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  • A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917–1920, and: Pohromi v Ukraïni, 1914–1920: Vid shtuchnykh stereotypiv do hirkoï pravdi, prikhovuvanoï v radians´kykh arkhivakh
  • Eric Lohr
Henry Abramson , A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917–1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. xix + 255 pp. ISBN 0916458-88-1 (clothbound); 0916458-87-3 (softcover). $34.95 and $18.95.
Volodymyr Serhiichuk , Pohromi v Ukraïni, 1914–1920: Vid shtuchnykh stereotypiv do hirkoï pravdi, prikhovuvanoï v radians´kykh arkhivakh. Kiev: Vyd-vo im. O. Telihy, 1998. 544 pp. ISBN 966-7018-17-2.

These two books significantly contribute to the historiography of one of the most violent periods in both Jewish and Ukrainian history, which culminated in the bloody pogroms of 1919 that claimed at least 50,000 Jewish lives.1 The pogroms and violence are not of course the only issues in relations between Ukrainians and Jews during this period, but they have been the focus of historical research and debate ever since, especially in long and contentious polemics over the issue of Ukrainian nationalists' responsibility for the massacres.

Study of this difficult period in Jewish-Ukrainian relations has been hampered in two ways. First, Russian and Ukrainian archival sources were generally inaccessible throughout the Soviet era. Second, and at least as important, both scholarship and popular discussions often tended toward acrimonious mutual accusations and polemics among Ukrainian, Jewish and Soviet historians.2 According to Henry Abramson, the 1926 assassination in Paris of prominent Ukrainian revolutionary leader Symon Petliura proved to be a historiographical watershed. The trial of Petliura's assassin, Shalom Schwartzbard, created an international sensation, as the defense attorney used the trial as a forum for accusing Petliura of responsibility for the 1919 pogroms. The Paris jury acquitted [End Page 427] Schwartzbard and the trial deeply influenced both popular perceptions and scholarship for decades.3

"Since both Ukrainian and Jewish historical scholarship were mobilized to provide evidence at the trial," according to Abramson, many works "published after 1926 have followed, in the main, the arguments presented by either the prosecution or the defense instead of carefully examining the historical record" (Abramson, 172). The idea that Ukrainian nationalists, and especially the Ukrainian hero Petliura, were the main instigators of the pogroms was favored by Soviet authors eager to discredit Ukrainian nationalists. That scholarship prompted many Ukrainian authors to respond defensively.

Serhiichuk's book continues this polemical tradition, presenting a brief for the Ukrainian defense consisting of 195 documents from 18 different regional and central Ukrainian archives, a 56-page introductory essay and brief introductions to documents for each year from 1914 to 1920. He openly and unequivocally states his thesis in the last line of the general introduction: "Here on our land, external forces destroyed the Jews, and then blamed it all on us." Following this argument, he presents a highly selective set of documents which show how the Imperial Russian Army, the German occupation regime in 1918, the Bolsheviks, and the Whites participated in pogroms and encouraged anti-Jewish sentiments in Ukraine. In addition, he provides evidence showing that Jews were not the only ones to suffer from pogroms and violence. It is perhaps no surprise that few of his documents show Ukrainians committing pogroms or violence, but rather, when Ukrainians are mentioned, it is only in cases when they helped Jews. In fact, one could read the entire collection and never suspect that the most serious existing statistical study of the pogroms in 1919 attributes 40% of all the pogroms against Jews to the troops of the Ukrainian Directory under Petliura's command.4 According to Nakhum Gergel, while all regular and irregular troops in Ukraine during the period engaged in pogroms, the regular troops of the Directory were responsible for more pogroms than independent bands of troops, twice as many as the Whites, four times as many as the Reds, and 15 times as many as the Poles. By simply ignoring instances of Ukrainian involvement in pogroms, Serhiichuk seriously undermines the credibility of his argument. Moreover, the introduction selectively cites only the most partisan contributions to the historiography, creating an exaggerated picture of...