Kielce Ghetto

Kielce was occupied on 4 September 1939 by the German army. Approximately 24,000 Jews lived in the town, a third of all inhabitants. Like in all other occupied towns anti-Jewish actions took place immediately: Lootings, expropriations, forced labour and killings were the order of the day. Soon a Judenrat was established. Its first chairman was Moses Pelc who refused to collaborate with the SS. Therefore he was deported to Auschwitz. On 31 March 1941 the Kielce Ghetto was established. Jews from the surrounding villages were forced to move into the ghetto. A wooden fence combined with barbed wire surrounded the ghetto which consisted of two parts: The Big Ghetto and the Small Ghetto. 500 buildings were in the ghetto, for approximately 15,000 people.

Now around 27,000 Jews had to share the rooms. An unbearable situation, especially after arrival of 1,004 Jews from Wien. The food ration officially was 130 grams of bread per person every two days. Most of the people exchanged their clothes for food but after several months everybody starved. Only members of the Judenrat and Jewish police had enough food and very often people noticed big parties. In spite of threatening punishments (since 1942 smugglers were shot) many people tried to smuggle food into the ghetto. After the arrival of the Jews from Wien the food prices increased to a very high level. Soon there was no more official religious life in the ghetto. The synagogue was changed into a storage for grain and furniture. The prayers’ homes were demolished. People who tried to organize a secret religious life were reported to the police by Germans or Jewish collaborators. Before the liquidation of the ghetto, the Gestapo organized an Aktion “against Polish officers and communists” in spring 1942. During this action several Jewish doctors and members of the intelligentsia were shot, others arrested and deported to Auschwitz. In fact the Gestapo wanted to liquidate all people who theoretically could be leaders of the resistance in the ghetto. This indeed was common practice, prior to large scale deportation actions. The ghetto liquidation took place from 20 – 24 August 1942. Until today historians discuss who provoked this anti-Jewish riot. Many inhabitants participated in the pogrom and around 100 people were arrested by the communist police; among them people who did not participate in the crime but being known as anti-communists. Until today some people suspect that the pogrom was provoked by communists for eliminating opponents of the new regime in Poland. As a result most remaining Jews in Poland and other communist countries emigrated mainly to Palestine / Israel. For the minority that remained normal Jewish life in Poland had changed forever.

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