Schwartzbard Trial

Schwartzbard Trial. The trial of Symon Petliura’s assassin, Shalom Schwartzbard (b 1886 in Izmail, Bessarabia, d 1935 in Cape Town, South Africa), which took place in Paris on 18–26 October 1927. The defendant was a Jew who had participated in the Revolution of 1905 and fled to France in 1906. After serving in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War, he returned to Ukraine in 1917 and joined the Red Guards in Odesa. In 1920 he returned to Paris, where he worked as a watchmaker. After stalking his intended victim for several weeks, he shot the former head of the Ukrainian National Republic on the Rue Racine, Paris, on 25 May 1926. His motive, he claimed, was to avenge the Jewish pogroms that Petliura had allegedly instigated in Ukraine during his term in office. There was no question that Schwartzbard had killed Petliura; the central issue of the trial was whether or not he was justified in doing so. In effect the attention of the court was focused on Petliura’s actions and policies in 1918–20. The debate on Petliura’s responsibility for the anti-Jewish pogroms spilled beyond the courtroom into the European press. In Petliura’s defense the Ukrainian community pointed to the chaotic conditions of the revolutionary period and the serious limitations to his power. Their position was developed in Documents sur les pogromes en Ukraine et l’assassinat de Simon Petlura à Paris (1927). The prosecution also suggested that Schwartzbard had not acted alone but was part of a conspiracy involving the Soviet authorities. The defense, on the other hand, presented numerous witnesses of the pogroms who claimed that Petliura’s sanctioning of them was common knowledge. The defense also dismissed Petliura’s orders to stop the pogroms as no more than a belated attempt to win the West’s support for his regime. Two books supporting the defense were published in 1927: Les pogromes en Ukraine sous les gouvernements ukrainiens (1917–1920): Aperçu historique et documents and B. Lecache’s Au pays des pogromes: Quand Israel meurt.

The trial attracted much public attention in France. The press depicted Schwartzbard as a ‘boyish’ watchmaker-soldier who had braved the wrath of the law to slay a notorious pogromchik, and aroused much sympathy for him. Ultimately Schwartzbard was acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide. After the trial he visited Jewish communities in various countries and published his memoirs, Inem Loyf fun Yoren (1934). Ukrainians in the West viewed the outcome as a gross miscarriage of justice. In 1958 the Committee in Defense of the Memory of Symon Petliura published Dokument sudovoï pomylky: Protses Shvartsbarda (A Document of a Judicial Error: The Schwarzbard Trial).

Andrij Makuch

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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