Anti-Jewish Riots in Zvil, 1919-1920

“Russia was torn by civil war. Like many other towns, Zvil was taken over, back and forth, by opposing forces. Once the counter revolutionaries [White Russians] took over Zvil, the Jews were their first victims; they went on slaughtering and robbing the Jews.

“From the mid-summer of 1919 till the end of summer of 1920, the Jews lived through a nightmare. It can be said that the ground was soaked through and through with Jewish blood.

“When the Bolsheviks took over Zvil and set up a revolutionary committee, it so happened that the head of the committee was a Jew named Itzik. As the state was separated from the church, the anti-Semites used the opportunity to agitate against the Jews, especially among the peasants in the town and surrounding villages. It was stated that none other than Itzik had taken the power away from the church.

“When the Jews found out about the Christian anti-Semitic agitation, they went to Itzik to do something about it. Itzik told the Jewish representatives that he would take care of the situation when it arose, and it must be said that he did. When a large crowd of Christians gathered around a church, blaming the Jews for all their ills, Itzik faced the crowd with artillery and fired upon the crowd. Within a short time, the entire place emptied out.

“However, the counter-revolutionaries did not give up. Two days later, they were back, and they started a bitter battle with the Bolshevik army. “As the battle was raging, many of the Bolshevik soldiers walked over to the side of the counter-revolutionaries. At one point, the only ones who remained on the side of the Bolsheviks were the young Jews and the Chinese force. Slowly the Bolshevik side lost one man after the other. The moment the counter-revolutionaries took over power, they began to murder and rob the Jews. To inflame the situation, the Ukrainian gangsters were saying that the Jews wanted to slaughter the local religious people. As the gangs went searching for weapons, they used the opportunity to torture and murder the Jews.

“A Jewish account of one of the incidents: The door to our home does not rest for a moment, a gang goes out and another comes in, and in each case I have to explain that I did not shoot at the church, that I am not guilty of ousting the tsar from the throne, that I have nothing to do with the Communists, and that I never hung the portraits of Lenin and Trotsky in the church.

“The pogrom in Zvil lasted for ten days. There was no safe place to hide. Jews were dragged from hiding places and Jewish corpses lined the streets. Any Jew that was caught did not remain alive. It was clear that the local population was determined to erase the entire Jewish youth of Zvil. According to the Ukrainian gangs, the destruction of the Jewish youth of Zvil was called the struggle against Bolshevism, against the Russian government.

“The moment the streets became a bit quieter, Jewish mothers worried, crying, confused, distraught, asked the same question: Have you seen my son? A question which had no answer. Also many children who were not aware that they had become orphans, wandered through the streets. The situation in town reached a point where even the priests were demanding that the local people stop spilling Jewish blood. However, the grandchildren of Bogdan Chmielnicki did not stop their destruction, bathing themselves in Jewish blood. If all this was not enough, an order was given that all Jews should be brought to the synagogue where they should swear that they will be faithful to the Ukrainian government.

“As the Jews were walking toward the synagogue, among them rabbis and Hasidism, the procession was stopped by a priest near the church. He asked the rabbis why they were leading the Jewish people on a crooked road. Every time the priest mentioned the name of Christ, the Christians crossed themselves. It seemed that it was not the Christians who were the guilty but the Jews.

“When the Jews entered the synagogue, a Ukrainian henchman was standing at the bima where the Torah is read. He made it clear that the Jews are guilty of everything. Wherever there is a problem, Jews are at the core of it.

“Unfortunately, even after the Jews pledged their allegiance to the Ukrainian government, the murdering and robbing did not stop. When finally the pogrom ended on the tenth day, hundreds of corpses were taken to the cemetery, while blood was dripping from the wagons. The lamenting and crying was so loud that one could split the heavens. This took place in July of 1919.

“Shortly afterward, the Bolsheviks entered Zvil but only for a short period. When they left and the counter-revolutionaries took over, they started their rule with another pogrom. And so in this manner it went on till the summer of 1920. The Jews lived in total chaos. During this period about 1,800 Jews were murdered in Zvil, while in the surrounding town and villages another 6,000 Jews were murdered.

“Every Jew who could, ran away from Zvil, and returned much later. However, the Jewish population of Zvil never returned to its previous size. There was not one Jewish home where someone was not killed. To top off this terrible disaster, a few months after the pogrom, a typhus epidemic broke out in Zvil, killing about a thousand people…” [1]

[1] Cities and Towns in the Ukraine and in Other Parts of Russia: Research in Jewish History and Jewish Lifestyle by M. Osherowits (New York: Osherowits Jubilee Committee, 1948. 2 volumes [in Yiddish]. Translated by Stanley Bergman.