Dr. Edyta Gawron from Jagiellonian University in Krakow is visiting the Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies this week, offering one-on-one time with students who are particularly interested in her research, as well as giving two lectures to our students. She is an assistant professor at the Department of Jewish Studies as well as the Head of the new Centre for the Study of the History and Culture of Krakow Jews.
In her first lecture, Dr. Gawron discussed the difficulties Jews faced in reacclimating in post-war Poland. Her second lecture was given during Dr. Lea David’s class, “Human Rights, Holocaust, Genocide: The Politics of Remembrance.” In this lecture she shared insights regarding post-war Poland. The thought in Poland remained, even after the war, that Jews had caused WWII, or at the very least the invasion of Poland. Nazi anti-Semitism was well known, and because Jews were being attacked in Germany, specifically after Kristallnacht, Poles feared the Nazis would invade to strike against the Polish Jews. Another rumor prevalent in post-war Poland was that the Jews brought the USSR to Poland because they were associated with Bolshevism, just as the Nazis linked Jews and Bolsheviks. These were not the only reasons for anti-Semitism in Poland, however they exemplify the idiocy of anti-Semitism that was rampant in Poland.
In 1945, immediately after the war, there were some pogroms in Poland where Jews were physically attacked and beaten, as well as emotionally attacked through social exile. Jews were essentially pushed out of the towns they used to call home.
Dr. Gawron shared an instance of a pogrom that took place in Krakow, approximately 70 km from Auschwitz, on Saturday morning April 11, 1945. A group of Holocaust survivors went to pray in the synagogue near an open air market when a group of boys began throwing rocks at the synagogue. One of the boys entered the synagogue and ran out screaming “Jews are trying to kill me! I saw Christian blood in the synagogue!” In the post war situation, the crowd reacted without thinking, and the rumor was spread throughout the city that Jews were killing Christian children. The pogrom lasted for several hours, dozens were seriously injured and a Holocaust survivor named Roza Berger was shot in her apartment a short distance from the market. After the pogrom, the accusing boy admitted that he had been bribed to slander the Jews and lie to everyone that the Jews were killing Christian children for sacrifices or blood libel. This was a common fabrication to stir anti-Semitism.
The Kielce pogrom on July 4, 1946, was even more violent. 42 Jews were killed. An eighteen year-old-boy was missing for the weekend; he didn’t want to tell his parents the real reason he was missing (he had snuck out with friends), so he made up a story. However,the authorities directed the conversation and asked him if he had been kidnapped and he answered affirmatively. Then they asked him if he was kidnapped by strangers, to which he answered yes. Finally, they asked if his kidnappers were Jews, which he affirmed, adding that they lived in a building where many of the returning Jews lived. They ask him if they had also kidnapped other Christians and he again confirmed that they had. The resulting pogrom lead to the killing of 42 Jews, starting with those who lived in the specific building the authorities had pointed out. Then the whole town was involved, all hunting out the Jews who were running from the pogrom. After this event, all of the surviving Jews in Kielce banded together and left Poland.
Altogether, 1,500 Jews were killed in post-war Poland. Although Dr. Gawron mentioned that it’s not fair to say that all of the murders were inspired by anti-Semitism, there was a lot of violence in post-war Poland. Many people were were attacked and murdered on the road because it looked like might have food or valuables. Within one year, 100,000 Polish Jews left Poland to establish lives elsewhere. Perhaps the Poles acted out of fear, specifically fear of confrontation? Maybe non-Jewish Poles were scared to confront Jews with their inability to act during the Holocaust. After the war, people became desensitized, and post-war Poland was rife with crime. One theory is a psychological phenomenon that victims (Poles) will victimize others (Jews) for a sense of control. This resulted in tension between the two groups.
Unfortunately, immediately after the war there was no public education in Poland about what they Jews had gone through, nothing about gas chambers in the papers. In the general public, the realities of the Holocaust were unknown. Maybe better Holocaust education would have helped? Polish-Jewish life after the Holocaust was difficult, even impossible.
We would like to thank Dr. Edyta Gawron for coming and presenting to our students, and for the research advice and expertise she offered.
In order from left to right: Anat Bratman-Elhalel (Director of Archives at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum), Lindsay Shapiro (Cohort IV), and Dr. Edyta Gawron.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website