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[Page 36]

Ukrainian Rule and the Pogroms

by Haim Gmar

Translation by Naomi Gal

The wounds of World War One had not yet healed, the revolution had not yet settled down and the new ways of Jewish life in the cities of Ukraine were not yet set, when the Ukrainian commonwealth announced freedom and national self-determination for all its inhabitants. Jewish representatives were active in the new state regime. But the honeymoon of the new state did not last for long; internal conflicts, political and national influences caused a civil war whose results for the country, its citizens and the Jews were tragic.

Ukrainians ruled Rovno since the declaration of the independent commonwealth. They were conquering one post after another. Most inhabitants, Jews and others, except the peasants in the nearby villages, still considered themselves as Russian citizens. The situation was unstable and the powerlessness of the regime which had no time to stabilize, was well felt. The disputes and disagreements were not only amid the heads of the regime, which entailed change of governments, but among the administration and the army as well. The anarchy was a threat to the large Jewish population in Ukraine. There were rumors about different camps of fighting Ukrainians being formed as an official army, headed by nationalists who were harming Jewish citizens. The rumors had a solid ground since the Jews still remembered the way the Cossacks treated them…

In the summer of 1918 there were in Rovno a few isolated incidents between Ukrainians soldiers and Jews. When the incidents became more severe, representatives of the Jewish Community complained to the authorities and this helped. Things settled down, although there were still reports about robberies and looting in the areas outside of the city; the Jews in Rovno believed that the raging soldiers would not dare touch the city population.

But the reports grew more frequent and people in Rovno were agitated. Soon a few weeks passed by and Petliura's army, on its way to grab power, was approaching Rovno. The Ukrainian darkening skies horrified the Jews. It was clear that the top Ukrainian phalanges and the government, as well as the enlisting of veterans into the Russian army, were summoned by Petliura in order to liberate the homeland from the reign of Hetmanate Skoropadsky and his German associates, which would not be a blessing for the Jews. There were many signs indicating that Petliura or his assistants and advisors gave a free hand to destroy Jews in different ways and places. There was a rumor that the soldiers got permission to take all they needed from the Jews. So began the riots against Ukraine Jews.

A regular Hetmanate army was stationed in Rovno and in the vicinity. The last days before it left the city due to pressure from Petliura's armies, were days of fear for the Jews. Tension grew when they found out that the stationed army was indeed leaving and the city was in danger of remaining with no structure or army. And then they heard echoes of shootings growing closer. The sounds came from unruly soldiers who were roaming the streets and of panic-stricken army-units passing through. They took, grabbed, stole anything they could – and left. They did not clash with Jews but scared them deeply. When dark came, shouts and cries could be heard every now and then, but no one was brave enough to go out and help. Everyone stayed behind closed shutters and doubly locked doors. The lights in most houses were turned off to avoid the attention from the troublemakers. The shootings and shouting testified the attackers assaults. It was an alarming night for the Jews.

With daylight the signs of the looting could be seen: remains of goods and clothes that were left behind by the soldiers who ran wild throughout the night. Not one Ukrainian soldier was left in town. The children were not sent to school that day, and all the stores besides grocery shops were closed. There was anticipation and lots of guessing. In the evening units of guards patrolled the streets. At night the guards saw the forerunners of Petliura's army pass through the city without stopping. At noon the next day groups of soldiers entered the city. They were Petliura's armies chasing their Ukrainians brothers from Hetmanate Skoropadsky's army. The conquering army hastened to announce that the national army came to cleanse the city and its surroundings from the “destroyers of the Ukrainian homeland”. The citizens were ordered to help the army and its victory and get back to normal life. The shop owners were ordered to renew their commerce at once. Finally a threat was issued declaring that whoever helps the enemy will be court-martialed.

Rovno Jews heard the announcement and were terrorized. Petliura's army seemed to them as gangs and not as a regular army, but they were powerless and scared. They were ordered to stay home at night and a curfew was declared. The guards, organized the previous night, had to be dispelled.

That night groups of soldiers from the conquering army attacked Jewish households in several parts of the city. They robbed, beat and raped indiscriminately and without pity. All of a sudden the fire brigade alarm was heard (the firemen back then were all volunteering Jews). Soon a few firemen appeared with their cart, the famous “khbhhev” (fire brigade) armed with clubs beside their fire extinguishers. The gangs next to Litman the baker on Soborna Street saw the firemen approaching noisily and retreated alarmed while the firemen and some of the night guards' youngsters chased them.

Rovno Jews were shaken, realizing what they could expect from the new regime. The heads of the community assembled an urgent meeting, discussed the situation and sent a delegation to the city's commander, a young low-ranked officer, voicing the Jews apprehensions after the events of the previous night. His response was short and dry: “I don't know of any harm done to citizens by soldiers. I will investigate and if indeed our soldiers were having fun I hope it will not be repeated. You go back to your brothers and tell them to show hospitality to our soldiers, invite them and feed them and take good care of them. If you will do what you have to do, our soldiers will be able to fight properly and win over our enemies. If you fail to do so – it will be your responsibility.”

The delegates left the meeting with the officer frightened; they were about to offer him a gift, but after his decisive statement they lost heart.

There was no guarantee that the situation would be rectified but surprisingly enough the aggravation stopped (besides a few minor incidents) while Petliura's armies went on ravaging other cities and towns.

Meanwhile hundreds of Jews from the vicinity flocked to Rovno fearing Petliura's and other armies that were roaming everywhere and assaulting Jews. The different reports about Ukrainian civil war and the Bolshevik threat increased the fear. Those were difficult times for Rovno Jews. Jews were scapegoats in every political change. It seems as if to this day there is no exact estimate of the pogroms Petliura's men inflicted on Ukraine Jews. There is no ground to the belief that Petliura himself did not perform riots on the Jews, but that his untamed armies went wild and their leader could not curb them…This black page in Ukrainian Jews history in Petliura's times, 1919-1920, will remain engraved forever as a stigma of the forehead of Symon Petliura, the national Ukrainian oppressor: the memory of the rivers of our brothers' blood can never be wiped clean.

Here are some of the riots Petliura's bandits performed on Rovno Jews as I witnessed them with my own eyes in the spring of 1919:

It was known in the city that Petliura's soldiers were attacking Jews wherever they went. The citizens remembered their entrance to the city and were agitated. Fear increased when the Jewish peddlers who traded in the surrounding villages reported that the non-Jews in many of the Ukrainians villages were preparing for robberies in the city – to avenge the Jews they always hated. Soon the day came.

On the afternoon of Tuesday May 22, 1919 a train arrived with dozens of coaches full with the Ukrainian army and, instead of passing by, the army stopped in the city. Passers-by saw armed soldiers marching toward Shossejna, the main street, singing animatedly and then crying: Jel, jel…

When the Jews heard about it they were terrorized. In streets and alleys people were running around panic-stricken, seeking for a passage or a hiding place, rushing to their homes or their relatives. The stores closed down and the market emptied.

Back then my family lived in the Great Minska Street, next to the creek. When the commotion began all of us kids came home, the shutters were drawn down and silence fell on the house. Father's gentle walk from room to room reminded the children that it is unthinkable to make any noise in those moments of danger: we knew that Petliura's people are in town, that they are dangerous and that we should fear them. The rooms were dark; the family was sitting in the corner listening to every rustle and step in the street. Dad began reading psalms, pushed prayer books into our hands saying: “read psalms, children!” We knew nothing about the happenings in the city and the hours seemed as long as days and weeks.

When night fell the house filled with terror. Shadows were dancing on the walls and we heard drunken shouts. By the sound of the steps in the street we knew that Petliura's bandits were cruising the streets. And then we heard the cries: “Bai Jidov!” (hit the Jews) and following screams of “gevald!” (help!) The screams subsided and were then renewed. The air was filled with voices of women and crying children mixed with wild laughter and Ukrainian shouts. My mother, who was constantly sighing, turned lost to my father: what will happen to the kids, where can we hide them? Maybe in the closet? But dad didn't respond, sitting concentrating and never stopped reading psalms: “God hear me…” with emphasis and in low voice. We didn't ask for food, we huddled close together and fell asleep in our clothes.

Morning came. Light was streaming through the shutters. Mother was sitting on a stool in the corner, miserable, tired and dozing off. Dad, pale due to lack of sleep, went every now and then to the window facing the street and peeked out through the shutters to see what was going on. Finally he couldn't control himself and half opened the kitchen backdoor. He hesitated a moment till he saw the neighbor leaving his backyard. Father went to him and a third neighbor appeared. From him we learned some of the horrors of last night: in the pogrom that lasted all night Mussia Zabronski and his wife, from 34 Shusnya street were murdered, as well as Pinhas Fishman and his son, Samson Stein (he was murdered on the roof of his house blowing his horn in alarm.) We supposed that there were many more dead and wounded in the city. We heard that most of the stores in the market were pillaged. Non-Jews from the neighborhood went from shop to shop and took whatever they could find.


Berl son of Zelig Maykovski
(Page 39 in the Hebrew version)


While the three were talking we heard from a nearby alley a woman screaming: “they are coming!” and those standing scurried quickly to their homes.

In less then an hour a soldier was standing in the room, cursing and demanding money from dad, while pulling his beard. We were all in the adjunct room and mom was perched around us like a bird protecting her nestlings, we were sobbing, but mother tried to silence us. Father handed the soldier a bundle of bills, but he wanted more and more, while holding a gun. Through the wall we heard dad plead while the soldier was searching the closet and the drawers. More soldiers entered by the open window and the house filled with drunken soldiers who entered the other room as well, spitting and laughing rowdily and wildly. They took what they wanted, overturned the closet and left for the closest house, while we were frozen by fear.

A group of the remains of the self-defense guards [1] Borek, Haim Mekel, Berl Mayakovski and others went at dawn to guard the streets. In Tomrovsky Alley a bullet heat Berl Maykovski, the leader, and he fell down covered with blood. The murders stabbed his body and abused him. Another victim was added to those of last night.

Towards noon we heard the call: “Jews, leave your houses!” we didn't know what that meant. Father hesitated at first, but then went out and came back immediately saying that the call came from Dr. Segal and Dr. Goldstein, city leaders. They risked their lives going through the city while Petliura people were busy robbing in broad daylight and called for the Jews to leave their houses and save their lives and property. This ensued after they succeeded in contacting the army's main headquarter that was located in Zdolbonov Station and reported the events that were taking place in the city. They were promised the game was over and asked people to resume their normal lives.

This ended Petliura's pogrom in Rovno, the yield was twenty-two victims, around one hundred wounded and much of Jewish property looted.

Haim Gmar


  1. Some of the members of the Jewish Defense were Berl Maykovski (the head of the group), brothers Blanc, Bezalel Kagan, Yosef Steinberg, Bezalel Titelboym, Yosef Gosik, Isaac Gosic, Haim Mekel, Samuel Feklon, Isaac Pepper, Isaac Shapiro, Mordechai Merkabien, Yaakov Klika, Shimon Sima, Arieh Franc, Gershon Borak, Avraham Ramon, Shivka (Bat-Sheva) Kabbsan, Shumski the student, Yosef Pepper, Dralechter, Karp, Appelboym and others. Dr. Segal was one of the leaders back then. Return

[Page 40]

The Bloody Days of Petliura

by Engineer M. Gildenman

Translation by Naomi Gal

The wave of pogroms that washed over Jewish Communities in Volhynia and Podillia in the summer of 1919, either organized or randomized by Petliura's armies, and in which around 150,000 Jews were exterminated, did not spare Rovno Jews. The city was on Brisk-Kiev, the main road that served as main artery for all the armed forces that conquered Volhynia for a short or long period of time in the years after the Russian Revolution. Rovno at that time was a Ukrainian center, and in and around her were stationed the main army headquarters. The luxurious apartments of the city's wealthy citizens were confiscated for officers or army offices. The city was an important strategic center: her railroad connected Western Ukraine to Podole on one side and to Policia's region on the other, where bitter fights took place in 1919. The fear Rovno Jews felt at those frantic days was not unfounded since they had already experienced the cruelty of Petliura's people. The rumors about the pogrom in Proskurov on February 15 1919, in which 1650 Jews were murdered by Petliura's bandits, were spreading all over Podillia and Volhynia and reached Rovno as well. They had no time to digest the atrocity when they heard about the pogrom in Zhitomir, were between March 23 to March 26 1919, 317 Jews were slaughtered. The Jews in Volhynia, Podillia and the Kiev region were constantly terrified of pogroms. More so after they saw the Ukrainian army-units performing them openly, with no law abiding them. The fear increased in face of the hostile attitude of the Ukrainian population that was being inflamed by suspicious elements. The feeling was that Jewish blood was permitted, and in every place where Jews and Christians lived together propagandists called openly for robbery and murder. Once the beast was released it was difficult to restrain it. That is how things were in Rovno and neighboring areas. The severity of the situation back then can be seen in a memorandum sent by Rovno Community to Ataman Petliura who was back then the head of the Ukrainian armies. The memorandum was submitted on March 26 1919 and stated:

“To the president of the directorate of the National Ukrainian Ataman Petliura and to Ataman Askilko, the chief commander of the south-west front.

Memorandum from the Jewish community of Rovno:

The grave hour that is upon Ukrainians Jews in general, and Rovno's and its surrounding Jewish population in particular, compels us to inform the democratic authorities of the Ukrainian Republic as follows:
  1. Lately suspicious elements are conducting forceful propaganda in writing and verbally with the clear aim of inciting riots and pogroms against Jews.

  2. In the city and in its surroundings pamphlets are posted on walls and poles in public areas, especially among the army, signed by unfamiliar institutions. In many of these pamphlets the Christians are called to take a bloody revenge on the “Jids, the haters of human race.”

  3. In different parts of the city, especially in markets and busy streets, unfamiliar people in army uniform are conducting pogrom propaganda. They attack solitary Jews, not only verbally but physically as well, and they entice riots amongst the peaceful population.

  4. The official newspaper “Free Ukraine” publishes frequent articles and essays that could instill hatred among Christians for the Jewish Nation. As a proof we enclose several documents and facts about the latest happenings in Rovno.
Documented Evidence:

  1. A manifest calling: “Brothers!” and signed by the “Ukrainian Public Spirituality” (Printed in thousands of copies in Hazantshook printing press in Rovno)

  2. A copy of a pamphlet headlined: “Peasants!” signed by the “Cossacks of the Ukrainian Republic” (attached is a copy certified by the Jewish Ministry)

  3. A pamphlet in Russian “To all the Red Army Soldiers!” signed by the “Rebels of the first Soviet Soldier”

  4. A pamphlet to the Ukrainian people signed by the “Cossacks of the Active Army”

  5. Issues of the newspaper “Free Ukraine” containing articles and defamations in an anti-Semitic style.

  1. On April 7 masses of people, mainly soldiers, convened next to the barracks in Rovno, and an unfamiliar man in uniform delivered, undisturbed, an inflaming speech with pogrom connotations and encouraged the crowds to destroy and kill the Jews.

  2. On April 17 at 2 o'clock in the afternoon obscure elements in uniform attacked Jews next the “Brom” stores and cruelly beat two Jews, creating panic amid the peaceful population. The storeowners had to close their shops and escape. No one interfered with the rioters' deeds.

  3. On April 19 at 5 o'clock in the afternoon a sailor from the volunteers' army amassed crowds from the streets, mainly soldiers, and conducted propaganda enticing local people to perform pogroms on the Jews. He boasted that he slaughtered over three hundred Jews with his bare hands.
The Jewish Community in Rovno, based on the above-mentioned, and assessing the grave danger Jews are facing, felt it was their duty to draw the attention of the Supreme Rulers of the Ukrainian National Republic and to point out the venom being spread by irresponsible elements, venom that carries destruction which must not be ignored.

In view of the danger facing the lives and property of the Jewish Population, and since the general accusation against the Jewish People undermines its national pride, and turning one part of the population against another damages the whole republic, the representatives of the Jewish Community of Rovno asked the Supreme Rulers of the Kingdom to take extraordinary measures to protect the lives and properties of the Jewish Population and to forcefully conduct a war against the “Black Century” propaganda of irresponsible elements.”

The Jewish Community of Rovno (signature)
Rovno, March 26 1919”

This memorandum was submitted to the bloody ruler of Ukraine – Ataman Symon Petliura, but with no results. As were in vain hundreds of interviews and memorandums of Jews from other Ukrainians cities and towns. The rulers in charge not only refrained from taking any measures to prevent the bloody deeds; they didn't even see fit to respond to the memorandums.

Meanwhile there were a few incidents against Jews in the city, but not a full-fledged pogrom. A great help was the sincere and firm attitude of Kovenko, the city-commander, a liberal who arrived on scene with his own squadron and dispersed the rioters. Days went by and the Jews almost got used to the situation in the city, but on May 20 Petliura army was about to leave Rovno under Bolsheviks' pressure. Before they left, the city commander Kovenko advised the city leadership to take charge of the city and organize a municipal militia. His farewell from the city leaders was friendly and in haste.

The same day an urgent meeting of the municipal authority was held with the participation of community representatives and the workers' unions. They discussed the situation and organized an armed militia, mostly Jews who were members of the self-defense group. Guards were patrolling the streets. But this militia operated one day only. The next day, on March 21, an armed train of Petliura's army arrived to Stralitz, Rovno's train station and when the commander of the train heard about the civil police force controlling Rovno, he suspected it is was a Bolshevik force and immediately sent soldiers to disarm the members of the militia and disperse them. (While they were disarming the militia they arrested Helez, a Jewish student, took him to an investigation on the train and killed him by electric shock). Rovno Jews now depended on the graces of the commander, a Jew-hater, who was stationed in his train; Jews didn't know what would become of their city. As usually in these cases, there was fear of pogroms and a bad premonition. And indeed, close to midnight, when the city was fast asleep, groups of soldiers left the train station, spread over the city and began pillaging. They went from house to house in the center of the city, robbed money and jewelry, took clothes and any objects they fancied. Many Jews were beaten to death, there were cases of rape, desperate cries and pleas for help echoed through different parts of the city, but the cries were to no avail – no help was on the way.

And then a daring venture at defense was made. A group of youngsters from the defense group of Africanska Street stood up, and armed with axes, clubs and guns went against the rioters. The group advanced rapidly and reached a place where a robbery was being held and with their courage and determination succeeded in warding off the rioting soldiers, who did not expect any resistance from the disarmed Jews. The cries were silenced for a while. But the bandits arrived to the train station and reported being attacked by Jews. They got reinforcement from the armed train and at the same time they began shooting their canons from nearby Volya. The defenders were in dire straits and had to retreat. The soldiers reappeared and went on pillaging and murdering without disturbance. And so elapsed the night of May 22 – a night of fear and horror for Rovno Jews.

In the morning commander Kovenko arrived in Rovno with a squadron of soldiers, cruised the city, saw what happened and addressed at once the “Stralitz”. As a result the rioters were given an order to stop at once. But for some it was too late: ten dead Jews and about twenty wounded, among them old Trachman from Volya. There were around fifty lighter casualties, as for the robberies – tens and tens of thousands.

Engineer M. Gildenman

[Page 43]

From Authority to Authority

by Arieh Harrari

Translation by Naomi Gal

It is 1919. By all signs it seems that the Ukrainian rule in Rovno is dying, but no one knows who would replace the crumbling regime. Some predict the return of the Bolsheviks, others believe that the white-Russians might come back, and maybe it would be the Poles? Jews kept speculating. They guessed, but didn't know what was in store for them.

The hypothesis that the Ukrainian armies were about to leave Rovno and its surroundings grew stronger every day and the Jews feared the day they would leave as much as they feared the day that the new conquerors would enter…They had bitter experiences from days of retreat and occupation. Days of anarchy without stable rulers when lawlessness spread everywhere.

Monday evening the Ukrainian armies were heading to Lutsk. Some observers interpreted it as the last retreat, but could give no explanations. The armies' traffic went on all night. The next day was a cloudy day. An autumn rain and some snow were falling down alternately from the gloomy sky. Since no soldiers were seen in the city's streets, everyone presumed that indeed this was the last retreat. To be on the safe side they kept out of the streets. A rumor spread about bands of soldiers creating havoc and robbing Jewish apartments the previous night.

A few days earlier a delegation representing Rovno Jews, headed by Dr. Segal went to the Ukrainian army headquarters in Klevan, next to Rovno, reported the rowdy behavior of the soldiers and asked for protection for the Jews. The delegation, by the way, brought a gift of money. It worked: a young officer heading an armed unit was sent at once to control the soldiers in the city and prevent their harming peaceful citizens and Jews among them. The rioters were threatened by severe punishments. The officer went out on his mission representing the headquarters and carrying Kovenko's orders, the city's commander who was known in Rovno as an objector to any irresponsible acts and persecutions of Jews. Now, facing the grave situation and the lack of authority in the city, a second delegation was about to travel to Kovenko and ask for protection, but the train was off limits for military reasons and driving a cart was too dangerous. The plan was postponed and the Jews had to suffer another terrifying night.

In the morning the spearhead of the Russian-Bolshevik army entered the city, advancing from two sides toward Klevan and Dubno. All were panic-stricken: the behavior of this unorganized army was still remembered, like the Ukrainian Cossacks they robbed and confiscated objects, merchandises and food wherever they could find them, and the confusion was great.

On that day non-Jews from the neighboring villages were seen in the city with their wives, carrying bags. The appearance of the gentiles raised suspicions – did they come to pillage? Some wise men explained: since they felt the Soviet Regime aimed to overthrow the wealthy (according to them –the Jews), they came to assist. Word of mouth was that the Bolshevik's partisans intended to welcome the new rulers that were about to enter the city in a few hours. But the hours grew longer, and later that afternoon a squadron of two hundred soldiers was seen on the main street preceded by horsemen. The soldiers did not linger in town – they moved toward Klevan and came back to Rovno as night fell. That night armed units of the Russian army entered Rovno and took control. Every now and then there were sounds of shootings till the Russians occupied the whole region.

On Thursday morning a few Jews left their houses on the way to the synagogue, praying shawls and teffilin under their arms. They intended to find out what was happening in the city, but soldiers who stood on guard blocked their passage and sent them back home. Indeed the fear was not unfounded; the conquest of the city by the Russian would be followed by Jewish bloodshed; walking a few steps farther some of the Jews were shot. Three victims were found on the pavement in front of the Home of the Aged on Frantszuska Street. Rovno Jews were outraged: is this the redeeming and liberating regime?

The city was in mourning. A big funeral was held for the victims of the previous night, and there was fury and discontent with the new regime. Not so for the supporters of the Bolsheviks: they ignored the sad incident and hastened to send a delegation to the Bolsheviks expressing their wish to provide the army its needs and reminded their loyalty to Bolshevism in the past, when the city was under the Bolsheviks. The same day a City Council was founded including representatives of ex-Bunds and others who enthusiastically declared themselves Bolsheviks' loyalists. By Sunday a plan was drafted and a list made for collecting contributions from the bourgeoisie, meaning the Jewish merchants. The following day public announcements were posted by the City Council demanding those merchants pay the exaggerated sums they were taxed. Some Jews who were at the regime's service helped collect the money, as they helped make the tax assessments and supposedly mediated the reduction with a payoff later.

Among the bits of information given to the conquerors were the names of the prominent Zionists in the city. They were described as dangerous counter-revolutionary and their persecution began at once, as it was under the Tsar and worse. Every Jew who did not cooperate with the new regime was considered an enemy and a profiteer – someone who smuggles merchandise and sells it for exorbitant prices. Soon the confiscations began: apartments, furniture, food, merchandise, money and everything of value. In short: everything that could be taken. Allegedly this exploitation was meant for all citizens, but in fact the Jews were the main sufferers. And not necessarily the rich among them: all were weighted down by the new regime.

Those were difficult times for Rovno Jews. They were oppressed and there was no law to protect them. Most of the Jewish inhabitants were having a tough time adjusting to the new reality. But soon the Bolsheviks, under the Polish army pressure that conquered most of Volhynia, evacuated Rovno, again life conditions changed and Rovno was under a new oppressor – the Polish army. But this regime as well did not last and left in haste the way it came. The Jews were again locked at home waiting fearfully for the change of regime, without knowing what the next day will bring.

Soon the Bolsheviks were back ruling for a few months till the Polish army took over half of Volhynia, and Rovno became a Polish city.

Arieh Harrari

[Page 45]

With the Bolsheviks

by Sara Shacnai

Translation by Naomi Gal

Once the Ukrainian armies left Rovno in spring 1919 the Red Army entered the city and established at once the Soviet Government. In addition to the many officials and servicemen who came to Rovno from the outside, many locals, mainly youth, were hired for different positions and administrative jobs. The truth is that most of the hired people were Jews, to the point that it seemed as if Jews and Bolsheviks were one and the same, which served as proof for those among the non-Jewish population claiming that Jews are indeed Bolsheviks.

How come the Jewish youth helped establish the local Soviet Government? Some young men and women who worked for the Bolsheviks back then were asked this question, and their answers are quite typical:

“It is simple,” said one of them. “On the first day the Bolsheviks entered the city soldiers stopped me in the street and made me dig a grave for a dead soldier. My attempts to evade did not work. They said that every citizen had to serve the freeing government – 'and you obey at once my order'. I realized this is an unequivocal order and decided to apply for a job instead of being dragged to perform odd jobs.”

A young woman who was preparing for exams at a local high school explains: “I saw that the new regime forces you to work using the slogan 'He Who Does Not Work – Does Not Eat.' I understood that sooner or later, if the Bolsheviks will rule the city, I would have to work. So should I wait to be forced? I enrolled to the waiters' union as a worker in Abraham Mann's coffeehouse (but as a matter of fact I didn't work, and was able to go on preparing for my exams). And then the union summoned me to an urgent meeting – I went. For some reason I caught the eye of one of the activists and was asked to be the union's secretary. I tried to wiggle out, but he raised his voice at me saying: 'with us you don't dodge. You have to fill up any job you are given'. That's how I became a worker for the Soviets for the whole three months they governed Rovno.”

A man around thirty gave another point of view: “I was a grocer for many years. And then I found out that my livelihood was revoked and that I will wind-up being an unproductive bourgeois in the eyes of the Bolsheviks, and I'll have to pay contributions, the way the rich merchants had to. So it was best to look for a job as someone who is unemployed. I did that and was appointed as a controller of merchandises.”

A youngster who was passionately drawn to the Bolsheviks confessed: “Didn't we suffer enough under Tsar Nicholas' boot? Now, when Russia is liberated and all the citizens enjoy freedom, isn't it our duty to be with the liberators and the revolutionary regime?”

Back then Rovno Zionists were walking on the sideways so as not to attract attention. They didn't know what to do; they didn't apply for and didn't get jobs. In some cases they heard comments, especially the young ones, telling them that is it unfair to avoid serving the new regime that needs everybody. Barkov, one of the high officers, a young student from Zhytomyr, working in Rovno, told a young Zionist: “You will come to a bad end if you don't obey orders and serve us. Think about the counter-revolutionaries, and you'll understand what's in stake for you.”

It was difficult for Jewish Rovno to come to terms with the new regime's order, its rules and regulations, businesses came to halt, stores were closed, merchandises were confiscated and many people were unemployed. Confiscating property was something that happened on a daily basis, and these actions were executed by those who served the authorities with the help of soldiers of the Red Army. There were cases when a son had to operate against his father, against one's own blood. The ransom demanded from the merchants, meaning the local Jews, was collected in whole or partially after threats, pressure and imprisonments. The number of government and military offices grew, meetings and parades became daily routine, so that Rovno seemed like a celebrating, revolutionary city, but in fact the citizens were unhappy with the regime, Jews and Christians alike, except the few who supported and served the authorities.

After three months the Bolsheviks suddenly left the city under the pressure of the Polish forces, and with them went some of the youngsters who worked for them.

Sara Shacnai

[Page 47]

The Polish Conquest

by Abraham Mann

Translation by Naomi Gal

Spring of 1920. When the Russians left Rovno the Polish army came back. And this is how a Rovno citizen describes the Polish re-entrance:

“For two days we were trapped at home. We stayed in interior rooms, hiding, fearing to show ourselves outside. The fear was from those who left as much as it was of those arriving, since we didn't know who they were. In periods of change citizens are always in danger, especially Jews. We were veterans and knew that when there is no ruler, ruthless criminals arise to power. Every new conqueror acts carelessly and every retreating one doesn't care about the citizens and gives his soldiers free range with the excuse of leaving nothing for the enemy. On the second day after the Russians left, at eleven o'clock in the evening, when I could no longer stand the isolation, I decided to move with my family from our hiding place to my apartment, which was at the same courtyard facing the street. I peeked around the corner to see what was going on and didn't see a soul, I just heard galloping of horses. I called for my neighbor and we both stood for about fifteen minutes at the entrance to the courtyard. Suddenly we saw three horsemen. We were frightened, but couldn't retreat. From their broken Russian we assumed they were Poles. One of them asked for water for themselves and their horses. I run to the courtyard and brought back a bucket of water. One of the horsemen asked me: “are you Jewish?” Yes, I answered. He giggled, ordered me to stand against the wall and aimed his gun at me. My wife who just arrived protected me with her body and begged for my life. The horsemen smirked and said: 'a Jew deserves a bullet' and left. That was the beginning of the Polish entrance to Rovno…”


The sight of the Shossejna, the main street
at the time the Poles entered the city, 1920

(Page 47 in the Hebrew version)


When the citizens woke up in the morning they found the Polish army roaming the streets and guards at streets' corners. Imprisonments began at once: citizens were arrested with no discrimination, especially Jews. Shalom-Fridel Langer, the attendant of the old school, was arrested because he gave shelter in the school's attic to some refugees who came from across the border. He suffered in prison a few months until the Jewish institutions were able to free him. Everyone suspected in having had relations with the Bolsheviks was arrested and interrogated. From the Polish Regime point of view every Jewish youngster was a suspect. The deep-rooted Polish anti-Semitism was well felt, but lo and behold! There were no violent abuses of Jews. On the contrary: there were reports about their civil behavior in some cases, did they change their nature or did they get an order to behave that way? One way or another, the Poles were ruling and the Jews adapting and beginning to omit a sigh of relief.



Views of the city at the time of the Polish reign 1920-1939
(Page 48 in the Hebrew version)


Present were, as well, the armies of General Haeller, who was infamously known for cutting Jews' beards and other famous pranks, but even they refrained from assaulting Jews, the only reports about hurting Jews came from the surrounding villages.

Soon enough the communication with Warsaw, Poland's Capital, was renewed. Reports and newspapers begun to arrive, and people who were stuck on their way were returning to their city and home. After a while, with some restrictions, the authorities began granting permits for leaving and entering the city and it seemed as if life was getting back to normal. It is easy to imagine the new general mood in the city after all she's been through under the Ukrainians and the Bolsheviks for the last two years. Still the city was under military occupation and every step encountered hindrance from the army headquarters. Particularly difficult was getting permits for circulation.

In this atmosphere, and with Warsaw's Center encouragement, the Central Zionist lodge grew stronger and planned a new program. The feeling was that the Poles would not disturb the Zionist actions, since Zionism was recognized as a legal movement in Poland. And indeed the authorities did not intervene in the Zionist work, but whenever a problem concerning Zionism arose, it became illegal in the Polish occupied territory. Sometimes the outcomes of dealings with the authorities were disheartening, since they tried to stop public and national activities. For an obscure reason they connected Rovno and Volhynia region to Vilna's region, which complicated every small or big procedure.

The Jewish community in Rovno went on operating under the new conditions, but its reputation sank. It was penniless and lacked the public vision it had under the Ukrainian regime. The authorities considered the community as nothing but a religious institution and left it alone for the time being. The educational institutions, not knowing what would be the Polish program for Jewish education were the first to suffer when they had to provide new franchises for their existence. Jews and their institutions encountered many difficulties at the beginning of the Polish occupation. Many doubted the possibility of the Poles staying in the city for long, in view of the many changes of regimes during the last years, but the regime was settling down and with time there were signs of mitigations in different areas; permits for circulation, a revived commerce, more public and national activity, and Rovno was becoming a Polish city.

Time went by and the summer was nearing its end. The Polish regime adapted to the cities and the inhabitants way of life, and Rovno Jews as well adapted to the regime and its rules, they began to learn and speak Polish, changed the language of their businesses' signs – the began absorbing Polish culture.

Abraham Mann

[Page 49]

The End of Ataman Askilko

by Engineer Moshe Gildenman

Translation by Naomi Gal

Ukrainian Jews knew very well the name of Ataman Askilko, who used to serve as the chief of staff of the south-western front and was Petliura's right-hand and later one of the few Ukrainian commanders who remained in Rovno, a territory occupied by the Poles.

And then a dramatic event took place: in one of Paris boulevards Sholom Schwartzbard assassinated Ataman Symon Petliura. The news about Petliura's assassination by a Jew evoked feelings of revenge in Jews all over the world, but unrest as well, especially amid Ukrainians Jews, who , for generations, had experienced their neighbors' hatred. Their joy was mixed with fear of the leader's followers' revenge. Apprehension was felt especially in the region that was annexed to Poland, close to the eastern front where most Ukrainians remained Petliura's supporters. The Polish authorities in this region, for their own reasons, granted special privileges to ex-Atamans and high-officers of Petliura's regime. Among them was Petliura's close assistant – Askilko, who found refuge in Rovno.

Volhynia's Jews did not forget the bloody-deeds of Askilko's armies in the spring of 1919. Askilko himself was responsible for the pogrom in Berdichev and for others, as well. Whenever a Jewish delegation came to see him asking to protect the Jews from the bandits, he used to smile and say: “I will not confront my heroic soldiers on account of a few assaulted Jews.”

Askilko chose the village Uvarov, close to Rovno, as his residence, where he lived in one of his relative's villa. He enjoyed all the civic privileges as well as the permission to publish a Ukrainian weekly “Dilo” in which he printed political articles from the point of view of Jews-hating Ukrainians. He also published memoirs from Petliura's “great” days and was a teacher in Horodok.

The day after Petliura's assassination, an enthusiastic obituary to the dead leader was published in the “Dilo”. He was depicted as a national hero and a prominent politician of his generation. Askilko enumerated Petliura's merits and with foaming rage called on the Ukrainian people to take revenge on the Jews. This hostile article was an explicit call for pogroms, since the author had a huge influence on the Ukrainian population. The Jews of Rovno and her surroundings were shocked. The agitation was great and everybody talked about Askilko's anti-Semitic article that showed his true colors, for the moment by his pen only.

That same evening three Jewish youngsters sat at a table in “Zabronski” coffeehouse in Rovno: Yankoviak, Feldman and Blay. In front of them spread open was the “Bilo” issue with Askilko's obituary for Petliura. The three concluded that a few venomous articles like this one would provoke the Ukrainians to take revenge on the Jews, which endangered particularly the Jews in towns and villages. It was necessary to get rid of this enemy as well.

The three decided to do this themselves and designed a plan to exterminate Askilko. The next day the three went to the village of Uvarov to explore the house's entrances and the windows of Askilko's room, and to find out his timetable. The plan was kept a secret and only few knew about it. Two days later the three carrying arms arrived in the dark of the night to the marked house. Askilko was sitting in front of a window facing the courtyard and was writing by the light of a table lamp. The room was in the second floor of the house. One of them climbed on the shoulders of the other two, and shot Askilko, who died on the spot. The perpetrators disappeared at once into the dark. When the neighbors hurried after hearing the shotgun they found no one at the murder scene.

Doing justice to this evil man was no less impressive than the killing of Petliura, his mentor. The Ukrainians nationalists connected those two events that were performed at the same month and marked them as acts of revenge by the international Jewry.

There were different rumors and opinions about the murder. The Polish authorities were put on alert, either because they really meant it, or perfunctorily, and they searched in all directions. Fearing an unwanted discovery someone made sure the search would not spread and deepen and indeed the investigation concluded promptly and a few weeks later the case was closed for lack of evidence. The rumor was that the Poles intervened because they had their own reasons to get rid of Askilko…

Thus three brave Jewish youngsters from Rovno performed an act of revenge on one of the main responsible for the 1919 pogroms of Ukrainians Jews under Petliura's reign.

Engineer Moshe Gildenman


The city's views: Eftiskarska Street – the 13th division
(Page 51 in the Hebrew version)


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