Racism in Poland

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Racism in Poland is present even though a race-based worldview has had little chance to develop. Racism has persisted alongside the fact that ethnic minorities have made up a significant proportion of the population since the founding of the Polish state. Throughout most of its one thousand-year history, Poland has experienced very limited immigration; apart from the immigration of the Jews while they were having been expelled from other parts of the Europe. Poland has never had overseas colonies.[1][note 1] For a lengthy period the country was regarded as having a very tolerant society vowing to "constant evidence for numerous varieties of religious nonconformity, sectarians, schism, and heterodoxy."[1]

Poland experienced race-based genocide by Nazi Germany in the 20th century in which people of Jewish, Romani, and Polish ethnicities, along with most of other Slavs and people of color, were classified as subhuman by Nazis and were to be enslaved or exterminated.

Ethnic Poles[edit]

German warning in Nazi-occupied Poland 1939 - "No entrance for Poles!"

When part of Poland was under the rule of the German Empire, the Polish population was discriminated against by racist policies. These policies gained popularity among German nationalists, some of whom were members of the Völkisch movement, leading to the expulsion of Poles by Germany. This was fueled by Anti-Polish sentiment, especially during the age of partitions.[2][3][4]

Poland was under German and Soviet occupation during World War II. At this period Polish people were harshly discriminated against in their own occupied country. The Nazi German regime saw the Poles as "subhumans" (untermenschen) and were fit only for slavery and extermination. Most of the Nazis considered the Poles, like the majority of other Slavs, to be non-Aryan and non-European "masses from the East" which should be either totally annihilated along with the Jews and Gypsies, or entirely expelled from the European continent.[5] Poles were the victims of Nazi crimes against humanity and they were also the main non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Approximately 2.5 million ethnic Poles were exterminated during World War II. Polish slaves in Nazi Germany were forced to wear identifying red tags with the letter P that were sewn to their clothing. Sexual relations with Germans (rassenschande or "racial defilement") were punishable by death.[6] During the war, thousands of Polish men were executed for their relations with German women.[7]

Also, during World War II, Polish people became the primary targets of ethnicity-based massacres by Ukrainian Insurgent Army, then in the territory of occupied Poland.[8]


King Casimir III the Great brought Jews to Poland during the crusades at a time when Jewish communities were being persecuted and expelled from all over Europe. As a result of better life conditions, by the mid-16th century, 80% of the world's Jews lived in Poland.[9][10]

In the 20th century, notable incidents of antisemitism in Poland included Jedwabne pogrom of 1941 in the presence of German Ordnungspolizei (police officers).[11] Anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944–46 attributed to postwar lawlessness as well as an anti-communist insurrection against the new pro-Soviet government immediately after the end of World War II in Europe,[12] and the concept of "Żydokomuna" (Jewish communism).[13]

The Jewish community in Poland consisted of about 10% of the general population by 1939, but was all but eradicated during the Holocaust following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 at the onset of World War II.[14]. During the Polish census of 2011, 7,353 persons declared Jewish ethnicity (including the second one).

In 2017, the University of Warsaw’s Center for Research on Prejudice found an increase in antisemitic views in Poland, possibly due to growing Islamophobia and anti-migrant sentiment.[15] Later that year, the European Jewish Congress accused the Polish government of "normalizing" the phenomenon in the country.[16]

Sub-Saharan Africans[edit]

The most common word in Polish for a black person is "murzyn". It is generally regarded as a neutral word which was used for centuries to describe a person of black (Sub-Saharan African) ancestry, but nowadays some black Africans consider it to be pejorative, though the majority of people in Poland see it as a neutral term regardless.[17]

One of the high-profile events regarding blacks in Poland was the death of Maxwell Itoya in 2010, a Nigerian street vendor from a mixed marriage who was selling counterfeit goods.[18] He was shot in the upper leg by a policeman during a street brawl that followed a screening check at a market in Warsaw and died of a severed artery.[19] The event led to a media debate regarding policing and racism.[20]

There have been other cases of violence against blacks in recent years. In Strzelce Opolskie, Black soccer players from LZS Piotrówka club were attacked in a bar by fans of the opposing team in 2015 and two young men were arrested.[21] In a Łódź dance-club, a black student was attacked in a men's washroom.[22][23]


The Mława riot was a series of violent incidents against Polish Romani people in June 1991 when a Polish man was killed and another one permanently harmed in a hit-and-run accident.[24] The driver was a Romani man that fled the scene and hid, causing a rioting mob to attack Romani residents of the Polish town of Mława where hundreds fled out of fear. The violence was described as motivated by racism and jealousy.[25][26]

Among coverage of the riot, a change of ethnic stereotypes about Roma in Poland was mentioned: A Roma is no longer poor, dirty, or cheerful. They also do not beg or pretend to be lowly. Nowadays a Roma drives a high status car, lives in a fancy mansion, flaunts his wealth, brags that the local authorities and the police are on his pay and thus he is not afraid of anybody. At the same time he is, as before, a swindler, a thief, a hustler, a dodger of military service and of a legal, decent job.[27] Negative "metastereotypes" – or the Romas' own perceptions regarding the stereotypes that members of the dominant groups hold about their own group – were described by the Polish Roma Society in an attempt to intensify the dialogue about exclusionism.[28]

Modern Era[edit]

An analysis based on the European Values Survey (EVS), which took place in 2008, compares Poland to other European nations. Poland had very high levels of political tolerance (lack of extremist political attitudes), relatively high levels of ethnic tolerance (based on attitudes towards Muslims, immigrants, Romas, and Jews) and at the same time low levels of personal tolerance (based on attitudes towards people considered "deviant" or "threatening"). From 1998 to 2008, there was a marked increase in political and ethnic tolerance, but a decrease in personal tolerance.[29]

In the early 1990s, due partly to the political euphoria accompanying the fall of communism, Poland was the most tolerant nation in Central Europe. However, over the course of the '90s, tolerance decreased. By 1999, EVS recorded Poland as having one of the highest rates of xenophobia in Europe, while antisemitism also increased during this time. The factors behind these decreases in tolerance and the radicalization in attitudes towards other ethnic groups during this time likely included the country's economic problems associated with a costly transition from Communism (for example, high unemployment), ineffectual government and possibly an increase in immigration from outside.[29]

These attitudes began to change after 2000, possibly due to Poland's entry into the European Union, increased travel abroad and more frequent encounters with people of other races. By 2008, the EVS showed Poland as one of the least xenophobic countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The negative attitudes towards Jews have likewise returned to their lower 1990s level, although they do remain somewhat above the European average.[29] During the same time period, ethnic tolerance and political tolerance increased in Southern Europe (Spain, Greece) and decreased in other parts of Northern Europe (Netherlands).[29]

While the Roma group was listed as most rejected, the level of exclusion was still lower than elsewhere in Europe, most likely due the long history of Roma (see Polska Roma) and their relatively low numbers in the country.[29]

According to the European Jewish Congress, as of 2012, the number of antisemitic attacks and incidents of vandalism in Western Europe has increased; however, there has been a dramatic decrease in Poland.[30]

State and racism[edit]

In 2004, the government took some initiatives in order to tackle the problem of racism. They adopted the "National Programme to Prevent Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance 2004-2009" ("Krajowy Program Przeciwdziałania Dyskryminacji Rasowej, Ksenofobii i Związanej z Nimi Nietolerancji 2004 – 2009"[31]) and also established the Monitoring Team on Racism and Xenophobia within the Ministry of Interior and Administration. The Implementation Report (2010)[32] stated that the programme suffered from various obstacles, including lacking and unclear funding, and eventually some planned tasks were completed, while others were not.[33]


  1. ^ With a marginal exception of Couronian colonisation of the Americas when the Duchy of Courland was a vassal of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


  1. ^ a b Norman Davies (2005). God's Playground A History of Poland. Volume 1: The Origins to 1795. OUP Oxford. pp. 126–131. ISBN 0199253390. 
  2. ^ Bideleux, Robert; Jeffries, Ian (1998). A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change. Routledge. p. 156 |url=https://books.google.com/books?id=6Eh9KQTrOckC&q=page+156#v=onepage&q=page%20156&f=false
  3. ^ Batt, Judy; Wolczuk, Kataryna (2002). Region, State and Identity in Central and Eastern Europe. Routledge. p. 153. 
  4. ^ Sinkoff, Nancy (2004). Out of the Shtetl: Making Jews Modern in the Polish Borderlands. Society of Biblical Literature. p. 271. 
  5. ^ "Poles: Victims of the Nazi Era". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 2005-11-28. Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  6. ^ Helen Boak. "Nazi policies on German women during the Second World War - Lessons learned from the First World War?". pp. 4–5. 
  7. ^ Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. January 2007. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-89604-712-9. 
  8. ^ Mikolaj Terles (1 July 2008). Ethnic Cleansing of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia: 1942–1946. Original from the University of Michigan. Alliance of the Polish Eastern Provinces, Toronto Branch, 1993. ISBN 0-9698020-0-5 – via Google Books, search inside. 
  9. ^ "Poland – Virtual Jewish History Tour" at Jewish Virtual Library via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ "Polish Jews History", at PolishJews.org via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Piotr Wróbel (2006). Polish-Jewish Relations. Dagmar Herzog: Lessons and Legacies: The Holocaust in international perspective. Northwestern University Press. pp. 391–396. ISBN 0-8101-2370-3. 
  12. ^ August Grabski. "Book review of Stefan Grajek: Po wojnie i co dalej? Żydzi w Polsce, w latach 1945−1949 translated from Hebrew by Aleksander Klugman, 2003" (PDF). Central and Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL) (in Polish). Kwartalnik Historii Żydów (Jewish History Quarterly). p. 240 – via direct download, 1.03 MB. 
  13. ^ Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, After the Holocaust Polish-Jewish Conflict in the Wake of World War II, Columbia University Press, New York 2003, ISBN 0-88033-511-4.
  14. ^ Lukas, Richard, PhD. (1989). Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 5, 13, 111, 201. ; also in Lukas (2012) [1986]. The Forgotten Holocaust: Poles Under Nazi Occupation 1939-1944. New York: University of Kentucky Press/Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0901-0. 
  15. ^ AFP; AP; Gambrell, Jon; AFP; RANDOLPH, Eric; Noorani, Ali; Gross, Judah Ari (January 25, 2017). "Anti-Semitism seen on the rise in Poland". The Times of Israel. Retrieved January 2, 2018. 
  16. ^ "Anti-Semitism being 'normalised' in Poland, Jewish Congress warns". The Telegraph. August 31, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2018. 
  17. ^ Piróg, Patrycja. ""Murzynek Bambo w Afryce mieszka", czyli jak polska kultura stworzyła swojego "Murzyna"". opposite.uni.wroc.pl. Retrieved 17 June 2016. "Murzyn", który zdaniem wielu Polaków, w tym także naukowców, nie jest obraźliwy, uznawany jest przez osoby czarnoskóre za dyskryminujący i uwłaczający. 
  18. ^ Joanna, Podgorska. "Wdowa po Nigeryjczyku". Polityka. W tym roku miał dostać polski paszport. 
  19. ^ Piotr Machajski (28 June 2013), Milion zł za zastrzelonego męża? Żona chce odszkodowania. Wyborcza.pl.
  20. ^ "Poland: Reflections on the death of a street vendor". No Racism.net. Retrieved April 8, 2012. 
  21. ^ TVN 24 Wrocław (7 April 2015), Pobicie czarnoskórych piłkarzy. Dwóch zatrzymanych. News byte.
  22. ^ Antoni Bohdanowicz. "W Łodzi pobito czarnoskórego studenta". naTemat.pl (in Polish). Retrieved 2016-05-05 – via Google translate. 
  23. ^ "8 pseudokibiców odpowie za pobicie czarnoskórych piłkarzy". 2016-04-12. 8 hooligans answer for beating black players of LZS Piotrówka at a beer parlour Browar Centrum. Retrieved 2016-05-05 – via Google translate. 
  24. ^ Rebecca Jean Emigh; Iván Szelényi (2001). Poverty, Ethnicity, and Gender in Eastern Europe During the Market Transition. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-0-275-96881-6. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  25. ^ "Poles Vent Their Economic Rage on Gypsies". The New York Times. July 25, 1991. Retrieved January 26, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Hooligans and the Neighbors' Cow". New York Times. July 29, 1991. Retrieved January 26, 2011. 
  27. ^ Anna Giza-Poleszczuk, Jan Poleszczuk, Raport "Cyganie i Polacy w Mławie - konflikt etniczny czy społeczny?" (Report "Romani and Poles in Mława - Ethnic or Social Conflict?") commissioned by Centre for Public Opinion Research, Warsaw, December 1992, pp. 16- 23, Sections III and IV "Cyganie w PRL-u stosunki z polską większością w Mławie" and "Lata osiemdziesiąte i dziewięćdziesiąte".
  28. ^ Marian Grzegorz Gerlich & Roman Kwiatkowski. "Romowie. Rozprawa o poczuciu wykluczenia". Stowarzyszenie Romów w Polsce. Okazuje się, że ów metastereotyp – rodzaj wyobrażenia Romów o tym, jak są postrzegani przez "obcych" – jest wizerunkiem nasyconym prawie wyłącznie cechami negatywnymi. 
  29. ^ a b c d e "Tolerance in Poland: Polish attitudes towards ethnic minorities and immigrants" (PDF). Focus on Sociology. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 15, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2014. 
  30. ^ Piotr Zychowicz (5 June 2012). "Polska przyjazna Żydom" [Poland is friendly towards Jews] (in Polish). rp.pl. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  31. ^ http://wiadomosci.ngo.pl/files/rownosc.ngo.pl/public/prawo_polskie/KP_przec_dyskr_ras.pdf Krajowy Program Przeciwdziałania Dyskryminacji Rasowej, Ksenofobii i Związanej z Nimi Nietolerancji 2004 – 2009 (retrieved December 8, 2016)
  32. ^ [http://www.spoleczenstwoobywatelskie.gov.pl/sites/default/files/sprawozdanie_przyjete_przez_rm_7_maja_proram_.pdf "SPRAWOZDANIE Z REALIZACJI KRAJOWEGO PROGRAMU PRZECIWDZIAŁANIA DYSKRYMINACJI RASOWEJ, KSENOFOBII I ZWI�ZANEJ Z NIMI NIETOLERANCJI ZA LATA 2004-2009"] (retrieved December 8, 2016)
  33. ^ Racism in Poland: Report on Research Among Victims of Violence with Reference to National, Racial, or Ethnic Origin, by Agnieszka Mikulska, Helsinki Human Rights Foundation (pl), 2010 (retrieved December 8, 2016)