Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Jewish Ataman Backed Goal of Independent Cossack State on the Battlefield and in Emigration

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – The world is invariably more complicated than the images people have of it. Few can imagine that a Jewish officer became a Cossack ataman during the Russian civil war, and fewer still can conceive that such an individual could become a leading advocate of an independent Cossack state.

            But in the topsy-turvy worlds of the Russian civil war and the Russian emigration, that is exactly what happened in one remarkable case, yet another reason for modifying the widely-held views that Cossacks are inherently anti-Semitic and that Jews view them as their enemies rather than as potential allies and supporters.

            Aleksandr Geyman (1866-1939) was the son of a Jewish officer in the Russian army who rose to the rank of general during the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-1878.  As a result, the family acquired the status of hereditary nobility, and Aleksandr was in line to pursue a military career (

            His entire military career was connected with the Kuban Cossacks and especially Cossack units devoted to espionage and diversionary activity.  Before World War I, he already held a Cossack rank equivalent to lieutenant colonel, and during that conflict, he commanded the Second Kuban Plastun battalion.

            When the Russian army disintegrated as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, Geyman led his unit home to the Kuban where he began the Civil War with the rank of lieutenant general.  He attracted to his banner Cossacks who sought at a minimum autonomy for the Kuban and Don and in many cases wanted to establish an independent country.

            Because of those attitudes, which Geyman supported, General Anton Denikin, the head of anti-Bolshevik forces in South Russia, refused to integrate his units into his command or to give Geyman a position corresponding to his rank and experience.  Geyman’s forces continued to defeat Bolsheviks but frequently not in any alliance with the Whites.

            When the Bolsheviks occupied the Don and Kuban, Geyman fled into emigration. He lived in Serbia until his death in 1939.  During those years, he wrote frequently on behalf of the pro-independence Cossack forces in such journals as Volnoye Kazachestvo, Kazachya Dumy, Kazachy Put, and Puti Kazachestva.

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