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Memories of a Ukrainian Pogrom

(June 1919)

My father Jack Joseph Adelman lived in Brusilov and Khodorkov, Ukraine. A pair of grandparents lived in each town and he spent time visiting the other town to see them. In his writings, my father never specified where he experienced his last pogrom. Some research revealed the 1919 pogrom in Brusilov occurred on June 13 and the 1919 pogrom in Khodorkov occurred on June 15 (“The Ukraine Terror and the Jewish Peril,” Federation of Ukrainian Jews, London, 1921, p 9). So, my father’s experience took place on one of those dates.

The following essay by my father was published in “Selected Writings from the Senior Citizens Writing Program, Winter 1982” under the auspices of “The South Coast Writing Project (SCWriP).”

My Last Pogrom

“We were awakened in the middle of the night by a lot of shooting. At first, we hoped that nothing really bad would happen, but then we heard the shouts of people outdoors and soon found out that our gallant protective home militia panicked and ran. Our town was attacked again by a group of bandits who succeeded in invading our Jewish community.

“My mother, sister and I quickly dressed and ran. My grandparents refused to leave. We joined hundreds of other Jews who quickly left town and walked or ran into the countryside. It soon got light and we saw several armed men on horseback come closer and closer. When they reached us, they ordered us back and lined us up near a sugar factory on the outskirts of the town. They separated the men from the women and children. I was thirteen years old, but very small and was left with the women and children. The men were driven back into town and locked up in a synagogue. This and adjacent buildings were set on fire. The men perished in the fire. One person survived. He was thirteen years old, but tall for his age. I never found out how he managed to survive

“The whole town burned down. Many people were killed, and more were wounded. One aunt of mine was badly wounded and died a few days later. Two of her daughters were wounded by swords but survived. I saw a teacher of mine sitting in the ditch off the road. I realized he was shot and killed while trying to hide in that ditch. I never really learned how many people died in this pogrom.

“Around noon the bandits left after the entire town was destroyed. We headed toward the nearest railroad station, about twenty miles from our town. We finally came to Kiev a day or two later and there learned that my aunt was dead.”

Jack Adelman 

This is my transcription of a handwritten, undated memoir written by my father Jack Joseph Adelman late in his life:

I was born in August 1907. My sister is 3 years older than I. My parents were probably married in 1903 after my father served 4 years in the Russian army.  During the Japanese-Russian war he dodged a military draft, left town, and was brought back in chains. Bribery and influence obtained his release and he stayed with us until 1913 when he left for America. Economic and probably political reasons induced him to take this very drastic step.

Soon after father left, my mother, sister and I left Brusilov and moved to Khodorkov, in order to be near mother’s parents, sister and brother.  We returned to Brusilov for occasional visits to our father’s parents.

We received money and letters from my father and were hoping to join him when WWI interfered. As the war progressed all contacts came to an end and hard times began. Mother baked bread for sale, sold soap and other commodities and had great difficulty supporting us. Mother’s relatives gave us financial aid.

The war came to an end after the 1917 Revolution and we began hoping that our contacts with father will be resumed. A new secular school called gymnasium was established. I quit the religious Yiddish cheder and attended this new school for 2 years where I studied Russian language, Hebrew, geography, math, German, French, history and art. These two years were exhilarating.

The civil war and the pogroms put an end to this short-lived idyllic period. Armies and small groups of armed men invaded our town or passed through it and invariably robbed and killed. We tried to escape but always came back. The last pogrom was the most terrible one. Hundreds were killed and the town was burned. Only half a block was left intact. The home of my grandparents was in that unburned section. They stayed on, but the rest of our family, including almost the entire population of our town left, walked about 15 miles to the nearest railroad station and traveled by train to Kiev. In this pogrom my aunt was killed, and two daughters were slightly wounded.

Life in Kiev was extremely difficult. We almost died of starvation. We tried to make a living by selling secondhand underwear, leather, sugar and firewood. The raging inflation made our attempts at business almost impossible. We received a letter from father at the HIAS office. He informed us that he sent food packages to us and our relatives. My uncle received a package, but our condition was practically hopeless. At this point my mother found an ‘enterprising man’ who offered to take us to Poland for a promised fee. We traveled at night and stayed in peasants’ homes during the daytime. We crossed the border safely and came to Russia(?) on February 19__. The ‘enterprising man’ helped us obtain lodging and credit. A few months later we came to Warsaw where we contacted the American embassy. Somehow, we got passports and came to Chicago in April 1923.

I attended a public school until June. I was placed in low 4th grade. I realized that the process of education will be slow and that I needed a job. I obtained work making pocketbooks, working 50 hours a week, spending 1-1/2 hours in transportation and earning $12.00 a week. I also enrolled in a private school where I spent most of my evenings and Sunday mornings. I obtained my high school credits by taking examinations at the University of Illinois.

In 1926, I enrolled at the city college studying physics, chemistry, math, geology, botany etc. At first, I planned to study medicine. I was admitted by the University of Illinois medical school. I spent one year at the U of I, Champaign, and was graduated in 1930. By this time the depression was in full swing and I realized that I could not afford a medical education. I attended the Chicago Teachers College for one year and was granted a teacher’s certificate for upper grades elementary education.

During the depression the Chicago school system closed the Junior high schools and hired very few new teachers. I was not assigned until 1936. During the period 1933-1934 I worked on the WPA as a timekeeper and historian. I was also employed as a social worker by the Chicago Relief Administration. Since 1936 I taught school for 15 years at an elementary school and 24 years at high schools. I also taught evening school for about 4 years. I taught classes in science, physics, chemistry and economics. I retired from Lane Technical High School in 1970.

I met my future wife in 1928 and we got married in 1935. Our children have been the joy of our lives.

Source: Submitted and published with permission of Charlotte Adelman.