The Civil War and the Polish-Soviet War

The Civil War and The Polish-Soviet War


The disintegration of the Russian Empire led to the Russian Civil War (1918 -1921), three years of conflict on a huge scale; according to historian Norman Davies, the number of victims reached the number of total deaths from all the battlefields of World War I. The concurrent Polish-Soviet War (1919-1920) is described by Davies as a 'vast war of movement' in which up to a million Polish troops swept east to the River Dnieper, while a million Red Army troops pushed back against them. The Berazina valley was in the midst of it.

 For Byerazino and Pahost, this period was more directly destructive than the years of World War I. The River Berezina was a contested frontier, fought over by Reds, Royalist Whites and Poles. A "Report on MInsk", addressed to the JDC on 31 May 1920, explains the impossibility of deliviering aid to outlying areas, saying that “communication has been discontinued, and such cities as Ihumen, Berezin, Borissov have been captured by the Bolsheviki and re-captured by the Poles twice during this period" (p.3).  Villages were vulnerable to  repeated raids and anti-Semitic attacks were common. The author of the JDC Report describes a lawlessness, chaotic situation:  Many of the smaller towns have been visited by detachments of the Polish soldiers and have been threatened with pogroms unless they pay certain contributions in money, cigarettes and sugar.(p.3).  Occasionally military authorities could be persuaded to intervene, but more often they allowed or even encouraged such extortion. The Wohlnnian Report from the JDC comprises more than 100 pages of eyewitness statements, describing the pogroms in horrific detail; many occurred in Minsk district shtetlekh, such as Starobin and Lyuban near Bobruisk (pp. 28-31).

Atrocities occurred in our Kehila, too. Sol Feldbaum, then 22 years old, lost his father and brother during a raid on Pahost. Fifty years later, he reported the details:

       The Polish army killed my father Chaim and my brother Lazar in a pogrom in Pogost on Thursday, the 7th day of Adar (26 February) 1920. I was taken out first to be executed and it seems that I was destined to live because while many bullets were fired at me, I managed to escape and hide until the Polish army withdrew.

      When I ran towards our house, the town was aflame and I heard my mother crying. I presumed she thought I was killed and was crying about my loss. Never expecting the sight awaiting me, I yelled, " Mother, mother, I'm alive!" When I came to where mother and my sister Lilly were standing I found my father and brother lying on the snow near the three synagogues. My brother was dead and my father was wounded. This happened about 9 A.M.

       I ran to get a Feldscher (a retired army medic) as we didn't have a doctor in our town. Before I went for the Feldscher, I carried my father on my back about three city blocks to the end of town because all the houses on the street were on fire. I found the Feldscher, who was 80 years of age and hard of hearing, and I carried him on my back, all the way to the village. By the time I got back with the Feldscher it was 2 p.m. and father was dead. The whole town was destroyed by the fire except the three synagogues and the The whole town was destroyed by the fire except the three synagogues and the Synagogue Street (Shul Street). All told, seven Jews were killed that day. 

      We placed the corpses in the synagogue that Thursday night and sat up most of the night. Friday morning, I and some of the family of the deceased went to dig the communal grave, as the professional gravediggers had deserted the town. The earth was frozen three feet deep and we had to build a fire to defrost the earth. According to Jewish law, the martyrs had to be buried in the clothes they were killed in. It took us until 5 pm on Friday until  we could bury them.

(Excerpted from The Murder of Chaim and Lazar Feldbin and the Destruction of Pogost by Polish Soldiers in 1920 on this KehilaLInk)

Abramson, Henry. 2010. "Russian Civil War."YIVOEncyclopedia of Jews in Eastern EuropeAccessed February 8, 2016.

Davies, Norman. 1996. Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press

“Report on Minsk General Resume.” 31 May 1920. Archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Accessed 19 March 2016.

"Wohlnnian JDC Report, Oct. 1919 - July 1920.” Archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Accessed 3 March 2016.

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Compiled by Carola Murray-Seegert, Ph.D.           Updated April 2018                    Copyright © Carola Murray-Seegert, Ph.D.                     JewishGen Homepage                                  KehilaLinks Directory