Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ukrainian Jews Remember

This posting is in honor of the yahrzeit of Sholom Schwartzbard. While Schwartzbard's yahrzeit is actually on 30 Adar I, his yahrzeit is observed today on the 29th of Adar since this year is not a leap year that contains two months of Adar or a 30th of Adar.

Who was Sholom Schwartzbard?

On May 25, 1926, Sholom Schwartzbard made a place for himself in Jewish history by assassinating Simon Petlura, the leader of independent Ukraine, then residing in Paris.

Under Petlura's short-lived political and military leadership when the Ukraine was briefly an independent republic (1918 -1920), and with Petlura's knowledge and his instigation, the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian civilians massacred thousands of Jews. During these pogroms, fifteen of Schwartzbard's family members were killed by Petlura's forces.

Sholom Schwartzbard assassinated Simon Petlura to avenge his family and the Jews killed in the pogroms. As he fired three bullets into Petlura he said, "This, for the pogroms; this for the massacres; this for the victims." He then waited for the French police, calmly handed over his pistol, and told the arresting officer, "You can arrest me, I've killed a murderer."

Although Schwartzbard was brought to trial for the assassination, the French court saw that his actions were justified and acquitted him after only three weeks.

In his book Inem loif fun yoren, Schwartzbard later wrote about the pogroms in Ukraine and his motivation to take Petlura's life:

"I need only recall the dreadful time for a shudder to pass over my body. The hideous visions pursue me always, though I strive to ward them off. Though I seek to expunge them from my memory, they remain always fresh and fearful. Pogrom scenes I witnessed float before my eyes and at night keep me awake. I jump up from my sleep and cannot shake off the bloody nightmares.

All the remembrances of my life are gruesome, as is our whole history of martyrdom. My anguish grows greater when I cannot aid my suffering brothers and sisters. There are times when private sorrows disappear in public woe, like a drop of water in the sea. But as for him who suffers for humanity, his sorrows continue and are vast as the world. These sensitive souls suffer every injustice done on earth, on their bodies they feel whiplash, they cannot endure the oppressor's arrogance and the slow pace of justice. They must act.

The blood of the innocent and of the martyrs demands justice and vengeance."

Schwartzbard died on March 3, 1938 during a visit to Cape Town, South Africa and was buried there. In 1967, a committee was formed in Israel to organize the exhumation and reburial of Schwartzbard in Israel. Schwartzbard was finally laid to rest with great honor in the Soldier's Cemetery at Moshav Avihayil near Netanya.

Sholom Schwartzbard z"l (1886 - 1938)

The gravesite of Sholom Schwartzbard in Netanya, Israel - The inscription reads, "Sholom ben Chaya and Yitzchok Schwartzbard, avenged the spilled blood of the Jews of Ukraine."