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Blood Libel in Poland, 1945

May 9, 2009 | by

Hearing of modern-day "Blood Libels" in the Arabic press reminds me of a painful experience I had in postwar Poland in 1945.

At the time I was 12, having been recently liberated by the Russian army, after living in the Sambor Ghetto, and after hiding for two years in a rat-infested cellar.

On a spring Saturday morning in 1945, I was on my way to join my father in the synagogue which was in the old market section of Krakow. As I was nearing the synagogue, I saw Jews being beaten by people in the street, being escorted by a couple of Polish soldiers. Nearby, the military band was playing. It was a bizarre scene.

A "kind" elderly lady grabbed my hand and pulled me inside a store, which was packed with fleeing Poles, ostensibly hiding from bloodthirsty Jews. She said to me: "Child, don't go out there, because the Jews are catching Christian children to use their blood for Passover." She held on to my hand firmly.

I was shaking with fear and anger, but kept quiet about being Jewish. The crowd would have instantly lynched me. In her other raised hand, the "kind" old lady held a torn fragment of a Torah scroll, as she passionately declared, "This is a souvenir of the day we finally got rid of the last Jews in Poland!"

I escaped her grip and ran to look for my father, fearing the worst. After escaping the beatings in the synagogue, my father hid in a nearby house, and returned home later.

That evening, the synagogue's janitor came over to apologize. He was drunk. He told us that his 13-year-old son had been detained by police for a couple of hours. Apparently somebody had paid him to run out of the synagogue, covered with some kind of animal blood, screaming: "Help! The Jew are using me and other Christian children to draw blood for Passover!"

Historically, the Jews were invited by a Polish king over 1,000 years ago. But they were never considered by their fellow citizens to be Polish, even after a thousand years. Even before 1939, the children in my neighborhood, and in my first grade, were calling out to me: "Dirty Jew, go to Palestine!"

During the Nazi era we were more afraid of the local Poles and Ukrainians than of the Germans. Our neighbors pointed us out to the SS, and then while we were running away and hiding like mice, they emptied our apartments.

Eventually our family fled Poland and emigrated to the United States. Now that there are virtually no Jews living in Poland, I read that the city of Krakow is inviting tourists to celebrate an exhibit of "Jewish life and culture in Poland."

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