The Slaughter of Jews in the Ukraine in 1919
By Elias Heifetz
The following is an excerpt of a report by Elias Heifetz, Chairman, All Ukrainian Relief Committee for the Victims of Pogroms, under the auspices of the Red Cross. It was published in 1921. The entire book is available online free for non-commercial use at books.google.com.
III. Felshtin (Government of Podolia)
The Felshtin pogrom must be regarded not as an independent pogrom but as an episode of the Proskurov massacre. As I stated in my report on Proskurov, a part of the soldiers who revolted on the morning of Saturday, February 15, went along the road to Felshtin, in order to raise a revolt there. Upon arriving there they first arrested the commandant of militia and announced to all that a bolshevik revolution had taken place in Proskurov, and that a similar revolution was to take place in the whole canton of Proskurov. But soon they released the commandant of militia and took from him, as from other people, their signed statements that they unqualifiedly submitted to the newly organized bolshevik regime. However, the same day, February 15, they learned that the bolshevik revolt in Proskurov had failed. They then hastily quitted Felshtin and scattered in various directions.
This episode with the Bolshevist uprising greatly disturbed the local Jewish population. In the evening this disquietude in creased when vague rumors began to arrive about the events in Proskurov. The alarm of the Jews increased more when on the next day, Sunday, these rumors became more definite.
The Jews applied to the commandant of militia, asking him to strengthen the guard. He promised to summon peasants from the neighboring village of Porichie, and also from Proskurov, to help the local guard. For this he received from the Jews a corresponding sum of money. And, in fact, on Monday morning there appeared armed peasant youths from Porichie who surrounded the place. This was the auxiliary guard which the commandant of militia had collected. He himself went to Proskurov on Monday morning. He returned at 6 P.M. and after him appeared Cossacks with “red caps,” that is, those same Gaidamaks who, as was now definitely known in Felshtin, had massacred the Jews in Proskurov.
The Jews understood that they were fated for slaughter and began to hide wherever they could. Most of them hid in cellars and garrets. Many tried to leave the place, but the guard surrounding the place, which the commandant of militia had invited from Porichie, did not let the Jews pass through. Thus the Jews were completely hemmed in; very few got out.
The night was spent in great agitation. Occasionally individual shots were heard.
According to the testimony of the witness Landa, whose house opens on the square of the main street of the town, he saw from the window of his house that several hundred Gaidamaks were collecting in the square, and with them many peasants’ carts from the neighboring villages. In the morning, approximately at seven o’clock, he heard the sound of a horn, and saw the Gaidamaks forming in line on the square. Someone addressed them, after which they scattered through the town. Soon he began to hear the cries of people being murdered. Four Gaidamaks came in to his own house, and one of them made a motion at him with his sabre, but another stopped him. They demanded money of him, and he gave them about 6,000 rubles, assuring them that he had no more, and offering them all his things, but asking that they spare his life. They took no things and went to the door. The same Gaidamak who had stopped his comrade when he threatened him with a sabre said: “You had better hide, because others will come and will certainly kill you.”’ Landa, who was alone in the dwelling, since he had previously sent his wife and only daughter to another place, with the aid of this same Gaidamak got up into the garret by a hanging ladder, which the Gaidamak handed up to him in the garret, where he hid it. From the garret Landa was able to view all the horrors which were taking place in Felshtin. He saw old men and children dragged out of the houses and murdered. After a long time he saw three women near his house, and thinking that one was his wife, jumped down to look at the body. He found that it was not his wife, but did not venture to return to his dwelling because the ladder remained in the garret. He then ran into the house of a Russian neighbor and begged for refuge, but was driven out. Then he ran into the garret of a neighboring house and hid there in the straw. Two lads of the Porichie guard saw this, and pursued him; they went up into the garret, but did not find him. They tried to set the straw on fire, but did not succeed.
Another witness, Sviner, who had recently returned from the front, tells how he, with his mother and sisters, hid in their house, and several groups of Gaidamaks visited them. He bought them off with money. When the last group appeared, he had no money left. He went out on the street to them and began to beg them to spare him. He took refuge in cunning and turned to one Gaidamak and said that he had lain with him in the trenches during the war. The Gaidamak began to look him over, and then turned his glance towards his legs and said: “You have some fine shoes, give them to me.” He gladly agreed, and went into the house with the Gaidamalcs and took oft his boots. The Gaidamak in turn took off his own boots and put on Sviner’s. Then be took out of his pocket a fresh pair of stock ings, gave them to Sviner, and helped him put on his old boots. Having received a pair of rubbers also, he turned to his companions and said : “We won’t kill a man with whom I sat in the trenches.” Towards evening Sviner and his family, not knowing that the massacre was over, decided not to stay in the house any longer, and, making their way through the corpses on the street, they all left the town and spent the whole night in the fields. They only returned on the next day, when they learned that the town was quiet. Sviner then went to the house of his brother, who had been president of the Jewish community. With difficulty, walking over bodies, he got to the house, and there found his brother, his wife, her parents, and also several other people who bad hidden in the house, all murdered.
The witness Kreimer states that he was in Proskurov at the time of the pogrom there. Having saved his life, on Sunday, February 18, at 12 noon, he started on foot for Felshtin, where he regularly lives. But at the village of Malinichi he was arrested by a militiaman and taken to the militia headquarters. The commandant of militia said he must take him back to Proskurov, to the commandant’s. When he said he would be shot there and begged him not to send him there, the commander of militia replied that he himself would undergo a serious risk if he did not do so. He showed him a telegram received from Kiverchuk, commandant of Proskurov, telling him to shoot on the spot, or send to him in Proskurov to be shot, all agitators and Jews.
At this time militiamen brought in an entire family which had escaped from Proskurov in the same way and was heading for Felshtin. But when asked whence and whither the family was going, the head of the family was clever enough to answer that they were going from Felshtin to Proskurov. Then the commander of militia took steps to send this family back to Felshtin. The witness Kreimer made use of this and immediately asked this family to tell his relatives in Felshtin of his dangerous situation, and to ask them to spare no means what ever to save him. After this the commander agreed to let him stay in the village till the next morning. But after some time, approximately two hours, the militiamen brought in sixteen other Jews, who had escaped from Proskurov. Then the commander of militia declared that he could not keep such a crowd of people until morning, and decided to send all of them, including Kreimer, to Proskurov at once. They were already placed oa carts, but at this time a telephone call came from Felshtin and the (Felshtin) commander of militia, who knew him, asked insistently for Kreimer. Then it was again decided to let them all stay in the village till morning. In the evening Kreimer succeeded in speaking with a certain local Jew, who entered into negotiations with the commander of militia on his behalf and that of four other Jews, to let them go to Felshtin for a fixed sum. The amount agreed upon was five thousand rubles, which was paid. Owing to this, Kreimer and the four other Jews, with the latter’s families, succeeded in getting away in carts to Felahtin. But the other Jews, not having money to pay a thousand rubles apiece, were taken back to Proskurov. Kreimer arrived in Felshtin on Monday during the day; in the evening the Gaidamaks arrived there. He succeeded in getting his relative to a neighboring village in good time, and he himself hid in the cellar, where he spent the whole night; and likewise all the next day. Through a crack in the boards with which the cellar was covered he watched various episodes of the massacre, and also saw how the militiamen, especially peasants, stole goods from the shops, and also property from the houses.
The witness Schneider assures us that telegrams similar to the one received from Kiverchuk by the military commander in Malinichi, were sent also to other villages and hamlets, and that owing to them many Jews were shot on sight. He knows of the fact that a Jewess named Brauer, who was fleeing with her children from Proskurov, was in this manner led out to be shot, but ransomed herself for a large sum of money. The same witness Schneider states that he was well acquainted with the head of the post and telegraph bureau, who likewise managed the local Bureau of Information, and that he went to see him at twelve o’clock noon to find out about the situation. While he was there the postmaster was called on direct wire from Proskurov, and remained at the telephone more than an hour. When he returned, Schneider asked him : “Well, what do they tell you from Proskurov?” The other answered that the Gaidamaks had gone out over the whole canton of Proskurov, and would probably come to Felshtin, too. When he asked ‘what was going to happen in Felshtin then-surely not a repetition of the horrors in Proskurov, the other gave an evasive answer. Upon the repetition of the question he made no reply. Then Schneider hastily said good-bye to him, so as to communicate what he had heard to the Jews. As he left the postmaster said to him : “Come and see me this evening.” But Schneider in his heart replied that he had no time to go visiting at such a time.
It is to be noted that the Gaidamaks arrived the evening be fore, but nevertheless did not let the Jews leave their houses. Schneider spent the night from Monday to Tuesday, the whole day Tuesday, and the following night, in the cellar where he had hidden himself. He did not know that the massacre bad ended at two o’clock on Tuesday. Only on Wednesday morning did he come out of the cellar. But even then corpses in great numbers were still lying about the streets. He started to help the wounded and with this object went to the public hospital. The militia commander happened to be there, and Schneider was an involuntary witness to the following conversation of the militia commander with the regional (“government,” gubernia) commander from Kamenetz. Evidently in reply to a question about the happenings in Felshtin, the militia commander re ported : ‘’Monday morning some Cossacks appeared, who said they were Gaidamuks Their ataman suggested to me that I should not hinder them from dealing with the Jews as they might see fit. And when he asked me whether I consented to this, I replied: ‘I haven’t the power to oppose you, and I shall not interfere with you.’ “ Further he communicated the facts about the massacre that had taken place in the town, and stated that the number of killed was about 500. “Before leaving the place,’’ he said, “the same ataman said to me : ‘Don’t interfere with the peasants ; let them do what they think best. Let them take that which the Jews have sucked out of the people for such a long time.’ “ And, in fact, the peasants did come with carts, and plundered the property of the Jews.
At Felshtin there were gathered several hundreds of Gaidamaks; that is, apparently, all the Gaidamaks who were in Proskurov, since the whole third Gaidamak regiment consisted of only several hundreds all told.
It is characteristic that some of the Gaidamaks who arrived at Felshtin on Monday evening went to Jewish homes and asked for lodgings. They were not only furnished with lodgings, but fed an abundant supper with sweetmeats. These Gaidamaks behaved themselves very decently and even respect fully. They declared that they had come to Felshtin without any evil intentions, and that they would go back the next day. However, in the morning, after the signal-horn, those same Gaidamaks cut down the very same Jews who had entertained them.
The question has arisen how to reconcile the massacre in Felshtin with the promise, which, according to Verkhola and others, Semosenko gave on Sunday to the session of the council, namely, to call the Gaidamaks back from Felshtin. The Jews of Felshtin declare that Semosenko gave orders to this effect by telegraph, but that the .telegram was hidden by the head of the post and telegraph bureau. This rests on an evident mis understanding. The distance from Proskurov to Felshtin is only 25 versts in all, and the Gaidamaks who came to Felshtin Monday evening unquestionably left Proskurov on the morning of the same day. It is clear that what was needed was not for Semosenko to recall the Cossacks from Felshtin, but simply not to send them there. But it is possible that it was no longer in Semosenko’s power to keep them in Proskurov.
We must remember that the Gaidamaks had been promised bloody sport with the Jews in Proskurov for three days. But the experience of the first day, Saturday, surpassed the expectations, apparently, of Semosenko and Kiverchuk themselves. It was therefore decided to stop the massacre in Proskurov.
But at the same time the Gaidamaks, having tasted Jewish blood, got a liking for it, and showed a desire for further slaughter. It was not so easy, apparently, to stop them. Besides this, the telegrams sent out all over the canton by Kiverchuk, of which mention has been made, stirred up the entire canton. From Kivercbuk’s point of view, after what had happened in Proskurov, the capital of the canton, it would have been unjust, perhaps insulting, to the rest of the canton, to leave it entirely without Jewish blood. However this may be, at any rate, the Gaidamak received permission to go out into the canton. Moreover we must remember that they were afforded freedom to act on their own responsibility. It depended on them to act in this way or that. This explains the fact that in Yarmolintsy, where the bolsheviki had also been, they contented themselves with a considerable sum of money. The local Jews went out of the town to meet them and furnished this sum to them; and they did not start a massacre. But when they came to Felshtin they found a pogrom-like frame of mind already prepared there. This frame of mind had been created by the guard from Porichie, which the militia commander had summoned, and also by the commander of militia himself, who, according to all the evidence, sympathized and co-operated with the pogrom. Even his eighty-year-old father, during the massacre, took a stout board in his hands and finished killing wounded Jews, as is confirmed by several witnesses who saw it from the garret where they were hiding. This pogrom·like frame of mind was also helped on by the bead of the post and telegraph bureau, who was informed of everything, but not only did nothing to avert the pogrom, but did not even try to mitigate it. This is made sufficiently clear from the testimony of the witness Schneider. Under the influence of this pogrom-like frame of mind, the debauch of the Gaidamak horde in Felshtin was irrestrainable.
The pogrom in Felshtin lasted several hours. There were people killed, and 180 wounded. Of the wounded more than a hundred died of their wounds. Thus the killed amounted in all to 600 people, which amounts to nearly a third of the Jewish population in the town; it contained in all about 1,900 Jewish inhabitants.
It should be observed that in Proskurov the Gaidamaks, who had taken an oath on Saturday to slay but not to steal, honestly fulfilled their sacred oath. Robberies on the part of the Gaidamaks were rare there. But from Saturday to Tuesday, when the Felshtin massacre took place, several days had elapsed, and in this time the sanctity of the oath, apparently, had evaporated from the consciousness of the Gaidamaks. In Felshtin, robberies went hand in hand with murders.
It must also be noted that while in Proskurov the assaults on women were isolated, in Felshtin there were a great many. The majority of the murdered women had first been violated, and many women who were not killed also suffered violation. Twelve cases were registered in which the unfortunate women needed surgical attention as a result.
As they left after the giving of the signal by trumpet, the Gaidamaks poured kerosene and benzine over five of the best houses in town and set them on fire. Thus these champions completed their work for the welfare of the Ukrainian fatherland, and thus ended this bloody bacchanalia in Proskurov and Felshtin.
(End of A. I. Hillerson’s Report.)