Until 1939 the Jews of Lviv were forbidden to talk about the 1918 pogrom — Andriy Pavlyshyn

The continuation of a conversation with Andriy Pavlyshyn, the translator of Grzegorz Gauden’s book Lviv: The End of Illusions; The Story of the November 1918 Pogrom.

Andriy Pavlyshyn: The Lviv “batiars” are similar to those who stormed the American congress on 6 January 2021, hooligans and bandits who believe they have the right to live by strength, violence, the fist and theft and no politics of any kind should get in their way. These batiars formed the major portion of the detachments of shock troops under the command of a Polish officer in the battle for Lviv and they were the main perpetrators of this pogrom. They were furiously offended. During the period of Ukrainian control of the city of Lviv from 1-21 November, the Ukrainians forged an agreement with the Jewish community who lived compactly and constituted some ninety thousand people. The Jewish community was to form its own armed militia, lightly armed with revolvers, etc. but sufficiently armed to fend off looters. During the daylight hours, the armed batiars fought with the Polish forces and at night they ventured out to rob Jews. But now they encountered Jewish resistance. The Jewish militia would fire into the air to fend off the batiars. These Lviv batiars, these hooligans and bandits, then created a myth about how the cursed Jews attacked them with axes, hurled boiling water at them, wounding and killing them. When Polish authorities who later investigated these charges called for victims to step forth, they didn’t find one Polish soldier or officer who was the victim of these alleged attacks by the Jewish militia. This was all a myth, completely fabricated and widely disseminated by the Twitter of that epoch, a Polish nationalist newspaper, which from the beginning of November published in Lviv inflammatory articles about beastly Ukrainians and the inferior race of Jews.

The Jews served as a substitute target of revenge. The Ukrainian army had left Lviv, but encircled the city in a half-year long siege. The city was under Ukrainian artillery bombardment and Ukrainian forces would launch periodic attacks on the barracks surrounding the city. The Ukrainians controlled practically of Eastern Galicia. The Polish army was afraid to undertake actions against the Ukrainians [still in the city], even though it had killed over two hundred Ukrainian captured soldiers, some wounded and others who somehow had fallen into their hands. Nobody has yet written about this affair but Ukrainian historians know about it. Instead, the Jewish pogrom was revenge for the Jews’ neutrality, for their having dared to come to an understanding with the Ukrainians, for not declaring themselves as Poles, and for not having mounted an armed uprising against the Ukrainian army.

Four very influential Jewish community leaders — members of the pre-First World War Austrian parliament and Zionists — were taken hostage by the Poles. Jewish leaders demanded that the Jews be considered as a separate national group, and they were not interested in being assimilated into the Polish milieu. The Poles needed to convince the international community that the Polish ethnic group comprised the majority in [eastern] Galicia, which meant that it made sense to annex this territory to the newly formed Rzeczpospolita [the Second Polish Republic, 1918-1939 — Ed.]. But if you subtract the number of Ukrainians, Jews, and Germans from ethnic Poles, then the Poles turn out to be a national minority and do not have the unconditional right to annex this territory. This was payback for the Jews. In addition, it provided good pickings that not even wealthy Lviv men and women disdained.

Grzegorz was particularly outraged by the descriptions of scenes where young ladies from good homes, dressed in hats and veils, in nice clothes of the latest Parisian fashion, came to the pogrom accompanied by their maids, who took away pillows and linens belonging to Jews, a piece of jewelry — everything that could be found in the looted Jewish houses — and carried it back to their residences.

This pogrom had a serious racist and antisemitic component, as these young ladies from good homes broke into synagogues, stripped fabric from places that decorated the Torah and used them as kerchiefs and shawls. The Beit Hasidim Synagogue and a number of others were burned; the pogromists threw Torahs into the flames. This was symbolic violence intended to humiliate the Jews through the destruction of their holy texts. Yeshiva students threw themselves into the flames in an attempt to save the Torahs and Polish soldiers prevented them from re-emerging and they perished, or in the best case scenario pulled them out later when they were already severely burned and they were hospitalized.

There were at least seventy-two known victims of this pogrom, but there were also unidentified bodies. There were burnt corpses and no analysis yet available to identify them. Nearly seven thousand people were injured, and five hundred houses were burned. It was such a huge catastrophe that its effects were felt by the Lviv Jewish community throughout the entire post-First World War period.

Grzegorz recounted another fascinating story. The Polish state censors were scrupulous about making sure that the word “pogrom” did not surface, God forbid.

Iryna Slavinska: This is very interesting and let’s talk more about how all the official documents, and unofficial sources, the media, and all the people involved decided how best to talk about this pogrom by not calling it a “pogrom.” Why was this so important and what is the story?

Andriy Pavlyshyn: This is a very straightforward story, an element of ideological and psychological warfare. This has happened in the nineteenth, twentieth, and now very widely in the twenty-first century. We know, for example, that Russia, which is waging a war against Ukraine in the Donbas, is pretending that it is some “militias” and “volunteers” who are actually fighting there, although everyone knows perfectly well that they are simply armed Russian agents controlled by the Russian Federation. However, our media often hammer away at Ukrainians, explaining that there is really no war, that this is an anti-terrorist operation, that what is happening there is practically a partisan war and all sorts of other nonsense.

That is exactly how Polish military censorship operated until 1921. During the Paris [Versailles] Conference, where Poland was one of the sides and one of the biggest beneficiaries, it was extremely important that God forbid the term “pogrom” ever come up on the world arena. The word “pogrom” could have come up if only for the banal reason that the first organization to aid the Jews of Lviv was called the Organization for Relief to Victims of the Pogrom.

Iryna Slavinska: And they were forbidden to call themselves that…

Andriy Pavlyshyn: It was immediately forbidden to call itself by that name. Finally, Jews were allowed to create an organization to feed orphans, to provide a roof over their heads to people who had ended up homeless when their homes were looted and burned, and to bury the dead. They were allowed to call their organization the Jewish Rescue Committee, a very neutral term. Such committees appeared all over Europe and were associated first and foremost with victims of the First World War. The war had ended, Lviv was occupied by the [tsarist] Russians in 1914-15, there were continual battles on the terrain of Galicia and of course, the world community understood that there were victims of the World War, victims of Germans and Russians or somebody, but not of Poles in 1918.

Until 1939 the Jews of Lviv were forbidden to talk openly about this pogrom. Instead of “pogrom,” the phrase “sad incidents” was used by Jewish writers in publications. Everyone understood that the “sad incidents” of 1918 meant a bloody and harsh pogrom in the style of Nazis, not even from the 1930s, but from the period of the Shoah. A ghetto was surrounded and set afire, people were shot, raped, and property seized. This was a big hammer striking a nail and this remained in the consciousness of many people and it was very hard to restore the truth of this situation.

It was difficult to figure out and restore this history, inasmuch as the participants were Poles, who controlled the city and the Jews, who lived compactly in a Jewish district in the Cracow neighborhood. Ukrainians were excluded from the trial; there were no foreign troops on the territory of Lviv. Everything was meticulously documented thanks to the selfless, sacrificial work of the Jewish activist Tadeusz Ashkenazy, who practically paid for this with his life and health. He died in 1920. His volunteer group wrote its own reports in pencil on poor-quality paper. This commission, hot on the heels of these events, collected eyewitness testimonies from participants and victims, as well as the judge’s reports. All this formed a full corpus of sources from which emerged a completely different story.

Since the publication of Grzegorz’s book in Polish historiography, it is no longer necessary to talk about these events as they were presented in the past. What needs to be done now is to find different words, different expressions for this.

It is my dream that we will also demolish other myths created at various times by the Endeks [Polish nationalists — Ed.] that exist about Ukrainians in Polish historiography. It eventually became possible to refute the myth that Ukrainians were responsible for the murder of Lviv professors in 1941. The wonderful research by Professor [Zymunt] Albert from Wroclaw determined the truly guilty and the true picture of this event.

Another stereotype — very deeply rooted in Polish society — that Ukrainians suppressed the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 was also refuted by the efforts of a Polish academic.

When Grzegorz Gauden was the editor of the newspaper Rzeczpospolita, he published a revolutionary text. This was the work of two young academics from Poland, who showed that an infamous photo of Polish children wrapped in barbed wire to a tree in Volhynia, victims of “Ukrainian beasts,” was, in reality, a picture from a criminology textbook depicting the case of an insane woman who killed them in 1926. This photo was in criminology textbooks and was carefully inserted by Polish nationalists into documents about the Volhynian conflict and subsequently became a symbol of Ukrainian bestiality in Volhynia. In truth, this picture had no connection to Ukrainians as it was an example of the history of criminology.

I believe the myths of Volhynia in 1943 will be refuted once we are able to get full access to many sources and when the Ukrainian state will allocate sufficient funds to conduct research.

Iryna Slavinska: Yes, we need funds and careful, long-term research can be said to be a luxury. I would like to ask if it’s possible to conduct similar investigations of pogroms that took place on Ukrainian terrain at different times?

Andriy Pavlyshyn: To begin with it would be worthwhile to translate key texts from Western, from German, historiography. In order to fully explore for example the 1941 [Lviv] pogrom, one needs access to German archives and to work there for a long time in order to gather material that provides a full picture. In order to research the Ukrainian–Polish conflict, considerable funds are also needed for travel to various regions to collect reminiscences.

In Ukraine today there are several formidable centers that are doing the right thing. [The city of] Dnipro has the Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies; Kyiv has the Judaica Center, and Lviv has the [Center] of Urban History. These are institutions that attract grants and offer a place to express oneself; they also publish books and sources.

To write you need to be materially self-sufficient and brave. People who undertake this uncertain path are usually younger and in the early phases of their careers and still establishing their lives and very often they have to be continually searching for funds to stay upright on the seat of the bicycle of their careers, to finish their dissertations, and raise a family.

I think that such a galaxy, metaphorically speaking, of Ukrainian historiography will emerge in the second half of this decade when these historians will make their careers, stabilize their lives, gather sufficient research material, and express their work.

Our historiography, as I said earlier, is in a significantly more complicated situation compared to Poland, where an uninterrupted process has been taking place since 1956. Poles could travel abroad, publish there, study, work in all sorts of archives, read and cite banned authors. Ukrainians gained the opportunity to have all this only after independence. We are lagging behind the Poles by several dozen years. History is a specific discipline where you need to mature to certain texts, decisions, and conclusions.

This program is created with the support of Ukrainian Jewish Encounter (UJE), a Canadian charitable non-profit organization. 

Originally appeared in Ukrainian (Hromadske Radio podcast) here.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.

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