Lwów pogrom (1918)
The Jewish quarter after the pogrom
|Date||November 21–23, 1918|
|Perpetrators||Soldiers and civilians |
The Lwów pogrom (also called the Lemberg pogrom) of the Jewish population of Lwów (now Lviv) took place on November 21–23, 1918 during the Polish-Ukrainian War. In the course of the three days of unrest in the city, an estimated 52–150 Jewish residents were killed and hundreds injured according to accounts some of which might have been exaggerated, with widespread looting carried out by Polish soldiers, and those only pretending to be so, as well as lawless civilians, and local criminals. Two hundred and seventy more Ukrainians were killed during this time as well. The Poles did not stop the pogrom until two days after it began. Over a thousand people, including some soldiers, were arrested by Polish authorities during and after the pogrom.
The events, widely publicized in the international press, led to US President Woodrow Wilson appointing a commission, led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., tasked with investigating excesses against the Jewish population in newly established sovereign Poland after 123 years of partitions by neighbouring empires. The report was published on October 3, 1919. Historian William Hagen noted, that in the chaos of war, the Polish army allowed for the recruitment of common criminals released from local prisons along with deserters from the Habsburg, German and Russian armies, which turned disastrous.
In 1918, the Jews of Galicia found themselves caught in the midst of the post-World War I Polish-Ukrainian conflict, and fell victim to a rising wave of pogroms across the region, fueled by post-World War I lawlessness. In early 1918 a wave of pogroms swept across Polish-inhabited towns in the western areas of Galicia, committed largely by demobilized soldiers and deserters from the army. Throughout the 1918–19 Polish-Ukrainian conflict, Jews had served as scapegoats for the frustrations of the warring forces.
Before withdrawing from the town, the retreating Austrian forces let the criminals out of the prisons, some of whom volunteered to join Polish militia and fight against the Ukrainians. The town was also full of Austrian army deserters. Polish authorities also armed a number of volunteers (including some former criminals) who promised to fight the Ukrainians. In the first days of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict, the Polish quarter of Lwów was defended only by a group of poorly armed volunteers, mainly students and even younger people in their early teens, known in Polish historiography as Lwów Eaglets. A sizable group of Polish defenders, however, consisted of petty criminals. On November 9–10, the Jews of Lwów formed a militia and declared their neutrality in the Polish-Ukrainian conflict over the city. Other than reports of isolated instances of Jewish support for the Ukrainian side, Lwów's Jews remained officially neutral; the accounts of sporadic Jewish support for the Ukrainians would serve as a rationale for accusations that most Jews adopted the anti-Polish stance. The criminal elements within the Polish forces sometimes engaged in theft or armed robbery while wearing Polish insignia; when these criminals were fired on by the Jewish self-defence militia, some Poles believed that the Jews were fighting against Poland. The West Ukrainian People's Republic respected Jewish neutrality and during the two weeks that the city was controlled by Ukrainian forces there were no incidents of anti-Jewish violence. Poles resented the proclaimed Jewish neutrality, and there were reports, leading to exaggerated rumors, that some Jews, including the militia, collaborated with the Ukrainians in various ways, up to actively engaging the Polish forces. On the morning November 22, after taking the city in the night of November 21 to November 22, and amidst rumors that Lwów's Jews would be made to pay for their "neutrality" in the Polish-Ukrainian conflict, Polish forces interned and disarmed the Jewish militia.
The riots, including pogroms in the Jewish quarters (but an even larger disturbance in the Ukrainian quarters, with three times as many dead), broke out after Polish forces managed to get control over all parts of the city, including the Jewish quarters, where they encountered resistance from Jewish-Ukrainian sympathizers.
According to American historian William W. Hagen, following the retreat of main Ukrainian forces and the disarming and interning of the Jewish militia by the Polish army, Polish troops, including some officers, civilians, criminals, and Polish militia volunteers began the sacking, pillaging and burning of the town's Jewish quarter. Hagen quotes Jewish eyewitnesses who stated that as the Ukrainian soldiers retreated a festive mood came over the Polish fighters as they anticipated their reward for their fighting—the looting of Jewish stores and homes. In addition to looting and killing, women were raped by the Polish mobs according to historian Alexander Prusin. First-hand accounts differ, for example, according to a report by one Jewish eyewitness, many victims gave testimonies that rioting Polish soldiers claimed that their officers allowed them to 48 hours to pillage Jewish quarters, as a reward for capturing the city from the Ukrainians. A report prepared for the Polish Foreign Ministry noted that the Polish Army "burned with desire for revenge" against the Jews, and soldiers wrongly believed that an order had been issued commanding a "punitive expedition" against the Jews. This report found no evidence that such an order had been issued, but noted that two full days passed before the troops participating in the pillaging were ordered to desist. The Polish commanding officer of the 1918 battle of Lwów, Czesław Mączyński, in his account of the battle, acknowledged that there were rumors of such an order, which the criminal elements unsuccessfully attempted to obtain by bribes. Hagen wrote that an investigation by Israel Cohen on behalf of the British Zionist Organization reported that Jewish leaders in Lwów, protesting the pogrom, were told by Army Chief of Staff Antoni Jakubski that the violence was a "punitive expedition into the Jewish quarter, which cannot be stopped."
According to historian Carole Fink, Mączyński delayed the implementation of a November 22 order for martial law from Brigadier General Bolesław Roja for a day and a half. In the interim, Mączyński issued inflammatory proclamations, using what has been described as "medieval terminology," of supposed acts of Jewish treachery against Polish troops. He claimed, for example, that Jews had attacked Poles with axes. The Jewish quarter was cordoned off for 48 hours by fire officials, and buildings in the quarter, including 3 synagogues, were allowed to burn. The killing and burning in the quarter had already been done by the time Mączyński allowed patrols to enter the area.
Joseph Tenenbaum, a leader of the Jewish militia and eyewitness to the pogrom, wrote that troops cut off the Jewish quarter and that patrols of 10-30 men, each led by an officer and armed with grenades and rifles went through the quarter banging on doors. Doors not opened were blown open with grenades. Each house was systematically plundered, and its occupants beaten and shot. Shops were likewise looted, with the stolen goods loaded onto army trucks. Mączyński, the Polish commander during the pogroms who had issued the anti-Jewish propaganda, claimed that according to several accounts Jewish militia assaulted Polish forces without provocation, and that the Polish forces tried to stop the pogrom quicker, but were undermanned, and that while the some unruly soldiers participated in the pogrom, officers actively tried to stop them. William Hagen wrote that according to a Jewish report a Polish officer bashed in the head of a Jewish infant, and a Jewish eyewitness claimed to have seen a young Polish officer twirl a four-week-old Jewish infant by the legs, threatening to bash it against the floor while asking the mother "why are there so many Jewish bastards?" The Polish Foreign Ministry report, however, concluded that during the days of the pogrom "the authorities did not fulfill their responsibilities." The report noted that delegations of both Christians and Polish Jews hoping to end the violence had been turned away by officials and that during the pogrom, Polish officials and military commanders had spread false inflammatory charges against Jews, including claims that Jews were waging an armed struggle against Poland. Several Polish officers, according to the report, took part in the killings and pillaging, which they said continued for a week afterwards under the guise of searching for weapons. In his 1919 report, Henry Morgenthau concludes that in Lemberg, as well as in the cities of Lida, Wilna, and Minsk, captured by Polish troops "the excesses were committed by the soldiers who were capturing the cities and not by the civilian population." Although Jewish eyewitnesses described Poles as committing the pogrom, Mączyński, the Polish commander who prior to the pogrom had issued anti-Jewish pamphlets, blamed Ukrainian criminals for initiating it, and claimed that they were the most numerous group among the rioters He also claimed that most Jews were killed during the time of Ukrainian control over the city. Polish media even blamed Jews themselves for staging the pogrom. Writing in 1971, Adam Ciołkosz, a former leader of the Polish Socialist Party who arrived in Lwów on November 21 as a 16-year-old scout, recalled that rumors circulated that Jews had fired on Polish troops, and maintained that the Polish army had tried to stop the pogroms, not instigate or support it.
According to William Hagen in addition to robbing or killing the Jews, the Polish forces made sure to humiliate them. Some examples, according to Hagen included, a group of Jewish gymnasium students being forced into compulsory labor where they were the victims of "pranks" such as being forced to jump over tables; Jewish intelligentsia being forced to work in the most demeaning jobs such as cleaning latrines; Polish soldiers pulling Jews by their beards into a street and forcing them to dance to the delight of Polish onlookers; one drunken soldier tried to cut off an elderly Jewish man's earlocks but when the man resisted he shot him and plundered the corpse. Hagen also states that according to Jewish witnesses, in addition to Polish soldiers, Polish civilians of various social classes including members of the intelligentsia took part in murdering and robbing Jews.
Polish forces were able to bring order to the city after one or two days (reports vary), on November 23 or November 24. Ad hoc courts handed verdicts during the riots. About one thousand people were jailed for participating in the riots. Mączyński notes that between 1300 to 1500 people were jailed by Polish authorities, primarily Ukrainians (60%), the rest Polish (30%), but also some Jewish criminals (10%). Mączyński also gives the statistical breakdown of rioters' professional occupations, compiled and published in contemporary press in Lwów by Jewish authors, that includes 18 officers and 54 soldiers among those arrested.
During the pogrom, according to a report by the Polish foreign ministry, over 50 two- and three-story apartment buildings were destroyed as were 500 Jewish businesses. Two thousand Jews were left homeless, and material losses amounted to 20 million contemporary dollars.
Over a thousand people were arrested. Hundreds of individuals accused of participation in the pogrom were punished by Polish authorities after they established themselves in the city. Promises of material compensation were also made.
As a result of the pogrom, an all Jewish unit of around 1000 men was formed in the army of the West Ukrainian National Republic. The Council of Ministers of the West Ukrainian People's Republic also provided financial assistance to Jewish victims of the pogrom.
The events were widely reported by the European and American press, including The New York Times. News reports of the massacre were later used as a means of pressuring the Polish delegation during the Paris peace conference into signing the Minority Protection Treaty (the Little Treaty of Versailles). In 1921, the events also resulted in the Polish government awarding liberal minority rights for the Polish Jewish population in the March Constitution.
International outrage at a series of similar acts of violence committed by the Polish military (Pinsk massacre, Lida, Minsk and Vilna pogroms) and the civilian population (Kielce pogrom) against the Jews led to the appointment of an investigation commission by the United States President Woodrow Wilson in June 1919. On October 3, 1919, the commission led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr. published its findings. According to the Morgenthau Report, excesses in Lwow were "political as well as anti-Semitic in character". At the same time, the Morgenthau Report cleared the Polish government of any responsibility for the events and attributed the casualties to "the chaotic and unnatural state of affairs". Independent investigations by the British and American missions in Poland stated that there were no clear conclusions and that foreign press reports were exaggerated.
The Polish government also investigated the Lwow events. A report prepared on December 17, 1918 for the Foreign Ministry of Poland emphasized the role played by criminals released during the struggle over the city and recruited by the Polish Armed Forces. According to the report this resulted in a "tragic and vicious circle" when a soldier fighting for the Polish cause, also "robbed at every opportunity and wherever he could." The report noted that as of December, sentences had not been passed on some 40 soldiers, along with one thousand civilians identified as "criminals" who had been jailed for robbery and murder, and emphasized that there was no evidence that there had been any desire to immediately stop the pogrom.
The initial reports on the number of casualties of the pogroms were exaggerated, sensationalist in nature and often embellished, with an estimated number of victims as high as 3,000. The large casualty figures and supposed graphic details were transmitted through Berlin, where the new German government disseminated them for political propaganda reasons, hoping that they would affect the peace negotiations and prevent German territorial losses to Poland. The Times, in December 1919 called the contemporary reports of the events "greatly exaggerated", while the Pall Mall Gazette blamed the German Reich for "machinations" and the exaggerations. More accurate estimates from reliable sources, such as the Morgenthau report or American diplomats in the Polish capital, emerged only later.
Figures for the death toll vary; according to William W. Hagen, citing a report prepared for the Polish Foreign Ministry, approximately 150 Jews were murdered and 500 Jewish shops and their businesses were ransacked, while the 1919 Morgenthau report counted 64 Jewish deaths. A simultaneous British government investigation led by Sir Stuart Samuel reported that 52 Jews were killed, 463 injured and a large amount of Jewish property was stolen. Jewish contemporary sources reported 73 deaths; official city documents support 41 deaths. Mączyński, the Polish officer involved in the violence, claimed that some of Jewish deaths were a result of combat between Polish forces and Jewish Ukrainian sympathizers. However, the last Ukrainian soldier had left the city and the Jews offered no armed resistance. According to Tadeusz Piotrowski, in the chaotic events of the riot, more Christians than Jews died, and Morgenthau Report, for example, raised a question of whether the label pogrom is technically applicable to such riots in the times of war. The report submitted to Polish Foreign Ministry cited by Hagen characterized the incident as a pogrom, and criticized the inaction of Polish officials in failing to halt the violence, while accusing the officials of publicizing inflammatory charges against Lwów's Jews. Historian David Engel has noted that the Polish Foreign Ministry had conducted a campaign to discourage the use of the term "pogrom" by foreign investigators, although it used the term freely in its own investigation. Historian Norman Davies has cited figures of 340 total deaths in the violence, of whom two thirds were Ukrainian Christians and the remaining 70 were Jews. Davies questioned whether these circumstances can be accurately described as a "pogrom". Dr.Yom-Tov Levinsky, in his book 'Sefer HaMoadim', gave the number of Jews killed as 73.
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