The Other ‘Avengers’


"The Avengers" opens in theaters this week. While the first issue of the comic was published in 1963, non-superheroes bearing this moniker date back even earlier.

Avengers of WWII
Abe Novick writes about "The Avengers" from Vilna, whom JTA introduced in 1944:

In Vilna proper, the new head of the municipal economy department is a Jewish youth named Simonovich who led a band of 300 Jewish partisans named " The Avengers." The ranks of the " Avengers" were filled with Jews who had escaped from the ghetto, some who had fled while being led to execution and a few who had been left for dead by the Nazis after a mass execution. In addition to the " Avengers" there were two other Jewish guerrilla bands operating around Vilna.

On New Year’s Day 1945, Germany fueled the propaganda machine by warning about the threat of "Jewish Avengers" of this ilk.

Gentile WWII Avenger

French Nazi-hunter and lawyer Serge Klarsfeld might not have fancied himself an avenger. But in a book published in the 1990s, he drew attention to a recent murder that warranted the title: "Formally charged with the deportation of 2,000 Jewish children, [Vichy police chief Rene] Bousquet was shot dead at the age of 82 in June 1993 by a non-Jewish self-styled avenger."

The Pogrom Avenger
On May 25, 1926, Sholom Schwartzbard assassinated Symon Petlura, Ukrainian separatist leader. Schwartzbard, a Russian Jewish soldier in the French army, reportedly swore vengeance for the pogroms he personally witnessed. At the time, JTA estimated 30,000 Jewish deaths in the Ukranian pogroms of 1918 and 1919. For his actions, many news outlets as well as his supporters labeled him an avenger. Following a trial, Schwartzbard was acquitted in Paris in October 1927. In 1929, Schwartzbard called for the creation of a "world union of Jewish self-defense."  Schwartzbard was found dead in Cape Town on Mar. 3, 1938.

Moscow Glass Factory Avenger
In November 1928, Dreize Barshay was reportedly stripped and doused with cold water in the Moscow glass factory that she worked in. The incident and subsequent trial made international headlines. In February, two Jewish individuals were sentenced to prison for plotting to avenge the incident by "pouring boiling glass on her assailants."

Palestinian ‘Avengers’

While Schwartzbard himself was unsuccessful in settling in Palestine, that didn’t keep "The Avengers" nickname from catching there. In 1967, a gang of Palestinian youth called "The Avengers" received support from the Syrian government to fight against Israel. Thirty years before then, a terrorist group that called itself "the League of Avengers" threatened to kill anyone who accepted the British partition plan of 1937, including Chaim Weizmann. (Based on the fact that the latter threat was sent to the Agudath Israel non-Zionist organization, it seems plausible that the latter "Avengers" were Jewish.)

Israeli ‘Avengers’
Claiming retaliation for the Coastal Road Massacre on March 11, 1978, a group calling itself "The Avengers of the Tel Aviv Massacre" attacked an Arab workers’ organization in France with gasoline bombs. In 1984, a young Israeli infantry soldier was arrested for allegedly firing an anti-tank missile at an Arab bus that killed one and injured ten.

[David] Ben-Shimol left a note near the abandoned missile launcher which he signed "the avenger." Police said the note, written in flawed Hebrew, was attributed to Jewish extremists, possibly operating as a terrorist cell. Observers therefore expressed surprise that the attack on the Arab bus was not the work of rightwing zealots but apparently the act of an impressionable Sephardic youth from a poor family.

Bronx Zoo-perheroes

While not as many layers as the fictional Marvel Comics universe, the JTA Jewish Daily Bulletin imagined a fictional group of Bronx Zoo animals that exhibited racist tendencies: 

"Foreigners are not wanted in Zooland. Scram back to Alaska where you came from. If you are not gone in twenty-four hours, you will be turned into a rug and sent back by parcel post." 

The warning was signed by "The Aryan Avengers."

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