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Pogrom Cries – Essays on Polish-Jewish History, 1939–1946

2nd Revised Edition


Joanna Tokarska-Bakir

This book focuses on the fate of Polish Jews and Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust and its aftermath, in the ill-recognized era of Eastern-European pogroms after the WW2. It is based on the author’s own ethnographic research in those areas of Poland where the Holocaust machinery operated. The results comprise the anthropological interviews with the members of the generation of Holocaust witnesses and the results of her own extensive archive research in the Polish Institute for National Remembrance (IPN).

«[This book] is at times shocking; however, it grips the reader’s attention from the first to the last page. It is a remarkable work, set to become a classic among the publications in this field.»

Jerzy Jedlicki, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences

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Chapter 1: The Polish Underground Organization Wolność i Niezawisłość and Anti-Jewish Pogroms, 1945–1946

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Chapter 1:The Polish Underground Organization Wolność i Niezawisłość and Anti-Jewish Pogroms, 1945–1946


In the two years following the German occupation of Poland, before the consolidation of Communist rule in 1947, between 400 and 2,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors (depending on the estimate) encountered a form of violence that has long been a subject of historical debate. Several different explanations for this phenomenon have been put forward. Some have linked it to the absence of law and order in post-war Poland, others to the involvement of some Polish Jews in installing the Communist regime, while yet others have seen it as a response to Jewish efforts to re-acquire property that was appropriated during the war by Germans and Poles.1 In this text, drawing on arguments advanced by Roberta Senechal de la Roche with regard to a 1908 race riot, or pogrom, in Springfield, Illinois,2 I attempt to examine the anthropological dimension of such events in more detail.

In explaining the origins and nature of collective violence, scholars over the past few decades have moved away from traditional social strain theory,3 which posits objective threats as the reason for attacks, towards a more dynamic view in which the perception of threats by different individuals in changing social and historical contexts gives rise to violence. The affective turn in the humanities has also provided an impulse to reinterpret the traditional Aristotelian definition of fear, considered as “a painful or troubled feeling caused by the impression of an imminent evil that causes destruction or pain”.4 Today, most scholars of collective violence espouse a different reading of the phrase ‘that causes’ in the definition ←17 | 18→above. They have concluded that fear as a stimulus does not trigger an automatic reaction since it is always filtered through a historically changing system of deep-rooted cognitive habits which interpret signals in accordance with a cultural system of expectations.5 Because of this, the focus of research on collective violence has shifted from threat to threat perception, since the same thing can be interpreted as threatening and non-threatening in different situations or cultures.6

While democratic society in theory accepts the upward mobility of minority groups, in traditional hierarchical society, based on the subjection of “deviants”, it is treated as a breach of the social contract. As we will see, this is precisely the type of situation we are dealing with in post-war Poland, where, for the first time, Jews assumed pivotal public positions.

The Wolność i Niepodległość Archive

This article analyses the deep-rooted cognitive habits among informers and reporters belonging to the organization Wolność i Niezawisłość (WiN, Freedom and),7 as seen in documents from the WiN archive, preserved at the Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie (State Archive in Kraków), Poland, under reference no. ANKr 1214. It is estimated that WiN had between 20,000 and 30,000 members, making it the largest pro-independence organization in Poland after the Second World War.

WiN was founded on 2 September 1945, at the initiative of underground commanders who refused to accept the decisions of the Yalta Conference which made Poland part of the Soviet sphere of influence. The founders of WiN did not intend it as a political organization. Its leader, Lt. Jan Rzepecki, was referred to as “President,” and the organization’s board was to be elected by members. Nevertheless, those at the grassroots thought of themselves as soldiers and, particularly in central Poland, played an active part in the ongoing civil war. An important ←18 | 19→part of WiN’s activities was a publishing and propaganda campaign, seen as a prelude to the expected free elections guaranteed at Yalta. Many of the sources analysed here were produced within its framework.

WiN, well known to scholars of Poland’s post-war history, has so far been described only in political terms.8 In this text, I will offer an anthropological perspective based on documents in its archive relating the organization’s attitude to Jewish Poles.9 Another criterion governing the choice of texts to be analyzed is a focus on the pogroms perpetrated in post-war Poland. Following the Second World War, Poland, like Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary, witnessed numerous anti-Jewish pogroms, the first on 14 and 15 June 1945 in Rzeszów; the second on 11 August 1945 in Kraków; and the third and bloodiest, with forty-two victims, on 4 July 1946 in Kielce.10 Using Peter Brass’s terminology, the pogrom spark almost everywhere in Poland in 1945–1946 proved to be accusations of ritual murder. What remains to be investigated is the nature of the tinder11 that caught the spark.

Although WiN was established in the autumn of 1945, the archives, as well as the Kielce pogrom, document the earlier pogroms in Rzeszów and Kraków ←19 | 20→and the ripple effect12 that followed the one in Kraków, including incidents in Tarnów (WiN, 7, c. 205, 3717), Radom (WiN 5, c. 41, 3557) and Rabka (WiN, 7, c. 205,3717). The goal here, however, is not to determine the course of any of these incidents. The intention is rather to learn about the social views of the perpetrators, whose statements and reports make up the WiN collection13. What were they afraid of? What outraged them? How did they view the conventions governing relations between the dominant ethnic group and the Jewish minority after the Holocaust? What customs did they believe to be threatened and by whom? What was the hierarchy of these norms? Who was supposed to defend them and who was perceived as the deviant against whom self-defence (pogrom) was organized, according to Senechal de la Roche’s theory of collective violence14?

Classification of Fears

The most important threats linked by WiN informers in 1945–1946 to the behaviour of the Jews can be arranged according to the following six factors:

A.fear of Communism, which, as is apparent in the widespread use of the term “Żydokomuna” (Judaeo-Communism), is believed by the authors of WiN reports to be collectively represented by Jewish Poles;

B.fear of Jewish upward mobility: after positions unattainable in pre-war Poland became accessible to Jewish Poles in “Lublin Poland”15, something the dominant group experienced with humiliation and saw as a violation of the social contract providing for the subordination of the subordinated;

C.fear of a Jewish plot articulated as “the Masonic conspiracy” or “Jewish world domination”;

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D.demographic panic connected with the return/influx of Jewish Poles from the Soviet Union, and fears that they would reclaim their pre-war properties inhabited then by non-Jewish Poles;

E.fear of racial pollution caused by mixed marriages on a massive scale, and the consequent “deforming influence” of Jewry, perceived as excluding Polishness;

F.fear of ritual murder.

What proves striking in the reports about Jewish Poles compiled by WiN is descriptive language devoid of any civic categories. The language is strikingly distinct from expressions such as “Jewish citizens” or “Polish citizens of Jewish origin” that appear in the documents of “Lublin Poland”. What appears in the WiN documentation, rather, is the divisive and dichotomous term “Poles-Jews” which signals demonization, predisposing those so called to pogrom.16 It is well known that demonization facilitates the collective attribution and liability of transgression.17 The declaration in the WiN archives of the organization’s attitude towards national minorities states: “The Polish state secures equal civil rights to all national minorities in Poland”. However it makes these rights conditional on whether the minority “takes a friendly stance towards the state” and atones for its offences:

“All organizations, individuals or national groups, who have harmed the Polish Nation, must be justly punished” (WiN 10, c. 33, 3278).

Considering the context of declarations that justify collective responsibility in advance, the conditions imposed on the Jewish Poles for entering the Polish nation, could have proved difficult to meet.

A.Fear of Communism personified by Jews

The reports compiled by WiN in 1945 describe Jews as a homogeneous group:

“The society’s attitude towards the Government of National Unity is unanimous. We all share the opinion that the people in charge of the government have been sent mostly by Russia and obey orders from Moscow. No one, except for the Polish Worker’s Party [Polska Partia Robotnicza, PPR] recognizes the Government of National Unity. All Poles know that this country is ruled by Jews and the NKWD18” (WiN 7, c. 42, 3558).

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“Jews: their anti-state activity targets the Polish state and society” (WiN 5, c. 8, 2705).

“Almost all of them [Jews] are informers for the Soviets and the Office of Public Security” (WiN 7, c. 8, 3655)19.

“In the present democracy, they play a special role. Without exaggeration, you can say that every Jewish man or woman you come across is a member of the NKGB or NKWD” (WiN 5, c. 7, 2704).

However, detailed reports present a different picture:

“Jews can be divided into two groups. a) One faction aims at assimilating with Poles as fast as possible. This group pursues its goals by all sorts of means: conversion to Christianity, marriage [with non-Jews], changing their last names (common). This group stays in Poland. b) The second faction leaves Poland and goes abroad: to Palestine and, in most cases, to the areas occupied by the British. This group includes mostly poor and simple people” (WiN 7, c. 60, 3570).

Another report, possibly compiled by a person employed at the office of the Military Censorship, notes that “in letters sent abroad, Jews always ask their relatives to help them to leave Poland” (WiN 42, c. 41, 5262).20

B.Fear of Jewish upward mobility

The reports notoriously express anxiety about the social and professional activity of Jews, who, not long before, had been deprived of their rights and, before the war, were only able to enter domains reserved for ethnic minorities. The following, from October 1945, is characteristic:

“Jews always stay united and do not disperse. However, today they play a prominent role in our political life. We see them in all significant political positions – in local government, the military, industry, etc. – although they try not to stand out, and assume Polish names to conceal their nationality. The rest of Jewish society believes that they have played ‘a beautiful role’ in our national life and seem to be waiting for an opportunity to emigrate from Poland” (WiN 2, 3560).

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“Jews are fixed in roles and positions everywhere throughout Poland. Even in the military they did nothing to ease the repressions” (WiN 1, c. 202, 2369).

The ethnic profiling present in the reports compiled by WiN reports relates exclusively to Jews and Russians. The following is a typical:

“A large percent of Jewish Communists, who came to Poland, had been trained in Russia, and are now being installed as ethnic Poles in central government, the Office of Public Security, the military, industry, commerce, the press, propaganda apparatus, radio and in the Polish Worker’s Party” (WiN 7, c. 214, 3730).

The author of this report is concerned that Jews impersonate Poles, which (together with “denying their Jewish origins”) forms a common conversational script in a society where civic identity categories are not applicable. Assimilative tendencies are interpreted as a means to acquire positions that the author is convinced are reserved for Poles. Although not all Jews are viewed as striving for prominent positions, this did not make their reputation any better. The following text was noticed in the conspiratorial press, Na jakim koniu jadą żydzi w Polsce? (Which horse are the Jews in Poland riding?):

“Jews aim at capturing all public life and bringing it under their control. They do not force their way into executive and representative positions but prefer to join at a second and third layer. They conceal their origins and assume Polish names. They want to seize control of the propaganda (Borejsza21), especially its most important departments – the press, film and radio – in order to form opinions and outlooks. In the military they seize control of all political, economic and intelligence functions. When it comes to the ministries, they try, primarily, to install themselves in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Security, the Treasury, Ministry of Industry. (…) The rule they follow is to control everything while sitting behind the Poles’ backs!!!” (WiN 11, c. 340, 3265).

C.Fear of Jewish conspiracy

The above attitude is evident in a report about the “Jewish world government” published nearly two years later (1947), which was meant to expose the efforts of “all world Jewry [to] conquer the world” (WiN 1, c. 2002, 3797). The principal document in the archive to focus on this subject, however, is the typescript entitled Podbój psychosfery narodu gojów (Conquering the Psychosphere of the Goy Nation), which elaborates on the theme of a population being deceitfully ←23 | 24→subjugated by means of propaganda. The typescript proved to be a fragment of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion22. As it turns out, the message of this rather insane text, including its detailed theses, does not seem to give rise to any concern by the authors, for example, of the proclamation drawn up by the “Polski Ruch Niepodległościowy i Polityczne Kierownictwo Narodu Polskiego” (Polish Independence Movement and the Leadership of the Polish Nation) and addressed “Do Żydów w Polsce” (To the Jews in Poland). The text begins with a historical outline, contrasting Polish virtues with Jewish faults:

“Throughout its entire history, the Polish nation has displayed the greatest sympathy towards Jews. Already, at the time of the inquisition of the Middle-Ages, Poland extended its hospitality and protection to Jews banished from Western Europe, mainly from Spain. For the second time, Poland granted asylum to Jews banished from Nazi Germany before the Second World War, even though many of these Jews had collaborated with German intelligence in the ruination of Poland. In the tormented times under German occupation, thousands of Polish families were murdered, often burnt alive with their homes, for hiding or helping Jews – something for which Poles were executed, unlike in any other occupied country. Jews accepted help, although almost all the Jews, even those found accidentally, denounced their benefactors when facing imminent death (…). Meanwhile, the Jews in Poland, who in many cases owed their survival to the Poles – and who, from the moment of the German retreat, seized real power in Poland on behalf of the Soviet Union – started a system of government worthy of the methods used by the Gestapo” (WiN 1, c. 201, 2369–2374, and WiN 10, c. 65–69, 3235–3239).

The authors of the proclamation take the existence of the “Jewish world government” for granted, and accuse “Jewish circles” of advocating a “mafia-like, elitist imperialism”. However, they express hope that such uncontrollable ambitions can be somehow reconciled with the survival of the Polish nation:

“Even considering the aspiration of the Jewish world government to conquer the world, the prospect of destroying and exploiting the Polish Nation – both biologically and economically – proves incomprehensible. Under no circumstances is the Polish nation dangerous to the Jews. The Polish nation did not and does not display any imperialist values. This is why we call upon the Poles, not only in the interest of the Polish nation, but also of the Jewish nation, to change their adventurous plans, which could cause a new disaster – one that, this time, would be blamed on the Jews” (WiN 10, c. 65–69, 3235–3239).

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The reports prepared by WiN echo traditional motives for antisemitic violence. They even contain German propaganda materials, such as a pocket-size agenda with entries in Polish containing a set of antisemitic caricatures reminiscent of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer (the origin and ownership of this publication is a subject of my forthcoming paper: «Józef Zabrzeski and the antisemitic agenda in the WiN archive»). The main motif in these caricatures is the “Żydokomuna” (Judaeo-Communism), represented as agents of a Judeo-Communist cabal and as cynical, fat men smoking cigarettes, walking hand-in-hand with Trotsky-faced Bolsheviks. The following are captions accompanying the caricatures (WiN 36, c. 1–12, 4802–4826):

  • “Jews came to Poland as beggars, crawling and fawning on others, behaving insincerely, pretending to be humble. After a few generations passed, the Jews possessed 83 per cent of the nation’s assets”.
  • “Theft committed on non-Jews is viewed as an act dear to God, even according to the ‘most decent’ Jews”.
  • “Trade and industry are the key to Jews to building their might and wealth. Their arrogance towards non-Jews keeps on growing”.
  • “Jews embody selfishness, brutality, cruelty and a lust for rule. Mercilessly, they throw old and ill workers out on to the streets”.
  • “Jews pretend to be honest tradesmen, but in reality spread discord, instigate the people to commit murders, spark fires, terror, revolution and fratricidal wars”.
  • “Jews are masterful when it comes to stirring up the people and sparking fratricidal wars. By demoralizing the lower social classes, they turn them into passive, weak-willed tools to achieve their sinister goals”.
  • “By the use of Marxists, Communists and Jewish Freemasonry, Jews systematically work on undermining the foundations of the nation and the Church”.
  • “Jews promise workers to respect their dignity, promise them a life surrounded by beauty, but what the Jews really give the workers is hunger, poverty and death” (accompanying an illustration of “Communist paradise” by Karl Marx).
  • “Woe to the nation that trusts the Jews and believes in their promises. The fate of this nation will be horrible”.
  • “This is what the slogans ‘freedom, equality and fraternity’ really look like. Jews use these slogans to express their revolutionary aspirations” (accompanying an illustration of an execution carried out with a hammer and sickle).
  • “The Jewish paradise under the sign of the hammer and sickle”.

Accusations of Masonic conspiracy – the fundamental thread from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – recur several times in underground reports and other documents in the WiN archives:

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“It has been established in the Kraków area that the Jewish Committee maintains contact with American Jews. The Kraków Jews admitted that international Masonic unions do exist and that their activity [is] stronger than before the war” (WiN 7, c. 91, 3601).

“International Communism, socialism and fascism, as well as the greatest powers – international Freemasonry and Jewry – threaten each Catholic nation separately and all of them together” (WiN 39, c. 12, 5109).

In a famous statement to American journalists by Primate August Hlond after the Kielce pogrom, quoted in the WiN archives in a document signed by the Kraków Curia, similar reasoning is used to assess the pogrom. The Primate’s opinion, according to which “the course of these unfortunate and deplorable incidents in Kielce shows that they cannot be attributed to racism” (WiN 38, c. 255, 5007), echoes the contemporary accounts referred to by Roberta Senechal de la Roche in her study of a 1908 race riot/pogrom in Springfield, Illionois. She quotes the Springfield press to the effect that it was not evidence of the “whites’ hatred towards negroes, but of the negroes’ own terrible misconduct” that explained the massacre (Senechal de la Roche 1990, 42)23. Primate Hlond evaluates the war-time Polish-Jewish relations as good, the best evidence of which was the aid given by Poles to Jews during the war.

“The fact that these good relations are deteriorating, is to a great extent to be blamed on the Jews, who hold the leading positions in public life and strive for the imposition of a system of government on a nation that its majority does not want. This is a harmful game that gives rise to dangerous tensions. The fatal armed clashes on the political front in Poland bring death not just to the Jews themselves, but unfortunately for as many Poles” (WiN 38, c. 255 5007).

One of the reports by WiN broadened the above statement with a remark about the “outrageous percent of Jews present in positions related to public safety and justice” (WiN 11, c. 83, 3256). Attached to the report was the following comment: “This was the first time somebody paid attention to the composition of our Isra-elite (…) now the cat is out of the bag and everybody knows that they are all Jews!!!” (WiN 11, c. 159, 3259). Intended by the author of the report to expose the Polish Army as non-Polish – based on their language and expressions as well as the Polish allegedly spoken by the elites with a strong Yiddish accent – the ←26 | 27→comment reveals the way he feels about the role of Jews in society. The author claims his right to display contempt. He feels outraged by the introduction of penalties for “looking disrespectfully at Jews” in Lublin Poland (WiN 10, c. 83, 3256). Oblivious of the fact that he is calling for a restoration of numerus clausus, the author of the report follows Primate Hlond and openly criticizes granting Jews access to military and judiciary careers:

“We Poles should not be called upon to renounce racism and antisemitism. This should fall to the nation that deems itself the chosen people to lead the world of states, nations and all possible centers of life, into which they force themselves regardless of any numerical logic, against the will of nations, against the postulates of an equal start in life for everyone and the equal distribution of goods.

The nation from which mercenaries are commonly recruited, that hires itself to every enemy as traitors and torturers, that professes not universal ethics, but the ethics of the Talmud – such a nation cannot call upon others to renounce racism while cultivating it themselves. Members of this nation cannot solely aspire to the role of judges, security guards and educators of the nation they live in and prey on. What gives them the right to do so? Is it about their numbers? This is an obviously striking absurdity! Is it about the stature of their ethics and morality? (…) Maybe it is about some special abilities? So, it is a racially dominant nation. The Herrenvolk are the people chosen to rule and to judge, to take the most profitable positions in the state hierarchy, economic life, the judiciary, the military (except for frontline troops) and naturally also in public security organizations” (WiN 2, c. 202, 2486).

Here, Jews are being reproached for their promotion in the name of democratic values; “the postulates of an equal start in life for everyone and the equal distribution of goods”. They are not only being accused of procrastination, particularism, cowardice, greed, megalomania, but also of being ungrateful to the Poles who had been saving their lives throughout the war.

Considering these latter contexts, it is worth quoting an early testimony from December 1945 about an initiative of the Kraków Jews wishing to honor the Poles who had saved their lives during the war. A question that arises here concerns the intentions of WiN, which wanted to know the names of “the Righteous”.24 Belief in any edifying intentions for this search, somewhat defies credibility.

“The Kraków Jews prepared a petition addressed to the Polish government under Berman, signed by about 100 people [figures are not reliable, since it exceeds the margin] ←27 | 28→for honouring the Poles who came to the aid of Jews during the German occupation. In order to ensure their petition would be accepted, the Kraków Jews also addressed a petition to American Jews asking them to intervene in their case with the Polish government. Out of the total number of Poles, eight people to be awarded – such as Świerczewski, a propaganda instructor for the Polish Worker’s Party (PPR) – had so far been identified. Most of the candidates to be awarded are said to be living in Warsaw” (WiN 7, c. 60, 3570).

D.Demographic panic

The demographic panic, connected with the influx of Jews from Russia and fed by propaganda, is an important source of the fear that appears in the reports for 1945. One of several reports, warning that “280 thousand” Jews would come to Poland (WiN 42, c. 16, 5228), stated that plans to bring Jews to the Western Territories were part of a plan to “Sovietize” Poland (WiN 42, c. 7, 5216). Several of the reports comment on a rift within the repressive and the disciplinary aspects of the state apparatus caused by the influx of Jews: on the one hand, there is the Milicja Obywatelska (MO, Citizen’s Militia, the post-war state police force) and the Polish Army (also called the “Żymierski Army”) and, on the other, the UB, the state security and intelligence service. A possible example of this rift is contained in a letter from the Militia in Sosnowiec to the municipal authorities asking how to deal with Jews who were not paying taxes after moving into the city. The letter offered information about “a rally held by superintendents, who petitioned the Polish authorities saying they were being mercilessly exploited and bullied in the tenement houses governed by Jews” (WiN 42, c. 7, 5216). The Jews who had settled in tenement houses once owned by Germans had always been perceived domestically as landlords and thus had to be viewed as dangerous rivals by Polish caretakers (dozorcy).

Another report prepared by WiN describes Polish military officers, on the one hand, and an NKWD officer and UB officer, on the other, entering into conflict over the Jews.

“On 18 November 1946 a number of drunken sappers dragged a Jewish woman out of her house and bullied her, with one of them even firing a shot just above her head. Passing by was Captain Golodov from the NKWD, who saw the whole scene and stood up for the woman, for which he was beaten up by the soldiers. He then called the Office for Public Security, which arrested these four soldiers. Having learned of what happened, soldiers from the sappers’ parent unit went to the UB building armed and ready to fight (…) The soldiers threw a few grenades into the street, fired shots at the building, shouting: ‘You Soviet pushovers, Polish NKWD, Moscow’s servants!’ After long negotiations with the chief of the UB, the soldiers were allowed to enter the building” (WiN 7, c. 115, 3634).

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A WiN report from 1945 reads: “The anti-Jewish attitudes escalate because of the provocative behaviour of the Jews, particularly that of Jewish officers.” All this is stated in a note written about Jewish civilians being executed for cooperating with the UB, and mentioning anti-Jewish leaflets which appearing in Tarnów on 11 August 1945 (WiN 42, c. 27, 5240). We do not know what form the “provocative behavior” of the Jewish officer took, although we do know that the reports mention several incidents of that kind.

E.Fear of “racial pollution”

The author of one report describes undefined Jewish Poles as “well-fed, well-dressed, crowding holiday and entertainment sites, doing their best to thrive, all of which makes a striking comparison with the very tough life led by the Polish peasants and workers” (WiN 9, c. 73, 5228). The author is also anxious about the effects of mixed marriages in which “typical Jewish features in no way disappear”:

“according to opinion of Jews themselves, interbreeding of the Jewish race with Poles, even with an acceptance of Christianity, does not result in a loss of the features of the Jewish race” (WiN 8, c. 73, 3799).

Considering the above statement, it becomes difficult to ignore a concealed fear of “race pollution”. The same fear was apparent in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, and was expressed in a parallel question: “Can we assimilate the negro? The very question is pollution”.25

In this context there are several reports of underground segregation initiatives relating to Jewish and non-Jewish Poles. One dating from the summer of 1945 states:

“In Łódź, the anti-Jewish action assumed a clearly defined character. Jews received written warnings saying they should leave Poland or otherwise would be shot. The security authorities cannot identify the source of these warnings but, despite assurances saying they are safe, the Jews are selling their workshops, buying foreign currency and going West. (…)

Captain Lec, a writer and director of the CDŻ26 in Łódź is currently investigating a death threat received by Ryszarda Łatowa, a CDŻ employee. The letter contains notification that ‘as a result of keeping in with Jews, she is sentenced to death’. It is signed by ‘Colonel Ząb’, and marked with a death’s head. Similar letters have been received by all the Jews. Łatowa does not only keep in with the Jews, but also collaborates with the NKWD” (WiN 42, c. 208a, 5221).

←29 | 30→

The idea of segregation did not end with the demands circulated by the Polish underground however. Other reports make it clear that segregation was implemented by some local authorities:

“The National Municipal Council in Żywiec passed a resolution against allowing Jews to enter the town. A similar resolution was passed by the works council at the Solali Factory in Żywiec [Żywiec Paper Mill], which stated Jews should not be employed in the factory” (WiN 4, c. 331, 2625).

The WiN archives contain many reports of the murder of Jews. One from August 1946 contains an unsourced estimate, according to which “2,043 Jews were killed after the Soviets seized power in Poland” (WiN 4, c. 184) According to the Polish Worker’s Party, “the National Armed Forces and the Home Army have killed about 2500 people so far”. A report from 26 May 1946 concerns the so-called “train operation”. Apart from the mention of “racial issues”, the report offers no justification for the execution carried out as follows:

“A forest unit wearing Polish uniforms stopped the evening train on the railroad between Kamionka and Ptaszowka. They entered a car with five Jews who were travelling on this train. After both sides started a conversation in Russian and the Jews (convinced they were dealing with Soviets dressed in Polish uniforms) admitted they were Jewish, they were taken out of the train and shot next to the railway embankment” (WiN 4, c. 107, 2553).

F.Fear of ritual murder

Accusations of ritual murder played the greatest role in building tensions, and constituted the spark that ignited the Polish pogroms.27 Rumors about ritual murder are the counterpart to accusations of the rape of a white woman that sparked the 1908 Springfield massacre in the United States.

Similar accusations, many throughout the WiN archives, appear in various versions and concern different periods. The report quoted in full in the Appendix to this article contains accounts from 1945. The Rzeszów pogrom of June 1945, described there, constitutes the terminus post quem of the archive documents. Another fragment of the text is based on an account of the Kraków pogrom ←30 | 31→given before the Jewish Committee in Kraków on 13 August 1945, the day following those events (WiN 7, c. 205, 3717–3721).28

“While we would like to be understanding towards the Jews, and while we have no interest in fuelling antisemitism, we cannot turn a blind eye to what is, to say the least, a dishonest and destructive attitude on the part of the Jews in our society. During the German occupation, the Jews constituted the majority of the G[esta]po’s informers. Today, Jews also make up the core of the informers of the NKWD and its affiliate, the UBP [Office of Public Security], holding executive positions in both organizations. Jews take the filthiest of jobs, work for our enemies and occupy well-paid positions in commerce and industry, thus ruining the economy. They spread confusion and wreak havoc in all spheres and even go so far as to commit brutal murders, since they are confident that the almighty NKWD will defend them if need be” (WiN 7, c. 205, 3717).

The subsequent part of the text contains a detailed description of a ritual murder allegedly committed in Rzeszów. What is most striking in the excerpt below is the figure of the “rabbi dressed in a blood-stained white smock, [who] was caught red-handed next to the body of a girl, hanging upside down” (WiN 7, c. 205, 3717). The key fragment of the text reads as follows:

“When interrogated, the rabbi admitted that the body parts were the remains of sixteen children. However, he claimed that he had not committed transfusion murder, but that the Jewish nation had suffered great loss and thus many of its most prominent members needed to be nourished with human blood that could be obtained by these means” (WiN 7, c. 205, 3717).

The summary was written by an educated person, obviously struggling with cognitive dissonance. The text is a report, a blend of other various texts on the subject. On one hand, the author does not want to reject anything useful but, on the other, does not feel comfortable using the archaic superstition of the blood libel. This results in a compromise in which the superstition is made contemporary by means of the concept of “transfusion murder”29. Nowhere does the author undermine the feasibility of such a murder and, a few pages later, notes that yet another murder described as “ritual murder” had been committed, and this time punished with the death penalty. The author also states that such murders are ←31 | 32→used by the NKWD, which tries to confirm “absurd rumours about ritual murders” (WiN 7, c. 205, 3718–3719):

“The NKWD used the chance discovery of the transfusion murders in Rzeszów as an opportunity, once again, to take advantage of anti-Jewish feeling” (WiN 7, c. 205, 3718–3719).

A different interpretation of the pogrom mechanism goes as follows: even murders of Jews who did not commit ritual murders, were committed by the NKWD in order to disgrace Poland in the eyes of the world. Such a perspective appears in the leaflet Dość krętactw sowieckich (Enough Soviet Deceits), written in the autumn of 1945, which compares the scenarios of two pogroms that took place in 1945:

“This year on 11 June in Rzeszów at 12, Tannenbaum Street, they found the body of a nine-year-old, Bronisław Mandoń, who died from loss of blood drawn for transfusion. The culprits (four residing in Rzeszów, not registered anywhere but in NKWD files, who were Jews), were released after a few days on the order of the NKWD. So, if the NKWD had not known about the murder, it definitely approved of it. The case was stalled, while public opinion was directed to the anti-Jewish incidents triggered by the murder” (WiN 42, c. 646–647, 5605).

The author believes that the country is witnessing a dramatic reversal. Referring to the title of a book by Stanisław Mikołajczyk30, Poland “has been raped” and bled to death like a slaughtered animal. Justice lies in the hands of the culprits, the Jews and the NKWD, who captured the country. Under such conditions, the pogrom becomes an act of popular self-defence aimed against Others who are attacking the most precious possessions of an abandoned nation: freedom, independence, women and children. The syllogism: “Jews=NKWD” proves key to the “Żydokomuna” myth, signifying a Judaeo-Communist cabal (WiN 4, c. 204–205, 3719–3729) and easing possible moral dilemmas. Claude Lévi-Straus described the myth as a contradiction-solving machine.

Nevertheless, the Kielce pogrom, possibly because of the shocking number of casualties, becomes an opportunity to develop a new kind of interpretation. The interpretation is visible in the report Z ostatniej chwili: Nic Nowego (Breaking News: Nothing new):

“Following the pogroms in Rzeszów, Kraków and Silesia, a new pogrom in Kielce took place. Perpetrated by the same culprits in the same way, the pogrom began with the murder of a few children. One of them was released on to the streets with their hands, legs and neck cut. At the same time, NKWD agents explained that the murder had been ←32 | 33→committed by Jews. Outraged by the murder of innocent children, the mob attacked the Jews. (…) The anti-Jewish incidents were instigated by the NKWD from beginning to end. (…) Everyone knows that Russia had installed Jews in executive positions of all the ministries. Jews were used by Russia to destroy the Polish nation, although they are not always aware that, by doing what they do, they shatter any hope of staying in a future Poland, once and for all. This is why they often do not execute the orders they are given by Russia. They want to go along with the Poles. In order to prevent this, to make them more ‘militant’ and convince them from time to time to destroy Polishness, the NKWD arranges anti-Jewish provocations or even assassinations of citizens of Jewish origin disguised as reactionary acts” (WiN 10, c. 343, 3266).

This view of pogrom violence, absolving Jews, proves to be the exception. the suggestion that many more Jews shared such a suspicion of the Communist authorities is not reflected in the tone of subsequent WiN reports, which remained as hostile as they had ever been.

Perceived threat

Historians, psychologists and sociologists, advocating the theory of general social strain as an explanation for collective violence, are inclined to account for occurrences, such as pogroms, by focusing on the accumulation of burdens characteristic of a period that precedes or follows war or economic depression.31 In his book The Nature of Prejudice (1954), the psychologist Gordon W. All-port made additions to this set of circumstances, including a “rapid change in the prevailing social situation”, residential “invasion” by Blacks and a “rapid rise in immigrant population”.32 The sociologist Allen Grismhaw (1965) developed the argument, adding “disorders in the ‘classic accommodative pattern of superordination-subordination’, in which whites, the dominant group, expected ‘deference, obedience and complicity’ from their black inferiors”, to the list of incriminating factors. Grimshaw wrote that “the most intense conflict has resulted when the subordinate group has attempted to disrupt the status quo, or when the superordinate group has defined the situation as one in which such an attempt is being made”.33 Thus, for the first time, the notion of threat was differentiated from that of perceived threat.

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The sense of the majority being threatened by the minority might be related to the circumstances of living together: in employment, politics, education, the use of leisure facilities such as parks, restaurants, cinemas or amusement parks as well as public transport. According to the theory of social strain, the Springfield, Illinois, riots of 1908, constituted a moment of relief of the tensions arising from the increasing affluence and social visibility of Blacks. In his observations concerning the race riots in the United States in the years 1820–1960, Robert Maxwell Brown noticed that, since similar factors did not occur in all cities where the riots took place, the violence of Whites against the Blacks must have been triggered “by the perceived threat rather than the acts of violence”.34 There was a growing call by commentators to rewrite the accepted explanations of these acts of violence, since becoming affluent seemed to have nothing to do with aggression and more to do with how the process was perceived by observers.

Roberta Senechal de la Roche wrote about the Springfield race riot in her book In Lincoln’s Shadow. Judging from the response it provoked, the book proved to be one of the most inspiring works on pogroms in recent decades. Senechal de la Roche analyzes elements of Springfield’s social context, such as the rise in affluence, prestige and political influence of Blacks (also when it comes to trading votes), as well as their improved vocational visibility (as, say, policemen and firemen) and political effectiveness (protests and anti-discrimination charges taken to court). She writes that

“the rioters viewed Springfield’s blacks as a danger to their sense of dignity and status. Any signs of black success, power and upward mobility may have angered them (…) The two lynching victims were very successful black men. Also, recall that [the former] William English Walling felt that many of the whites he interviewed said that they were angry because the city’s blacks behaved as if they were ‘as good as the city’s whites’”.35

On the basis of a thorough analysis of the economic situation in Springfield, including residential and work patterns, Senechal de la Roche argued that what the working-class rioters stood to lose in competition with Blacks was not jobs, homes or clients. The endangered values were physical separation and segregation, distance from the despised group, as well as their right to demonstrate superiority and show contempt. She concludes that the Springfield violence could ←34 | 35→be understood as a normative, moralistic reaction to a “debased” form of deviant behaviour paradoxically represented by “black progress” which changed the situation of Whites in the social hierarchy.36

Based on the Springfield historical experience, the theory of pogrom as an act of social control, as formulated by Senechal de la Roche, can be used to understand the anti-Jewish violence in Poland following the Second World War. The material that makes accessible the mindset of WiN informers shows the extreme polarization between Jewish and non-Jewish Poles. Legislation and social practices introduced by “Lublin Poland” clashed with the ideas of moral order embraced by the informers. The authors of the WiN documents perceived the granting of equal rights to Jews, who played an active part in “Lublin Poland”, including its repressive authorities, as a provocation against the very essence of these ideas. In reaction to this provocation, the informers felt humiliation and resentment. Acting in the underground, they were intent on gathering information about the world, while the world was not supposed to know of their existence. They often had positions in the military or local government. Judging by their access to detailed information in administrative and accounts offices, they did not take the risk of verifying the information they received and, even if they did so, they would not have contacted Jews. Compiled in the form of information gathered by the informers, the reports were sometimes criticized at headquarters as raw, excessively detailed and too extensive, which in turn points to a lack of cognitive control in conditions of growing encirclement.

WiN reports about Jewish Poles demonstrated a variety of views. Most certainly, not everyone supported Roman Dmowski37 – whose writings are copiously represented in the archive (WiN 1, c. 24–54, 2291–2312) – and not all were trusting readers of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Still, it was the Protocols that shaped their vision of Jewish intentions. The absence of such issues in certain significant documents from the very beginning of the WiN organization might lead to the conclusion that the antisemitic attitudes of the informers evolved as a result of political tensions, that is, the behavior of Jews themselves. This, however, would be a conclusion in the spirit of the general strain theory. Rather, the increasing antisemitism in the reports may have reflected the mental states of ←35 | 36→the informers, who were being tracked down, whose numbers were decreasing but whose ideological determination was growing. Another element indicating that informers were growing nervous is the erratic punctuation in their reports, which increasingly contained exclamation marks.

Similar to the mobility of Blacks in Springfield, the mobility of Jewish Poles in post-war Poland proved a threat that WiN supporters felt needed controlling even more urgently than Communism, since it was easier to put an end to “Jewish” than Soviet murders38. Since society responded to attacks with those who felt themselves under threat with pogroms, it was logical that responsibility for the pogroms would be pushed on to those they attacked.39 The pogrom is a type of exclusionary ethnic violence. Since those who participated in pogroms disseminated ethnic preferences and ethnic particularism, they had to create a narrative of threat and a need for self-defense40.

Researchers studying exclusionary violence distinguish between structural and direct reasons for pogroms. They speak of the spark and tinder without neglecting the role of leaders, known as ethnic entrepreneurs,41 the press and organizations contributing to outbreaks of violence. The WiN reports present no evidence that the organization was involved in any pogroms, although, according to the leaflets they printed, their informers might have shared or even shaped the views of potential pogrom participants. In order to note similarities between the world views represented by both groups, it is enough to compare the material ←36 | 37→presented above with the cries of the pogrom mobs from Kielce, Kraków and Rzeszów.42

If the world view expressed in the WiN reports could be extrapolated to contemporary society, the 1945–1946 wave of pogroms might be regarded, in the spirit of Senechal de la Roche’s theory, as a succession of aggressive, and evermore insistent attempts to control deviation, namely, the rapid progress towards equal rights being granted to Jewish Poles by “Lublin Poland”. Attempts like these were discriminative practices aimed against a group deprived of civic rights, implemented first during the Second Polish Republic and consolidated during the German occupation. In practical terms, the attempts translated into the assumption that “freedom and independence”, amplified in the name of the WiN organization, meant the freedom of the majority to discriminate against the minority. The attempts were also a rejection of Jews being granted access to offices unregulated by any quotas, as well as a call for the introduction of the numerus clausus. The above expectations became a filter for fears kindled by change. This is precisely why discriminative habits mentioned may be considered the structural reasons for post-war pogroms.

1 See, for instance, David Engel, ‘Patterns of anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944–1946’, Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 26 (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem 1998), 43–85, http://www.yadvashem. org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%203128.pdf (accessed on 1/12/2017).

2 Roberta Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow: The 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois (Carbonale: Southern Illinois University Press 1990).

3 Robert K. Merton, ‘Social structure and anomie’, American Sociological Review, vol. 3, no. 5, 1938, 672–682.

4 Aristotle, Rhetoric. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, vol. 22, trans. by J. H. Freese (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1926), 2.5.1. For a discussion, see Anthony Bale, Feeling Persecuted: Christians, Jews and Images of Violence in the Middle Ages (London: Reaktion Books 2010), 12.

5 W.M. Reddy, Navigation of Feeling. A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press 2001).

6 Bale, Feeling Persecuted, 9–29.

7 I will cite documents from this collection in brackets in the text, usually without continuous pagination and omitting the titles of individual documents. The first number following the acronym “WiN” in brackets refers to the file number, the second number refers to the item’s shelfmark in the archive, and the third represents the scan number/s provided by the author. Tokarska-Bakir’s text and all WiN documents, unless otherwise stated are translated by Bartłomiej Sokół and Patrick Fox.

8 Mieczysław Huchla, Romuald Lazarowicz, Józefa Huchlowa and Zdzisław Wierzbicki (eds.), Zrzeszenie “Wolność i Niezawisłość w dokumentach”, vol. 1–6 (Wrocław: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej 1997–2000); Zbigniew Zblewski, Okręg Krakowski Zrzeszenia “Wolność i Niezawisłość” 1945–1948: Geneza, struktury, działalność (Kraków: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej 2005).

9 Katrin Steffen, Jüdische Polonität: Ethnizität und Nation im Spiegel der polnischsprachigen jüdischen Presse 1918–1939 (Götingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2004).

10 Anna Cichopek, Pogrom Żydów w Krakowie 11 sierpnia 1945 r. (Warszawa: Żydowski Instytut Historyczny 2000); Jan Tomasz Gross, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz. An Essay in Historical Interpretation (New York: Random House 2006); Krzysztof Kaczmarski, Pogrom, którego nie było. Rzeszów 11–12 czerwca 1945 r.: Fakty, hipotezy, dokumenty (Rzeszów: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej 2008); Łukasz Kamiński and Jan Żaryn (eds.), Wokół pogromu kieleckiego, vol. 1 (Kielce: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej 2006); Jan Żaryn, Leszek Bukowski and Andrzej Jankowski (eds.), Wokół pogromu kieleckiego, vol. 2 (Kielce: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej 2008); Bożena Szaynok, Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946 (Wrocław: Bellona 1992); Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Pogrom Cries. Essays on Polish-Jewish History, 1939–1946, 2nd ed., trans. from Polish by Blanka Zahorjanova et al. (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang 2019).

11 Paul R. Brass, “Introduction: discourses of ethnicity, communalism, and violence”, Paul R. Brass (ed.), Riots and Pogroms (New York: New York University 1996), 1–55 (8); Werner Bergmann, “Pogroms”, in Wilhelm Heitmeyer and John Hagan (eds.), International Handbook of Violence Research (Dordrecht, Boston and London: Kluwer Academics 2003), vol. 1, 351–367.

12 Bergmann, “Pogroms”, 362.

13 The reports in the archive were generally compiled by more than one hand from many sources provided by several informants, often including visible “stitches” where one text ends and another begins.

14 Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow; Roberta Senechal de La Roche, “Collective violence as social control”, Sociological Forum, vol. 11, no. 1, 1996, 97–128.

15 “Lublin Poland” – a term that described the political system of Communist Poland. It was based on the name of the city in Eastern Poland where, on 22 August 1944, the founding document of Communist Poland, known as “Manifest Lipcowy” [The July Manifesto] was declared. The document guaranteed “the equality of all citizens, regardless of their race, religion or nationality”.

16 Bergmann, “Pogroms”, 357.

17 Bergmann, “Pogroms”, 357.

18 The NKWD (or NKVD in Russian) is the Narodowy Komisariat Spraw Wewnętrznych (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the principal joint law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union.

19 The Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (UBP, sometimes UB, Office of Public Security) was the post-war Communist state security, intelligence and counter-espionage service. Its offices were part of the Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (MBP, Ministry of Public Security).

20 The remark is confirmed by documents in the archive Sprawozdania Wydziału Cenzury Wojennej i Wojskowej Ministerstwa Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego 1945–1946 (Reports of the Faculty of Military Censorship and Military Ministry of Public Security): Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej (Archive of the Institute of National Rememberance), Warsaw, BU_ 1572_3378, see 124.

21 Jerzy Borejsza (1905–1952), was a Communist and cultural activist, founder of the weekly Odrodzenie (Revival) and, in the years 1944–1948, chairman of the powerful publisher Czytelnik (Reader), one of the most important cultural institutions in Communist Poland.

22 The text in the typescript in question comprises pp. 211–257 in Janusz Tazbir (ed.), Protokoły mędrców Syjonu, trans. from Russian by Bolesław Rudzki (Warsaw: Iskry 2004). For information on this “Polish chapter” of the Protocols, see Ronald Modras, Kościół katolicki i antysemityzm w Polsce w latach 1933–1939 (Kraków: Homini 2004), 108–109.

23 Illinois State Journal, 15–16 August 1908: “The implication is clear that conditions, not the populace, were to blame and that many good citizens could find no other remedy than that applied by the mob. It was not the fact of the whites’ hatred toward negroes, but of the negroes’ own misconduct, general inferiority or unfitness for free institutions that were [sic] at fault”, quoted in Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 42.

24 “Righteous Among Nations” is the honorary title for people who saved Jews, awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem and established by the government of Israel only many years afterwards. In the quote letter, such people were simply called “the Righteous”.

25 Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 25.

26 Despite my efforts, I could not decipher the abbreviation CDŻ.

27 Marcin Zaremba, “The myth of ritual murder in post-war Poland and hypotheses”, in Michał Gałas and Antony Polonsky (eds.), Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry. Volume 23: Jews in Krakow (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewisy Civilization 2011), 465–507; Marcin Zaremba, Wielka trwoga: Polska 1944–1947. Ludowa reakcja na kryzys (Kraków: Znak 2012), 578–615.

28 The document is headed 2. “Mniejszości narodowe – repatriacja” (2. National minorities – repatriation), and dated “X [October] 1945. Informer No. 2”. “Informer No. 2” may have been close to the proceedings conducted by the military and police in Kraków on 13 August 1945.

29 Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, “The figure of the bloodsucker in Polish religious, national and left-wing discourse, 1945–1946: A study in historical anthropology”, Dapim: Studies in the Holocaust, vol. 27, no. 2, 2013, 75–106.

30 Stanisław Mikołajczyk, Poland Raped: The Pattern of Soviet Aggression (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. 1948).

31 Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 3.

32 Gordon W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley 1954), 59.

33 Allen D. Grimshaw, “Changing patterns of racial violence in the United States”, Notre Dame Lawyer, vol. 60, 1965, 539–540, quoted in Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 3.

34 Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism (New York: Oxford University Press 1975), quoted in Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 6: “white violence was often triggered by ‘white perception of black aggressiveness, not merely the act of black aggressiveness’”.

35 Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 148.

36 Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 151.

37 Roman Dmowski (1884–1939), a pre-war political thinker and chief ideologue of the right-wing National Democracy movement, argued that the Jews were Poland’s most dangerous enemy. He was convinced that an “international Jewish conspiracy” existed, and believed that Zionism was only a cloak disguising Jewish ambitions to rule the world.

38 Literature on this subject calls a similar surrogate object an unreal threat, see Lewis A. Coser, The Functions of Social Conflict (New York: Free Press 1956), discussed in Bergmann, “Pogroms”, 359.

39 Senechal de la Roche, In Lincoln’s Shadow, 77.

40 For more on blaming the Jews for provoking riots such as the riots in Koenitz, see Werner Bergmann, “Exclusionary Riots: Some Theoretical Considerations”, in Cristhard Hoffmann, Werner Bergmann and Helmut Walser Smith (eds.), Exclusionary Violence: Antisemitic Riots in Modern German History (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 2002), 172: “Power relations have, as one aspect of their reproduction, symbolic forms, in which they are interpreted and understood. A collective assault on an ethnic minority within a community must be legitimized and prepared culturally, since it violates the fundamental norms of communal life and, particularly in pacified societies, violates the state’s monopoly for power. This means that certain frames that the in-group has agreed upon and that defined the action of the out-group as ‘unjust’ and ‘threatening’ have to be accepted by the public, as a so-termed ‘injustice frame’”.

41 Brass, “Introduction”, 8.

42 Tokarska-Bakir, Pogrom Cries, chapters 7 and 8 in this book.

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