Trotsky once boasted that during the Civil War, “even” traveling in his special Revvoyensovet’s [Revolutionary Military Council] railroad coach, he was able to find time to acquaint himself with the latest works of French literature.
Not that he realized exactly what he said. He acknowledged that he was able to find not just time, but room in his heart between appeals to the “revolutionary sailors,” forcibly mobilized units of Red Army, and a thrown order to execute every tenth soldier in a unit that wavered in battle. Well, he usually did not stay around to supervise carrying out such orders.
Orchestrating a bloody war on the vast plains of Russia, he was absolutely untouched by the unprecedented sufferings of her inhabitants, by her pain. He soared aloft, above it all, on the wings of the international intoxication of the Revolution.
The February Revolution was a Russian revolution: no matter how headlong, erroneous and pernicious it was, it did not aspire to burn down the entire pre-existing life, to annihilate the whole pre-revolutionary Russia. Yet immediately after the October [Bolshevik revolution], the Revolution spilled abroad and became an international and devastating plague, feeding itself by devouring and destroying social order wherever it spread — everything built was to be annihilated; everything cultivated — to be confiscated; whoever resisted — to be shot. The Reds were exclusively preoccupied with their grand social experiment, predestined to be repeated, expanded and implemented all over the world.
From an easy, quick blow, the October coup snowballed into a fierce three-year-long Civil War, which brought countless bloody calamities to all the peoples of Russia.
The multinationality of the former Empire and the cannon recoil from the Great War complicated both the inhumane Bolshevik plot and its implementation. Unlike the French Revolution, which unfolded on the territory of mono-national France and did not see much foreign intervention apart from a short incursion of hostile troops, and with all its horrors being a national affair from beginning to end, the Russian Revolution was horribly aggravated by its multinational madness. It saw the strong participation of Red Latvians (then Russian subjects), former German and Austrian prisoners of war (organized into full-blown regiments like the Hungarians), and even large numbers of Chinese. No doubt the brunt of the fighting for the Reds was carried out by Russians; some of them were drafted on pain of death while others volunteered in a mad belief they would be fighting for a happy future for themselves. Yet the Russian Jews were not lost in all that diversity.
The politically active part of Russian Jewry, which backed the Bolshevik civic regime in 1917, now just as boldly stepped into the military structures of Bolsheviks. During the first years after the October Revolution in the midst of the internationalist frenzy, the power over this enormous land was effortlessly slipping into the hands of those clinging to the Bolsheviks. And they were overwhelmed by the newfound immensity of that power. They immediately began using it without a backward glance or any fear of control — some, without doubt, in the name of higher ideals, while others — in the name of lower ones (“obstinacy of fanaticism in some and ability to adapt in others”1). At that time, nobody could imagine that the Civil War would ignite enormous Jewish pogroms, unprecedented in their atrocity and bloodshed, all over the South of Russia.
We can judge the true nature of the multi-ethnic war from the Red pogrom during the suppression of the Kronstadt Uprising in March 1921. A well-known socialist-revolutionary and sociologist Pitrim Sorokin writes: “For three days, Latvian, Bashkir, Hungarian, Tatar, Russian, Jewish and international rabble, crazed by alcohol and the smell of blood, raped and killed without restraint.”2
Or here is another recollection from ordinary witnesses. During the feast of the Epiphany in 1918, an Orthodox Sacred Procession stirred forth from the gates of the Kremlin in Tula — and an “international squad” gunned it down.
Even with the ruthless international squads, the force of the “Red Guard” alone was no longer sufficient. The Bolshevik regime needed a regular army. In 1918, “Lev Trotsky, with the help of Sklyansky and Jacov Sverdlov, created the Red Army.” “Many Jews were fighting in its ranks. Some units were entirely Jewish, like, for example, the brigade of Josef Furman.”3 The Jewish share in the command corps the Red Army become large and influential and this trend continued for many years even after the end of the Civil War. This Jewish involvement has been researched by several Jewish authors and encyclopedias.
In the 1980s, Israeli scholar Aaron Abramovich used many Soviet sources (including The Fifty-Year Anniversary of the Soviet Armed Forces, The Soviet Historical Encyclopedia, volumes of Directives of the Front Command of the Red Army) to compile detailed nominal rosters of highly ranked Jewish commanders (exclusively Jewish ones) in the Red Army during the period from the Civil War up to the aftermath of Second World War.
Let’s skim through the pages allocated to the Civil War.4 This is a very extensive roster; it begins with the Revvoyensoviet, where Abramovich lists L. Trotsky, E. Sklyansky, A. Rosengoltz, and Y. Drabkin-Gusev. Trotsky ordered the “establishment of fronts with headquarters, and formation of new armies,” and “Jews were present in almost all the revvoyensoviets of the fronts and armies.” (Abramovich lists the most prominent individuals: D. Vayman, E. Pyatnitsky, L. Glezarov, L. Pechyorsky, I. Slavin, M. Lisovsky, G. Bitker, Bela Kun, Brilliant-Sokolnikov, I. Khodorovsky). Earlier, at the onset of the Civil War, the Extraordinary Command Staff of the Petrograd Military District was headed by Uritsky, and among the members of the Petrograd Committee of Revolutionary Defense were Sverdlov (the chairman), Volodarsky, Drabkin-Gusev, Ya. Fishman (a leftist Socialist Revolutionary) and G. Chudnovsky. In May 1918 there were two Jews among the eleven commissars of military districts: E. Yaroslavsky-Gubelman (Moscow District) and S. Nakhimson (Yaroslavsky District). During the war, several Jews were in charge of armies: M. Lashevich was in charge of the 3rd — and later, of the 7th Army of Eastern Front; V. Lazarevich was in charge of the 3rd Army of the Western Front, G. Sokolnikov led the 8th Army of the Southern Front, N. Sorkin — the 9th, and I. Yakir — the 14th Army. Abramovich painstakingly lists numerous Jewish heads of staff and members of the revvoyensoviets in each of the twenty armies; then the commanders, heads of staff and military commissars of divisions (the list of the latter, i.e., those in charge of the ideological branch of command, was three-times longer than the list of Jewish commanders of divisions). In this manner Abramovich describes brigades, regiments and separate detachments. He lists Jewish heads of political administrations and revolutionary military tribunals at all levels, noting that “especially large percentage of Jews can be found among political officers at all levels of the Red Army….” “Jews played an important role in the provision and supply services. Let’s name some of them….” “Jews occupied important positions in military medicine as well: heads of sanitary administrations of the fronts and armies, senior doctors of units and bodies of troops….” “Many Jews — commanders of large units and detachments — were distinguished for their courage, heroism and generalship” but “due to the synoptic character of this chapter we cannot provide detailed descriptions of the accomplishments of Jewish Red Army soldiers, commanders and political officers.” (Meticulously listing the commanders of armies, the researcher misses another Jew, Tikhon Khvesin, who happened to be in charge of the 4th Army of the Eastern Front, then — of the 8th Army of the Southern Front, and later of the 1st Army of the Turkestan Front.5)
The Russian Jewish Encyclopedia provides additional information about some commanders. (Here I would like to commend this encyclopedia (1994), for in our new free times its authors performed an honest choice — writing frankly about everything, including less than honorable things.)
Drabkin-Gusev became the Head of Political Administration of the Red Army and the Chief of the entire Red Army in 1921. Later he was the head of IstPart (Commission on the History of October Revolution and Bolshevist Party) and a big figure in the Comintern, and was buried in the Kremlin wall [in Moscow].
Mikhail Gaskovich-Lashkevich was a member of many revvoyensoviets, and later he was in charge of the Siberian Military District, and even later — the First Deputy Chairman of the Revvoyensoviet of the USSR (yet he was buried merely on the Field of Mars [in St. Petersburg]).
Israel Razgon was the military commissar of the Headquarters of Petrograd Military District and participated in the suppression of the Kronstadt Uprising; later, he was in charge of the Red Army of Bukhara, suppressing the uprising in Central Asia; still later he worked in the Headquarters of the Black See Fleet.
Boris Goldberg was Military Commissar of the Tomskaya Guberniya, later of the Permskaya Guberniya, still later of the Privolzhskiy Military District, and even later he was in charge of the Reserve Army and was acknowledged as one of the founders of Soviet Civil Aviation.
Modest Rubenstein was Deputy Head of the Revvoyensoviet of the Special Army, and later he was head of political administration of an army group.
Boris Hippo was the Head of Political Administration of the Black Sea Fleet. (Later he worked in the political administrations of the Baltic Sea Fleet, the Turkestan Front, was the Head of Political Administration of the Central-Asian Military District, and later of the Caucasian Army.)
Michail Landa was a head of the political division of an army, later — Deputy Head of Political Administration of the entire Red Army, and still later Head of Political Administration of the Byelorussian and then of the Siberian Military Districts.
Lev Berlin was Commissar of the Volga Military Flotilla and later worked in the Political Administration of the Crimean Army and still later in that of the Baltic Fleet.6
Yet how many outstanding characters acted at lower levels?
Boris Skundin, previously a lowly apprentice of clockmaker Sverdlov, Sr., successively evolved into the military commissar of a division, commissar of army headquarters, political inspector of front, and, finally, into Deputy Head of Political Administration of the 1st Cavalry Army.
Avenir Khanukaev was commander of a guerilla band who later was tried before the revolutionary tribunal for crimes during the capture of Ashgabat and acquitted, and in the same year of 1919 was made into political plenipotentiary of the TurkCommission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of People’s Commissars on Kashgar, Bukhara and Khiva.
Moses Vinnitsky (“Mishka-Yaponchik”) was a member of the Jewish militia squad in Odessa 1905, and later a gang-leader; he was freed from a hard labor camp by the February Revolution and became a commander of a Jewish fighting brigade in Odessa, simultaneously managing the entire criminal underworld of Odessa. In 1919 he was a commander of a special battalion and later he was in charge of an infantry regiment in the Red Army. His unit was “composed of anarchists and criminals.” In the end he was shot by his own side.
Military commissar Isaiah Tzalkovich was in command of a composite company of the [Red] cadets during the suppression of the Kronstadt Uprising.7
We can see extraordinary Jewish women in the higher Bolshevik ranks as well.
Nadezda Ostrovskaya rose from the Head of Gubkom [Party Committee of a Guberniya, the highest executive authority in a guberniya] of Vladimir Guberniya to the post of the Head of Political Administration of the entire 10th Army.
Revekka Plastinina headed Gubrevkom and later the Gubkom of Archangel Guberniya.
Is it proper to mention here Cecilia Zelikson-Bobrovskaya, who was a seamstress in her youth, and became the Head of the Military Department of the Moscow Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks?8 Or take one of the Furies of the Revolution Eugenia Bosh (or her sister Elena Rozmirovich)?
Or another thing — the Soviets used the phrase “Corps of Red Cossacks.” Yet those were not Cossacks who embraced communist ideology but plain bandits (who occasionally disguised themselves as Whites for deception). Those “Cossack Corps” were made of all nationalities from Romanians to Chinese with a full-blown Latvian cavalry regiment. A Russian, Vitaly Primakov, was in command and its Political Department was headed by I. I. Minz (by Isaac Greenberg in the Second Division) and S. Turovskiy was head of the Headquarters. A. Shilman was the head of operative section of the staff, S. Davidson managed the division newspaper, and Ya. Rubinov was in charge of the administrative section of the staff.9
Since we began particularizing let’s look at the famous leaders of the Red Army, at those never-fading names: Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, Vasily Blucher, Semyon Budyonny, Klim Voroshilov, Boris Dumenko, Pavel Dybenko, Aleksa Dundich, Dmitry Zhloba, Vasily Kikvidze, Epifan Kovtukh, Grigory Kotovsky, Philip Mironov, Mikhail Muravyov, Vitaly Primakov, Ivan Sorokin, Semyon Timoshenko, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Ieronim Uborevich, Mikhail Frunze, Vasily Chapaev, Yefim Shchadenko, Nikolay Shchors. Why, couldn’t they pull it off without Jews?
Or take hundreds and thousands of Russian generals and officers of the former Imperial Army, who served in the Red Army, though not in the political sections (they were not invited there), but in other significant posts. True, they had a commissar with a gun behind them, and many served on pain of execution of their hostage families especially in case of military failures. Yet they gave an invaluable advantage to the Reds, which actually might have been crucial for the eventual victory of Bolsheviks. Why, “just about half of the officers of the General Staff worked for the Bolsheviks.”10
And we should not forget that initial and fatal susceptibility of many Russian peasants (by no means all of them, of course) to Bolshevik propaganda. Shulgin flatly noted: “Death to the Bourgeois” was so successful in Russia because the smell of blood inebriates, alas, so many Russians; and they get into a frenzy like wild beasts.”11
Yet let’s avoid going into another unreasonable extreme, such as the following: “The most zealous executioners in Cheka were not at all the `notorious Jews,´ but the recent minions of the throne, generals and officers.”12 As though they would be tolerated in there, in the Cheka! They were invited there with the only one purpose — to be executed. Yet why such a quick-temper? Those Jews, who worked in the Cheka, were, of course, not the “notorious Jews,” but quite young and “committed” ones, with revolutionary garbage filling their heads. And I deem that they served not as executioners but mostly as interrogators.
The Cheka (“Extraordinary Commission,” Che-Ka) was established in December 1917. It instantly gained strength and by the beginning of 1918 it was already filling the entire populace with mortal fear. In fact, it was the Cheka that started the “Red Terror” long before its beginning was officially announced on September 5, 1918. The Cheka practiced terror from the moment of its inception and continued it long after the end of the Civil War. By January of 1918, the Cheka was “enforcing the death penalty on the spot without investigation and trial.” Then the country saw the snatching of hundreds and later thousands of absolutely innocent hostages, their mass executions at night or mass drowning in whole barges. Historian S. P. Melgunov, who himself happened to experience perilous incarceration in Cheka prisons, unforgettably reflected upon the whole epic story of the “Red Terror” in his famous book “Red Terror” in Russia 1918-1923.
“There was not a single town or a district without an office of the omnipotent All-Russian Extraordinary Commission [that is, the Cheka], which from now on becomes the main nerve of state governance and absorbs the last vestiges of law”; “there was not a single place (in the RSFSR [Russian Federation]) without ongoing executions”; “a single verbal order of one man (Dzerzhinsky) doomed to immediate death many thousand people.” And even when investigation took place, the Chekists [members of the Cheka] followed their official instructions: “Do not look for evidence incriminating a suspect in hostile speech or action against Soviet power. The very first question you should ask him is about the social class he belongs to, and what is his descent, upbringing, education and profession. It is these questions that should determine the suspect’s fate (the words of M. Latsis in the bulletin Red Terror on November 1, 1918 and in Pravda on December 25, 1918).” Melgunov notes: “Latsis was not original here, he simply rephrased the words of Robespierre in Convent about the mass terror: `To execute the enemies of the Fatherland, it is sufficient to establish their identities. Not punishment but elimination is required´.” Directives from the center are picked up and distributed all over Russia by the Cheka Weekly and Melgunov cites the periodical profusely: “Red Sword is published in Kiev … in an editorial by Lev Krainy we read: `Old foundations of morality and humanity invented by the bourgeoisie do not and cannot exist for us´…. A. certain Schwartz follows: `The proclaimed Red Terror should be implemented in a proletarian way… If physical extermination of all servants of Tsarism and capitalism is the prerequisite for the establishment of the worldwide dictatorship of proletariat, then it wouldn’t stop us.´”13
It was a targeted, pre-designed and long-term Terror. Melgunov also provides estimates of the body count of that “unheard-of swing of murders” (precise numbers were practically not available then). “Yet, I suppose these horrors … pale into insignificance with respect to the number of victims if compared to what happened in the South after the end of the Civil War. Denikin’s [the general of the White army in command of the South Russian front] rule was crumbling. New power was ascending, accompanied by a bloody reign of vengeful terror, of mere retaliation. At this point it was not a civil war, it was physical liquidation of a former adversary.” There were waves and waves of raids, searches, new raids and arrests. “Entire wards of prisoners are escorted out and every last man is executed. Because of the large number of victims, a machine-gun is used”; “they execute 15-16-years-old children and 60-years-old elders.” The following is a quote from a Cheka announcement in the Kuban region: “Cossack villages and settlements, which give shelter to Whites and Greens [Ukrainian nationalists], will be destroyed, the entire adult population — executed, and all property — confiscated.” After Wrangel [another White general] left, “Crimea was dubbed the `All-Russian Cemetery´” (different estimates suggest the number of murdered as between 120,000 and 150,000). “In Sevastopol people were not just shot but hanged, hanged by dozens and even by hundreds,” Nakhimov Prospect [a major street] was lined with the corpses of the hanged … people arrested on the streets and hastily executed without trial.” Terror in the Crimea continued through 1921.14
But no matter how deep we dig into the history of Cheka, special departments, special squads, too many deeds and names will remain unknown, covered by the decomposed remnants of witnesses and the ash of incinerated Bolshevik documents. Yet even the remaining documents are overly eloquent. Here is a copy of a secret “Extract from the protocol of a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks” dated by April 18, 1919, obtained from the Trotsky archive at Columbia University.
“Attended cc.[comrades] Lenin, Krestinsky, Stalin, Trotsky.
Heard: …3. Statement of c. Trotsky that Jews and Latvians constitute a huge percentage of officials in the front-line Chekas, front-line and rear area executive commissions and central Soviet agencies, and that their percentage in the front-line troops is relatively small, and that because of this, strong chauvinist agitation is conducted among the Red Army soldiers with certain success, and that, according to c. Trotsky’s opinion, it is necessary to redistribute the Party personnel to achieve a more uniform representation of officials of all nationalities between front-line and rear areas.
Decided: To propose cc. Trotsky and Smilga to draft an appropriate Directive of the Central Committee to the commissions responsible for the allotment of cadres between the central and local Soviet organizations and the front.”15
Yet it is hard to believe that the meeting produced the intended effect. A contemporary researcher, the first who approached “the problem of the role and place of Jews (and other ethnic minorities) in Soviet machinery,” studied declassified archive documents and concluded that “at the initial stage of activity of the punitive agencies, during the `Red Terror,´ national minorities constituted approximately 50% of the central Cheka apparatus, with their representation on the major posts reaching 70%.”16 The author provides September 25, 1918 statistical data: among the ethnic minorities — numerous Latvians and fairly numerous Poles “– the Jews are quite noticeable, especially among “major and active Cheka officials,” i.e., commissars and investigators. For instance, among the “investigators of the Department of Counter-Revolutionary Activities — the most important Cheka department — half were Jews.”17
Below are the service records of several Chekists of the very first call (from the Russian Jewish Encyclopedia).18
Veniamin Gerson was in the Cheka from 1918, and from 1920 he was a personal referent to Dzerzhinsky.
Israel Leplevsky, a former member of Bund, joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 and worked in the Cheka from 1918; he was the head of the State Political Directorate [formed from the Cheka in 1922] of the Podolsk Guberniya and later of the Special Department of Odessa. And he climbed all the way up to the post of head of the OGPU [Joint State Political Directorate, the successor to the Cheka] of USSR! Later he occupied posts of Narkom of Internal Affairs of Byelorussia and Uzbekistan.
Zinovy Katznelson became a Chekist immediately after the October Revolution; later he was a head of special departments in several armies, and then of the entire Southern Front. Still later we can see him in the highest ranks in the Cheka headquarters, and even later at different times he was in charge of the Cheka of the Archangel Guberniya, the Transcaucasian Cheka, the North Caucasus GPU, the Kharkov GPU [another Cheka-successor secret police organization]; he also was deputy to the Narkom of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and deputy head of the entire GULag [that is, the government agency that administered the main Soviet penal labor camp systems].
Solomon Mogilevsky was chair of the Ivano-Voznesensk tribunal in 1917, then in charge of Cheka in Saratov. Later we find him again in an army tribunal; and after that he was in succession: deputy head of the Bureau of Investigations of the Moscow Cheka, head of Foreign Affairs Department of Cheka headquarters, and head of the Cheka of Transcaucasia.
Did Ignaty Vizner contemplate the scale of his actions when he investigated the case of Nicolay Gumilev? Not likely — he was too busy. He served in the Special Section at the Presidium of Cheka headquarters, he was the founder of the Bryansk Cheka, and later he was an investigator in the case of the Kronstadt Uprising and a special plenipotentiary of the Presidium of the Cheka-GPU on cases of special importance.
Lev Levin-Velsky, former member of the Bund [a Jewish socialist labor organization], was in charge of the Cheka of the Simbirsk Guberniya in 1918-1919, later of the Special Department of the 8th Army, still later of the Cheka of the Astrakhan Guberniya. Beginning in 1921, he was an envoy plenipotentiary of the central Cheka in the Far East, and later, from 1923, an envoy plenipotentiary of the OGPU in Central Asia. Still later, from the beginning of 1930, he worked in the Moscow OGPU. (And even later in his career he was deputy Narkom of Internal Affairs of the USSR.)
Or consider Nahum (Leonid) Etington: active in the Cheka beginning in 1919, later head of the Cheka of the Smolensk Guberniya; still later he worked in the GPU of Bashkiria; it was he who orchestrated the assassination of Trotsky.
Isaak (Semyon) Schwartz: in 1918-1919 he was the very first chair of the All-Ukranian Cheka. He was succeeded by Yakov Lifshitz who beginning in 1919 was the head of the Secret Operations Division and simultaneously a deputy head of the Cheka of the Kiev Guberniya; later he was deputy head of the Cheka of the Chernigov Guberniya, and still later — of the Kharkov Guberniya; and even later he was in charge of the Operative Headquarters of the All-Ukrainian Cheka; still later, in 1921-1922, he ran the Cheka of the Kiev Guberniya.
Let’s look at the famous Matvei Berman. He began his career in a districtCheka in the North Urals; in 1919 he was assigned as deputy dead of the Cheka of the Yekaterinburg Guberniya, from 1920 — head of Cheka of Tomsk Guberniya, from 1923 — of the Buryat-Mongolian Guberniya, from 1924 — Deputy Head of the OGPU of all of Central Asia, from 1928 — head of the OGPU of Vladivostok, from 1932 — head of the entire GULag and simultaneously a deputy Narkom of the NKVD [a successor organization to the Cheka, GPU and OGPU] (from 1936). (His brother Boris was in the State Intelligence Organs since 1920; in 1936 he served as deputy head of foreign intelligence section in the NKVD.) Boris Pozern, a commissar of the Petrograd Commune, substantially contributed to matching images of a Jew and that of a Chekist in people’s minds; on September 2, 1918, he co-signed the proclamation on “Red Terror” with Zinoviev and Dzerzhinsky. (The Encyclopedia missed one Aleksandr Ioselevich, secretary of the Petrograd Cheka, who had co-signed the Red Terror execution lists with Gleb Bokiy in September, 1918.)
Yet there were others, even more famous individuals. For instance, Yakov Agranov, a Chekist, phenomenally successful in conducting repressions; he invented “Tagantzev’s Conspiracy” (through which he had killed Gumilev); he directed “cruel interrogations of participants of the Kronstadt Uprising.” Or take notorious Yakov Blumkin, who participated in the assassination of the German ambassador in 1918; he was arrested and later amnestied, and then served in Trotsky’s secretariat, and later — in Mongolia, Transcaucasia, the Middle East, and was shot in 1929.
And there were numerous personnel behind every Cheka organizer…. And hundreds and thousands of innocents met them during interrogations, in basements and during the executions.
There were Jews among the victims too. Those who suffered from the massive communist onslaught on the “bourgeoisie” were mostly merchants. “In the Maloarkhangelsk District, a merchant (Yushkevich) was placed on a red-hot cast-iron stove by members of a communist squad for failure to pay taxes.” (From the same source: some peasants, who defaulted on the surplus appropriation system, were lowered on ropes into water wells to simulate drowning; or, during the winter, they froze people into ice pillars for failure to pay revolutionary taxes. The particular sort of punishment depended on the imagination of the executioners.19) Similarly, Korolenko described how two millers, named Aronov and Mirkin, were extrajudicially shot for not complying with absurd communist-mandated prices on flour.20 Or here is another example. In 1913, former Kiev Governor Sukovkin advocated innocence of Beilis [during Beilis’ Trial]. When the Reds came, he was arrested. Thousands of Jews in Kiev signed a petition on his behalf, yet the Cheka had shot him nevertheless.
How then can we explain that the Russian populace generally regarded the new terror as “Jewish terror”? Look how many innocent Jews were accused of that. Why was the perception that Chekists and Jews were all but the same so widespread among both the Reds and the Whites alike and among the people in general? Who is responsible for that? Many. And the White Army is also responsible as we discuss below. Yet not the least among these reasons is because of the Chekists themselves, who facilitated this identification by their ardent service on the highest posts in Cheka.
Today we hear bitter complaints that it was not only Jews who clung to the power, and why any particular clemency should be expected from the Jewish Chekists? True. These objections, however, cannot alter the harsh certitude: the incredibly enormous power on an unimaginable scale had come into the hands of those Jewish Chekists, who at that time were supreme, by status and rank, representatives of Russian Jewry (no matter how horribly it sounds). And those representatives (again, not elected by their own people) were not capable of finding enough self-restraint and self-scrutinizing sobriety to come around, check themselves, and opt out. It is like the Russian cautionary proverb: “Ah, do not hurry to grab, first blow on your fingers” And the Jewish people (who did not elect those Chekists as their representatives), that already numerous and active city-dwelling community (weren’t there prudent elders among them?) also failed to stop them: be careful, we are a small minority in this country! (Yet who listened to elders in that age?)
G. Landau writes: “Loss of affiliation with a social class overthrew the fine structure of Jewish society and destroyed the inner forces of resistance and even that of stability, sending even them under the chariot of triumphant Bolshevism.” He finds that apart from the ideas of socialism, separatist nationalism, and permanent revolution, “we were astonished to find among the Jews what we never expected from them — cruelty, sadism, unbridled violence — everything that seemed so alien to a people so detached from physical activity; those who yesterday couldn’t handle a rifle, today were among the vicious cutthroats.”21
Here is more about the aforementioned Revekka Plastinina-Maizel from the Archangel Guberniya Cheka: “Infamous for her cruelty all over the north of Russia…, [she] voluntarily `perforated napes and foreheads´… and personally shot more than one hundred men.” Or “about one Baka who was nicknamed `a bloody boy´ for his youth and cruelty” — first “in Tomsk and then as the head of the Cheka” of the Irkutsk Guberniya.22 (Plastinina’s career carried her up right to a seat in the Supreme Court of RSFSR which she occupied in 1940s.23) Some may recall the punitive squad of Mandelbaum in Archangel in the north of Russia, others — the squad of “Mishka-Yaponchik” in Ukraine….
What would you expect from peasants in the Tambov Guberniya if, during the heat of the suppression of the great peasant uprising in this Central-Russian black-earth region, the dismal den of the Tambov Gubcom was inhabited by masterminds of grain allotments, secretaries of Gubcom P. Raivid and Pinson and by the head of the propaganda department, Eidman? (A. G. Shlikhter, whom we remember from Kiev in 1905, was there as well, this time as the chairman of the Executive Committee of the guberniya.) Y. Goldin was the Foodstuffs Commissar of the Tambov Guberniya; it was he who triggered the uprising by exorbitant confiscations of grain, whereas one N. Margolin, commander of a grain confiscation squad, was famous for whipping the peasants who failed to provide grain. (And he murdered them too.) According to Kakurin, who was the chief of staff to Tukhachevsky, a plenipotentiary representative of the Cheka headquarters in the Tambov Guberniya during that period was Lev Levin. Of course, not only Jews were in it! However, when Moscow took the suppression of the uprising into her own hands in February 1921, the supreme command of the operation was assigned to Efraim Sklyansky, the head of “Interdepartmental Anti-Banditry Commission,” — and so the peasants, notified about that with leaflets, were able to draw their own conclusions.
And what should we say about the genocide on the river Don, when hundreds of thousands of the flower of Don Cossacks were murdered? What should we expect from the Cossack memories when we take into consideration all those unsettled accounts between a revolutionary Jew and a Don Cossack?
In August 1919, the Volunteer Army took Kiev and opened several Chekas and found the bodies of those recently executed; Shulgin composed nominal lists of victims using funeral announcements published in the reopened Kievlyanin; one can’t help noticing that almost all names were Slavic … it was the “chosen Russians” who were shot. Materials produced by the Special Investigative Commission in the South of Russia provide insights into the Kiev Cheka and its command personnel (based on the testimony of a captured Cheka interrogator)25: “The headcount of the `Cheka´ staff varied between 150 and 300 … percentage-wise, there was 75% Jews and 25% others, and those in charge were almost exclusively Jews.” Out of twenty members of the Commission, i.e., the top brass who determined people’s destinies, fourteen were Jews. “All detained were kept either in the `Cheka´ building or in the Lukyanov’s prison…. A special shed was fitted for executions in the building on Institutskaya St. 40, on the corner with Levashovskaya St., where the main `Cheka´ office of the guberniya had moved from Ekaterininskaya St. An executioner (and sometimes `amateur´ Chekists) escorted a completely naked victim into a shed and ordered the victim to fall facedown on the ground. Then he finished the victim with a shot in the back of the head. Executions were performed using revolvers (typically Colts). Usually because of the short distance, the skull of the executed person exploded into fragments…. The next victim was similarly escorted inside and laid down nearby…. When number of victims was exceeding … the capacity of the shed, new victims were laid down right upon the dead or were shot at the entrance of the shed…. Usually the victims went to their execution without resistance.”
This is what the “people were whispering about.” Or take another incident, witnessed by Remizov (whom it is hard to suspect of anti-Semitism given his revolutionary-democratic past): “Recently there was a military training nearby, at the Academy, and one Red Army soldier said: `Comrades, lets not go to the front, it is all because of Yids that we fight!´ And someone with a brief-case asked him: `Which regiment are you from?´ And the soldier again: `Comrades, let’s not go to the front, it is all because of Yids!´ And that one with a briefcase ordered: `Shoot him!´ Then two other Red Army soldiers came out and the first one tried to flee. But he didn’t make it to the corner as others got him and shot him — his brain spilled over and there was a pool of blood.”26
The Kronstadt Uprising had distinctly anti-Jewish character (and so all the more was it doomed): they destroyed portraits of Trotsky and Zinoviev [both Jewish], but not those of Lenin. And Zinoviev didn’t have guts to go to negotiate with the rebels — he would be torn into pieces. So they sent Kalinin [Russian].
There were labor strikes in Moscow in February 1921 that had the slogan: “Down with Communists and Jews!”
We have already mentioned that during the Civil War the majority of Russian socialists (and there were numerous Jews among them) were, of course, on Lenin’s side, not on Admiral Kolchak’s and some of them actually fought for the Bolsheviks. (For example, consider Bund member Solomon Schwartz: during the period of the provisional government, he was a director of a department in a ministry; during the Civil War he volunteered to the Red Army though he did not indicate his rank; later he emigrated abroad where he published two books about the Jewish situation in the USSR; we will cite him below.)
Thus it looked as though not only Bolshevik Jews, but all of Jewry had decided to take the Red side in the Civil War. Could we claim that their choice was completely deliberate? No. Could we claim that they didn’t have any other choice? Again, no.
Shulgin describes the enormous exodus from Kiev on October 1, 1919 as the city was to be surrendered to Bolsheviks. It was an entirely Russian exodus, people were leaving on foot with knapsacks, across the bridges over Dnepr river; he estimated their numbers at around 60,000. “There were no Jews in this exodus: they were not noticeable among those many thousands of Russians (men, women and children), with bundles in their hands streaming across the beautiful Chain Bridge under a sorrowful net of rain.” There were more than 100,000 Jews in Kiev at that time, Shulgin writes. And all of those rich and very rich Jews — they didn’t leave, they chose to stay and wait for arrival of Bolsheviks. “The Jews decided not to share their fate with us. And with that they carved a new and possibly the deepest divide between us.”27
So it was in many other places. According to the testimony of socialist-revolutionary S. Maslov: “It is a fact that in towns and cities of southern Russia, especially in cities to the west of the Dnepr that changed hands repeatedly, the arrival of Soviets was most celebrated and the most of hollow sympathy was expressed in the Jewish quarters, and not infrequently only in those alone.”28
A contemporary American historian (Bruce Lincoln, author of a big treatise about our Civil War) “said that the entire Ukrainian Cheka was composed of almost 80% by Jews,” that “can be explained by the fact that, prior to arrival of the Reds, cruel pogroms went on non-stop; indeed those were the bloodiest pogroms since the times of Bogdan Khmelnytsky [leader of the Cossack rebellion in Ukraine in 1648-1657].”29 We will discuss the pogroms soon, though it should be noted that the time sequence was actually the opposite: those 80% [Jews] were already staffing the Cheka in 1918, whereas the Petliura’s [a Ukrainian publicist, writer, journalist who was head of state during the Ukrainian independence of 1918-1920] pogroms only gathered momentum during 1919 (the pogroms by White Army troops began in the fall of 1919).
Yet it is impossible to answer the eternal question who is the guilty party, who pushed it into abyss. Of course, it is incorrect to say that the Kiev Cheka did what it did because it was three-quarters Jewish. Still, this is something that Jewish people should remember and reflect upon.
And yes, there were Jews then who appealed to their compatriots looking back on the tragedy that had befallen both Russia and Russian Jewry. In their proclamation To the Jews of all countries!, this group wrote in 1923 that “overly zealous participation of Jewish Bolsheviks in the oppression and destruction of Russia … is blamed upon all of us … the Soviet rule is identified with Jewish rule, and fierce hatred of Bolsheviks turns into the equally fierce hatred of Jews…. [We] firmly believe that Bolshevism is the worst of all evils possible for the Jews and all other peoples of Russia, and that to fight tooth and nail against the rule of that international rabble over Russia is our sacred duty before humankind, culture, before our Motherland and the Jewish people.”30 Yet the Jewish community “reacted to these declarations with great indignation.”31 (We will discuss it in the next chapter.)
The Civil War spilled over Russia’s borders. Let’s review that briefly (though the events in Europe are outside of the scope of this book).
The Bolsheviks invaded Poland in 1920. (At this point they had recalled and adroitly used the Russian “national longing and national enthusiasm” — as Nahamkis-Steklov put it in an Izvestia editorial.32) And it appears that Polish Jews met the Red Army very warmly. According to a Soviet source, whole battalions of Jewish workers participated in the fighting at Minsk.33 Reading from the Jewish Encyclopedia: “on numerous occasions, Poles accused Jews of supporting the enemy, of `anti-Polish´, `pro-Bolshevist´ and even `pro-Ukrainian´ attitudes.” During the Soviet-Polish war many Jews “were killed [by Polish Army] on charges of spying for the Red Army.”34 However, we should be wary of possible exaggerations here as we remember similar accusations in espionage made by Russian military authorities during the war, in 1915.
The Soviets quickly formed a revolutionary “government” for Poland headed by F. Dzerzhinsky. In it were Y. Markhlevsky and F. Kon. Of course, they were surrounded by “blood work” specialists and ardent propagandists. (Among the latter we see a former pharmacist from Mogilev A. I. Rotenberg. Soon after the aborted Red revolution in Poland, he, together with Bela Kun and Zalkind-Zemlyachka, went on to conduct the deadly “cleansing” of the Crimea. In 1921 he participated in that glorious work again — this time “purging” Georgia, again under the direct command of Dzerzhinsky. At the end of 1920s Rotenberg was in charge of the Moscow NKVD.)
Not only Poland but Hungary and Germany as well were affected by the Red Revolution. An American researcher writes: “the intensity and tenacity of anti-Semitic prejudice in both the east and the center of Europe was significantly influenced by Jewish participation in the revolutionary movement.” “In the beginning of 1919, the Soviets, under predominantly Jewish leadership, started revolutions in Berlin and Munich,” and “the share of activist Jews was” disproportionately high in the German Communist Party of that period,” though “that party’s support in the Jewish community at large was not significant.” Four out of eleven members of the Central Committee were Jews with a university education.” In December 1918, one of them, Rosa Luxemburg, wrote: “In the name of the greatest aspirations of humankind, our motto when we deal with our enemies is: “Finger into the eye, knee on the chest!” Rebellion in Munich was led by a theater critic, Kurt Eisner, a Jew of “bohemian appearance.” He was killed, but the power in conservative and Catholic Bavaria was seized by “a new government made up of leftist intellectual Jews, who proclaimed the `Bavarian Soviet Republic´”(G. Landauer, E. Toller, E. Muhsam, O. Neurath) In a week the republic “was overthrown by an even more radical group,” which declared the “Second Bavarian Soviet Republic” with Eugen Levine at the helm.35 Let’s read an article about him in the Encyclopedia: born into merchant Jewish family, he used to be a socialist-revolutionary; he participated in the [Russian] revolution of 1905, later became German national, joined the “Spartacist movement” of R. Luxemburg and K. Liebknecht, and now he became the head of the Communist government in Bavaria, which also included the abovementioned E. Muhsam, E. Toller and a native of Russia, M. Levin.36 The uprising was defeated in May 1919. “The fact that the leaders of the suppressed Communist revolts were Jews was one of the most important reasons for the resurrection of political anti-Semitism in contemporary Germany.”37
“While Jews played a “quite conspicuous” role in the Russian and German communist revolutions, their role in Hungary became central…. Out of 49 People’s Commissars there, 31 were Jews,” Bela Kun being the most prominent of them; “the foreign minister (de-facto head of government),” he would orchestrate a bloodbath in the Crimea half a year later. Here we find Matyas Rakosi, Tibor Szamuely, Gyorgy Lukacs. “Granted, the prime-minister was a gentile, Sandor Garbai, but Rakosi later joked that Garbai was elected because someone had to sign execution orders on Sabbath days.” “Statues of Hungarian kings and heroes were knocked off their pedestals, the national anthem outlawed, and wearing the national colors criminalized.” “The tragedy of the situation was escalated by the fact that historically Hungarian Jews were much wealthier than their Eastern-European countrymen and were much more successful in Hungarian society.”38
The direct relation between the Hungarian Soviet Republic and our Civil War becomes more clear by the virtue of the fact that special Red Army Corps were being prepared to go to the rescue of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, but they couldn’t manage it in time and the Republic fell (in August 1919).
The breakdown of the universally hated Russian Empire cost all involved dearly, including the Jews. G. Landau writes: “In general, revolution is gruesome, risky and dangerous business. It is especially gruesome and dangerous for a minority, which in many ways is alien to the bulk of population…. To secure their wellbeing, such minority should unwaveringly cling to law and rely on unshakable continuity of social order and on the inertia of statutory power. Forces of revolutionary misalignment and permissiveness hit such a minority particularly hard.”39
It was looming — straight forward, into the so promising future! Yet in the near future, during the Civil War, there was no law and Jewry was hit by pillages and pogroms on the scale not even close to anything they experienced in days of the Tsar. And those pogroms were launched not by the White side. Because of the density of the Jewish population in Ukraine, it was inevitable that a third force, apart from the Reds and Whites, would interfere in the Jewish destinies — that of Ukrainian separatism.
In April 1917, when the Ukrainian Rada [upper house of parliament] assembled for the first time, “Jewry … did not yet believe in the victory of Ukrainian Nationalism,” and that was manifested in the character of their voting during municipal summer elections: Jews did not have “any reason” to vote for Ukrainian separatists.40 But already in June, when something resembling real independent Ukrainian governance was taking shape — under which apparently the Jews would have to live from now on — the Jewish representatives entered the Lesser [lower] Rada, and a Vice-Secretariat on Jewish nationality (“Jewish Ministry”) was established. The latter worked on the long-cherished project of “Jewish National Autonomy” (according to which every nationality and now — the Jewish one, creates its own national union, which can legislate according to the needs and interests of their nation and for that it receives financial support from the treasury, and a representative of the union becomes a member of the cabinet). Initially, the formative Ukrainian government was generally benevolent toward Jews, but by the end of 1917 the mood changed, and the bill on autonomy was met in the Rada with laughter and contempt; nevertheless, in January 1918, it was passed, though with difficulties. For their part, the Jews reluctantly accepted “the Third Universal” (November 9, 1917, the initiation of Ukrainian independence from Russia) as now they feared anarchy, traditionally dangerous for Jewish populations, and were afraid of a split within Russian Jewry. Still, Jewish philistines were making fun of the Ukrainian language and shop-signs, were afraid of Ukrainian nationalism, and believed in the Russian state and Russian culture.41 Lenin wrote: Jews, like Great Russians, “ignore the significance of the national question in Ukraine.”42
However, everything pointed toward secession and the Jewish delegates in the Rada did not dare to vote against the Fourth Universal (January 11, 1918, on complete secession of Ukraine). Immediately thereafter, the Bolsheviks began an offensive against Ukraine. The first “Ukrainian” Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party of Bolsheviks was formed in Moscow and later moved to Kharkov; it was headed by Georgiy Pyatakov and among its members were Semyon Schwartz and Serafima Gopner. When by the end of January 1918 they moved to Kiev, Grigory Chudnovsky took the post of the Commissar of Kiev, Kreitzberg became a commissar of finances, D. Raikhstein ” press commissar, Shapiro — commissar of the army. “There was no shortage of Jewish names among the top Bolsheviks … in such centers as Odessa and Ekaterinoslav. That was sufficient to fuel talks about “Bolshevik Jews” and “Jewish Bolsheviks” among the troops loyal to the Rada. Verbal cursing about “traitorous Jews” became almost commonplace”; “in the very midst of street fighting [for Kiev], the Zionist fraction produced an official inquiry on the matter of anti-Jewish excesses.” The question turned into a “verbal skirmish between Ukrainian delegates and representatives of national minorities.”43
Thus enmity split apart the Jews and the Ukrainian separatists.
“The Ukrainian government and the leaders of Ukrainian parties were evacuated to Zhitomir, but the Jewish representatives did not follow them,” they remained under the Bolsheviks. And in addition, the Bolsheviks in Kiev were “supported by a sizable group of Jewish workers, who returned from England after the [February, Kerensky] revolution” and who now wholly siding with the Soviet regime … took up the posts of commissars and … officials,” and created a “special Jewish squad of Red Guards.”44
Yet soon after the conclusion of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk [in which the Soviets ceded Ukraine to the Central Powers] as the government of independent Ukraine returned to Kiev under the aegis of Austrian and German bayonets in the beginning of February of 1918, the “haidamakas” [spontaneous, popular uprisings against Polish rule that took place in Ukraine in the 18th century] and “free Cossacks” began snatching and shooting any former “Jewish commissars,” they could find. Yet those were not actual Jewish pogroms, and very soon Petliura’s government was replaced by the Hetman government of [Cossack leader] Skoropadsky for the next seven months. “The command of the units of the German Army that had occupied Kiev in the spring, treated the needs of Jewish population with understanding.” (And that population was not-insubstantial: in 1919, 21% of Kiev’s inhabitants were Jewish.45) A Jewish Kadet [a member of Russian Constitutional Democrat Party] Sergei Gutnik became the Minister of Trade and Industry in the Hetman government.46 Under the Hetmanate, Zionists acted without hindrance, and an independent Jewish Provisional National Assembly and a Jewish National Secretariat were elected.
Yet Hetmanate fell and in December 1918 Kiev came under the control of the Directorate of Ukraine led by Petliura and Vynnychenko. The Bund and Poale-Zion [a movement of Marxist Jewish workers] did their best to help their fellow socialists of the Directorate and Jewish Secretariat and also made conciliatory moves. But Petliura saw it differently. His mouthpiece, the newspaper Vidrodzhennya wrote: “The birth of the Ukrainian State was not expected by the Jews. The Jews did not anticipate it despite having an extraordinary ability of getting the wind of any news. They … emphasize their knowledge of Russian language and ignore the fact of Ukrainian statehood … Jewry again has joined the side of our enemy.”47 Jews were blamed for all the Bolshevik victories in Ukraine. In Kiev, the Sich Riflemen plundered apartments of wealthy people which in masse came over to the capital while the military and atamans [originally Cossack commanders, then used by the Ukrainian National Army] robbed smaller towns and shtetls. That year, a regiment named after Petliura inaugurated mass pogroms by pillaging the town of Sarny.
A Jewish deputy from the Lesser Rada attempted to ward off the growing tendency toward pogroms among Petliura’s troops: “We need to warn Ukrainians that you cannot found your state on anti-Semitism. Leaders of the Directorate should remember that they are dealing with the world’s people, which outlived many of its enemies” and threatened to start a struggle against such government.48 Jewish parties quickly began to radicalize toward the Left, thus inevitably turning their sympathies to Bolshevism.
Arnold Margolin, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said that the situation in Ukraine was reminiscent of the worst times of Khmelnytsky and Gonta [Cossack leader against Polish occupation of Ukraine].49 D. Pasmanik bitterly noted that Zionists and Jewish nationalists supported the Directorate’s government for a while even when anti-Jewish pogroms raged across Ukraine50: “How could Jewish socialists forget about the pogromist attitudes of Petliura and other heroes of the Ukrainian Revolution”.. How could they forget about the Jewish blood shed by the descendants and disciples of Khmelnytsky, Gonta and Zalizniak””51 Between December 1918 and August 1919, Petliura’s troops carried out dozens of pogroms, killing, according to the Commission of International Red Cross, around 50,000 Jews. The largest pogrom happened on February 15, 1919, in Proskurov after a failed Bolshevik coup attempt.52 “Jewish pogroms that went on non-stop from the very moment of Ukrainian independence became particularly ferocious during the period of the so-called Directorate and kept going until the Ukrainian armed forces existed.”53
S. Maslov writes: “True, in the Tsar’s times Jews were killed during pogroms but they have never had been killed in such numbers as now and with such callous indifference”; “sometimes during anti-Jewish pogroms by rebellious peasant bands the entire shtetls were exterminated with indiscriminate slaughter of children, women and elders.”54 After the pogromists finished with their business, peasants from surrounding villages usually arrived on wagons to join in looting commercial goods often stored in large amounts in the towns because of the unsettled times.55 “All over Ukraine rebels attacked passenger trains and often commanded `communists and Jews to get out´ of the coach and those who did were shot right on the spot”; or, checking papers of passengers, “suspected Jews were ordered to pronounce `kukuruza´ [corn]) and those who spoke with an accent were escorted out and executed.”56
American scholar Muller thinks that “the mass extermination of Jews in Ukraine and Byelorussia during the Civil War was by no means a result of articulated policy but rather a common peasant reaction.”57
Independent rebellious bands of Grigoriev, Zelyony, Sokolovsky, Struk, Angel, Tyutyunik, Yatzeiko, Volynetz and Kozyr-Zirka were particularly uncontrolled and because of this acted with extreme atrocity. However, Nestor Makhno was different.
The raging Civil War provided fertile soil for the self-realization of Makhno’s criminal and rebellious personality. We are not going to recount his villainous and clinically-mad deeds in this work, yet it should be noted that he did not harbor anti-Jewish attitudes and that his anarchist-communist followers loudly proclaimed their “implacable hostility toward any form of anti-Semitism.” At different times, a certain Aaron Baron was his Chief of Staff, Lev Zadov-Zenkovsky was his head of counter-intelligence, Volin-Eikhenbaum was head of Makhno’s agitprop, Arshinov was his close adviser, and one Kogan headed Administration of Huliaipole [his “capital”]. There was even a 300-strong separate Jewish company among his troops, led by Taranovsky, and though at one point they betrayed Makhno, nevetheless Taranovsky was later pardoned and even made the Makhno’s Chief of Staff . “The Jewish poor joined Makhno’s army in masses” and allegedly Makhno trapped and executed ataman Grigoriev for the latter’s anti-Semitism. In March 1919 Makhno executed peasants from Uspenovka village for a pogrom in the Jewish agricultural colony Gorkoye. However, despite his indisputable pro-Jewish stance (later in emigration in Paris “he was always in a Jewish milieu” until his death), his often uncontrollable troops carried out several Jewish pogroms, for instance, in 1918 near Ekaterinoslav58 or in the summer of 1919 in Aleksandrovsk, though Makhno and his officers rigorously protected Jewish populations and punished pogromists with death.”59
To examine the anti-Jewish pogroms during the Russian Civil War, we consult a large volume Jewish Pogroms: 1918-1921 compiled by Jewish Public Committee for Aid to Victims of Pogroms in 1923 and published later in 1926.60 (The year of publication explains why we find nothing about pogroms by the Reds — the book “aims to examine the roles of Petliura’s troops, the Volunteer [White] Army, and Poles in the carnage of pogroms in the described period.”)
Regular troops participated in pogroms in larger cities and towns as they marched, whereas independent bands acted in the hinterlands, thus effectively denying the Jews safety anywhere.
Pogroms by Petliura’s troops were particularly atrocious and systematic and sometimes even without looting, such as, for example, pogroms in Proskurov, Felsztyn and Zhytomir in February of 1919, Ovruch in March, Trostyanets, Uman and Novomirgorod in May 1919. The worst pogroms by bands were in Smila (March 1919), Elisavetgrad, Radomyshl, Vapniarka and Slovechno in May 1919, in Dubovka (June 1919); by Denikin’s troops — in Fastov (September 1919) and Kiev (October 1919). In Byelorussia, there were pogroms by Polish troops, for example, in Borisov and in the Bobruisk District, and by Polish-supported troops of Bulak-Balachowicz in Mazyr, Turov, Petrakov, Kapatkevitchy, Kovchitsy and Gorodyatitchy (in 1919, 1920, and 1921).
Ukrainian Jewry was horrified by the murderous wave of pogroms. During brief periods of respite, the Jewish population fled en masse from already pillaged or threatened places. There was indeed a mass exodus of Jews from shtetls and small towns into larger cities nearby or toward the border with Romania in a foolish hope to find aid there, or they simply “aimlessly fled in panic” as they did from Tetiiv and Radomyshl. “The most populous and flourishing communities were turned into deserts. Jewish towns and shtetls looked like gloomy cemeteries — homes burnt and streets dead and desolated. Several Jewish townships were completely wrecked and turned into ashes — Volodarka, Boguslav, Borshchagovka, Znamenka, Fastov, Tefiapol, Kutuzovka and other places.”61
Let us now examine the White side. At first glance it may appear counter-intuitive that Jews did not support the anti-Bolshevik movement. After all, the White forces were substantially more pro-democratic then Bolsheviks (as it was with [White generals] Denikin and Wrangel) and included not only monarchists and all kinds of nationalists but also many liberal groups and all varieties of anti-Bolshevik socialists. So why didn’t we see Jews who shared the same political views and sympathies there?
Fateful events irredeemably separated the Jews from the White movement.
The Jewish Encyclopedia informs us that “initially many Jews of Rostov supported the White movement. On December 13, 1917 a merchant prince, A. Alperin, gave 800,000 rubles collected by the Jews of Rostov to A. Kaledin, the leader of Don Cossacks, `to organize anti-Bolshevik Cossack troops.´”62 Yet when General Alekseev [another White commander] was mustering his first squadron in December 1917 in the same city of Rostov and needed funds and asked (note — asked and did not impress) the Rostov-Nakhichevan bourgeoisie (mainly Jewish and Armenian) for money, they refused and he collected just a dab of money and was forced to march out into the winter with unequipped troops — into his Ice March. And later “all appeals by the Volunteer Army were mostly ignored, yet whenever the Bolsheviks showed up and demanded money and valuables, the population obediently handed over millions of rubles and whole stores of goods.”63 When former Russian prime minister (of the Provisional Government) prince G. E. Lvov, begging for aid abroad, visited New York and Washington in 1918, he met a delegation of American Jews who heard him out but offered no aid.64
However, Pasmanik quotes a letter saying that by the end of 1918 “more than three and half millions rubles … were being collected in the exclusive Jewish circle” with accompanying “promises and reassurances” of goodwill toward Jews from the White authorities. Despite that, Jews were officially prohibited to buy land in the Chernomorskaya Guberniya because of “vicious speculations by several Jews,” though the order was revoked soon afterwards.65
Here is another example from my own sources: again in Rostov in February 1918 when the White movement was merely nascent and seemed almost hopeless, an elderly Jewish engineer and manufacturer A. I. Arkhangorodsky, who sincerely considered himself a Russian patriot, literally pushed his reluctant student son into joining the White youth marching out into the night [February 22], embarking on their Ice March (however, his sister didn’t let him go). The Jewish Encyclopedia also tells us that the “Jews of Rostov were joining Cossack guerilla squadrons and the student’s battalion of [White] general L. Kornilov’s army.”66
In Paris in 1975, Col. Levitin, the last surviving commander of the Kornilov Regiment, told me that quite a few Jewish warrant officers, who were commissioned in Kerensky’s times, were loyal to Kornilov during the so-called “days of Kornilov” in August 1917. He recalled one Katzman, a holder of the Order of St. George from the First Kutepov Division.
Yet we know that many Whites rejected sympathetic or neutral Jews — because of the prominent involvement of other Jews on the Red side, mistrust and anger was bred among the White forces. A modern study suggests that “during the first year of its existence, the White movement was virtually free of anti-Semitism at least in terms of major incidents and Jews were actually serving in the Volunteer Army. However … the situation dramatically changed by 1919. First, after the Allied victory [in WWI], the widespread conviction among the Whites that Germans helped Bolsheviks was displaced by a mythos about Jews being the backbone of Bolshevism. On the other hand, after the White troops occupied Ukraine, they came under influence of obsessive local anti-Semitism that facilitated their espousal of anti-Jewish actions.”67
The White Army “was hypnotized by Trotsky and Nakhamkis [an agent of the Bolshevik Central Committee] and that caused the identification of Bolshevism with Jewry and led to pogroms.”68 The Whites perceived Russia as occupied by Jewish commissars — and they marched to liberate her. And given considerable unaccountability of separate units of that nascent and poorly organized army strewn over the vast Russian territories and the general lack of central authority in that war, it is not surprising that, unfortunately, some White troops carried out pogroms. “A. I. Denikin …, like some other leaders of the South Army (e.g., V. Z. Mai-Mayevsky), endorsed Kadet [the Constitutional Democratic Party] and Socialist Revolutionary views and sought to stop the outrages perpetrated by his troops. Yet those efforts were not effective.”69
Naturally, many Jews were driven by survival instinct and even if they initially expected goodwill on the part of the Volunteer Army, after pogroms by Denikin’s troops they lost any inclination to support the White movement.
Pasmanik provides a lively case. “Aleksandrovsk was taken by the Volunteers from the Bolsheviks. They were met by unanimous sincere joy of the citizenry…. Overnight half of the town was sacked and filled by the screaming and moaning of distressed Jews…. Wives were raped … men beaten and murdered, Jewish homes were totally ransacked. The pogrom continued for three days and three nights. Post-executive Cossack cornet Sliva dismissed complaints of the Public Administration saying `it is always like that: we take a city and it belongs to the troops for three days.´”70 It is impossible to explain all this plunder and violence by soldiers of the Volunteer Army by actions of Jewish commissars.
A top White general, A. von Lampe, claims that rumors about Jewish pogroms by the Whites are “tendentiously exaggerated”, that these pillaging “requisitions” were unavoidable actions of an army without quartermaster services or regular supplies from the rear areas. He says that Jews were not targeted deliberately but that all citizens suffered and that Jews “suffered more” because they were “numerous and rich.” “I am absolutely confident that in the operational theaters of the White armies there were no Jewish pogroms, i.e., no organized extermination and pillaging of Jews. There were robberies and even murders … which were purposefully overblown and misrepresented as anti-Jewish pogroms by special press…. Because of these accidents, the Second Kuban Infantry Brigade and the Ossetian Cavalry Regiment were disbanded…. All the people, be they Christian or Jewish, suffered in disorderly areas.”71 There were executions (on tip offs by locals) of those unfortunate commissars and Chekists who did not manage to escape and there were quite a few Jews among them.
Events in Fastov in September 1919 appear differently. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Cossacks “behaved outrageously … they killed, raped and flouted Jewish religious feelings (they had broken into a synagogue during Yom Kippur, beat up the whole congregation, raped the women and tore apart the Torah scrolls.) About one thousand were killed.”72 A methodical quarter-by-quarter pillaging of Jews in Kiev after a brief return of the White troops in the end of October 1919 was dubbed the “quiet pogrom.” Shulgin writes: “The commanders strictly prohibited `pogroms.´ Yet the “Yids” were really an annoyance and, secondly, the `heroes´ were hungry…. In general, the Volunteers in large cities were starving.” There were nights of plunder but without murder and rape. It was “the end of Denikin’s period … and the beginning of the agony of the Volunteer Army.”73
“By the route of its offensive and, particularly, its retreat,” during its last brutal retreat in November-December of 1919, the White Army carried out “a large number of Jewish pogroms” (acknowledged by Denikin), apparently not only for plunder but also for revenge. However, Bikerman says that “murders, pillage and rape of women were not faithful companions of the White Army, unlike what is claimed by our [Jewish] National Socialists who exaggerate the horrible events to advance their own agenda.”74
Shulgin agrees: “For a true White, a massacre of unarmed civilians, the murder of women and children, and robbing someone’s property are absolutely impossible things to do.” Thus, the “true Whites” in this case are guilty of negligence. They were not sufficiently rigorous in checking the scum adhering to the White movement.”75
Pasmanik concurred that “everybody understands that General Denikin did not want pogroms but when I was in Novorossiysk and Ekaterinodar in April-May 1919, i.e., before the march to the north, I could sense a thickened and pervasive atmosphere of anti-Semitism everywhere.”76 Whatever it was — negligence or revenge — it served well to ignite the “White” pogroms of 1919.
Still, “by unanimous testimony of those unlucky enough to experience both types of pogroms [those by Petliura’s troops and those by White Army], it was predominantly Petliura’s troops who went for Jewish life and soul — they did the most killing.”77
“It was not the Volunteer Army that initiated Jewish pogroms in the new Russia. They began in the “reborn” Poland the day after she become a free and independent state. While in Russia itself they were started by the Ukrainian troops of the Democrat Petliura and the Socialist Vynnychenko…. The Ukrainians turned pogroms into an everyday event.”78.
The Volunteer Army did not start the pogroms but it carried on with them, being fueled by a false conviction that all Jews were for Bolsheviks. “The name of L. Trotsky was particularly hated among the Whites and Petliura’s soldiers and almost every pogrom went under a slogan `This is what you get for Trotsky.´” And even “the Kadets who in the past always denounced any expression of anti-Semitism, and all the more so the pogroms … during their November 1919 conference in Kharkov … demanded that Jews `declare relentless war against those elements of Jewry who actively participate in the Bolshevist movement.´” At the same time the Kadets “emphasized … that the White authorities do everything possible to stop pogroms,” namely that since the beginning of October 1919 “the leadership of the [Volunteer] Army began punishing pogromists with many measures including execution” and as a result “pogroms stopped for a while.” Yet “during the December 1919-March 1920 retreat of the Volunteer Army from Ukraine the pogroms become particularly violent” and the Jews were accused “of shooting the retreating Whites in the back.” (Importantly, “there were no pogroms in Siberia by A. Kolchak’s troops,” as “Kolchak did not tolerate pogroms.”79)
D.O. Linsky, himself a former White Guard, emphatically writes: “Jewry was possibly given a unique chance to fight so hard for the Russian land, that the slanderous claim, that for Jews Russia is just geography and not Fatherland, would disappear once and for all.” Actually, “there was and is no alternative: the victory of anti-Bolshevik forces will lead from suffering to revival of the whole country and of the Jewish people in particular…. Jewry should devote itself to the Russian Cause entirely, to sacrifice their lives and wealth…. Through the dark stains on the White chasubles one should perceive the pure soul of the White Movement…. In an army where many Jewish youths were enlisted, in an army relying on extensive material support from Jewish population, anti-Semitism would suffocate and any pogromist movement would be countered and checked by internal forces. Jewry should have supported the Russian Army which went on in an immortal struggle for the Russian land…. Jewry was pushed from the Russian Cause, yet Jewry had to push away the pushers.” He writes all this “after having painful personal experience of participation in the White movement. Despite all those dark and serious problems that surfaced in the White movement, we delightfully and with great reverence bow our uncovered heads before this one and only commendable fact of the struggle against the ignominy of Russian history, the so-called Russian Revolution.” It was “a great movement for the unfading values of [upholding] the human spirit.”80
Yet the White Army did not support even those Jews who volunteered for service in it. What a humiliation people like doctor Pasmanik had to go through (many Jews were outraged after finding him “among the pogromists”)! “The Volunteer Army persistently refused to accept Jewish petty officers and cadets, even those who in October 1917 bravely fought against Bolsheviks. It was a huge moral blow to Russian Jewry.” “I will never forget,” he writes, “how eleven Jewish petty officers came to me in Simferopol complaining that they were expelled from fighting units and posted as … cooks in the rear.”81
Shulgin writes: “If only as many Jews participated in the White Movement as did in the `revolutionary democracy´ or in `constitutional democracy´ before that….” Yet only a tiny part of Jewry joined the White Guards … only very few individuals, whose dedication could not be overvalued as the anti-Semitism [among the Whites] was already clearly obvious by that time. Meanwhile, there were many Jews among the Reds…, there, most importantly, they often occupied the `top command positions´…. Aren’t we really aware of the bitter tragedy of those few Jews who joined the Volunteer Army” The lives of those Jewish Volunteers were as endangered by the enemy’s bullets as they were by the `heroes of the rear´ who tried to solve the Jewish question in their own manner.”82
Yet it was not all about the “heroes of the rear.” And anti-Semitic feelings had burst into flames among the young White officers from the intellectual families — despite all their education, tradition, and upbringing.
And this all the more doomed the White Army to isolation and perdition.
Linsky tells us that on the territories controlled by the Volunteer Army, the Jews were not employable in the government services or in the OsvAg (“Information-Propaganda Agency,” an intelligence and counter-intelligence agency, established in the White Army by General A.M. Dragomirov). Yet he refutes the claim that publications of OsvAg contained anti-Semitic propaganda and that pogromists were not punished. No, “the command did not want Jewish pogroms, yet … it could not act against the pogromist attitudes of their troops … it psychologically couldn’t use severe measures…. The army was not as it used to be, and requirements of the regular wartime or peacetime military charters could not be fully applied to it,” as the minds of all soldiers were already battle-scarred by the Civil War.83 “Although they didn’t want pogroms, Denikin’s government didn’t dare to denounce anti-Semitic propaganda loudly,” despite the fact that the pogroms inflicted great harm on Denikin’s army. Pasmanik concludes: the Volunteer Army “generally assumed a hostile attitude toward the entire Russian Jewry.”84 But I. Levin disagrees, saying that “the views of only one part of the movement, those of the active pogromists, are now attributed to the whole movement,” while in reality “the White Movement was quite complex, it was composed of different factions … with often opposite views.”85 Yet to bet on Bolsheviks, to walk in their shadows because of fear of pogroms, is … obvious and evident madness…. A Jew says: either the Bolsheviks or the pogroms, whereas he should have been saying: the longer the Bolsheviks hold power, the closer we are to certain death.”86 Yet the “Judeo-Communists” were, in the parlance of the Whites, agitators as well.
All this was resolutely stopped by Wrangel in Crimea, where there was nothing like what was described above. (Wrangel even personally ordered Rev. Vladimir Vostokov to stop his public anti-Jewish sermons.)
In July 1920, Shulim Bezpalov, the aforementioned Jewish millionaire, wrote from Paris to Wrangel in the Crimea: “We must save our Motherland. She will be saved by the children of the soil and industrialists. We must give away 75% of our revenue until the value of ruble has recovered and normal life rebuilt.”87
Yet it was already too late….
Still, a part of the Jewish population of the Crimea chose to evacuate with Wrangel’s army.88
True, the White Movement was in desperate need of the support by the Western public opinion, which in turn largely depended on the fate of Russian Jewry. It needed that support, yet, as we saw, it had fatally and unavoidably developed a hostility toward the Jews and later it was not able to prevent pogroms. As Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill “was the major advocate of the Allied intervention in Russia and military aid to the White armies.” Because of the pogroms, Churchill appealed directly to Denikin: “my goal of securing the support in the Parliament for the Russian national movement will be incomparably more difficult,” if the pogroms are not stopped. “Churchill also feared the reaction of powerful Jewish circles among the British elite.”89 Jewish circles in the USA held similar opinions [on the situation in Russia].
However, the pogroms were not stopped, which largely explains the extremely weak and reluctant assistance given by the Western powers to the White armies. And calculations by Wall Street naturally led it to support Bolsheviks as the more likely future rulers over Russia’s riches. Moreover, the climate in the US and Europe was permeated by sympathy toward those who claimed to be builders of a New World, with their grandiose plans and great social objective.
And yet, the behavior of the former Entente of Western nations during the entire Civil War is striking by its greed and blind indifference toward the White Movement — the successor of their wartime ally, Imperial Russia. They even demanded that the Whites join the Bolshevik delegation at the Versailles Peace Conference; then there was that delirious idea of peace negotiations with the Bolsheviks on the Princes’ Islands. The Entente, which did not recognize any of the White governments officially, was hastily recognizing all those new national states emerging on the periphery of Russia — thus unambiguously betraying the desire for its dismemberment. The British hurried to occupy the oil-rich region of Baku; the Japanese claimed parts of the Far East and the Kamchatka Peninsula. The American troops in Siberia were more of hindrance than a help and actually facilitated the capture of Primorye by the Bolsheviks. The Allies even extorted payments for any aid they provided — in gold from Kolchak; in the South of Russia, in the form of Black Sea vessels, concessions and future obligations. (There were truly shameful episodes: when the British were leaving the Archangel region in the Russian north, they took with them some of the Tsar’s military equipment and ammunition. They gave some of what they couldn’t take to the Reds and sunk the rest in the sea — to prevent it from getting into the hands of the Whites!) In the spring of 1920, the Entente put forward an ultimatum to the White Generals Denikin and Wrangel demanding an end to their struggle against the Bolsheviks. (In the summer of 1920 France provided some material aid to Wrangel so that he could help Poland. Yet only six months later they were parsimoniously deducting Wrangel’s military equipment as payment for feeding of those Russian soldiers who retreated to Gallipoli.)
We can judge about the actions of the few occupational forces actually sent by the Entente from a testimonial by Prince Grigory Trubetskoy, a serious diplomat, who observed the French Army during its occupation of Odessa in 1919: “French policies in the South of Russia in general and their treatment of issues of Russian statehood in particular were strikingly confused, revealing their gross misunderstanding of the situation.”90
The black streak of Jewish pogroms in Ukraine ran through the whole of 1919 and the beginning of 1920. By their scope, scale and atrocity, these pogroms immeasurably exceeded all the previous historical instances discussed in this book — the pogroms of 1881-1882, 1903, and 1905. Yu. Larin, a high-placed Soviet functionary, wrote in the 1920s that during the Civil War Ukraine saw “a very large number of massive Jewish pogroms far exceeding anything from the past with respect to the number of victims and number of perpetrators.” Vynnychenko allegedly said that “the pogroms would stop only when the Jews would stop being communists.”91
There is no precise estimate of the number of victims of those pogroms. Of course, no reliable count could be performed in that situation, neither during the events, nor immediately afterwards. In the book, Jewish Pogroms, we read: “The number of murdered in Ukraine and Byelorussia between 1917 and 1921 is approximately 180,000-200,000…. The number of orphans alone, 300,000, bespeaks of the enormous scale of the catastrophe.”92 The present-day Jewish Encyclopedia tells us that “by different estimates, from 70,000 to 180,000-200,000 Jews were killed.”94
Compiling data from different Jewish sources, a modern historian comes up with 900 mass pogroms, of which: 40% by Petliura’s Ukrainian Directorate troops ; 25% by the squads of the various Ukrainian “atamans”; 17% by Denikin’s White Army troops; and 8.5% by the First Cavalry Army of Budyonny and other Red Army troops.95
Yet how many butchered lives are behind these figures!
Already during the Civil War, national and socialist Jewish parties began merging with the Reds. The “Fareynikte” [the United Jewish Socialist Worker’s Party] turned into the “ComFareynikte” [Communist Jewish Socialist Worker’s Party] and “adopted the communist program and together with the communist wing of the Bund formed the [All-Russian] “ComBund” in June 1920; in Ukraine, associates and members of the Fareynikte together with the Ukrainian ComBund formed the “ComFarband” (the Jewish Communist Union) which later joined the All-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks.96 In 1919 in Kiev, the official Soviet press provided texts in three languages — Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish.
“The Bolsheviks used these pogroms [in Ukraine] to their enormous advantage, they extremely skillfully exploited the pogroms in order to influence public opinion in Russia and abroad … in many Jewish and non-Jewish circles in Europe and America.”97
Yet the Reds had the finger in the pie as well — and they were actually first ones. “In the spring of 1918, units of the Red Army, retreating from Ukraine, perpetrated pogroms using the slogan `Strike the Yids and the bourgeoisie ´”; “the most atrocious pogroms were carried out by the First Cavalry Army during its retreat from Poland in the end of August 1920.”98 Yet historical awareness of the pogroms carried out by the Red Army during the Civil War has been rather glossed over. Only a few condemning voices have spoken on the topic. Pasmanik wrote: “During the first winter of Bolshevik rule, the Red troops fighting under the red banner carried out several bloody pogroms, most notable of which were pogroms in Glukhov and Novgorod-Siverskiy. By number of victims, deliberate brutality, torture and abuse, those two had eclipsed even the Kalush massacre. Retreating before the advancing Germans, the Red troops were destroying Jewish settlements on their route.”99
S. Maslov is also quite clear: “The march of the Budyonny’s Cavalry Army during its relocation from the Polish to the Crimean Front was marked by thousands of murdered Jews, thousands of raped women and dozens of utterly razed and looted Jewish settlements…. In Zhytomyr, each new authority inaugurated its rule with a pogrom, and often repeatedly after each time the city changed hands again. The feature of all those pogroms — by Petliura’s troops, the Poles, or the Soviets — was the large number of killed.”100 The Bogunskiy and Taraschanskiy regiments stood out in particular (though those two having came over to Budyonny from the Directorate); allegedly, those regiments were disarmed because of the pogroms and the instigators were hanged.
The above-cited socialist S. Schwartz concludes from his historical standpoint (1952): “During the revolutionary period, particularly during the Civil War, … anti-Semitism has grown extraordinarily … and, especially in the South, spread extensively in the broad masses of the urban and rural population.”101
Alas, the resistance of the Russian population to the Bolsheviks (without which we wouldn’t have a right to call ourselves a people) had faltered and took wrong turns in many ways, including on the Jewish issue. Meanwhile the Bolshevik regime was touting the Jews and they were joining it, and the Civil War was more and more broadening that chasm between Reds and Whites.
“If the revolution in general has cleared Jewry of suspicion in counter-revolutionary attitude, the counter-revolution has suspected all Jewry of being pro-revolutionary.” And thus, “the Civil War became an unbearable torment for Jewry, further consolidating them on the wrong revolutionary positions,” and so “they failed to recognize the genuine redemptive essence of the White armies.”102
Let’s not overlook the general situation during the Civil War. “It was literally a chaos which released unbridled anarchy across Russia…. Anybody who wanted and was able to rob and kill was robbing and killing whoever he wanted…. Officers of the Russian Army were massacred in the hundreds and thousands by bands of mutinous rabble. Entire families of landowners were murdered …, estates … were burned; valuable pieces of art were pilfered and destroyed … in some places in manors all living things including livestock were exterminated. Mob rule spread terror … on the streets of cities. Owners of plants and factories were driven out of their enterprises and dwellings…. Tens of thousands people all over Russia were shot for the glory of the proletarian revolution …; others … rotted in stinking and vermin-infested prisons as hostages…. It was not a crime or personal actions that put a man under the axe but his affiliation with a certain social stratum or class. It would be an absolute miracle if, under conditions when whole human groups were designated for extermination, the group named `Jews´ remained exempt…. The curse of the time was that … it was possible to declare an entire class or a tribe `evil´…. So, condemning an entire social class to destruction … is called revolution, yet to kill and rob Jews is called a pogrom? … The Jewish pogrom in the South of Russia was a component of the All-Russian pogrom.”103
Such was the woeful acquisition of all the peoples of Russia, including the Jews, after the successful attainment of equal rights, after the splendid Revolution of March, 1917, that both the general sympathy of Russian Jews toward the Bolsheviks and the developed attitude of the White forces toward Jews eclipsed and erased the most important benefit of a possible White victory — the sane evolution of the Russian state.
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14 Там же, с. 50, 99, 100, 105, 109, 113.
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