Cities of Death

Excerpt from the article:

Many people, including the current Minister of Education in Poland, are still questioning the historic facts behind the pogroms in Kielce and Jedwabne. Fortunately, the majority of Polish intellectuals have reached a causal consensus regarding the events. But now historians face an even more difficult task: it is time to take a long, hard look at the tragic history of Jews in many other villages and small towns of Poland under German occupation. The truth about this brutal reality is slowly gaining traction in public discourse in Poland. And the truth is that many Poles were anything but passive observers and that many of them had their Jewish neighbors’ blood on their hands and conscience.

The book “Cities of Death” (“Miasta śmierci”) by Mirosław Tryczyk is in large part a collection of sources composed of the testimonies of people who witnessed tragic events mainly in the occupied Białystok region. It comes as no surprise that historians took Tryczyk to task for his lack of rigorous methodology. He was also criticized for his choice of language, considered too emotional for an academic study. But the fact is that Tryczyk is not an historian; he wrote his study from the point of view of a Polish intellectual from northeastern Poland trying to come to terms with horrifying events that affected his family and their fellow Poles.


Michał Bojanowski: You dismiss the myth that various cultures and religions could coexist peacefully in Poland’s eastern borderlands. Are you suggesting that we should discard this once and for all?

Mirosław Tryczyk: Yes, we should, at least when speaking of the regions I researched. Relationships with Jews were good when it came to trade, people did business together. Poles went to Jewish shops, although in the inter-war years, running a business was getting more difficult for Jews. There were boycotts, goods for sale were being damaged or destroyed, people were beaten for going to Jewish merchants. And there was more. Polish and Jewish children would fight and throw stones at each other.
I’ve read depositions taken from Poles who used to live in the places I researched, depositions taken during post-war trials. Polish witnesses were unable to give any names of the Jews who lived and worked there. They didn’t establish any close relationships with their Jewish neighbors so there was no need to bother with their strange names. They could only remember the nicknames they gave them, often inspired by the goods they sold. People called them Carrot or Parsley, and the like.
Jews didn’t leave their houses when Poles walked to church on Sunday. Only Catholics were allowed to freely manifest their religion in public. It’s not that Jews were not allowed to go out on Sunday, but they chose not to provoke Christians who were on their way back from Mass. In early 2000’s an elderly man gave a deposition. He said that as a child he lived in Radziłów. During religion lesson, father Choromański made him hold a bread roll in his teeth because the boy had bought it in a Jewish bakery. Another priest from Radziłów had a habit of shooting from his double-barreled shotgun into the windows of Jewish houses just because they neighbored the parish. Such incidents were very common.

In 1933 the first anti-Jewish riots took place in Radziłów. There were fatalities, the police had to intervene and disperse the nationalists. It happened again in 1935. That’s how the situation looked in provincial eastern Poland.
Most Jews reacted like typical victims of violence; they chose isolation. This only deepened the division between communities. And that’s probably why they chose to stay at home on Sundays or on Corpus Christi Day, when liturgical processions filed through the towns.
And that’s why in 1941 in Radziłów only one woman, Chaja, tried to speak to the medic and the priest, her Polish neighbors. She wanted to save herself and other Jews from persecutions in Radziłów, but her pleas fell on deaf ears.


Translation: Aga Zano

Proofreading: Barbara Pendzich


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