Kielce Final

Following World War II, Poland’s political, physical, and ethnic identity was radically altered. Politically, the Soviet Union’s influence turned the Polish government’s ideology towards the east, while physically the country’s borders were pushed 150 miles to the west. Immediately following the war there were an estimated 5 million displaced Polish citizens remaining outside the country’s borders, creating logistical havoc. Furthermore, with the approximate 3.2 million Polish Jews killed during the Holocaust, coupled with the new territory gained, Poland was also ethnically homogenous for the first time, with roughly 90% of the population consisting of Roman Catholics.[1] During this period of an evolving Poland, the country’s largest pogrom took place on July 4th, 1946 in the southeastern town of Kielce.[2] The pogrom signified the extremely high tensions between the Jewish ethnic minority in Poland and the Catholic majority. The political uncertainty and ethnic conflicts provided a basis for aggression in Kielce, but also revealed greater political and moral implications. These implications include politically the Polish Communist Party holding culpability for the events, while the local Catholic church bore the moral responsibility.

The pogrom took place after Henryk Blaszczyk, an 8 year-old boy, left home for two days to pick cherries at a friend’s house without telling his father he was leaving home. That night Walenty, the boy’s father, drunkenly walked to the police station to report his son missing. The police recognized he was inebriated and asked that he return in the morning to file a report if Henryk was still missing. However, that next morning the son returned and clearly was not kidnapped, but the father still went and reported to the police that Jews abducted him with plans of blood libeling him.[3]  Soon after filing the report, police began walking to 7 Planty Street, the apartment building of the accused kidnappers, where 180 Jews lived. As the police walked, they shouted out that Jews had killed a Christian child and a crowd gathered. The police then, with the shouting support of the crowd, entered the building and began throwing Jews into the street. These events were just the beginning of what led to a full out riot, which murdered roughly forty two Jews and injured as many as eighty other men, woman, and children.[4] Looking at the pogrom with a narrow lens makes it seem that the events were nothing more than a false accusation that led to mob mentality and chaos. In part this is true, but it fails to represent the bigger picture exposing the motivations and political agendas that were at work.

With regards to the small scale motivation, Poland after WWII was extremely anti-Semitic. Some common Polish proverbs from the time include “A German, a Jew, and the Devil — all children of one mother;” “A girlfriend’s word, a Jewish oath, both uncertain;” and “The Jew and the noble contrive to ruin the peasant.”[5] These common proverbs reveal a common motif that Jews were of a lower, untrustworthy status, even comparable to the Devil. However untruthful the perceptions of Jews amongst the general public actually were, it is extremely important to recognize that these perceptions were commonplace. The perception also continued into Polish literature, where the motif of Jews holding desired jobs reoccurred, such as innkeepers, tavern keepers, shopkeepers, craftsmen, or important merchants.[6] This perception existed within the minds of gentile Poles who believed strongly that Jews held all the well paying jobs, especially with regards to the growing Communist Party after WWII. However, it is prudent to point out that during the era Jews in general were struggling to make ends meet, as revealed by the harsh living conditions within the apartment building of 7 Planty Street itself.[7]

Widespread anti-Semitism throughout ethnically homogenous Catholic Poland quickly made its way to political agendas too. When the war ended, Poland was in the midst of two political ideologies vying for authority. The Soviets, who played the largest role in liberating Poland from Germany, signed the Polish-Soviet treaty of 1945 solidifying the new western boarder of Poland and giving 70,000 square acres to the Soviets.[8] This act, coupled with the Soviet occupation within Poland at the end of the war, began the installation of a Communist government backed by Moscow. Two political groups controlled the political arena in 1946, those members of the Polish Communist Party (PPR) and the Polish Peoples Party (PSL). Both groups used anti-Semitic tactics to further advocate their acceptance by the majority, but often in very different ways.

During the lead up to the pogrom the Polish Communist Party was working to gain legitimacy. The Soviets wanted Poland under their sphere of influence to create a buffer zone between them and the eastern European states, primarily Germany. On June 30th, 1946 the PPR held the Trzy Razy Tak (Three Times Yes) referendum, whereby Polish citizens could vote on matters of parliamentary structure, land reform, the nationalization of industry, and the incorporation of Western territories into the Polish state. The results were faked to meet the aims of the PPR takeover, but the Polish Peoples Party responded vehemently with protests.[9] Opponents of the PPR, such as the US ambassador in Poland Arthur Bliss Lane, later argued that the poor publicity immediately following the referendum pushed the Communist Party to then instigate the July 4th pogrom in order to divert media coverage to the harsh anti-Semitism in Poland.[10]

Other sources that point to the PPR using the pogrom to overshadow the referendum attested to the use of the Security Police (UB) during the events. The UB acted as a Communist police force that oversaw the regular police called the Citizens Militia (MO). It was around 10:30 am when the UB entered the scene at 7 Planty street and called off the search of the building by the Citizens Militia. Upon their arrival, they also brought a small military detachment to help keep order on the streets with the rising tensions in the crowd. However, the military detachments under UB direction actually entered the apartment building and began killing the Jews and plundering their possessions.[11] Later, when the heads of both the UB and MO were questioned in court, the head of the UB admitted that he had jurisdiction because the event was a “political provocation.”[12] This implies that he knew of the events and was ordered through the PPR not to interfere. Another critic was Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, who accused UB police officer Major Sobczynski of attempting to order foundry workers to gather in the market square and then have his operatives shout that the Jews were killing Polish children at 7 Planty Street. Mikolajczyk believed he attempted this to “add to the terror of the times” and divert attention away from the referendum.[13]

Critics of the PSL on the other hand make the argument that the Kielce Pogrom was actually a useful tool manipulated after the events by Stanislaw Mikolajczyk to push his own political agenda as head of the PSL. Through the main newspaper of the PSL, Mikolajczyk argued that Poles, not Jews, were the true victims of the Kielce Pogrom because Jews were the “chief executors of the Communist regime.”[14] In other words, he believed in what is called Zydokomuna, or the idea that the rise of communism in Poland was a result of Jews returning from hiding in the Soviet Union during WWII.[15] This belief is how the members of the PSL were able to adapt the image of Jews in Poland to meet their political needs.

Politically and legally the broader implications are seen within the Polish Communist Party, the police and military forces, the Polish Peoples Party, and the anti-Semitic gentile Poles at large, but recognizing moral culpability is also important. The Roman Catholic clergy was most notably absent during the Kielce Pogrom and therefore shoulder the weight of moral responsibility. Cardinal August Hlond and the rest of the clergy the Sunday following the Pogrom were issued a statement to read without commentary, whereby they condemned murder of all kind, but never acknowledged the severely racist and anti-Semitic pogrom of Catholics upon Jews; in fact, it only mentioned the word Jew once.[16] Even during the actual events, two Catholic priests, Jan Danielewicz and Roman Zelek, never even attempted to quell the rioters who were at 7 Planty participating in the pogrom.[17] The Polish citizens would have likely responded to the priests as in a similar event in Czestochowa where a “quick thinking priest stood up and branded the shouting as a provocation,” narrowly adverting another pogrom.[18] The Church as a whole did not definitively act against anti-Semitism after the pogrom and failed to take action when necessary.[19]

The broader implications from the Kielce Pogrom extend past the political and moral sphere as well. Even as late as 1987, Polish citizens who took part in the pogrom had trouble defining the events, the political backers, or the causes. The anti-Semitism of the gentile Poles even showed 40 years later in interviews through backhanded comments and stereotypical assumptions. The Jews that survived displayed noticeable fear in the interviews, while many of those who witnessed the atrocities still felt it was the Jews fault they were attacked. Furthermore, the fear of some that they might be accused of being Jewish was even more frightful, because in their minds they could have been beaten or killed for no reason.[20] This concept suggests that even many years later gentile Poles are unable to see how utterly unjustified the Kielce Pogrom really was as a means of achieving anterior motives.

The chaos that was post war Poland resulted in a harsh and unwelcoming climate for returning Jewish misplaced persons. Furthermore, the competing political agendas between the PPR and PSL used the minority Jewish population as a tool towards advancing their ideologies. They both tried to capitalize on the widespread existing anti-Semitism to manipulate Polish citizens. During the course of the pogrom, failure of the police forces to manage their subordinates coupled with the failure of the Catholic priests to dispel violence led to the largest pogrom in Polish history.

 

 

Bibliography

Anna Williams, “The Kielce Pogrom,” UCSB Department of History,             http://www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Resources/the_kielce_pogrom.htm             (accessed October 4, 2011).

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

Bozena Szaynok, “The Kielce Pogrom,” Jewish Virtual Library,             http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Kielce.html (accessed October 4,    2011).

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.

Hertz,  Aleksander. The Jews in Polish Culture. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press,      1988.

Lozinski, Marcel. Witnesses: Anti-Semitism in Poland, 1946. DVD. Produced by Gerard de           Verizier. 1987.

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.

Platform Against Antisemitsim and For Emancipation, “Kielce Pogrom, July 4, 1946,” Contested             Terrain, http://contested-terrain.net/kielce-pogrom-july-4-1946/ (accessed October 4,           2011).

Ringelblum, Emmanuel. Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War. Evanston, IL:      Northwestern University Press, 1992.

Schatz, Jaff. The Generation: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Communists of Poland. Berkeley     and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Pogroms,” Holocaust Encyclopedia.             http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005366 (accessed October 4,       2011).

 



  [1]  Jaff Schatz, Generation: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Communists of Poland (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 199-202.

  [2]  Holocaust Encyclopedia, “Pogroms,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005366 (accessed November 13, 2011).

  [3]  Blood libel is a false accusation that Jews murder gentile children and use their blood to mix into the baking of matzo bread. The fact that he chose 7 Planty, the location of the pogrom, is also not unusual because only 8 months prior to the pogrom a grenade was thrown into the building as an anti-Semitic attack.

  [4]  Jan T. Gross, Fear: Anti- Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz, An Essay in Historical Interpretation (New York: Random House, 2006), 83-84, 93.

  [5]  Aleksander Hertz, The Jews in Polish Culture (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 200.

  [6]  Hertz, Polish Culture, 217.

[7]  Marcel Lozinksi, Witnesses: Anti-Semitism in Poland, 1946, DVD, prod. Gerard de Verbizier (1987).

[8]  Schatz, Generation, 200.

[9]  Schatz, Generation, 205.

[10] Arthur Bliss Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports To The American People (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948), 249. Bliss Lane was so politically in opposition to the Soviet takeover in Poland that he actually resigned from being the U.S. ambassador to Poland.

[11]  Gross, Fear, 88.

[12]  Gross, Fear, 95.

[13]  Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, The Rape of Poland: Pattern of Soviet Aggression (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1948), 167. It is important to note that as the head of the Polish Peoples Party, he was staunchly opposed to Communist control and his book was clearly biased against the PPR.

  [14]  Joanna Beata Michlic, Poland’s Threatening Other: The Image of The Jew from 1880 to the Present (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 235-237.

  [15]  Gross, Fear, 192-193.

  [16]  Gross, Fear, 136-138.

  [17]  Gross, Fear, 135-136.

  [18]  Mikolajczyk, Rape of Poland, 167.

[19]  Bliss Lane, Poland Betrayed, 249.

[20]  Marcel Lozinksi, Witnesses: Anti-Semitism in Poland, 1946, DVD, prod. Gerard de Verbizier (1987).



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