4th of July marks 72nd anniversary of the Kielce pogrom of Jews. Their killers were Polish neighbors, and those tragic events took place in Poland liberated from German occupation.
Events later referred to as the „Kielce pogrom” took place mainly in the building on 7/9 Planty Street, where about 200 people lived. Except of the tenants the building also served as home to various Jewish institutions (Jewish Committee, congregation, kibbutz of the zionist party Ichud, etc.). This, however, was not the only arena of tragic events. Pogroms of Jews also took place in other locations in Kielce and in trains going through the town on that day.
The Kielce pogrom took lives of 40 people (including 3 of Polish nationality). 2 people were killed on Leonardo Street. 35 were wounded.
Background of the pogrom
The causes of the Kielce pogrom can be identified as independent actions of the military, militia and some of the officials of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland. The immediate reason for them to take these actions against local Jews was the rumor of kidnapping of an 8-year-old Henryk Błaszczyk, who got missing on July 1st. His father, shoemaker Walenty Błaszczyk reported him missing on the very same day at around 11 p.m. The boy returned home by himself two days later. On the day of his return, at around midnight, his father, being under influence of alcohol, came to militia station claiming that for all this time his son was kept in the basement by Jews, from where he managed to escape. On the 4th of July, in the morning, Walenty Błaszczyk and his son Henryk, together with their neighbor, once again appeared in the militia station. According to their testimonies unknown man gave the boy a package in the street and asked him to carry it to his home. He offered him 20 złoty for doing this. After getting there the man allegedly took the package away from little Henryk and locked him in the basement, where few other children had already been kept. On the way to the station Henryk pointed at the building on 7 Planty Street and identified it as the place where he had been locked. He also identified the man who kidnapped him. The building was within the distance of 200 meters from the militia station.
Later on testimonies of both Błaszczyks proved to be complete bogus. Without letting his parents know, the boy went to the village situated 20 kilometers from Kielce, where he had lived with his family during the occupation. He made the story on being kidnapped and locked only to avoid the punishment.
After questioning Błaszczyks, chief of the station, sergeant Edmund Zagórski dispatched patrol consisting of six of his men who, together with Walenty and Henryk Błaszczyk went to Plant Street. After getting the militia men arrested the man by the name of Kalman Singer whom the boy identified as the culprit and returned with him to the station. Another patrol was sent to Planty Street with orders to search the building. It comprised several men, all of who were volunteers. On their way to location they were telling the passerby about alleged abductions of Christian children by Jews with intention of using them as victims of ritual killings. After searching the building it was obvious that the story told by Błaszczyks could not be true, as the building on 7/9 Planty Street had no basement.
The course of events
The outbreak of violence began in the morning of the 4th of July. The first shots were fired by the servicemen inside of the building. After entering inside soldiers were dragging Jews out of their hidings and bringing them outside where the mob, part of which were also servicemen, beat them and threw stones at them. Few to several people, men and women, were shot or stabbed with bayonets and other blunt instruments. Two women were thrown out of the windows and killed by the mob in the street. Efforts by representatives of various authorities and Catholic Church to calm the mob down were ineffective and proved to be fruitless. Civilians as well as soldiers were robbing their victims and plundering their belongings left in the building.
The Jews „hunt” took place also at the stations along Kielce-Częstochowa railway line. On the trains and at the stations in Kielce region about 30 Jews were killed on that day.
The first phase of the pogrom lasted until noon, and the second began when workers from „Ludwików” factory arrived at Planty Street. Around 4 p.m. the pogrom was eventually stopped, however it did not utterly calm anti Jewish mood. Immediately after the pogrom anti Jewish rally was held. The mob demonstrated also in front of the hospital in which wounded Jews were treated.
The events referred to as the „Kielce pogrom” resulted in about 10 trials of people holding various kind of responsibility for what had happened. Among the defendants were civilians, servicemen, militia men, head of the Public Security office in Kielce. Few capital punishments were adjudged (convicts were executed). In many cases during the trials the law was violated, defendants were physically abused, some of them found themselves in the court room by utter accident.
There are various theories on the causes that led to those events. Among the most popular is the one scribing them to provocation of Soviet or Polish security forces. In the report of the investigation held by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) published in 2006 it claims that the evidence unabled verifying these hypothesis. As the most probable cause of the tragic events in Kielce in 1946 IPN considers the unfortunate course of events caused by coincidence of historical and contemporary nature and claims that those events were spontaneous rather than staged.
However the research on the matter is difficult due to the fact some of the documents were destroyed.
Text based on „pogrom kielecki” entry by Bożena Szaynok in Polski Słownik Judaistyczny.