The Kielce Pogrom was an outbreak of violence toward the Jewish community centre's gathering of refugees in the city of Kielce, Poland on 4 July 1946 by Polish soldiers, police officers, and civilians during which 42 Jews were killed and more than 40 were wounded. Polish courts later sentenced nine of the attackers to death in connection with the crimes.
|Date||4 July 1946 |
Morning until evening (official cessation at 3 p.m.)
|Deaths||38 to 42|
As the deadliest pogrom against Polish Jews after the Second World War, the incident was a significant point in the post-war history of Jews in Poland. It took place only a year after the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust, shocking Jews in Poland, Poles, and the international community. It has been recognized as a catalyst for the flight from Poland of most remaining Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust.
- 1 Background
- 2 Outbreak of violence
- 3 Cessation of violence
- 4 The aftermath
- 5 Evidence of Soviet involvement
- 6 Commemoration
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 External links
Relations between Poles and Jews were already strained before the war, as antisemitic propaganda was spread by members of parliament and clergy. According to Alina Skibińska and Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, during the 1930s "the relations between the communities... began to increasingly resemble apartheid."
During the German occupation of Poland, Kielce and the villages around it were completely ethnically cleansed by the Nazis  of its pre-war Jewish community, most of which perished in The Holocaust. By the summer of 1946, some 200 Jews, many of them former residents of Kielce, had returned from the Nazi concentration camp's or refuge in the Soviet Union. About 150-160 of them were quartered in a single building administered by the Jewish Committee of Kielce Voivodeship at Planty, a small street in the centre of the town.
On 1 July 1946, an eight-year-old Polish boy, Henryk Błaszczyk, was reported missing by his father Walenty Błaszczyk. According to the father, upon his return two days later the boy claimed he had been kidnapped by an unknown man, allegedly a Jew or a gypsy. Two days later, the boy, his father and the neighbour went to a local Civic Militia station (communist state-controlled police force). While passing the 'Jewish house' at 7 Planty Street, Henryk pointed at a man nearby who, he said, had allegedly imprisoned him in the house's cellar. At the police station, Henryk repeated his story that he had been kidnapped and specified the Jews and their house as involved in his disappearance. A Civic Militia patrol of more than a dozen men was then dispatched on foot by the station commander Edmund Zagórski to search the house at 7 Planty Street for the place where Henryk had allegedly been kept.
Although the kidnapping claim was quickly withdrawn, Henryk Błaszczyk remained publicly silent about the events until 1998, when, in an interview to a Polish journalist he admitted he was never kidnapped but was living with "unknown family" in nearby village and treated well. He perceived his disappearance as happening with his father's awareness and concerted by the communist security service. After returning home he was categorically commanded by his father not to discuss anything that happened and reaffirm only the story of "Jewish abduction" if ever asked. He was threatened to keep quiet long after 1946, which he did out of fear until the end of communist rule in Poland.
Civic Militia publicised the rumours of the kidnapping and further announced that they were planning to search for the bodies of Polish children supposedly ritually murdered and kept in the house, resulting in the gathering of civilian spectators. A confrontation ensued between the militia forces and officers of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland (UBP), which had been called in on the suspicion that the incident was a Jewish "provocation" to stir up unrest.
During the morning, the case came to the attention of other local state and military organs, including the Polish People's Army (LWP - communist controlled regular army), the Internal Security Corps (KBW, interior ministry paramilitary), and the Main Directorate of Information of the Polish Army (GZI WP, military intelligence and counterintelligence). About 100 soldiers and five officers were dispatched to the location at about 10 am. The soldiers were unfamiliar with the circumstances, but soon picked up rumors from the people in the street, who at this time commenced pelting the building with stones.
Outbreak of violenceEdit
The Civic Militia and soldiers then forcibly broke into the building only to discover that it did not contain any abducted children as claimed. The inhabitants of the house, who had proper permits to bear arms for self defence, were ordered to surrender their weaponry and give up valuables. Someone (unclear who) started firing a weapon. Civic Militia and the KBW opened fire, killing and wounding a number of people in the building. In response, shots were fired from the Jewish side killing two or three Poles, including a Civic Militia officer. The head of the local Jewish Committee, Dr Seweryn Kahane, was fatally wounded by a GZI WP officer while telephoning the Kielce office of Public Security for help. A number of local Priests attempted to enter the building but were stopped by militia officers, who vowed to control the situation.
Following the initial murders inside the building, numerous Jews were driven outdoor by soldiers and later attacked with stones and clubs by civilians who crowded surrounding streets. By noon, the arrival of a large group of estimated about 600 to 1,000 workers from Ludwików steel mill, led by activists of Poland's ruling Polish Workers' Party (PPR, communist party), opened the next stage of the pogrom. Approximately 20 Jews were viciously battered to death by the workers armed with iron rods and clubs. Some of the workers were members of the ORMO (volunteer reserve militia) and at least one possessed a handgun. Neither the military or security heads, including a Soviet army advisor, nor the local civic leaders, sought to prevent the aggression. A unit of Civic Militia cadets which also arrived at the scene did not intervene, but some of its members joined in the looting and violence which continued inside and outside the building.
Among the slain Jews, nine had been shot dead, two were killed with bayonets, and the rest beaten or stoned to death. The dead included women and children. The mob also killed a Jewish nurse (Estera Proszowska), whom the attackers had mistaken for a Polish female attempting to aid the Jews. Two Jewish people not residing at Planty Street dwelling were also murdered on this day in separate incidents. Regina Fisz, her 3-week old child, and a male companion were abducted at their home at 15 Leonarda Street by a group of 4 men led by Civic Militia corporal Stefan Mazur. They were robbed and driven out of the city, where Regina and her baby were shot while allegedly trying to escape, while her friend did manage to escape. Three non-Jewish Poles were among the dead. Two uniformed state servicemen were killed in gunfire exchange, most likely shot by Jews defending themselves. The cause of death of the third man remains unexplained.
Cessation of violenceEdit
This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. (July 2016)
The pogrom ended at roughly 3:00 p.m. with the arrival of new security units from a nearby Public Security Academy, advanced by Colonel Stanisław Kupsza, and additional troops from Warsaw. After warning shots discharge, on the order of Major Kazimierz Konieczny, the new troops swiftly restored order, posted guards, and removed all the survivors as well as corpses from the dwelling and its proximity.
The violence, nevertheless, did not stop. Wounded Jews being taken to the local hospital were beaten and robbed by soldiers, and the injured were assaulted in the hospital by other patients. A civilian crowd approached one of the hospitals and demanded that the hurt Jews be handed over, but the hospital staff refused.
Trains passing through Kielce's main railway station were scrutinized for Jews by civilians and SOK railway guards, resulting in at least two passengers being murdered. As many as 30 more may have been killed in this manner, as the train murders reportedly continued for several months after the pogrom. The large-scale disorder in Kielce ultimately ended some nine hours after it started. Polish born Julia Pirotte, a well-known French photojournalist with the French Resistance, photographed the pogrom's immediate aftermath.
Attempts to blame Polish nationalistsEdit
One immediate reaction of the Communist government of Poland was to attempt to blame the pogrom on Polish nationalists, alleging that uniformed members of anticommunist formations backing the Polish government-in-exile were egging the mob on. At the funeral of the Jewish victims, the Minister of Public Security, Stanisław Radkiewicz, stated that the pogrom was "a deed committed by the emissaries of the Polish government in the West and General Anders, with the approval of Home Army soldiers." Other early official statements at the time followed this line.
As the militiaman and army are known to have been involved in the pogrom from its inception, this has given rise to the idea that the pogrom was deliberately incited by the Communists to discredit the government in exile (possibly to distract attention from the rigged referendum which had taken place at the end of June 1946). When it became clear following trials that the nationalists could not be blamed, this line of propaganda was swiftly dropped by the government.
Additional investigation into the circumstances of the massacre was opposed by the communist regime until the era of Solidarity, when in December 1981 an article was published in the Solidarity newspaper Tygodnik Solidarność. However, the return of repressive government meant that files could not be accessed for research until after the fall of Communism in 1989, by which time many eyewitnesses had died. It was then discovered that many of the documents relating to the pogrom had been allegedly destroyed by fire or deliberately by military authorities.
For these reasons, debate about the origins of the pogrom has remained controversial. Some claim it was a deliberate provocation by the communists to discredit the opposition. Some claim that it was a spontaneous antisemitic incident that was later exploited by the government. Others[who?] have accused the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy in Poland of passivity during the pogrom and its aftermath. The fact that a number of Jews held important positions in the Polish Communist party and security services also affected popular sentiment. Insufficient documented evidence significantly limits historical research.
Between 9 and 11 July 1946, twelve civilians (one of them apparently mentally challenged) were arrested by MBP officers as perpetrators of the pogrom. The accused were tried by the Supreme Military Court in a joint show trial. Nine were sentenced to death and executed the following day by firing squad on the orders of Polish Communist leader Bolesław Bierut. The remaining three received prison terms ranging from seven years to life. According to author Krzysztof Kąkolewski (Umarły cmentarz), the twelve had been picked up from the watching crowd by the secret police.
Aside from Kielce Voivodeship's Civic Militia commandant, Major Wiktor Kuźnicki, who was sentenced to one year for "failing to stop the crowd" (he died in 1947), only one militia officer was punished — for the theft of shoes from a dead body. Mazur's explanation regarding his killing of the Fisz family was accepted. Meanwhile, the regional UBP chief, Colonel Władysław Sobczyński, and his men were cleared of any wrongdoing. The official reaction to the pogrom was described by Anita J. Prazmowska in Cold War History, Vol. 2, No. 2:
Nine participants in the pogrom were sentenced to death; three others were given lengthy prison sentences. Militiaman, military men and functionaries of the UBP were tried separately and then unexpectedly all, with the exception of Wiktor Kuznicki, Commander of the MO, who was sentenced to one year in prison, were found not guilty of "having taken no action to stop the crowd from committing crimes." Clearly, during the period when the first investigations were launched and the trial, a most likely politically motivated decision had been made not to proceed with disciplinary action. This was in spite of very disturbing evidence that emerged during the pre-trial interviews. It is entirely feasible that instructions not to punish the MO and UBP commanders had been given because of the politically sensitive nature of the evidence. Evidence heard by the military prosecutor revealed major organisational and ideological weaknesses within these two security services.
The neighbour of the Błaszczyk family who had originally suggested to Henryk that he had been kidnapped by Jews was subsequently tried, but acquitted.
Effects on Jewish emigration from PolandEdit
The ruthlessness of the murders put an end to the expectation of many Jews that they would be able to resettle in Poland after the end of the Nazi German occupation and precipitated a mass exodus of Polish Jewry. Bożena Szaynok, a historian at Wrocław University estimated that from July 1945 until June 1946 about fifty thousand Jews crossed the Polish border illegally. In July 1946, almost twenty thousand decided to start a new life abroad. Polish Minister Marian Spychalski, motivated by political and humanitarian reasons, signed a decree allowing Jews to leave officially without visas or exit permits, and the Jewish emigration from Poland increased dramatically. In August 1946 the number of emigrants increased to thirty thousand. In September 1946, twelve thousand Jews left Poland.
By the spring of 1947, wrote Bernhard and Szlajfer, the number of Jews in Poland – in large part arriving from the Soviet Union – declined from 240,000 to 90,000 due to mass migration. Britain demanded that Poland halt the Jewish exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. The flight (berihah) of Jews was motivated by the post-Holocaust absence of Jewish life in Poland as well as the raging civil war against the Communist takeover, in as much as the efforts of strong Polish-Jewish lobby at the Jewish Agency working towards the higher standard of living and special privileges for the immigrants from Poland. Yitzhak Raphael, director of the Immigration Department – who lobbied on behalf of Polish refugees – insisted on their preferential treatment in Israel, wrote Devorah Hakohen.
Reaction of the Catholic ChurchEdit
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Six months before the Kielce pogrom, during the celebration of Hanukkah, a hand grenade had been thrown into the headquarters of the local Jewish community. The Jewish Community Council had approached the Bishop of Kielce, Czesław Kaczmarek, requesting that he admonish the Polish people to refrain from attacking the Jews. The bishop refused, replying that "as long as the Jews concentrated upon their private business Poland was interested in them, but at the point when Jews began to interfere in Polish politics and public life, they insulted the Poles' national sensibilities".
Similar remarks were delivered by the Bishop of Lublin, Stefan Wyszyński, when he was approached by a Jewish delegation. Wyszyński stated that the widespread hostility to Jews was provoked by Jewish backing of Communism (there was a widespread perception that Jews were supportive of Soviet-installed Communist administration in Poland; see Żydokomuna), which had also been the reason why "the Germans murdered the Jewish nation". Wyszyński also gave some credence to blood libel stories, commenting that the issue of the use of Christian blood was never fully clarified.
The controversial stance of the Polish Roman Catholic Church towards anti-Jewish violence was criticised by the American, British and Italian ambassadors to Poland. Reports of the Kielce pogrom caused a major sensation in the United States, leading the American ambassador to Poland to insist that Cardinal August Hlond hold a press conference and explain the position of the church. In the conference held on 11 July 1946, Hlond condemned the violence, but attributed it not to racial causes but to rumours concerning the killing of Polish children by Jews. Hlond put the blame for the deterioration in Polish-Jewish relations on collaboration with the Soviet-backed Communist occupiers, Jews "occupying leading positions in Poland in state life". This position was echoed by Polish rural clergy and Cardinal Sapieha, who reportedly stated that the Jews had brought it upon themselves.
Evidence of Soviet involvementEdit
Some sources claim the massacre was instigated by the Soviet-backed Communist security corps, for propaganda purposes, attempting to discredit Poland's anti-Communist stance and to maintain totalitarian control over the country. As the top-secret case files were destroyed, the academic inquiry is ongoing with regard to possible secret coordination with the NKVD by the Moscow-Communist-controlled 'Polish' authorities. There has been considerable controversy over possible outside incitement. The idea that the event was secretly provoked or inspired by Soviet intelligence services has been put forward, and a number of similar scenarios were offered. None has yet been proven by the post-communist investigation, due to the paper trail (see below) having been destroyed by Communist-controlled intelligence agents, even though an NKVD officer was present at the riots. In 2001–04 the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) conducted an investigation into the pogrom and closed the case stating (without entering into details) that the events of 4 July 1946 were a result of a mishap. Another communiqué published by the IPN two years later confirmed only that four decades after the fact the remaining paper trail was still being destroyed by the Soviet controlled Polish security police under Gen. Czesław Kiszczak.
Aleksander Wat, Tadeusz Piotrowski, logician Abel Kainer (Stanisław Krajewski), and Jan Śledzianowski, allege that the events were part of a much wider action organised by Soviet intelligence in countries controlled by the Soviet Union (a very similar pogrom took place in Hungary), and that Soviet-dominated agencies like the UBP were used in the preparation of the Kielce pogrom. Polish Communist and Soviet commanders were in the locality. The most notable was the Jewish expert Nathan Spychaj (a.k.a. Natan Shpilevoi or Szpilevoy), brother of a senior official in Stalin's puppet Polish regime, as well as Mikhail Diomin, a high-ranking GRU officer for special operations. It was also uncommon that numerous troops from security formations were present at the place and did not prevent the "mob" from gathering, at a time when even a gathering of five people was considered suspicious and immediately controlled.
Michael Checinski, a former Polish Military Counter-Intelligence officer, emigrated to United States after the 1968 Polish political crisis, where he published his book in which he asserts that the events of Kielce pogrom were a well planned action of the Soviet intelligence in Poland, with the main role in planning and controlling the events being played by Diomin, and with the murders carried out by some Poles, including Polish policemen and military officers.
On 19 July 1946, former Chief Military Prosecutor Henryk Holder wrote in the letter to the deputy chief of LWP General Marian Spychalski that "we know that the pogrom wasn't only a fault of Police and Army guarding the people in and around the city of Kielce but also members of the official government who took a role in it."
One line of argument that implies external inspiration goes as follows: The 1946 referendum showed that the communists had little support and only vote rigging won them a majority in the carefully controlled poll - hence, it has been alleged that the UBP organised the pogrom to distract the Western world media's attention from the fabricated referendum. Another argument for the incident's use as distraction was the upcoming ruling on the Katyn massacre in the Nuremberg trials, which the communists tried to turn international attention away from, placing the Poles in an unfavourable spotlight (the pogrom happened on 4 July, the same day the Katyn case started in Nuremberg, after the Soviet prosecutors falsely accused the Nazis of the massacre which was actually committed by the Soviets themselves in 1940).
Jan T. Gross in his book, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, offers a somewhat different and more nuanced interpretation. Gross, while agreeing that the crime was initiated not by a mob, but by the communist police, and that it involved people from every walk of life except the highest level of government officials in the city, wrote the indifference of the majority of Poles to the Jewish Holocaust combined with demands for the return of Jewish property confiscated during the Second World War created a climate of violence against Jews.
Following the fall of communism, several commemorative plaques were unveiled in Kielce. In 1990 the first plaque was unveiled following the involvement of then Polish president Lech Wałęsa. A monument by New York City-based artist Jack Sal entitled White/Wash II commemorating the victims was dedicated on 4 July 2006, in Kielce, on the 60th anniversary of the pogrom. At the dedication ceremony, a statement from the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński condemned the events as a "crime and a great shame for the Poles and tragedy for the Polish Jews". The presidential statement asserted that in today's democratic Poland there is "no room for antisemitism" and brushed off any generalizations of the antisemitic image of the Polish nation as a stereotype. Another monument intended to be a representative grave for the victims, was unveiled in the city in 2010.
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