the Kielce Pogrom and post-Holocaust violence in Eastern Europe

BACKGROUND 

The Holocaust (1939-1945) wiped out 2/3s of Europe’s Jewish population. In some Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Lithuania, over 90% of the Jewish population was murdered. Such high figures were only possible due to the widespread collaboration of local civilians in the Nazi-occupied territories.

Following the end of WWII, a period of lawlessness took over Europe. Antisemitism thrives during periods of instability and this time was no exception, particularly in Poland.

It’s estimated that ~2000 Jewish Holocaust survivors were murdered at the hands of Poles between the end of the war and 1946. 

 

MATERIAL CLAIMS 

At the end of the war, the newly established Communist regime in Poland prevented Jews (though not explicitly) from recovering property confiscated during the Holocaust as a “preventative measure” to keep wealth from “unproductive and parasite factors.” 

Even so, some Jews attempted to receive compensation from Germany or recover their old property and homes in Poland. When they returned to their old homes, these Jews were often robbed, assaulted, or even murdered by locals. 

 

BLOOD LIBEL & POGROMS 

By the end of the war, blood libels (false claims that Jews murdered Christian children; see my post A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ANTISEMITIC TROPES) were commonplace and often led to civilian-incited pogroms (anti-Jewish riots).

The first post-Holocaust pogrom was the Krakow pogrom, which took place in August, 1945. Since then, pogroms spread to 11 other Polish cities. 

Between the end of the war and 1946, antisemitic atrocities also took place in Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Russia.

 

THE KIELCE POGROM 

The Kielce Pogrom (July, 1946) was the straw that broke the camel’s back for what remained of Polish Jewry. 

Around 200 Jewish Holocaust survivors returned to Kielce, Poland at the end of the war (many were originally from Kielce, though others were passing through as refugees). Most of them lived together in a makeshift refugee center, which included a religious congregation and an orphanage.

Starting in the summer of 1946, false claims that Jews were kidnapping Polish children spread around Kielce. The local police were alerted to one of these supposed (proven false) kidnappings. The police approached the Jewish center, which drew the attention of the neighboring residents. A Jewish man was arrested and beaten, though later he was let go when the police realized he couldn’t have possibly kidnapped the child. 

Soon the police, with the aid of a Soviet advisor, started to believe that what happened in the Jewish center was a political provocation. As a result, they dispatched soldiers and police officers to the building. The Kielce locals assumed that they were there to look for the “missing” Polish children. 

Soon a civilian mob broke into the building. The soldiers, egged on by the crowd and spreading even more rumors, dragged Jews out of the house and passed them on to the mob. 

Jews were shot, beaten, and even thrown out the window. The soldiers made no effort to stop the violence. 

The violence soon spread out of the Jewish center and into the city. Poles, many of them drunk, went out looking for Jews to beat and murder. Some people who “looked” Jewish who were not actually Jewish were also assaulted. 

The pogrom went on all morning and ended around 3:00 p.m. when troops coming in from Warsaw established a curfew. 

By the end of the pogrom, 42 Jews had been massacred. 

“I would like to mention that as a former prisoner of concentration camps I had not gone through an experience like this. I have seen very little sadism and b*stiality of this scale” — Kielce Pogrom survivor 

 

AFTERMATH

The horrors of the Kielce Pogrom sent shockwaves throughout the Jewish world. The majority of Holocaust survivors realized that Europe (and Poland in particular) would never be safe for them.

During the Polish Political Crisis of 1968, Jews (“Zionists”) were once again scapegoated and almost all of what remained of the community was forced to leave Poland. The conditions in Poland were so bad for Jews that many took their own lives. 

To learn about the fate of Holocaust survivors post-WWII, please check out my post LET’S TALK ABOUT HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS.