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Pinchos Krasny, the Minister of Jewish Affairs

The History of the National Personal Autonomy and the selection of the Jewish Ministers to administer this autonomy are described in the book by the first Minister of Jewish Affairs, Dr. Silberfarb.

I will tell about the last Jewish Minister in the Ukraine. It was when Petliura's cabinet was in Kamenetz-Podolsk from June to November, 1919. Unlike the other three Ministers of Jewish affairs that were delegated by their parties for the post, Krasny became Minister by accident. Pinchos Krasny was in charge of the general department of the Jewish Ministry under Revutsky. When the Petliura Government fled from Kiev in January, 1919 under the pressure of the Bolsheviks, Revutsky handed in his resignation to Petliura. As a temporary, the acting Minister Revutsky left Pinchos Krasny. All the central committees of Jewish political parties remained in Kiev and Petliura could not get a candidate approved by one of the Jewish minority socialist parties as had been done in the past. On the way toward exile in Poland, Petliura's government could not be without a Minister of Jewish Affairs; it would have looked very bad diplomatically.

It was at the time when in America and in Europe, news of the pogroms by the Ukrainians had aroused public opinion. A Minister of Jewish Affairs, a member of the cabinet, would be the best proof that Petliura's government was not responsible for the pogroms. There was no time to consult Jewish leaders and Petliura appointed Krasny in place of the resigned Revutsky.

Since 1918, the Ukrainian Jews had suffered from pogroms by the Petliura Army, by independent Ukrainian partisans under the leadership of the self-proclaimed Atamans and by the army of General Denikin. Krasny, now the Minister of Jewish Affairs, was confronted with the dilemma: should he resign and leave the government or should he remain and do whatever was in his power to prevent further pogroms and alleviate the suffering of the pogrom victims? This problem tortured every politically-minded Jew. All Jewish

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Credentials by Kamenetz-Podolsk branch of Federation of Jewish Sport Clubs – “Maccabee”


Political parties were for a free anti-communist Ukraine but this was in theory. In practice, every Jew knew that the Ukrainians were killing innocent Jews including those who were anti-communist and were for a free Ukraine. It went so far that Jews, remaining anti-Bolshevik, were waiting for the Red Army to liberate them from the Ukrainian pogrom makers.

This problem was acute in Kamenetz-Podolsk and in parts of Podolia and Wolin where the retreating army of Petliura staged the worst pogroms like those in Proskurov, Feldstin, Kitaigerod and others. After a short stay in Galicia, the Ukrainian Army returned and again started pogroms on Jews. On return to the Ukraine, the government stayed temporarily in Kamenetz-Podolsk.

The first act of the Jewish ministry was to requisition the building of the Zionist Club for its offices. It could be that Krasny was not even informed of this because a number of things had been done in his name by Mr. Dankner, the very efficient General Office Manager. Dankner recruited a staff for the office among young Jews in Kamenetz-Podolsk. The writer

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and because of being proficient in Yiddish and Ukrainian, I was asked to serve as assistant to Dankner, an important but non-political post. During the next few months I had an opportunity to study Pinchos Krasny and the people with whom he had surrounded himself. Nobody cared about the politics of the staff workers, i.e. we all knew that Mr. Messer, the manager of the cultural department, was a communist and was waiting for an opportunity to skip over the front to the Bolsheviks.

Volodia Nirenberg from Proskurov, a student and ardent Zionist, was working as secretary but was really being a chauffeur to Krasny. Krasny was very careful about politics of policy makers with whom he surrounded himself. His confidential secretary and advisor was Mr. Tumim, a distant relative and a member of the Folks Party who was, together with Krasny, active in the party in Kiev. When Tumim was not available, Dankner did the work of the first secretary but I doubt that he enjoyed the same confidence. Once, when Tumim and Dankner were dispatched to Kazatin to see if they could prevent a pogrom there, I was in line to perform Dankner's duties. I had to see Krasny in his cabinet on official business. During those few days, I went to Krasny for signatures, with questions about some papers and to answer inquiries pertaining to some matters.

At all times, Krasny remained the silent, non-communicating and serious man. During the months that Krasny spent in Kamenetz-Podolsk, he was known to very few Jews in the city; he was seldom seen anywhere in an unofficial capacity and even some of the office workers hardly ever saw him. His appearance was dignified; a handsome man in his forties with a black Herzlian beard, sombrely dressed and unsmiling – he looked more the Minister than many of his colleagues in the Cabinet.

Dankner, a bachelor himself, told me that Krasny was never married, came from a middle class business family in Kazatin, was a very effective speaker at meetings in Kiev and was in high esteem by the intellectuals, Jews and Ukrainians alike.

In Kamenetz-Podolsk, Krasny did not show any signs of a changed policy towards Zionists and Zeire-Zion. From

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Bulvarnaia Street in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1910


The very beginning Krasny made contact with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist parties although he probably was apprised of the fact that they had hardly any followers. He befriended the lawyer, Jacob Kreiss, a non-party man who was a friend of some socialists.

Krasny appointed Mr. Kreiss as head of the General Department of the Ministry, a position Krasny had held under Revutsky. Tumim called together a number of tradesmen, small shopkeepers and turned the meeting into an organizational assembly of a new branch of the Folks-Party and Mr. Kreiss was elected the head of this newly-born party. Now Krasny at last had a semblance of a party to support him. Although it would have been preposterous to claim that he had a mandate from the Folks-Party to be Minister.

Dankner was moved up as special secretary. I was elevated to Dankner's position. In a way, Kreiss became my superior although he hardly ever spent any time in the office.

With the help of Jacob Kreiss, a Jewish Ministerial Council was established. The Council consisted of the directors of the Ministry's departments and a few consultants.

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The leaders of the Jewish Socialist Parties received appointments at the Ministry: Israel Drachler as director of Educational Department; A. Gumener as director of Community (Kehilas) department and Bograd as director of Rehabilitation Department. Besides the above, Broitman, Alter, Pistrak and a few others were made members of the council where policy was decided. It's worthwhile to notice that Drachler, Guminer, Bograd and company were the same group which had collaborated with the Bolsheviks only a few weeks before when the Red Army had occupied the city. These representatives of the Jewish Socialist Parties, who now professed fidelity to the Petliura regime and acted as staunch anti-Bolsheviks, nevertheless helped the Bolsheviks to abolish the legally elected democratic Jewish Community Council (Kehila). Under Petliura's regime, by the law of the National Personal Autonomy, the Kamenetz-Podolsk Kehila was functioning again. Under the leadership of Munia Zack, a Zionist, and Fradkin, a Zeire-Ziion, the Kehila reaffirmed the non-cooperation with Pinchos Krasny.

The Kehila in Kamenetz-Podolsk went further. It assumed temporarily the functions of the Central Committee of Communities (Kehilas) until Kiev would be liberated and the elected committee would resume its leadership of Ukrainian Jewry. A circular letter was sent to Kehilas in cities and towns to ignore the Jewish Ministry and to communicate with the Kamenetz-Podolsk Kehila in all communal matters. The Kehila was also responsible for organizing a relief committee to help the pogrom victims.

Naturally, the Ministerial Council of Pinchos Krasny took counter measure to hinder the work of the Kamenetz-Podolsk Kehila. Krasny received funds from Petliura's government to help the pogrom victims as well as smaller sums for Jewish education and for other communal needs. Using the money as bait, the Jewish Socialists of the Ministry tried to get Kehilas in smaller towns to deal with the Ministry instead of the Kamenetz-Podolsk Kehila. Only Yiddish schools received subsidies ignoring the fact that Hebrew schools and “evening classes” for the study of

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Hebrew had the majority of students. In many ways, the Jewish Socialist parties received direct and indirect subsidies.

A relief committee to help the pogrom sufferers was founded at the Ministry of Jewish Affairs. Again, Krasny appointed as members of this committee the same people who served on his advisory council. This relief committee sent instructors into provincial towns and cities to organize the distribution of relief funds. In each place the instructor would seek out a Jewish Socialist or just an anti-Zionist and appoint him as head of the local relief committee.

Krasny himself had little time left for doing the work of Minister of Jewish affairs, namely work to strengthen the National Personal Autonomy. Instead, he was busy dealing with the different members of the cabinet and with the higher military officers that were trying to prevent pogroms wherever a threat of such occurred. And the threat of pogroms happened daily; first in recently occupied places under the excuse of weeding out Red Army sympathizers but in reality arresting just Jewish men and women; second – during a retreat when an excuse was needed for the defeat at the front. The usual thing was to blame the Jews in supposedly helping the Red Army. The excuse for a pogrom was stupid such as when the Jews were accused in helping the Reds to surround the Ukrainians and force the retreat. In all honesty, it must be admitted that the higher military echelons used every measure at their command to avoid pogroms during the last few months in their struggle with the Red Army. A great influence in this direction was exerted by the Galician-Ukrainian intellectuals who had joined Petliura's army. But above all, Pinchos Krasny deserves credit for his unceasing efforts to prevent pogroms by using his position as a member of Petliura's cabinet.

How the Jewish Ministry saved Jewish lives, can be seen from the following incident: Krasny personally was not involved but his subordinates, acting as though they were authorized by him, rescued a Jewish boy, practically, from the firing squad.

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In the spring of 1910, the disorganized Ukrainian Army was fleeing toward Poland (Galicia) to escape from the Red Army. The high Ukrainian command was directing the military unit wherever possible to go westward through Ukrainian villages, avoiding Jewish towns and cities. The officers' school, with a few hundred well-equipped and disciplined cadets, was allowed to enter Kamenetz-Podolsk on the way to Galicia.

In the city and ready to be evacuated, there remained some high officials of the Petliura Government. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the city was uneasy. Jews were afraid that a minor incident would start a pogrom. It was on a Friday evening when a tall and handsome, blond, blue-eyed Gaidamack (Petliura's soldier) stopped me with an offer to see me military equipment. I immediately thought that it might be a provocation to accuse me and the Jews in general of buying Government supplies and corrupting the soldiers. I took out my documents and told the soldier that as a student of the Ukrainian university, I would not dream of buying government property. The soldier, in turn, took out his documents showing that he too was a student of the University of Kiev; that he was originally from the town of Megbige and was a cadet but also a Jew. His name was David Brandman. I told him that he was joking, probably had found the documents because it was unlikely for a Jew to be a cadet of Petliura's officers' school.

Brandman rummaged through his papers and brought out a photograph of himself with another student. I immediately recognized Wolodia Nirenberg from Proskurov. Brandman told me that I could recognize his likeness from the photograph and that the other student was his cousin. I invited Brandman to our house. In the presence of my parents, Brandman related an almost incredible story.

He arrived in Prokurov to visit his cousin while Semenko's pogrom, the slaughter of Jews, was in progress. Nobody touched him because his appearance was so un-Jewish. Brandman went to the railroad station and hopped into a departing train. He was appalled by the sight of

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Membership card of “Hazomir” dramatic club in Kamenetz-Podolsk


innocent Jews, young and old, were being hacked to pieces by Gaidamacks. He then and there decided that Jews must join the Ukrainian Army and that this would stop pogroms on Jews. He spoke to an officer on the train who turned out to be the Commandant of the officers' school. He enrolled Brandman in the school as a cadet and promised to send him on a recruiting mission to get Jews into Petliura's army. After a couple of weeks' training, Brandman, with the rest of the cadets, was sent into a battle with the Red Army near Vinitza. Two days later, Brandman and three other cadets were decorated for bravery by Petliura himself.

Brandman showed us Petliura's citation. After supper, Brandman left to join his military comrades. Soon after, he returned. While we talked, the Ukrainian military and civilians left the city in a hurry. It seemed that the city was surrounded by a detachment of the Red Army. During the next few weeks, dressed again as a student, Brandman stayed in our house. The Bolsheviks stayed for only a few weeks.

After the Red Army evacuated the city, the Ukrainians again occupied Kamenetz-Podolsk, starting their advance toward Kiev. Brandman decided to leave for his hometown and decide whether to re-join the officers' school or not.

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In the morning, a stranger, a Jew, came to our house with a short message: “Your friend, David Brandman was arrested at the railroad station”. The witness saw an officer talking to a student who was surrounded by soldiers, as if under arrest. The student suddenly called in Yiddish: “Tell Blatman that David Brandman is being led away to be executed!” I immediately contacted Volodia Nirenberg and in Pinchos Krasny's limousine, we drove to the railroad station. There, the military commandant talked to us only after we had insisted that we were representatives of the Minister of Jewish Affairs and member of Petliura's government. His story was short: the Commandant of the officers' school on the way to the front spotted a deserter – a cadet – who had the audacity to say he was on his way to re-join his military school. The prisoner insisted that he had been left behind in Kamenetz-Podolsk when an unannounced evacuation had taken place. Now, the deserter was confined in the military prison and would probably be executed in a couple of hours after a court-martial.

We immediately went to the military prison which was in the building of the “Belanowskaia” School on the Polish Folvarek. Again, showing our documents, we insisted that we represented the Jewish Minister and demanded postponement of the court-martial. We insisted that Brandman could prove that he, as a soldier and with a medal from Petliura, was not a deserter.

The senior officer had to admit that he had no written but only an oral report and assured us that Brandman's case would not be hurried. We then secured the assistance of Jacob Kreiss, my boss at the Ministry. Kreiss called the Minister of Justice and, after an exchange of letters between the Jewish Ministry and the War Ministry, Brandman's case was transferred to Civilian Jurisdiction. Finally, Brandman was released in my custody.

Needless to say, the case never reached the court because the commandant of the school could not be reached. Later, it was officially established that the officer had been killed in action at the front. The case of David Brandman was

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Membership card of Teacher's Union in Kamenetz-Podolsk


closed. Who knows how many Jewish lives were saved due to the intervention of Pinchos Krasny as Minister of Jewish Affairs?

The Wedding at the cemetery

(This story is authentic. It was verified by talking to a number of people (including A. Melman) who were present at the event).

While Kamenetz-Podolsk was in many ways equal to the progress of the 20th century, in other respects it retained the superstitions of the middle ages. One such superstition is manifested in the following event:

In 1916, during World War I and in the city of Kamenetz-Podolsk, an epidemic of typhus was out of control. The few doctors, who were not mobilized into the army, were helpless in coping with thousands of sick and dying people. There was no medicine for the civilian sick and no available hospital beds which were all occupied by sick and wounded soldiers from the nearby front. All nurses were mobilized and none left for the city. The grave diggers could not prepare enough graves for the dead.

In such an atmosphere, not only superstitious but also rational and lucid people were ready to try anything to break the epidemic. Someone started an old tale that if a couple would be married within the gates of the cemetery, the epidemic would cease.

The superstitious among the Jewish population started a search and found a boy and girl willing to get married at the cemetery. It is not hard to assume that the young and poor couple had been lured to have their marriage ceremony performed at the cemetery because they were of low intelligence. They were promised wedding presents and in no time, all arrangements for the wedding were ready. The rabbi, against his better judgment, agreed to perform the marriage ceremony inside the gates of the cemetery in the presence of a large crowd of wedding guests. As was the custom at every wedding, here too, the names of the donors and the amounts of the presents were publicly announced.

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The new couple collected a sizeable amount and departed to an apartment provided by a Mrs. Melman, who had a vacancy in her house. The wedding ended with the music playing the traditional “Freilachs” but it hard to believe that anybody actually danced at this sad wedding.

It seems that in spite of the hopes that the wedding would end the typhus epidemic, no improvement was noticed. On the contrary, the next year, in addition to typhus, the region was swept by the “Spanish Flu”, killing hundreds of the city's population.

At the time, thousands of war prisoners were coming back from Germany, Austria and Hungary. Many were sick with the influenza but with superhuman effort, were dragging themselves to reach their homeland. It was pathetic to see them arrive in Kamenetz-Podolsk, kneel and kiss the ground of their motherland and then fall over dead.

Kamenetz-Podolsk, in the first quarter of the 20th century, reached high cultural standards and in the same time, was still deep in superstitions as shown by the story of the Wedding at the Cemetery.


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