The Example Of Soghomon Tehlirian Inspired Sholom Schwartzbard To Assassinate Symon Petliura

In 1926, Jewish poet and publicist Sholom Schwartzbard took revenge on the leader of Ukrainian nationalists Symon Petliura for the bloody pogroms. Schwartzbard became inspired with assassination by the act of Soghomon Tehlirian who had several years earlier assassinated one of the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide in Berlin.

Soghomon Tehlirian was a highly melancholic individual, as testified by the former landlady of the 24-year-old Armenian who arrived in Berlin in the early 1920s allegedly for study. Most of the time, Tehlirian would sit in the dark of his room, playing the mandolin.

The landlady found out that the whole family of her guest had died during the genocide of Armenians in 1915 and that he had miraculously survived. She preferred not to ask him unnecessary questions.

The landlady was surprised when in early March 1921, Tehlirian announced that he was leaving for another apartment located in the prestigious Charlottenburg district next to the zoo.

The student explained his move by the fact that his doctor recommended him to live in an area abundant with sunlight. The real reason for the move was the following – in the building opposite to Tehlirian’s new apartment, a man named Ali Salih lived. Tehlirian was planning to assassinate him.

Mehmed Talaat Pasha was in flight from justice under the pseudonym Ali Salih. He has been the Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire in 1913-1917 and one of the main organizers of the Armenian Genocide. In April 1915, Talaat Pasha initiated the arrest of several hundred leaders of the Armenian community which, according to historians, was the reason for the massacre.

On the morning of March 15, 1921, Tehlirian looked out the window and noticed Talaat Pasha on the balcony of his apartment. Subsequently, Tehlirian would state in court that he recognized this man from a photo in a newspaper. “I realized that this is Talaat Pasha, a man whose hands were covered with the blood of my parents, brothers, and sisters,” Tehlirian would say.

Tehlirian grabbed his gun, ran out of the house, and mortally wounded the former Ottoman nobleman. The crowd immediately reacted to the gunshots, and Tehlirian was overpowered and handed over to the police. According to witnesses, Tehlirian was shouting as he was taken away: “I am an Armenian, and the one I shot is a Turk. Germany should not care!”

Subsequently, Tehlirian would recall that upon learning at the police station that his shot was fatal, he experienced a sense of moral satisfaction.

Back to Schwartzbard.

In 1919, Henry Morgenthau Sr. led an American delegation sent to Poland to study, among other things, the circumstances of the Jewish pogroms in the country and in neighboring regions of Russia. Interestingly, as the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau has been the first politician to inform the world about the Armenian Genocide at an international level.

The Jewish population of Ukraine during the Civil War (1917-1921) was significantly affected by the pogroms that were carried out by almost all participants – local nationalists, “green” gangs, White Guards, and units of the Red Army. However, in the people’s memory, the bloodiest pogrom was the one carried out by the armed formations of the Directorate of Ukraine headed by Symon Petliura. In total, between 100 to 200 thousand Jews became victims of pogroms in Ukraine.

Inspired by the example of Tehlirian, Jewish poet, publicist, and anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard conceived a plan to assassinate Petliura.

Relatives of Schwartzbard living in Balta, Podolsk province, died during the Civil War. Schwartzbard after the end of WWI (in which he had participated) headed to Western Europe.

In 1926, having learned that Petliura was living in exile in Paris, Schwartzbard decided to track him down and assassinate him. On May 25, 1926, on the corner of Saint-Michel Boulevard and Racine Street, Schwartzbard approached Petliura viewing a shop window and shot him from a revolver three times. Schwartzbard calmly waited for the police to arrive, handed over his weapons, and announced that he had just shot a murderer.

The trial of Schwartzbard began a year and a half later, on October 18, 1927, and received wide media coverage. Renowned left-wing activists stood up for the defendant. Among people defending Schwartzbard were philosopher Henri Bergson, writers Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Maxim Gorky, physicists Albert Einstein, Paul Langevin, and others. Jewish historians Semyon Dubnow and Elias Tcherikower collected information about the pogroms in Ukraine and presented it to the court.

Subsequently, famous Jewish writer Sholem Asch would write that “Schwartzbard avenged us all.”

Philosopher Hannah Arendt also wrote about Tehlirian and Schwartzbard. In her opinion, the motive for both was revenge and a sense of justice. They did not try to hide from the police, Arendt emphasizes – rather, they waited humbly for their arrests, which would allow them to provide the court with evidence of the bloody atrocities committed by their victims.

In both cases, the court has acquitted the accused.

After the trial, Tehlirian left Germany and settled in Serbia where he married a local Armenian. After living in Serbia for about 30 years, Tehlirian and his family emigrated to the United States. Tehlirian would pass away in the US in 1960 at the age of 63.

Schwartzbard after the acquittal remained in Paris where he continued his literary work. He passed in 1938 in South Africa – at the time, he was in Africa to raise funds for the publication of a new literary almanac in Yiddish.

In 1948, the UN General Assembly finally adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The author of the term “genocide” was American lawyer, Russian-Polish Jew Raphael Lemkin who, as a student, had monitored the trial of Tehlirian.

Nikolay Lebedev,

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