The Mielec Pogroms of 1918
Right at the very end of the First World War (WWI), there were several pogroms (uprisings against Jews) in the town of Mielec: one on September 1, 1918, a second on November 4, 1918, and a third on November 7, 1918. Led by local farm peasants, mobs of angry, armed Poles destroyed Jewish businesses and property in and around the Mielec Rynek, and created a long-lasting scar on Jewish-Polish relations in Mielec that would remain through the outbreak of the Shoah in September 1939.
Writings of Israel Cohen
The most direct, first-hand testimony we have of the events of the 1918 Mielec Pogroms is from Israel Cohen.
Handwritten over 15 pages, it first gives Israel Cohen’s summary of the events, followed by signed testimonies by several Jewish residents of Mielec. The original documents are held in the YIVO archives in New York City.
Writings of Konrad Zieliński
In 2019, Polish professor and scholar Konrad Zieliński published a book titled “Pogromy Żydów: Na Ziemiach Polskich w XIX i XX Wielku (Eng: Pogroms against Jews: In Polish Lands during the 19th and 20th Centuries)“. In one chapter, Dr. Zieliński attempted to bring together a variety of both Jewish and Polish sources to present an authoritative account of the pogroms in Mielec in late 1918.
Timeline of Events
- Friday, September 1, 1918: Polish soldiers attempted to rob the home of Aaron Leipzig. Aaron’s son resisted the soldiers and was wounded gravely.1
- Monday, November 4, 1918 (Day) : Armed Polish peasants robbed entered the shop of Samuel Tänzer and, in his absence, began by pretending to buy clothes appearing in the shop. The peasants haggled a bit, bought nothing, and finally decided that soon they would take all the goods from the store without paying for it. After some time the peasants returned in a larger group and began to rob everything they could, beating the protesting merchant’s son with sticks.
It is unclear whether or not the local Mielec militia defended Samuel Tänzer’s shop; one account said that the militia “still defended the Jews” and, with the help of the Legionnaires, managed to stop the attackers and arrest some of them. Another account says that the riot was squelched by a 50-person gendarmerie unit based out of Dębica and the local Polish militia in Mielec did not intervene.
- Monday, November 4, 1918 (Evening): A local meeting is convened in the Mielec Synagogue consisting of both Jews and Poles. A local Polish judge, Dr. Gołaszewski, proclaims that Polish society has a “big problem” with Jews. Dr. Gołaszewski continues by saying that “[the Jews] should all be thrown into the Vistula, because it is impossible to live with them any longer, because they are ruining Poland.” Dr. Gołaszewski added that in order to find out about the situation in the country, he went to Krakow, where he heard that a “parole” had been proclaimed (sic!) for “absolute freedom from Jews”. According to witnesses, the Judge was also said to have slandered the Jewish religion, although there is no information as to what the insult was.
- Thursday, November 7, 1918: I will directly quote from Dr. Zieliński here:
From the early morning of November 7, groups of peasants, including women, were visible, heading towards the Mielec market square. Observing this, several Jews went to the district chief (Bezirkshauptmann) and the commander of the city militia, asking for help and advice, but they did not do much. Commander Gostwicki was to say with the greatest regret that the city militia had been “dissolved”, he said, due to the the safety of the Jews themselves. Before the delegation returned with a reply, a crowd of peasants shouting “blame for the Jews!” and “Jews to Palestine!”, he began storming the shops closed by the owners. Many of the peasants were already drunk, perhaps that is why the first loot fell to A. Fortgang’s wine store, locked with iron bars and shutters. The stolen alcohol was drunk on the spot or poured out by the attackers. The losses estimated by the owner amounted to several thousand crowns. Then, the richer shops in the market square and adjacent streets, armed with agricultural tools and poles, fell to the following: Izrael Löw, Abraham Bittersfeld, Aby Perlmutter, Abraham Gettinger, Eliasz Schiff, Szaja Kurz, Naftali Blasbalg, Chaim Rotwald, Szymon Brandmann Debora Rubin, Motla Jachnowicz, Jakub Moster, Chaja Rottenberg, Lejzor Steuer, Ozjasz Sternglaus, Rozalia Nussen, Marek Blattberg, Samuel Tänzer (whose shop was attacked on November 4, and soldiers raided it on November 1, injuring the shopkeeper’s son). Several smaller shops were also looted or damaged. The whole action lasted about 2.5-3 hours. Meanwhile, members of the supposedly disbanded militia stood idle, watching the robbers with amusement. Several Jews, led by Bittersfeld, approached the square’s commander, Niemczyński, demanding help, but he did not give them a clear answer.Zieliński, Konrad. “Pogromy Żydów: Na Ziemiach Polskich w XIX i XX Wielku Tom 2″. Kraków, 2019.
Nevertheless, three hours after the robberies began, an armed patrol appeared on the market square, which was enough for the peasants to stop robbing and attacking Jewish houses. The reason why the patrol appeared was not, however, the desire to defend the Jewish inhabitants of the city, but, as the authors of the reports argued, a report of a shot from a firearm, the sound of which the commander decided to send soldiers. Jewish witnesses claimed that someone from the enraged mob of aggressors had fired the shot, but the military suspicion fell on the Jewish population. The patrol assumed in advance that Jews were shooting and was supposed to calm the riots and arrest the perpetrators of the shooting. Samuel Tänzer and his son were arrested, and several major citizens of the city, incl. Lejzor Steuer, Izaak Gärtner and Mendel Wertheimer, were wounded and beaten.