Campaign, 1918-1919 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963), 12–13.

26. Two multilingual proclamations, dated July and October 1918, are reproduced in Tcherikower, Antisemitizm, after 301.

27. Goldelman, , Juden und Ukrainer: Briefe Eines Judischen Sozialdemokraten (Vienna: Hamojn, 1921), 31 ; see also Goldelman, Jewish National Autonomy, 100.

28. See Tcherikower, Di ukrayner pogromen, 43-44.

29. Revusky, In di shvere, 73-80.

30. The figures for 1917 are calculated from Tcherikower, Antisemitizm, 197-198; the following years are from Gergel, Nahum, “Di pogromen in ukrayne in di yorn 1918-1920,” Shriftnfar ekonomik un statistik 1 (1928): 108 , table 2. Gergel makes a rather inconvenient distinction between pogroms and excesses, the latter usually (but not always) being less violent, the determining characteristic of a pogrom being a mass character. Gergel's figures are based on the testimony of witnesses and newspaper reports collected by the Mizrakh-yidish historische arkhiv, which was based first in Kiev and then later in Berlin and New York. See Szajkowski, Zosa, “Di geshikhte fun dem itztikn bukh,” in Tcherikower, Di ukrayner pogromen, 333349 for a discussion of the materials and the methods of collection. A version of Gergel's article was published in English in 1951: “The Pogroms in the Ukraine in 1918-1921,” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science (New York: YIVO, 1951), 237-252. Gergel's table 2 in the Yiddish original equals table 2 (p. 240) in the English version. Although Gergel's statistics are the most comprehensive, his figures are generally considered to be conservative. For other discussions of pogrom victims, see Kheyfetz, llya [Elias Heifetz], Pogrom geshikhte (1919-1920): Band 1, di ukrayner skhite in 1919 (New York: Arbeter ring, 1921), 271285 ; Lestschinsky, Jacob, “Der shrek fun tzifern,” Di tzukunft [New York], 27 (September 1922), 528–532.

31. See Gergel, “Di pogromen,” 109, table 3 (in the English version see 243, table 3).

32. In his Civil War in South Russia, 1919-1920: The Defeat of the Whites, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) Peter Kenez overemphasizes the pogroms perpetrated by the White Army (170-171). Although his study is in other ways excellent, his treatment of the pogroms is weakened by the exclusion of several Yiddish-language sources, which contain the most authoritative statistical data.

33. Committee, Pogroms in Ukraine, 169-170. The document is undated, but the response to it is dated 12 January 1919. 11 January is cited as the date of the issue of an antipogrom proclamation in Reshetar, Ukrainian Revolution, 255.

34. Committee, Pogroms in Ukraine, 170-171.

35. See Grosman, et al., eds., Avtonomie, 122-123, 137. Many of these proclamations are reproduced here in the Ukrainian originals as well as in Yiddish translation.

36. See Tcherikover, Di ukrayner pogromen, 98-99.

37. Goldelman, Juden und Ukrainer, 30-31. Revusky's reasons for resigning were complex, relating primarily not to the pogroms but to the policy of negotiations with the Entente. See Revusky, In di shvere, 248-253.

38. See Adams, Bolsheviks, 79-81; Gitelman, Zvi, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917-1930 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972), 165, 169-183, 197-199, 215217 . See also Gurevitz, Baruch, “The Bolshevik Revolution and the Foundation of the Jewish Communist Movement in RussiaSlavic and Soviet Studies [Tel-Aviv] 4 (1976): 12–13. Lenin's July 1918 decree is published in Dimanshtein, S., ed., Yidn in fssr: Zamlbukh (Moscow: Ernes, 1935), 173 . Rakovs'kyi's February 1919 decree “Bor'ba c antisemitizmom” is held in the Tsentral'nyi Derzhavnyi Arkhiv Zhovtnevoi Revolutsii (Kiev), fond 2, opys 1, sprava 46.

39. The Directory's decree, signed by Borys Martos, is reproduced in Material Concerning Ukrainian-Jewish Relations during the Years of the Revolution (1917-1921): Collection of Documents and Testimonies by Prominent Jewish Political Workers, ed. F. Pigido (Munich: Ukrainian Information Bureau, 1956), 52, 57-60, 65-67. Revusky, In di shvere, 248-252, see also Tcherikower, Di ukrayner pogromen, 185. Krasny was removed from the Folkspartey for disciplinary reasons; see Tcherikower, Di ukrayner pogromen, 163.

40. Petliura's declarations are reproduced in Pigido, Materials, 68-69, 70-72. See shuler, Mordechai Alt, “Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in the Soviet Milieu in the Interwar Period,” in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective, ed. Peter Potichnyj and Howard Aster (Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1988), 284 . See Pigido, Materials, 78-102.

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Jewish Representation in the Independent Ukrainian Governments of 1917-1920

  • Henry Abramson (a1)


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