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Remembering The Kielce Pogrom

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      July 4th is an important date in history. In the United States it is a day to celebrate independence from England. In Israel it is a day on which most people remember the heroic rescue of the hijacked airline passengers at Entebbe Airport in 1976. But for many Jews, especially those who were in Poland just after the Shoah, it is a day of remembrance to recall the day in which 42 Jews, after surviving the ghettos, camps, fighting with the partisans or being exiled to Russia, were murdered by Poles.

 

      The pogrom took place in Kielce, where 25,000 Jews lived before the war, along with 50,000 non-Jews. Most of the town’s Jews were killed by the Germans, and only about 200 returned to Kielce. For the most part, they did not go back to the homes they were forced out of – these had been taken over by non-Jews. They lived together in a house at 7 Planty Street, along a stream that runs through the center of town.

 

     


The building at 7 Pantry in Kielce where the massacre took place in 1946.

 

     After the ward there was a debate about what to do. Many wanted to emigrate to Israel or the U.S., while others argued for staying in Poland. But after the fourth of July there were no more debates. 

     

     Early on  the morning of that fateful day, a rumor spread that the Jews were killing Polish children and using their blood to bake matzah (the old blood libel). The rumor galvanized the Poles, who were worked up into a frenzy of killing. They killed 42 people, throwing their bodies into the nearby stream, and wounded about 100 others. Reports from eyewitnesses say that the whole town participated in the pogrom. They came from the fields and the factories and nobody intervened – neither the police nor the church. Nobody bothered to tell the attackers that, to begin with, Jews don’t use human body parts for any ritual, or that the Jewish holiday of Pesach, when matzah would be used, had taken place two months earlier. ( It has been supposed that the idea of Jews using blood ritually stems from the Catholic ritual of the Mass, where the blood of their deity is said to be represented by wine and his body by a matzah-like wafer.)

 


The funeral procession for the 42 men women and children killed in the massacre. 

 

      Yitzhak Zuckerman, one of the commanders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, arrived on the afternoon of the pogrom and later recalled, “The streets of Kielce ran red with Jewish blood.”

 

      Though the massacre of innocent Jews in Kielce was not unique in Poland after the Shoah, it had the greatest impact on those Jews remaining in Poland, resulting in their leaving the country that had been their home for hundreds of years.

 

      The massacre was the impetus for mass emigration, and the Jewish population that had numbered over 3 million before the war and maybe 300,000 after the war, dwindled to numbers from which it would never recover. Poland went from being the European country with the largest number of Jews to the country with one of the smallest Jewish populations.

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