Back to article index


The Tempel synagogue in Lviv

The Russian occupation also saw what may have been the first major anti-Jewish Ruthenian pogrom in Eastern Galicia. Austria in the area had inherited the same Polish division of labour as Russia - Polish Catholic landowners, Orthodox (or Greek Catholic) Ruthenian-Ukrainian peasants, Jewish middlemen. In Polish dominated Western Galicia, where the Polish population covered a wider range of class divisions, there were violent Polish-Jewish clashes, notably on a very wide scale covering more than 400 communities in 1898. But according to a Lithuanian historian, Daniel Staliunas:

'In Eastern Galicia under Austrian rule, as in Lithuania, there were very few pogroms. Historians mention only a few, mostly in 1898 in Tłuste, Barsztyn, Borszczow, and Przemyśl. However, even during these outbursts those responsible were not the local Ruthenians but “Mazurians,” that is, immigrant Catholic workers from Western Galicia (i.e., Poles).' (11)

(11) Darius Staliunas: 'Jew-Hatred and Anti-Jewish Violence in the Former Lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Long Nineteenth Century', taken from Antony Polonsky, Hanna Węgrzynek, Andrzej Żbikowski (eds): New Directions in the History of the Jews in the Polish Lands, Academic Studies Press, 2018, p.290.

He cites John-Paul Himka, from an article I haven't been able to read, saying that 'the reason lies in the politicisation of the Ukrainian–Jewish conflict. In other words, the Ukrainian national movement impressed upon the peasantry, which formed its base, the idea that civilised means should be used to fight the Jews, namely, that the movement should set up educational and commercial institutions and boycott Jewish trade. Himka suggests that this propaganda was effective.' (pp.291-2)

However, as the last article in this series has shown, again following Himka, it was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that the radical intelligentsia - socialist or nationalist - began to get a purchase on the peasantry. The credit for developing a political-economic alternative to the pogrom belongs to the Greek Catholic clergy, providing the 'Prosvita' reading rooms as an alternative to the largely Jewish run tavern. Elsewhere Himka says:

'While Orthodox priests immediately across the Russian border in the Right-Bank Ukraine remained steeped in a superstitious prejudice against Jews, and while by the end of the nineteenth century Roman Catholic priests in Western (Polish) Galicia adopted a more modern version of anti-Semitism, the Greek Catholic clergy of Galicia did not promote religious or racial anti-Semitism. When, in the course of building the national movement in the village, Greek Catholic priests did agitate against Jews, their agitation remained on the socioeconomic and political plane: priests opposed taverns, which Jews ran; they opposed private money-lending, in which Jews predominated, and encouraged the peasants to form credit unions instead; they urged Ukrainian peasants to gain a foothold in commerce, particularly to organise cooperative stores, which brought them into conflict with Jewish merchants; and they supported Ukrainian candidates to parliament and diet, whereas Jews were involved in electoral agitation for Polish candidates. The attitude of the Greek Catholic clergy toward the Jews was in fact very reminiscent of that of Joseph II, who promulgated religious toleration but took measures to counteract what he considered the negative economic role of Galician Jews and to insure their conformity to the state idea (as the Ukrainians wanted them to conform to their national idea). This is not the place to judge the policies of either Joseph II or the Greek Catholic clergy toward Jews; I only wish to call attention to their similarity, which may be an indication of how formative the enlightenment period was for the Greek Catholic church.' (12)

(12)  John-Paul Himka: 'The Greek Catholic Church and Nation-Building in Galicia, 1772-1918', Harvard Ukrainian Studies , December 1984, Vol. 8, No. 3/4, pp. 432-3.


It seems unlikely, however, that there was no real antisemitism in a society in which, according to the Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko, Jews controlled over 60% of the industry and 90% of the trade (13) and, given the opportunity provided by the Russian occupation, it seems to have broken free with a vengeance:

'upon arriving in towns and villages, Russian units conveyed to Poles and Ukrainians that they had come to free Galicia from the “Jewish yoke.” In some instances the Russians incited the local population to anti-Jewish excesses or, after having looted Jewish stores and houses, distributed the booty to the villagers and townspeople … 

'Having been invested by the Tsar with supreme powers in the front-zone, Stavka embarked upon dismantling the Austrian state system and integrating the occupied territories into the Russian imperial structure. Such measures entailed depriving Eastern Galicia of its specific “Austrian” features such as the “privileged” position of the Jews. By removing them from the provincial socioeconomic sphere the military conceived of “leveling” Galician Jews to put them on a par with their Russian co-religionists. Concomitantly, the pogroms were accompanied by a whole cluster of rituals that involved the degradation and humiliation of Jews, heralding the introduction of the new political order. Under the conniving eyes of the officers, the Cossacks and soldiers forced Jews to dance, ride on pigs—insulting the sensibilities of religious Jews—crawl, and run naked. Violence thus became a part of a socioeconomic and psychological campaign to relegate Jews to second-class status …

'For soldiers and the Cossacks violence also became an expedient tool to make up for hardship and supply shortages, especially as communication lines were extended to the limit … Time and again the modus operandi of the pogromists was almost identical: a charge of some "treacherous act", such as allegations of shooting at the troops from Jewish houses or shops, would be followed in quick succession by plunder, rape and massacre.

'Since robbery was a ubiquitous element of the pogroms, greed could partially explain the participation of the local population in attacks. From the outset of hostilities, the news of the Russian invasion forced many Jews to flee Galicia. Their abandoned property attracted the throngs of looters, who were encouraged by the Cossacks and soldiers. Some individuals also guided the Russians to Jewish houses, where they together robbed the residents and divided the booty.' (14)

(13) Yaroslav Hrytsak: 'A Strange case of antisemitism: Ivan Franko and the Jewish issue' in Omar Bartov and Eric D.White (eds): Shatterzone of Empires - Coexistence and violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian and Ottoman Empires, Indiana University Press, 2013, p.234. 

(14) Alexander V. Prusin: 'A "Zone of violence" - the anti-Jewish pogroms in Eastern Galicia in 1914-1915 and 1941', Shatterzone, pp.368-9.

The situation became worse for both Jews and non-Jews with the defeat of the Russian forces in 1915:

'The Russian retreat soon turned into a rout and in June the Austrians recaptured Lwów. To deprive the enemy of human and material resources, the Russian High Command initiated a scorched-earth policy, which included the destruction of property along the front line and the forcible evacuation of the population. Conceived as a strategic device, the evacuation soon degenerated into widespread plunder, rape and murder. Acting upon orders to "clean up" the front-zone, the Cossacks and soldiers burned houses and crops, blew up bridges and mills, demolished railroads, and forced the population eastward.' (ibid., pp.369-70).

It is from this point that the story of the Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia - previously, as part of the Habsburg Empire, relatively privileged - turns into a nightmare: the brief chaotic period of Russian rule, followed by the collapse of the Empire, a long period of subjection to their traditional enemies, the Poles, followed by a very unwilling incorporation into the Soviet Union. It is in this context that we can understand their sympathy for, or at least ambivalent attitude towards, the Germans in the Second World War, and their current militantly anti-Russian nationalism.

The next article in this series will look at the tangled history of Ukraine following the February Revolution in 1917. Jabotinsky will return when he makes a deal with Simon Petliura after the pogroms which occurred while Petliura was briefly in power in Russian Ukraine.

                                    To Who are the Ukrainians part four