The Kielce Pogrom of 4 July 1946 was not an isolated phenomenon. It was preceded by numerous anti-Jewish incidents, murders of Jews in trains (so-called train attacks), on roads and in houses (the shooting of Fiszka Nejman in Łódź under unknown circumstances), as well as incidents involving larger groups of people, for instance a pogrom in Kraków in July 1945.
The Kielce Pogrom was triggered off by a rumour about the kidnapping of Henryk Błaszczyk, an eight-year-old boy who was reported missing at a local police station in Kielce on 1 July 1946 by his father, Walenty Błaszczyk. The boy returned unexpectedly on 3 July. In the evening of the same day, the boy's father went to the police station in Kielce and accused Jews of holding little Henryk for three days in the cellar of a house at 7/9 Planty Street, where the seats of the Jewish Committee and kibbutz were located. In the morning of 4 July, the boy and his father came to the police station, where Henry gave his evidence. As a consequence, Kalman Singer, who allegedly imprisoned the child, was arrested. Dr Seweryn Kahane, the head of the Jewish Committee, arrived at the police station soon thereafter to ask for the release of the arrested man, particularly in view of the fact that there were no cellars in the house at Planty Street. Subsequently, a patrol of policemen went to the house at Plenty Street to clarify the situation. On their way there, the policemen announced that they were going to search for the bodies of children who had gone missing in the previous weeks and were joined by inhabitants of Kielce.
At about 10 a.m., after the arrival of units of the Internal Security Corps and the police, the pogrom started. The officers who entered the building ordered the Jews to surrender their weapons (they were authorised to keep several pistols for self-defence). Then they started to plunder the premises, threw the Jews out of the windows on the second floor and shot to people inside the building, who were then forced outside.
Outside the building, the police officers were joined by civilians, who killed the Jews with planks and rocks. At noon a group of several hundred workers from the "Ludwików" steel mill arrived. The subsequent units of policemen who came to supress the incident mingled with the mob and sometimes even joined it. The anti-Jewish violence was accompanied by cries inciting people to kill and “bring the Jews to justice” for the alleged ritual murders of Polish children. The crowd of pogrom perpetrators was dispersed as late as about 3 p.m.
At least 39 Jews and three Poles, including two pregnant women, were killed following the outburst of anti-Jewish violence in Kielce. They were shot dead, stabbed with bayonets or beaten to death with steel rods, clubs and rocks, among other objects. 35 wounded Jews were taken to
a hospital in Łódź. The remaining survivors of the pogrom were relocated to Łódź for their own safety. One of the survivors was probably an inhabitant of the house at 7 Planty Street, Lieutenant Albert Grynbaum, the deputy head of the District Security Office in Kielce, who was later summoned to Warsaw and disappeared without a trace.
The mass funeral of the victims was held on 8 July 1946 at the Jewish cemetery in Kielce and doubled as a manifestation. It was attended by representatives of the state authorities and delegates of all the Jewish Committees operating in Poland at the time. A guard of honour was presented by the Second Infantry Division of the Polish Army.
The pogrom wave swept through the whole city of Kielce, including the railway station. Echoes of the pogrom and the rumour about the ritual murder of Polish children by Jews reached other towns in various regions of Poland, most probably by telephone. The signs of the resultant mass psychosis were particularly conspicuous in Kieleckie Province, as well as in several towns and cities in Mazovia: Siedlce, Warsaw (Grochów), Ciechanów, Ostrów Mazowiecka and Świder.
Several dozen people were arrested in Kielce in the wake of the massacre, including policemen, soldiers of the Internal Security Corps, civilians and representatives of the local authorities. Twelve of them were hastily tried on 9 July 1946 – nine were sentenced to death and executed on 12 July 1946, and the remaining three were given long prison sentences. Another 26 accused from the group of those arrested by the beginning of 1947 were also tried in eight court trials and received short prison terms.
The pogrom resulted in panic among the Jewish community in Poland and growing emigration, both legal and illegal, of Zionists, anti-Zionist Bund members and even Jewish communists. The panic could not be placated by the most prominent representatives of the state authorities and prevented by the court sentences immediately meted out to the perpetrators of the pogrom or the establishment of the Special Commission by the Central Committee of Jews in Poland to ensure the safety of Jewish communities.
The news about the pogrom shoked public opinion at home and abroad. Scholars have been struggling to explain the case for years. The reasons for the pogrom have been attributed to various possible factors: long–standing anti-Semitism heightened by the German occupation, fear of returning Jews who would search for their stolen property and the murderers of their kith and kin, the civil war between the communist authorities and armed underground, or possible provocations. In each case, however, widespread prejudices and hatred of Jews should be considered the fundamental reason why so many ordinary inhabitants of Kielce believed in a ritual murder and joined the killing of Jewish men, women and children.
Various hypotheses and myths have surrounded the history of the pogrom in the face of doubts. Soon after the pogrom, the communist government blamed it on the Home Army, Freedom and Independence (WiN) and National Armed Forces (NSZ) although during the first trial no one strove to prove the membership of the accused in those organisations. The Communists' opponents, by contrast, claimed that the pogrom was provoked by the policemen, who were the first to arrest the Jew identified by the boy and later spread the rumour about his kidnapping; security officers who displayed gross passivity and helplessness in suppressing the clashes; or the Soviet authorities, which had their representatives in Kielce. There were also some absurd suggestions that it was Jews themselves who were to be blamed: Zionists who tried to extract the right to legal emigration to Palestine from the Polish authorities and global public opinion.
The reasons for that outburst of violence started to be searched for anew after 1989. In 1992, Judge Andrzej Jankowski, Director of the District Commission for Investigation of Crimes against the Polish People in Kielce, launched an investigation into the Kielce Pogrom. It lasted five years and did not support the thesis that the pogrom was inspired by the Security Office. The evidence gathered provided grounds for accusing several still living people but that was never done. In 2001 the proceedings were reopened on behalf of the Institute of National Remembrance by Prosecutor Krzysztof Falkiewicz from the Kielce unit of the Divisional Commission for Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Kraków. The proceedings were discontinued in 2004. It has not been established despite efforts whether the pogrom was provoked and, if so, who was behind the provocation.
The Kielce Pogrom became a subject of various academic studies, discussions of journalists and films. It first featured in a material of the Polish Film Chronicle of 15 July 1946 entitled The Funeral of the Jewish Victims of the Kielce Pogrom (Polish: Pogrzeb pomordowanych Żydów, ofiar pogromu kieleckiego w Kielcach). In 1986 Marcel Łoziński made a film entitled Witnesses (Polish: Świadkowie), in which the incidents are shown through the memories of eyewitnesses. In 1996, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Kielce Pogrom, the Polish Public Television commissioned a two-part sixty-minute-long documentary entitled Pogrom. Kielce – 4 July 1946 directed by Andrzej Miłosz. In 1999 the third part was made: Henio, directed by Andrzej Miłosz and Piotr Weychert. It includes an interview recorded in 1996 with Henryk Błaszczyk, whose kidnapping in 1946, when he was eight years old, became the immediate cause of the anti-Jewish violence in Kielce in July 1946. In the interview, Henryk reveals that it was his father who ordered him to claim that he had been at “Jews' place” from 1 to 3 July 1946. In reality, he was living with his family's friends in a Subcarpathian village. That was the last incomplete account of Błaszczyk, who died in March 1998. Many questions have not been answered up until this day.
dr. Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat
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