Shalom Schwarzbard Papers
Scope and Content Note
The collection contains the papers of Shalom Schwarzbard (1886-1938), the Russian-born French Jewish watchmaker, revolutionary, writer, and activist for Jewish self-defense. In Paris in May 1926, Schwarzbard assassinated the exiled Ukrainian nationalist leader Simon Petlyura, whom he held responsible for the pogroms against the Jews in the Ukraine in 1918-1921; he was acquitted at trial in Paris in 1927. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, personal papers, and varia.
The correspondence (Series I), dated mainly from 1920 to 1937, includes letters expressing support for and gratitude to Schwarzbard around the time of his trial and acquittal; correspondence with publishers and newspapers, concerning publication of his memoirs and other articles; and correspondence related to speaking engagements, including letters from friends and acquaintances during his tour in the United States and Canada from fall 1933 to spring 1934.
The manuscripts (Series II) include handwritten versions and typescripts of Schwarzbard's autobiographical writings (mostly in Yiddish, with some French), including several notebooks dating from his time in the prison La Santé in Paris, while he was awaiting trial; and a typescript and a French translation of one of the volumes of his published memoirs, In krig mit zikh aleyn (At War with Myself).
Personal papers and varia (Series III) includes one file of correspondence with Jewish veterans' organizations and others, mainly related to Schwarzbard's efforts in 1934-1935 to organize a world congress of Jewish veterans of the First World War that he hoped would foster discussion of Jewish self-defense; the correspondents include Jewish veterans' organizations in Europe and the United States, as well as the Paris-based World Organization of Jewish Self-Defence. Series III also contains personal documents of Shalom Schwarzbard, especially documents related to his military service in the First World War, his employment as a watchmaker in Paris, and his naturalization as a French citizen. Other materials in Series III include a file of documents and correspondence related to Schwarzbard's employment as an insurance agent in the years following his acquittal; clippings of articles by him and about him; fliers related to his speaking engagements and other public events concerning him; and poems by Anna Schwarzbard, as well as poems by other authors written in honor of Schwarzbard.
- Creation: 1891, 1912-1958
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1920-1937
- Shṿartsbard, Shalom, 1886-1938 (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is predominantly in Yiddish and French, with some English, German, Russian, and Hebrew, as well as individual items in Spanish, Polish, and Danish.
The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.
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Shalom Schwarzbard was born on August 18, 1886 in Izmail, Bessarabia, then part of the Russian Empire (today, Ukraine). He was the son of Yitskhok and Khaye (née Vaysberger) Schwarzbard. Soon after Shalom's birth, the family moved to Balta, where they joined his father's brother Shmuel, and his father opened a small grocery store. Shalom's younger brother Shmuel was born in 1888. Another brother, Meyer, born in 1891, died in infancy. Shalom's mother died soon after, and his father eventually remarried. Schwarzbard's family was pious and Hasidic. As a boy he attended a traditional heder and, for a time, a Talmud Torah school. At around the age of 12 he began a five-year-long apprenticeship with a local watchmaker in Balta, and learned the watchmaker's craft.
In the early 1900s Shalom Schwarzbard became active in the radical socialist movement, at first in Balta and then in the nearby town of Kruti, where he found work after finishing his apprenticeship. During the pogroms that accompanied the Russian Revolution of 1905, he returned to Balta, where he helped organize a Jewish self-defense unit. Afterwards he had to flee from authorities and went to Volochysk, where he continued socialist agitation. He was arrested and served several months in prison. After his release he traveled into Austria-Hungary, spending time in Czernowitz (Chernivtsi, Ukraine), Lemberg (Lviv, Ukraine), Budapest, and Vienna, and later also resided in Switzerland. During these wanderings his political perspective evolved from one of socialism to anarcho-communism. In 1910 Schwarzbard settled in Paris, where his brother Shmuel was also living. There he worked in various watchmaker workshops.
Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Shalom Schwarzbard joined the French Foreign Legion. On August 24, 1914, just before his departure for training in Lyon, he married Anna (née Render), whom he had known since 1910. In March 1916, he was seriously wounded in the trenches in central France, and spent the next year and a half recovering. He was later awarded the Croix de Guerre.
In 1917, following the first phase of the Russian Revolution, Schwarzbard and his wife returned to Russia. He visited his father in Balta, and in the face of anticipated pogroms, helped organize a self-defense effort. He then settled in Odessa. By the end of the year his father passed away. In fall 1917, after the October Revolution, he joined the Red Guard in Odessa, in an effort that led, in early 1918, to a short-lived workers' soviet. In spring 1918, he was part of the anarchist "Roshal" battalion (named for the young Bolshevik leader Semyon Roshal who had just been murdered, in December 1917), which formed in response to a Romanian offensive on the city and disbanded under the subsequent German occupation. In spring 1919, after the German defeat, Schwarzbard briefly worked for the Bolshevik regime in Odessa, and in June of that year joined the International Division, an anarchist self-defense unit, departing in July for the Kiev region, where over a two-month period he witnessed the aftermath of the pogroms that had recently taken place there.
During the Ukrainian civil war of 1917-1921, while Ukrainian forces fought for the national independence of the Ukraine against the Bolshevik armies and Polish territorial claims, chaos and lawlessness were rampant in the Ukraine. The widespread pogroms that took place there during this time shocked the public with their extent and brutality. Pogroms were perpetrated by armed groups including the Ukrainian National Army, led by Simon Petlyura; the anti-Bolshevik White Army, under Anton Denikin; and independent local groups. According to conservative estimates, 50,000 Jews were killed in the waves of violence. Victims and their relatives, as well as public figures concerned with the events, held Simon Petlyura ultimately responsible for these atrocities, charging that he had done little to stop the violence. A Ukrainian socialist leader and journalist, Petlyura became the minister for military affairs in the Ukrainian Central Rada, or parliament, in mid-1917, and later he was a member and then the chair of the Ukrainian Directorate, which existed from 1918 to 1920.
In 1920 Shalom Schwarzbard returned to Paris, where he made his living as a watchmaker; he opened a shop at 82 Boulevard de Ménilmontant. He was also active in the French and Jewish labor movements. In 1925 he was naturalized as a French citizen.
Schwarzbard remained preoccupied with the suffering he had witnessed in the aftermath of the pogroms. After learning that the exiled Ukrainian leader Simon Petlyura was residing in Paris, he decided to take justice into his own hands. On the afternoon of May 25, 1926, Schwarzbard walked up to Petlyura on the street and shot him several times; Petlyura died at the hospital shortly after. Schwarzbard took responsibility for the assassination, which he considered to be an act of justice.
Both Shalom Schwarzbard and Simon Petlyura immediately became public symbols. Schwarzbard was called a Jewish national hero, and appeals were made to Jews all over the world to contribute financially to his defense. Publicly recognized personalities such as Henri Bergson, Romain Rolland, and Albert Einstein volunteered to testify on Schwarzbard's behalf. The former Prime Minister of Hungary Mihály Károlyi prepared an analysis of the Jewish problem in Central Europe, which he supplied to the defense. Simon Petlyura became a martyr to the Ukrainian nationalist cause, and his death unified the hitherto divided Ukrainian émigré community. Many Ukrainian émigrés believed that Shalom Schwarzbard was a Bolshevik agent who had carried out the assassination under orders from Moscow.
Following his arrest, Schwarzbard was held in the prison La Santé, in Paris, for nearly a year and a half, until his trial, which took place October 18-26, 1927. He was represented by the prominent French attorney Henry Torrès. Torrès concentrated on presenting the story of the pogroms and demonstrating Simon Petlyura's responsibility for them; Schwarzbard was acquitted.
After his release from prison, Shalom Schwarzbard attended many meetings and gatherings around the world at the invitation of various Jewish organizations, where he spoke about Jewish self-defense and the pogroms in the Ukraine. He also became active in organizations of the veterans and victims of the First World War. He had long hoped to emigrate to Mandate Palestine but was unsuccessful in obtaining permission.
Schwarzbard's first published work was a book of poetry, Troymen un virklikhkayt (Dreams and Reality), which he published in Paris, in 1920, under the pen name Bal-khaloymes (the Dreamer). Later, he published various writings in the Yiddish press, including serialized versions of his memoirs. His memoirs finally appeared in book form in two volumes, In krig mit zikh aleyn (In War with Myself), in 1933, and In'm loyf fun yorn (In the Course of Years), in 1934, both published at the initiative of a group of Schwarzbard's friends, by the publishing house of M. Ceshinsky, Chicago.
On March 3, 1938, Shalom Schwarzbard died suddenly in Cape Town, South Africa, while on a trip there, and was buried at the Maitland Jewish Cemetery. In 1967, under the auspices of a committee in Israel, Schwarzbard's remains were disinterred and brought to Israel, where he is buried in the cemetery of Moshav Avichail, near Netanya.
Friedman, Saul S. (1976). Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura. New York: Hart.
Johnson, Kelly (2012). "Sholem Schwarzbard: Biography of a Jewish Assassin." Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University. Available online at the Harvard Library digital repository, dash.harvard.edu.
1.7 Linear Feet (4 Boxes, 36 Folders)
The collection contains the papers of Shalom Schwarzbard (1886-1938), the Russian-born French Jewish watchmaker, revolutionary, writer and activist for Jewish self-defense. In May 1926 in Paris, Schwarzbard assassinated the exiled Ukrainian nationalist leader Simon Petlyura, whom he held responsible for the pogroms against the Jews in the Ukraine in 1918-1921. His trial in October 1927, at which he was acquitted, drew worldwide attention. The collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts of Shalom Schwarzbard's autobiographical writings, personal documents, clippings, and printed ephemera, as well as poems by Schwarzbard's wife Anna and others. Materials in this collection mostly relate to Shalom Schwarzbard's writings, his speaking engagements following his acquittal, and his efforts in the 1930s to organize Jewish war veterans and war victims of the First World War.
This collection is indexed and arranged as a portion of the Tcherikower Archive, which includes RG 80 through RG 89. The folder numbering and pagination reflect the collection's inclusion in a larger block of collections from YIVO Vilna within which (according to a numbering system employed at the YIVO Institute in New York) all folders were numbered consecutively from one collection to the next, and the contents of all folders were also consecutively paginated with stamped page numbers. The folder numbers in RG 85 run from 876 to 912; the page numbers, from 69620 to 72794. Page numbers may occasionally deviate from the expected sequence, in instances in which items were identified and shifted subsequent to the initial processing.
The collection is arranged in the following three series:
- Correspondence, 1920-1938, 1940, 1957
- Manuscripts, undated, 1915, 1919, 1922-1934
- Personal papers and varia, 1891, 1912-1958
Other Finding Aid
An inventory of this collection is included in the original overall description of the Tcherikower Archive (RG 80-89), handwritten in Yiddish.
The collection was acquired by Elias Tcherikower, who was collecting materials regarding the pogroms in Ukraine for the Mizrakh yidisher historisher arkhiv (Archives for the History of East European Jews), which later became part of the YIVO Archives. Elias Tcherikower was the secretary for the Shalom Schwarzbard Defense Committee and together with his wife Rebecca Tcherikower gathered materials vital for Shalom Schwarzbard's defense at his trial for the assassination of Simon Petlyura.
This collection has been microfilmed and is available on four Microfilm reels MK 470.69 to MK 470.72.
The photos related to this collection are part of the YIVO Photo and Film Archive (Folder 650).
In 2004 Stanislav Pejša revised the inventory that was originally prepared in Yiddish by Zosa Szajkowski. During processing for the Edward Blank Vilna Online Collections project, some items of correspondence in Series I that were filed out of alphabetical sequence (mainly items for which the correspondent's full name was identified subsequent to the original processing) were moved to the appropriate folder in the alphabetical sequence, and a note about the original folder number added in the folder summary.
Genre / Form
- Guide to the Papers of Shalom Schwarzbard (1886-1938), 1891, 1912-1958 (bulk 1920-1937) RG 85
- Originally processed and described in Yiddish by Zosa Szajkowski. Materials further processed, described in English and finding aid encoded by Stanislav Pejša in 2004. Materials further processed, described, and prepared for digitization by Violet Lutz in 2019.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Earlier work funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2004) and the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2012).