University of Michigan professor presents research of 1918 Ukrainian pogroms

| Staff Writer

Photo by Photo Editor Holden Hindes.


University of Michigan Professor Jeffrey Veidlinger contextualized and explained Ukrainian pogroms, or organized massacres, and their subsequent responsibility in the onset of the Holocaust, Nov. 3.

Veidlinger’s lecture focused on his research in Ukraine on the development of Ukrainian pogroms from 1918 to 1921. Veidlinger, a professor of History and Judaic Studies, visited Ukraine 10 times between 2001 and 2010 to interview Yiddish speakers about their experiences and their families’ experiences.

Veidlinger’s main topic of the lecture was how pogroms, usually occurring against Jewish people, were prevalent in Ukraine both in the form of inter-community violence and military violence. Ultimately, these pogroms were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews.

“There were about 1,500 pogroms in about 500 different locations, resulting in the death of 100,000 people,” Veilinger said. “About 40,000 Jews were killed directly during the pogroms at the time, and another 60,000 died subsequently as a result of things like starvation or disease caused by the pogroms.” 

The lecture featured two video interviews of individuals that Veidlinger interviewed. The pair of videos painted two co-existing pictures of pogroms: the first man spoke of how his local community incited a pogrom, while the second man detailed how the Ukrainian military came to incite a pogrom. 

Veidlinger said his research was partly inspired by the photos and stories his father, who fled to the United States from German occupation in Budapest, would share with him. Veidlinger described one photo, in particular, that profoundly affected his view of the Holocaust, and how it meshed with everyday life for those living through it.

“It looks like a perfectly nice picture of a happy father and his son sitting on the balcony of their Budapest apartment,” he said. “But you have to look a little bit closer to recognize that they’re both wearing yellow stars.”

In a plan to stigmatize and persecute Jews, German authorities forced Jewish people to wear yellow stars so non-Jews could identify them.

Veidlinger explained how common stereotypical tropes were used to vilify the Jewish people living in Ukraine, and how these tropes were partly responsible for the violence against them.

“The Poles accused the Jews of siding with the Ukrainians,” Veidlinger said. “The Ukrainians accused the Jews of siding with the Poles. The Germans accused the Jews of spying for the Russians, and the Russians accused the Jews of spying for the Germans. The Bolsheviks accused the Jews [of] being [bourgeois capitalists], and everybody else accused the Jews of being Bolsheviks. The truth is that Jews’ political loyalties were divided: Jews were not a mass united under one party.”

Freshman Maya Iskoz was surprised by the prevalence of pogroms in Ukraine in the early 20th century. 

“I didn’t know to what extent the pogroms spread,” Iskoz said. “I didn’t realize the volume of Jews that they killed, and I also did not know that [the pogroms] were known in the US.”

Iskoz said that she would look into attending more informational events on campus similar to Veidlinger’s lecture in the future. 

Professor Joan Strassmann enjoyed the lecture and appreciated Veidlinger’s approach to crafting a story.

“He had a clear narrative — he illustrated it with examples and evidence,” Strassmann said. “He told a linear story that had an obvious but depressing point that violence against, in this case, Jews does not come from nowhere.”

Strassman said that, especially in comparison to the biology lectures that she attended, she appreciated the dynamic nature of the story. 

Veidlinger said the Holocaust had many complex factors that led to it, and that Ukraine’s pogroms are just one formative aspect of a larger narrative.

“We need to understand that the Holocaust, as it began in Ukraine, began in a land already awashed in blood,” Veidlinger said. “There is a pre-history to it.”

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