Schwartzbard trial: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Schwartzbard trial was a sensational 1927 French murder trial, in which Sholom Schwartzbard was accused of murdering Ukrainian immigrant leader Symon Petlura in Paris. The defendant however, who readily admitted that he had assassinated Petlura, alleged that Petlura was responsible for the massive 1919–1920 Ukrainian pogroms in which Schwartzbard had lost all 15 members of his family. Schwartzbard was acquitted.


The assassination

In 1919 whilst fighting in southern Ukraine in the communist Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine (RIAU) let by Grigori Kotovsky[1] - Sholom Schwartzbard was told that he had lost 15 members of his family in pogroms that took place in Odessa, Ukraine that year. He held Symon Petlura, who was at that time head of the Directorate of the Ukrainian National Republic, responsible for their deaths.

According to his autobiography, after hearing the news that Petlura had relocated to Paris in 1924, Schwartzbard became distraught and started plotting Petlura's assassination. A picture of Petlura with Józef Piłsudski published in the Encyclopedie Larousse, allowed Schwartzbard to recognize him[2].

On 25 May 1926, he approached Petlura, who was walking on rue Racine not far from boulevard Saint-Michel, and asked him: "Are you Mr. Petlura?". Petlura raised his cane and at that moment Schwartzbard pulled out a gun, shooting him five times, and after he had fallen to the ground he shot hims twice more. When police arrived he calmly said "I have killed a great assassin."[3]

It is reported[4] that he had previously planned to assassinate Petlura at a gathering of Ukrainian emigrants marking Petlura's birthday, but the attempt was foiled by anarchist Nestor Makhno who was also at the function. Schwartzbard had told Makhno that he was terminally sick and was about to die, and that he would take Petlura with him.[4]

The French Secret service had been keeping an eye out on Schwartzbard from the time he had surfaced in the French Capital and had noted his meetings with known Bolsheviks. During the trial the German special services also alleged to their French counterparts that Schwartzbard had assassinated Petlura on the orders of Galip - an emissary of the Union of Ukrainian Citizens. Galip had received orders from Christian Rakovsky an ethnic Bulgarian, and a former revolutionary leader from Romania, and also former prime-minister of the Ukrainian SSR. The act was according to the prosecution consolidated by Mikhail Volodin who arrived in France August 8, 1925 and who had been in close contact with Schwartzbard.[4].

The trial

Schwartzbard turned himself in to a nearby gendarme and was arrested at the site of the assassination on May 25, 1926.

The trial began on October 18, 1927. His defense was led by the well known French lawyer Henri Torres.

The core of Schwartzbard's defense was to attempt to show that he was avenging the deaths of victims of the pogrom, whereas the prosecution (both criminal and civil) tried to show that:

  • (i) Petlura was not responsible for the pogroms and
  • (ii) Schwartzbard was a Soviet agent.

Both sides had prepared many witnesses, including many prominent historians and historic figures.

After a trial lasting eight days the jury was called out and after 35 minutes acquitted Schwarztbard.[3][5]


The lawyers

For the defense, Henri Torres, - grandson of Isaiah Levaillant, the man who founded the "League for the Defense of Human and Civil Rights" during the Dreyfus Affair. Torres was a renowned French left-wing jurist who had previously defended anarchists such as Buenaventura Durruti and Ernesto Bonomini and also represented the Soviet consulate in France.

The French people were represented by Public prosecutor Reynaud, and in the civil suite Madame Olga Petlura and her brother-in-law Oskar were represented by Albert Wilm and Cesare Campinchi (who was the chief prosecution lawyer). Assisting them was Czeslaw Poznansky, an attorney from Poland.


Schwartzbard was informed that he was being charged with violations of Articles 295, 296, 297, 298 and 302 of the French Penal Code (all of which pertained to premeditated murder and which provided for the death penalty). The defendant responded "Not guilty" to the charges.

Questioned by the prosecutor, Schwartzbard started his testimony poorly. He lied and gave confusing answers to why he had been previously imprisoned in Russia (1906), Vienna (1908) and Budapest (1909). He lied about his age, place of birth and the fact that he had been charged with burglary in Austria twice. He also lied about his service in the Red Army stating that he fought on the side of Kerensky[6] rather than have led a battalion under Kotovsky.

Witness for the prosecution

Several former Ukrainian officers testified for the prosecution which included Pavlo Shandruk, General Mykola Shapoval, Alexander Shulgin. Over 200 documents were produced asserting that Petlura and his government had made attempts to stop antisemitic aggression. A 20 page testimony was read by E. Dobkovsky that Mikhail Volodin was an agent of the GPU with access to large sums of money and that he had approached Dobkovsky and told him that he had helped in the assassination.

Witnesses for the defense

A notable witness for the defense was Haia Greenberg who survived the Proskuriv pogroms where she had worked as a nurse for the Danish Red Cross.

Torres, however, decided not to call on most of the 80 witnesses whom he had prepared for Schwartzbard's defense. Instead, he took a calculated risk and delivered only a short speech.

My conclusion was short. I evoked the French Revolution about which no living person could say that he has not inherited something from it: 'Let this man be free who bears on his forehead the stigma of the tragedy of a People! You hold today in your hands, Members of the Jury, the prestige of this Nation and the destiny of thousands of human lives which is attached to the verdict of France. If I had not been heard, France would have been no longer France and Paris would have been no longer Paris.'


The acquittal set Schwartzbard free but awarded damages of one franc each to Mme. Petlura, widow of the slain "General", and to M. Petlura, his brother.

Time reported that the outcome of the trial gripped all Europe and was regarded by the Jews as establishing proof of the horrors perpetrated against their co-religionists in Ukraine under the dictatorship of Simon Petlura; radical opinion rejoiced, but the conservatives saw justice flouted and the decorum of the French courts immeasurably impaired.[3]

The French press

The French press published detailed accounts and comments relating to the court proceedings. They were divided into three groups. Divergent assessments of the assassination committed by Schwartzbard coincided with the political sympathies and antipathies of the particular newspapers, which may be divided into three groups:

  1. those which approved of Schwartzbard, stressing the pogroms of the Jewish population, and from the very outset treating the victim of the assassination as a defendant (the most conspicuous example being the communist newspaper L'Humanité);
  2. papers which restricted themselves to an exact observation of the court trial, but refused to print commentaries, or did so very cautiously (Le Temps, L'Ere Nouvelle or Le Petit Parisien);
  3. newspapers which perceived Schwartzbard's crime in an unambiguously negative light, and treated the assassin predominantly as a Bolshevik agent (centrist publications, especially the right-wing L'Intransigeant, L'Echo de Paris or L'Action Française). It must be noted that the French governing circles, headed by Quai d'Orsay, were not interested in granting the case further publicity, since it could deteriorate the already tense relations with the Soviet Union, which the latter threatened to sever.[7]

After effects

Up to this day, assessments of Schwartzbard, the assassination, the trial and the exonerating verdict differ and even exclude each other. These attitudes are particularly discernible in studies by Ukrainian and Jewish historians.

The Ukrainian side

Schwartzbard was immediately accused by Ukrainian emigrants of being a Soviet spy.

According to Ukrainian historian Michael Palij, a GPU agent named Mikhail Volodin came to Paris in August 1925 and met Schwartzbard, who began stalking Petlura.

This accusation was fueled by the fact that Schwarzbard had fought with the Bolsheviks in 1919, his brother had been expelled from France in 1920 for dissemination of Communist propaganda, and the fact that his lawyer was an active communist and represented the Soviet Consulate.

Mykola Riabchuk wrote: "In fact, the trial turned into an ostentatious demonstration of retribution against Ukraine's demonized 'nationalism and separatism'; no Lubianka could ever have come up with anything better."[8]

The Jewish side

After the Schwartzbard trial, Henri Torres was recognized as one of France's leading trial lawyers and remained active in political affairs.

After his acquittal in 1928, Sholom Schwartzbard decided to immigrate to the Israel, then under British Mandate. The British authorities however, refused him a visa. In 1933, he traveled the United States where he re-enacted his role in the murder on film. In 1937, Schwartzbard traveled to South Africa where he died in Cape Town on March 3, 1938. In 1967 his remains were disinterred and transported to Israel where he was reinterred.


  1. ^ Saul Friedman: Pogromchik - NY, 1976, p.62
  2. ^ Saul Friedman: Pogromchik - NY, 1976, p.65
  3. ^ a b c Time magazine.
  4. ^ a b c Makhno did not allow Schwartzbard to Shoot Petlura (in Ukrainian)
  5. ^ Saul S. Friedman, Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura. New York : Hart Pub, 1976.
  6. ^ Saul Friedman: Pogromchik - NY, 1976, p.119
  7. ^ The Trial of Samuel Schwartzbard.
  8. ^ Petlyura.


  • Saul S. Friedman, Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura. New York: Hart Pub, 1976.
  1. Encyclopedia of Ukraine — Paris–New York 1970, vol 6, pp. 2029–30.
  • Symon Petlura. Articles, letters and documents (in Ukrainian) 2006. Vol IV, p. 704. ISBN 966-2911-00-6 (Ukrainian)
  • "Petliura, Symon", "Schwartzbard Trial", "Pogroms", Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3, 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993).
  • Dokument Sudovoyi Pomylky (Paris: Natsionalistychne Vydavnytstvo v Evropi, 1958); "L'Assassinat de l'Hetman Petlioura."
  • "Un Crime Politique, M. Petlioura, ancien chef du gouvernment ukrainien, a été tuer hier au Quartier Latin."
  • "L'Assassinat de l"Hetman Petlioura," Le Figaro, May 26, May 27, June 3, 1926.
  • Time magazine coverage

Further reading


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