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Long after Symon Petlura had gone into exile and was living in Paris, armed resistance broke out again and again in his name in Ukraine.  Indeed, even today his name is still regarded by the Ukrainian masses as the symbol of the fight for freedom.

Symon Petliura: An Introduction


Is Symon Petliura the man who "slaughtered 60,000 Jews"?

Army Order No. 131 in black font at the bottom of the present page is written by Symon Petliura (sometimes spelled Petlura).  Symon Petliura is relevant to the Ukrainian Archive in that Morley Safer in his infamous 60 Minutes broadcast of 23Oct94, The Ugly Face of Freedom, summed him up this way:

Street names have been changed.  There is now a Petliura Street.  To Ukrainians, Symon Petliura was a great General, but to Jews, he's the man who slaughtered 60,000 Jews in 1919.

Or is Symon Petliura a fighter for Ukrainian independence?

But as the Army Order No. 131 below will begin to suggest, Safer's contemptuous dismissal is not quite accurate and does not quite tell the whole story.  A little further detail concerning Petliura is provided in my rebuttal The Ugly Face of 60 Minutes to the Morley Safer calumny.  And here are a few short excerpts to provide background on Petliura from his entry in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine:

Petliura, Symon [...] b 10 May 1879 in Poltava, d 25 May 1926 in Paris.  Statesman and publicist; supreme commander of the UNR Army and president of the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic.  (T. Hunczak in Danylo Husar Struk (ed.), Encyclopedia of Ukraine, 1993, Volume III, p. 856)

After the signing of the UNR-Polish Treaty of Warsaw in April 1920, the UNR Army under Petliura's command and its Polish military ally mounted an offensive against the Bolshevik occupation in Ukraine.  The joint forces took Kiev on 7 May 1920 but were forced to retreat in June.  Thereafter Petliura continued the war against the Bolsheviks without Polish involvement.  Poland and Soviet Russia concluded an armistice in October 1920, and in November the major UNR Army formations were forced to retreat across the Zbruch into Polish-held territory and to submit to internment.  (T. Hunczak in Danylo Husar Struk (ed.), Encyclopedia of Ukraine, 1993, Volume III, p. 856)

In late 1923, faced with increased Soviet demands that Poland hand him over, he was forced to leave for Budapest.  From there he went to Vienna and Geneva, and in late 1924 he settled in Paris.  In Paris he founded the weekly Tryzub, and from there he oversaw the activities of the UNR government-in-exile until his assassination by a Bessarabian Jew claiming vengeance for Petliura's purported responsibility for the pogroms in Ukraine (see Schwartzbard Trial).  He was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.  (T. Hunczak in Danylo Husar Struk (ed.), Encyclopedia of Ukraine, 1993, Volume III, p. 856)

The above reference to Petliura's assassin being motivated by Jewish vengeance can be taken in two ways: literally or as part of Kremlin-manufactured plot.

Assassinated by a Jew?

In the first case, if the assassination was indeed the work of a lone Jew longing for vengeance, then it might not be amiss to wonder whether there has ever been any great Jewish leader who has been assassinated by a Ukrainian for wrongs committed by Jews against Ukrainians, or for any other reason for that matter.  If not, and I think not, then one might wonder also what the respective statistics might be for all cross-ethnic assassinations of leaders and officials of not only the highest rank, but of any rank as well, and to wonder finally whether any differences in such statistics might be attributable to a differential incitement to vengeance within Jewish and Ukrainian cultures.

Or assassinated by the Kremlin?

However, crediting assassin Schwartzbard's claim that he murdered Petliura to satisfy a Jewish longing for vengeance is possibly to be taken in by Kremlin disinformation, as the following passage explains (where the spelling becomes "Schwarzbart"):

According to Bolshevist misinformation, the Jews are to blame for the murder of Petlura.  [...]

The choice of the person who was to commit the murder has always served as the basis for the invention of lies and legends about the actual murder itself.  They have always chosen persons to whom in the event of their arrest credible tales about motives other than the orders of the Kremlin, motives of a personal or political character, could be imputed, so as to conceal the fact from the court that the order to murder was issued by Moscow.

In the case of Petlura, a Jew, Schwarzbart, was instructed by Moscow to carry out the murder.  He received orders to give himself up of his own accord to the police as a Communist agent, in order to start a political trial in this way.  Thus there was a two-fold purpose behind this murder: to murder Petlura who was a danger to the Bolsheviks, and to direct the political trial of this murder in such a way that the person of Petlura and the Ukrainian government which he represented, as well as the national liberation movement, which was a danger to Moscow, could be defamed from the political point of view.  It was Schwarzbart's task during this trial to conceal the part played by the Russian GPU in this murder and to pose as a national avenger of the Jewish people for the brutal pogroms committed against them by various anarchist groups, who operated in Ukraine during the years of the revolution, that is from 1919 to 1921, and in the interests of Russia also fought against the Ukrainian state.  The blame for the pogroms carried out by these groups was to be imputed to Petlura.  By planning the trial in this way the Russians managed to gain a two-fold success.  In the first place, they succeeded in winning over most of the Jews in the world for the defence of the Communist agent Schwarzbart and in arousing anti-Ukrainian feelings, which, incidentally, persisted a long time, amongst the Jews, and, secondly, as a result of the unjust verdict of the Paris court, the Russians and other enemies of an independent Ukraine were able to obtain "the objective judgement of an impartial court in an unprejudiced state," which could then be used in anti-Ukrainian propaganda.  For years the Russians made use of this judgement in order to defame Petlura in the eyes of the world and to misrepresent the Ukrainian state government which he represented and the Ukrainian liberation movement as an anti-Semitic, destructive and not a constructive state movement, which would be capable of ensuring human democratic freedoms to the national minorities in Ukraine.  The jury of the Paris court, who consisted for the most part of supporters of the popular front at that time and of socialist liberals, refused to believe the testimony of the numerous witnesses of various nationalities, which clearly proved that Petlura had neither had any share in the pogroms against the Jews, nor could be held in any way responsible for them.  They ignored the actual facts of the murder, and by their acquittal of the murderer rendered Bolshevist Moscow an even greater service than it had expected.  Thus Moscow scored two successes.  But it did not score a third, for the Paris trial did not help Moscow to change the anti-Russian attitude of the Ukrainians into an anti-Semitic one or to conceal its responsibility for the murder of Petlura from the Ukrainians.  (Anonymous, Murdered by Moscow: Petlura Konovalets Bandera, Ukrainian Publishers Limited, London, 1962, pp. 8-9)

Three reflections arise from the Schwartzbard assassination:

  1. Juror historians.  One wonders whether the jurors in a criminal case are competent to arrive at a fair determination of historical truth, or whether they are more likely to bring with them personal convictions of historical truth which are likely to be unshaken by the evidence.

  2. French justice.  The acquittal of a self-confessed assassin might be an outcome peculiar to French justice.  Other Western states might more typically require the conviction of a self-confessed assassin, and consult his motives only to assist in determining the severity of sentence.  A comment which in part reflects on the French acquittal:

    It is a strange paradox that the once so sacred right of asylum, even for the spokesmen of hostile ideologies and political trends, nowadays does not even include the protection of the fundamental rights of life of the natural allies of the West in the fight against the common Russian Bolshevist world danger.  (The Central Committee of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), Munich, December 1961, in Anonymous, Murdered by Moscow: Petlura Konovalets Bandera, Ukrainian Publishers Limited, London, 1962, p. 65)

  3. True-believer assassins.  If an assassin is sent by the Kremlin, then is it necessary for the Kremlin to find one who is personally committed to the assassination?  The answer is yes.  This is because a Soviet assassin sent to Paris has some opportunity to defect and to seek political asylum.  He might choose to do so to escape totalitarianism, to raise his standard of living, to avoid going through with the assassination, and in the Petliura case to avoid the punishment that was being anticipated from the French courts.  On top of that, he must realize that once he has carried out the assassination, he becomes a potential witness against the Kremlin, and so might find the Kremlin rewarding him with a bullet to the back of his head for the success of his mission.

    Thus, it is essential for the Kremlin to ensure that the assassin be energized with a zealous committment to his mission.  One way to achieve such committment is to hold his family hostage.  Another way is to incite in him a thirst for revenge based on wrongs done to his people.  Thus, even if the Kremlin did order the assassination of Petliura, and even if the Kremlin's selection of a Jew to perform the assassination was for the political reasons outlined in the quotation above, it may nevertheless be true that a Jewish thirst for revenge played a useful role, and that all the Kremlin had to do to inspire the requisite motivation was to propose the disinformation that Petliura was the appropriate target of that revenge.

Pogromist or fighter for independence?

The Encyclopedia of Ukraine entry ends with:

[S]ince the mid-1920s he has personified, perhaps more than any other person, the struggle for Ukrainian independence.  The personification seemingly also extends to the issue of the pogroms that took place in Ukraine during the revolutionary period of 1918-1920, and Petliura has frequently been invested with the responsibility for those acts.  Petliura's own personal convictions render such responsibility highly unlikely, and all the documentary evidence indicates that he consistently made efforts to stem pogrom activity by UNR troops.  The Russian and Soviet authorities also made Petliura a symbol of Ukrainian efforts at independence, although in their rendition he was a traitor to the Ukrainian people, and his followers (Petliurites) were unprincipled opportunists.  (T. Hunczak in Danylo Husar Struk (ed.), Encyclopedia of Ukraine, 1993, Volume III, p. 857)

A continuing threat to the Kremlin.

Petliura's leadership of the fight for Ukrainian independence did not end with his withdrawal from the field of battle:

Long after Symon Petlura had gone into exile and was living in Paris, armed resistance broke out again and again in his name in Ukraine.  Indeed, even today his name is still regarded by the Ukrainian masses as the symbol of the fight for freedom [...].  (Dr. Mykola Kovalevstky, in Anonymous, Murdered by Moscow: Petlura Konovalets Bandera, Ukrainian Publishers Limited, London, 1962, p. 28)

However real the continuing resistance that was carried on in Petliura's name, the Russian and Soviet authorities--in order to justify Cheka executions--indiscriminately cited Petliura as the author of real and imagined anti-Soviet actions.  For example, summarizing the year 1921 alone, historian Sergey Petrovich Melgunov relates:

Particularly large was the number of Petlura "conspiracies" then discovered.  In connection with them sixty-three persons (including a Colonel Evtikhiev) were shot in Odessa, batches of fourteen and sixty-six in Tiraspol, thirty-nine in Kiev (mostly members of the intelligentsia), and 215 in Kharkov the victims in the latter case being Ukrainian hostages slaughtered in retaliation for the assassination of certain Soviet workers and others by rebels.  And, similarly, the Izvestia of Zhitomir reported shootings of twenty-nine co-operative employees, school teachers and agriculturalists who could not possibly have had anything to do with any Petlura "conspiracy" in the world.  (Sergey Petrovich Meglunov, The Red Terror in Russia, London, 1925, pp. 88-89)

Thus, if the impression gleaned from the Shapoval volume is correct (to the effect that the control of the Cheka-GPU-NKVD lay overwhelmingly in the hands of Jews), then the situation might be summarized by saying that even while Jews were in reality pogromizing Ukrainians throughout Ukraine (as we saw in the Melgunov quotation immediately above), they were simultaneously pogromizing Ukrainian leaders in the diaspora, as by the assassinations of, among others, Symon Petliura (1926) in Paris by Cheka agent Schwartzbard employing a handgun, of Colonel Yevhen Konovalets (1938) in Rotterdam by GPU agent Valyukh employing a package bomb, of Lev Rebet (1957) as well as Stepan Bandera (1959) both in Munich and both by KGB agent Bohdan Stashynsky employing a poison pistol loaded with cyanide.  This same Bohdan Stashynsky eventually defected to the West where he confessed to the two above assassinations, thereby demonstrating the reasonableness of the distrust that the Kremlin might feel toward its own assassins, as well as the reasonableness of the unease that the assassins might feel concerning being distrusted.

Cause and effect.

As is often the case with respect to historical events, the thread of cause and effect is difficult to untangle.  When Petliura makes the following statement in his Army Order No. 131, he assumes that pogroms cause an opposition to Ukrainian independence:

Our many enemies, external as well as internal, are already profiting by the pogroms; they are pointing their fingers at us and inciting against us saying that we are not worthy of an independent national existence and that we deserve to be again forcefully harnessed to the yoke of slavery.

However, it is also plausible that causality proceeds in the opposite direction that Jewish opposition to Ukrainian independence causes pogroms.  Of course, the causal link can act in both directions simultaneously, with pogroms and opposition each fuelling the other in an escalating spiral.  Who might start such a spiral and who might encourage it?  Petliura views the pogroms not as spontaneous, but as incited by "adventurers" and "provocateurs."  If he is right, then we may ask who might have sent these adventurers and provocateurs?  Who might have been paying them to do their work?  Perhaps the answer is those who might have preferred to absorb chunks of a dismembered Ukraine rather than coexisting with an independent Ukraine most particularly, Russia and Poland.  And perhaps those who wanted to increase emigration of Jews out of Ukraine the Zionists.  Russia, Poland, and Zionism benefitted from pogroms on Ukrainian territory.  All who wanted to live peacefully in Ukraine whether they were Ukrainians or Jews suffered from the pogroms.

To see the links to the documents in the Petliura section, please click on the PETLIURA link below.



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