Trudoliubovka Pogrom – date and perpetrator


Collated by Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, Israel August, 2005. Sources translated from Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian


Opinions expressed are those of the persons contributing them and not necessarily of the coordinators of this site.


Note: Trudoliubovka was also known to the Jews by its popular name “Engels”


"Megilat Hatevakh", The Scroll of Slaughter, A.D. Rosenthal

"Trudoliubovka (a Jewish colony, district of Yekaterinoslav) "In the month of May in the year 1919 there burst into the colony Trudoliubovka, a large camp of partisan peasants from the surroundings, about eight hundred armed men. They deployed in the street, broke into the houses, dragged the Jews outside, clubbed them with the butts of the rifles and drove them to the "assembly". In one barn they collected about one hundred and fifty people and demanded from them that they should hand over to them the weapons they possessed. When the Jews handed over to them the small amount of weapons which they possessed, the peasants closed the barn and set it alight on all its sides. They set guards around the barn. Anyone who tried to escape via the roof, the guards slashed them with their sabers. Six Jews who made an attempt to flee were stabbed and the remainder were burnt. And while one gang was engaged with the burnt ones, another gang was deployed on the houses and raped all the women and young girls who were in the colony. And the weeping and shrieking of the tortured ones mingled with the cries of the burnt ones, and a sharp choking odor of the flesh of the men roasting in the fire was carried in the air."

Chaim Freedman – analysis “Our Fathers’ Harvest – Supplement” 1990.

This description should be compared with the eyewitness report which appears in Rokhel Luban’s memoirs. The date above is incorrect; see below.

The identity of those responsible for the pogrom on Trudoliubovka and Nechaevka (Engels and Peness) was cast in some doubt by historians who studied the period. Attempts have been made to clear the name of Nestor Machno, the notorious leader of the peasant army which achieved considerable power in the region in which the Jewish agricultural colonies were located.

Rokhel Luban , in her memoirs, does not identify the group of `bandits' who were responsible for the pogrom in Trudoliubovka. However this cannot be taken as any indication that their identity was not known to the survivors. A study of the memoirs reveals various instances wherein people are not referred to specifically by name (for example, Rokhel's great-grandparents) or events known to her were omitted (the deaths of her uncles Rabbi Zalmen and Mendel Komisaruk). Her memoir was not meant to be an exhaustive historical document. Rather it was principally a record of the events which she was personally involved in, to the best of her memory sixty years later. As such it is a remarkable document.

However, in a letter to Chaim Freedman (Aug.26 1964), Rokhel states:

`During the Christmas holidays of 1918, when my husband, I and our baby girl Chaya (Clara) were visiting with my parents, many Jewish settlements were massacred by bandits called Machnovtsi including ours. My father, husband, brothers Shmilik, Pinchas and Velvl were murdered.'

Furthermore, the identity of the perpetrators of the pogrom was clearly stated by Wiliam Komesaroff of Melbourne who heard it from the survivors who came to his family's Kolonya, Grafskoy. He had no doubt, along with all members of the family living in the region at the time, that Makhno was responsible.

There is a conflict between the sources and the eyewitnesses as to the date of the pogrom. As quoted in `Our Fathers' Harvest' (p.47), the chronicle of pogroms by A.D.Rozenthal `Megilat Hatevakh' places the date as May 1919.However Rokhel Luban knew that it was at Christmas time 1918 as stated above. In her memoirs she clearly states that the Kolonya was threatened on Thursday December 21 and the pogrom took place on Sunday December 24. Rokhel's daughter Clara Berchansky recalls her mother telling her that the pogrom took place on the day before Christmas. It can be concluded that Rozenthal's date was in error, perhaps confused with a pogrom which took place on Kolonya Gorkaya in May 1919. See the Yelishevitch memoirs for details of the Gorkaya pogrom.

The most extensive analysis of the problem is presented in the Hebrew `Haavar', a journal devoted to research of the history of Russian Jewry (No.16, 1969). The noted historian Yehudah Slutski goes to extensive lengths to exonerate Makhno. The following quotations summarize his essential thesis:

`All the armies which fought on the lands of the Ukraine persecuted the Jew to some extent or other. But opposed to this fact was the principle that most of the governments which acted in the Ukraine were dependent on foreign support and these countries forced them to oppose the pogroms. At the same time that their soldiers were engaged in persecution of the Jews, these governments issued manifestos denouncing such actions. It is difficult to know whether these were issued to appease foreign opinion, or were meant to stop the bloodshed.

Most of the Red Army excesses were perpetrated by units enlisted in the Ukraine, such as the Red cavalry under Budyoni and the Taratchni Brigade. The Red Army command relentlessly called on its soldiers to desist, and in the final analysis, the Jews of the Ukraine began to regard the Red Army as their sole savior.

In contrast, the White Army, or Army of Volunteers, commanded by Denikin, is recorded in the annals of Jewish History as one of the blackest names and spillers of Jewish blood. It was comprised of monarchist and anti-Semitic forces. As a ravaging force the White Army gained its reputation between June 1919 and March 1920 during its advance across the Ukraine and Russia via Moscow and its retreat to the Crimea. During this period close to two hundred pogroms took place. However, the White generals, seeking financial aid in Western Europe, issued orders forbidding the excesses. Such orders were doomed to failure due to the innate anti-Semitism of the forces who regarded the Jews as communists.

With the withdrawal of the German army from the Ukraine at the end of 1918 a Ukrainian-Soviet government was established. From the beginning of 1919, many pogroms were perpetrated under the name of the commander of the Ukrainian army Simon Petlura, either directly by his forces or by the peasant bands allied to him, particularly that led by Zelioni. In all, 800 such pogroms took place. The excesses perpetrated by the various Ukrainian bands were also in opposition to the declarations of their leaders.

The major Ukrainian popular force was that led by Nestor Makhno, the son of a peasant family from the large Ukrainian village Gulyai Polye. Under the Tsarist regime he had been imprisoned for anarchist activities. When the revolution broke out he returned to his village and raised a local peasant army whose immediate aim was to impound the estates of the nobility. Many landlords were killed. With the withdrawal of the Germans at the end of1918, Makhno held power over a wide area of the Eastern Ukraine and with the cooperation of local communist forces captured the city of Yekaterinoslav. Upon being driven out of the city by Petlura, Makhno withdraw to the region surrounding his village.

The communists never accepted the fact of an independent force not under their command, nor did Makhno accept central Soviet authority. But the communists benefited from Makhno's 50,000 strong army in its contribution to the defeat of the Whites under Wrangel in October 1920.Immediately after the defeat of the Whites, the Red Army set about the systematic destruction of the Makhno forces until Makhno was forced to become a political exile in August 1921. '

Slutski then quotes various sources relating to Makhno's role in the anti- Jewish excesses:

`The `National Secretariat of Ukrainian Jews' stated during the period of the pogroms: "A special place is held for the actions of the Makhno bands which waged complete destruction in the Yekaterinoslav-Pavlograd region."

The journal `Reshumot' (1920) refers to: "the well known wild animal Makhno who was known for his cruelty and his army which was drunk with blood."

`Jewish Agriculturalists in the Steppes of Russia' (Israel 1965)' states:" The Jewish colonies in the Yekaterinoslav province were situated in the centre of activity of the anarchist bands, Makhno. Almost all the colonies of Yekaterinoslav suffered from attacks. All the inhabitants of the colonies Trudoliubovka and Nechaevka, who numbered 1000 people - were murdered. The property was looted completely and since then no Jewish foot has entered those colonies."

Slutski denies this report with the claim:

`If indeed such pogroms took place, the Soviet historians would not desist from telling about them and denouncing Makhno. The sole incident blamed on Makhno was the killing of 22 Jews in the small colony Gorkaya.'

Arshinov in his `History of the Makhno Movement' (Berlin 1923) claims that many Jews served in Makhno's army. He states that the leaders of the colonies met with Makhno who proposed they set up self-defence units.

The Jewish historian of the Ukrainian pogroms, Eliyahu Chernikover did not complete his book on the subject such that he did not relate to Makhno in writing. The poet Lissin claims that Chernikover told him in 1935:" That he (Makhno)was guilty of a series of excesses I have no doubt. But I must state that the number of pogroms carried out by Makhno's men was considerably smaller than those perpetrated by Petlura, Denikin, Grigoryev and others. It is enough that the simple Jew in the Ukraine always saw Makhno as the attacker and the fear of Makhno was great."

Volin, the Jewish defender of Makhno, also related his conversations with Cherikover whom he claims stated:

`Every time when I came to check the facts I have been obliged to declare that on the day in question no Makhnovist unit could have been at the place indicated in the testimony. All his army was situated far from such a place. I checked and established the facts, each time absolutely, at the place and time of the attacks, a unit of Makhno's army was not engaged in the vicinity. I could not establish the presence of a unit of Makhno's army in any place in which took place attacks on Jews. Therefore the attacks were not the work of Makhno's men'

Slutski adopts unquestioningly the above hearsay evidence reputed to Cherikover, ascribing pogroms in the region in the summer of 1919 to Denikin. Slutski concludes:

`We have no evidence of attacks perpetrated by Makhno's men in their region, aside for the attack on Gorkaya.The name which has been ascribed to Makhno as one of of the leaders of excesses against the Jews in the Ukraine has no basis. Makhno negated hatred of Jews and his efforts to restrain his men and protect the Jews of his region is worthy of praise.'




`Nestor Makhno' written by Michael Malet (London 1982) presents a tabulated chronology of Makhno's career. Of particular interest are the following entries:

27.11.1918:  Permanent occupation of Hulyai Pole.

26.12.1918:  Bolshevik and insurgent forces under Makhno attack Katerinoslav.

12.5.1919:  Gorkaya incident.

6.6.1919:  Whites take Hulyai Pole.


Presumably these dates are accoding the the Julian calander.


Another book seeking to exonerate Makhno is "Vek Voli" by Moshe Goncharok, published in 1996 by the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, Israel.


There are a number of Internet sites which continue to defend Makhno.

“The Makhnovists on the National and Jewish Questions”



Sources and Reanalysis

Chaim Freedman August 2005.


Rokhel Luban’s memoirs (compiled until her death in 1978).

Trudoliubovka Pogrom (extract)

It was not very long until Christmas, 1918. All my brothers heard that Grisha and I were coming home so they came home. The times were not very good. Once there came a White recognizance unit. They found nothing in the Kolonya but they plundered. Everyone felt that a storm was coming. Friday and Shabbes went by in terror. Sunday morning Father wanted to travel for good water. The wagon was soon harnessed when Father came into the house and said that the whole Kolonya was surrounded by bandits.

Mama had first sent my little brothers to go to Kheder but it did not take long for them to come home weeping. They had been stripped of their boots and coats and all the children had been sent home barefoot and naked.

All the men were called to an assembly, actually in Moshe Nol's yard. Two bandits with cocked rifles faced us. One gave a look at my sister and said: "She is a spy; she has black eyes!" My mother stood up, stood by my sister and said: "First you will have to kill me before you can kill her!" One said: "Let us take them." The second smote my husband with his `Nogaika' ( whip). He was still weak from his operation. There were shouts as Pinkhas and Velvel came.

Mama cried out such that the heaven would split. I thought that perhaps they will surely beat them. And I dragged and begged Mama she should go. He was ready to shoot. When we were back in the house Mama tore out her hair from her head, banged her head on the wall and begged her father, the Tsaddik ( Saint) that he should take immediately her children to him alive.

The bandits meanwhile left her alone and dragged from the cup boards tablecloths and bed linen and with a sword cut them to shreds. They found our coats. Then a bandit in a wagon rode up and banged on the window: "Let's go now." When they left our house we went quickly to the third house where they had taken our dear ones. The neighbor from the house came with us to open the house with the key. She said:" We have nothing to go in for." Nothing could be heard from the house. The door was locked. Through the window I saw a broken head, a chopped foot, and a chopped hand.

We all went quickly to the assembly. From all the houses came the same chant. All were hurrying to the assembly. There was a shout: "They have all been burnt!"

We could not believe it. We hurried and arrived at the place: a great heap of black ashes. We screamed so much with dismay. When the bandits came to the second Kolonya Peness they had only time to kill nineteen Jews when the Goyim came and said:" Get going, the Whites are coming." So they saved the remaining Jews.

In the `house of fire' of the Starosta was a `Saray'( barn). They drove everyone inside and sealed them in. We found from my father an `anitsha'  (sock). This meant that they were made to remove their boots and clothes.

We were left naked and barefoot. The first night we hid in the cemetery with the children. Another neighbor with her children also took a wagon and horse and we traveled to a German village. That day was very cloudy for us in the heart. We started to travel; Mama, my sister, my brother Zalmen and the youngster Leibl and me with my child. (Murdered in the pogrom were Rokhel’s first husband Grigory Berchansk, her father Avrom Hillel Namakshtansky and her brothers Shmilik, Pinkhas and Velvel). When we proceeded they shot so we turned around and rode back to the Kolonya.

There firstly we learnt that in the Hintisher Gasse the bandits killed all the women and children. Then the leader of the bandits gave an order to leave the women alone and children from thirteen years were to be set free. One little boy of six years old hid under the bed when the bandits came in. And he saw how the murderers slaughtered everyone.

In our house we blocked the window with a cushion and stood a lamp on the table. When a little child wanted to make a sound we used to close his mouth. The pogrom had been on Sunday and so we existed until Thursday. I thought that the whole world must be like this and I used to think that I surely would live and find out what sort of a world there was to see.

Thursday, early in the morning we heard that a Minyan of Jews ( the quorum of ten men required to hold prayers, in particular for the dead) had come from Kaminka (Tsarakonstantinovka) to bury the dead. They broke the windows where the bodies lay in the houses. The blood saturated the earth. They took a swig of whiskey to give them strength to carry out their holy work. They carried them, stiff as boards and loaded them on a Britchka ( cart). We traveled in a wagon to look at our dear ones for the last time. But they had to finish and get back. So they went from house to house. They went to the cemetery where they had taken the mound of ashes. We took Father's Tallis ( prayer shawl in which the deceased were normally buried). They had made graves; in one grave they buried the ashes.

We didn't know what to do now. We should get away soon. Friday, very early, we took the wagon with the horse, loaded up and traveled on. As we passed our house we took from the attic a half sack of meal. We opened the stall, let out the cattle, horses and hens and gave them water to drink and to eat. We locked up the doors and set of to travel to Grafskoy to Mama's brothers.


Sequence of events according to Rokhel Luban’s memoirs:


Firstly Shmilik went to the Starosta Moshe Nol and told him everything. He immediately called an assembly. That was Thursday, 1918, December 21st. They quickly called everyone to the assembly. [But Dec 21st 1918 Julian was a Friday]


Friday in the morning I took the revolver and wrapped it in a rag. [ Dec.21 1918 Julian; Gregorian Jan. 3, 1919]


Everyone felt that a storm was coming. Friday and Shabbes went by in terror.


Sunday morning Father wanted to travel for good water. The wagon was soon harnessed when Father came into the house and said that the whole Kolonya was surrounded by bandits. [Dec 23 Julian; Jan 5, 1919 Gregorian; Christmas Dec 25. 1918 Julian; Jan 7 1919 Gregorian]


All the men were called to an assembly.

We all went quickly to the assembly. There was a shout: "They have all been burnt!" We arrived at the place: a great heap of black ashes.


The first night we hid in the cemetery.


In the morning it was still. We went home and took the wagon with a horse ….we left and traveled to a German village. …we turned around and rode back to the Kolonya.


The pogrom had been on Sunday and so we existed until Thursday.


Thursday, early in the morning we heard that a Minyan of Jews had come from Kaminka (Tsarakonstantinovka) to bury the dead.


Friday, very early, we took the wagon with the horse …. and set of to travel to Grafskoy to Mama's brothers. [Dec 28 Julian; Jan 10 Gregorian]


We drove to Uncle Mendel, Mama's elder brother. We arrived at his yard and stopped the wagon. Uncle came out of the house and said: "I can't help you with anything as my family are not here at home. I have only come to see what is happening and I am going straight back to them."



Rokhel Luban,  letter to Chaim Freedman (Aug.26 1964):


`During the Christmas holidays of 1918, when my husband, I and our baby girl Chaya (Clara) were visiting with my parents, many Jewish settlements were massacred by bandits (called Machnovtsi) including ours. My father, husband, brothers Shmilik, Pinchas and Velvl were murdered.'


 William Komesaroff (Melbourne, Australia)

(Audio tape of memoirs to Chaim Freedman, 1983)


“About the pogrom that was on in Engels. I notice that in your book that you wrote that A.D. Rosenthal quoted that it happened in 1919 in the month of may and Rokhel said that it was more towards Christmas, December.


Well I distinctly remember it was a fast day and it was getting on towards Spring and the only fast day that we have around December January would be in Teves, that it was the 10th of teves and I very much remember standing on the steps of the synagogue just waiting for the stars to get out so that we can break our fast and Daven Maariv and then break our fast.


And this man came running from the end where the Beis Eylem  [cemetery] is and he was singing out that Engels  [Trudoliubovka] and Peness [Nechaevka] were killed out.


In the 20’s there was a paper in America, a Jewish paper called “The Forward” and Yankel-Leib used to get it. There were copies from 1922-1926. In 1924 it stated that Makhno was in gaol, I think in 1924, he was in gaol in Poland. I don’t know what the result of it was, but he was definitely an anti-Semite, there’s no question, as you said in your book, his name used to shudder Jewish people in particular when they heard it.”


William Komesaroff recalls that the when the news reached Grafskoy all the men were in the synagogue because it was a fast day, the 10th of Tevet. But the corresponding date according to the Julian calendar was December 13th 1918, or according to the Gregorian calendar November 30, 1918. In addition William Komesaroff stated that the season was “towards spring” which also could not have been so at the end of 1918 or beginning of 1919 which was winter. It is possible that his recollection referred to another incident that occurred around 10th Tevet. Nevertheless one cannot discount his recollections of how the news of the pogrom reached Grafskoy, regardless of when that was, and the involvement of Makhno.





Mel Comisarow (Vancouver, Canada):

17 May 2005

According to my Jewish Calendar program 10 Tevet 1918 = Julian Friday, Nov 30 or Gregorian Friday, Dec 13. 


Yakov Pasik (Israel)

11 May 2005

1. In memoirs of pogrom Rochel names date on Dec 21 1918 -  eve
of Christmas. Russia has passed to new style of a calendar in 1918.
However Russian orthodox church till now uses old
Style and celebrates Christmas on Jan 7, that corresponds
on Dec 25 of old style. Thus Rochel used old style (Dec 21 1918 is
on Jan 3 1919) and pogrom in Trudolubovka has
occured approximately on Jan 6 1919.
This Date corresponds to other sources, in particular to a photo.

2. I have checked up what Mahno`s army at this time did. From a site
"... 31.12.1918 after defeat from Petlura`s army Mahno has left
Ekaterinoslav, 5.1.1919 Mahno with group 200 person has returned
in Gulaypole. In January-February 1919 Mahno has organized a number
of pogroms of Colonists in area Gulaypole... "

3. I have checked up conformity of day and date on Dec 21 1918
(on Jan 3 of new style) there was a Friday, not Thursday. Here
in memoirs there is a small mistake.

What to take for a basis Thursday or Jan 3 ?
I think, thursday because She described all the days of week.
Thursday was Jan 2, and day of pogrom - Sunday Jan 5 1919

Yakov Pasik (Israel, May 2005):


Photograph of mass grave in Trudoliubovka – captions states that 175 Jewish farmers were killed by Makhno.



“This photo confirms bloody pogrom in Trudolubovka, specifies quantity of victims and a way of murder. However, who has arranged pogrom on former remains a question. Now in Russian sources there are many materials about struggle of Mahno with pogroms and about participation of Jewish colonists in Mahno`s movement. Communists specially attributed the Jewish pogroms to the ideological enemy” Yakov Pasik..


Д-р Аня Маккаби-Иорш в своих воспоминаниях59 настолько резко высказалась в адрес махновцев, что заставила автора этих строк связаться с ней. В воспоминаниях г-жи Иорш анархисты названы "бандитами батьки Махно", утверждается, что "во всех колониях знали, что бандиты Махно полностью вырезали всех обитателей первых еврейских колоний - ТрудолюбовкиСледующее слово и Предыдущее словоНечаевки". Я процитировал г-же Иорш самые "сильные" места ее мемуаров и попросил указать источники такой информации. В ходе телефонного разговора выяснилось, что автор воспоминаний сама событий, описанных выше, не помнит, а опирается на рассказ матери. На вопрос, не могла ли мать перепутать махновцев с какими-нибудь другими отрядами, ответа не последовало. Я спросил, почему, в таком случае, написано, что о зверствах Махно "знали все". Г-жа Иорш сослалась тогда на "разные энциклопедии, где все это написано". Я спросил, о каких именно энциклопедиях идет речь, но ответа не последовало. Разговор я закончил тем, что процитировал строку из Краткой еврейской энциклопедии, из главы "Погромы": "Нестор Махно и другие главари движения решительно боролись с погромами и расстреливали погромщиков"60. Возражений со стороны автора мемуаров не было...

59. Маккаби-Иорш. "Неугасимая звезда". Гл. XJ-XII - "Алеф" №599.

Babel translation:

Dr. anya Makkabi-Iorsh in her vospominaniyakhshch9 so sharply expressed herself in the address of makhnovtsev, that she forced this author to be connected with it. In the recollections g -ji Of iorsh the anarchists are named by the "bandits of father Makhno", it is asserted that "in all colonies they knew that the bandits Makhno completely cut out all inhabitants of the first Jewish colonies - Trudolyubovki and Nechayevki". I quoted g -of iorsh the very "strong" places of its memoirs and asked to indicate the sources of this information. In the course of telephone conversation it was explained that the author of recollections itself of the events, described above, does not remember, but he rests on the story of mother. To a question, could not the mother entangle makhnovtsev with any other forces, it did not follow answer. I asked, why, in that case, it is written, that about the atrocities Makhno "knew everything". G- Ja of iorsh referred then to the "different encyclopedias, where all this is written". I asked, with what precisely encyclopedias the discussion deals, but it did not follow answer. Conversation I finished fact that it quoted line from the brief Jewish encyclopedia, from the chapter "pogroms": "Nestor makhno and other leaders of motion decisively fought with the pogroms and shot pogromshchikov"'0. Objections from the side of the author of memoirs not there were... 59. Makkabi-Iorsh. "inextinguishable star". Main Xj-xii - "aleph" of №shch99.




William Comisarow (Vancouver, Canada) memoirs 1996


“After the Civil War, some of the Jewish colonies suffered from raids organized by bandits who lived in the area. Our colony Novozlatopol was fortunate in this respect as we had an organized “samochrana” a self defence group.We had lots of firearms and ammunition left by the retreating armies.


In 1919 Hersche Wiseman’s daughter and her family moved to Novozlatopol from Colony Engels whe her husband was killed in the 1919 pogrom in Engels.


One day I saw the bandit, Machno, who was from Gulaipole, in Novozlatopol with several of his horsemen. He was a short man, shorter than the emn who were with him. He was also lame. The rumor was that he was in town to negotiate an agreement to leave us alone.


The Jews blamed Machno’s gang for every raid in the area, for which it may or may not have been responsible. A delegation from Novozlatopol once went to machno to discuss his raids against the Jews. Machno’s reply was “What can I do ? They’re just a bunch of ignorant peasants”, referring to his own men.”


Moshe Avigal (Beigal) “ Morai Verabotai” (Tel Aviv 1960)

And with the passage of a half Jubilee of years, did Khavidor [an Ukrainian childhood friend] also go out in the Makhno pogroms  which took place in the 20’s, to massacre the people of my settlement [Nechaevka / Engels] most of whom were slaughtered, strangled, burnt, raped for the Sanctification of the Holy Name, and with them members of my family the Jewish farmers, the toilers, them and their children, who sank into the depths until this day ?”

Yaakov Yelishevitch, (Israel, memoirs 1959)

“In the colony of my birth I left the grave of my father of blessed memory who was murdered in 1919 by the marauder Machno and his men. Today, 36 years after my immigration to Israel, I am setting out the memories of my childhood and youth which are connected with the Jewish colonies in Russia. I was a witness to development of the colonies and to their destruction and I am happy that I was privileged to be a partner in the building of Israel and the revival of the State of Israel.

The period was a period of anarchy. Camps of marauders acted throughout Russia as if it belonged to them. Every soldier inflicted "justice" with his bayonet and the colonies were a target for "Batko Machno" (father Machno) the notorious marauder.

In 1919 the Machnovtsi arrived and in one night killed 33 men in our colony after they gathered them in the synagogue.

Amongst those slain were my father, Yehoshua of blessed memory, and his brother Gotlieb. In another colony in our neighborhood "Khledidarovaka" they killed 105 people. In another colony they killed half of the colony. As stated the colonies suffered by the changing of forces "Whites" and the "Reds" and simply bandits. But not all the colonies were helpless. In the colony Zlatopol a "Self Defense” was organized. This defense received 200 rifles from Machno himself so that they could defend themselves from other bands hostile to Machno. Since the marauders did not attack other than in bands of 50-100 men, the self-defence could drive them off after an exchange of shots.”


Mordekhai (Mottel / Mark) Komisaruk , ( Kozil-Orda, USSR.memoirs 1959)

The third daughter of the grandfather Pinkhas was called Dina. Her husband was Avraham Hillel Namakshtansky. They lived in colony Engels, in Russian Trudoliubovka, he worked the land. They had boys with the names Khaim, Shmuel, Pinkhas and a girl Yokhved, and more than that I have forgotten their only was called Rokhel, she was the eldest. The end of the family was in 1918 when Machno [attacked] the colony and took all the Jews into the Shule (synagogue) and there they shot them and set fire to the Shule and burned them.

Abram Komisaruk (Minsk, USSR. Memoirs 1988) (son of the above)

“Jews-colonists used to live in very good relation with their neighbors - Ukrainians, but in year 1919 scam of Ukrainian nation, bandits of Makhno and Petliura began to raid Jewish colonies and massacre population. From the hands of Makhno bandits perished all nephews of my grandfather (I remember them well). When it became unsafe to live in the village, grandfather moved to Pavlograd.”

“Chassidim” journal of Chabad, Rosh Chodesh Tamuz 5754 [1994]

Discourse of the Rebbe, 1962:

When I was a child, there happened once a pogrom by the “Makhnovtses”(armed bands of marauders) and ……

Neville Lachowsky, Brussels


My father Leon Lachowsky was born in Kremenchug in 1894.  He was a Menchevik and eventually was incorporated by the Bolcheviks into the red army and fought against General Denikin's white army. 


During the "machnochtchina" my father was in  the Yekaterinoslav area and used to tell that he had seen Makhno.  He talked a lot about the civil war in Ukraine and I can confirm that he was adamant that, although many atrocities were committed by all the parties involved, Makhno never ordered any pogroms and didn't tolerate Petluria and his bands who committed them.


Lena Gavor/Kabo (Australia)

I wonder about Machno too as Vladimir's grandmother who lived at the same village with Machno (Gulyay-Pole) remembered him without a grudge. Looking for staff about Jewish colonies on the Russian net I came across some studies about him. We'll read them and I will let you know about our opinion.


But I can give you a view from another perspective. My Russian grandfather was talented writer Artem Vesely who wrote in the 1920s an epic novel about Civil War entitled 'Russia washed in blood'. In 1937 he was arrested and executed for his writings. Recently I was scanning and re-reading this novel (I have made his site in the Internet). He does not write about Jews but he brilliantly depicts that the revolution was not made from above. It had enormous support among common people who understood it in their own way - all laws, all moral norms do not exist any more. It was just criminal lawlessness which engulfed many areas of Russia. The commanders of these numerous detachments could hardly control their members and often approved their plunder and atrocities. Not surprisingly that Jews were among the first victims (as always).



Anarchist Idol Nestor Makhno and Peasant Counterrevolution


Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 839, 7 January 2005.

19 August 2004

 (Note: This is a communist source)


Dear Workers Vanguard,

The leaflet protesting an anarchist attempt to exclude Spartacists from a radical event at the Democratic National Convention, reprinted in the August 6, 2004 issue of Workers Vanguard, contains a historical inaccuracy.

It refers to the "counterrevolutionary exploits of Makhno and others who sided with the imperialist-allied White Guards against the Soviet workers state."

Petrichenko, the leader of the semi-anarchist 1921 mutiny of the Kronstadt sailors, did indeed have connections with White Guards and foreign imperialists, as is documented in anarchist historian Paul Avrich's book, "Kronstadt 1921."

Nestor Makhno certainly perpetrated numerous counter-revolutionary exploits. His secret police tortured and murdered many communists. His Ukrainian peasant followers committed frequent pogroms against Jewish petty shopkeepers and merchants. But his guerilla bands did side with Soviet forces against the landlord-backed White Guards.

Trotsky describes in his "Military Writings" how Makhno's mutiny in the spring of 1919, which reflected Ukrainian peasant antagonism to the overwhelmingly Russian and Jewish working class of the Ukrainian cities, played a major role in the collapse of the Southern front, and led to White Guard commander Denikin's seizure of the Ukraine that summer. But Makhno never sided with Denikin. To the contrary. The Makhnovite insurgency played a major role in the collapse of White rule in the Ukraine that fall. And when Denikin's successor, White Guard commander Wrangel, invaded the Ukraine in 1920, a Bolshevik-Makhnovite alliance was reconstituted, which lasted until Wrangel was driven out.

Makhno did attempt to ally with other anti-Bolshevik forces in the Ukraine. Notably, there was Makhno's attempt to ally with the forces of fellow former Red Army commander Grigorev. Grigorev had the worst record of murder, rape, torture and other atrocities committed against Jews of all the peasant bandit leaders ravaging the Ukrainian country-side during the Russian Civil War.

This alliance ended badly for Grigorev. Makhno murdered him, and Grigorev's peasant followers joined Makhno's rebel army—but continued to commit pogroms.

Makhno himself was not personally anti-Semitic, indeed there were Jews in his "collective." In a sense, it could be said that Makhno was simply following anarchist principle. If his secret policemen were torturing prisoners, and if his peasant followers were committing pogroms, what right did Makhno, as just one member of the "collective," have to object?

Fraternally, John H.

YSp Replies: While it is true that there was no formal military alliance or documented connection between Makhno and the White armies in the Ukraine, these facts do not change the substance of the de facto bloc in action between the two. The formulation on Makhno in the Boston Spartacist League/Spartacus Youth Club leaflet is a part of a polemic against the "anti-authoritarian" Bl(A)ck Tea Society (BTS), for whom "democracy" is a cudgel to wield against communists:

"The BTS follows in the worst of the anarchist tradition, from Prince Kropotkin who preferred the hapless bourgeois politician Kerensky to the Bolsheviks, to the counterrevolutionary exploits of Makhno and others who sided with the imperialist-allied White Guards against the Soviet workers state. At bottom, there isn't much to distinguish the BTS from social democrats and liberals who have and will resort to any means to smear communists as ‘authoritarian,' denouncing the ‘extremism' of right and left, giving oh-so-‘democratic' aid and comfort to the forces of bourgeois repression."

This formulation does not pretend to characterize the nature, extent or evolution of Makhno's relationship with the White forces or the Red Army. We have previously addressed at some length the history of the Makhnoite movement when replying to an anarchist recycling numerous lies and distortions in its defense (see "An Exchange on Nestor Makhno: Peasant ‘Anarchism,' Pogroms and the Russian Revolution," WV No. 656, 22 November 1996).

Especially since the late 1930s—when Trotsky devastatingly exposed the treachery of the Spanish anarchists, who joined in a capitalist government which suppressed workers revolution—anarchists have raised a hue and cry about the fate of the Makhnoite movement (and the Kronstadt mutiny). Today, a popular Anarchist FAQ (3 October 2004) purports to show among other things why the Makhnoite movement was an "alternative" to Bolshevism.

In the section of the FAQ titled "Did the Makhnovists support the Whites?", the authors quote from one of Leon Trotsky's writings on Makhno: "Undoubtedly Makhno actually cooperated with Wrangel, and also with the Polish szlachta, as he fought with them against the Red Army." This translation from the Russian text, taken from Michael Palij's book on the Makhnoite movement, makes it appear that Trotsky—the head of the Red Army—had claimed that Makhno fought directly together with Wrangel and the Polish gentry. In this same piece, Trotsky disavows all rumors of a formal alliance between Makhno and Wrangel. By so rendering Trotsky, the anarchists paint him as purposefully deceitful or woefully ignorant about the relationship between Makhno and the White generals and they dodge the substance of Trotsky's polemic against Makhno. Here is what Trotsky actually wrote: "Without a doubt, Makhno provided de facto aid to Wrangel, as well as to the Polish gentry, since he fought at the same time as they did against the Red Army" (translated from "Makhno and Wrangel," 14 October 1920, Kak vooruzhalas' revolyutsiya [How the Revolution Armed], Vol. 2, Book 2 [1924]).

What was posed in Russia during the Civil War was whether the fledgling workers state would survive or succumb to the organized might of the bosses and landlords. To claim Makhno did not in effect side with the imperialist-allied White Guards against the Soviet workers state for extended periods of time because there was no formal alliance is to accept the alibi for Makhno's counterrevolutionary exploits. The Makhnoite movement showed on the battlefield how there is no "third camp" between the army of the workers state and the military organization of the bourgeoisie.

John H. lists a number of those counterrevolutionary exploits committed by the Makhnoites. The authors of the Anarchist FAQ charge the Bolsheviks with having "engineered" Makhno's outlawing and expulsion from the Red Army. But even when he was a commander in the Red Army, Makhno sabotaged defense of the social revolution, from commandeering supply trains to refusing to collect surplus grain for the Soviet government, while engaging in an anti-Bolshevik ideological campaign. This campaign directed at the Bolsheviks, the lone group in the revolutionary crisis of 1917 to fight for a regime based on soviet power and spearheading its defense, could only serve White Guardism. For example, in May 1919, while still allied with the Red Army, Makhno adopted a neutral position toward Grigorev who was calling for an alliance of all anti-Bolshevik forces, including the White armies.

In writing about the Makhnoite movement, Trotsky recognized that the conflict between the Red Army and Makhno was not one primarily between the ideas of Marxism versus anarchism but rather involved defense of the Soviet workers state against peasant-centered counterrevolution. Many anarchists, e.g., Bill Shatov, a veteran of the American Industrial Workers of the World, actively collaborated with and supported the Bolshevik forces throughout the Civil War. Trotsky later recounted how in 1918 he and Lenin had thought of recognizing an autonomous region for the anarchist peasants of the Ukraine. But this idea was scrapped partially because Makhno's Insurgent Army showed its true loyalties in battle.

In the first instance, these loyalties were dictated not by ideological but by class conflicts. German and Austrian occupation delayed the development of the Russian Revolution in the Ukraine so that the drawing together of the working people and poor peasants against the exploiters and kulaks was incomplete. Makhno's army was drawn from all layers of the peasantry. The fundamental desire of the peasants was not the creation of an anarchist utopia but to possess the land and then to be left alone by gentry, officials, tax collectors, recruiting sergeants and all external agents of authority. The wealthier kulaks in particular did not want the landlords to return but feared above all the rule of the working class and poor peasants.

The anti-state prejudices of the Makhnoite leadership, shared by its peasant base, led them into the camp of enemies of the Soviet state power. But this anti-authoritarian "principle" was one of the few that the Makhnoites respected when confronted by the practical realities of the Civil War. Achieving military success meant forced conscription, summary executions and recruiting anti-Semitic pogromists into their ranks; hostility toward the Bolsheviks meant establishing an alternative government hostile to the central Soviet workers state. As anarchist historian Paul Avrich wrote in his sympathetic account of Makhno (Anarchist Portraits [1988]):

"The Second [Makhnoite Regional] Congress, meeting on February 12, 1919, voted in favor of ‘voluntary mobilization,' which in reality meant outright conscription, as all able-bodied men were required to serve when called up. The delegates also elected a Regional Military Revolutionary Council of Peasants, Workers, and Insurgents to carry out the decisions of the periodic congresses. The new councils encouraged the election of ‘free' soviets in the towns and villages—that is, soviets from which members of political parties were excluded. Although Makhno's aim in setting up these bodies was to do away with political authority, the Military Revolutionary Council, acting in conjunction with the Regional Congresses and the local soviets, in effect formed a loose-knit government in the territory surrounding Gulyai-Polye.

"Like the Military Revolutionary Council, the Insurgent Army of the Ukraine, as the Makhnovist forces were called, was in theory subject to the supervision of the Regional Congresses. In practice, however, the reins of authority rested with Makhno and his staff. Despite his efforts to avoid anything that smacked of regimentation, Makhno appointed his key officers (the rest were elected by the men themselves) and subjected his troops to the stern military discipline traditional among the Cossack legions of the nearby Zaporozhian region."

Since the majority of anarchists in Russia and the Ukraine at the time were generally familiar with the class character and practices of the Makhnoite forces, they did not support the Makhnoites. For this, Voline and Arshinov, the two leading anarchist intellectuals who joined with Makhno, both strongly condemned the anarchist majority. Today, however, almost every anarchist in the world has embraced the Makhnoites as their own. We pointed to this contradiction in concluding our 1996 exchange: "Why is that? Because in their hostility to Leninism, they have bought into the anti-Communist prejudices which pervade the bourgeois society in which they live and which have shaped their political consciousness."




Joseph Komissarouk’s (USA) comments:


Nestor Makhno was a typical warlord, one of those who inevitably appear in a country in civil turmoil and over-saturated with arms in private hands, an able, charismatic, cruel and ruthless leader.


From his own memoirs (incomplete, edited by the Anarchist Volin and published posthumously) he appears as a hysterical person, and in reality was probably much worse than in his depiction.


His personal convictions and his attitude toward Jews are of little, if any, importance. More important, as a lesson from History, is the fact that as soon as civil order in the Russian empire collapsed, the Jewish minority became a target for unleashed savagery of surrounding people, no matter to which camp those savages belonged, and after even many years of relatively peaceful coexistence.


Makhno proclaimed himself an Anarchist Communist, and took it seriously: he kept company with other Anarchists, traveled to Moscow where he used the opportunity to meet the prophet of Anarchism - Kropotkin and Lenin.  He was not interested in Ukrainian nationalism, and he was not obsessed, like Hitler, with Jews, or with the image of Jews as the embodiment of World Evil. From his memoirs he appears less anti-Semitic than the general non-Jewish population of that area, who made up the body of his army. For local peasants to abuse Jews in the time of turmoil was something like a Pavlovian reflex, (Remember, how in Sholom Aleychem’s “Tevye the Milkman” local folks come to Tevye and try to explain that they have no animosity against him, but feel like it is their duty to at least break his windows), for wealthier part of the population all troubles of the revolution and civil war were a result of Jewish conspiracy (Trotsky at al.), but Makhno was a revolutionary himself, not a nationalist, he fought not for the liberation of Ukraine from Russians and Jews, like followers of Skoropadsky or Petlura, but against German/Austrian occupiers, against “white” counter-revolutionaries, as an Anarchist - against state in general, and against Bolsheviks for their betrayal of Ukraine by signing the Brest peace treaty and for self-defense, because Bolsheviks would not and could not tolerate any warlords.


In his memoirs he tells a story about two priests whom Makhno’s bandits hanged for  propaganda against him. In conclusion he says, that this measure worked, other priests ceased meddling in things not of direct concern to them. Sometimes their parishioners asked them sarcastically: “Why don’t you preach any more about Getman and Austro-Germans who saved Ukraine from “Katsaps and Zhids”  (slurs for Russian peasants and Jews)  ?“  and the priests looked for some lame excuse. In other places in the memoirs he tells how he tried unsuccessfully to explain to his friends that anti-Semitism has to be rooted out. In the conclusion of the memoirs he summarizes the glorious revolutionary past of Gulay-Pole and recalls: “Here working peasants in 1905 prevented pogroms, when the well-known in Ekaterinoslav guberniya organizers of “Black Hundreds” and the instigators of Jewish pogroms, the Court Investigator of the First Alexandrovsky precinct Maydachevsky and the young merchants from Alexandrovka, Shikotihin and Minayev, sent their envoys to Gulay-Pole to organize pogroms against Jews.”


Army of Makhno lived off the land;, they had no support from a rear, no source of provision, or horses etc. other than what they obtained by robbery (The Red army was not better in this respect). Units of this army were very volatile, they had no uniforms, an important element of their tactic was to come together for a major operation and then disperse afterward, leaving only the nucleus of an army. This means that detachments of Makhno’s army could rob, burn and kill to their heart’s content, even if Makhno himself did not order all or some of this behavior. (But he ordered a lot of this). As mentioned above, in his memoirs he does not sound like a rabid anti-Semite. Nevertheless, peasant bandits under his command did not need any encouragement from him in this respect.

Something else: for the local population all bandits looked alike, and when some armed mob came to a village, no one was interested in asking them to determine whether this band is under Makhno’s command, or under Grigoriev’s, or Zielony’s, or if they are just for themselves. Similarly, no one asked if they were influenced by the ideas of P.A. Kropotkin, or if they are simple illiterate bandits. So people, probably, called all such bands “Makhno bandits”.  


As William Comisarow wrote:

The Jews blamed Makhno’s gang for every raid in the area, for which it may or may not have been responsible. A delegation from Novozlatopol once went to Makhno to discuss his raids against the Jews. Makhno’s reply was “What can I do ? They’re just a bunch of ignorant peasants”, referring to his own men.”



The Following statement from Slutski shows Slutski’s absolute lack of understanding of how the Soviet ideological brainwashing machine worked:

`If indeed such pogroms took place, the Soviet historians would not desist from telling about them and denouncing Makhno. The sole incident blamed on Makhno was the killing of 22 Jews in the small colony Gorkaya.'

The Communists wanted to make the Soviet people hate Makhno, but did not want to stimulate any sympathy to Jews.

Soviet propaganda never mentioned Jewish suffering or Jews in general more than was absolutely necessary. When talking about Nazi war crimes, the Communists worked hard to mention Jews only along with other victims. For example: “The Nazis killed many innocent victims – people of various nationalities, Jews, Poles, Byelorussians, Ukrainians… ”. The Communists built with state money a huge memorial in memory of the people of the Byelorussian village of Khatyn, who were burned alive following a Nazi punitive command.  But it took relatives of Jews, killed in the Cherven ghetto, many years of struggle against the Soviet bureaucracy to put, at their own expense, a modest marker above the Cherven mass grave, and they succeeded only after the mention of the victims’ nationality was deleted from the proposed inscription. 

The Jewish participation in all sides of the Russian  revolutionary movement deserves separate discussion. At this time I limit myself to note that Jewish Communists, the activists in  “Yevseksia” –  the Jewish Section – were destroyers of the old Jewish way of life, but were not homicidal.

Mel Comisarow’s comments:
Here are the facts as I see them --
1) Makhno's writings are pro-Semitic and he gave arms to the Jews of
Novozlatopol and executed members of his gang who wantonly killed
2) Makhno  had  Jews in his gang and Lev Zadov of Hoopolov was
Makhno's chief of counterintelligence.
3) Other pogromchik (Denikan, Petlura) gangs, with better documented
anti-Semitic credentials, also operated in the region.
4) Some spontaneously formed gangs with no continuing leadership
operated in the region.
5) There was a strong anti-Semitic streak in the culture of the local
peasantry. Much of this was derived from envy and was similar to the
peasantry's hostility towards the German colonists of the region. I.
e.,  the hostility was not solely derived from the preachings of the
Orthodox Clergy. (Remember, the German colonists didn't kill Christ.)
6) Makhno was the most prominent warlord in the kolonya region.
7) Makhno lacked good control over those who were nominally under his command.
8) I have no doubt that renegade bands of Makno's gang killed Jews.
(see 5, 6, 7 above). But this does not establish that Makhno or
Makhno's army were anti-Semitic as a matter of either policy or

Items 5. and 6. above are sufficient to explain the belief that
Makhno was responsible for all progromchik activity in the region.
But commonly held belief does not make it true.



Yaakov Pasik’s comments


On the of role Mahno it is necessary to consider following

1. Russia is the country of traditional anti-Semitism.
Within civil war anti-Semitism became the mass phenomenon
characteristic for all participants of the conflict.

2. There are no proofs, that anti-Semitism was ideology of Mahno.
Whereas the management of other forces openly accused Jews in
all troubles of Russia.

3. In the nearest Mahno`s assistants there were many Jews.
In Mahno`s army there were Jewish military units.
Mahno helped to create forces of self-defense in the Jewish colonies.
Mahno shot organizers of pogroms.
The Jewish environment supported Mahno even after its defeat.
Whereas Jews have killed Petlura for the organization
of pogroms.

4. Mahno was popular in people and represented the greatest danger
for communists. Therefore communists tried to make from Mahno a devil.
They attributed to him all atrocities and pogroms.

5. After defeat of communists in Russia and in Ukraine was outlined
other tendency - to make from Mahno an angel.
True is on the middle. Mahno was not the anti-Semite.
Mahnovzy participated in pogroms but possibly without a command of the heads,
also as it was done by Red Army.
Other participants of civil war were more terrible.

Conclusion by Chaim Freedman (August 2005)

The defenders of Makhno claim that he could not have been anti-Semitic because there were a number of Jews in his organization. This line of reasoning is not logically tenable. Unfortunately, throughout Jewish history, there have been Jews who have acted against the best interests of their people. There were Jews in various parties that took part in the Revolution and Civil War in Russia. The worst example of anti-Jewish activity in the Soviet Union was the Yevseksia, comprised of Jews whose aim was to wipe out Jewish culture and religion. They were instrumental in closing synagogues, schools and Jewish institution and sending Jews to imprisonment and execution.

So the presence of  Makhno’s Jewish collaborators do not help to exonerate him from the overwhelming Jewish opinion that his army and bandit groups carried out pogroms against the Jews, whether or not Makhno was personally present or approved of the actions of some of his forces.

Other groups also were guilt of this activity, Denikin, Skoropadsly, Petlura. Together with Makhno, the Ukrainians were responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Jews and the plight of thousands of orphans.