In May of 1945 peace finally arrived in Europe. The Allied Forces, as well as the Russian Red Army, liberated hundreds of thousands of slaves and prisoners of war, among them many Jewish survivors.
The winds of freedom and new hopes started blowing across the land. Many of the liberated victims of Nazism started to return to their countries of origin.
For the Jewish survivors, especially from Eastern Europe, there was no place to which to return. They weren’t welcome in their countries of origin, where anti-Semitic sentiments prevailed; more so than under the rule of Hitler. The borders of all the countries of the world were closed to the Jewish victims. Palestine, the most probable country for Jewish immigration was closed. The White Paper, imposed by the British in 1939, limiting immigration to a trickle, was still in effect. The possibilities of immigrating to the United States were limited by the laws imposed by the Hoover administration, establishing quotas. Under the Roosevelt administration, the laws were tightened even more in spite of existing quotas which were never filled.
Intervention by Jewish organizations went unheeded. As late as 1944, when the War Refugee Board was established, things started to change. By then 6,000,000 innocent victims had perished in the Holocaust. The Allied Forces established camps for the victims of Nazism and wanted to keep the survivors close to their country of origin.
The victims, it was thought, would be eager to return to the scene of the crime.
The Jewish survivors found themselves again in camps although under different conditions; without a country or a home, restless, and with no future. Some of the survivors started to return to their country of origin in small numbers, among them, about 250 Jews from Kielce, a provincial capitol in Southeastern Poland.
They lived collectively in two buildings which belonged to a Jewish owner, who perished in the Holocaust, on Planty Street. They lived on rations provided by the Joint Distribution Committee with the hope that maybe some of their loved ones, by some miracle, would show up in Kielce.
With no place else to go, they waited. But the population of Kielce resented the fact of their return! The Holocaust was not enough for them. A Polish woman started running in the streets of Kielce, spreading a story that the Jews of Planty Street were murdering Polish children to use their blood for the Passover matzos. The rumors spread in Kielce like wildfire!
Soon, the local police commander, a known anti-Semite, dispatched a squadron of his force to search the Jewish buildings. The president of this small community, Dr. Kahane, was a survivor of the Holocaust.
The police searched the buildings and confiscated a few handguns which were intended mainly for self protection. They offered Dr. Kahane safe conduct, which he refused. At that moment, an officer fired a shot and killed Dr. Kahane. That was the signal to start the pogrom!
Armed with rocks, iron bars, and guns, the mob which gathered in front of the buildings, attacked yelling “Death to the Jews”. Within 45 minutes, 42 Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, including some who returned after spending years in exile in Siberia, were killed. In addition, dozens were injured, many seriously!
After the onslaught, some Jewish officers of the Polish army, who came back from the Soviet Union, arrived. They evacuated the wounded to the local hospital where they were robbed of their meager possessions by the attending personnel, and left unattended for hours. As a result, five more victims died.
Soon the news of the pogrom in Kielce spread around the world. The Polish and international press arrived immediately from Warsaw. The government sent the military to restore order.
Ten men and one woman were arrested and tried. All ten men were executed. The woman who caused the pogrom went free!
Most of the remaining Jews of Kielce joined the Bricha Movement, an underground operation, which eventually took them to Israel. The Poles of Kielce got their wish.
The town, where before the war 18,000 Jews had lived, worked, created, fulfilled their dreams, although under harsh conditions, was finally “Judenrien” meaning no more Jews.
It is noteworthy that a pogrom of a smaller scale took place in Kielce in 1920 during a Zionist gathering where some Jews were killed.
Meyer Rubinstein*, ז״ל
A Native of Kielce, Poland
* Meyer passed away in December 2009