Russian brigand bands of the eighteenth century. The disorganized condition of Poland during the eighteenth century made it possible for the discontented peasants and Cossacks of the Greek Orthodox faith to make organized attacks on their Catholic masters—the Polish nobles—and the Jews. The general disorder, and the agitation of the Greek Orthodox priests led to the formation of brigand bands known as "Haidamacks," composed of runaway serfs, Saporogians, and Cossacks from Russian Ukraine. In 1734 and again in 1750, under Cossack leaders, they robbed and destroyed many towns, villages, and estates in Kiev, Volhynia, and Podolia, killing a great number of Jews and Polish nobles. In 1768 occurred the Uman massacre, when Gonta and his followers killed thousands of Jews, sparing neither old nor young.

Russian Parties.

Internal dissensions in Poland caused a division into parties. One joined the Russian government in demanding religious liberty and political freedom for all of the Greek Orthodox faith, while the other opposed these demands, and formed the Federation of Nobles to defend the old order of things. During the armed conflict agitators urged the peasants to rise against the confederacy. A false decree of Catherine II. was circulated which ordered the extermination of the Jews and the Poles. Under the leadership of the Saporogian Cossack Zhelyeznyak bands of Haidamacks in the spring of 1768 swept over the government of Kiev, killing Poles and Jews, and ruining towns and villages. They often hanged together on the same tree a Pole, a Jew, and a dog, accompanied with the inscription, "A Pole, a Jew, and a dog—all of one faith." Thousands of Jews and Poles fled to the fortified city of Uman. So great was the number of fugitives that many could find no room within the city walls, and camped in the adjoining fields. The commandant of the city, Mladanovitch, hadunder him a detachment of Cossack militia commanded by Gonta. Although there was strong suspicion that Gonta was in sympathy with Zhelyeznyak, Mladanovitch nevertheless sent him against the latter. Gonta and his followers joined Zhelyeznyak, and soon appeared before the walls of Uman. The besieged made a determined resistance during the first day, the Jews working together with the Poles on the city walls.

Massacre at Uman.

There was no able leader to command them, however. Mladanovitch endeavored to negotiate terms of peace with the Cossacks. The latter promised that they would not touch the Poles, while they assured the Jews that their attack was directed only against the Poles. Gonta and Zhelyeznyak with their Haidamacks entered the city and began a most terrible slaughter. Heeding neither age nor sex, they killed the Jews in the streets, threw them from the roofs of tall buildings, speared them, and rode them down with their horses. When the streets were so filled with corpses that it was difficult to pass, Gonta ordered them collected into heaps and thrown outside the city gates to the dogs and pigs. Three thousand Jews fled to the synagogue and made a stand there. Armed with knives, a number of them attacked the Cossacks. Gonta blew in the door of the synagogue with a cannon; the Haidamacks rushed into the building and showed no mercy.

Having finished with the Jews, the Haidamacks turned on the Poles. When Mladanovitch in chains reproached Gonta for his treachery, the latter answered, "You treacherously sold the Jews to me, and I by perjury sold you to the devil."

It is estimated that about twenty thousand Jews and Poles were killed in Uman alone. Throughout the district the Jews were hunted from place to place. Many succumbed to hunger and thirst; many were drowned in the Dniester; and those who reached Bendery were seized by the Tatars and sold into slavery. Smaller Haidamack bands massacred the Jews in other places. Hundreds were killed in Tetiub, Golta, Balta, Tulchin, Paulovich, Rashkov, Lizyanka, Fastov, Zhivotov, and Granov. The determined efforts of the Jews of Brody in behalf of their brethren, and the lawlessness of Gonta, led to an energetic campaign against him. Soon after the Uman massacre Gonta and Zhelyeznyak were taken by the order of the Russian general Krechetnikov and handed over to the Polish government. Gonta was executed in a most cruel manner. His skin was torn off in strips, and a red-hot iron crown placed on his head. The remaining Haidamack bands were captured and destroyed by the Polish commander Stempkovski.

  • Rawita Gawronski, Humanszczyzna, in Tygodnik Illustrowany, 1899;
  • Graetz, Hist. Hebrew ed., viii. 451, 458;
  • Skomarovski, Die Gezirah fun Gonta, in Jüdische Volksbibliothek, ii. 32, Kiev, 1889.
H. R. J. G. L.
Images of pages