The Przytyk Pogrom occurred against the Jewish community in Przytyk, Radom County, Kielce Voivodeship, in central Poland on March 9, 1936. In the opinion of Jewish historian Emanuel Melzer of Tel Aviv University, it was the most notorious incident of antisemitic violence in Poland in the interwar period, and attracted worldwide attention. As Melzer claims, it was one of the series of pogroms that occurred in Poland during the years immediately before the outbreak of World War II.
Polish historian Piotr Gontarczyk, who dedicated four years for researching the incident, claims that it was not a pogrom, as there was no organized or spontaneous attack on the Jewish population of Przytyk. Gontarczyk is his book "Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 III 1936" ("Pogrom? Polish-Jewish riots in Przytyk 9 III 1936", published in 2000) writes that Polish peasants attacked Jews only after a Jewish group had attacked Poles, killing a peasant Stanisław Wieśniak. Professor Paweł Wieczorkiewicz of Warsaw University praised Gontarczyk's work, writing in 2008: "Gontarczyk, using available sources, has disproved the notion which is prevalent in historiography, about the riot, which took place in Przytyk (the alleged pogrom of the local Jewish population)". Another Polish historian, Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, writes that the incident began when a Jewish resident Szulim Chil Leska shot in the back and killed Stanisław Wieśniak, who was an accidental passer-by. This provoked anger among Polish peasants, who attacked Jews.
David Vital, a historian of Tel Aviv University, writes that local peasants were stirred with antisemitic propaganda of endecja politicians. A boycott of Jewish shops was organized, and escalated into a wave of violent attacks on Jewish shops, which resulted in the creation of a Jewish self-defense group. Piotr Gontarczyk however argues that the target of the Polish endecja campaign was to improve the standard of living of Poles, and to support Polish businesses. An economic conflict between Poles and Jews began, in which both sides used all means possible, including violence. At the same time, the Second Polish Republic remained in an economic slump, and Polish peasants, whose profits had been drastically reduced, began to look for other means of supporting themselves. In mid-1935, Polish right-wing political activists in Radom County declared a general boycott of Jewish stores. Local endecja sometimes resorted to violence, with activists urging Poles to stop buying at Jewish stores. The boycott itself turned out to be very popular among Polish peasants, who supported the slogan of "Polonization of the trade". Poles began to open their own shops and stalls, while Jews began to lose their traditional sources of income, forced to face new competitors on the market. Jewish merchants used dumping, and as the court in Radom later established: "Jews, who were directly affected by the economic boycott, felt dislike, some of them even hatred, to the peasants, most of whom were supportive of the boycott".
In December 1935, a group of app. 20 young Jews created their own armed and illegal self-defence unit, headed by former officer of the Polish Army, Icek Frydman. Frydman organized military training for its members. The group was armed with illegally purchased guns, iron bars, and batons. Their task was to mobilize Jewish community in case of a violent conflict.
In the interbellum period, an annual kazimierzowski fair took place at Przytyk. In 1936, some 2,000 peasants came to it, and since Polish Police officers were aware of the possible conflict, local department, which consisted of 5 officers, was strengthened by additional 11 officers, which later turned out to be an inadequate number. Furthermore, the police at Radom were on the alert, ready to intervene. Jewish merchants of Przytyk, a town with a 90% Jewish majority, hoped that the early spring fair would help to improve their financial situation, but the situation in the town was tense, which was described in an official report of the voivode of Kielce: "We have to emphasize the fact that the idea of an economic boycott of Jews, put forward by the National Democracy, was embraced by the local peasantry, which feels hatred towards the Jews (...) The boycott itself leads [Jewish] merchants to despair, because economic basis of their existence is threatened".
Two days before the pogrom, some of the Jewish residents gathered in the town square in anticipation of the attack by the peasants, but nothing happened on that day. Two days later, however, on a market day, as Jewish historians Martin Gilbert and David Vital claim, the peasants attacked the Jews; the pogrom ended with two Jewish and one Polish casualties.
Polish historian Piotr Gontarczyk writes in his book "Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r. Mity, fakty, dokumenty" that first incident took place early in the morning of March 9, when Jewish merchants destroyed a stall which belonged to a Polish hat-maker. Police intervened, but on the same day, at 15:00, a member of endecja, Józef Strzałkowski, appeared in front of a stall of a Jewish baker, urging Polish peasants not to buy any products from Jewish merchants. The baker kicked Strzałkowski's crutch, and in return, the Pole hit him in the arm. The baker complained about it to the police, and Strzałkowski was arrested. This provoked anger among the peasants, who surrounded the police station, demanding the release of Strzałkowski. After 20 minutes, the peasants were dispersed, together with members of Jewish youth, which began gathering in the town square.
At the same time, another riot began at the other side of the market square, on Warszawska Street. A group of armed Jews, led by Icek Frydman, attacked Polish peasants, most likely in response to a previous attack of three Poles on Jewish merchants. A number of Poles were severely beaten and injured, including women and children. As police investigation later proved, several members of Jewish community of Przytyk joined the attackers. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz quotes original documents from the court in Radom: "Jews would approach wagons, and [Polish] women there had to cover themselves from rocks and baton hits, meted out by Jews". Furthermore, as Chodakiewicz writes, Jews shot in the backs of the retreating Poles, wounding at least three people. A Polish peasant Stanisław Kubiak was shot in the back by Luzer Kirszencwajg, while Stanisław Popiel was shot in the arm.
Polish peasants, aware of their numerical superiority, began gathering on the other side of the Radomka river. Near the bridge, another riot began, when Jewish stalls were turned over. Both sides threw rocks at each other, and the police had to divide their forces into two groups. One was busy dispersing the peasants, while another one was trying to restrain the Jews, who kept on throwing rocks. When the police seemed to have settled the situation, a Jewish member of the Mizrachi movement, Szulim Chil Leska, began shooting at Poles from the window of a house. Leska killed a peasant named Stanisław Wieśniak. This infuriated the Polish crowd of some 1,000, which the police were unable to control. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz writes that Leska was not threatened by the peasants, while his victim did not take part in the riots. "Angry, vengeful peasants attacked the Jews. Pleas for mercy did not help (...) Wild, primal instincts were unleashed. The peasants destroyed (but not robbed) Jewish possessions, Jews were beaten, including women and children. Police forces were inadequate to stop the mob, and it took some time for the reinforcements from Radom to come [to Przytyk]", writes Chodakiewicz.
Altogether, the riot lasted for some 45 minutes. A crowd of peasants, enraged by the killing of one of their own, beat up several Jews, smashing several stores and stalls, including a store which belonged to Fajga Szuchowa. Among others, the house of a woman named Sura Borensztajn, where a number of Jews hid, was attacked. A Jewish couple of Chaja and Josek Minkowski were killed during the riot, while their children were beaten up. Josek, who was a shoemaker, was probably killed by an axe in the hall of his house. His wife was severely beaten and died in hospital in Radom. Furthermore, 24 Jews were injured. A secret report, written after the riot by regional authorities from Kielce to the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs, claims as follows: "The incident turned out into such a serious riot only after the Jews used guns, killing Wieśniak, which caused further bloody events".
Officially, three people were killed and more than 20 injured, but the number of the injured Polish peasants was probably larger, as many of them decided not to go to hospital. An investigation was immediately started, with arrests of Szulim Chil Leska, his father and one peasant. At first, the police did not believe the peasants, who presented their version of the riot, and 22 Poles were soon arrested. On March 16 however, with the investigation still going on, three members of Jewish self-defence group were incarcerated: Icek Banda, Luzer Kirszencwajg and Chaim Świeczka.
Four days earlier, on March 12, Senator Moses Schorr publicly mentioned the riot, accusing local government and police of supporting the peasants. As Piotr Gontarczyk claims, Schorr's words, in which he talked about three brutally killed Jewish victims, without mentioning that one of the victims was Polish, resulted in complete distortion of the description of the events, as his words were immediately repeated worldwide, resulting in a wave of anti-Polish feelings among Jewish diaspora. Furthermore, Kraków daily "Nowy Dziennik" published an article of Sejm deputy Ozjasz Thon, in which he for the first time used the word pogrom, writing about "two human victims" at Przytyk. Gontarczyk claims in his book that among Jewish newspapers in Palestine, only Davar stated that Jews were responsible for the riots, as it was a Jew who first killed a peasant.
The trial following the events started on June 2 and involved 43 Polish and 14 Jewish defendants, the latter charged with aggressive behavior towards Polish peasants. The verdict was pronounced on June 26, with eleven of the Jews sentenced to prison terms of from 6 months to 8 years (the person sentenced for 8 years was Szulim Chil Leska, the killer of Stanisław Wieśniak. Later, Leska's sentence was reduced to 7 years), while 39 Poles received sentences from 6 months to 1 year. The accused Jews claimed they were acting in self-defense, but the court rejected those arguments. The verdict outraged the Jewish community in Poland, leading to a number of nationwide strikes. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz writes that during the trial, both Jewish and endecja lawyers tried to present the riot as a Polish-Jewish ethnic conflict, appealing to the court for a collective sentence: to acquit one nationality, and to sentence the other one. The judges did not allow themselves to be manipulated into this. As one judge stated during the trial: "I want to emphasize the fact that I face the accused, not Poles or Jews. We do not judge those who wanted to do their business, but those who are accused of law-breaking". Murderers of the Minkowski couple were not found, and Chodakiewicz writes: "The result of the trial brought bitter complaints of the Jewish side: about the police, about the Sanacja government, about the peasants, about the endeks, and about Poland and Poles in general. These complaints were augmented by protests of Jewish diaspora in Europe, Palestine and the USA. They were also copied by the Communist propaganda, and unconsciously by the Western and Jewish historiography. In fact however, none of these propagandists, and later historians, tried to support their categorical statements with research in archives".
News of this pogrom horrified the Polish Jewish population, as well as Jews around the world, and contributed to significant emigration from Poland of Jews. A one-day nationwide strike, supported by left-wing parties Bund and PPS was organized, and in other parts of the country, street fights took place. In June 1936 in Mińsk Mazowiecki, after Jan Bujak, a Wachtmeister of the local 7th Uhlan Regiment was shot by a Jewish resident Judka Lejb Chaskielewicz, riots erupted in which several Jewish stores were smashed. The situation in Przytyk itself remained tense. Local Jews were supported by their American diaspora, which sent money and food to Przytyk. According to Piotr Gontarczyk, collection of money for Jewish residents of the town resulted in a growing negative propaganda aimed at Poles. As Gontarczyk wrote, volunteers, while collecting funds, presented the picture of Poland as a "wild country of pogroms", hoping to collect as much money as possible. The tendentious information about the situation of Jews in Poland created false stereotypes of antisemitic Poles.
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