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The Pogrom of Jews in Kielce

Na ścianach kamienicy namalowane są portrety Żydów pomordowanych w pogromie kieleckim w 1946 roku.
Miejsce pogromu kieleckiego [The place of pogrom of Jews in Kielce]. fot. Krzysztof Bielawski / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

On Thursday, 4 July 1946, a crowd of Kielce inhabitants, accompanied by militiamen and soldiers, carried out a massacre of the Jewish Holocaust survivors residing in the building at 7/9 Planty Street. The pogrom was triggered by a rumour about ritual murders of Christian children.

The sequence of events that led to the pogrom began with a disappearance of 8-year-old Henryk Błaszczyk. His father Walenty Błaszczyk reported the boy missing at a militia precinct. Meanwhile, little Henryk was staying - unbeknownst to his parents – with the family relatives in the countryside. When he returned home in the evening of 3 July, anxious about parental reaction, he said that Jews held him captive in a basement, but he managed to flee. Clearly, the boy referred to the commonly known legend of kidnapping Christian children in order to use their blood for making matzo (in the version that became popular after the war, Jews needed blood to perform transfusions aimed at giving a boost to the emaciated Jewish Holocaust survivors). 

In the morning of July 4, Walenty Błaszczyk took his son to the militia station in order to report a crime. On their way, Henio "recognized" the house where he had allegedly been imprisoned. Approximately 150 Jewish survivors resided in the building at 7/9 Planty Street. The Jewish Committee and a kibbutz preparing prospective emigrants for a life in Palestine were located there, but the building had no basement. A Civic Militia patrol was sent to the location. While on their way, the militiamen kept repeating they were going to look for murdered Polish children. Kielce residents joined the patrol while the rumour of a ritual murder was quickly sweeping the town. Since the rumour was repeated so many times, the number of murdered children skyrocketed up to over a dozen. A hostile crowd gathered in front of the Jewish house. 
Without a doubt, the behaviour of militiamen served as a catalyst – a search of the premises with the aim to find "slaughtered children" seemed to confirm people’s ideas of a ritual murder. The crowd was getting increasingly psychotic, shouting "death to the Jews" or "let’s get at them for our children’s sake". Stones were thrown at the building on Planty Street. The soldiers were summoned but, instead of pacifying the mob, they mingled with it and practically joined in the pogrom. After the military men had entered the building to search for weapons (Jews were in legal possession of several guns for self-defence), shots resounded inside. Someone said that the Jews had killed a Polish lieutenant. In reality, it was the soldiers who fired the guns and shot dead, among others, Dr Seweryn Kahane, head of the Jewish Committee. There was also looting going on.

Soldiers and militiamen who shared the mob’s anti-Jewish sentiment dragged the Jews outside and offered them to the crowd. Some were pushed out of the windows and balconies on the second floor. The victims were beaten with pickets, stones, metal bars and rifle butts. Some of the injured ones had shotgun wounds, or wounds from being hit with a bayonet. Few militiamen, soldiers and civilians who took the side of the Jews became an object of the mob’s aggression and were dubbed "Jewish lackeys." Meanwhile, the rumour of “ritual murder” reached the “Ludwików” steelworks in Kielce. The call "you’re at work here while your children are being murdered" made several hundred workers armed with metal tools rush to Planty Street. Their arrival heralded the second – and bloodiest – phase of the pogrom. The violence was suppressed in the afternoon, after the second, more aptly-commanded military unit arrived and evacuated the Jews to a safe place. 

Anti-Jewish aggression swept the streets of Kielce. There were several cases of murder and raids of Jewish apartments. Hostile crowd gathered in front of the hospital where the injured had been brought. Following the news of the alleged ritual murder, cases of assaults and murders of Jews on trains passing Kielce were noted.  

At least forty Jews were killed in the pogrom, along with two Poles who tried to defend them. Forty people were injured. The pogrom resulted in a widespread panic among the Jewish community in Poland and a wave of emigration in which about 100,000 people left the country. 

The Kielce pogrom was a disgrace for the local administration whose reaction to the course of events was incompetent and chaotic. The news of the pogrom shook the public opinion, both at home and abroad. The ceremonious funeral of the victims, held on 8 July, was attended by representatives of the government, the Jewish councils, the army, social organizations and Kielce residents. The following day, on 9 July, the first trial of the attackers began—nine of the haphazardly selected group were sentenced to death by summary jurisdiction. In the course of subsequent trials several dozen people were sent to prison.  

The government accused the anti-Communist underground of organizing the pogrom. Meanwhile, the opposition and the underground suspected a provocation on part of the Communist administration, eager to avert the public opinion’s attention from doctoring a referendum of 30 June 1946. There were many hypotheses on the Kielce pogrom - according to one, the Zionists organized it in order to facilitate Jewish emigration from Poland. The prosecutor’s investigation carried out in recent years, along with numerous historical studies have not provided a proof for any sort of provocation.

The Kielce pogrom could be explained without reaching for such a hypothesis – it is enough to analyse the dynamics of social interactions, based on deeply rooted superstitions, reluctance towards the Jewish survivors returning to their homes after WW2, fear of losing property to the returning Jews, and, finally, the very much alive żydokomuna [Jewish Communism] stereotype. This social dynamite was detonated by the rumour of "ritual murder" and by the behaviour of “people in uniforms” which legitimized the mob’s violence. Surely, the events in Kielce were by no means unique. The pogrom in Kraków in 1945 was triggered by a similar mechanism.

More information on Virtual Shtetl website.