Przytyk pogrom

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The Przytyk pogrom occurred against the Jewish community in Przytyk,[1] Radom County, Kielce Voivodeship, Second Polish Republic, on March 9, 1936.[2] 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.[3] As Melzer claimed, it was one of the series of pogroms that occurred in Poland during the years immediately before the outbreak of World War II.[3]

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 in his book Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 III 1936 (Pogrom? Polish-Jewish riots in Przytyk 9 III 1936, published in 2000) wrote that Polish peasants attacked Jews only after a Jewish group had attacked Poles, killing a peasant Stanisław Wieśniak.[4] 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)".[5] 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.[6]


In the interwar period Przytyk was an urban settlement with 2302 inhabitants in 1930, of whom 1852 were Jewish (80 percent of the total population).[1] The economy was almost entirely dominated by the Jewish craftsmen, tradesmen and farmers. The Jews owned and operated bakeries, slaughter houses, tailoring shops, breweries, tobacco manufacturing plants, and groceries. Central markets were organized once a week, always on Mondays, drawing in crowds from nearby towns and villages. There was a power station in Przytyk, owned by Lejb Rozencwajg and two transportation companies, one owned by Pinkus Kornafel, and a second one owned by Moszek Rubinsztajn. There was also a Jewish-run credit union in the city.[1] The competition for market share between Jews and a much smaller community of gentile Poles was intense.[1]

Jewish cemetery Przytyk DSCN0499.jpgJewish cemetery Przytyk IMGP7857.jpgJewish cemetery Przytyk IMGP7871.jpg
Jewish cemetery in Przytyk

David Vital, a historian of Tel Aviv University, writes that local peasants were stirred with antisemitic propaganda of Endecja (National Democracy) politicians.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] Peasants who broke the boycott were beaten; Jews offering their services in the surrounding villages were also physically attacked.[6] The boycott itself turned out to be very popular among some 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".[6]

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.[10]

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".[11]

The riot[edit]

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.[2] 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.[2][7]

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.[12]

At the same time, another riot began at the other side of the market square, on Warszawska Street. Taking advantage of the absence of police at the market while they were occupied defending the police station, a few peasants began to turn over Jewish stalls and beat at least one Jewish merchant.[6] A group of armed Jews, led by Icek Frydman, acted to defend the Jewish merchants from the attacks by the Polish peasants. 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.[6] 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.[13] 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.[6]

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.[14] 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".[15]


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.[16]

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.[3] 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".[6] 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".[6]

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.[2] 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.[17] 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.[18]

The poem/song S'brent was written by Mordechai Gebirtig in 1938 about this pogrom.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d Virtual Shtetl (2017). "Historia społeczności żydowskiej" (in Polish). POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gilbert, Martin (1986). The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. Henry Holt and Company. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-03-062416-2. 
  3. ^ a b c Emanuel Melzer, No Way Out: The Politics of Polish Jewry 1935-1939. Monographs of the Hebrew Union College 19. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1997.
  4. ^ Szczepański, Tomasz (2000). "The pogrom, which did not happen" [POGROM, KTÓREGO NIE BYŁO]. Zakorzenienie (Nr 4 (12)). 
  5. ^ Wypędzanie szatana z historyków IPN, Paweł Wieczorkiewicz 23-06-2008
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Jan Marek Chodakiewicz, Konflikt Przytycki - mały epizod, który nam wiele mówi 03.04.2008
  7. ^ a b David Vital, A people apart: the Jews in Europe, 1789-1939, Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-820805-7, Google Print, p.784
  8. ^ Piotr Gontarczyk: Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r. Mity, fakty, dokumenty. Pruszków: Rachocki i S-ka, 2000. ISBN 83-909046-4-0, pages 28 - 36
  9. ^ Piotr Osęka. Z żyletkami na sztorc. „Polityka” weekly, 13 (2800), 2011.03.26
  10. ^ Piotr Gontarczyk: Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r. Mity, fakty, dokumenty. Pruszków: Rachocki i S-ka, 2000. ISBN 83-909046-4-0, page 58
  11. ^ Piotr Osęka. Z żyletkami na sztorc. Polityka weekly, 16 May 2011
  12. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski: Poland's holocaust: ethnic strife, collaboration with occupying forces and genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. Londyn: McFarland & Company, 1998. ISBN 07-86-40371-3, pages 42-43
  13. ^ Przytyk Pogrom, The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe
  14. ^ Piotr Gontarczyk: Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r. Mity, fakty, dokumenty. Pruszków: Rachocki i S-ka, 2000. ISBN 83-909046-4-0, pages 65 - 68
  15. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski: Poland's holocaust: ethnic strife, collaboration with occupying forces and genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. Londyn: McFarland & Company, 1998. ISBN 07-86-40371-3, page 43
  16. ^ Piotr Gontarczyk: Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r. Mity, fakty, dokumenty. Pruszków: Rachocki i S-ka, 2000. ISBN 83-909046-4-0, pages 69 - 83
  17. ^ History of Jews in Mińsk Mazowiecki (in Polish)
  18. ^ Piotr Gontarczyk: Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r. Mity, fakty, dokumenty. Pruszków: Rachocki i S-ka, 2000. ISBN 83-909046-4-0, pages 78 - 83
  19. ^ "Our Town Is Burning (Undzer shtetl brent)". Music of the Holocaust. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. n.d. Retrieved 26 July 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

Complete set of the Przytyk Case Court Reports published in the Goniec Częstochowski daily, June 1936:
  • Day 1. "The beginning of a grand court case – about the bloody riots in Przytyk. Jews shooting pistols, villagers responded with (horse-cart) stanchions. – Jews on the provoking side" [Początek wielkiego procesu o krwawe zajscia w Przytyku. Żydzi strzelali z rewolwerów, wieśniacy odpowiadali kłonicami. – Żydzi stroną zaczepną.] (PDF). Radom, June 4, 1936: Goniec Częstochowski. Dziennik Polityczny, Społeczny, Economiczny i Literacki. (Goniec Częstochowski. Political, Social, Economic and Literary Daily) Nr 128/1936. Pages 2–3. Internet Archive. – Among the accused are 57 individuals including 14 Jews. There are 359 witnesses ... nobody feels guilty. Original: Na ławie oskarżonych zasiadło 57 osób w tem 14 Żydów. Świadków jest obecnie 359 ... nikt do winy się nie poczuwa.
    — Accused (named): Józef Strzałkowski, Wacław Kacperski, Szczepan Zarychta, Józef Pytlewski, Józef Olszewski, Franciszek Wlazło, Józef Czubak, Jan Wójcik, Feliks Jan Bugajczyk, Franciszek Kosiec, Stanisław Ślizak; Jankiel Abram Haberberg, Lejzor Feldberg, Jankiel Lejbuś Zajda, Rafał Honik, Moszek Ferszt, Szoel Kręgiel, Moszek Cukier, Lejbuś Łęga, Icek Banda, Icek Frydman; Luzer Kierszencwajg, Jankiel Kierszencwajg, Szulim Chil Leska, Jankiel Borensztajn.
    — Named victims: Moszek Dalman, Józef Szymański, Franciszka Sobolowa, Stanisław Kubiak, Stanisław Popiel, Stanisława Regulska, Stanisław Wieśniak (killed), Josek Minkowski (killed), Chaja Minkowski (killed), Gabryś Minkowski, Izrael Icek Przybysiewicz, Fajga Szuch, Berek Tober, Jochwet Palant, Szmul Minkowski, Majer Tokier, Lejbuś Tokier, Giedale Hempel, Sur Borensztajn, Hinda Borensztajn, Moszek Bojmał, Estera Frydman, Chana Bass.
  • Day 8. "From the Przytyk process. The confronting has failed" [Z procesu o zajścia w Przytyku. Chybione konfrontacje.] (PDF). Radom, June , 1936: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 135/1936. Page 2. Internet Archive. – The confronting of the accused does not help. The Jewish witnesses for the defense want to blame, but fail to recognize, and point out the perpetrators. Original: Konfrontacje nie udają się w procesie w Przytyku. Świadkowie oskarżenia Żydzi chcą obciążyć oskarżonych, ale nie mogą ich wskazać i rozpoznać. 
  • Day 9. "Day of revelations in the process for the Przytyk events" [Dzien rewelacyj w procesie o zajscia w Przytyku] (PDF). Radom, June 14, 1936: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 136/1936. Page 4. Internet Archive. – Questioning of Gawryś Minkowski, age 16, the oldest son of murdered Józef Minkowski and his wife (translation): On 24 March the witness testified that he recognized the boy who hit him with the stone, but did not recognize other people shown to him. Today he recognized four... Original: Dnia 24go marca świadek Gawryś M. zeznał, że rozpoznaje chłopca, który go uderzył kamieniem, ale nie rozpoznał nikogo z ludzi z którymi go wówczas skonfrontowano. Dziś zaś rozpoznaje czterech... Postponement of the hearing till Friday, when witnesses speak of the first, moring assault on a hatter's stall by a group of young Jews including Icek Banda and his two brothers. 
  • Day 10. "From the case for the Przytyk events. The witnesses exonerate the accused Poles" [Z procesu o zajścia w Przytyku. Świadkowie odciążają oskarżonych Polaków.] (PDF). Radom, June 16, 1936: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 137/1936. Pages 2–3. Internet Archive. – To the Jews, it mattered most that their prices collapsed as a result of the boycott. Original: Żydom najwięcej chodziło o to, że ceny im pospadały wskutek bojkotu. 
  • Day 12. "All witnesses examined in the Przytyk court case" [Wszyscy świadkowie zbadani w procesie przytyckim.] (PDF). Radom, June 18, 1936: Goniec Częstochowski nr 139/1936. Page 3. Internet Archive. – On the request of prosecution, the courts questioned also three constables ... the Case postponed till Wednesday, when deliberations will likely end. Original: Na wniosek prokuratora, sąd przesłuchał dodatkowo trzech posterunkowych ... rozprawę przerwano do środy. W dniu tym przewód sądowy zostanie prawdopodobnie zakończony. 
  • Day 13. "Jewish hatred for the Poles; testimonies of accused of the bloody riots in Przytyk" reveal" [Nienawiść żydow do Polaków. Ujawniają zeznania oskarżonych o krwawe zajścia w Przytyku.] (PDF). Radom, June 19, 1936: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 140/1936. Page 4. Internet Archive. – The accused Jozef Olszewski claims that, similar to the accused Pytlewski's, [Lejbuś / Leib] Zajda blames him out of spite. Original: oskarżony Józef Olszewski wyjaśnia, że podobnie jak oskarżonego Pytlewskiego również i jego [Lejbuś] Zajda wskazuje przez złośliwość [paragraph 8]. 
  • Day 16. "Speeches by prosecution and by the defense in the Przytyk process" [Przemówienie prokuratora i obrony – w procesie przytyckim.] (PDF). Radom, June 23, 1936. Tuesday: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 143/1936. Pages 2–3. Internet Archive, August 14, 2016 capture. – The accued Leska stressed that in the rabbinical school they don't even teach them the Polish language. Original: oskarżony Leska podkreślił, że w szkole rabinackiej nawet nie uczą języka polskiego [paragraph 5]. 
  • Day 18. "Further defense speeches in the Przytyk process" [Dalsze przemówienia obrony w procesie przytyckim.] (PDF). Radom, June 25, 1936. Thursday: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 145/1936. Page 3. Internet Archive. – The [Polish] lawyers Petruszewicz and Szumanski were the first in the courtroom to call the events in Przytyk a pogrom. Even the Jewish lawyers didn't say that. Original: Adwokaci Petruszewicz i Szumanski pierwsi na tej sali określili zajścia przytyckie jako pogrom. Nie zrobili tego nawet adwokaci Żydzi. 
  • Day 19. "Sentences in the Przytyk court case to be announced on Friday" [Wyrok w procesie przytyckim ogłoszony będzie w piątek.] (PDF). Radom, June 26, 1936. Friday: Goniec Częstochowski Nr 146/1936. Pages 3–4. Internet Archive. – Jews as well as Christians ask in their final statements to be exonerated. Original: ... zarówno Żydzi jak i chrześcijanie w ostatniem słowie proszą o uniewinnienie.