Yiddish song written in response to a pogrom. "Es brent," or "S'brent" (It's Burning). Words and music: Mordecai Gebirtig (Mordkhe Gebirtig). Performer unidentified. From the Ben Stonehill collection, Hotel Marseilles, New York, 1948. (YIVO)

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Przytyk Pogrom

Przytyk, a small town several kilometers from Radom, was the scene of a riot on 9 March 1936 in which two Jews and a non-Jewish Pole were killed, several dozen Jewish apartments and shops were destroyed, and more than 20 people were severely beaten. At that time, 90 percent of Przytyk’s 3,000 inhabitants were Jews and the town served as a market for neighboring hamlets.

After the death of Marshal Józef Piłsudski in 1935, the National Democrat movement (Endecja) inspired a boycott of Jewish trade, particularly at markets. The boycott intensified and spread to Przytyk, leading to violence in February 1936, when the purchaser of a sheepskin in a Jewish shop was attacked. Although the leader of the local branch of Endecja was charged with inciting this action and was sentenced to prison, his sentence was overturned by the court of appeals. This turn of events encouraged the boycotters and strengthened the anti-Jewish movement. Some 20 Jews, alarmed by the failure of the authorities to protect their community, formed a self-defense group.

The situation was thus already explosive before the Kazimierzowski fair took place in Przytyk on 9 March 1936. This large annual event was usually attended by some 2,000 farmers. The starosta (governor) of Radom, aware of the volatile state of affairs in the town, reinforced the five-man local police force with eleven additional men. This show of force kept the peace until the afternoon. However, when police attempted to arrest a young man who was inciting bystanders to boycott a Jewish stall selling bread and other baked goods, the crowd turned nasty and the police were forced to retreat. Other members of the crowd attacked Jewish stalls, beating owners and destroying merchandise. At that point, the Jewish self-defense group, some of whose members were armed, intervened and skirmishes took place. Shots were fired and three Poles were injured.

The situation then escalated out of control. Some rioters armed themselves with sticks and began to smash the windows of Jewish houses around the marketplace. When the mob broke the windows of the house at 53 Warszawski Street, a panicked member of the self-defense group, Szulim Chil Leska, fired from the house, killing Stanisław Wieśniak. This act further inflamed the crowd, now more than 1,000 strong, which the small police detachment was unable to control. Further attacks on Jewish dwellings and their inhabitants followed. In one of these, Josek Mińkowski was killed and his wife Khaye was fatally wounded (she died in a Radom hospital). The fury of the mob then began to subside.

The trial of those arrested in connection with these tragic and shocking events—14 Jews and 42 non-Jews—took place in June 1936. The records of the court case are preserved in the state archive in Kielce. They give a clear picture of what occurred, although they also reveal that the court was unaware of the existence of the Jewish self-defense organization. Leska was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for causing the death of Wieśniak. Two other Jews who had used firearms were sentenced to six and five years in jail. The four men accused of killing the Mińkowskis were acquitted for “lack of evidence.” Eight of the Jewish accused were sentenced to six to ten months imprisonment and 22 Poles to six months to a year. Three Jews and another 18 non-Jews were acquitted. These sentences were slightly increased by the appeals court, which did not overturn the acquittal of these accused of the Mińkowski murder.

After the clashes in Przytyk, the wave of anti-Jewish violence began to subside in Poland. This was partly because the authorities now acted more firmly against such violence, seeing it as also directed against the government. It could also be argued that although the Jewish self-defense group’s actions did lead to violence and deaths in Przytyk, it also showed that Jews would not allow themselves to be attacked and victimized without responding and thus proved a deterrent to the activities of the antisemitic zealots.

Suggested Reading

Piotr Gontarczyk, Pogrom? Zajścia polsko-żydowskie w Przytyku 9 marca 1936 r.: Mity, fakty, dokumenty (Biała Podlaska and Pruszków, Pol., 2000); Adam Penkalla, “The ‘Przytyk Incidents’ of 9 March 1936 from Archival Documents,” Polin 5 (1990): 326–359; Polin 17 (2004), part 4, “The Sixty-Fifth Anniversary of Events in Przytyk: A Debate” (five articles); Joshua Rothenberg, “The Przytyk Pogrom,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 16.2 (1986): 29–46.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 116, Territorial Collection: Poland 1, , 1919-1939 (finding aid); RG 740, Mordecai Gebirtig, Papers, 1920s-1942 (finding aid).