Sunday, May 11, 2014


Simon Petlyura was the leader of the Ukrainian nationalists in the early 20th century and Head of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1919.   During his reign in the Ukraine, before the Bolsheviks took over, his troops massacred ca. 50,000 Jews.  There are conflicting reports of whether or not Petlyura ordered this or he just let his troops get on with it.  On his orders one of the leaders of the pogroms was arrested and later executed, but this did not stop the massacres.

Later he was ousted by the Soviets and fled to Paris in 1924.  In Paris in 1925 he was assassinated by Sholom Schwartzbard, an anarchist, whose family had been massacred in Odessa by the Ukrainians under Petlyura. 

Schwartzbard led a very colorful life, he was born in Odessa in 1886 and as a young man became a socialist and fought in Jewish self-defence units.  He was arrested and imprisoned, but then released and was forced to flee Ukraine   He worked in Austria and elsewhere and ended up in France in 1910, where he married and joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in WWI and earned the Croix de Guerre in 1917.  He was a writer of Yiddish poetry under the pen name of "The Dreamer" and one of his books was called "Dreams and Reality." 
In 1917 he travelled to Russia and became part of an anarchist group that fought with the Red Guards against the Czar's forces in St. Petersburg, but was later denounced by the Bolsheviks and forced to flee back to Ukraine.  There in 1919 he saw first-hand the pogroms of the Petlyura regime.  He managed to escape and get a boat and returned to France.

When he heard that Petlyura had also arrived in Paris he plotted his assassination.  It is suspected that he was assisted by Bolshevik agents in this quest.  In 1925 he shot Petylura eight times on a street in Paris.  In the ensuing trial in 1927 his defence was that Petlyura had been responsible for the massacre of his family and many thousands of Jews, and he was acquitted in 1928.

He was famous among Jews and known as "the avenger" (hanokem).  He emigrated to Palestine in 1928 and travelled to the US and South Africa to raise funds for various projects, including a Yiddish encyclopedia.  He died in Cape Town in 1938.  In accordance with his will, his remains were transported to Israel in 1967, where he is buried in Moshav Avihayil outside Netanya.  There are streets named after him (Rehov Hanokem) in several Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Beersheva.

PS. Our family name in Ukraine was Schwartzbard, it was changed to Cohen when my grandparents emigrated to England.  I wonder if I am related to Hanokem, I will try to find out.


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