For one and a half centuries, Landy's history has been presented as an example of Polish-Jewish brotherhood, and of the involvement of Jews in the fight for the Polish independence. His memory will be honoured, candles will be lit and prayers will be said at his grave (plot 20, row 11) at the Jewish cemetery in Okopowa St in Warsaw at 11 am on 7 April 2017 (Friday). The guests at the ceremony organised by the 8 April 1861 Honorary Committee will include representatives of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Independence Museum, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Michał Landy's family. Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and Father Grzegorz Michalczyk will read out a psalm.

On 8 April 1861, when the Russian occupier dispersed a patriotic Polish-Jewish demonstration in Warsaw, Michał Landy, a Jewish middle school student, was one of the fatalities.

We know little about Michał and his short life. Most information comes from a letter his father sent to his older son, Aleksander. Michał was born on 25 January 1844 in Warsaw. He was a son of merchant Henryk Landy and his wife Sara. From the earliest years, he was regarded as a modest and sensible boy, too serious for his age, guided by principles, responsible for others, helping other people and interested in the history of Poland. His father stressed: "(...) he was particularly fond of Polish history, which was not taught in schools at that time. When studying the Polish history of the 18th century, he was outraged by the indecent violations of Poland's freedom by its neighbours and felt hatred towards Russia to the point of fanaticism. He saw his fortune in the Homeland's fortune and its Rebirth." He completed an elementary school and then went to a School of Rabbis, an educational institution that shaped the Jewish elite of 19th century Warsaw. In 1858 he continued his education in the fourth grade of Gimnazjum Realne, a middle school focusing on sciences.

Numerous patriotic demonstrations that were a prelude to yet another attempt at regaining independence, the January Uprising, were taking place from 1860, mainly in Warsaw. They were attended by Poles and Jews alike, and this period in Poland's historiography is called "the time of Polish-Jewish brotherhood". One of such demonstrations was held on 8 April 1861 in Warsaw. It started in the afternoon during the funeral ceremony of Ksawery Stobnicki, a land owner who died soon after his return from his exile to Siberia. Crowds gathered at the Powązki cemetery despite the fact that the Russian authorities had introduced a ban on gatherings a day before in fear of riots.

On their way back, the Siberia exile mourners joined a group of Jews at the Jewish cemetery and then gathered around the grave of Antoni Eisenbaum, the founder of the School of Rabbis, an assimilator and advocate of Polish-Jewish rapprochement. Rabbi Izaak Kramsztyk addressed the gathering there. His fiery speech was full of patriotic slogans and appeals for brotherhood between the Polish and Jewish nations. Then, after joint singing of the patriotic song Boże coś Polskę, all marched towards the Castle Square. Michał Landy was one of the demonstrators.

When the crowd of thousands of people reached the Old Town, Stiepan Khruliov, Warsaw garrison commander, fearing for what may happen ordered Cossacs to disperse the crowd with live ammunition salvoes and direct attack. Monk Karol Nowakowski, who marched in front of the crowd with a cross in his hands, was one of the first victims. When he fell, Michał Landy took up the cross and for some time marched alone in front of the demonstration. However, he too was injured by a cone-shaped bullet. Over 100 people were killed and several hundred were injured by bullets and sword cuts.

The soldiers wanted to take the severely wounded seventeen-year-old boy to the Castle, but the demonstrators would not let them and took the boy to a nearby Steinert's pharmacy. Henryk Landy took his son from the pharmacy to St. Roch Hospital. Michał died of his wounds on 9 April 1861 in the morning.

At that time, fearing that Warsaw residents' mood may escalate, the Tsarist authorities did not allow for public funerals of those fallen during the demonstration. Bodies were collected and buried in the Citadel. Following huge efforts, Henryk Landy managed to take his son's body late in the evening and bury him after midnight (i.e. on 10 April) in a Jewish cemetery. The funeral was held under the watchful eye of a police officer who made sure that only a small group of family and friends attended the ceremony, with no Poles allowed.

The issue of Michał Landy's participation in the anti-Tsarist demonstration was widely reported across Europe. It was often used as an example of the patriotic involvement of some Polish Jews that ran counter to popular stereotypes of Jewish indifference to regaining independence by Poland or even their alleged cowardice. Historian Walery Przyborowski wrote: "This fact, as publicised in various stories, became for the advocates one more piece of evidence of the two nations' brotherhood, now sealed – as they used to say – in blood. They tried to give the incident a specially mystical character. People said and wrote later on that in the history of the world, since the times of Jesus Christ, there had been no similar event which despite its true reality became surrounded by the charm of some sort of a magical mediaeval legend. The emblem of Christ's Passion, the emblem of redemption and salvation in the hand of a Jew – shouts another periodical of that time – is the most sublime expression of this idea of brotherhood that links society's all religions and classes under the national flag." The story of Michał Landy inspired writers and painters, including Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Jan Chryzostom Zachariasiewicz, Maria Joanna Wielopolska and Artur Szyk. His heroic act and his modesty are remembered until this day, as evidenced in this year's observances of his death anniversary that will bring to his grave representatives of state authorities and Jewish communities.

Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat, Krzysztof Bielawski


Quotations after:

  • Żydzi polscy w służbie Rzeczypospolitej, A.K. Kunert, A. Przewoźnik (series eds), vol. 1: 1918-1939. Żydzi bojownicy o niepodległość Polski (reprint), Warsaw, 2002, pp. 242-243.