Nisen Yurkovetsky was born in 1917 in Tulchyn. His parents were killed in a pogrom when he was less than two years old, and he was brought up by his grandmother. His father had been a barber. He trained as a chauffeur in Bratslav and fought in the Finnish War. He was injured fighting for the Red Army in the early days of the Second World War. After his demobilization, he ended up in the Pechera concentration camp and the Bershad ghetto. He later rejoined the Red Army. After the war, he continued his work as a chauffeur in Bratslav

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The Tulchyn Pogrom


Nisen Yurkovetsky, like many Jews born during the agonizing birth pangs of the Revolution, was weaned in violence and destruction. His story is, in many ways, the story of the revolutionary generation. As the Bolsheviks declared victory in faraway Petrograd, the fighting was only beginning in Right Bank Ukraine. Podolia was in particular turmoil, with a bulk of the violence and disorder falling along the path of the Dnieper.

Jews, who tended to reside in the borderlands most devastated by the fighting, were disproportionately affected by the war. During the Great War of 1914–1918, they had been distrusted by the German and Russian military alike, both of whom imposed debilitating discriminations upon Jewish residents of the borderlands and sometimes even deported entire communities.

Each time authority broke down in the urban centers, nationalist fighters, criminal brigands, and disgruntled mobs took advantage of the power vacuum to loot Jewish property and vent their frustrations on Jewish civilians. They garnered support for their violence in large mea- sure by linking popular distrust of the Soviets with latent Judeophobia, claiming that the Jews were ushering in the communists. The pogrom perpetrators saw the Jews as the source of much of their misfortune: some blamed the Jews for the communist onslaught, some blamed the Jews for the war, some blamed the Jews for the economic collapse, others blamed the Jews simply for being Jews. Still other bandits felt no particular compulsion to blame the Jews for anything, but saw potential loot in Jewish-owned holdings. These perpetrators repeatedly plundered and destroyed Jewish property, and killed and maimed with impunity in outbursts of violence.

The first pogrom in Tulchyn took place in February 1918, when the city government, which had been loyal to the Central Rada, fell to the Soviets. In the ensuing chaos, disbanded soldiers attached to the 132nd Benderskii infantry regiment attacked the Jewish quarter of the city, destroying and burning Jewish homes and killing two people (a third person died in the fires). But this was only the beginning of the violence. Eighteen months later, in May 1919, a group of peasants and bandits at- tacked the city, killing fourteen Jews and looting Jewish homes. As the weather warmed, the violence heated up. In June, as all authority broke down, the Christian Orthodox population of Tulchyn, with the local priest Nestervarka Afanasii Braduchan at its helm, took action to curb the violence and expel the bandits who had shattered the town’s peace. According to one report, Braduchan spread false rumors that the Red Army was approaching the city, forcing the violent brigands to flee. But the local Christians were only able to keep the bandits at bay for so long. On the night of June 14, 1919, another gang of Ukrainian national- ists, this time under the command of a Cossack ataman by the name of Lyakhovich, moved into the city, chanting, “Long Live Independent Ukraine!” and attacking the Jewish quarter of the town. When the night was over, Lyakhovich and his gang had murdered 260 Jews, and left the baby Yurkovetsky an orphan, bleeding in a mass grave in his dead mother’s arms.

Yurkovetsky’s account, like many other pogrom narratives, demonstrates the complexities and ambiguities of Jewish–Christian relations in the region. Yurkovetsky’s account, told to him by other survivors and authenticated by the physical evidence that scars his arm, is further corroborated by contemporary reports. A 1921 investigation into the Tulchyn pogrom found that there were instances of Jews being concealed, “primarily on the part of the intelligentsia class,” and that there were some Christian efforts to avert the pogrom. But despite these exceptional cases, the report concluded, the general attitude of the surrounding peasants was indifference. The report notes that the pogrom led to a deterioration of relations between Jews and Christians in the city, as well as a wave of Jewish emigration, primarily to America, and a worsening of the local economic situation.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)