Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ADSS 3.1.131 Janikowski to Maglione: Anti-Jewish agitation in Poland

Stanislaw Janikowski (1891-1965) was a counsellor and charge d'affaires at the Polish Embassy to the Holy See from 1937 to 1939 after which he remained in Rome for the rest of the war.  His note addressed to Cardinal Maglione, the Secretary of State again points to the considerable amount of information making its way to Rome.  Regardless of whether or not the information was entirely accurate, what is clear is that the Germans were engaged in vigorous anti-Jewish propaganda using traditional Catholic stereotyping of Jews to fuel potential violence. 

Persecution of Jews in Warsaw had begun immediately after the arrival of the German troops and while establishment of the ghetto was still some months away, Jews, their homes and businesses, were already targets of random and planned German violence. 

Vilna had been the scene of a major anti-Jewish riot in October 1939 where local police sided with the Antisemites.  At the same time an estimated 14,000 Polish Jews had fled to Vilna to escape the Germans.

Holy Week had been a traditional time on the Christian calendar for expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment in reaction to the focus in Catholic liturgy and piety on the suffering of Jesus.  However, religiously induced pogroms, such as the one mentioned here, were rare in the 20th century.  I suspect much of the information could well have been more myth than fact.

Stanislaw Janikowski

ADSS 3.1.131 Stanislaw Janikowski, Polish charge d’affaires to Maglione

Reference: AES 3128/40

Location and date: Rome, 05.04.1940

Summary: German propaganda in Poland setting Christians against Jews.  Attacks on Jews during Holy Week.  Vandalism in a synagogue at 90 Wilkomierska Street. ‘Pogrom’ in Vilnius. 

Language: French


German propaganda, together with that part of the press in neutral countries dependent on Germany, are trying to poison relations between Christians and Jews in Poland.  To this effect they are spreading rumours about “pogroms” that would take place in Poland. 

It should be noted that in the first place, no “pogrom” could take place without the support, at least passively, of the people.

We are also aware from various sources, all completely reliable, that there are organised groups, paid and protected by the “Gestapo”, who tried to plunder Jewish shops in Warsaw, on Friday 22 March [1940].  This looting was organised for Good Friday, to confirm the German rumour, that during Holy Week Catholics have cause to hate the Jews.

The German press and its affiliates propagated the notice that a “pogrom” took place in Vilna in 24 March, Easter Sunday. Here is what actually happened as reported by the authentically informed press in Vilna.

“On Sunday last, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, a group of thieves entered the synagogue at 90 Wilkomierska Street.  They were seen by the guard there, who forced them to flee before they forced the locks to the room which held the utensils used for worship”.

Note from the Secretariat of State.

06.04.1940.  This note was brought by Monsignor Meystowicz, ecclesiastical advisor to the Polish Embassy to the Holy See.(1)  It confirms the very sad news coming from their country. He wants the Holy See to lift its voice in comfort, and deplore the many evils inflicted on Poland.  The ambassador of Poland made the same request.(2)

Cross references: 
(1) Valerian Meystowicz, (1883-1982) was ordained in 1924.  He worked as secretary to Archbishop Romuald Jalbrzykowski until 1932.  He was appointed as a counsellor to the Polish Embassy to the Holy See from Vilna where he taught canon law.  He moved to Rome at the outbreak of the war and remained there for the rest of his life. 
(2) Casimir Papee, (1889-1979), Ambassador 1939-1958.

1 comment:

  1. All serious students of this complex subject are indebted to the work here in publicizing and commenting constructively on the under-utilized ADSS documentation.

    While reiterating constantly the legitimate call to hasten access to the full range of the Vatican's wartime archives, we should not forget that important, even decisive insights are to be gained from a close, critical reading of this rich, albeit incomplete, documentation.


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