A Century Ago, Ukraine Saw a New Kind of War on the Jews https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/history-ideas/2022/06/a-century-ago-ukraine-saw-a-new-kind-of-war-on-the-jews/

June 27, 2022 | Magda Teter
About the author:

When World War I officially came to a close in November 1918, Ukraine was immediately plunged into a complex set of conflicts involving a reborn Poland, a short-lived independent Ukrainian state, Ukrainian anarchists, Soviets, and Russian anti-Bolsheviks (“Whites”) seeking to restore the tsarist empire. Most of these groups saw Jews as convenient targets for their anger. Within a few years’ time, between 100,000 and 250,000 Jews were slaughtered. Magda Teter describes the events in a review of several recent books on the subject. She begins with the fate the city once known as Lemberg. (Free registration required.)

Faced with a conflict between Poles and Ukrainians, the Jewish community in Lviv sought to remain neutral, a move that rendered it vulnerable to attacks from both sides. On November 22, soon after the Polish troops had taken control of the city, Jewish self-defense groups were disarmed, shops were looted, and, according to a 1919 report, “all who resisted were brutally assaulted or shot, and many women and girls were outraged,” an early-20th-century euphemism for rape. The violence lasted three days, leaving at least 73 and perhaps as many as 108 Jews murdered and 443 wounded.

The Lviv/Lwów pogrom was a turning point. It targeted a specific group that had been uninvolved in the struggle; it was organized and destructive, and, [the historian Jeffrey] Veidlinger shows, militarily sanctioned—“instigated by armed soldiers in the line of duty rather than by roaming gangs of ruffians or local discontents.” Most importantly, the massacre took place “not during the three-week conflict between Polish and Ukrainian forces over control of Lviv but rather after Polish soldiers had secured the city.” Jews thus were not “collateral damage” of a military operation but rather “were deliberately slaughtered.”

The pogroms of 1918–1921 differed significantly from previous pogroms: these massacres were approved and largely perpetrated by troops and people in positions of authority. Moreover, since the Ukrainian People’s Republic had proclaimed support for minority rights (a model later adopted by the Allied powers in the treaties with Poland and other newly emerging countries), including the recognition of Yiddish as one of the country’s official languages, the attacks were especially alarming. They demonstrated “to the Jews of Ukraine and to the world that even a government established on the principle of minority rights and national autonomy could not protect Jews from violence.”

Finally, pogroms in towns like Dubovo (near Cherkasy), Fastiv, and Proskuriv, where whole communities were wiped out in a matter of hours or days, made it possible to imagine genocidal murder.

Read more on New York Review of Books: https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2022/06/09/rehearsal-for-genocide-pogroms-magda-teter/