Lit Review Final

Josh Furnary

Hist. 299


Literature Review

            On July 4th, 1946 the largest pogrom in Polish history took place in the town of Kielce.[1] Upwards of forty Jews were killed either by stoning, beating, or shooting in a massive citywide massacre. What caused the attacks and motivated the all day pogrom against Jews is a question still greatly debated. More profound than the actual catalyst that instigated the pogrom, the false accusation of blood libeling, are the potential big actors behind the scenes. The literature holds rather consistent that in the earlier years the pogrom was thought to be instigated by the Polish Communist Party (PPR). The significance of the PPR’s motives varied in each of the works, lacking a single specific consensus. But as the years passed, the literature shifted more broadly to place blame more towards the Polish Peoples Party (PSL) and the anti-Semitism they displayed. The vast majority of arguments fall within these two groups, while only a handful present different standpoints.

Starting in 1948 two very critical and known figures of the era published books relating to the Kielce Pogrom, kicking off the argument of placing blame just two years after the events took place. Arthur Bliss Lane argued in his 1948 book I Saw Poland Betrayed that the PPR was responsible because they stood to gain the most from the pogrom, overshadowing the media coverage that was exposing their rigged referendum just five days prior.[2] Bliss Lane was writing as an extremely informed source because at the time of the pogrom he was the US ambassador to Poland. He resigned less than six months after the pogrom when he saw the complete communist transition of Poland into a puppet state. Bliss Lane put the practical fault on the Communist party, but he also went a step further appointing moral obligation on the Catholic church as well. He believed the pogrom would not have taken place if Cardinal Hlond and the clergy in Kielce took action to calm the crowd.[3] Stanislaw Mikolajcyk, the former leader of the Polish Peoples Party released a very similar verdict of the pogrom in his 1948 book The Rape of Poland. As the head of the nationalistic party, he was pushing extremely hard to expose the PPR’s falsified referendum by presenting data to western media outlets.[4] He viewed the attacks as being ordered from the top down in hopes of diverting the West from the bogus referendum.[5]

Again, in 1982 Michael Checinski, a former Polish intelligence officer, continued to put the blame on the communist party in his book Poland: Communism, Nationalism, and Anti-Semitism. Checinksi emphasized the Soviets ability to benefit from the pogrom through how they framed the events. The Soviets were able to tighten their own grip on security by calling into question the Poles failure to put down the Pogrom. They capitalized on the perception that the Poles inability to maintain law and order during the pogrom resulted in the necessity for a stronger, more centralized Soviet presence in Poland.[6] Checinski also quoted Bliss Lane and his construction of the referendum cover-up as a motive for the PPR to instigate the pogrom.

Lane, Mikolajcyk, Checinski, and even Jan T. Gross in his 2006 book Fear all found motives founded in the PPR. By 2006 Gross recognized that the PPR noticed strong anti-Semitism within the gentile Polish population and likely withheld preventative action during the pogrom in order to seem more connected to the minds of the people.[7] Although it was not Gross’s main argument, it did signify the Soviet motive behind the pogrom.

In 1982, Stewart Steven, an English journalist, began the ground work for a movement away from directly Communist related motives towards more anti-Semitic and nationalistic ones in his book The Poles. Steven put the blame on the Jewish Communists who were returning from the USSR after WWII. For the most part, Steven asserted gentile Poles saw the Jews deriving their  power within the new Poland as a result of their time spent exiled in the USSR during the war, even though practically the claims were false.[8]

By 2004 Anita Prazmowska put forth the argument in her book A History of Poland that unlike most historians such as Bliss Lane, Steven, Mikolajcyk, or Checinski, blame for the pogrom really lies in the legitimacy effort of the PSL.[9] She claimed that lawlessness arose out of the nationalistic movement of the PSL, led by Mikolajczyk.[10] Joanna Michlic, a Professor of Polish-Jewish history at Lehigh, also supported this idea that the nationalistic movement instigated the pogrom in her 2006 book Poland’s Threatening Other. She recognized that anti-Semitism was so deeply engrained in Polish society that even school children did not want to associate with Jews.[11] This was significant because it meant for the PSL to gain legitimacy, it would need to garner support from the majority of Poles via anti-Semitic mobilization, even if they themselves did not uphold anti-Semitic views.

The shift of blame from the communist backed actors to the nationalist movement ended over many years. All the sources share a similar story and debate amongst similar styles, yet none of the sources rely heavily on primary sources with the exception of Gross’s book Fear. They are mostly conjectural and broad looks at the motives and social history surrounding the Kielce Pogrom. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of literature through the 50s, 60s, and 70s until interest sparked back up during the period of Soviet glasnost, or transparency. It is likely the Soviets kept that period of history under wraps, so that research could be continued only after the Soviet collapse.












Works Cited

Bliss Lane, Arthur.  I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports To The American People.                 New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948.

Checinski, Michael. Poland: Communism, Nationalism, and Anti-Semitism. New York: Karz-Cohl                Publishing, 1982.

Gross, Jan T. Fear: Anti- Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz, An Essay in Historical Interpretation. New York: Random House, 2006.

Michlic Beata, Joanna. Poland’s Threatening Other: The Image of The Jew from 1880 to the Present.         Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Mikolajczyk, Stanislaw. The Rape Of Poland: Pattern of Soviet Aggression. New York: McGraw-Hill Book                Company, 1948.

Prazmowska, Anita J. A History of Poland. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004.

Steven, Stewart. The Poles. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982.



[1]   Anita J. Prazmowska, A History of Poland (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004), 191. The events actually took place on the 4th, but Prazmoska mistakenly says they took place July 23, 1946.

[2]   Arthur Bliss Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports To The American People (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948), 249.

[3]   Ibid.

[4]   Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, The Rape of Poland: Pattern of Soviet Aggression (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1948),165-166.

[5]  Ibid, 167.

[6] Michael Checinski, Poland: Communism, Nationalism, and Anti-Semitism (New York: Karz-Cohl Publishing, 1982), 31-32.

[7]   Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti- Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz, An Essay in Historical Interpretation (New York: Random House, 2006), 127-128.

[8]   Stewart Steven, The Poles (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982), 307-308.

[9]   Anita J. Prazmowska, A History of Poland, 191.

[10]   Ibid, 191. Also, the Mikolajczyk mentioned is the same author of The Rape Of Poland: Pattern of Soviet Aggression.

[11]   Joanna Beata Michlic, Poland’s Threatening Other: The Image of The Jew from 1880 to the Present (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 234-236.

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