Antisemitism in Postwar Poland

Ayushi Kalyani, Fall 2017

Introduction

The Committee to Help Jews which will later come to be known as the Central Committee of Polish Jews (Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce, CKŻP), met on August 10th, 1944 in Lubin while the war was still on. The only goal committee was striving for at that time was to ensure a safe atmosphere for the returning Jews in Poland. The National Council for the Country (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN) asserted that the Jews will not face any problems but to avoid “loud conversations (presumably in Yiddish) and gathering in groups in the streets” as cautionary.01)Gross, 32 CKŻP was convinced to bring back Jews and reestablish the old communities but the new questions posed against them if the Poles would let them do it. Even before Jews had returned home, they received threats of getting killed.02)Gross, 33 CKŻP’s elite, Turkov, who was deeply immersed in the redevelopment of Jewish communities ended up leaving the country in October 1945 like other Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and the returnees from the Soviet Union.03)Gross, 34

Six million Jews were killed in Nazi’s systematic killing or the Holocaust. Poland had already suffered a great devastation under the Nazi occupation supplemented by the Soviet annexation from 1939-41. Poland had lost its minorities, including Jews, who were brutally killed in the Holocaust, and the Germans and the Ukrainians to the changing borders and population movement after the war. 4.5 million Poles lost their lives to the war (approximately a third of the population) and 3 million of them were Jews. 04)Gross, Jan Tomasz. Fear: Anti-Semitism In Poland After Auschwitz; An Essay In Historical Interpretation. New York, NY: Random House, 2007, 4. The Polish Jews had diminished to a mere 250,000 number05)McKale, Donald M. Nazis After Hitler: How Perpetrators Of The Holocaust Cheated Justice And Truth. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012, 190. but witnessing the brutal Regime did not humble down the Polish populace towards the Jews. After the liberation, Jews found out their once “home” is now an inhospitable territory where they were not desired by the dominating Polish majority.06)[1] Gay, Ruth. Safe Among the Germans: Liberated Jews After World War II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, X.

Wartime and Postwar Poland

 

Nation and Minority (Theory)

Commonly confused with patriotism, the definition of a nation is abstract in nature. Historians have defined it based on the territorial boundaries and belonging to a particular state, psychological bonds, and brotherhood, etc. Walker Connor points out in his study that “equating nationalism with loyalty to the state” has led to the confusion in terminologies, and that state has been several times used as a substitution to a nation. A nation is based on the identity of each person, but what is an identity? Is it the way one identifies himself/herself or is it defined by how people around view him/her? Theories given by various historians revolve around identities determined by the people, assuming “what ultimately matters is not what is but what people believe is.”07)John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 1994), 37.

Jews after the World War II became the victimized minority. Poland was home to Jewish population before the Holocaust but was not the same after liberation from the concentration camps. Poland witnessed series of Anti-Jewish violence immediately after World War II. The acceptance of the fact that six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany did not put an end to anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism was rooted in the behavior of Non-Jewish Poles towards Jews. To non-Jewish Polish population, they were the unwanted “others,” the violence against may have born from hatred against Jewish nationals that predated Nazi Germany, from the fear of them seeking revenge, guilt from aiding Germans, amongst much more that cannot justify their actions.

Nation, as described by Walker Connor, “is a self-defined rather than an other-defined grouping.”08)Hutchinson and Smith, 37. It is defined by this group of people who connect and relate to each other with their beliefs, style of living, ideologies, and belonging. They relate to each other by a psychological bond “approximating that of the extended family, i.e a feeling of common blood lineage.”09)Hutchinson and Smith, 38. Nationalism is this psychological bond and “a sense of homogeneity”10)Hutchinson and Smith, 36. as Connor states in his essay A Nation is Nation, is a State, is an Ethnic Group, is a … Nationalism is related to the feeling of belonging, sharing pride, and loyalty to a certain group. This feeling can usually build a sense of superiority over other nations. Conflicts within a state shared by more than one nation can be caused by this belief of a nation being superior to another. Non-Jewish Poles united with the feeling of Anti-Semitism to become a nation that oppressed the minority population of Jews. The belief that Jews were inferior and did not belong on Poland grounds caused the violence and outrageous biases against them.

Depending on the population, or their influence on the laws, a majority is developed that causes the development of biases and exceptions to equality. A minority is usually the victimized nation, who are seen as the “other” on the grounds of a shared state. The majority develops a feeling of more deserving than the minority. There is “a strong sense of belonging associated with a particular territory”11)Hutchinson and Smith, 36. and the majority claims an ownership of it. Most of Jews had been assassinated in the Holocaust, making them a minority in terms of number, targeted biases, and inequality.

Natural Hatred

The highest number of Jews in Poland was in the summer of 1946 when the number spiked to 200,000 but declined almost immediately due to “outmigration.” Why? Polish Jews who returned back home found themselves in yet another killing grounds. In first two years itself, 15,000 Jews were killed in pogroms.12)Gay, x The polish intelligentsia themselves were taken aback by shock and horror of the rising anti-semitism. The anti-semitic violence witnessed in Krakow and Kielce were a signal to moral failure of the nation. It wasn’t important to them that Jews were suffering, but a “moral misery and spiritual death” that Poles will suffer after this haunt their future13)Gross, 29 although it did not compel the state to take any actions. The Ministry of Public Administration (MAP) has records of reports and complaints about the Polish citizens of Jewish descent being killed but state authorities did nothing to stop it.14)Gross, 36 Returning Jews were being asked to leave and threatened with “outright murder if they continue to live in the locality.”15)Gross, 36

The anti-Semitism was rooted in the old belief of “blood libel” where the “Jews were the god-killers”16)McKale, 190 and believed to murder the Christian Children. Getting rid of Jews was celebrated like a patriotic deed for the Polish. There were advertisements around the towns where returning Jews were threatened with “worse violence than they already survived.”17)McKale, 190 Jews had also been held responsible for the “Sovietization” of the country. 18)Gross, xii It was a belief that was strengthened by Nazi Propaganda. 19)McKale, 190 Although, a few Jews remained in Poland had they not migrated already by 1949 but communism prevailed until 1989.

The Blood Libel poster by German Artist with Polish message
Antisemitic poster published in Poland in March 1941

Polish citizens and even government kept quiet about the mass killings but it wasn’t carried out secretly. Citizens watched Jews getting murdered, passed comments, shared a laugh and sometimes helped. Some Jews in Poland survived by hiding among Poles or as Partisan fighters. These saviors usually feared persecution for sheltering “the communist.” Helping Jews was seen as transgression and the people who saved lives did not wanted to be recognized. They feared belittlement and shame by their fellow countrymen. and were seen as the rivals of the nation. A Polish couple who saved life of  a Jewish family of Marcel Reich-Ranicki requests them when they leave their apartment to keep their stay a secret as they believe the nation “would never forgive us [them] for sheltering two Jews.20)Gross, x

Killing of Jews was a normal and tolerated, a lot of times even justified . It was a “form of social control.”21)Gross, 37 Polish people had benefited from Holocaust. The Jewish property was transferred to them after they were killed by Nazi. Murder sites were even dug up for valuables. 22)Gross,41 Same added to the motive of killing Jews upon their return. Polish nationals raided and plundered the returning Jewish citizens, murdering them to take hold of what belonged to them.23)Gross,41 Poles usually fought within themselves over the rights to kill Jews. Apparently, “a town’s Jews were for the town’s people to plunder” (42). Even the Polish state was confiscating the property that belonged to Jews previously. In 1945, new laws passed placing “abandoned and formerly German property” under the state. Abandoned being addressed to Jews.24)Gross, 47

The following is the chart of Jewish Deaths by Violence for which specific record is extant, by month and province provided by David Engel in his essay Patterns of Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland, 1944-1946.

The Kielce Pogrom 

The Kielce Pogrom was an immediate reaction to a disappearance of a nine year old Boy who claimed to be abducted by Jews on July 1st, 1946. Most of the historians like Gross, Engel, Williams, etc. have mentioned the story when writing about Kielce Pogrom. While Gross writes that the boy went to collect cherries and came back home loaded with it, Engel mentions that the boy was reported to be kidnapped. One of the interviewed Polish showed more belief in the story but he mentions the father marched with his wife and brother in law, where as Engel mentions it was only the boy, his father and one of the policemen. This shows the faults in the oral history but also a possibility of manipulation.

Whatever the case may be, historians claim that the blame placed on the Jews wasn’t real. Please note: 

  1. A nine-year old boy identified the abductors as Jewish.
  2. He wasn’t harmed in any of the stories told by historians, and made it home safe.
  3. The boy has not been quoted, it was the father who reported the crime.

If the boy lied specifically, it meant that even the kids were brought up to look down upon the Jewish population. The hatred towards Jews can be seen as natural, as the little Henryk knew that if he’d blame Jews, people would believe him.

Other possibility is:

The boy didn’t lie, but the parents made up a story because they had declared him missing on the first day of the disappearance and to protect their pride (as the boy returned home safe and unharmed) they blamed the Jews, who everyone will willingly take as criminals as this case supported the old theory of the “blood libel.”

 It was easy to for the Polish people to make criminals out of Jewish people. Antisemitism was so deep rooted that their notions convinced that the evidence to back up the boy’s blame was not needed. The crowd gathered around the building that the boy had pointed out. The soldiers delivered the Jewish men and women to the crowd for people to beat them unconscious or to the death.25)Gross, 89 Soviet officials in the vicinity took no actions to stop the violence. When one Prosecutor came to the site to investigate the matter, he was told that no one will issue an order to stop the mob and soldiers wouldn’t carry out the orders if there was one.26)Gross, 91 From thirty-seven Jews that were killed during the pogrom, five were killed from the Gunshot wounds while the rest were killed from “skulls crushed by multiple blows.” 27)Gross, 92 

From FEAR: ANTI SEMITISM IN POLAND AFTER AUSCHWITZ by Jan T. Gross

Conclusion

“Nobody had ever seen a Christian child murdered “for blood” by the Jews”28)Gross, 245 but Kielce pogrom was an outcome of an old belief that only strengthened after the Holocaust. The Nazi Propaganda that fed Polish minds, had deepened their sense of nationalism and the belief that their nation is better than Jews, hence more deserving of Poland. The communist government remained inactive during Kielce pogrom to avoid resistance from Polish public. They distanced themselves from this event like other anti-Jewish pogroms as much as they could and adopted “an attitude of benign neglect.”29)McKale, 191 The historian Krystyna Kersten claims that Communist authorities benefited from anti-Semitic violence “as Stalin was able to discredit those who opposed Communism, namely the church and nationalist groups.” 30)Prażmowska A. 2002. “The Kielce Pogrom 1946 and the Emergence of Communist Power in Poland.” Cold War History 2 (2): 103

 

Bibliography

Engel, David, “Patterns of Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland, 1944-1946,” Yad Vashem Studies Vol. XXVI, Jerusalem 1998, pp 43-85.

Gay, Ruth. 2002. Safe among the Germans : Liberated Jews After World War Ii. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gross, Jan Tomasz. 2006. Fear : Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz : An Essay in Historical Interpretation. 1St ed. New York: Random House.

McKale, Donald M. Nazis After Hitler : How Perpetrators of the Holocaust Cheated Justice and Truth. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

Prażmowska A. 2002. “The Kielce Pogrom 1946 and the Emergence of Communist Power in Poland.” Cold War History 2 (2): 101–24.

Redlich, Shimon. Life In Transit: Jews in Postwar Lodz 1945-1950. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2010.

Williams, Anna. “The Kielce Pogrom.” UCSB Holocaust Oral History Project, ( June 4, 2002). http://www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Resources/the_kielce_pogrom.htm

References   [ + ]

01. Gross, 32
02. Gross, 33
03. Gross, 34
04. Gross, Jan Tomasz. Fear: Anti-Semitism In Poland After Auschwitz; An Essay In Historical Interpretation. New York, NY: Random House, 2007, 4.
05. McKale, Donald M. Nazis After Hitler: How Perpetrators Of The Holocaust Cheated Justice And Truth. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012, 190.
06. [1] Gay, Ruth. Safe Among the Germans: Liberated Jews After World War II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, X.
07. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 1994), 37.
08. Hutchinson and Smith, 37.
09. Hutchinson and Smith, 38.
10. Hutchinson and Smith, 36.
11. Hutchinson and Smith, 36.
12. Gay, x
13. Gross, 29
14. Gross, 36
15. Gross, 36
16. McKale, 190
17. McKale, 190
18. Gross, xii
19. McKale, 190
20. Gross, x
21. Gross, 37
22. Gross,41
23. Gross,41
24. Gross, 47
25. Gross, 89
26. Gross, 91
27. Gross, 92
28. Gross, 245
29. McKale, 191
30. Prażmowska A. 2002. “The Kielce Pogrom 1946 and the Emergence of Communist Power in Poland.” Cold War History 2 (2): 103