Eli Gumener, "A Ukrainian Chapter: A Jewish Aid Worker’s Memoir Of Sorrow" (Slavica, 2022)

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Today I talked to Michael Eli Nutkiewicz about his translation A Ukrainian Chapter: A Jewish Aid Worker’s Memoir Of Sorrow (Slavica, 2022).

Eli Gumener’s 1921 Yiddish memoir, A Ukrainian Chapter, is a rare historical source about relief work spanning the two most devastating years of the pogroms in the Russian Civil War. He concentrates on the collapse of Jewish communities in Podolia, a region in southwest Ukraine. Gumener worked for the major Russian and American organizations that were active in providing aid to Jewish victims during both World War I and the Russian Civil War. Thus, he presents a unique perspective on leaders, parties, and institutions struggling to respond to the suffering and dislocation that came with wild episodes of violence. This annotated translation serves as a roadmap for the reader by clarifying the social and political contexts in which the events took place. A Ukrainian Chapter is a contribution to the history of pogroms, relief work, and Jewish party politics, through the day-to-day experience of a witness “in the trenches.”

Born in Marijampole (near Vilnius) in 1886 and trained for the law in St. Petersburg, Eli (Illia) Gumener (1886–1941?) was a representative and investigator for the Committee to Aid Jewish Pogrom Victims (EKOPO) and the Russian Red Cross. After the Civil War, he worked on behalf of Jewish war orphans for the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJC) in the Białystok region. A Ukrainian Chapter was published in Vilnius in 1921. In 1925 Gumener moved to Novogrudok, Poland (now in Belarus) where he continued to be engaged in communal affairs, including as a city councilman from 1929 to 1934. He and his wife and daughter were murdered during the Holocaust in late 1941 or early 1942.

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