The Holocaust Before the Holocaust
by Jody Gorran
2019 marks the 100% anniversary of the forgotten 1919 pogroms in the Ukraine. This series of pogroms from 1917-1921 is referred to as “the Holocaust before the Holocaust,” a time when pogroms worsened for Jewish women. I’m working with others to produce a feature film based on our screenplay “Pogrom” and inspired by the historical record to remember these women and give them a voice.
In 2017 I watched a new film documentary entitled “My Dear Children,” one of the first documentaries about the pogroms. I knew nothing about these pogroms. I found the film so compelling that I contacted the producer of the film, LeeAnn Dance, and purchased a license so that I could show the film in my southern Florida community.
Little did I know what would follow.
For twenty years, I thought I knew the name and location of my grandfather’s ancestral village in the Ukraine. In January 2018 I learned that I had been wrong. I would never have learned the truth without the intimate knowledge of Alexander Sharon and Warren Blatt of JewishGen. They advised me that my original “Chaswater” was actually known as Khashchuvatye.
Khashchuvatye (also Khaschevata) had a number of people on JewishGen Family Finder who were interested in this town as well as a Google group. I was excited by this new discovery and contacted them about the town. I had done DNA testing through Family Tree DNA and decided to run the names of these people against my DNA match list. I found two distant matches. While we do not know of family names in common, this DNA match appears to provide additional support that Khashchuvatye or its vicinity was the correct ancestral town.
I also learned from the Google group that its Jewish population suffered the fate of both twentieth century pogroms and the Holocaust. Having just viewed My Dear Children, the subject of pogroms caught my attention. Now I was reading that Khashuvatye had been subjected to these pogroms.
A June 1923 report from the American Joint Distribution Committee described the following:
Khaschevata is one of the points of Gaisin District, which have suffered most from pogroms. The bands of Volynetz and Tiutunik rivaled with small local bands and the town was constantly pillaged during three years. There were some cases when the Jewish youths offered resistance to the bands.
The most cruel pogrom was committed by Denikin’s troops who remained in Khaschevata for about 3 months, pillaging the population, carrying: away whole carts loaded with the belongings of Jews and violating the women: many of the latter
became infected with syphilis. Finally, on the day of retreat of Denikin's Army, the officers committed a massacre in which 125 persons were murdered and 55 persons werewounded (in some cases, arms were chopped off.)
I had brought My Dear Childrento my community for a showing and saw how moved the audience had been. Now I was determined to learn more about these pogroms in Ukraine. A portion of the documentary was devoted to Dr. Irina Astashkevich, whose 2013 doctoral dissertation was entitled The Pogroms in Ukraine in 1917-1920: An Alternate Universe.
I obtained a copy of her dissertation and was shocked by what it described. I spoke with her about her research and she explained that she had written a book on this subject to be published shortly. In June 2018 I visited the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan, which was prominently featured in the film and where much of Dr Astashkevich’s research was done.
My goal was to find more information on Khashchuvatye and the pogroms of that period. I was able to find a 1928 report by N. Gergel in which I learnedthat it had been subjected to twelve successive pogroms during this period, the second highest number out of 531 Ukrainian villages subjected to 1286 pogroms.
Later that fall, Dr Astashkevich’s book, Gendered Violence: Jewish Women in the Pogroms of 1917-1921 was published. It was described asa groundbreaking study of an important and neglected topic—the systematic use of rape as a strategic weapon of the genocidal anti-Jewish violence, known collectively as pogroms. In these pogroms at least 100,000 Jews died and undocumented numbers of Jewish women were raped. The book is based on the in-depth study of narratives of Jewish men and women who survived the pogrom violence, only to be forgotten for almost a century. This book deconstructs the motives of perpetrators, the experience and expression of trauma by the victimized community, and how the genocidal objectives of the pogrom perpetrators were achieved and maximized through violence.
My objective is to bring these events to the public’s attention through a feature film. I came up with the outline of a story and secured screenwriter Glenn A. Bruce to craft a screenplay entitled Pogrom. I also enlisted the assistance of Dr. Irina Astashkevich, the author, who serves as our technical advisor.
We are hoping to gain the attention of the film industry and find a production company interested in making this film. It’s Saving Private Ryan meets Schindler’s List in Ukraine.
Jody Gorran lives in Boynton Beach, Florida. For more information on the screenplay for “Pogrom” or the book “Gendered Violence: Jewish Women in the Pogroms of 1917-1921,” contact Gorran at firstname.lastname@example.org.