Table of Contents

[Page 157]

A Chapter of Self-Defense

By Y. Klinov

Translated to English by Gurian Hyman, Norbert Seiden and Stan Lipp

Editing by Arthur Hoffman

I

Golovanevsk –
The Consequence of the February Revolution –
The Institution of the “Broygezeh” [Angry ones] –
The Relationships with the Christian Population –
Economic Life

Golovanevsk, – or, as it was called in Yiddish, Holvenisk – a Yiddish-Ukrainian- Podolian town with around 5000 Jewish inhabitants, lies just on the border of Podolia, Kiev, and Kherson provinces, between surrounding smaller Jewish settlements, several of which have now died out, such as Khatechevateh, Savran, Kriveh-Ozero, Holoskov, Pokotilovo, Ladyzhenkeh, Lihvinkeh, and Ternovkeh. Golovanevsk had been the center of this area for a long time. On one side, Uman, Kiev Gubernia, and on the other – Golteh, Kherson Gubernia, the town had always served as a great crossroads, through which wagons with merchandise and produce would go, mostly in the direction of Odessa and Voznessensk. The “chumak” [cattle drive] would go without stop through the South Russian steppes via these crossroads thirty or forty years ago. The “chumak” used to deal mainly with cattle buying and selling, - a branch of business that blossomed for generations in the surrounding area. The animals used to be driven to the Black Sea ports or to Golteh in order to send them by train to Warsaw, Brest and other Polish cities.

Since Golovanevsk was a stop on the narrow gauge railway line, Olviopol-Zhitomir (at the end of the nineties), the town, in the sense of trade – and not only trade alone – became an important center of commerce. Forests that Jews harvested were all around, a sugar refinery served as a source of plenty, grain mills produced first class “zemel” [flour], central markets provided for the purchase of eggs – everything promoted the growth and the development of Golovanevsk.

At the time of the war, Golovanevsk was quite the thriving place. It possessed a Jewish Bank for mutual credit, a savings and loan association, and agents for big city banks. In addition to the usual local type of craftsmen, dry goods storekeepers, millers, cattle dealers, bakers – slowly big city modern commerce started to come to this place. Businesses related to credit institutions such as exporting of eggs and oil products to Germany, building of soap factories, and planning for an electric power plant all contributed to a new progressive spirit in town.

Not being a place of too much scholarship or sophistication, still, Golovanevsk in the cultural sense, was not an uneducated place. An assimilated intelligentsia is practically non-existent. The current language is pure Yiddish. Hebrew is studied in every house. Youth of the wealthy class got a general education in Odessa or Kiev. The majority studies here with private teachers and in the local two-class government school, and in the last few years attend the newly built community high school. People read newspapers. There are all the usual small town societies: visits to the sick, burial societies, insurance, and bride benefits.

In general it is a well-to-do town in which Jews lived not too badly. The first serious blow to Golovanevsk came with the beginning of the War. The railway began to experience a reduction and decline in freight car loadings. The connections to the outside world become disrupted bit by bit. Credit is tightened and terms are shortened. Certain aspects of commerce are assumed by the government. The decline of Golovanevsk begins a decline that takes on a catastrophic character with the beginning of the Revolution.

At the beginning of March 1917 when the news arrived that the February Revolution had taken place, almost nobody believed it at first. It took a couple of weeks for the Jewish population to believe that the Revolution was a fact, and the main thing that people realized was that the Gentiles were very involved with it. The town became inclined to be “revolutionary”. On an ordinary weekday, a big meeting in the large synagogue was organized for both Jews and Christians. Jews have locked up their shops [kleitn], one pushed the other, everyone put on their Sabbath clothes, and everyone, child and adult, young and old, husband and wife, went to the meeting. Jews whispered to each other that no one should be absent from the meeting in order not to give the Gentiles a pretext to believe that Jews were disinterested. At the meeting distinguished Christian intellectuals spoke as well as Jews. Recalling that in the first revolution in 1905 Golovanevsk survived small excesses [pogroms], and what was occurring now was associated with the previous one, there was a concern and a fear for possible new Jewish pogroms, - this mood had to show up prominently and to express itself at this meeting. One of the speakers, Chaim Helfenbein, actually spoke about the Czarist regime, that from now on there will never be blood spilled, and Jews will live in peace with their Christian neighbors, and so on.

This holiday mood did not end with the first meeting – such meetings took place often in the first period of the Revolution, as was the custom in all the towns at that time. There were no separate active revolutionaries here that would basically want to change the character of community life. The Revolution in Golovanevsk was a “decent one”. In addition to Helfenbein, Aaron Lebnzon, a local Rabbiner, a young man of rich and honored class would often speak out. The town generally did not exhibit any specific revolutionary signs. Life went on at first in its usual way. And the elite of the town even had the urge that the previous Czarist pristav [police chief] Metelsky, a Gentile, with whom you could come to terms, well to do, should stay in his position. Usually it was understood that from a pristav nothing can be heard, so they tried to start a discussion that Metelsky should remain “commissar” in town. That meant simply to change his title – and that would be enough. This however was too innovative, even revolutionary – and Metelsky was no longer pristav, even though he remained in Golovanevsk for some time. The [uriyadnik], Kavalyev, a clever Gentile, also went away from his position and right away established himself in the district [Uyezd-uprave] for nutritional [dernerungs]–matters and had nothing to do with politics until today. Notwithstanding the fact that there were changes in the regime, he had many chances to come back to power. A militiaman [natchalnik] called Nanel, a Christian and a former business leader from the local [notarius] was appointed mayor. A few Jews went into the militia. With this the power was changed on the formal side.

One piece of great news the Revolution did bring to Golovanevsk, a piece of news that greatly changed the external appearance of the town. With the Revolution the institution of the so-called “Broygezeh” [angry at the Czar] ceased to exist. During the War, Golovanevsk became a place of refuge for deserters and draft dodgers who did not report for mobilizations. The above mentioned [uriyadnik], Kavalyev, and [pristav], Metelsky, used to take a monthly stipend “from the town”, and during two years time closed their eyes and left those Jews alone that did not want to go to war. It was a noteworthy thing: this very uriyadnik, Kavalyev, when his stature was reduced in town, it was a fearful thing to deal with him. It was even said about him that he once was a hangman for political criminals. In his office they used to whip Gentiles without mercy. And little by little this very wild mouthy man [scheigets] became more and gentlemanly [mensch], [meyushevtik] and thoughtful. He cut off his ponytail [kazatskeh pei'eh] [cossack sideburns], stops acting wild, arrow from his bow, on his little horse, makes friends of Jews, even starts to go into one of the central city [kleitan ] “chapels”, where they read a page of Talmud and Jews study [redelen zikh], and in time he married the daughter of a local “Jewish” Gentile, loans money on interest, and in the time of war he is really a saviour of Jews. Golovanevsk becomes an “independent kingdom”….

The town, as you can understand, did not consist of just deserters; normally there were also Jewish soldiers in the army here, but mainly there were those that had served in the army previously or went in to the front [polkn] of the first mobilizations. Later such people mostly did not go into the army. They got a deferment for physical defect, they went “out with money” [bribed officials], or they became broygezeh [angry ones]. This means this one or that one is “angry with Nickolayev”. In the beginning, the “angry ones” were draftees [oisgebildet], trained to be soldiers, who had already suffered in the army and had run away. Coming home on furlough after a sickness, or wounded, these people would forget to go back to the front or to their units. In the beginning, they became angry at the authorities, not really willingly. There was a fear of the Goyim squealing to the home pristav and for the final outcome, if one will have to have a judgment against them; - this stopped many from such a step. But the first angry ones became an example for the rest. They stopped being afraid of the pristav. He took bribes and the fear of tomorrow, of a court, also became less. The future became less clear, and appeared farther and farther away. And the army of deserters that did not report at all to the mobilizations grew to such an extent that the situation stopped being a private affair. It became a community affair. Everyone in town was interested that nothing should happen to the angry ones. The angry ones somehow got organized. They always had a representative that for a specific period represented them to the outside world, gave money [natchalstvo] and looked after their interests. Every angry one used to pay monthly dues, there was an angry ones' committee, and the town was full of them. There was almost no home where there weren't any of these characters. And everyone had a problem – a child or a relative that had become an angry one. They could be counted in the high hundreds.

They used to come to Golovanevsk from far away and here everyone lived in peace. They even came here from Bessarabia, sometimes to take a breather for a couple of weeks, sometimes to really stay here for a long time. Relatives and boarders of this kind were in every family. If it was necessary for an open “oblava” to take place, or thanks to the demand from some kind of recently arrived troublemaker, news from the top would let them know in time and the people used to hide them. There is no doubt that basically becoming acquainted with these hiding places, that later became so useful during the pogrom terrors, derives in a certain measure from this very period. The angry ones, mostly young people, brought with them into the muddy town a separate life tempo. A multitude of several young men, strangers – locals would often hide themselves in other towns because of the Goyim– not busy with anything, would bring in a kind of bohemian spirit. Nobody would know what the end would be. They just believed “they would not shoot the whole world”, and meanwhile they lived the good life, threw off the yoke of respect and encouraged every demoralization, which finally brought an end to the traditional life of a small town… in time the deep reasons will be established that brought to such a kind of mass escape from the army, such a kind of development that stopped complete Jewish towns from taking part in the War, because Golovanevsk was in this instance not an exception.

The same picture, in a smaller measure was noticeable in the nearby town of Bogopol and in other places. Here the deserters only carried another name: “the yellow ones” or “the rabbits”. According to the place there were more arguments with the pristav who did not always see eye to eye with the Jews. Sometimes the higher powers were “good” and really the lower police officials were clean handed and made the lives of the angry ones miserable. In Bogopol they remember to this day the “strazhnik” Gladko, who was a deathly poison to “the yellow ones” there. There was a special song about this Gladko just as in general there was a whole list of songs created by the angry ones, a whole epic [eignartiger] that gives an interesting reflection of the period.

In Bershad it was not bad. They told stories of miracles and wonders about the pristav of Bershad. They related that he promised that as long as he was alive no Jew shall go from Bershad and so many deserters gathered there that in the region they talked about the “Bershad regiment”… a characteristic moment. About the angry ones there were no Jewish informers for the whole time. They could be the worst of enemies – but they would not snitch on their fellow Jews.

Now the Revolution made an end to this institution, “the angry ones”. Psychologically this very institution did not harmonize with the times. In addition to this, people became tired of being wanderers, not being able to travel from here to there, and here an amnesty was declared for all those who will report to military commanders – the towns suddenly became free of deserters, as if swept out with a broom. Just as previously it was no shame to be a deserter so now after the Revolution the angry ones became homeless. The angry ones who had disappeared left a trace in the town however; a few wild strangers remained here to now, married here and symbolized in a certain measure “kovaliov's” times. The Gentiles knew, we can understand, about everything, what is taking place in the town, knew about the angry ones, but could not do anything because the police were on the side of the Jews. They used to distract the local Gentiles, tell stories that this one is an only child; that one earns for the family; and so on. We can understand that they believed very little of these stories and carried a hate for the Jews.

No one dared to carry on honest discussions with the local Christians and get them to understand the reasons for this terrible deserting on the part of Jews – in comparison to the [Gentile] village. It would certainly be in vain as well. We do not even talk about the fact that these developments in their width and depth the majority of the city Jews would then not be able to “oifpasn” [analyze]. The notion of “desertion” was a sense of alienation from the government, and that is how it was accepted, without any deep thought, instinctively in agreement with it and supported.

The hatred of the Christians to the Jews derived, however, its chief nourishment from another source, a much worse one. Basically, the peasants of Golovanevsk were small patriots, very concerned to pursue the Jews to destruction, why they are hiding from military service. Jewish/peasant relationships became much worse from day to day on the grounds of economic concealment. At the time of the Revolution “farker” [trade] was already ruined enough. The shelves [politses] in the shops [kleitn] were not breaking from the weight of the merchandise on them. Many articles were already not available. Only Jews could join together, travel to distant places and get a little merchandise. Usually the merchandise was expensive. The prices increased from day to day. The village shops that were owned by the peasants did not know where to get merchandise. And thus the peasant had to depend on the Jews. At the time the peasant had not yet gotten used to do without naphtha, without manufacturing, without the necessary life conveniences, only later did he free himself from the town completely and illuminated his house with oil, and for a whole year did not sew anything. In 1917 however, the peasant is angry, curses, pours out his rage on the Jews, but still buys everything from them. “Salt” and “manufactured goods” – those were the kinds of things that were in the hands of the Jews, that continually went up in price, and which awakened a sharp dissatisfaction.

It should be noted that the Jews on their part had grounds to be dissatisfied with the peasants. Quite a number of Jews used to loan money to the Gentiles for business or gave it “oyfgob” [given up for] bread. After the War the peasants almost stopped paying the Jewish debts. And Jews had very little to do with them for that reason, especially since many became poor. There is no doubt that at that time, already the town became very poor even though from outside one could perhaps not see it yet. From the outside on the other hand it seemed that things were still “cooking” in Golovanevsk. “Kort” and linen could not be transported from Lodz so they dug up a nest of military linen bags in Berdichev – possibly from a legal source – and the whole city travels to Berdichev and deals with bags [torbetchkes] that are being sold to Gentiles for shirts. If they catch a merchant with these bags, he must bribe the police with money if he does not want to have a judgement against him for dealing with forbidden [kazyone] goods. When you cannot grind flour for yourself – you grind it in the mills for the army – however there is enough time for you to grab something for yourself. Trade begins to carry an unsavory character. Old solid merchants have to agree with small ones, not always honest combinations so long as they maintain their position. And this does not remain secret and makes people envious. The city struggles for business, thinks up all kinds of deals. It adjusts to every new situation. Private trade is difficult, however a law is proclaimed that a few people (it seems 7) can organize a cooperative, and a cooperative can easily get permission to carry merchandise from Moscow – so a father and a son and a few sons-in-law make one, etc. A cooperative is formed, and they trade and they earn. They understood the concept “cooperative” in the Golovanevsk district in general quite peculiarly. A small example will illustrate this. A couple of business people in secret “made”, where it is necessary, quietly, a paper that they are a cooperative, traveled with it to Moscow, brought merchandise and they were on the brink of really becoming rich. Trade had already, at that time, as was mentioned, begun to carry a thievish-speculative character, and the distance between Moscow and Golovanevsk caused crazy profits. So in the town a gang of not so nice business people, a few of “nachut-darga” [the lower class], attacked the warehouse where the Moscow merchandise was put and robbed it. It got really to a fight. One side argued that a cooperative means – merchandise “for the town” (even though these people were unconcerned for the good of the town), and the other side could not genuinely, truly, grasp how they had sinned here. “What do you mean – a former miller had yelled – such a crime, such a robbery, I and my Chaim made a “cooperative”, it's their business? – form your own cooperative …”

Speculation had however not yet seized the whole town in its hands and with the high prices the poor Jewish population was also dissatisfied. There were situations when the Jewish “kovales” [horse dealers?] at the bridge grabbed off flour from Jewish wagons that were supposed to carry it out, or when a group of low class Jews got together and “opgeshrign” [dress down] the local large mill that used to grind only for a couple of rich men and instead of the last ones now milled for some 30 Jews. Generally however the tailors, shoemakers, wagon drivers, still had a little work, storekeepers still had stores, and new rich people “okorsht” started to “oys-tsu-pikn”. The atmosphere around began to be tense, but meantime a quiet one.

 

II

“The Committee of Community Security” and Self - Defense –
The Tradition of 1905 – Where Can We Get Weapons?
Trying to Reach an Understanding with the Ukrainians –
The Pogrom of 18 December 1917

Such was the situation when I arrived at Golovanevsk during the first days of the December 1917. On the way from Petrograd I was convinced that the less one knew about what happened in the North on the 25th of October, the less was seen that meant anything but the main thing was that those in charge changed. What I found in Golovanevsk was that in practice there was no new power authority. There was a military [natshalnik] that existed before the October upheaval but no new [organen] thereafter, neither general Russian nor Ukrainian was created. The population was in general interested in the Revolution but when one spoke about Trotsky, it was for the sake of news. It was clear that no one with any power in the town understood how [snahar] was the central idea of the political event that was occurring. Nevertheless, one had the time to notice that the anti-semitism around is growing during the upheaval and that there is a damaging anti-Jewish [anitatzia] (resentment or attitude) over the business activity. It was said that there were claims that in Erneitz a number of women were robbed and while there was no slaughter, there was the fear of mass persecutions and you could imagine fearing for one's existence. During the last few days the Jewish population imagined then at that moment how the ordinary type of pogroms that occurred in the year 1905 might soon recur. [1]

At that moment a group of young people had an idea to proactively challenge the pogrom movement. For the few days that I spent in Golovanevsk I concentrated exclusively on this work. With me and a few others there remained an agreement to create a “Committee of Community Security” [ockshtshastvagoi kazopasgosti].[2] The main objective was not to let a pogrom happen. There were no signs of pogrom beginnings. And many of us occasionally judged that we exaggerate the situation, and in reality there is no danger. Since we were afraid to use the word “pogrom” in public, we found it appropriate to refrain from using the word at all but to create a code word for it that will carry a neutral political character. There was another reason that drove us to self-organization at that moment. The township authorities were very weak and it was clear that whoever grabs the power they will retain it. “Whoever will have a few guns, they will have the authority”. That was the existing opinion among the Jewish youth.

The “Committee for Community Security” was only an umbrella. Under it according to our plan was organized self-defense. But it was not proper to begin from a [droozina] and therefore one spoke about a committee that orders patrols [karauln], etc. with the idea behind creating such a committee that it was not called a resistance at the first meeting. Only Jews participated in this meeting including a few young people from the middle class, a teacher, a few retailers, and also a few young people who according to the Golovanevsk commission represented the democracy. The main objective of the meeting was to advise that one should be careful not to antagonize and one should be alert but no pogrom should be coming.

According to instructions from the meeting on the second day I prepared a newsletter to Golovanevsk and the surrounding community. The newsletter announced that a “committee” will be on the lookout and called upon everyone to remain calm. The newsletter talked about the importance of Jews being united while living among the various ethnic groups in Russia and the Ukraine and to be cautious about letting excesses begin. A thousand copies of the newsletter were published at a Jewish print shop. Several Jews volunteered to distribute the newsletters. Later on, we uncovered that the town council [volostn] did not approve our request to distribute and as a result many in the general population did not receive these newsletters. However, messengers [baalonin] were found that would quite easily bring these newsletters to the villages. Two years later it would have been almost impossible to find such messengers. The council [volostn] would not allow the newsletters to be circulated freely. However, they did not impose a ban on them or to make fun of them.

In a revolutionary way it was decided to inform the head of the military [militsia natshalnik] of the creation of the committee. Everyone was sure that once he was presented with the fact of its existence he would have no alternative but to recognize the committee. Understandably, the main task was to organize a self-defense so as to be able to accomplish something when it was needed.

Golovanevsk had some experience in preparing for pogroms. In 1905 there was nearly a pogrom at the nearby marketplace of the village Troiana. Fifteen Golovanevsk Jews were badly hurt and robbed in the Jewish marketplace. After that there was great excitement in the town amongst the Jews. For instance, some Troiana Gentiles came to town after the marketplace affair and were beaten very badly. And then some Jews were sent to Balta to procure pistols for the town (15 pieces for 15 men who if I'm not mistaken paid 5 or 7.50 rubles each for them). These pistols were hidden away in desks so it was not easy to get them if they were needed. Those who could not get guns had carpenters and others prepare bayonets [pikas] made of pointed irons. There were lots of these made [nasosn olin].

In 1905 Golovanevsk relied very little on its own strength but saved itself mainly with the power of money. A poor young man named Chaim Ostroy took it upon himself to save the town that later on caused him to play a big role in the life of Golovanevsk. He was a Jew who believed that there was nothing in the world that cannot be influenced by the power of money. That was the prevailing thought at that time. His idea was to take 150 rubles from a wealthy person “for the soldiers” (to buy off the authorities). Initially the wealthy person had doubts but he became convinced that the community was in danger and he feared facing the soldiers [postoy] so he paid up. Now Ostroy and the rest of the committee went to the less wealthy Jews and got them to donate a percentage for the security of the town. There were stories going around that many were unhappy because they suspected that Ostroy was taking advantage of the situation to skim some of the money from the town for his own [hiskravos] with [natshalstvo]. – however Ostroy with help from some ordinary Jews collected the funds necessary to support over 100 soldiers brought in from Balta in November 1905 that were ready to guard homes in town against fire but he had difficulty in gathering the funds to guard the town now.

By creating the self-defense committee now in 1917 at the beginning of the disturbances, it should be remarked that later when the Ukraine was overcome with Jewish pogroms it did not seem to matter. In the beginning many did not believe that self-defense could deal with a serious encounter and second, some of the poor Jewish elements looked upon it as only the wealthy and the merchants would benefit from it. In this respect at that time it was not believed that there was danger that lives were being threatened. Voices were heard here and there, “What, I should put my life on the line for Mayer Yarmarkov?” –Mayer Yarmarkov was a big merchant in town and had been a symbol of the Jewish bourgeoisie who feared for their shops {kleitn]. At one of the meetings that dealt with the order of patrols that took place in those days several asked about remuneration. No pay was established and yet self-defense was created. Initially, white armbands with the three letters KOB were distributed to be worn by the guards. The guards had to wear the armbands during the marketplace fair. Second, everyone that had a weapon was ordered to register. The committee gave permission to those who earlier owned rifles to carry them now. This permission was printed in Russian and signed by the head of the committee M. Kogan, an owner of a bookstore, a former teacher, and an intelligent man. On the second day after the committee was established a few were authorized to confiscate bullets from the merchants of the Jewish stores that sold ammunition. Most of the time they gave them up without argument. Although these were mostly bullets for a particular weapon or bullets for different caliber pistols and had little use in practice, the committee started to become aware of who owned what weapons. And now guns started to appear from a new source; a few Jewish deserters brought weapons from the front and had buried them in their cellars – and now were dug up.

A student resident, Y-F, developed a set of instructions and procedures for the guards to follow in case of danger: how to guard A.A.V. [something one first had to do if such and such happened] then fire a warning shot in the air and finally if no other option, shoot at the robber. The committee was very adamant that these directions be followed because they were afraid that Jewish young people “should not, G-d forbid, create disaster”.

At the same time, with the preparations of fighting for the Jewish security steps were taken to include a contact with the Christian population. There was ordered a meeting in which I participated and to which two chairpersons of the council [volost] came, their names I don't remember but both of them spoke Ukrainian. I believe that they were teachers. In the beginning the theme was only on the disorder created from the fact there was no strong authority in the town. Then we switched onto pogrom education. With this, the Ukrainians saw as the main reason for inflation, speculation “the town had nothing one scrapes by; one scrapes the skin” etc.” (Life was tough) We, to the contrary, developed for them theories on the connection of the currency and product price, for which, that the Jews were not the cause of the inflation, and mainly that pogroms cannot solve the economic crisis. It was indicated that the lack of order that was discussed earlier would cause robberies to take place and “would cut to pieces” the town. The Ukrainians were upset and answered that the Jews want to juggle with weapons and want to shirk their responsibilities. The meeting did not result in anything substantial. Leaving this meeting, Saturday afternoon, I saw how lively the streets were, couples strode like they were accustomed. The town lived in its ordinary way.

With such conditions I left Golovanevsk.

According to what I heard later in those days the self-defense concentrated on how to obtain guns. And here they fell upon an idea. A group of the self-defense, the brave, made it a custom everyday to go to the train station when the trains arrived. Almost every train brought several soldiers or sailors who had deserted from the front understandably not forgetting to take along a gun. These guns fell into the hands of the committee. The self-appointed “patrol” asked the soldiers for documents and brought them to the committee, to free and often disarm. The fleeing from the front was a source for obtaining guns. Some soldiers would simply sell their weapons. In Golovanevsk, for instance, they talked about Bershad being a place where guns were available. A few Jews had the mandate of the committee and were delegated to make the necessary purchases. Also some people went to Golta and Bogopol to obtain guns but the results from both trips were minimal. In all they brought back five guns, every gun understandably an event. Young people talked about the pleasure of every successful operation and looked for further purchases.

Soon during the first fair after the creation of the committee an unpleasant event occurred. It was established that the patrols should hold concealed weapons and wear “KOB” armbands. But one young man went out on the street amongst the peasants with a pistol in his hand; - in a few minutes he was encircled by Gentiles and disarmed. It lasted just minutes. The event was a big concern for the self-defense. In one respect they were downgraded and second they felt the need for strengthening. They started to strengthen. Money was not a great concern. In the drawing unrest it was easy to obtain sums of money. The town was not discouraged. Stores operated as earlier. There was only some slight fear.

On the eighteenth of December 1917, Monday, there was another fair in Golovanevsk. Gentiles came in the thousands as usual. The militia worked around here and there, kept an eye on the members of the self-defense, from horses they rode. Soldiers from a military section stayed with the local lord of the economy, Klinko. Suddenly there was uproar at around mid-day. On the “torgvitsa” (marketplace) someone, possibly a sailor, fired a pistol. The masses soon started to rob the Jewish stands. Stalls quickly closed. Panic set in. The self-defense lost itself (dispersed). It really dispersed but slowly some young people collected themselves and the first that they saw was that the militia conducted itself at best as neutral. The self-defense immediately disarmed several of the militia. The militia it seems looked for that. They did not have the desire to play the role of saviors and it also seems they feared to stand up to the uprising. They did not show resistance and were willing to surrender weapons to the self-defense. The screams in the town were loud and the people ran into the houses. The masses of peasants ran from the top of the fair plaza into the town through many streets and started looting the shops [kleitn]. The earlier mentioned soldiers rode through the streets pursuing the initiators of the disturbance. They did not shoot and held themselves neutral. Later the whole town accused a Jewish young man by the name of Chaim Helfenbein[3] for the pogrom – who the whole time undermined the work of the self-defense, stood strong for the workers council, conducted negotiations with the Gentiles, and presented himself as a Boleshevik. But in the community elections for the all-Ukrainian Jewish gathering – I don't remember exactly – he was identified on the ballot as “bund”. It was said about him that he encouraged the pogrom. Whether that was true, I don't know. After the pogrom he let it be known through a letter to his acquaintances that he was not responsible for these occurences.

I am turning my mind towards the picture I have of the pogrom day – the 18th of December. The Yiddish self-defense force have fought with boldness and started shooting at the pogromists (instigators). When the last ones in the group were in the marketplace the self-defense took cover in a “kyyt” stall and they started to fire upon them. From all different sides came Jews with irons, sticks, weapons of all kinds, and a murderous meelee ensued. The pogromists also started shooting. Among those who fought were those Jews who were already injured. The self-defense people fired directly into the mob. Some took aim at the horses with a reason and the reason was that the people should see that they are not firing to kill people.

Among the peasants who were, by and large, not part of the robbers, there arose a panic, many of them left their horses and the wagons and ran away on foot. On the way, many were assaulted *with a vengeance*. For instance, in front of the synagogue an old Gentile who was carrying a pair of boots from somewhere was fired upon and was killed on the spot. After the pogrom people who witnessed this event came to the conclusion that the boots were not stolen but had been bought in the market. This engendered a lot of grief among the Jews.

When this pogrom had hardly started there was this Jewish guy who had recently come from the front. He jumped on a horse and took off with his bow and arrow and went home to “Grozskia”. There he took a pair of grenades that he had brought back from the front and came back to town. In that moment when he ran breathless through the street he saw a “shikseh” carrying a cheap dress costing just a few dinars that was looted from a store. He tossed a grenade at her and she was blown up – torn to bits. The Goyim started running and after a couple of hours, everyone was gone. Only frightened horses tied to several wagons wandered aimlessly through the streets. Here and there lay bodies of the slaughtered Goyim.

Among the Jews there was only one, a small boy, who was severely wounded. But the toll among the robbers was many. At that time there were seven or eight Goyim that were killed. But many more were wounded and were later found in the various nearby small towns. The peasants talked it over and they never said a word about the pogrom. They feared that they would be turned in to the government and punished for taking part in it. A pall fell on the city. What to do about the Goyim that were killed? It was such a tragedy. In the meantime, they took the wounded Jewish boy and a few of the Goyim that were severely wounded with the bodies of those that were killed to Zumsky Hospital. Jews in the streets shouted that no one should harbor the wounded in the houses but to take them to the hospital instead. They wanted everyone to see that Jews also suffered in the pogrom. These actions had their desired effect that this was the beginning of a diplomatic effort to establish a dialogue between Jews and Goyim about the pogrom.


They were afraid that something might happen during the burial of the dead. A couple of officials who knew the priest to be a knowledgeable person asked that he should press his congregation that what happened to the innocent people who were attacked and robbed of their goods to convince his congregation to understand what it means to attack innocent people and steal somebody else's goods. The priest agreed and set about to fulfill his obligation. He held a meeting in his church and said that those who were killed are not worthy that we should bring them to a Christian burial, that they were bandits; we have to bury them today but that the church forgives them. We have to learn a lesson from this.

The funeral was carried out without incident. But, there was fear for the future. There was a large concentration of peasants overall and because of that they came to terms with reality. First of all they addressed the Golovanevsk population and then sent out a letter in Ukrainian to the surrounding towns, the gist of which was approximately we have to learn how to change and to get along with each other.

In Golovanevsk something terrible happened. Black hearted people attacked innocent people and robbed them. How can you be friendly with people like that? The Jews already showed them that they meant them no harm. But, they decided that there should be peace and they had to be calm in spite of any incident.

The reply from the volst signaled a victory for the Self-Defense. They were very proud of themselves. They heard the words, “the Jews would no longer allow themselves to be attacked”. The Goyim were convinced of this. And they should remember the 18th of December pogrom as the day when things changed.

Things settled down. One thing became clear. As the power of the militia (Self-defense) solidified, no one organized a pogrom. They left them alone. With the priest they made peace. Therefore, they knew they had a great deal to fear. After the pogrom it became clear that without further help the current peace would not hold. They didn't kid themselves. This was a miracle that the soldiers remained neutral. Otherwise, who knows what kind of a tragedy would have unfolded. And the agreement remained that someone had to travel to Odessa and bring back a squad from the Jewish “Drozehneh” or company.

 

III

The Odessa Jewish “Drozehneh” –
The Odessa Galiachikas –
The Drozehgeh division in the Province –
The Golovanevsker Drozehneh who descended from Germany

About the Odessa Jewish “drozehneh”, their reputation had existed for some time. There were actually two organizations, a Jewish company and a Jewish battalion. Afterwards they were referred to as just one organization. The Yiddish battalion was organized in the summer of 1917 during a peaceful period. It was in a time when it was fashionable to form nationalistic military units from all walks of life. Jews from various backgrounds knew people whose wish it was to be conscripted only in the Jewish section of the army. Ordinary people were placed in the common army. A different situation existed in the Drozehneh. It was a different organization with a purpose. No town should suffer a pogrom. In one result of their existence was their mission to see that towns would not suffer a pogrom. But everyone in those disciplined and well-known organizations weren't always successful. They did not influence the common Jews to join in the cause. Other people didn't always see it their way. The Jewish battalion threw their lot in with the regular army. But, they existed for just a short time. The “Drozehneh” existed for a longer period through the changes in the different regimes. Not once was anyone able to disarm them. And the fight for survival portrays a very interesting chapter in the story of the Self-defense organizations of that time. But that's a story in itself. This is only to show that in 1919 the Drozehneh during the Bolshevik Revolution became sympathetic to the revolutionists and became part of the renowned Odessa bandits under the command of Mishga Yapagatz.

Mishga Yapagatz is in Odessa and was a scoundrel of an administrator there. He was a leader of a low-class thieving company that was devious in every way but exhibited some sympathy at that particular time for the Jewish populace. They had, as one would say, they gave their word that in Odessa there would never be a pogrom against the Jews. The Odessa Jewish community for a while remained calm. The populace knew what kind of strength lay in that organization. And they were sure that they could trust the bandits' word at least as much as their might.

People in Odessa today relate many legends about this bandit organization. This is a story they tell about the Galiachikas. To their credit without telling anyone, they attacked the remnants of the White bandits who were supposed to have evacuated Odessa because of the onslaught of the Bolsheviks. When the genoven (the bandits) who were all afraid were no longer urging the exile of the Jews and not organizing any new attacks or pogroms, the White bandits started to move from the shtetls to Odessa.

The Odessa bandits didn't have anything to do with Mishga at that time because he was already dead.

After the summer of 1919 the Bolsheviks sent Mishga to the front and with him a group of sailors. In his company there were bitter bandits and robbers that infiltrated the Bolsheviks including Jewish students and other sympathizers with the cause of the Drozehneh. Mishga Yapagatz suffered a terrible ordeal when he was at the front which was not far from [Zmerinka] and not far from [Vpnerka]. It has been said that the sailors ratted him out and opened up the front [patloren]. Mishga alone was arrested and if I am not mistaken, in [vasengot] and was shot by the Bolsheviks for leaving the front. On the same day they are running away from the [galituner] tragedy. It began to appear that the Jewish students were deemed to be deserters who hid away in Golteh. I was told about terrible things that happened in the area particularly in Mishga Yapagatz' battalion. They had various Yiddish Drozehgeh that were comprised of intelligent people who were <done in>. During that time when in Golovanevsk when they established the Committee for social order in 1917 and 1918 the Jewish Drozehgeh in Odessa first began to develop. Incidentally among the Odessa Drozehgeh there were many Rumanian Jews. They were deserters from the Rumanian army who fled to Odessa because they were treated very harshly. They were called “black people”. When in the army they were always given the dirtiest jobs and assigned the worst details. There were known not only in Odessa and Kamenets but other areas in Southern Ukraine close to the border. When the Revolution broke out and after that during the time that the Jewish Drozehgehs organized in Odessa, many of the Rumanians joined up.

When the representative from Golovanevsk who was one of the organizers of the Self Defense by the name of Y–ph came to Odessa he immediately pleaded to the Yiddish Drozehgeh that they should provide a division of manpower for Golovanevsk to support their Self Defense. But he was told that there were not enough people to do this. Many had already dispersed to the nearby communities. In the raion (county) there was unrest and fear. From Odessa there was by no means a consensus that the Drozehgeh should provide the Golovanevsk Self Defense with manpower. However, he was given a decree which promised a division from Kadima near Balta for Golovanevsk. This particular decree I saw with my own eyes. It was written in Russian and printed on a form with the following signature, “The headquarters of the Odessa Jewish Drozehgeh Battalion.”

Before the Golovanevsk representative left Odessa, he went to the Ukrainian coast and there he told of the conditions in the Golovanevsker raion and asked for pledges of support. But the promises at that time didn't have any validity because the Ukrainian people did not have an organization to deliver on their promise. Nevertheless he asked for a similar document to the decree he got in Odessa because it wouldn't hurt to have one from them. Any document that he could bring back home would be good. At the same time they sent out from Golovanevsk a decree to the Yiddish Ministeriam in Kiev about helping the Drozehgeh. When the representative came back to Golovanevsk, he testified that in his talks with the Ukrainians wherever he went, he was treated cordially and he was very pleased and they turned to him and decreed that they would allow the Drozehgeh to organize a Self Defense and to keep arms.

In Kadima a small village near Odessa there was great joy and happiness. They were happy because the Odessa Drozehgeh were in their midst. There occurred a pogrom in the village and the people looked to the Drozehgeh for their help. They put them up in the nicest houses and did everything to make their lives comfortable. In the beginning they regarded the arrival of the envoy from Golovanevsk in a positive light without suspicion. But later on they suspected that he came there to recruit all the Jewish soldiers and they raised a hue and a cry. The envoy, who was known as an [apparatchik] by the name of Bronfman, declared that he was first and foremost a military man. He had received an order, which he was duty bound to obey that he and his men had to leave immediately and return to Golovanevsk. The people of Kadima contended that under no circumstance would they allow this to happen. They would not allow themselves to be left defenseless as they had allowed before. They pleaded their case to Bronfman but to no avail. So when they realized this, the women took their children, pressed them close to their bodies and began to wail. At the same time, they threatened the envoy and after that they openly declared that if he didn't leave immediately, they are going to break his bones. And it was not an idle threat; it was a serious matter. And the envoy had to flee the very same day.

In Golovanevsk he had encountered a murderous attitude. You could feel that the start of a pogrom was imminent. The behavior between the Jews and the peasants had not improved since the first pogrom. One could sense that at any moment, tragedy could arise. And because of that, they sent a telegram to Bronfman in Kadima to return to Golovanevsk and in a couple of days he returned to Golovanevsk with the Drozehgeh.

The Drozehgeh behaved like undisciplined people. At a time when one of the Drozehgehs “forgot” to get to the train station on time to get his train, his comrades started firing their guns through the windows of the train to halt it, which the conductor was forced to do to let the soldier onto the train.

When the Drozehgehs came into Golovanevsk, there happened to be a market day. As Jewish Drozehgehs soldiers spread out, there was a great fear among the peasants of an impending tumult. There was a great deal of uncertainty. And once again, when they came into town, it had a marked psychological effect. They understood that from that time on for the next eighteen months, in Golovanevsk, there was no more talk of a pogrom.

The word got out that the inhabitants of Golovanevsk were armed with <polmitin> and the peasants were very much afraid. The Drozehgehs were supported by the community and when they, stayed the community felt safe. Once the Jews had the military support of the Drozehgehs they felt immune to a pogrom. The ones who were worried were the ones who had initiated the pogroms. The Drozehgehs sent out patrols day and night and as a result there was no more trouble. As things settled down, a lot of young people started coming into town. The atmosphere in town reverted to the “happy times” that existed before the pogroms started. The Drozehgehs became in that moment an instrument that enabled the Jewish peddlers to conduct their businesses without having to pay bribes for protection. And there came a time that the Jewish community put aside a percentage of their profits to support the Drozehgehs.

In the months of March and April the volost became a full fledged Ukrainian community. However, the volost militia looked upon the Jews with envy because they were armed and so successful. They were competitors who took away their livelihood and they couldn't do anything about it.

There was an incident where the militia was encamped at night near a bridge. A Jewish merchant who was hauling sugar and flour had to cross the bridge to sell his produce in the volost. The merchant thought that he should not be afraid of the militia if they stopped him because he had a son that was in the Drozehgeh. So, he turned around and rode home and got the Drozehgehs to accompany him back to the bridge. They did so but they did not want to cross the bridge because they would be out of their jurisdiction. The merchant wanted them to accompany him all the way into the volost. So, a disagreement between the merchant and the captain ensued. They called for a decision from headquarters, which dispatched an arbitrator, a young student, to the scene. The student decided that the Drozehgehs should not be drawn into a confrontation with the militia. So, he said that if the Drozehgehs accompanied the merchant to the volost they would have to do so without arms. And if they did not follow his instructions, he said he would divest himself of any responsibility that might ensue. He had enough chutzpah to effect his will. Without arms, the Drozehgeh accompanied the merchant into the volost and thankfully there was no incident.

In this manner, the Drozehgehs existed until the Germans came to Golovanevsk. When the Germans were there, the Jews felt insecure because of their presence. This feeling of insecurity did not lead to active resistance because the Jews were afraid of the power of the Germans. The Jews did nothing to incite them believing that they would soon leave the Golovanevsk raion (county) of their own accord. And when they would leave, everyone would feel free again. However, the Germans were settling in and showing no signs of pulling out contrary to the Jews' hopes. As far as Golovanevsk was concerned, the Germans seemed to have forgotten why they were there. They considered the situation in the neighborhood and concluded that they had to immediately travel to Golovanevsk and there establish a regime.

After they saw that the Germans were not leaving, they went to the central train station and sent an emissary to Austria to complain. A number of Austrians including a Commandant with some soldiers came back to Golovanevsk to check on the situation. They were billeted in Jewish homes. One could always find advisors to the Commandant and with that the life in the city became normal again. A decree was issued that everyone should turn in their arms. The decree had greater validity in the surrounding communities. But the advisors to the Commandant made a case that the Drozehgehs should keep their weapons because they were trustworthy and the people would feel safer if they did. The Drozehgehs grew in his esteem; he assigned them the job of keeping order in the Jewish community. And later he ordered that they should arm themselves. Then other ordinary people even the Germans could carry arms.

The Drozehgehs eventually lost their significance and ceased to exist. A few Drozehgehs volunteered to join the Austrian army. Ordinarily this would have been a private matter where under-aged youngsters received the opportunity to advance themselves and lead an adventuresome life in the Austrian army. However, the Rabbi and others in town were against this as they felt that these young boys shouldn't be going into the military but rather they should be going to yeshivas and studying Torah. Moreover, they believed that some individuals were profiting from this exploitation of Jewish boys by receiving commissions by finding these “volunteers.” In the eyes of the Germans these young Jews were big shots by joining the army.

In the surrounding communities Jews were no longer being killed as before but they still didn't feel completely safe with the Austrian army around. The pogroms had abated.

When a Jewish merchant embarked on a business trip to sell wheat and sugar and other merchandise, he was escorted by some German soldiers. The Germans sought out some Jewish enlistees to join them because they would know how to conduct themselves in the out-lying communities.

The peasant farmers were not friendly towards the Austrians especially when they came and took their bread without paying.

In some towns rebellions broke out that had to be quelled by the Austrian army. And they occurred almost on a weekly basis. These armed expeditions became an important reason and consequently a couple of Jewish boys came along with them. The shtetls rued this but they couldn't do anything about it. In the period of about a year, the peasants were blaming the Jews for the actions of the Austrian army.

In the period of August and September 1918 trouble was beginning. The revolution hung in the air. In a nearby town the Austrians torched the property of a landowner for committing an alleged unlawful deed. The Austrians disliked the peasants and would take every opportunity to punish them by whipping, etc. These harsh treatments created an unsettled feeling. The result was that the Austrians never felt safe and their presence was unwelcome.

On the other hand the Germans lived with the Jews but there was no strong friendship between them. They were very much intermingled, the occupiers and the occupied depending on how much business they were able to do between them. Generally speaking however, the Jews suffered whenever the Germans suffered because they were so bound together in their business dealings with each other. The Jews had already forgotten about the tragedy of the pogroms and they were living under the present circumstances. For instance, the Austrians issued a decree about cleaning the streets. Any day there was thunder and lightning they would drive the residents out of their houses with no exceptions and they forced them to clean their sidewalk to the middle of the street. The Jews were very unhappy about this.

There was a time that Jewish peddlers were in contact with an Austrian officer who was responsible for buying bread. In other places and times some people had trouble with this particular officer and his men. Why? Because they followed the Jewish tradition which was ... On a beautiful morning near the birch tree they rounded up and arrested all the peddlers and even innocent business men and they marched them to the terminal building and whipped all of them. They wanted to know why they suffered this humiliation and pain but the answers were not given.


Footnotes:
  1. This was in a general way the revived fear that existed in secrecy during the entire War. During the whole year 1914 there was a fear in the shtetls to speak on this theme, “What will be after the War when the army will someday return home? God knows what can happen”. The February Revolution made an end to these pogrom fears but now after October they revived. Return
  2. Later they understood that such committees have no other connection among themselves and were created to be independent from other organizations in different places. In other words, they were strictly local organizations. Return
  3. It is worthwhile to pause and say a few words on the career of this young man whose name is connected to the first Golovanevsk pogrom and who later ascended to greatness. The son of an upper-class Jewish broker, a highly capable man, knew Hebrew, educated in Russian while still young, 17 to 18 years old, became a para-legal and soon brought upon himself a criminal conviction for not dealing properly with a peasant, a client, and was sentenced to prison. He served in Kamanets-Podolskiiy in the war. He participated from the beginning on the front and he lived well. At the time of the creation of the self-defense he returned to Golovanevsk. He did not feel quite comfortable as his sin was remembered. But he plays the role of a “lefty” (Socialist). He spoke continuously in the name of the Proletariat. Although at the age of 13-14 when he presented himself as a genius “garon”, he gave speeches in the big synagogue for the masses, translating paragraphs of psalms, putting on a tallit and conducted himself as a motif. After he fled from the pogrom, not much was heard from him. One knew that he wound up in a Bolshevik post deep in Russia. In the year 1919 during the Bolshevik regime he was the chief of a military train in Kiev; he had a separate wagon, had a few sailors and lived in a beautiful hotel. Even later he reached a high position in Russian train management. He never came to Golovanevsk before me until 1921. Return

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