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The Przytyk Pogrom in pre-WWII Poland: the Untold Story

jan peczkis|Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Przytyk needs re-evaluation because of the likes of Heller's ON THE EDGE OF DESTRUCTION (p. 19). The English-language title of this book is: Pogrom? The Polish-Jewish Incident at Przytyk on March 9, 1936. Myths, Facts, and Documents. It contains an English summary (pp. 369-372). Polish_English




There is no evidence that the Endeks, or anyone else, had orchestrated the events at Przytyk (pp. 369-370). And, ironic to the charge that Polish police sided with pogromists (passively or actively), peasants believed the exact opposite, at times rioting against police for defending Jews (p. 52, 370).

Because Gontarczyk doesn't follow the conventional Pole-bashing approach, he has been labeled an ethno-nationalist. In actuality, he faults Polish nationalists (the Endecks, or Endeks) a number of times, as for making gratuitous anti-Semitic remarks (p. 93).

At Przytyk, the peasants believed that Jewish merchants were systematically cheating them (p. 47) and, besides pressing their advantage of experience in commerce, were also using various underhanded methods to drive peasant merchants out of business (p. 49). To level the playing field (my term), the Poles decided to buy only from Polish merchants. Unlike in many other areas of Poland, the boycotts of Jewish merchants grew in popularity and became self-sustaining.

Tensions grew, especially acute in the market square. In the months before the pogrom, there were a series of minor, disconnected, violent incidents (pp. 53-54)--some by Jews against Poles (as in attempting to break the boycott) and some vice-versa. These, however, didn't escalate into anything bigger.

One day, they finally did. Jewish merchants overturned and damaged "interloper" Joseph Gniazdka's booth, and assaulted boycott-advocate Joseph Stzalkowski, who hit back (p. 59). Later, three peasants assaulted Moszek Dalman and a few other Jewish merchants, upsetting their carts and scattering their wares (p. 61). Soon thereafter, the selbschutz (Jewish self-defense unit) swung into action. It attacked not only the three Poles who had assaulted Dalman et al., but also other Poles who had nothing to do with the initial anti-Jewish assault (p. 135). Some of the selbschutz members were armed, and began to shoot not at the Polish assailants, but at Poles indiscriminately. A number of Poles were wounded by the Jewish snipers, and Stanislaw Wiesniak was killed (p. 65). A Polish mob began to grow and, enraged by the murder of Wiesniak, began an indiscriminate retaliatory attack against Jews and their properties. Two Jews (the Minkowskis) were killed and scores of properties destroyed or damaged. The Polish police were helpless in the face of the size of the mob.

Each side asserted that the Polish courts had been more lenient to the other. Gontarczyk contends that the disparity in sentencing stemmed from the fact that the evidence implicating specific Jewish killers was stronger than that against accused Polish killers (pp. 130-131). Also, the killing of Wiesniak was an act of premeditated murder, whereas that of the Minkowskis was more of a retaliatory crime of passion (p. 109).

All along, the Jewish press worldwide had been painting lurid pictures of Poland as an unusually violent, anti-Semitic nation (sounds familiar?). For this purpose, Jewish violence against Poles was virtually ignored, the handful of Jews killed was embellished into 80 (p. 86) and a few broken windows became hundreds (p. 43). The bombing of a synagogue was blamed on Poles even though the perpetrator was a Jew (p. 42). There were even fantastic tales, which anticipated certain aspects of later post-Holocaust Polonophobia, of the Poles being out to exterminate all the Jews (p. 83).

The so-called Przytyk Pogrom was a Jewish riot before it also became a Polish riot. Clearly, it was the Jewish side that was responsible for escalating the violence from a small incident to a full-scale melee, for unilaterally bringing firearms to the conflict (p. 96), and especially for introducing collective ethnic revenge into the picture.
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