The History of Anti-Semitism in Kielce, Poland

during the Holocaust Era

by Rivka Schiller

24 April, 2002

 

 

Introduction

 

 From the Jewish community’s earliest years to its final years, anti-Semitism was a  continuous and ongoing factor of Jewish life in the Polish city of Kielce.  Perhaps this can best be demonstrated by the fact that even one full year after World War II had drawn to a close and all of the extermination camps had been shut down, a heinous pogrom—brought on by a blood libel charge—took place here.  Indeed, this event was so brutal and unanticipated that word of the tragedy spread throughout Poland, eventually reaching the international world.  This pogrom was the “last straw” in the long established cycle of Polish persecution of the Jews.  It culminated in the mass exodus of Jewish survivors who had resettled in Poland after World War II.      

 

Background Information: 

 

Kielce’s Geography and Topography

Kielce is the capital of what is known in Yiddish as Kelts Guberniye—the province of  Kielce.  The city is located “in southeast Poland, north of Krakow and south of Radom” between the Pilica and Wisla Rivers.1  Even before World War II, Kielce contained a major rail junction that connected such urban hubs as Warsaw and Krakow, making it a center for trade.  The region was—and continues to be rich in natural resources, such as lime, timber, and marble.  Thus, even today, some of the most heavily represented local professions are: metallurgy, mining, and saw milling—to name a few.2

 

The Kehillah’s Foundation and Early Years

Organized Jewish life in Kielce began around 1868.  This can be evidenced by the firstrecords of Jewish births listed in Kielce’s civil register.  Jews were admitted into Kielce in 1818, “but it was not until 1868 that czarist authorities recognized an official Jewish community in the city.”3 During that year, the few disorganized Jewish families who were living in the vicinity were granted a designated plot of land on which to live, as well as a cemetery plot.  It also appears that the local Jews established a synagogue during that same period.4

 

These first Jewish inhabitants included “a handful of wealthy Jewish merchants who established industries pertaining to: lime, marble, gravel, and lumber.”  Certain noted industrialists such as “the Zagajski family established furniture factories and lumberyards.”5 

 

Overall though, the Jewish community was heavily comprised of “poor cobblers, tailors, leather stitchers, glaziers, tinsmiths and hucksters.”6 Indeed, as of the eve of World War I, approximately 50% of the Jewish population was involved in businesses and craft workshops.  By the turn of the century Jews from neighboring townships began flocking to Kielce.  “By 1921 the Jews in the city numbered 15,550, about one-third of Kielce’s total population.  According to the 1931 census, the number of Jews in Kielce was 18,083,” and by 1939 it had reached an estimated total of 24,000.7  

 

Polish-Jewish Relations in Kielce

 Following the death of Jozef Pilsudski, Poland’s war marshal, statesman, and first president (C. 1935) and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany (C. 1932-33), many anti-Semitic acts began to take their toll on Jews throughout Poland,8 and in Kielce, in particular.  Jews were physically assaulted in the streets and their property was damaged.  Stink bombs were frequently thrown into Jewish-owned shops.  As these events occurred on a daily basis, Jews soon grew accustomed to this pattern of persecution. 

 

On the Jewish Sabbath and on Jewish holidays, Jews discontinued their usual strolls through the park—for fear of being attacked.  During the summer, the Jews avoided certain summer lodges—for fear of being pummeled by stones.  The market days were also sources of fear, since the anti-Semitic hooligans typically would ruin the Jewish vendors’ merchandise.  The situation for Jews reached such horrific heights that even the most optimistic individuals began to contemplate their own futures.  In essence, from the time that the Nazis began preparing to wage war, the Poles appeared to care only about one thing: how to rid themselves of their Jewish inhabitants.  Moreover, “the anti-Semites in Kielce and her surrounding towns were the most active in tormenting the Jews; thus the Jews of this region received twice as many afflictions as did the remainder of Poland’s Jews.”9

 

In comparison to other Polish towns, Kielce suffered greatly with regard to her total number of Jewish war victims.  Out of a total pre-war population of ~25,000 Jews, only tens of Jews returned alive—and even these few individuals only survived by way of miracles.  It was not enough that compared to other countries; Poland yielded relatively few righteous gentiles who actively helped in rescuing Jews.  What was most unforgivable was “the fact that the Poles also aided the Nazis in their extermination plans, and made concerted efforts towards revealing the Jews’ hiding places so that they might come to acquire their property.”10

  

Perhaps most infamous in all of Kielce’s history of anti-Semitism was the pogrom of July 4, 1946.  This occurred more than a full year after the Jews had been liberated and World War II had finally drawn to a close.  During this brutal attack, approximately forty-two (the often contradictory numbers vary from thirty-six to seventy) Jews were murdered and several others were injured.11 This was the final chapter of what had once been a great and mighty Jewish community.

 

The Inter-War Period         

 

1.  Kielce Pogrom of 1918: Some Distinguishing Characteristics

 From the day that Poland gained her independence from Russia (C. 1918), the situation concerning Jews in Poland went from bad to worse.  From this period forth, the Poles felt it their duty to remind the Jews that they were the rightful rulers of the land.  This anti-Semitic hostility was demonstrated in various forms: the shaving of Jewish train passengers’ beards, the frequent insults directed at Jews, and the throwing of Jewish train passengers from the railway cars—precisely as the train was moving at its quickest pace. 

Indeed, the train became so dangerous for Jewish passengers that Jews would rather ride by horse and buggy than risk their lives by traveling on trains.12

   

In 1918 the Jews of Kielce gathered together in the regional theater to confer on the subject of a local Jewish national council.  All of the various political contingencies were there—ranging from the Bund on the left to the Agudah on the right.13  As the meetings progressed, Polish hooligans who had learned of the gathering surrounded the                                                                                                                                  theater, spilling into the nearby streets outside.  This Polish mob scene was comprised of large numbers of Kielce’s citizens—including several soldiers.  They carried with them heavy metal canes and iron encased gloves.  Whatever poor Jewish soul they managed to capture—either streaming outside or yet inside of the theater—was beaten up very badly.

Unfortunately, the Jews could not sufficiently retaliate; for the onslaught was so sudden that they did not even have a chance to realize just what had befallen them. 

Furthermore, the group of Jews was heavily comprised of women and children—none of whom were able to physically defend themselves.  “The pogrom resulted in the death of four Jews and left approximately 400 with permanent injuries.”14

 

Perhaps more than anything else, the Kielce pogrom of 1918 was a foreshadowing of an even deadlier pogrom that would later befall those few surviving Jews who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in Kielce, on July 4, 1946—only a year following the war’s end.  The Kielce pogrom of 1918 was different from all of the Ukrainian and

Russian pogroms that occurred during the same period in one major way: the goal in

Kielce was to teach the local Jews the lesson that practically speaking, they would not be receiving any rights as citizens or minorities of Poland.15 

 

Following World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, Poland was re-established as an independent nation—for the first time in over one hundred years.16 Along with giving

Poland rights of independence, the Minorities Act was passed, which recognized Jews as a distinct race with its own unique behavioral patterns.  It also granted Jews rights as                                   citizens.  The Poles, now more than ever, felt it their responsibility to demonstrate to the Jews that they would not be receiving any special rights.  Rather, the Polish anti-Semites wanted the Jews to know that these so-called rights existed only on paper.  In reality, minorities would only be repressed in Poland.  The Poles were the only true masters and as such, Polish rulership could only belong to them.17  This taste of liberty, coupled with an already deep-seated resentment towards the Jews, set the stage for the sort of anti-Semitic activity that was soon to follow.      

 

2.  The Flowering of Kielce Jewry: A Brief Respite

 During the inter-war period in Kielce, the major source of Jewish income came from commerce and the sale of handicrafts.  As based on the survey that was organized by the

Joint Distribution Committee in Poland, as of 1921, there were 633 businesses, 422 of which pertained to clothing.  This particular area of employment included a total of 1,198 breadwinners, 568 of whom were Jews.  Jews also tended to specialize in carpentry and in the production of soap and chemical products.  Other Jews found employment within the stone and marble quarries and some, in the sanitation departments and textile industry.  In addition, there were several Jewish professionals, many of whom were well respected in Kielce.  “Considering the size of the city, the number of Jewish professionals and office workers was substantial—about 250 people.”18

 

During the 1920’s and 1930’s various political movements—and their corresponding cultural activities—took root among Kielce’s Jewish community.  Some of these political movements included the Poalei Zion, the Poalei Agudat Yisrael, Herzeliyah, Agudat Yedidei, Ha-Universita Ha-Ivrit, and Tarbut—to name a few.  A couple of minor Yiddish theaters opened during the 1920’s, and during the 1920’s and 1930’s, a handful of local Yiddish periodicals and newspapers also began to circulate among Kielce’s Jewish community.19 

 

For the first time, Jews also began to establish themselves socially within the greater Polish community: “The importance of Jewish intelligentsia who closely collaborated with the Poles in many areas significantly increased.  Although professional links were increasingly stronger, social life continued to develop separately mainly due to religious traditions and different customs.”20  

 

3.  Era of Anti-Semitism: Specific Incidences 

At the same time that Kielce’s Jewish community began to flower, a variety of anti-

Semitic acts began to occur.  Indeed, during the 1930’s, Kielce became one of the lead centers for anti-Semitic activity.21 As of January 1933, when the Nazis came to power in

Germany, the anti-Semitic factions in Kielce began protesting the rights of Jews in Poland.  During the course of that year, four separate trials were held in which anti-Semitic activists were each sentenced to six-month prison terms for having committed acts of violence against Jews. 

 

In November of 1934, a young Pole murdered a Jewish merchant, along with his elderly mother and another Jewish man, just outside of Kielce.  In December of 1935, shortly after the Nuremberg Laws had been passed, the local anti-Semitic faction leaders convinced the city council to support the anti-Jewish measures being taken in Germany.  In May of 1936, a seventeen-year-old Pole accused a group of Jews of having mauled him.  The police investigation uncovered that the adolescent had provoked the Jews and that they had in turn, attacked him with a knife.  The police detained thirty Jews and jailed two of them.  In October of 1936 the Jewish cemetery was vandalized and approximately one hundred tombstones were smashed.  During this period there was a great deal of anti-Jewish propaganda that spread throughout Kielce and other parts of Poland.  The influence of Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish propaganda, the deepening economic crisis, and the success of the anti-Semitic propaganda of the opposition parties brought about, after Pilsudski’s death in 1935, a change in the heretofore relatively tolerant attitude of the Colonels’ Regime.  In his statement of June 4, 1936, Premier Skladowski emphasized that although nobody should suffer violence in Poland, the economic struggle against Jews was justified.22  

 

In September of 1937 a group of Poles fell upon some Jews who were strolling in one of the city’s parks, beating them with iron bars and clubs.  Not long after this incident, one particular Jewish family’s home was set on fire.  The blaze soon spread to other nearby homes, eventually leaving fifty Jewish families homeless.  These acts of violence reached their peak in October of 1937, when five Jews from among two separate families were brutally murdered by anti-Semitic rioters.23

 

C.  The War Years: World War II Comes to Kielce 

 

1.  1939-1942: Ghetto Life and forced Labor

Roman Dumovski. Blumenfeld, personal interview no. 1. 

At the close of summer, 1939 when Hitler commanded his troops to invade Poland, the Jews grew increasingly fearful.  Masses of Jews fled from the western fronts to the eastern fronts.  Families from Warsaw, Lodz, Sosnowiec and other localities began to resettle in Kielce.  Prior to this period Kielce’s Jewish population had been ~23,000, but now swelled to ~30,000—and this was not even including the number of inhabitants who had already fled from Kielce to the Russian side.24

 

Kielce did not suffer greatly from the Nazis’ bombings; aside from a couple of buildings that were destroyed or damaged, there were few—if any—overt signs of war.  The Nazis did not want to destroy the city’s industrial infrastructure since they planned to use her as a cavalry station.  By the third of September the Polish Army’s front lines began to collapse and accordingly, its soldiers hastily retreated. 

 

After the Nazis entered Kielce, during the afternoon of September the fourth, conditions changed practically overnight.  “Anti-Jewish atrocities began immediately: expropriations, heavy fines, forced labor, the taking of hostages, beatings, and killings.”25 At this time there were yet some Polish soldiers who protested the Nazis.  These individuals concealed themselves within various homes, sniping at the oncoming Nazi troops.  In retaliation, the Nazis began shooting at these snipers, killing a total of eighty citizens—including several Jews.  On the tenth of September, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi hordes trampled through Kielce, while en route to another Polish region. 

 

In mid-September the Nazis outlawed the Jews from walking through Kielce’s major streets.  The local Nazi government forbade Jews from owning private property, houses, or stores.  The Nazis appointed commissar leaders to oversee the property that was formerly owned by Jews.  In the initial months, Jewish landlords were yet given part of the rent money that was due to them, but by the end of 1939, the commissars retained these payments entirely for themselves.  The Jews were then forced to turn over their savings accounts, radios, and work tools.  Soon thereafter, many Jews were forcibly sent to work, clearing the streets of the debris that the Nazis had left in their midst. 

On September 21, 1939 the Judenrat—the Jewish Council—was appointed, with Dr. Moses Pelc as the Judenelteste, or Jewish president.26 As the newly appointed Jewish leader, it was Dr. Pelc’s task to act as an intermediary between Kielce’s Jewish community and the local Nazi regime.  Hermann Levy was appointed as the second in command.  A Jewish police force was also appointed, in which approximately 150 officers served.  The Jewish police carried with them clubs and wore special badges and caps.

 

The first task that was required of the Judenrat was that they acquire a list of all

Jews in Kielce, ages 15 through 50, and their respective genders and professions. 

Afterwards, the Judenrat was to collect a contribution for the Nazi forces, amounting to

800,000 zloty.  Based on the Judenrat’s records, as of September 1939 there were approximately 18,000 Jews living in Kielce.  By March 1940 the Jewish population had grown to 25,400, following the influx of Jews who were fleeing from western Poland. 

Jews from Lodz and Kalisz were brought to Kielce.  Approximately 3,000 Jews from

Krakow also followed suit.  In February of 1941, approximately 1,000 Viennese Jews arrived in Kielce.  In March of 1941, four transport groups arrived, comprised of 6,500 additional Viennese Jews.  With the sudden and voluminous influx of Jews, there was a dearth of living space.  An estimated 1,500 Jews found living quarters in the Great

Synagogue. 

 

As of December 1940, the Nazis replaced Dr. Pelc with Hermann Levy. 

Pelc, who had been a social welfare agent prior to the war, refused to inject Jewish hospital patients with poison—as per the Nazis orders.  Thus, he was imprisoned and then sent to Auschwitz, where he later died.27

 

On September 15, 1940, the Nazis made a decree forbidding the Jews from leaving their homes at night.  Shortly thereafter, between the days April 2-5, the Jews were concentrated into two ghettos.  Inside of the ghetto stood a total of 500 houses, in which could live a maximum of 15,000 Jews.  Unfortunately though, more than 25,000

Jews now found themselves crowded into these tight living quarters.

In early 1941 the Nazis established several work camps within the district of

Kielce.  There were approximately 2,000 workers interred there, most of whom were involved with the stone quarries.  In the spring of 1941, several Jews were rounded up from the Kielce Ghetto and taken to the Blizyna labor camp.28

 

With the monetary aid provided by the Joint Distribution Committee, the Judenrat established two soup kitchens in the fall of 1940 within the ghetto.  Between the two kitchens there was a total of 600 meals distributed per day.  By the beginning of 1941 this number had doubled.  In March of 1940 the Jewish hospital was destroyed, and in

December 1940 the Judenrat established orphanages and old-age homes—most likely, because of the shrinking number of viable caretakers.  As aforementioned, many physically fit adults were being sent away to do forced labor and other members of the

Kehillah were dying—due to overly crowded living conditions, poor nutrition, and epidemics such as typhus.29

 

In January of 1941 Nazi officers caught two unfortunate Jews, just as they were leaving the Mikvah one Friday before the Sabbath.  The Nazis dragged them through the streets of the city, and afterwards shot them.  By the end of February of 1941, a group of

S.S. officials had set up shop in Kielce.  This included Hans Geier, who was frequently known to steal Jewish-owned possessions, and Dr. Ernst Karl Thomas.  Together, the two of these officials oversaw the deportation of the Jews to the extermination camps.

 

2.  1942-1943: Liquidations and Extermination Camp Transports 

 In March of 1941 a Nazi Aktsie or death camp transport was organized, in which

Nazi-deemed Communist activists, along with three Jewish doctors were deported to

Auschwitz and murdered there.  In January of 1942 seven Jews were shot for trying to leave the ghetto.  During the summer of 1942 Ukrainian and Lithuanian fighting units, and SS police units began liquidating the ghettos in the neighboring Radom district. 

 

The Kielce Ghetto’s liquidation process began on August 20, 1942 and lasted until August 24, “when all the Jews, with the exception of two thousand who were young and healthy, were loaded on freight trains and sent to Treblinka.”30 The Judenrat leaders, Jewish police members, and their respective families, were each permitted to remain behind in Kielce.  The Jewish police rounded up the Jews in the streets for transports and informed them that they were each allowed to take with them a package of food and personal belongings weighing up to twenty-five kilograms.  The SS official, Ernst Thomas, oversaw the Selektsia process that took place in the synagogue.  All of the younger and more physically fit Jewish citizens were allowed to return to the ghetto, since they were still capable of performing manual labor.  The majority of this group though, was sent to the local train station, from which they were to be deported to the extermination camps.  A total of 130 Jews were shoved into each of the sixty cattle cars—which had been sitting exposed for several hours, to the sun’s strong summer rays. 

The Nazi officials would shoot any of the Jewish police who even dared to give food or water to any of the deportees.

 

During August 22-23, there was an additional Aktsie enacted by the SS officials. 

The elderly and sick were hastily shot in their homes or in surrounding yards.  On the 24th day of August, the Jewish hospital was liquidated and Jews who had somehow avoided the earlier transports were now chosen for this final transport.  On this last day of liquidation, the SS officials also murdered the heads of the Jewish police, Yehudah

Schindler and the German Jew, Johann Spiegel.31

 

In total, ~3,000 Jews were murdered in Kielce proper, during the course of those three days, in August of 1942.32 During that same time period, the number of Jewish

transportees from Kielce reached an estimated grand total of 21,000.  The Jewish

transportees invariably met their ends in the fiery furnaces of Treblinka.                                              

  

3.  1943-1945: Creation and Liquidation of the “Small Ghetto” and Eventual Liberation

After the aforementioned number of Jews had been deported, there were only approximately 1,600 Jews left in Kielce.  This included Judenrat members, a majority of male prisoners—as well as 150 women and 40-60 children.  These last remaining Jews were moved into what was now known as the “small ghetto.”  This was a designated area, situated within the western part of the former ghetto.  Unlike the larger ghetto that had had two exit ways, this ghetto had only one exit way.  The last remaining Jews—along with certain groups of Poles—were forced to clean the homes of the murdered and deported Jews.  Any property that had been left behind was now deemed state’s property, and as such was shipped on carts to central collection sites to be sorted and organized.  This sorting and collecting process spanned several months, and during this period there were no additional Aktsies.

The head of the Judenrat, Hermann Levy, was murdered on November 20, 1942. 

According to most accounts, he and his family were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot there.  The Nazis allowed thirteen Jewish doctors to remain alive in the “small ghetto”—only so that they could tend to the thousands of prisoners who were interred in the labor camps within Kielce district.  But on March 21, 1943, the doctors, their respective families, and approximately twenty children were likewise, all taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot there.33

In September of 1942 the remaining Jewish population of Kielce was placed into

three labor camps.  The “HASAG-Granat” contained quarries, workshops, and munitions.34 

                                                                                                                                            

 1983), report no. 1, p. 6.

The other two camps, Henrykow and Ludwikow contained carpentries and foundries.35 In the HASAG-Granat plant there were approximately 500 Jewish and Polish workers.  In

November 1942, 200 Jews who already worked in one division of the “HASAG” were moved to yet another division of the company, located in Skarzysko-Kamienna.  According to the account of one Kielce survivor, Sore Karbel, “Out of all the camps in which the Jews of Kielce worked, the Skarzysko camp was the worst and most difficult.  Only a few individuals managed to leave there [alive] during the hour of liberation.”36  In April of 1943 fifty more workers still living in the “small ghetto” were also brought to work in this particular factory.  The “small ghetto” existed until May of 1943.  The very last 1,000 remaining Jews were rounded up in the field that adjoined the railway station.  The SS commander Geier and his officials organized another Selektsia, in which all children under the age of fourteen—all forty-five of them—were shot.37  The few remaining Jews were deported to and distributed between labor camps such as Skarzysko-Kamienna and Pionki. 

The final deportation of Jews from Kielce took place in August 1944, “when all the remaining Jewish prisoners were sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald.”38  It was at that time that Kielce became officially Judenrein

In one of these labor camps, an armed resistance was organized by David

Barwiner and Gershon Levkowicz, but unfortunately, was not successful.  Yet another armed resistance was held in the labor camp, Pionki.  On May 10, 1944, approximately twenty prisoners managed to escape.  Many of them joined the Russian partisans; Polish partisans murdered five of the other former prisoners.39

The Soviet army ultimately captured Kielce on January 16, 1945.  At the time of liberation, there were only two Jews to be found in all of Kielce—“of what had once been

a twenty-thousand strong community.”40 

 

D.  Post War Period

1.  The Return of Survivors and the Formation of the “Jewish Council”

 After the war ~200 Jews went to Kielce, forming a shadow of the city’s pre-war

Jewish community: “According to data from the city registration office, on 1 June 1945

there were 53,560 inhabitants in Kielce, including only 212 Jews.  At the end of 1945, in

the entire province of Kielce there were forty-five centres of Jewish population with

approximately 2,000 people.”41  This post-war community was comprised of Nazi camp

survivors, Jews who had hidden in Kielce district, and others who had fled to the interior

of the U.S.S.R.42  Most of these Jews settled in the former Jewish community building at

No. 7 Planty Street.  This same building housed the religious services and the Noar

HaZioni kibbutz.  The majority of Jews living there soon intended to emigrate.

In August of 1945 a “vaad”—or “Jewish council” was established, at whose head stood Dr. Severin Kahane.  As was frequently the case in small Jewish communities throughout post-World War II Europe, the Joint Distribution Committee provided much of Kielce’s financial aide.  

 

2.  The Kielce Pogrom of 1946

 At about 8 a.m. on July 4, 1946, a Polish boy who had been well coached, began telling passers-by that he had been kidnapped, imprisoned in a cellar, and maltreated by the

Jews of 7 Planty Street, the site “where about a dozen other Christian children were still trapped and about to be murdered.”43  In the minds of many local Poles, this charge was perhaps all the more believable, considering that there had been multiple incitements only a month earlier, in which Jews had been accused of killing Christian children and using their blood for dietary consumption.44  

At 10 a.m. militiamen searched the house and found the whole story false.  At the same time, they confiscated the few weapons with which some of the kibbutz members were armed.  Shortly before he was shot dead, Dr. Kahane, the Chairman of the Kielce Jewish

Committee45 attempted to appeal to various officials: the President of the city, the militia, the army, the security authorities, the command of the Soviet troops, and Bishop Kaczmarek— the bishop of Kielce at the time—but it was all to no avail.

At about 11 o’clock three lieutenants of the Polish Army entered the room in which Kahane was located at that moment.  When the officers came into the room, Dr. Kahane held the telephone receiver in his hand.  .  .  They told him they had come to remove weapons.  .  .  One of them walked up to Dr. Kahane, told him to keep calm because soon everything would be over, and then approached him from behind and shot him straight in the head.46 

 

Indeed, the church’s response was that they would not intercede, for the Jews had brought Communism into Poland.  In the aftermath of the pogrom, only Bishop Kubina of

Czestochowa would issue a statement condemning the Kielce pogrom.47

By 11 a.m. a vicious mob had gathered around, and militiamen began throwing Jews out of the windows and the door. A number of Jews were murdered by the local lynch party.  Still others, such as Dr. Kahane, met their ends by shooting.  Roman Wach, a Pole who resided in Planty 13 and who witnessed the vicious onslaught, presented the following image in the pogrom’s aftermath:

At about 11:30, some eight young people coming from the direction of the railroad station on Sienkiewicza St. drove some men down the middle of the road. 

.  .  He was hit with fists on the face and head.  .  . from his face I could tell he was a Semite.  .  .  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 of sadism and bestiality on this scale.48    

 

Finally, at 4 p.m. an army unit from Warsaw arrived.  It did not halt the looting, but rather, took an active part in the process.  However, it did put an end to the massacre.  In the wake of this brutal attack, many Jews were murdered and even more were injured, most of them seriously.  Due to the chaos at the time and the relatively small number of Jewish survivors, the numbers of injured and dead vary from source to source.  The number of injured ranges from 70-100+, while the number of dead ranges from 36-70.49    

Following the Kielce pogrom, the government tried and executed seven of the murderers and attacked the main hideouts of the underground; but anti-Semitism continued to flourish.  “Only in 1947, when the government consolidated its power and used strong measures against the underground, was order restored.  Attacks on Jews became rare.  ‘The superficial calm was a result of strong police measures rather than of a genuine change of mind on the part of broad segments of the population.’”50

The outbreak of this major and medieval-style pogrom so soon after the Holocaust served as only the most blatant example of the hostility encountered by returning Jews.  It convinced a large number of them that no real Jewish community could resume existence in Poland.  Jews were seized with panic and hundreds and thousands began to flee daily.  “In 1946 about 150,000 left Poland.”51  Thus ended the one thousand year history of Jewish existence in Poland.  In the words of the Polish-born, American journalist, S.L. Shneiderman:  The ancient tradition of the murderous pogrom, it turned out, was not at all a thing of the past.  The forty-two victims of the Kielce Pogrom, including a mother and her newborn child, were laid to rest in a mass grave.  Only ninety Jews of Kielce had survived the war and forty-two of these were wiped out in a few hours.  If there was any hope for a new beginning for the Jews of Poland, the Kielce Pogrom raised it to the ground in blood.52   

 

Conclusion

As based on the aforementioned accounts, beginning in the early days of Jewish settlement in Kielce, and culminating in the ignominious and infamous Pogrom of 1946, it is evident that anti-Semitism plagued Kielce on an almost continuous basis.  Unfortunately,

Kielce’s Jews were not the only Jews targeted for persecution.  Rather, this grand-scale act of violence was only one of many such events, which took place between 1945 and 1947, in the wake of the Holocaust.  “Nevertheless, it was striking because of its dimensions, because of the brutality with which it was accomplished, and because of the participation of local forces representing the new communist authority.”53  Moreover, the fact that the Jewish survivors in Kielce were concentrated in one block of flats perhaps made them likelier candidates than other Jews who were living more dispersed, in communities throughout Poland, following the end of World War II.  

In essence, for the Jewish survivors returning to Poland, the Kielce Pogrom of 1946 was the ultimate confirmation of the following well-known and long-established Yiddish adage, “Di Polyakn hobn arayngenumen hasn Yidn mit di mames milkh”—“The Poles absorbed their hatred for Jews with their mothers’ milk.”54  The majority of Poland’s Jews came to the quick and frightening realization that they had no future in the country that had served as their homeland for hundreds of generations.  Thus, in the months ensuing this attack, Poland witnessed the mass exodus of the last remnant of hundreds of thousands of her Jews.  Some emigrated to the west, while others—often times the more Zionistic parties—opted for Palestine.  Poland was never again to reach the same heights of Jewish existence that she had once known.         

 

Appendix

 

Necrology and Background Information of Jews Murdered in Kielce Pogrom of 194655

 

Adler, Avrom

Eyznberg, Yisroyel

Eylbirt, Osher

Barukh, Yisroyel

Beshita, Khayim

Gutvurtsel, Pol(y)a

Gurshtuts, Bayla

Gertner, Bella

Dutshka, Flutra* (child)

Vandler*

Vaynberg

Vayntro(y)b, Avrom

Vaynrib

Zoyberman

Zilberberg, Sofia

Zandberg, Rokhl

Kharendorf, Leyzer*

Telemboym, Nosn (or Titlboym, Noftoli)*

Dr. Kahane, Severin

Morovyets, Moyshe

Mikolovski, Mendl

Sambarski (or Samborska—unborn child of Genia Sambarski)*

Sovinska, Ofelina

Sokolovski, Yekhiel Simkhe*

Plutno, Sholem

Prashovska, Ester*

Prays, Yitskhok

Faynkukhen, Dovid

Fish, Regina

Fish, Adash (or Adam—Regina Fish’s four-week-old infant)

Fridman, Berl

Kas

Karp, Shmuel

Kersh, Hershl

Kersh, Yishaye*

Rabindorf

Rutshka, Yisroyel

Rayzman*

Shulmanovitsh, Z.

Shumakher, Fanya

Shtunka 

B 2969 Oswiciem (Auschwitz)

 

There were additional murder victims of the Kielce pogrom of 1946 whose names do not appear within this necrology.  This is due to the sheer fact that the physical damage done to some of the bodies was so severe that they could not successfully be identified.  This is evidenced in the following depiction of the post-pogrom burial ceremony:

The bodies of the martyrs were carried on forty trucks; they had assigned one truck foreach.56  The bodies of the murdered babies (Mrs. Fisz’s three-week-old baby, and the stillborn child of Samborska) were in little boxes placed beside the large coffins of adults.  At the head of the line was the body of Dr. Kahane, who died at his post.  His coffin was covered with a blue-white flag.  The other coffins bore the names of the dead; some were simply marked by the letters N.N. indicating that the name was unknown.57

 

At this point in time—nearly fifty-six years after this tragedy occurred—there is an obvious challenge involved in obtaining biographical or genealogical background information that pertains to the pogrom’s murder victims.  Many of the aforementioned individuals were natives of Kielce.  However, some—such as Dr. Kahane, a native of

Lwow—had little or perhaps no pre-World War II connections to Kielce.  This, in turn, must have contributed to the already overwhelming burden of identifying the dead.  

Nonetheless, a few remarks can be made in regard to several of the murder victims:58 Dr. Severin Kahane was the president of the Jewish Committee, a partisan and a soldier who fought in the front lines of the Polish army.  At the time of the pogrom,

Dr. Kahane already had all the legal papers that were necessary for emigration.  Moyshe

Morovyets published a magazine that was affiliated with the Jewish Committee. 

Vaynberg arrived the very day of the pogrom, from the neighboring town of Chmielnik.  

Sholem Plutno was a fighter in the Soviet and Polish armies.  Yitskhok Prays was the former owner of “Hotel Polski.”  Leyzer Kharendorf was in the Kielce Ghetto and the concentration camps.  Mrs. Rayzman was from Radom, and even as she was being buried, her husband was in the hospital—in critical condition.

 Regina Fish and her four-week-old son, Adash met a brutal end.  Hooligans came to the Fish home—located on Leonarda Street—kidnapped Mrs. Fish, and eventually shot her and her infant.  Prior to her murder, Regina Fish made various efforts to bribe the hoodlums with seventeen US dollars, a gold pin, and three rings, but this did not manage to save her life.  After the kidnappers drew their guns, she attempted to flee to the neighboring woods, but was not able to escape quickly enough.  “Shots resounded, and Mrs. Fisz, struck in the head, fell dead.  A short time later the bandits sent peasants from the village to bury the bodies of Mrs. Fisz and her baby.”59  

 

Another grotesque incident occurred, that likewise, involved a woman and her infant.  However, in the case of Genia Sambarski, she was in her eighth month of pregnancy; the infant was yet unborn.  The murderers pierced through her stomach with a knife60 and the infant had to be surgically removed—in order to save the life of the mother.

On the morning of the pogrom, Ester Prashovska, a nurse, was busy bandaging wounded patients and was murdered while at work.  Prior to her murder, Ms. Prashovska served as the acting secretary of the Kielce Jewish community.  Moreover, she had somehow managed to survive Auschwitz—only to be killed while trying to save other peoples’ lives.  Many of the other murdered Jews listed above fell under the category of: Jews who had fled Kielce in the early days of World War II, repatriates, and ghetto Jews.      

 

Bibliography        

 

Blatt, Warren. “Kielce and Radom Gubernias – Geographic History.” Kielce-Radom

SIG Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1997.  

 

Blumenfeld, Rafal. “Slownik Historii Kieleckich Zydow: Introduction 

(Excerpt from The Dictionary of the Kielce Jews).” Kielce-Radom SIG Journal

Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1998.  

 

______. Personal interview no. 1, 6 December 2001.  

 

______. Personal interview no. 2, 14 February 2002.

 

Checinski, Michael. “The Kielce Pogrom: Some Unanswered Questions.” Soviet Jewish

Affairs, 5 (1), 1975.  

 

Citron, Pinhas. Sefer Kielce. Tel Aviv, Israel: Irgun Olei Kieltz in Israel, 1958.

 

The Columbia-Lippincott Gazetteer of the World – “Kielce.” New York, New York:

Columbia University Press, 1952.

 

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,

1975. 

 

Fridman, Tovia. The Murder of Thirty Thousand Kielce Jews at the Hands of the

Germans-Nazis and Their Assistants. Haifa, Israel: Institute of Documentation in

 Israel for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, 1983 

 

Fuerst, Dorothy. “The Story of Kielce, a Cemetery, and a Survivor.” Martyrdom and

Resistance, Nov.-Dec. 1987.  

 

Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. 2. New York, New York: 

Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990.    

 

Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 10 –  “Kielce.” Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House,

1971.

 

Kaczerginski, Shmerke. “Vos ikh hob gezen un gehert in kelts.” (“What I Saw and Heard

in Kielce.”) Unzer Wort 5, July 1946.  

 

Meducki, Stanislaw. “The Pogrom in Kielce on 4 July 1946.” Polin 9 (1996). 

 

Meyer, Peter. Jews in the Soviet Satellites. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,

1953.

 

Michlic-Coren, Joanna. “Polish Jews During and After the Kielce Pogrom.” Polin 13

(2000). 

 

Pinkas Hakehillot, Vol. VII: The Lublin and Kielce Vicinities. Jerusalem, Israel: Yad

Vashem, 1999. 

 

Sachar, Howard M. The Course of Modern Jewish History. New York: First Vintage

Books Edition, August 1990.

 

Shneiderman, Samuel Loeb. Between Fear and Hope – Chapter Five: “I Saw Kielce,”

 pp. 85-107, New York: Arco Publishing Co., 1947.

 

Szaynok, Bozena. “The Pogrom of Jews in Kielce, July 4, 1946.” Yad Vashem Studies 22

(1992).

 

Weiner, Miriam. Jewish Roots in Poland. Secaucus, NJ: The Miriam Weiner Routes to

Roots Foundation, Inc.; and New York, New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish

Research, 1997.

 

Acknowledgments and Dedication

I would like to specially thank the following individuals for their editorial and research assistance: Harvey, Mindy, and Miriam Schiller, Warren Blatt, chief editor of the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, Mr. Rafal Blumenfeld, a native of Kielce and a survivor of the Kielce pogrom of 1946, and Dr. Boris Kotlerman, professor of Yiddish Studies at

Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel.  Last, but certainly not least, I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of my grandfather, Shloime Pinkus(iewicz) (1905- 1998), a native of Kielce and a survivor of the Holocaust.  May the memory of all those

Jews who were murdered in the Kielce pogrom of 1946 and throughout the Holocaust years, be for a blessing.      

 

 

1

 Israel Gutman, ed., Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. 2. (New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990), p. 800.    

 

2

 Columbia-Lippincott Gazetteer, (New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 1952) p. 943;

   Miriam Weiner, Jewish Roots in Poland. (Secaucus, NJ: The Miriam Weiner Routes to Roots

   Foundation, Inc.; and New York, New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1997), p. 58.

 

3

 Weiner, p. 58.

 

4

 The very first reference to Jewish life in Kielce dates back to 1535, at which time Jews were driven out of

   the city.  Christian inhabitants were granted rights under the “Non Tolerantus Judaeus” act, which

   effectively meant that Jews would not be permitted to dwell within the city.  Finally, in 1868, Jews were

   permitted to resume residency in the city.  At that time, the Russian Empire granted the independent

   Jewish community its own cemetery plot.  The Jewish population expanded quite rapidly, eventually

   accounting for approximately 40% of the total population. Rafal Blumenfeld, personal interview no. 1, 

   6 December 2001.   

 

5

 Pinkas Hakehillot, Vol. VII: Kielce. (Jerusalem, Israel: Yad Vashem, 1999), p. 491. 

 

6

 Rafal Blumenfeld, “Slownik Historii Kieleckich Zydow: Introduction (Excerpt from The Dictionary of the Kielce Jews).” Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1998, p. 26.  

 

7

 Gutman, ed., p. 800.   

 

8

 By 1933, fascist anti-Semitic groups in Poland—namely, the Endeks and the Naras—became increasingly

   brazen, using the newly elected Hitler as their role model.  Jews were frequently removed from positions

   of employment, synagogues and cemeteries were often desecrated, numerous anti-Semitic riots and

   disturbances developed, and Jewish students who tried to resist anti-Semitic attacks were thrown in

   prison by the government magistrates.  By 1937, “the government authorized the universities to allocate

   the left side of the classrooms for Jews where special benches would be available.”  The anti-Semitic,

   pro-fascist dictator, Edward Smigly-Rydz succeeded Pilsudski on the latter’s death.  “By the end of 1936,

   he had deemed it politically expedient to compromise with fascist anti-Semitism whenever possible.”

   This, in turn, helped set the stage for Hitler’s invasion of Poland two years later. Sachar, Howard M. The

   Course of Modern Jewish History. (New York: First Vintage Books Edition, August 1990), pp. 429-430.

                                                 

9

 Pinhas Citron, Sefer Kielce. (Tel Aviv, Israel: Irgun Olei Kieltz in Israel, 1958), pp. 54-55.

 

10

 Ibid., p. 55.  

 

11

 The contradictory numbers of dead and injured is partially due to the fact that murders and assaults were

    also perpetrated during the pogrom on railways and bus routes leading to the city.  The official

    statistics—themselves contradictory—of the pogrom only took into account murdered and wounded

    within Kielce, proper. Michael Checinski. “The Kielce Pogrom: Some Unanswered Questions.”

    Soviet Jewish Affairs, 5 (1), 1975, p. 59.   

 

12

 Citron, p. 49.  

 

13

 The Bund, otherwise known as the Jewish Workers’ Union in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, had its roots

    in Vilna, Lithuania.  The Bund, which in Yiddish means “union,” historically adhered to “the Marxist

    view of society in class conflict, its class-conscious bias denying the validity of national/ethnic group

    consciousness.  Thus, according to the Bund, the Jewish working class had more in common with the

    Polish working class than with the Jewish bourgeoisie.”  The Agudah was an ultra-orthodox group that

    had quite a religious and political stronghold throughout Poland, as well as in other parts of Eastern

    Europe, namely during the inter-war period.  During the pre-war period, the Agudah leaders and masses

    general tendency was toward “political compliance in exchange for the unhindered observance of

    Judaism.”  In essence, what these Jewish parties had in common was the fact that they were not only

    politically oriented, but also ideological movements.  They each provided for their members’ various

    life-cycle needs and interests.  In addition, they each published daily newspapers, periodicals, and books.

    Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975), pp.

    261-262, 268-269.      

 

14

 Citron, pp. 49-52.  

 

15

 Ibid., p. 51.

 

16

 Warren Blatt, “Kielce and Radom Gubernias – Geographic History,” Kielce-Radom

 SIG Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1997, p. 4.  

  

17

 Citron, pp. 51-53.  

 

18

 Stanislaw Meducki, “The Pogrom in Kielce on 4 July 1946.” Polin 9 (1996), p. 159. 

 

19

 Some of the leading newspapers and periodicals that appeared in Kielce during this period were: Keltser

    Vokhenblat, Keltser Unzer Ekspres, Naye Keltser Tsaytung, and the Keltser Tsaytung. Pinkas Hakehillot,

    p. 495. 

 

20

 Blumenfeld, p. 26.  

          

21

 Poland in the 1930’s was marked by several anti-Semitic acts.  According to Mr. Rafal Blumenfeld, a

    native of Kielce and a survivor of the pogrom of 1946, Kielce was one of the chief strongholds for the

    pro-Polish, pro-Catholic, anti-Semitic faction known as the Endeks or E.N.D.—a Polish acronym that

    stood for the Organization of Nationalist Democrats.  The faction’s virulently anti-Semitic leader was

  

 22

 Peter Meyer, Jews in the Soviet Satellites. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1953), p. 210.

 

23

 The murder victims came from the families of Moyshe Shmuelevitsh and Yankev Rosenholts.  The three                                  accused murderers were tried and sentenced to death.  Two other accomplices were each sentenced to prison terms of thirteen and fifteen years. Pinkas Hakehillot, p. 496. 

 

24

 Citron, p. 237.  

 

25

 Gutman, ed., p. 800. 

 

26

 The Nazis established a Jewish Council, otherwise known as a Judenrat in each of the leading ghettos, which they placed under the direction of a Jewish president—a Judenaelteste.  “The Jewish presidents were the intermediaries through whom the Nazis issued their decrees, and from whom they obtained their victims.” Sachar, pp. 537-538.

  

 27

 Pinkas Hakehillot, pp. 496-497.

 

28

 Ibid., p. 497. 

  

29

 Blumenfeld, personal interview no. 1.

 

30

 Gutman, ed., p. 801.   

 

31

 According to the accounts of one Kielce survivor, Shimen Tseltser, the head of the Jewish police was

    Herr Zimnoboda.  Herr Schindler was his lieutenant.  The chief Gestapo agents included Johann Spiegel

    and a host of other members, who were known to constantly bully the Jewish ghetto inmates and

    exhibit general Nazi-like behavior.  By the end of 1941, the Nazis had killed Zimnoboda.  Schindler

    and Spiegel were murdered in 1942, during the course of the Treblinka transports. Citron, pp. 239-240.        

 

32

 According to one of the cited Nazi war crime reports, the remaining number of Jews in Kielce following

    this mass Aktsie was between 1700 and 2000 – out of what had been approximately 20,000 Jews. Tovia

    Fridman, The Murder of Thirty Thousand Kielce Jews at the Hands of the Germans-Nazis and Their

    Assistants. (Haifa, Israel: Institute of Documentation in Israel for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes,

  

 33

 Pinkas Hakehillot, p. 498.

 

34

 As based on a personal correspondence with Warren Blatt, chief editor of the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal,

    HASAG is an acronym for the Hugo Schneider AG. 

  

35

 Gutman, ed., pp. 801-802. 

 

36

 Citron, p. 246.  

 

37

 “The Nazis forced the forty-five remaining little children, the youngest of whom was ten months, to the

    cemetery, to shoot them down, as they ran and hid among the graves.  They were buried in a mass

    grave.” Today, there stand monuments to the memory of those martyred children—one in Kielce, the

    other one in Israel. Dorothy Fuerst, “The Story of Kielce, a Cemetery, and a Survivor,” Martyrdom and

    Resistance, Nov.-Dec. 1987, p. 11.  

     

38

 Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 10 –  “Kielce.” (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, 1971), p. 990.

  

39

 Pinkas Hakehillot, p. 499. 

 

40

 Gutman, ed., p. 802. 

 

41

 Meducki, p. 161. 

 

42

 Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 990.

  

43

 Checinski, p. 58.  

 

44

 In the early post-war years rumors of ritual murder were frequently used as highly effective tools to incite

    ordinary citizens to commit overt anti-Semitic acts—of which the Kielce pogrom of 1946 was the most

    infamous example.  There were several versions to this blood libel charge, one of which had the Jews

    keeping the blood of the murdered Polish victims and giving their bodies to the Soviets and Ukrainians.

    Joanna Michlic-Coren, “Polish Jews During and After the Kielce Pogrom.” Polin 13 (2000), p. 256.

 

45

 S.L. Shneiderman was an American journalist who happened to be visiting Poland at the time that the

    Kielce pogrom broke out and came to Kielce as the pogrom was drawing to a close.  He provided the

    following biographical information and observations regarding Dr. Kahane: “Dr. Kahane was born in

    Lwow.  Throughout the Nazi occupation he fought in the ranks of the Polish guerillas.  At the end of the

    war he settled in Kielce, where he assumed leadership of the remaining Jews, who numbered one

    hundred fifty. . .  Dr. Kahane died a martyr, appealing with his last breath to the conscience of his

    murderers.” Shneiderman, Samuel Loeb. Between Fear and Hope. (New York: Arco Publishing Co.,

    1947), p. 91.

 

46

 Bozena Szaynok, “The Pogrom of Jews in Kielce, July 4, 1946.” Yad Vashem Studies 22 (1992), p. 216.

  

47

 Aside from Bishop Kubina, other Polish Catholic representatives did not openly condemn this vicious

    act.  Rather, they attributed the outbreak of the pogrom to political—as opposed to—racial animosities

    and “`blamed Jews in the government for creating animosities’ leading to such events.”  Last, according

    to the Bishop of Lublin in the wake of the pogrom, “the question as to whether or not Jews use blood for

    their rituals has not yet been clarified.” Meyer, p. 253. 

 

48

 Szaynok, p. 220.

 

 49

 Checinski, p. 59. 

 

50

 Meyer, p. 253.

 

51

 Ibid., p. 256.

 

52

 Shneiderman, p. 10.

 

 53

 Michlic-Coren, p. 253. 

 

54

 This is a phrase that this paper’s author has heard uttered often times by Yiddish speakers—Holocaust

    survivors and non-Holocaust survivors, alike.  The author is not certain of this expression’s origin;

    although it is presumed that it dates back to pre-World War II.  

  

55

 The necrology and background information pertaining to the Jews murdered in the Kielce pogrom is

    based on the following sources: Shmerke Kaczerginski’s article, “Vos ikh hob gezen un gehert in kelts.”

    (“What I Saw and Heard in Kielce.”) Unzer Wort 5, July 1946, Personal interview no. 2, held with Rafal

    Blumenfeld on 14 February 2002, and S.L. Shneiderman’s post-pogrom account, Between Fear and

    Hope – Chapter Five:  “I Saw Kielce,” pp. 85-107, New York: Arco Publishing Co., 1947.  

    Unfortunately, there are slight discrepancies between the name spellings presented by these various

    sources, making it difficult to ensure that the transliterations presented here are entirely accurate.

    Asterisks are used to indicate noteworthy discrepancies in name spellings.  The orthography used here

    for Jewish names is in accordance with the rules generally applied to Yiddish transcription.       

  

  56

 The discrepancy between Shneiderman’s total victim count and the total victim count listed above can be

    understood in light of the fact that there were additional deaths—due to pogrom-incurred injuries—

    following the burial that took place on 7 July 1946.  The necrology listed above takes into account both

    post-pogrom sources, as well as more recent sources.  

 

57

 Shneiderman, p. 100. 

  

 58

 The biographical details presented here that pertain to the pogrom’s murder victims have been extracted

    primarily from Shmerke Kaczerginski’s article, “Vos ikh hob gezen un gehert in kelts.” (“What I Saw

    and Heard in Kielce.”) Unzer Wort 5, July 1946.

  

59

 Ibid., pp. 95-96. 

  

60

 Ibid., p. 93.