Poland's Century: War, Communism and Anti-Semitism
Anita Prazmowska

Seminar Introduction

The history of Poland since the Second World War is largely a forgotten history. The invasion of Poland as the catalyst for war is what everyone remembers. Yet, Poland suffered greatly during and in the wake of the war. It had a government in exile, Polish Gentiles and Jews were herded into slave labour and extermination camps respectively and its boundaries were redrawn in the wake of Soviet postwar rapaciousness. Great numbers of Polish servicemen and their families fighting on the side of the allies were displaced around the globe, from India to Britain. Poland did not share the spoils of war; it was in many senses one of the victims of war.

There is however, another history within Poland that has been forgotten or ignored by successive Polish governments according to some historians, and that is the history of the Jewish community and Jewish suffering in Poland during and after the war.

In this seminar, Anita Prazmowska explores the impact of the Second World War and the establishment of Communism for the Jewish community in Poland. After examining the treatment of Poland throughout the Second World War, she focuses on the establishment of Communism and anti-Semitism in Poland in the years after the war. Prazmowska argues that the weak grip the Communist authorities had on Poland in those early years is critical for understanding why they sidelined the Jewish issue and the problem of anti-Semitism. It was an unpopular cause to champion in Poland and the Communists were keen to establish credibility and authority. She explores this further through the case study of the 1946 pogrom in the Polish town of Kielce, where the weakness of local party structures was the crucial factor in the escalation and lack of reparations.

Finally, Prazmowska considers the recent history of Auschwitz as a contested space in Poland where there have been rows over the ownership of this centre of martyrdom. This is a conflict that refers back to the issue that both groups, the Poles and the Jews, were victims of the Second World War although in different ways. Who has the right to commemorate the dead?

  • Session 1 Poland: Victim of the Second World War
  • Session 2 Fallout from the War: Anti-Semitism in Poland
  • Session 3 Case Study: The Pogrom in Kielce
  • Session 4 Auschwitz: A Contested Space
Learning Objectives:
  • Describe the experience of Poland during the Second World War.
  • Explain the factors which allowed for the escalation of the pogrom within Kielce.
  • Describe how postwar Communist government handled the priorities of the Jewish community.
  • Analyse the symbolism of Auschwitz for the Polish and the Jewish communities.

To appreciate this seminar experience, it is critical that you have the appropriate plug-ins. Please take the time to download the latest versions of the plug-ins mentioned below if you do not already have them.

Plug-ins: If you do not have RealPlayer and Flash Player already installed, please download them from the following sites:

Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.

Session 3, "Case Study: The Pogrom in Kielce", is adapted from "The Kielce Pogrom 1946 and the Emergence of Communist Power in Poland", an article by Anita J. Prazmowska that orginally appeared in the journal Cold War History, Vol. 2, No. 2 (January 2002), pp.101-124.