Rapes, Sexual Violence and Pogroms during Civil War
in Ukraine and Belorussia
(1917-1922)

The Civil War that directly followed the 1917 revolution in the former Russian empire was analysed for a long time as a deadly opposition between different armies supporting political projects, between revolution and counter-revolution. In Ukraine and Belorussia, mainly fought four contenders to power: the “Reds”, supporters of a Soviet republic and of the Bolsheviks, the “Whites”, anti-Bolshevik and Russian nationalists, the Ukrainian nationalists, supporters of an independent Ukraine, and the Polish army fighting for the recently reformed independent Poland – while a fifth force weakened all the previous, so-called “Greens”, formed by peasants insurgents.

But as the strong presence of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian nationalisms should have pointed out, the question of the nationalities played a key role in revolutionary and wartime years . Ethnicity – “nationalities” in the Russian imperial context – served as platform of political mobilization, but also as a category to manage populations. Nationalities were also brutally targeted. Notably, Cossacks were disbanded as a social group, their leaders arrested and usually shoot, their properties confiscated and families expelled by the new Soviet regime, in order to crush any anti-Bolshevik resistance . But Revolution and Civil War in Central and Eastern Europe also turned into a massive catastrophe for Jews, and when a Soviet official described the devastations of Civil War in a press article published in 1922, he was forced to conclude that: “We can say that, among every group that suffered from war, none is in a situation as tragic as the Jews” . A new wave of pogroms persecuted Jews of the former Russian empire, mainly in Ukraine. All armies, but mainly anti-Bolshevik forces, plundered one million Jews in Ukraine, 350 000 in Belorussia, i.e. half of the Jewish population in these regions. The unprecedented scale of violence and population displacements confronted Jewish population to death and material and social deprivation. In a few months, 125 000 Jews were massacred; 500 000 fled from war and violence; 200 000 children were registered as orphans .

Nevertheless, despite the magnitude of these events, their circumstances and consequences have been insufficiently studied. Barely conspicuous in the glorious narrative of the Bolshevik Revolution, this tragedy has tended to exist after 1945 “in the shadow” of the Holocaust . While the memory of pogroms was heavily used to discredit former anti-Bolsheviks, scholars mostly focused on direct victims, killed by pogromists and left besides other types of violence yet essential. In this context, among others, sexual violence also represents a major aspect of brutality against civilians and Jews in particular.

In the reports submitted by Aid Committees, despite the difficulty to establish the scale of mass rapes, rapes are told as numerous as murders. But the numbers given are only clues. For example, during the Kiev pogrom of October 1919, the local Aid Committee considers that 60 women have been raped; but a witness, an American journalist, puts forward the number, from official sources, of 150 victims . But the descriptions of anti-Jewish violence during Civil War illustrate the fact that sexual violence is omnipresent, alongside with plunder, beating and murders. For example in Koshevatoe, during one of the first large-scale pogroms of the Civil War:

All night long, they [pogromists] went from house to house, beating, raping and plundering without pity. […] in the house were gathered the inhabitants of the same street. The plunderers broke the door, started to beat the unfortunate Jews and to rape women.

This pogrom was perpetrated in June 1918, as the very beginning of the pogrom era.

The question of sources is globally problematic. Sexual violence are never mentioned by victims themselves; rape always happens to someone else, preferably unknown, usually a neighbour or an acquaintance. As pointed out by a victim of the Kiev pogrom of October 1919, the simple evocation of sexual violence was highly problematic for spectators and even more for victims: “Outrages [perpetrated against women] are usually difficult to bring to light, because a natural sense of shame prevents victims to push their case” . A dimension that did not vanish in our contemporary societies . Even if sometimes a victim pictures precisely rapes she witnessed, she never comes to describe the violence she suffered herself, while everything seems to indicate that she was assaulted . Rapes are more often mentioned in summary lists on pogroms. But the numbers are used as a way to dissimulate the actual suffering of victims, barely specified in the reports on specific pogroms. For example, in the report about the pogrom in Zamiekhov, Podolia, in 1920, the victims killed and some wounded are named and detailed on three pages, while rapes fill the last three lines: “26 women, including one of 75 and one of 50, were raped. This report does not give names, for reasons easily understandable” . This restraint is not specific to Ukraine or early 20th century, but makes difficult to circumscribe sexual violence even when they are massively perpetrated.

Despite difficulties and euphemisms, sexual violence constantly emerges from documentation, in testimonies but decisively in recapitulative sheets produced by Aid Committees to victims of war and pogroms. Probably because anonymous numbers appears neutral, statistics allow a more precise apprehension of the phenomenon. On two lists concerning Kiev region and eastern bank Ukraine, in 210 pogroms, rapes allegedly occurred 73 times (35%) . Documentation allows the conclusion that rapes, far from marginal, are an integral part of pogroms and antisemitism during the whole Civil War, from 1918 to 1921, and that every pogromists – from the Red Army to the White Armies, Ukrainian or Polish nationalist Armies and peasants’ insurrections – committed rapes in this context.

Recent civil wars in Europe and abroad encouraged witnesses and social sciences to not only focus on political antagonisms but on specific ways armies considered alleged enemy population and new ways of persecution. Wars in former Yugoslavia after 1991 emphasized the fact that mass rapes were not a peripheral practice but an important part of war perpetrated against civilians . Sexual violence against Jewish women after 1917 is at the intersection of different relations: gender, nationality, military and civilians. They suffered both as women and as Jews, and were targeted as both. This question allows considering how brutally war expanded of the Ukrainian and Belorussian territories after 1917, and affected the population not only as a political struggle, but also literally as a war conducted against civilians – considered as a way to win the war in general. In this perspective, sexual violence allows to re-evaluate the Civil War after 1917 in Eastern Europe and antisemitism that developed within. Far from a hypothetic “traditional antisemitism”, this article tries to show that war and revolution formed a turning point by expanding the scale of antisemitism and of its potential victims.

I. Sex, war and pogroms

Rapes were not uncommon in the former Russian Empire during the wartime period between 1914 and 1924 covering the First World War and the Civil War. If the phenomenon became massive during the twentieth century, Marianna Muravyeva pointed out, through a longue durée juridical consideration, that, unlike other armies, Russian armies perpetrated sexual violence – and were punished for that by military law – as early as 17th century while Russia was perpetually at war . Women were victims of the latitude granted to men in uniform on the front and behind the front lines. Sexual violence considerably increased with World War I and mobilisation of mass conscription armies. On the western front, in France or in Belgium, countless rapes followed the German invasion after 1914. Sexual violence was perpetrated on an enemy body, in order to submit a radical otherness . The eastern front was less binary. Russian Soldiers also assaulted young women subjects of their own Empire. Committees helping war victims already pointed out the massification of sexual violence against Russian Jewish and non-Jewish populations after 1914 . We have first to consider wartime rapes to emphasize the later difference with rapes during pogroms: their logics and perpetration are indeed different, if not opposite.

1) Sexual violence in times of war

Concerning the Civil War, a precious source allows to highlight the difference between individual sexuality and mass rapes during anti-Jewish pogroms: the diary held by the Jewish writer from Odessa, Isaac Babel, which formed the initial materials of his famous novel Red Cavalry.

Isaac Babel’s diary deals directly and constantly with the question of sexual violence. Babel pictures the sexual misery of red soldiers, the “sadness to have no one to copulate with” at night, and generally the perpetual hunt for women .

Women’s absence in the armies is not sufficient to explain wartime rapes. Red cavalry men, although frustrated, value deeply the sexual prowess of their fellow soldiers in a context of virility exacerbated by combat. Babel notices at multiple times the sexual pressure women in the Red Army had to deal with (especially nurses). In the novel Red Cavalry, the question of sexual violence against nurses is diffused, but the portrait in the diary is pretty dark: the nurse “is reduced to nothing, she wants to go, they all got her […]. She does pity, she wants to go, she is sad” . Civilians also had to undergo sexual pressure of soldiers. Impoverished women were led to occasional prostitution in order to benefit from soldiers’ supplies . But the desire to find a woman for the night regularly degenerates into rape; the brutality of occupation blurs lines between sexuality prostitution and sexual violence. Soldiers’ views on their ephemeral hosts or neighbours often ignore their consent, while some women seem to cede in order to avoid further brutality, despite the fact that this situation put at risk their physical and mental sanity . In one sentence, Babel sums up the daily life of his comrades: “All soldiers - velvet caps, rape, toupees, battles, revolution and syphilis” . (Despite Soviet sexual liberation, one can notice that Babel’s depictions of sexuality during Civil War were cut off the final version of Red Cavalary, while chapters were dedicated to the nurse and encounters with civilians.)

Despite their variety, these rapes involve an individual sexuality. They take place apart from combat, out of sight and often under cover of night. Nevertheless, their perpetration is sometimes collectively valued and they participate in one soldier’s enhancement, reinforcing his masculinity. They especially emphasize the difference between unarmed civilians and soldiers. But victims are chosen by opportunity not following defined categories. Jewish women are not aimed as a group. War ravaged the whole Jewish Pale of Settlement for almost ten years. Therefore Jewish women were heavily affected by sexual violence perpetrated by lonely soldiers; not because they were specifically targeted, but because they were perpetually in contact with troops.

2) Sexual violence in times of pogroms

Wartime rapes therefore clearly distinguished themselves of rapes during pogroms. The main difference deals with the perpetration of rapes themselves. Pogroms are centred on pillage. The systematic plunder of Jewish populations opens regularly on beatings and murders. In the same way, sexual violence is used as a threat to steal every last wealth from the Jews. In Borispol, on August 25th 1919, a victim depicts the action of White armies:

During 4 days, there were 40 occurrences of rapes, from a 50 years old women to a 14 years old young girl. Women were tortured by 10-12 soldiers and are now barely alive. […] Soldiers had various demands: a girl, a cloth, money, taking everything and beating again.

This last sentence highlights the place taken by rapes in the pogrom economy. Jews are dispossessed of “their” women as well as they are dispossessed of their belongings. Sometimes, rapes are explicitly mentioned as a substitute for too little wealth to plunder. To a father unable to fulfil his demands, a pogromist “reminded him the money required, threatened to rape [his] twenty years old daughter” . And in Kiev, when a captain and fifteen pogromists obtained too little money from their victims, “they took the young woman to the attic and wounded another Jew” .

Therefore, rapes are not part anymore of an individual sexuality. They are part of a collective persecution. Soldiers endorse at will the different roles, following a rough division of tasks. In Smela, in December 1919, a Jewish doctor details the action of pogromists in her house. While officers are waiting, White soldiers start to threat and plunder the inhabitants: “A terrible plunder followed”. Quickly, “Cossacks took three girls that strongly tried to defend themselves”. One of them escaped, while the two others were locked in the office. A soldier guarded the door, waiting for his turn; “the girls’ rape kept on. One of them, a student, was raped by 5 Cossacks. The sixth took her from the office to the kitchen, but abandoned her there and ran. The second one, a 15 years old high school student, was raped by 3 bandits” .

Rapes are not anymore hidden and personal. On the contrary, they are openly part of anti-Jewish violence. They are collectively perpetrated by few men, but sometimes by 15 to 20 soldiers: a collective demonstration of strength, in order to narrow women to their helplessness. Therefore, attacks on every aspects of femininity also occurred, profaning the intimacy of women’s body – especially by cutting or setting on fire their hair . More broadly, every physical mark of Jewishness, of difference, like traditional clothing, was ripped off and profaned by pogromists. Polish armies became specialists of cutting beards of the Jews they encountered, wiping with one gesture a symbol of otherness, despised piety and masculinity .

For women are not the only targets of sexual violence and mass rapes. Jewish male witnesses were also aimed by rapes perpetrated in front of them. For example in Belaia Tserkov: “The three Raikhman daughters were raped in front of their parents. In total, this happened to around 100 women from 12 to 60. A minor girl was raped by 8 to 10 men” . Girls are raped in front of their parents, wives in front of their husbands, etc. Violence and humiliation had to be perpetrated in public and suffered as well. In consequence, women were also randomly raped on the streets in front of everyone. For example, during a pogrom, Red Army soldiers “in the street, in daylight, with many armed men around, plundered men and women of all their clothes and raped them, almost on the street, in front of bystanders, helpless to do anything” .

Mass rapes during pogroms intend to humiliate, not specific women, but the whole local Jewish population. In some extreme cases, the sexual satisfaction of rapists is even absent. Soldiers force husbands to have sex with their wives or abandon their victims before they finished . As a result, the age, look and condition of victims had no importance; on the contrary, pogromists targeted the broadest spectrum of Jewish women. In Cherkassy:

There were many rapes (nearly 300 victims): neither little girls nor elderly women were spared. Elderly women of 50 and girls of 10 were raped. As such, the only daughter of a acquaintance, which was only 11 years old, was raped in front of her father.

In the same way, women ill and bedridden, or already wounded, were nevertheless raped while their homes were plundered.

II. Rapes as a weapon

1)Systematic rapes

Some army groups made a speciality of mass rapes during pogroms, as pointed out by an early Jewish historian of pogroms, Nahum Shtif : “Mass rapes (massovoe iznasilovanie) of Jewish women are the most striking aspect of the Volunteers Army. […] this crime became the main part of pogrom, as well as plundering” . White Armies committed so many rapes in southern Ukraine that even Christian neighbours complained to the military authorities that “tens of young innocent women, even girls, were raped, often in front of their parents, by soldiers and even officers” .

But, while Nahum Shtif tried to explain that mass rapes were specific to the White (or Volunteers) Armies, documentation shows that other fighting groups adopted the same pattern. Some Ukrainian nationalist units, in Podolia heavily raped the Jewish population . A doctor, drafted by Ukrainian armies, also testified that “Cossacks raped everyday” . In the same way, a peasants insurgents’ leader, ataman Sokolovski, and his men distinguished themselves in 1919 in the Kiev region by raping thousands of Jewish women: 500 in Borshagovka (April), 100 in Kornin (May), 400 in Volodarka (July), and again 200 in Novo-Fastov (August) . Other insurgents, under command of ataman Volynets, were portrayed in the same way by a witness in Jabokrich: “Bandits came at the factory and raped almost every women. More than 200 people were killed” .

But the Whites were the most important army placing rape in the core of anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine during Civil War. In other armies, mass rapes were limited to some specific fighting groups, while they widespread in the whole White armies. The purpose was not only to rape women indistinctly, but as many as possible. Jewish women are not only potential victim of sexual violence, but deliberately targeted. In Novo-Kovno, for example:

on one hundred Jewish women, 90 were raped. Beatings, humiliations, outrages and plundering knew no limit in this [agricultural] colony. In Novo-Vitebsk, 3 versts from Novo-Kovno, almost every Jewish women were raped and, even worst, they raped mothers in front of daughters, and daughters in front of mothers, in the same room.

After 1917, anti-Semitism in Ukraine turned into a radical antagonism, where Jews were pictured as military, economic and political enemies: they were prompt to shoot in the back of soldiers and betrayal; they speculated at the expense of peasants; but the main grievance was that the created and promoted bolshevism in Ukraine, a political movement that was supposedly trying to enslave the peasantry with kommuna . These accusations were the core of a new variety of anti-Semitism in Europe based on the Judeo-Bolshevism myth. Judeo-Bolshevism not only crystallized a powerful narrative fitted for mobilization, it also transformed a whole nationality into an enemy and universalized violence. Therefore, mass rapes had little to do with soldiers’ sexual needs, they were a weapon to submit half of the Jewish population. As the whole Jewish nationality was a threat, women were therefore targeted, as well as men, as potential soldiers. This logic of submission also explains the public and collective dimension of rapes: they were a way for the pogromists to fight an enemy that relied also on women, with a logic of collective national guilt.

2)Politicization of women’s body

How did the phenomenon grow so fast in Ukraine during Civil War? How did women and sexual violence take such an important place in the war against civilians perpetrated by anti-Bolshevik armies? Women did not wait 1919 to become political actors and object of political deliberation. But a rumour especially grew in Ukraine in 1919 about an allegedly “socialization of women” under Soviet regime that radicalized the situation. Propaganda circulars and leaflets widespread the idea that women between 16 and 20 were forced, by official decree, into brothels in order to be “used” by Red soldiers or subject to forced labour. Commanders were even entitled to ten virgins. An alleged decree was supposedly found in Ekaterinodar in South Russia, the unofficial capital of the White movement . The actual project of “socialization of women” presented in the Izvestia of April 20th 1918 was quite different. It guaranteed, on the contrary, “to all girls before 18, the complete inviolability of their person”; the decree severely condemned rape and even insult to minor. It was the first step of a politics of social protection, but also promoted “free love” and equality between men and women, in line with Aleksandra Kollontai’s ideas – then People’s Commissar for Public Assistance in Soviet Russia. “Socialization of women” sought a radical breakthrough with former legal corpus, official politics and unequal practices.

The rumour did not come from nowhere. It found support on anarchic rapes massively perpetrated by Red troops, far from the surveillance of their officers, in Ukraine and Russia during Civil War . By successive exaggerations, White armies – especially their propagandists through their daily and weekly “information bulletins” – built a direct political will, as if Soviet power was the root of everything that happened in Soviet republics, despite an apparent chaos. White soldiers did not only consider civil war as a struggle for political supremacy, but as a threat to the very existence of familial stability and traditions. The fact that the alleged “socialization of women” was systematically presented with women from the bourgeoisie compelled to degrading forced labour (typically cleaning barracks or bathrooms), emphasized the fear of a total social upheaval. In this context, the Judeo-Bolshevism myth was fatal to Jewish men and women in particular. As the Jews were presented as instigators and main supporters of Bolshevism, they were responsible for the mass enslavement of women imagined with the “socialization of women”. Systematic rapes were therefore retaliation for the alleged Soviet politics toward women, a way to restore a deranged social order. As a result, the Reds and the Jews were not only portrayed as a political enemy, but as a biological threat.

On this topic, Ukrainian or Polish nationalists did not build a propaganda effort as powerful as the Whites ; lack of cultural mobilization probably explain the fact that mass rapes did not widespread in Polish and Ukrainian armies as in White. This did not prevent Ukrainian or Polish officials to describe Civil War not only as a political conflict, but also with national categories. They systematically presented Bolshevism as a Russian importation, supported by minorities, especially the Jews. The last are the interior equivalent of the first, the exterior enemy. Demographers, geographers or historian sometimes presented bolshevism as the last avatar of foreign imperialism and a threat for Ukrainian or Polish culture, shared by supposed endogamous groups, but never as an imminent peril for women . The danger was for the Ukrainian nation, as a collective, not for individuals. For example, according to an Ukrainian nationalist newspapers, an “Ukrainian Credo”, allegedly repeated by new recruits in the Ukrainian People’s Republic’s army, proclaimed:

Do not take wife among foreigners, because your children would then become your enemies and our Ukraine’s enemies. Do not support the enemies of the Ukrainian people, because you would increase their strength and prepare your fatherland’s loss

This civil war imagined as a war between nationalities opens, in some military groups, especially local-rooted insurgent peasants, on atrocities that tend to deny Jews any right to live alongside their pogromist neighbours. Motherhood’s symbols were profaned in order to turn down the Jews’right to procreate in Ukraine or Belorussia, in other words, to keep living here. In Obodin, in Podolia, in July 1919, a family is completely slaughtered: “The woman was found with her breasts cut off; a baby of six months baby had its throat cut” . In Tripolie, south of Kiev, the Greens of ataman Zelenyi deliberately cut off Jewish women’s breasts or open pregnant women’s in two . Any promise of a future Jewish life was openly wiped out.

III. Mortalities

Despite the deficiencies of the documentation, a close look at the contemporary reports leads to the conclusion that rapes were as common as murders during Civil War pogroms in Ukraine. 120 000 victims died directly because of the pogromists; by extrapolation, 100 000 women raped is therefore a legitimate number to conclude to. In other words, one on twelve Jewish women was raped. This ratio is similar to the experience suffered by Soviet women under German occupation after 1941, and is slightly inferior to German women during the Red Army advance in 1945.

1) Medical consequences : from physical to psychological

The logic of submission of the Jewish population followed by pogromists and rapists was not only symbolical. Sexual violence dramatically increased women’s mortality. For many women, rapes were sometimes so physically violent that they led to the victim’s death. In Ekaterinoslav, for example, a young schoolgirl, “thrown in a basement, bleed out to death during her rape” . Brief commentaries that come with lists of victims sometimes make reference to wounds caused by sexual violence . The fact that sexual violence and murders tend to mix participates in the eclipse of the first phenomenon. After pogroms, victims are counted but their condition and intimacy are usually not described. The report on the Felshtin pogrom – 600 victims pour 1900 Jews – perpetrated by Haidamaks of the Ukrainian nationalist army in February 1919, is an exception and underscores the blurring logics of violence : “Many women died after they were raped. A great number of survivors were also raped. Twelve unfortunates were hospitalised because they were victims of rape.”

Medical and sanitary effects of rapes were also disastrous. Venereal diseases were spread through victims. “Many raped women fell seriously sick, psychologically and physically. Many contracted venereal diseases”, testified an agricultural colonist in southern Ukraine . All armies in campaign carry infections sexually transmissible. A disappointed Isaac Babel notes in his diary: “The truth is that all soldiers are suffering from syphilis” . In Smela, Kiev region, on fifty women treated by a woman doctor, “we found 25 cases of gonorrhoea, 6 cases of white canker and 8 cases of syphilis” on women of all ages . Many infections – usually treatable during peacetimes – prove dangerous or fatal because of lack of appropriate treatments. In 1921, Soviet People’s Commissariats still considered that 75 000 victims of rapes during pogroms were still contagious .

Also in Smela, twenty women were found pregnant, forcing doctors to perform emergency abortions. But sanitary conditions were so bad that any medical procedure became risky:

Doctors help to perform them [abortions]. Unfortunately, some victims were sent to the doctor too late, others had an abortion at home with the means at hand or through healers, etc. In the latter case, there were fatalities.

The few doctors treating the victims indicate that because of venereal diseases and mostly because of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, rapes victims had a mortality of 10% . Therefore, probably 10 000 Jewish women died consequently of mass rapes during Civil War in Ukraine.

The experience was also psychologically traumatic. Despite rhetorical precautions and euphemisms, and more broadly because words are missing to describe this condition, reports written by Aid Committees try to describe the consequences of mass sexual violence on Jewish women. In Kiev, for example, two women were forced to follow pogromists in October 1919. The first one’s body was found in the street the next day. The other one was abandoned, half dead, but managed to come back “pale, the face scratched… older, vaulted… sinisterly silent, with downcast eyes, dull look, faded” . A doctor in Smela had to note “in many cases, victims are in a condition of deep nervous collapse, wanting to end their days” . In few cases, victims actually rather killed themselves to avoid the humiliation . Even if they survived, victims sometimes never managed to overcome the experience of sexual violence. Medical actors tried to describe the phenomenon of somatisation that affected victims and that modern medicine only recently addressed . Trauma haunted some victims for a long time:

A girl, a workwoman at that candy factory, was raped by the mouth. During this, the monsters shouted at her: "Don’t shout, Kike. We will kill you". Her mouth is crippled. After the rape, the girl suffered for a long time of horrific vomiting. The only memory of the rape causes vomiting and a general affection.

The sentiment of humiliation affects the whole Jewish population – men and women. Inclination of reports written by Aid Committees to barely describe rapes, highlights the fact that the shame felt by the victims is not only personal but collectively suffered. But no woman seems to have been rejected by enabled and humiliated husband or father – a phenomenon unfortunately not uncommon in other contexts .

Widespread silence cloaked this violence towards women. In Mozyr uezd, in Belorussia, despite the fact that aid committees knew that around a thousand women had been raped , only 15 declared themselves . This usual silence also had sanitary consequences. Women tended to suffer in silence of venereal diseases. As a result, they transmitted them to their families, increasing general mortality – as doctors founds out during their tours against typhus epidemic .

2) Dead trying to preserve her body

As seen before, raped women were regularly found murdered. As pogromists’ purpose was total humiliation of defenceless women, any resistance was brutally crushed. Parents trying to protect their family were immediately shot. In Kiev, during the October 1919 pogrom, a woman was thrown by the widow of her apartment because she was struggling while White soldiers tried to rape her. A few streets away, a father trying to protect his daughter was shot on the sport . This dimension has its symmetric during plunder: any attempt to resist (or alleged resistance) also opened on beating and often killing. Any resistance only increase the pogromists’ desire to humiliate their victims, often fatal for the last. Near Kiev, during a pogrom perpetrated by armies of the Ukrainian National Republic: “In one house, there were three girls: aged of 12, 16 and 18 years old. Because she resisted, the 16 years old was killed. The others were raped” .

Anyone who tried to intervene was likewise beaten or killed. In Kharkov, during a White pogrom in summer 1919:

During that night, a group of officers from the Savage Division, a White division recruited among the Caucasian mountain tribes, forced their way into the lawyer’s apartment [the witness’s neighbour]. They demanded drinks and food. The maid served. Having finished the drinks, they demanded to have a bath prepared. The maid prepared a bath. Then they demanded that the young lady of the house went with them to the bathroom and "help" them take the bath. […] When the young woman refused indignantly, they dragged her into the bathroom and started to rip off her clothes. When in response to the woman’s cries the husband rushed into the bathroom, the Caucasians killed him with their daggers, in cold blood, as if they butchered a cow. Then they gang-raped the young woman and later slaughtered her as well.

Collective resistance was similarly crushed; repression was even more brutal. In Koshevatoe, in June 1918, for example, during a pogrom previously mentioned:

Facing violence, young people started to resist which made thing worse. An unbearable struggle started. Bandits put a machine-gun in front of the houses and opened fire. This fight ended with many casualties and wounded among the poor Jews.

Rapes ended up imposing a complete asymmetry between the troop, composed of young armed men, and Jewish populations, unarmed civilians, terrorized by the pogrom and a constant anti-Jewish persecution. Sexual violence ultimately affect what is considered the most intimate; it ravages bodies and souls; but it intrinsically organises collective helplessness and humiliation.


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Thousands of Jewish women were victims of sexual violence during Civil War. Thousands of them probably died consecutively. Rapes clearly became an important part of the anti-Jewish persecution that rose after 1917 and that is not limited to pogroms as mass plundering or killing. Mass rapes targeting specifically Jewish women, were used as a political tool, with an impact on the national hierarchy in the former Pale of Settlement. This phenomenon also emphasizes two aspects that radicalized this Civil War and war against civilians in particular: the role of rumours and Judeo-Bolshevism.

Rumours did not reflect some kind of demodernization after 1917, but on the contrary of a massive use of propaganda tools forged during World War I and used to stigmatize not the foreign enemy, but the enemy within. Rumours rooted locally; they were detailed, circumstantial discourses, allegedly representative, halfway between general consideration and anecdotes. But echoed by propaganda, newspapers, internal circulars, they became the main mobilizing resource used by anti-Bolshevik armies. And they deeply radicalized anti-Jewish prejudice.

Sexual violence allows considering the implications and innovations introduced by the crystallisation of Judeo-Bolshevism and also emphasize the kind of responsibility implicated by the post-revolutionary anti-Semitism and modern military pogroms. Rapes increased in all armies after 1917 and were part of a massive persecution without central initiative; nevertheless, when high authorities, especially White military authorities and propaganda, redoubled widespread anti-Semitism and fear of Judeo-Bolshevism by an additional discourse, sexual violence worsened dramatically. By spreading the rumour about “socialisation of women”, White propaganda especially participated in the transformation of a political conflict into a war of nationalities and a war against the Jewish minority. In this context, Judeo-Bolshevism appears not as a product of the secular anti-Semitism in Ukraine, but an innovation forged after 1917, mixing military, political and national dimensions. This conception of a political, biological and ethnical war foreshadowed a new era of violence in Eastern Europe. Pogromist armies, following a logic of universal violence that did not spare women or children, targeted all the Jews, without exception. The judeo-bolshevism myth was from the beginning perceived in terms of mass politics. Jews and Bolsheviks, Bolsheviks as Jews, were not a small fraction politically organized, but fundamentally a national minority trying to spread its domination over the whole population. War and revolution formed a turning point in the history of antisemitism in Eastern Europe by emphasizing its potential radicalization when promoted by political parties and armies that perceived Jews as a political, social and biological threat. Anti-Jewish persecution was consequently attached to threat any attempt of political, social and biological Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

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