What happened in Tetiev?
Months of violence lead up to the final pogrom
The pogroms in Tetiev
Most of the Jews in Tetiev and across the Ukrainian countryside were merchants or shopkeepers of some kind; some were artisans. Beatrice Klausner Gray, whose grandfather immigrated from Tetiev, says wryly that many of the Tetiever Jews were “coopers or horse thieves.” Tetiev did not have any wealthy men and life was generally quiet, with no pogroms, until the end of 1918 when the Directory government took over in a divided Ukraine and began to fight the Bolsheviks.
Tetiev is mentioned in several histories of pogroms in the Ukraine during this time, including Nahum Gergel’s account which mentions a “frightful” pogrom perpetrated in Tetiev, among other places, by Symon Petliura’s Directory troops. He lists the pogrom in Tetiev as one of the four worst during this time—several histories also note an earlier pogrom in Tetiev on August 24, 1919, that killed about 200 people.
The Jewish residents of Tetiev were in hiding or under attack from one force or another from about May 1919 until the final pogrom that wiped out most of the town some 10 months later. Jews in Ukraine were broadly identified as communist sympathizers and supporters of the Bolsheviks, even though most tried to remain neutral in the conflict. Violence against the Jews became synonymous with the struggle against the Bolsheviks, whose leadership group contained many Jews.
Descriptions of the final massacre in Tetiev on March 26 , 19201 (the dates range from March 26 to May 1, depending on the source of the information and the calendar one consults) paint a picture of death and carnage difficult to imagine. The mostly Jewish merchant district and the nearby synagogue were set afire—hundreds of Jews hiding in the synagogue were trapped and burned alive. Jews in the street were chased down and killed – the bandits roamed from house to house and killed anyone they found. On the fringe of town, Jews were chased down by bandits on horseback and killed on the spot or driven into the Ros’ka river to drown.
More Jews were killed in Tetiev than in any other town during this period of unrest when Ukraine fought for its independence. Of the roughly 1400 Jewish families and 2000 Jews who lived there, it’s estimated more than 1000 men, women, and children were killed. Most of the survivors fled to Odessa, nearby Bilya Tserkov, Kiev and Skvira.
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