This week in Jewish history | Dozens of Polish Jews massacred in Kielce pogrom - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | Dozens of Polish Jews massacred in Kielce pogrom

This week in Jewish history | Dozens of Polish Jews massacred in Kielce pogrom

Funeral procession for victims of the Kielce pogrom. Kielce, Poland, July 1946. (c) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

On 4 July 1946, a mob of local Poles massacred dozens of Jews in the southeastern Polish town of Kielce. 

Before the war some 24,000 Jews lived in Kielce, nearly all of whom were murdered in the Holocaust. In the summer of 1946, about 200 survivors resettled in Kielce. 

The pogrom occurred several days after nine-year-old Henryk Blaszczyk went missing in Kielce. When he returned on 3 July 1946, he in a bid to avoid punishment for running away from home, told his parents and police that he had been kidnapped and detained in the basement of the local Jewish Committee building. Police showed up at the building, which sheltered up to 180 Jews and housed various Jewish institutions operating in Kielce, to investigate. Despite the questionable credibility of the boy’s account, a large crowd of angry Poles gathered outside the building and word quickly spread that the Jews had held him to get Christian blood for ritual purposes.

Eventually, Polish soldiers and policemen entered and disarmed the Jewish residents. In the ensuing chaos several Jews inside the building were killed in cold blood. While many attempted to flee, the angry crowd outside began to beat the Jews, and stone and shoot them. At the end of the day, Polish civilians, soldiers, and police had killed 42 Jews and injured 40 others. Three days later, surviving Jews and local residents buried the victims in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery. 

While the government executed nine of the assailants shortly thereafter and a few months later indicted others for their participation, the pogrom sparked intense fear in the already traumatized postwar Polish Jewish community. It would become a symbol of the uncertain future of Jewish life in Eastern Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust and would convince many Polish Jews that they had no future in the country.

The Kielce pogrom, the most lethal of a whole series of acts of lethal violence against Jews, precipitated a mass exodus of Polish Jewry. In the subsequent three months, over 75,000 Jews left Poland. Appeals to the Church to forcefully intervene to discourage such violence largely fell on deaf ears and instead the Jews were blamed for imposing the Communist system on Poland.

“[Kielce] really is a symbol of the exodus of Jewish survivors from Poland, and a symbol sometimes that there is no future in Poland for Jews,” said Joanna Sliwa, a historian with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. She added that “despite what Jews had endured during the Holocaust, and despite the fact that the local Polish population had observed all that, had witnessed all of that … Jews cannot feel safe in Poland.” 

In 1996, Polish Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati wrote to the World Jewish Congress asking for forgiveness for the Kielce Pogrom: "The new democratic Poland deeply regrets and mourns all the injustices suffered by the Jewish people."