The Slow Burning Fuse

an atheisitic anarchistic scorcher

today in anarchist history

On May 25, 1926, Jewish anarchist Samuel Schwarzbard killed Simon Petliura, who had directed the pogroms in the Ukraine where several members of Schwarzbard’s family were murdered. schwartzbard2

Samuel Schwarzbard was born on August 18, 1886 in Izmail, Bessarabia, then part of the Russian Empire.   In the early 1900s he became active in the radical socialist movement in Russia working as an agitator for a group called Iskra, and was also a member of the Jewish self-defense units during the pogroms of 1905-1907, which earned him a short-spell in prison. Shortly thereafter, Schwarzbard left Russia. He travelled through Lemberg, Budapest, Vienna, Italy, and ended up in Paris in 1910, where he worked at various watchmaker workshops.  During his travels he became an anarchist, being especially influenced by the works of Kropotkin.  While in Budapest he was sentenced to a prison sentence for being found in possession of books by Nietzsche and Stirner and admitting openly to the police that he was an anarchist.

In 1917 Schwarzbard returned to Russia and joined the Red Guard in Odessa and then fought with the anarchist-communist Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (RIAU), known as the Makhnovists.  As an RIAU guerrilla he worked in organising the self-defence of Jewish rural communities against attack.  The RIAU was strictly anti-pogromist, and numbered many leading Jewish anarchists in its ranks and publicly assassinated those, including any of its own guerrillas, which it found responsible for having conducted pogroms.

The pogroms that took place in the Ukraine during this time shocked the public with their brutality and the number of their victims, which, in 1919, included 14 members of Schwartzbard’s family.  According to conservative estimates 50,000 Jews fell victim to these massacres. Victims and their relatives, as well as public figures concerned with this wave of violence held Minister of War Symon Petliura responsible for the atrocity who, as the commander of the Ukrainian army, was perceived as the ultimate perpetrator.

In 1920 Schwarzbard returned to Paris, where he again made his living as a watchmaker, and was active in anarchist circles along with figures such as Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, Senya Flechin, and Nestor Makhno, now residing in the French capital.  After seeking unsuccessfully to call attention to the crimes committed against the Jewish population in Ukraine in his writing, on May 25, 1926, Schwarzbard took justice into his own hands.  He assassinated the former Ukrainian leader, Symon Petliura, who had fled to Paris in 1924 in broad daylight as he was walking in the street, proclaiming loudly as he fired his fatal shots that he was avenging the pogroms. Schwarzbard then waited quietly at the scene at the corner of the Rue Racine and the Boulevard St. Michel for the police to arrest him. loadimg.php

Schwarzbard took full responsibility for the assassination, which he considered to be an act of justice, declaring I have murdered a murderer.   At his trial he described how “When the policeman told me Petliura was dead I could not hide my joy. I leaped forward and threw my arms about his neck.” In his defence of Schwarzbard, at the trial that followed, his attorney Henri Torrès concentrated on presenting the story of the pogroms and demonstrating Petliura’s responsibility for them. A great number of publicly recognized personalities, such as Henri Bergson, Romain Rolland, Albert Einstein, and Alexander Kerensky volunteered to testify on Schwarzbard’s behalf, and the former Prime Minister of Hungary Mihaly Károlyi presented an analysis of the Jewish problem in Central and Eastern Europe for the defence. In the end, the court acquitted Schwarzbard, who was released from the prison La Santé after almost a year and half.

After his release, Schwarzbard attended many meetings and gatherings around the world at the invitation of various Jewish organizations where he spoke about Jewish self-defence and the pogroms in the Ukraine. He also became active in the organizations of the veterans and victims of the First World War.

Schwarzbard was the author of several mostly autobiographical works Milkhome bilder (Pictures from the War), Fun tifen obgrund (From the Abyss), In krig mit zikh aleyn (In War with Myself) and his memoirs In’m loyf fun yorn (In the Course of Years). He also published poetry under the title Troymen un verlekhkayt (Dreams and Reality).

Schwarzbard died in Cape Town, South Africa on March 3, 1938.



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This entry was posted on May 25, 2013 by in anarchy, history, Uncategorized and tagged , .
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