Zayvel Volkov Pekir
One is not truly dead until one's name is forgotten
The Great War had disastrous effects on Russian society. More than fifteen million Russian men fought in the war (including men from Tarashcha); and more than half were casualties, including 1.6 million killed1. So many men were taken off the farms, that there was not enough food for the populace. The demands of the war for fuel and war matériel caused prices to soar and the populace to starve. The lack of food and other essentials led, in March 1917, to strikes and riots in Petrograd, the capital, and a repressive response by the Tsar's troops, though many of the soldiers were sympathetic to the people's suffering and were reluctant to obey orders. In due course, the Petrograd troops mutinied and joined the revolution.
It wasn't long before the revolution morphed into a vicious four-year civil war. There were the Red Bolshevik Army, the Ukrainian Nationalist Army, the White anti-Bolshevik Army, bands of peasants, roving troops from the defeated Tsarist Army and, until it had to deal with its own defeat, the German Army. And the Jews were victims of all of them. Each army (except the German Army2) motivated by an admixture of the old resentments (alien religion; exploiter of the people) and the refreshingly new accusation that the Jews were an ally of the other army. Renegade Tsarist troops, together with the peasants, engaged in rapine and extortion.
"There was a revolution and all kinds of soldiers began to come in, and there were bandits. They began to kill Jews and to take whatever they had. They beat them until they killed them. They were taking revenge as if they were apostates!"
The Ukrainian Army, under the command of Simon Petlyura, and the White Army, under the command of General A.I. Deniken, were responsible for a significant number of pogroms, deaths, and mayhem perpetuated against Jewish communities. (Estimates of the number of Jews killed exceed 100,000 people.) Some of these communities, including Tarashcha (as testified to by a victim, Sima Sevransky), had self-defense forces. However, Sima stated that the Tarashcha forces were only effective within the town; any Jews who traveled the roads, which was necessary for commerce, were at grave risk, as bandits and partisan units prowled these thoroughfares.
"The people could no longer stand what was being done to them, so the people decided to defend themselves. They got a few rifles and they went around the streets [to make sure] that there was no more killing. It was quiet in the village for a few months, but people could not sit in their houses anymore. They had to travel to markets to earn [money] for food and to live on, so the killing began again.
As soon as they saw a Jew, the bandits came out of the woods and took the money that they [the Jews] had earned, then they killed him [sic]...
The people who had the few rifles could not watch everything and prevent this, because the bandits were like dogs, and there were only twenty people watching [out for the Jews]. This is how we lived: frightened and fearful."
German troops occupied the Ukraine in 1918; some German units were billeted in Tarashcha. This webpage designer's mother, Sima Sevransky, recalled German soldiers living in her house. One day a soldier left his loaded rifle in the house - unsupervised. Sima's brother Sam got hold of the weapon and squeezed-off a round; luckily, no one was hurt. This was one of the less harrowing experiences of the Sevransky family. On another occassion, probably after the German troops were withdrawn, a group of men entered the house and threatened to kill Sima's mother (by forcing the barrel of a rifle into her mouth) if the family did not turn over its valuables. This was not the only such incident that the Sevransky family, and other Jewish families in Tarashcha, had to suffer. And they suffered far worse.
"...Grandfather Levy was already home from the synagogue. He was white as a sheet from fear. We asked him what had happened and he was barely able to speak. He said,'... A gang of bandits came and locked us in the synagogue. They were not letting anyone out. They wanted to burn down the synagogue with everyone in it. A few people climbed out of a back window, so I also jumped out and rolled down the hill and came home. They killed Zavel the butcher and Zavel the carpenter. They were brothers-in-law. They slaughtered everyone on the street.'
...near the pharmacy all the soldiers are standing around playing music and all the people had gotten dressed up to go see them play music...
...They had tricked everyone into coming outside. They had dressed up in nice clothes and had gone to hear them play music. Then they killed all the people. They fell like straw! ..."
Families in Tarashcha, and in towns and villages throughout the Ukraine, endured similar trauma.
There has been a long history of pogroms in the Ukraine, but only a few stand out before those of the twentieth century - the Khmelnytsky Uprising of the mid-seventeenth century and the Koliivshchyna a century later are the most infamous among them.
The late nineteenth century saw the start of a new series of pogroms, again connected with social and political turmoil. The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 was the signal event that preceded the pogroms of that year and of 1882. The Jewish community was charged with the murder because one person, Gesya Gelfman, a Jew, was connected to the assassins; the killers themselves were not Jewish.
Economic forces may have played a role in the rioting; a rising middle class saw the Jews as rivals. There was, as well, a revolutionary movement that encouraged the pogroms in order to promote social instability as a prelude to sweeping away the Tsarist government.
The response of Tsar Alexander III to the rioting was to restrict Jewish economic activities through the promulgation of the May Laws. The response of the Jewish population was the great Jewish immigration to America and to Palestine and increased enthusiasm for Zionism.
The city of Kiev and surrounding villages (perhaps including Tarashcha) were the focus of intense rioting. The worst pogrom of 1881 began in Kiev on 26 April3 and lasted three days in that city. The officials of Kiev made no attempt to stop the rioting. In some areas, the Jewish population established self-defense groups (the most effective one being in Odessa).
The 1881 pogroms resulted primarily in property damage, with relatively few murders. The twentieth century pogroms opened the century with plenty of death. Lasting three years, from 1903 to 1906, the epidemic of pogroms spread throughout Russia. Nationalist groups, e.g., Poles and Finns, resisted Russian efforts to suppress their national languages and cultures and their desire for autonomy. Pogroms directed against Jews were a facet of this nationalism. There also were revolutionary activities in the Ukraine. A Social Democratic4 group was established in Tarashcha by a V.S. Dovgalevskii5 in 1904.
Widespread political and social unrest and revolutionary move- ments led the Tsarist authorities to the deceitful but well-worn tactic of blaming Jews for the political unrest, focusing the people's disenchantment away from the government and towards the Jews. It was also the case that the authorities used brutal force against the rioters and revolutionaries; anyone who defied them was at risk.
Despite the Tsar's best efforts, the central event of this period was the 1905 Revolution. The revolution forced Tsar Nicholas II to issue the October Manifesto, which granted most of the demands of the revolutionaries. However, there was no peace; Jews, strikers, and revolutionaries continued to be assaulted. The Tsar dissolved the Duma in 1906; in 1907 a coup led to the return of autocracy, which would survive for ten tumultuous years.
Note: The people shown in the margins of this page are taken from a list of Tarashcha pogrom victims prepared soon after the 1919 riots. The original Russian list was obtained from the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People. An English version of the victim list can be viewed by clicking on the following links:
maternal grandfather, Zeev Volf Sevransky, who was missing in action.
was a drain on the economy. The resentment of the German troops led to
widespread peasant revolts (incl. in Tarashcha county) against the German
occupiers. A German Corps put down the rebellion in Summer 1918.
set up through political reform.
by Selka Sevransky Baum. This book includes a memoir written by the author of her
experiences during the 1919 Ukrainian pogroms. The names of two of the pogrom victims
that Selka mentions in the passage quoted above – Zayvel the butcher and Zayvel the
carpenter – are also found on a list of victims (Zayvel Litvinovsky & Zayvel Volkov
Pekir, shown in the left column) created by a Soviet Commission investigating the 1919
Ayzik Eyrish age 56
hacked to death