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July 5, 2021 3:58 pm

Kielce Pogrom Which Took Lives of Holocaust Survivors in Poland Commemorated, as Controversy Over ‘Disgraceful’ Restitution Law Intensifies

avatar by Ben Cohen

A memorial ceremony for the Kielce pogrom in 2016, on the 70th anniversary of the slaughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors by a Polish mob. Photo: Agencja Gazeta/Pawel Malecki/via Reuters

Amid a continuing controversy over a new law that closes off Jewish restitution claims related to Nazi-era persecution, Polish leaders have marked the 75th anniversary of the worst eruption of antisemitic violence in postwar Poland.

In a statement to mark the infamous pogrom in the central Polish city of Kielce, President Andrzej Duda declared that in a “free, sovereign and independent Poland there is no room for any form of prejudice, for racism, for xenophobia, for antisemitism.”

A total of 42 Jews, including a newborn baby and a woman who was six months pregnant, were murdered and at least 40 wounded during the July 4, 1946 pogrom in Kielce. Like other aspects of Poland’s wartime record towards the more than three million Jews who resided there before the Nazi invasion in 1939, the pogrom has become a key focus for present-day Polish ultranationalists, who argue that the slaughter was perpetrated by the communist authorities for the purpose of discrediting the nationalist opposition.

According to the Princeton University historian Prof. Jan Gross — who has run afoul of Polish nationalists for his research documenting Polish collaboration with the German occupiers — the violence in Kielce was started by police officers and soldiers who were supposed to be protecting nearly 200 Jews, mainly Holocaust survivors, who had taken shelter in the local Jewish Committee building, as an angry mob of more than 1,000 Poles gathered outside. In a shocking echo of the anti-Jewish medieval “blood libel,” the Jews of Kielce had been falsely accused of kidnapping a nine-year-old boy, Henryk Błaszczyk, who had disappeared for two days and subsequently told his parents that he had been captured by Jews in order to avoid being punished.

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According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Polish soldiers and policemen [in Kielce] entered the building and called upon the Jewish residents to surrender any weapons. After an unidentified individual fired a shot, officials and civilians fired upon the Jews inside the building, while outside, the furious crowd viciously beat Jews fleeing the shooting, or driven onto the street by the attackers.”

Following Monday’s commemoration ceremony, Duda gave a media interview in which he defended the new Holocaust restitution law, which was recently denounced by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as “a horrific injustice and disgrace that harms the rights of Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and members of the Jewish communities that existed in Poland for hundreds of years.”

Addressing the law’s dismissal of outstanding claims for the restitution of property seized during the Holocaust that are more than 30 years old, Duda told broadcaster TVP that Jews “have been able to assert their rights in Poland for over 30 years.”

The Polish President added that “they will still have a full opportunity to pursue these rights in civil proceedings, but when it comes to administrative issues, and the annulment of the decision, it was possible all the time during these 30 years … I think definitely that those who really wanted to do it [claim restitution] have already done it.”

Duda’s comments on Monday came despite an appeal from a senior US Jewish leader for the upper house of the Polish parliament to vote down the legislation.

In an interview on Sunday with the Polish KAI news agency, Abraham Foxman — the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) who survived the Holocaust as a child in Poland after he was hidden by his Catholic nanny — argued that meaningful dialogue between the Polish government and Jewish organizations required the cancelation of “the current proposed regulations.”

“This is a difficult problem, but solutions are possible,” Foxman said. “One must be creative and think outside the box. It needs to be done with respect and goodwill. Above all, with sensitivity to the dead and the living who are affected. If there is no joint mobilization in this direction, the situation will not improve on its own, but will only get worse.”

Remarking on the recent claim by Patryk Jaki — a member of the European Parliament and former deputy justice minister — that “the Jews need us more than we need them,” Foxman said he was “unable to believe that this could be the view of [President] Duda, because I know his views and competence in Jewish affairs.”

However, Foxman added, “there are people who will believe that these are his views. The president has the power and position to publicly distance himself from this statement, which is unjustly anti-Jewish.”

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