In the Midst of Civ­i­lized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918 – 1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

September 1, 2020

Between 1918 and 1921, over 100,000 Jews were mur­dered in Ukraine and Poland by peas­ants, towns­men, and sol­diers who blamed the Jews for the tur­moil of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. In hun­dreds of sep­a­rate inci­dents, ordi­nary peo­ple robbed their Jew­ish neigh­bors with impuni­ty, burned down their hous­es, ripped apart their Torah scrolls, sex­u­al­ly assault­ed them, and killed them. Large­ly for­got­ten today, these pogroms‚ eth­nic riots‚” dom­i­nat­ed head­lines and inter­na­tion­al affairs in their time. Aid work­ers warned that six mil­lion Jews were in dan­ger of com­plete exter­mi­na­tion. Twen­ty years lat­er, these dire pre­dic­tions would come true.

Draw­ing upon long-neglect­ed archival mate­ri­als, includ­ing thou­sands of new­ly dis­cov­ered wit­ness tes­ti­monies, tri­al records, and offi­cial orders, acclaimed his­to­ri­an Jef­frey Vei­dlinger shows for the first time how this wave of geno­ci­dal vio­lence cre­at­ed the con­di­tions for the Holo­caust. Through sto­ries of sur­vivors, per­pe­tra­tors, aid work­ers, and gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials, he explains how so many dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple came to the same con­clu­sion: that killing Jews was an accept­able response to their var­i­ous problems.

Discussion Questions

In the Midst of Civ­i­lized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918 – 1921 and the Onset of the Holo­caust by Jef­frey Vei­dlinger is an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to our under­stand­ing of a trag­ic peri­od in twen­ti­eth­cen­tu­ry his­to­ry: the pogroms con­vuls­ing Ukraine, Gali­cia, and south­ern Rus­sia between 1918 and 1921. These trag­ic events have long been over­looked by his­to­ri­ans because of the even more hor­rif­ic events of the Holo­caust. By exhaus­tive­ly exam­in­ing a wide range of archival and print­ed mate­r­i­al, includ­ing wit­ness tes­ti­monies from the time, this book shines a spot­light on these events, and offers a new per­spec­tive on the ques­tion how could the Holo­caust hap­pen?”. It could because its roots were in the wave of geno­ci­dal pogroms that swept East­ern Europe dur­ing and after World War I. It explains how the atroc­i­ties of the Holo­caust were root­ed in the col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of the peo­ples of East­ern Europe. The book unrav­els the com­plex his­to­ry of Ukraine in this peri­od in a vivid and read­able form. It also con­ducts a close analy­sis of the rela­tions between armed forces, non-Jew­ish neigh­bors, and local Jews when ten­sions spi­raled into pogroms.