Anniversaries & holidays

Anniversary of the Kraków pogrom of 1945

Niemożliwe powroty, dyskusja
fot. Żydowski Instytut Historyczny

On August 11, 1945, during a Sabbath service, a crowd broke into the Kupa synagogue in Krakow's Kazimierz district. Jews who were praying there were beaten, the synagogue was demolished and later set on fire. Jews were attacked and robbed in the neighboring streets, and there were also attacks on Jewish apartments. The spark that triggered the pogrom was the rumor that Jews were murdering Polish children.

Although the pogrom of the Krakow Jews remains overshadowed by the more widely known bloody Kielce pogrom of 1946, both instances of anti-Jewish aggression are structurally similar. In both Kraków and Kielce, a spark was ignited by a rumor about ritual murders committed by Jews on Polish children. The belief in this superstition dating back to the Middle Ages was then completely real and widespread in Poland. The postwar, modernized version of a blood libel said that “exhausted Jews would infuse themselves with the blood of Christians.”

Archival sources testify to rumors of a ritual murder in many parts of the country. In 1945, accusations and even anti-Jewish disturbances stirred by such rumors, were also reported in Rzeszów, Tarnów, Chełm, Przemyśl, Miechów, Częstochowa, Radom, Lublin, Płock, and also in Kraków on July 27.

The revival of the myth of ritual murder was one of the manifestations of hostility towards Jews, which manifested itself among a large part of the postwar Polish society. Pre-war antisemitism was strengthened by German propaganda and the example set by the occupying force. However, the most important, as it seems, was the fact that many Poles - even those who condemned German crimes - responded to the “disappearance” of Jews from the social environment with satisfaction.

One of the most insightful diagnoses of this attitude was formulated back in 1943 by a high official of the Office of the Delegate of the Government in Exile, Roman Knoll, "The return of Jews to their former businesses and workshops is completely out of the question, even in a much smaller number. The non-Jewish population took the place of Jews in cities and towns, and this is a fundamental change in a large part of Poland, which is final. The return of the Jews in their masses would be felt by the population not as a restitution, but as an invasion against which they would even defend themselves physically." According to another testimony, the boy broke into the synagogue himself.

These words, written at the time when almost all Polish Jews had already been murdered, and two years before the Kraków pogrom, sound like an anticipation of the postwar aggression against Jews.

In this situation, the return of the surviving Jews, of whom there were only 50,000-60,000 in Poland in August 1945, was often received with aversion. Acts of hostility and mistreatment of Jews (including local resolutions on the expulsion of Jews, or antisemitic leaflets), assaults and even killings were ubiquitous. Anti-Jewish violence intensified in the summer of 1945, which correlated with the climax of the anti-communist underground. An additional factor strengthening antisemitic mood was the revitalization of the myth of the Judeo-Communism with the assumption of power in Poland by the pro-Soviet communists.

It is only against the background of this explosive atmosphere that we can understand the genesis of the pogrom in Krakow, where several thousand Jews lived at that time (6,500 in the entire province). In the report for June 1945, the Krakow governor wrote: "It is enough for some utterly trivial incident to occur or for the most improbable rumor to appear in order to cause serious excesses. The question of the society's attitude towards Jews is a serious problem. On July 27, the police detained a woman suspected of kidnapping a child. It turned out to be his guardian, but the persistent news spread around the city that Jews were kidnapping and murdering Polish children "to make matzo".

Every week, Sabbath prayers in the Kupa Synagogue at 27 Miodowa Street were accompanied by acts of aggression by Polish hooligans: throwing stones at the synagogue, breaking windows, hostile shouts, insults, and attempts to trespass inside. Such a situation also took place on Saturday, August 11. The way the pogrom broke out is well explained in the account of one of the victims, "I was in the synagogue where the service was held. Around 10.30 AM someone threw stones at us. One of the praying Jewish soldiers came out and drove some boys away. The second time around 11:15 AM, again some boys threw stones at those who were praying. Then the soldiers and the synagogue caretaker caught one boy, dragged him to the synagogue and he got his butt beaten. He broke free and ran away. Then the screams and the attack on the synagogue began."

A teenage boy scout ran out of the synagogue screaming that the Jews wanted to murder him, and that he saw the bodies of other murdered children inside. The gruesome news began to spread like wildfire, also reaching a nearby marketplace. An aggressive crowd of several thousand attacked the synagogue and a Jewish shelter located nearby. The synagogue was demolished, the Torah scrolls and religious books were destroyed, Jews were dragged out into the street and beaten. The aggression spread to the adjacent streets: Jewish passers-by were attacked, beaten and robbed. groups of perpetrators also attacked Jewish apartments.

Uniformed policemen and soldiers in the crowd played the role of the ringleaders of the mob - their presence seemed to legitimize the violence against Jews. As one of the most active participants of the pogrom testified, incidentally employed as a caretaker of a Jewish shelter: “Everyone said that the Jews murdered children. I also saw that the soldiers catch mainly Jews, this is how the old hatred towards Jews aroused in me and I just relieved myself ”.

The collective psychosis and the hysterical mood continued to grow; murderous shouts were raised against the Jews. In the afternoon, the synagogue was set on fire. When shots rang out - the policemen were probably shooting - voices rose that Jews were murdering Poles. The participants of the pogrom more or less consciously reproduced the patterns of behavior from the occupation period: searching for Jews in hiding, identifying passers-by "suspected" of being Jewish, checking their religion in the documents, and even taking men's trousers off. The wounded Jews who were placed in the hospital also met with hostility.

The riots were only brought under control in the evening by a battalion of the Internal Security Corps, but the atmosphere remained tense. The plundering of the synagogue took place the next day, and the Kraków pogrom contributed to the further spread of rumors of a ritual murder in the country. The authorities detained dozens of participants in the pogrom. Ultimately, the Kraków military court sentenced fourteen people to sentences ranging from one to seven years in prison.

It is not known how many Jews were killed during the Kraków pogrom. Archival documents certainly confirm the death of one person, Róża Berger, but five coffins can be seen in the funeral photographs of the victims.