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The Pinsk massacre was the mass execution of thirty-five Jewish residents of Pinsk in April 1919 by the Polish Army. The event occurred during the opening stages of the Polish-Soviet War, after the Polish Army had captured Pinsk. The Jews who were involved in the massacre were initially arrested whilst engaged in an allegedly Bolshevik gathering. The Polish officer-in-charge ordered the execution of the meeting participants, without trial and based on an understanding of the gathering's purpose that was founded on hearsay. The officer's decision was defended by high-ranking Polish military officers, but was widely criticized by international public opinion.


On April 5, 1919, after the Polish Army had occupied Pinsk, approximately seventy-five percent of the Jewish residents of the city were assembled at a local Zionist center to discuss the distribution of American relief aid.[1][2][3] Although public meetings were banned at the time, there are some accounts that the meeting had officially received approval from Polish military authorities. When major Aleksander Norbut-Luczynski[4] heard that the meeting was a Bolshevik gathering, he initially ordered his troops to arrest the meeting participants.[5] He believed the purpose of the meeting was to plot an armed uprising in Minsk and, without an investigation, he ordered the execution of the prisoners.[6] Within an hour after the arrests, thirty-five of the detainees were put against the wall of the town cathedral[7] and executed by a firing squad of Polish soldiers.[1][4][8] Those who were not executed, both men and women, were stripped and beaten severely,[9] with three of the victims succumbing to their wounds the next day.

According to some accounts, the executions were intended as a deterrent to others planning unrest.[10]

A few days later the Jewish population of the city was fined by the Polish military authorities at Pinsk. The fine exacted was 100,000 marks, ironically the same amount that had been received by Jewish Relief Committee at Pinsk shortly before the massacre.[11]

Initial Reports

Initial reports of the massacre, echoing the claims that the victims were Bolshevik conspirators, were based on an account given by an American investigator, Franciszek (Francis) Fronczak. Fronczak, a former health commissioner of Buffalo, New York and a member of Roman Dmowski's Polish National Committee, where he directed the organization's Department of Public Welfare, had arrived in Europe in May 1918, with permission of the State Department. He was a leader of the National Polish Department of America, a major organization of Polish-American expats. Upon his arrival, he falsely identified himself to local authorities as a United States Army lieutenant colonel who was sent to investigate local health conditions.[12] Fronczak was a member of Roman Dmowski's [13] Although not an eyewitness, Fronczak accepted Luczynski's claims that the aid distribution meeting was actually a Bolshevik conspiracy to obtain arms and destroy the small Polish garrison in Pinsk, and he himself claimed to have heard shots being fired from the Jewish meeting hall when Polish troops approached. He also claimed he had heard a confession from a mortally wounded Jew when he arrived at the town square where the executions had taken place. The initial wire reports of the massacre and a Polish military report which cleared the local authorities of any wrongdoing and denounced the Jewish victims, was based largely on Fronczak's testimony.[12][14]

The version of the events cited by Jewish sources were based on the account of Barnet Zuckerman, a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee who was known as an "ardent Jewish nationalist". He was in charge of delivering the relief aid to the Committee, which was discussing the appropriate way to distribute it. He was not present in Pinsk at the time of the murders, but as soon as he learned of what had happened, he went to Warsaw, where he publicized his version of the events -"A Massacre of Innocent Civilians".[12]

Despite attempts of the Polish authorities to suppress the story, accounts of the incident in the international press caused a scandal which would have strong repercussions abroad.[1][2]


Polish army

The Polish Group Commander General Antoni Listowski claimed that the gathering was a Bolshevik meeting and that the Jewish population attacked the Polish troops.[8] The overall tension of the military campaign was brought up as a justification for the crime.[15] The Polish military refused to give investigators access to documents, and the officers and soldiers were never punished. Major Łuczyński was not charged for any wrongdoing and was eventually transferred and promoted reaching the rank of colonel (1919) and general (1924) in the Polish army.[16] The events were criticized in the Sejm (Polish parliament), but representatives of the Polish army denied any wrongdoing.[7]


In the Western press of the time, the massacre was referred to as the Polish Pogrom at Pinsk,[17] and was noticed by wider public opinion. Upon a request of Polish authorities to president Wilson, an American mission was sent to Poland to investigate nature of the alleged atrocities. The mission, led by American diplomat Henry Morgenthau, Sr., published the Morgenthau Report on October 3, 1919. According to the findings of this commission, a total of about 300 Jews lost their lives in this and related incidents. The commission also severely criticized the actions of Major Łuczyński and his superiors with regards to handling of the events in Pinsk.[8][18][19]

Morgenthau later recounted the massacre in autobiography, where he wrote:

Who were these thirty-five victims? They were the leaders of the local Jewish community, the spiritual and moral leader of the 5,000 Jews in a city, eighty-five percent of the population of which was Jewish, the organizers of the charities, the directors of the hospitals, the friends of the poor. And yet, to that incredibly brutal, and even more incredibly stupid, officer who ordered their execution, they were only so many Jews.[20]


In 1926, kibbutz Gevat (Gvat) was established by emigrants from Pinsk to the British Mandate of Palestine in commemoration of the Pinsk massacre victims.[21]


English historian Norman Davies has questioned whether the meeting was explicitly authorized and notes that "the nature of the illegal meeting, variously described as a Bolshevik cell, an assembly of the local co-operative society, and a meeting of the Committee for American Relief, was never clarified".[10] American historian Richard Lukas described the Pinsk massacre as a "an execution of a thirty-five Bolshevik infiltrators...justified in the eyes of an American investigator",[22] while David Engel has noted that the Morgenthau report, the summary of an American investigation into the Pinsk and other massacres led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., contradicts the accounts presented by Davies and Lukas. In its summary of its investigation of the Pinsk massacre, the Morgenthau report notes that, with respect to the claims of the Polish authorities that the meeting was a gathering of a Bolshevik nature,

We are convinced that no arguments of a Bolshevist nature were mentioned in the meeting in question. While it is recognized that certain information of Bolshevist activities in Pinsk had been reported by two Jewish soldiers, we are convinced that Major Luczynski, the Town Commander, showed reprehensible and frivolous readiness to place credence in such untested assertions, and on this insufficient basis took inexcusably drastic action against reputable citizens whose loyal character could have been immediately established by a consultation with any well known non-Jewish inhabitant.

The report also found that the official statements by General Antoni Listowski, the Polish Group Commander, claiming that Polish troops had been attacked by Jews, were "devoid of foundation."[23]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Yisrael Gutman. Poles and Jews between the Wars: Historic Overview. In: Herbert Arthur Strauss, ed. Hostages of Modernization: Studies on Modern Antisemitism, 1870-1933/39. Walter de Gruyter, 1993.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mieczysław B. Biskupski, Piotr Stefan Wandycz. Ideology, Politics, and Diplomacy in East Central Europe. Boydell & Brewer, 2003.
  3. Azriel Shohat. History of the Jews of Pinsk 1881–1941. Chapter 1. The Character of Pinsk From the 1880s to the First World War. Yizkor Book Project, Tel Aviv, 1966-1977
  4. 4.0 4.1 Davies, Norman (2005). God's Playground: A History of Poland. Columbia University Press. pp. 192. ISBN 0-231-12819-3. 
  5. Henry Morgenthau, French Strother. All in a Life-time. Doubleday, Page and Company, 1922, p. 360. Original from the New York Public Library, digitized Jul 17, 2007>
  6. Józef Lewandowski. "History and Myth: Pinsk, April 1919". Polin 2, 1988.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Michlic, Joanna Beata (2006). Poland's Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 118. ISBN 0-8032-3240-3. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Mission of The United States to Poland, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. Report
  9. Bendersky, Joseph W. (2000). The "Jewish Threat": Anti-semitic Politics of the American Arm. Basic Books. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-465-00618-3.,M1. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Davies, Norman, White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20, St. Martin's Press, 1972, Page 47-48
  11. Charles A. Selden Jews massacred, robbed by Poles New York Times, May 26, 1919
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Corole Fink. Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938 Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  13. Kenneth J. Calder. Britain and the Origins of the New Europe, 1914-1918. Cambridge University Press, 1976.
  14. Józef Lewandowski History and myth: Pinsk, April 1919 Polin 2, 1988
  15. Документы и материалы по истории советско-польских отношений. Т. 2. М., 1963. ("Documents and materials in history of Soviet-Polish relations") LCCN 65-78640 С. 105-107. Документы внешней политики СССР ("Documents of the foreign policy of the USSR"), Т. 2. М., 1957-, С. 74—76., ISSN 0485-7127
  16. (Polish) Lista starszeństwa generałów polskich w 1939 roku
  17. See e.g. David Engel, "Poles, Jews, and Historical Objectivity", Slavic Review, Vol. 46, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 1987), pp. 568-580
  18. Henry Morgenthau (1922). "Appendix. Report of the Mission of the United States to Poland". All in a Life-time. Doubleday, Page and Company. 
  19. Czerniakiewicz, p. 587
  20. Henry Morgenthau.

    All in a Life-Time. Doubleday, Page and Company, 1922 Original from the New York Public Library. Digitized Jul 17, 2007

  21. עמק יזרעאל : Communities
  22. (English) Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide.... McFarland & Company. pp. 41–42. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3. 
  23. David Engel. Poles, Jews, and Historical Objectivity. Slavic Review, Vol. 46, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 1987), pp. 568-580. See also Mission of The United States to Poland, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. Report


  • Lewandowski, Józef (1988). "History and Myth: Pinsk, April 1919". Polin 2, 1988.  [1]
  • Czerniakiewicz, Andrzej (2004). "Ekscesy antyżydowskie wojsk polskich na Kresach Północno-Wschodnich RP" (in Polish). Świat niepożegnany. Warsaw/London: ISP PAN / RYTM. ISBN 83-7399-083-6. 

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