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[Page 47]

Relations Between the Jews and the Poles

Translated by Judy Montel

Edited by Warren Blatt

As I am writing the history of the Jews in Kielce it is also worth knowing about the relations that existed between the Jews who lived in the town and their Polish neighbors, from the beginning of Jewish habitation until their total extermination in 1942.

The Poles looked unfavorably upon the economic status that the Jews acquired in the city of Kielce, which was their city, and on whose soil Jews had been forbidden to step [until 1863]. In the relations that grew between the Jewish inhabitants of Kielce and its Polish inhabitants, one must differentiate between two periods: the first period includes the days of Poland the yoke of Czarist Russia, and the second, shorter than the first, the days of Polish independence [after 1918]. The aspect they have in common is that in both periods there was very strong anti-Semitic feeling in the hearts of the Poles with regard to the Jews of the city. Feelings of hatred and jealousy simmered in the hearts of the anti-Semites as they watched the Jews succeed in their endeavors.

However, during the first period, the hands of the Poles were shackled, and their anti-Semitism was only expressed openly in their Kielce newspaper “Gazeta Kielecka”. In this newspaper poisonous articles against the Jews would appear from time to time; for instance, that the Jews were turning the cities of Poland into Jewish cities, the Jews were exploiting the farmer and the laborer. The Jews are parasites, live off of others; such headlines decorated their articles, which were filled with words of hatred and poison. These hateful words did not reach the broad masses of the Polish population, who were mostly still illiterate, peasants, who could not read or write. At the time, anti-Semitism was the heritage of the Polish intelligentsia and did not translate into tangible actions. The hatred radiated from the eyes of the Polish lawyer and clerk, who would gaze upon the Jew with disdain and sneers and to an extent dismiss him. They would call Jews “Gospaciarza” – businessmen – who are always chasing after business affairs, and have no concern for anything beyond their own narrow world of business rules. But they, the Poles, were noble. They had lofty ideals. They had a developed aesthetic sense, dealt with art, with literature, with philosophy and science. The Jews were not like this – they are materialistic. Business and Mammon – these were their goals in life.

However, because things did not turn into actions, the Jews were not excited by these disgraceful words. “Let the dogs bark, don't provoke them, they will quiet down on their own.” Thus did the Jews calm their spirits and continue with their affairs, which brought plenty and wealth not only to themselves but to the Polish population as well.

[Page 48]

The N.D. party, “Narodowa Demokracia” – the National Democracy, the chauvinist Polish party, which was ready to put up with the Czarist subjugation in return for a mess of pottage, the internal rule in the cities and villages, and included in its plans and goals the topic of the war against the Jews. The Andeks distributed poison and hatred of Jews among the populace, saying that the Jewish influence was growing in the state; especially by their infiltrating Lithuanian and Russian Jews into the country who were mostly nationalists. Speaking in their jargon or in Russian and thus helping the Russians in their system of “Russification”.

In Kielce, the influence of the N.D. was quite strong, here its propaganda found no opponents. The P.P.S. party, socialist Poles, was weak. Aside from several intelligent people they couldn't rally masses of workers to their banner. Kielce was a nest of anti-Semitism. Roman Damowski, the founder of the N.D. and its head would visit from time to time and attract new souls to his party. The outstanding Andeks were well known in Kielce: the Polish lawyers Donin, Jeronski, Dobrzanski and the chemist Saski. Jeronski the lawyer gained fame among the Jews of Poland with his anti-Semitic declaration in the second Russian Duma. The Russian government, at the demand of the Poles for political autonomy, agreed to grant them independent internal self-government in the cities and villages. The Andeks agreed to this gift, that the Czarist government was willing to bestow upon them in its great generosity. They always tended to compromise, they were those who grabbed the small portion, in contrast to the P.P.S., the Polish Socialist Party, which demanded full independence and invested its hopes in the general war for freedom going on in Russia itself.

At this time, when the proposed law regarding self-rule in the cities of Poland was being debated in the Duma (the Russian house of Representatives), Jeronski, the delegate from Kielce, arose and read a declaration in the name of the Polish “Kolo” (faction) in which they announced to the government that they were willing to make do with mere autonomy only if the Jews were denied the right to vote in elections of local government. He explained this demand with the fact that in most of the cities, the Jews constituted a majority of the inhabitants, and if they are given an active and passive right to vote, these cities will lose their Polish character.

Such a declaration on the part of the Polish faction infuriated not only the Jewish delegates, but also the Kadets (the Russian Liberal Democratic Party), who advocated the slogan of equal rights for all nations without discrimination of religion or race.

But in this period, even the confirmed anti-Semites in Poland did not use the methods of “The Black Century” in Russia. They did not unleash pogroms against the Jews, as was common then in Russian cities. Such a radical method, even if it were something they approved of and desired, would have brought them political damage in their aspirations for independence. They did not want to disgrace their people in the eyes of the civilized world, which had an enthusiastic attitude to the Polish nation which was groaning under the yoke of bondage, and therefore they were satisfied with anti-Semitic propaganda on paper, which didn't make an impression or noise in the world.

[Page 49]

Polish anti-Semitism took a totally different form after the First World War. In this period, the Polish anti-Semites in general, and those of Kielce with them, showed their true face. From inciting hatred against Jews verbally and in print, they now moved to action. With the entrance of major army divisions of the Russian camp to Poland, a difficult and bitter period began for the Jews. The Poles informed on the Jews, saying that they were spying for the enemy. The results of the informing and the false libels were very bitter for the Jews of Kielce, who were close to the front lines of the war. They suffered also from the Russians and also from the Polish legions. The former suspected the Jews of being in favor of the enemy and spying on his behalf. The commanders blamed the Jews for their defeats; and the latter said the reverse, that the Jews were agents of the Russians and spying on their behalf. The Jews were stuck between the hammer and the anvil. Innocent Jews were executed. On orders from the Poles, the Cossacks looted the shops and homes of Jews.

But all these oppressions were null and void compared to the ruthless and wild deeds of the Poles against the Jews from the day that Poland achieved its independence. They wished to show the Jews that a new period was now beginning, that from now on they were rulers, and that they, the Jews, were like potters clay in their hands. They made great efforts to prove to them in a real and crude fashion that they were the lords of the land. They began abusing Jews in various ways, they would shave off the beards of the Jews who were riding on trains, would beat them freely, would throw them out of the train carriages when the train was travelling at its fastest speed. Riding the train in those days became full of danger for a Jews. A Jew who had to travel to another city for his business preferred to travel by cart and lose the time than to risk his life taking the train.

The Jews of Kielce then felt on their flesh an actual pogrom in all of its exact details. Let us give a full description here of the events in Kielce in the year 1918. [1]

The Jews of the city had gathered in the local theatre to discuss the founding of a national local council. Participating in this meeting were representatives of all of the parties and factions, from the “Bund” to the “Aguda”. The meeting was being conducted in quiet and order without any disruption. Everyone felt the seriousness of the hour, that Polish Jewry was standing before many dangers, and it was essential to organize and create a representation of Polish Jews, to stand on guard and protect them from having their rights injured. Meanwhile, a large gang of Polish thugs organized, all of them equipped with thick sticks and iron gloves, and among them also Polish soldiers. They gathered on Szinkiwica Street and filled the sidewalks on both sides of the street, next to the theatre. The Jews gathered in the hall and balconies of the theatre were listening to the speeches of the representatives of the various parties and factions, and from time to time, the theatre hall thundered with the sound of applause and cheers that burst out after each and every speech, and it never occurred to them that a pogrom was being plotted against them outside.

Suddenly those gathered awakened to movement, horrifying rumors reached the ears of the audience. A voice passed through the boxes of the theatre: “They are beating the Jews! Pogrom!” A commotion arose. A mass of men and women burst out in the direction of the doors; but in the corridor and on the steps stood “Szkejcim” [Gentiles] and showered those bursting out with heavy blows, heavy sticks came down upon the head, the face and the back. And also, whoever succeeded in bursting out into the street did not escape the hands of the rioters in one piece, as new punches awaited him there, which were generously bestowed by the thugs, who lined the two sides of the street. The crowd was shoved back into the halls of the theatre.


Footnote

  1. For more information on the 1918 pogrom, see the article
    “Opinie o Wystapienach Antizydowskich w Kielceach w dniah 11 I 12 listopada 1918 roku”,
    by Adam Penkalla, in Builetyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Polsce , 1993 #3 (#191), pages 55-69. Back


kie050.jpg [18 KB] - Ubszani, an inhabitant of the city - one of the victims of the pogrom
Ubszani, an inhabitant of the city
– one of the victims of the pogrom

Self-defense on the part of the Jews was not possible: first of all, the assault was sudden and there was also no time for orientation and to understand what was going on. Secondly, the crowd gathered there was made up of men, women and the elderly as well, who were not in a state for defense without any tools, objects with which to defend themselves. The confusion that arose at the start of the assault had its effect. Everyone searched for an escape from the trap, and fell into the pit.

The rioters meanwhile spread out through all of the boxes of the theatre, to all of the balconies; its entrances and exits and were beating and abusing every Jew who fell into their hands. Members of the leadership, who were sitting up on stage by the table, were not injured in the riots, since the police arrived and arrested them. They led them to the jail where they sat until daylight without knowing anything of what was going on in the streets of the city.

Meanwhile, the rioters ran wild and were beating and injuring any Jews they found. After they finished their deeds in the theatre, they went out into the streets of the city, and there they laid waste without any interference, within the gaze of the city guards, they exploded the glass panes in the windows of Jewish homes. The Jews closed the gates of the houses to keep the destroyer from entering their courtyards. The rioters set off for the station house. The Jewish passengers who arrived on the night train had no idea of what was going on in the city and when they entered the station, fell victim to the blows of the rioters. Once the destruction was given license, it did not discriminate between the Jews of Kielce and the merchants who came from other cities for purposes of business. Every Jew, who fell into their hands, came out broken, shattered, injured and bleeding. It was a fearful night for the Jews of Kielce. The Jews did not suffer from theft and looting on that night. In this sense, this pogrom was different from the rest of the pogroms in the cities of Ukraine and Russia. The Poles meant only to teach the Jews a lesson, that they should understand and recognize that from now on they were the masters, and the Jews would not be allowed to stand tall and demand rights. From now on the Jews were slaves who lived in hopes of charity from the masters of the land.

kie051.jpg [25 KB] - Zalman Kalichsztajn, one of those injured in the pogrom, a 'HeChalutz' activist
Zalman Kalichsztajn, one of those injured
in the pogrom, a “HeChalutz” activist

The next day, when the news reached the farmers of the area of the license given to Poles to assault the Jews and beat them, they arrived in masses equipped with sticks and clubs to beat and take their part of the loot and property of the Jews. However, apparently, the local authorities received certain instructions from the central government regarding the scope of activities that they were permitted, and to exceed its boundaries was forbidden. In the morning, shifts of guards and soldiers were stationed in the market and on the streets who dispersed the gathering crowds and order was restored.

[Page 52]

The serving of the pogrom that the Jews of Kielce received from the independent Poland was four Jewish deaths and about four hundred injured, many of who remained disabled for the rest of their lives.

The local Polish press described the events in the theatre and the city streets as a mild scuffle, which broke out between Jewish and Polish youths, due to some incitement, provocation, and whose results were injured on both sides. The police were investigating this sad matter, and would certainly find the guilty parties, and those who would arouse argument and fights between the two ethnicities – would receive their punishment. Democratic Poland – the Polish press continued hypocritically – which had been reborn after hundreds of years of bondage, needed peace and quiet, and such events brought shame upon the Polish republic. In this announcement and in the distortion of the facts, this press wanted to absolve the Poles of blame, and attempted to show the world its pig's foot and say: “See, we are entirely kosher, we are civilized people and such actions are foreign and mysterious to us.” They distorted the course of events and blurred their true nature, labeling them as the kind of altercation that commonly takes place in any large gathering. The Poles were already known as hypocrites, doing any abomination and showing their hooves to show how kosher and unblemished they are.

The delegate to the Polish Sejm [parliament], Icak Grynbaum, filed a motion with the Polish government regarding the pogrom against the Jews of Kielce. The local procurator was formally required to conduct an inquiry regarding the riots. They also staged a trial against a few “Szkejcim” [Gentiles] who had participated in the assault on the Jews. Simultaneously, the main perpetrators who had conducted the riots walked free; they were not even accused of participating in the riots. To satisfy the appearance of justice, a trial was staged against several thugs whose role in the riots had been secondary. Eventually, they too were acquitted, since there were not sufficient witnesses or evidence against them.

The arguments of the lawyer A. Hertglas - who represented the demand to sort out the matter that the indictment was not drawn up properly, that the main perpetrators, among them also police officers, were strolling through the halls of justice with smiles on their lips – were to no avail, and the trial was conducted against a few thugs, against whom there was not even clear evidence of their direct participation in the assault on the Jews.

Finally, the trial at the Kielce district court regarding the pogrom was concluded the way such trials were concluded in the rest of Poland's cities. Kielce was not the only one in those days among whose Jewish inhabitants a pogrom had been carried out. A wave of pogroms (the Poles called them “Ekscesen” – clashes) swept over several Jewish settlements. The intent of the Poles was the stifle, by terror and fear, by means of terror, any aspiration in the hearts of the Jews to full civil life, to equality and the rights of a citizen in the country. Although, according to the Versailles Treaty, they were bound to recognize the rights of the minorities, including the Jews, the Poles wanted this recognition to be “Halacha [Rule of Law] – upon which we do not act”; that the rights would remain on paper, and in reality, the minorities would be oppressed in the state. They wanted to demonstrate that they were the masters and the government was in their hands.

After this pogrom, the Jews of Kielce learned as their heralds had foreseen, that with the establishment of Polish independence they were not entering a period of liberty and peace; but true lives of exile were ahead of them, lives of bondage and humiliation. Several young people of upright posture, lovers of liberty, rejected Diaspora life and moved to the Land of Israel; some of them immigrated to the United States. However, most of them thought otherwise: “Since Poland is a democracy, equal rights for Jews are promised in its constitution, and over time, relations between the Poles and the Jews will settle down.” Thus were the thoughts of most of the shortsighted Jews, whose horizons were narrow and who could not see what was brewing. The bitter reality disappointed these hopes.

kie053.jpg [39 KB] - A farewell ball to the first pioneers moving to the Land of Israel in 1918
A farewell ball to the first pioneers moving to the Land of Israel in 1918

The twenty years of Polish independence, until the invasion of the Nazis, were one long chain of trouble and tragedy for the Jews of Poland in general, and those of Kielce in particular. As long as [Prime Minister Józef] Pilsudski was alive, the Polish anti-Semites did not dare to attack the Jews openly. He controlled the base impulses of the anti-Semites, whose greatest desire was to return to the period of bondage of the “Poritzim”, and their goal – to enslave the Jew materially and spiritually.

However, after Pilsudki's death [in 1935] the hatred of the Jews flared up in all of its strength and attacked across wide circles of the Polish nation. And, the lot of the Jews of Kielce was, as usual, a double portion of the anti-Semitic outbursts.

After the first pogrom, the soldiers of the Polish General Haler ran wild in Kielce for a period, known as “Halerczikes” by the Jews. From the day these soldiers arrived in Kielce the Jews knew much trouble and suffering. They would abuse the Jews, torture them and humiliate them in public. Their favorite targets were the pious orthodox Jews, with their long beards and traditional costume, as these hooligan soldiers demonstrated their “bravery” with an old and weak Jew…

After the death of Pilsudski, and after Hitler's rise to power in Germany, all the various types of anti-Semites raised their heads proudly and declared a free-for-all of the wild spirits of the men of the netherworld criminal element against the Jews. A period of great suffering began then for the Jews of Kielce as well: physical beatings and injury and damage to property. The shattering of the glass display windows, throwing stink bombs into the shops of Jews – these were everyday events. The Jews grew used to these actions and would no longer respond to them. On Sabbaths and holidays the Jews of the city were careful not to go stroll in the city park, because there too beatings awaited them. In the summer, they avoided settling in certain summer camps in places where the inhabitants hated the Jews and would stone them. On market days, the merchants were terrified of being set upon and of having their wares destroyed. The Jew saw himself in a bad position, which worsened from day to day. At that time, even optimistic Jews began to recalculate their plans. The future they saw was painted in dark colors, and whoever had the opportunity, packed his possessions, left his home and moved to the Land of Israel or immigrated overseas.

From the time that the Nazis began preparing for war and organizing a fifth column in each and every country, the divisive propaganda against the Jews began in full force. Simultaneously, many journals appeared whose task was to incite the masses against the Jews, and to accuse them of despicable conspiracies. In the legislature and government offices as well there were crude assaults on the Jews. Demands were heard to remove the Jews from their economic standing, to exclude the Jewish students from institutes of higher education, to increase their burden and embitter their lives until they would be forced to leave the country. Morning and night new laws were created that discriminated against the Jews and which reached a peak with the ban against ritual slaughter, which served the purpose of removing an important area of livelihood from the hands of the Jews. It seemed that the Poles had no other concerns, only one single, unique concern – how to be rid of the Jews. Instead of focussing all their thoughts on one point; increasing their defensive abilities, which was faulty in every way, they concentrated on the propaganda of the fifth column and cried out “Jews are on you, Poland”. With their exaggerated arrogance, the Poles imagined that they were strong enough to stand before the enemy threatening them from the west, as well as their enemy to the east. The Polish foreign minister, Beck, conducted Poland's policy according to Hitler's instructions until it brought about a crisis, and then all of its weakness was revealed. Only in one area, in the area of hatred of the Jews, did the propaganda of the fifth column do much productive work. And during this period of time, the anti-Semites of Kielce and the area were the most active, and the Jews of the city suffered a double portion of the troubles that descended upon the Jews of Poland. The pogrom in Przytyk, a town in the Kielce district, was a natural result of the incitement against the Jews, which was conducted methodically and with a special stubbornness by the anti-Semites of Kielce.

[Page 55]

The anti-Semitic propaganda, which was being conducted in Poland before the outbreak of the Second World War, trained the hearts and prepared the ground for the deeds so horrifying in their cruelty and ruthlessness during the war. When Hitler's minions invaded Poland they found Poles who already agreed with them, for regarding the destruction of the Jews there were Poles who were of one mind with the Nazis. The Poles were well trained by the fifth column, Hitler's agents, who spread hatred of the Jews. The Nazis found in the Poles not opponents, but loyal assistants in the act of destruction. All circles of Poles participated in this project of mass-murder, from the laborer to the priest.

One young woman, who survived the death pit, told the writer of these lines that because of her work in the underground she also visited their churches, so that she would not be suspected of being Jewish. Once she heard the priest who stood at the pulpit and preached to his flock say, among other things: “Although the war has brought a Holocaust upon us, but the silver lining we have is that we are rid of the Jews this way, who suck our blood.”

This was the Christian ethic that the priests of the church preached to their congregants, a uniquely exalted ethic…

Due to this attitude of the Poles regarding the Jews, can it be surprising that Poland was chosen by the Devil and his demons of destruction to be the arena for the destruction of European Jewry. The ground here had been worked and prepared enough for the task. The Nazi monster was certain that its satanic enterprise would have a one hundred percent success rate here. And also in this time of horror, the Jews of Kielce drank and sucked the cup of poison until its last drop. If in the rest of the cities of Poland a certain percent of the Jewish inhabitants survived, the number of survivors from among the Jews of Kielce reached only a few dozen, that even a child could list. From a community that numbered twenty-five thousand souls, a few dozen young men and women remained, and they too were not saved by any help from their neighbors, but by a miracle. Not only that there was not a single Pole in Kielce who could be a member of the Righteous Gentiles and give shelter and a hiding place to a Jew being pursued for his life, but they also helped actively in the planning of the blueprints for destruction and would reveal the Jews' hiding places, in order to take over their property. According to the few reports which arrived from this killing field, it becomes clear that also after the liberation of Kielce by the Russian army, the Polish murderers continued to murder the few remnants who came out of their hiding places, thinking that succor had arrived. The murderers are even mentioned by name. In the destruction of the survivors, Kielce stands in the front row. The city of Kielce was discolored with an unremovable stain by the last pogrom, that the Poles conducted against several dozen survivors who returned from Russia to visit their homes, which had now fallen into the hands of strangers, in the hopes that the Poles would receive them in friendship. However, the neighbors met them with pistols and daggers, killed and murdered those who hoped to go forth from darkness into the light. Forty-eight Jewish victims were killed, the remnant of a great and splendid community.

[Page 56]

This is the Christian ethic, which aspired to be the most exalted ethic for all of humanity. With regard to the Jews, Christianity – of which the Poles were considered its most devoted practitioners – was revealed in all of its despicableness and lowliness. Christianity did not purify their souls: they remained wild, blood thirsty, just as they had been a thousand years before when they were still sunk in the ignorance of paganism. The moral and humane imperative of our prophets: “My refugees shall live among you, hide the refugees and do not reveal the wanderer!” [Isaiah 16/3] – such an imperative was strange and foreign to our Polish neighbors. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Jews, survivors of the death camps in Germany, did not want to return to Poland, their birthplace; didn't want to step upon soil soaked in blood, on a land saturated with the blood of Jews, the blood of the elderly, the young, the blood of mothers and their children, didn't want to look in the faces of those who had murdered their parents, brothers and sisters.

The prayer: “Pour forth your wrath upon the Nations…” [Jeremiah 10/25 & Psalms 79/6] which in a period of equal rights we had begun to think of as an anachronism, something whose time had passed, here, in our own times became relevant, became lively and fresh. The “Gentileness” [“of the Nations” Hebrew: “goyut”] was and will always be the supreme forefather of impurity, the impulse for bloodletting rules it with unrestrained authority. And, from time to time, it bursts forth with insolent rage poured out over the weakest of the nations, upon the Jews, who cannot expect help from others. The Jew would lift his eyes to the heavens and cry out “My succor is from God, creator of the heavens and the earth” [Psalms 121/2] for the rabble of the nations there is never any corrective. “Pursue them with fury and destroy them from under the heavens of God!” [Lamentations 3/66] is a prayer better understood now than in any other time or era.

I now understand one event that at first I didn't notice. The day that I left for the Land of Israel, my friends held a party or farewell ball, and to me the jealousy was very noticeable, that I was able to move to the land that is the focus of every Jew's yearnings, and they were forced by fate to remain in the Diaspora among the wolves of the steppes. A silent prayer was on the lips of everyone present: “Would that God would give me also the opportunity to get out of this Vale of Tears and go up to the Land of Israel, to breathe her air and aid in her construction.” In this serious mood that surrounded the gathering, a veteran Zionist got up, his name was Berel Moszenberg, and burst into hysterical tears, and called out in a choked voice: “Pinchas, to whom are you leaving us?!” and could speak no more. But this spontaneous cry had a depressing effect on those present; it felt like a prophecy had been thrown from the mouth of this veteran Zionist, for who sensed the dangers approaching the Jews more than the Zionist? For the founder of the Zionist movement saw this danger decades earlier. The Zionists, who had a broader outlook and their field of vision encompassed greater territory in time and place were always announcing the danger that was growing and approaching.

I now understand this event: even if Moszenberg's eye did not foresee the Holocaust that would break upon the heads of the Jews, his heart foresaw it.

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