To the Head Mission of the Russian Society of the Red Cross for Ukraine and Crimea, Division of Relief for Victims of Pogroms: From S. S. Kahan, in Charge of Relief Work in the District of Korosten
August 10, 1919
The Korosten region of relief work includes Korosten, Ushomir, Luginy, Olevsk, Vaskovichi, and Ovruch.
The center of this region, because of its geographical position, is the town of Iskorost (railroad station of Korosten, Southwest Railroad).
The pogrom outbreaks, all characteristic manifestations of the first wave of pogroms in Ukraine, took place here comparatively long ago, in the winter (January) and in the early spring (March and April). This district has already been investigated, in part twice, by agents of the Central Jewish Committee (Ovruch, by A. I. Hillerson and myself ; the other places of the district, by I. G. Tzifrinovich). In the time following the visits of the agents to these places, there have been no new occurrences of pogroms here. The bloody stream of banditry and insurrection, which inundated almost the whole of the governments of Kiev and Podolia, touched the edges of this district, but until the last days did not break loose within its borders.
The population of these places, in particular of Korosten, found it hard, of course, to forget the occurrences of the past pogroms. But the sharpness of the moment, the bitter want of the first days after the pogrom, the uncooled blood of the victims—all this has had time to heal somewhat, and had it not been for general political and economic conditions, the wounds inflicted on the life of the people might have been healed.
But the trouble is that it is characteristic of Korosten that this place is a central point strategically speaking—a favorite tid-bit for the various contending sides in the civil war. For half a year Korosten has remained a theater of military activities on the front. The military side holds the center of attention here. Here there is always an armed camp. Not far away are the "positions," now of the Poles and Petlurists, now of what is called in recent times the "internal front" The civil side, the departments of government and industry, are all the time in a state of suppression here.
All the actual power belongs to the military departments, which are, of course, "good" or "bad," and to whose whims the population of this strip along the front is exposed. The general political conditions, the nearness of the "positions" (of the armies), the instability of the front—all create a feeling of uncertainty about the morrow, a state of unemployment, and economic depression. And the "cooperatives" and "sackers" have not been able to improve the economic position of the majority of the Jewish population. In Korosten it is hard to define exactly the moment of the "present" authentic Jewish pogrom. Here, as is shown by the reports of my predecessors, the pogrom outbreaks happened repeatedly. Moreover this town has the distinction of being the first scene of pogroms in Ukraine. The devastation which is caused by a pogrom in the specific sense of the word was caused here in Korosten not only by pogroms but also by the presence and the rule of military units of all colors, of all political orientations. The neighboring towns say of Korosten that in Korosten there "really never was any genuine pogrom," and this town has been considered fortunate in the matter of pogroms, up to very recent days.
The moment of my arrival in Korosten happened to coincide with a new wave, with a new stage in the civil war here in this region. Under the influence of reverses on the front, and on account of the drafting, outbreaks against the "commune" and the "Jews" began in many villages and hamlets. Unexpectedly for the small groups of Jewish families living in the surrounding villages and hamlets (three, four, or five families in a place), armed peasants began to appear, assemblies were called, uprisings were organized against the Soviet regime; and, as a necessary ritual of such uprisings, plundering and murder of individual Jews. The inhabitants of these scattered localities, which none of us knew anything about, fled to their capital of Korosten, leaving their property exposed to plunder at the hands of the local peasants; or they even abandoned their families and fled penmen wherever they happened to be able to go. All these tiny places, such as Shershni, Tulchinki, Dobrini, etc., with their two or three [Jewish] families (see pages 1-6 the report), experienced the same things as were experienced in Zhitomir, Ovruch, and Proscurov, where we know and all the world knows what happened. The whole horror of their position consisted in the doomed situation in which they found themselves.
Bandits hunted them down, "for their lives," as Matiashko, the head of the bands operating hereabouts, said. The victims of these outbreaks were people who were not in the least to blame for anything—old-time and aged inhabitants of the villages, who hated the "commune" as much as those who killed them in the name of the struggle against this "commune." Into these localities an investigating agent will never penetrate; they will never be recorded in the pages of a report. All these uprisings against the regime and the Jews occurred under the banner of Sokolovsky, whose detachments operated in the region near Zhitomir. In many places there was no direct connection with Sokolovsky's detachments, but the peasants, thinking that at present they had to give themselves some name or other, decided to call themselves his followers. There were places where the peasants, although they rose against the Soviet regime, nevertheless distinguished themselves from Sokolovsky; in such places there were neither murders of Jews, nor even robberies. In certain places a new trait may be noted in the relations of the insurgent peasants to the Jews. Thus, in the town of Ushomir (about which see below), near Korosten, the rebel peasants did not touch any of the Jews. Fifteen of the rebels appeared in the town early one morning, summoned all the Jews into the synagogue, and there announced to them, that they had come not to destroy the Jews but to fight the commune, and that if the Jews would co-operate with them in this fight, all would be well. At the same time the rebels warned the Jews not to assemble for the im-pending mobilization declared by the bolsheviki. The same thing happened in several other places, where the Jews even announced to the government that they could go to the rallying-point (for military service) only in case the peasants went, too. But if such idylls of the civil war did take place, they took place only in a few towns and villages, where the insurgents were local peasants who saw before them only "their own" Jews, in whom they did not suspect "communism" in the least. But the capital of the district, Iskorost, was apparently considered by the peasants a citadel of communism, and the peas-ants watched everything that went on there very closely. And when I arrived in Korosten and started to organize a dining-hall and to arrange a kettle, that same awful "common kettle" with which the agitators frighten the peasants, that authentic symbol of a "commune"; and when the report of this "kettle" came to another town, Ushomir, they began to say that in Korosten "the Jews are already establishing a commune, the kettle has already been seen" . . .
In Ushomir the peasants said to the Jews: "Go to Korosten, there the kettle is all ready l" The Jews of Ushomir were frightened, fearing that they would be accused of founding a "commune," and begged me not to start a dining-hall in Ushomir like that in Korosten, lest it bring upon them the charge of communism. Thus amid tragic and tragi-comic incidents and occurrences passed the first days of work in the district, from June 24 to July 5. This was the first period of the insurrection; a period of attempts at rebellion, cautious and timid as yet, and scattered outbreaks among the peasants.