…hatred, whose strength shocks and forces to think… The Kielce pogrom, July 4, 1946

On July 4, 1946, the city of Kielce saw the biggest pogrom of Jews in Poland since the end of World War II.

Wide  en pogrzeb ofiar zaj   w kielcach  filmoteka narodowa  cc by nc
The funeral of the victims of the Kielce pogrom  /  Filmoteka Narodowa – Instytut Audiowizualny

The Kielce pogrom was perpetrated by Poles – according to Witold Kula, „even one quarter of the Kielce population”[1], „a crowd craving violence and murder”[2] consisting of men and women of all ages, children included[3], diverse in education, material status, political affiliation, organizational membership, both before the war and during the German occupation. The participants of these events were ‘ordinary people’ as well as the militia, the army and members of the Security Office [Urząd Bezpieczeństwa].

The events began with a report from Waldemar Błaszczyk and his 9-year old son Henryk, given about 8 AM at the Civic Militia station at 45 Sienkiewicza street[4]. Three days earlier, the boy left his house and, without telling his parents, he went – as it transpired later – to befriended farmers in a village near Kielce, where he was born and where he had lived with his mother during wartime[5]. The Błaszczyk family informed the militia about their son being missing, they had also began searching on their own. Having returned home on 3 July in the evening, Henryk – in fear of punishment – said that he had been kidnapped and held in a basement, but managed to escape. He eagerly followed a suggestion from adults that the kidnapper had been Jewish. On his way to the militia station, he confirmed that he recognized the place where he had allegedly been held – the house at 7 Planty street, where local Jewish institutions were located (the Voivodeship and Municipal Jewish Committee, religious congregation, Ichud party kibbutz and free soup kitchen supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). After the end of the war, the house had also became a temporary shelter for most Holocaust survivors staying in Kielce, usually waiting to leave the country (according to the local Jewish Committee register, in May 1946, only 163 Jews lived in Kielce, while before September 1939 there were about 25,000 Jews[6]). Henryk pointed at the man who had allegedly lured him into the trap.

In order to arrest the supposed kidnapper and research the situation, Stefan Sędek, the director of the Crime and Investigation Department of the Civic Militia [Milicja Obywatelska], sent two militia patrols to Planty street in a short period of time. On the way, militia officers and the Błaszczyks, who joined them in both cases, were informing passers-by about Henio’s ‘escape’ (from the Jews) and that they ‘were going to surround the Jewish house where Polish children are being held’[7]. People were joining the crowd, and a gossip about a ‘prevented murder’ was spreading further.

The crowd around the Jewish Committee building was growing larger with every minute. The people inside, concerned about developing events, were trying to intervene on the phone, calling the voivode (province governor) of Kielce, the head of the Voivodeship Public Security Office and Soviet advisors who were in the city at the time; they had also contacted the local Roman Catholic curia. Despite expectations, the army and militia had joined the aggressors. A group of militiamen and soldiers went into the building, demanding from people to give up arms, and firing guns at them soon afterwards. They were pushing anyone who got in their hands outside, into the violent crowd[8], and threw a few people from the balcony. The pogrom began. About noon, after a short period of relative peace, when about 15–20 injured and killed people were taken to the local hospital, several hundred workers from the Ludwików steel plant and a nearby sawmill arrived at Planty street[9]. The situation was eventually pacified by the Polish Army and the Internal Security Corps, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Artur Pollak (a pre-war officer, who received the Virtuti Militari order for his participation in the Polish-Bolshevik war[10]). They had dispersed the crowd storming the building and evacuated the survivors. The Church officials went to Planty twice: first before noon, and later near the end of the pogrom. It was confirmed that they had arrived at least close to the location, and even though it is difficult to estimate where they witnessed the events from, it remains certain that they didn’t react in any way[11]. We also know that one of the priests who celebrated the mass in the nearby cathedral (in the intention of, among others, general Władysław Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile, killed in an air crash on July 4th, 1943), didn’t appeal to the believers to stop the murder[12].

Pogrom lasted for more than seven hours[13]. Initially, events were limited to the 7 Planty street address, but later they expanded onto the entire city, even the trains on the Skarżysko-Częstochowa-Kielce line. Everywhere, the Jews were being chased, pulled out of apartments and trains, attacked, robbed and murdered.

The exact number of victims of the pogrom remains unknown. It is certain that more than 80 people were injured[14], and no less than 43, including two non-Jewish Poles, were killed[15]. Five of them had died already in the hospital[16]. Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, basing on registers from various sources, compared data about 52 victims[17], yet there is no certainty whether her list is complete. The personal data of all people killed was not fully determined yet – some of them were in Kielce only briefly, identification was also complicated by the scope of injuries[18]. The victims had gunshot and stab wounds, but majority of them had died due to severe beating. Józef Ocepa, then Voivodeship Health Department Inspector, who participated in the examination of the bodies, recalled: ‘As a doctor, during the war I had seen many killed and massacred people, for example by the Gestapo. But I have never seen heads broken in such a macabre manner, bodies torn to this extent. Even those who were shot carried traces of posthumous massacre’[19]. Among the victims were women, for example a heavily pregnant 35-year old, as well as children, one of them as young as only a few weeks[20].

On 9 July 1946, one day after the ceremonial funeral of 40 victims of the pogrom, the first – and only open – trial of participants began. Neither this, nor any of at least seven following court trials which had taken place in relation to the pogrom[21], provided a precise reconstruction of the events. It didn’t lead to any deeper reflection on the mechanism of crime either. As Tokarska-Bakir concluded, their aim was ‘not to discover the material truth, but to pacify individuals who were a threat to the system.’[22]

Conclusions from an investigation resumed in 1992 by the Regional Commission for Research of Crimes Against the Polish Nation in Kielce, which had lasted for over ten years, didn’t provide satisfying explanations either[23].

An early narrative about the murder in Kielce was marked by strong politicization, both in statements from state officials and their supporters, as well as their opponents – the anti-Communist underground, representatives of the Catholic Church and many Jewish activists[24].

Usually, they were depicting the pogrom as a tool and/or a result of a battle for power and influence, putting the blame on – depending on the faction – variously defined ‘enemy’ (‘the reaction’ in the perspective of the state authorities, ‘Communists’ – in the words of their opponents). For many years, researchers looking for answer to the question why such a horrible crime could have taken place only one year after the war, after the Holocaust, on the same soil where it happened, were pointing to the political context of the events. Focusing on single-factor explanations and using, within a politicized vision of the history of the early postwar period, a pattern of a bipolar setting of social powers, they were – consciously or not – missing the wider social context of these events.

An exception to this rule came in the mid-1940s and in the following decades from a group of left-wing journalists and writers, who supported the political system but were not attached to its institutions (such as Władysław Broniewski, Franciszek Gil or Witold Kula). Helena Datner, who wrote extensively about their perspective (critical also towards the social elites), mentions that they shared an opinion according to which ‘the new system provides a chance for the society’[25]. Their observations stood out because they noticed a continuity of anti-Semitism in interwar Poland, during the German occupation and in the early postwar years; they were also emphasizing its murderous nature in the mid-1940s. Such a perspective made them transgress the patterns of the dominant culture, and – as a result – they were almost automatically pushed to its margins due to said culture’s regulation mechanisms[26]. This reflection was fully expanded in the recent research on the pogrom by Joanna Tokarska-Bakir[27]. She describes the murder in Kielce ‘not in a singular perspective of discontinuity, but of lasting continuity, in hope to find out how the daily violence became normative’[28] Following the guidelines of Krystyna Kersten, Tokarska-Bakir connects the perspectives of individual and collective psychology, analyzing also the cultural and political spheres[29]. As a result, she abandons the usual patterns and draws a picture of a society exhausted by war and striving for normalcy (poisoned with anti-Semitism ‘whose core was blood libel’, encumbered with an ‘easily mobilized resource of an experience of the mass murder of Jews’ and anxiety rooted in ‘fear of the return of the owners of «post-Jewish» houses and of «Jewish rule»’[30]). On the other hand, she presents an image of conflicted authorities (‘anti-Semitic militia, demoralised army, Security Office without legitimacy – their drifting not only failed to prevent an outbreak of anti-Jewish panic, but additionally fuelled it’[31]). In her analysis of the officers’ careers, she concludes that the personnel wasn’t imposed externally, but recruited from the very society, including well-educated pre-war elites. For example, Stefan Sędek was a University of Warsaw Law Department graduate, who co-established with his brother the Kielce unit of ONR (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, National Radical Camp) before the war[32].

The Kielce pogrom is a turning point in the history of the Jewish community in post-war Poland. As a result, more than 100,000 Jews had left Poland33. For many survivors, Kielce became a symbol of continuity of Polish anti-Semitism, including its murderous aspect.

‘The Kielce crime, extraordinary in terms of scale and malicious cruelty, was such a tragic event, and also – so symptomatic due to a combination of so many typical qualities and signs, forces us to carefully analyze it and to draw essential conclusions’ – wrote in late July 1946 Maksymilian Tauchner, managing editor of the Zionist Opinia magazine[34]. He added: ‘The claim, repeated boringly often, that Kielce was the work of reaction is shallow and too simple. We could have agreed with this too-general opinion, if those who repeat it made a provision that «reaction» is, in the first place, a social, moral, cultural notion, not only political. In our interpretation of this notion, a Polish reactionary doesn’t have to be a member of the NSZ [Narodowe Siły Zbrojne, National Armed Forces, Polish World War II right-wing underground military organization], it doesn’t have to be even a political opponent of the current Polish government. Reactionaries would be, in this sense, people delayed culturally, with notions anchored in the past, anti-historical irrationalists, regardless whether they are factory workers, working intelligentsia, university professors or cardinals. Only in such an interpretation, we can agree to the «reaction» shortcut, when we speak about the perpetrators of the Kielce crime.

We emphasize this not because we would like to expand the circle of perpetrators, but because we believe that we will contribute more to the struggle against Polish anti-Semitism, if we don’t locate it only in the NSZ units. (…) In this light, Polish anti-Semitism should be considered only as a cultural issue. (…) This is a terrible hatred by human beings of other human beings, whose strength shocks and forces to think’[35].

Sources*:

Antyżydowskie wydarzenia kieleckie 4 lipca 1946 roku. Dokumenty i materiały, S. Meducki, Z. Wrona (ed.), Kielce 1992.

Danuta Blus-Węgrowska, Pogrom kielecki, a masters’ thesis under the direction of professor Marcin Kula, University of Warsaw, 1992, typescript.

Helena Datner, Tuż po wojnie napisali już wszystko. Radykalni publicyści i pisarze o antysemityzmie, w: Lata czterdzieste. Początki polskiej narracji o Zagładzie, Warsaw 2019, p. 251–288.

Jan Tomasz Gross, Strach. Antysemityzm w Polsce tuż po wojnie. Historia moralnej zapaści, Kraków 2008.

Krystyna Kersten, Polacy – Żydzi – komunizm. Anatomia półprawd, Warsaw 1992.

Przeciw antysemityzmowi 1936–2009, A. Michnik (ed.), t. II, Potęga ciemnoty, Kraków 2010.

Bożena Szaynok, Nowe ustalenia badawcze dotyczące pogromu w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946 r. w: Pogromy Żydów na ziemiach polskich w XIX i XX wieku, vol. 4 Holokaust i powojnie, A. Grabski (ed.), Warsaw 2019, p. 215–238.

Bożena Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946, Warsaw 1992.

Bożena Szaynok, Polska historiografii a po 1989 r. na temat pogromów i powojennej przemocy wobec Żydów w latach 1944–1947, w: Pogromy Żydów na ziemiach polskich w XIX i XX wieku, t. 4 Holokaust i powojnie, A. Grabski (ed.), Warsaw 2019, p. 511–526.

Samuel Lajb Shneiderman, Between Fear and Hope, New York 1947.

Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą. Społeczny portret pogromu kieleckiego, vol. 1 and 2, Warsaw 2018.

Wokół pogromu kieleckiego, Ł. Kamiński, J. Żaryn (ed.), vol. I and II, Warsaw 2006.

Marcin Zaremba, Wielka trwoga. Polska 1944–1947. Ludowa reakcja na kryzys, Kraków 2012.

• Paweł Wieczorek, Oblicza zbrodni. Pogrom kielecki w świetle polskojęzycznej prasy żydowskiej, in: Pogromy Żydów na ziemiach polskich w XIX i XX wieku, vol. 4 Holokaust i powojnie, A. Grabski (ed.), Warsaw 2019, p. 453–466.

The most extensive bibliography of the issue can be found in Joanna Tokarska-Bakir’s book, see: idem, Pod klątwą. Społeczny portret pogromu kieleckiego, Warsaw 2018, vol. I., p. 569–587.

 

Footnotes:

[1] See: W. Kula, Nasza w tym rola (Głos pesymisty), in: Przeciw antysemityzmowi 1936–2009, A. Michnik (ed..), vol. II, Krakow 2010, p. 144.

[2] See: K. Kersten, Wstęp, in: B. Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946, Warsaw 1992, p. 22.

[3] Joanna Tokarska-Bakir mentions numerous testimonies about teenagers, high school students, scouts, but also about the presence of children, usually accompanying their fathers; see chapters: Dzieci na Plantach and Ojcowie i dzieci, in: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą…, p. 258–262.

[4] I’m reconstructing the chronology of events according to the research done by Bożena Szaynok, Joanna Tokarska-Bakir and to the results of an investigation conducted between 1992 and 2004 by the Regional Commission for Research of Crimes Against the Polish Nation in Kielce; see: B. Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946, Warsaw 1992; J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą. Społeczny portret pogromu kieleckiego, Warszawa 2018; see also: Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa, doc. 93 in: Wokół pogromu kieleckiego, Ł. Kamiński, J. Żaryn (ed.), vol. I, Warsaw 2006, p. 441–483.

[5] See: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą…, p. 87.

[6] See: Antyżydowskie wydarzenia kieleckie 4 lipca 1946 roku. Dokumenty i materiały, S. Meducki, Z. Wrona (ed.), Kielce 1992, p. 11; see also: B. Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946…, p 26.

[7] See: B. Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946…, p. 36.

[8] Ibidem, p. 40.

[9] Zob. J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą…, s 51; zob. także Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa…, s. 457.

[10] Ibidem, p. 402.

[11 Ibidem, p. 115.

[12 Ibidem.

[13 See: B. Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946…, p. 56.

[14 See: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą. Społeczny portret pogromu kieleckiego. Inspiracje i metodologia, Polish version of an essay published originally in French, see: A. Kichelewski, J. Lyon-Caen, J-Ch. Szurek, A. Wieviorka,. Les Polonais et la Shoah. Une nouvelle école historique, Paris 2019, see: https://www.academia.edu/41404848/Spo%C5%82eczny_portret_pogromu_kieleckiego_inspiracje_i_metodologi... (access: June 2020).

[15] See: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą…, p. 64. Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa informs about three non-Jewish victims, see: Ibidem, p. 442.

[16] I’m following Joanna Tokarska-Bakir’s research, see: Pod klątwą…, p. 446–447.

[17] Ibidem, p. 446.

[18] Ibidem, p. 64.

[19] Ibidem, p. 68.

[20] Ibidem, p. 447.

21 See: B. Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946…, p. 92. Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa informs about 9 trials, see: Tamże, p. 442; see also: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą … p. 186 and Tamże, footnote 1084; p. 667.

[22] J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą…, p. 186.

[23] See: Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa…

[24] Paweł Wieczorek, Oblicza zbrodni. Pogrom kielecki w świetle polskojęzycznej prasy żydowskiej, w: Pogromy Żydów na ziemiach polskich w XIX i XX wieku, t. 4. Holokaust i powojnie, A. Grabski (ed.), Warsaw 2019, p. 453–466.

[25] See: H. Datner, Tuż po wojnie napisali już wszystko. Radykalni publicyści i pisarze o antysemityzmie, w: Lata czterdzieste. Początki polskiej narracji o Zagładzie, Warsaw 2019, p. 254.

[26] Ibidem, p. 252.

[27] For further information on the recent historiography of the pogrom, which I don’t discuss here, especially the significance of the works by Jan Tomasz Gross and Marcin Zaremba for its development, see Bożena Szaynok’s review: ibidem, Nowe ustalenia badawcze dotyczące pogromu w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946 r., w: Pogromy Żydów na ziemiach polskich w XIX i XX wieku, vol. 4 Holokaust i powojnie, A. Grabski (ed.), Warsaw 2019, p. 215–238.

[28] See: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą …, p. 13.

[29] Ibidem.

[30] Ibidem, p. 405.

[31] Ibidem.

[32] Ibidem, p. 344.

[33] See: J. Tokarska-Bakir, Pod klątwą…, p. 77; further reading: N. Aleksiun, Dokąd dalej? Ruch syjonistyczny w Polsce (1944–1950), Warsaw 2002, p. 167–175.

[34] M. Tauchner, Po zbrodni nad zbrodniami, „Opinia” 1946 no. 2, 25 July.

[35] Ibidem.


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