For many years, the anti-Jewish pogrom in Kielce on July 4, 1946, was one of the many taboo topics in modern Polish history. At the end of the 1980s, the great political changes in Poland meant that historians could begin to research the history of Poland using secret archives and records which had not previously been available to them. These new research opportunities also applied to the history of Jews in Poland after 1945 — my field of specialization. I became the first historian to gain access to materials on the Kielce pogrom contained in the archives of the Polish Ministry of the Interior in Warsaw and in the local archive in the town of Kielce itself.
Based on my research, I would like to present what we know about the Jewish pogrom for certain.
The pogrom in Kielce took place on July 4, 1946, but some events which are very strongly connected with that pogrom started a few days before. On July 1, a nine-year-old boy, Henryk Blaszczyk, left home without informing his parents. Little Henryk set out to visit friends of his parents in the village of Bielaki, almost 25 kilometers from Kielce. Henryk’s visit took place during summer vacation, and it was not the boy’s first visit there. During the war, his family had lived in the village for some time as well. In Kielce, Henryk’s father, Walenty Blaszczyk, troubled by his son’s absence, began searching for him. When searches and inquires brought no results, Henryk was reported missing to the police at midnight. On July 3, Henryk decided to return home, and that evening he came back to Kielce.
His family and neighbors asked him where he had been. In response, he told a story about an unknown gentlemen whom he had met in Kielce. He asked him to deliver a parcel to some house and after that he put the boy in a cellar. With the help of another boy who was also there, Henry escaped on July 3. Obviously, the story was told by the boy to avoid punishment, but the neighbors and the boy’s parents believed it. But two neighbors who were at the Blaszczyks’ home when Henryk came back had questions. One asked the boy whether the gentleman he described was a Gypsy or a Jew, and the boy replied that the unknown gentleman did not speak Polish and that he therefore had to be a Jew. However, in response to a similar question asked by another neighbor, the boy merely replied that he was put in a cellar by a man without giving any information about his nationality. In other words, two persons suggested to little Henryk that Jews could have been the perpetrators of his abduction, and this information was reported to the police station on the evening of July 3.
On the next day, July 4, at about 8 a.m., Walenty Blaszczyk (the boy’s father) set out for the police station with his son and one of the neighbors. On the way, they passed the house where Jewish families lived in Kielce, the so-called Jewish house.
According to the testimony given by the father and the neighbor, they asked the boy if he had been kept at the Jewish home. Henryk not only stated that he had been held there, but he also pointed to one short man standing near the Jewish house and said that this man had put him in a cellar.
At the police station, Henryk’s story was treated as a truthful. In a short time, three police patrols were dispatched to Planty Street, where the Jewish house was located. Planty street was a small street in the center of the town, and it ran perpendicular to the main streets in which the regular police, the Security (political, secret police ), and the army had their headquarters.
The policemen from the first patrol arrested the young Jewish male pointed out by the boy, and the next patrol started searching for the place where the boy had been held. Each of the three patrols had about ten policemen. They walked with Henryk and obviously attracted the attention of the residents of Kielce. When the policemen were questioned about what had happened, they spread false reports about Jews holding a Polish boy, and they also talked about searching for murdered Polish children in a Jewish home. All of this took place in the center of Kielce.
People started to gather very quickly along the way and to congregate in front of the so-called Jewish house. The behavior of the policemen and the people who were gathering near Planty Street made the Jewish families living there apprehensive. Severyn Kahane, the chairman of the Jewish Committee in Kielce and an inhabitant of the Jewish house, went to the police station to get some explanations. The police promised to release Singer Kalaman, the young Jewish male who had been arrested, but they did not keep their promise. The initial search of the house by the policemen convinced the crowd that the rumor about Polish children being kept there was, in fact, true, although, at the beginning, most of the people in the crowd behaved passively. They simply watched the police conduct their search.
Between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., some of the main representatives of state authority in Kielce found out about Henryk’s story and its consequences. Among them were the chief of police and his deputy. In addition, two of the most important people in Kielce at that time, the chief of the Department of Public Security (the secret, political police) Wladyslaw Sobczynski, and his Soviet advisor also learned of the events unfolding on Planty Street.
At about 10 a.m., the police patrols and a group of functionaries from the political police were joined by an army contingent on Planty Street. According to the testimony of the deputy commander of the army division to which the soldiers belonged, about one hundred soldiers and five officers were dispatched to Planty Street. The newly arrived troops had not been told anything about the events, and they came to believe that Jews had kidnapped and murdered Polish children in the house on Planty Street. The soldiers got their information from the people gathered on the street. With the arrival of the troops, tensions rose very quickly.
The soldiers and the policemen then went into the building. Jews were told to surrender their weapons, but not all of the residents obeyed the order. The entry of the policemen and the soldiers into the Jewish house marked the beginning of the pogrom. Excerpts from testimony supplied by people who witnessed the outbreak of the pogrom describe what followed.
Ewa Szuchman, resident of the house on Planty Street, said:
After the police took away the weapons, the crowd broke into the Kibutz (on the second floor) and policemen started shooting at the Jews first. They killed one and wounded several others.
Albert Grynbaum, another inhabitant of the Jewish house who was on the first floor, said:
The soldiers went up to the second floor. Several minutes later two Jews came to me and told me that the soldiers were killing Jews and looting their property. It was then that I heard shots. After the shooting on the second floor, shots were heard from the street and inside the building.
This is how the Kielce pogrom began. The behavior of the policemen and the soldiers, influenced by the crowd outside, provoked it into action. After the attack inside the building, the Jews were led outside where the people killed them in a cruel fashion. Other eye-witness accounts given by Jews and Poles confirm these events.
Baruch Dorfman (Jew, resident of the Jewish house):
Uniformed soldiers and a number of civilians forced their way into the building. I had already been wounded. They told us to get out and form a line. Civilians, including women, were on the stairs. The soldiers hit us with their rifle butts. Civilians, men and women, also hit us.
Ryszard Salapa (one of the policemen) recalled:
The military led Jews out of apartments and people began hitting them with everything they could. The armed soldiers did not react. Some returned to the building to lead other Jews outside.
At about 11 a.m. Seweryn Kahane, the chairman of the Jewish Committee in Kielce, was shot by soldiers. He was killed while calling for help.
To continue reading, please click here.