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The Pinsk massacre was the murder of thirty-five Jewish residents of Pinsk taken as hostages by the Polish Army after it captured the city in April 1919, during the opening phases of the Polish-Soviet War. The local Jews were arrested while holding a meeting. The Polish officer in charge, upon hearing that the meeting was a Bolshevik gathering, ordered the execution of the suspects without trial. His decision was defended by his Polish military superiors, but widely criticized by international public opinion.


File:Pinsk massacre victims.jpg

Victims of Pinsk massacre

On April 5, after the Polish army had occupied Pinsk, some seventy-five to one hundred Jewish residents of the city were assembled at a local Zionist center to discuss the distribution of American relief aid.[1][2][3] The meeting had earlier been officially approved by the Polish military authorities.[4][5]

Major Aleksander Norbut-Luczynski,[6] upon hearing that the meeting was a gathering of Bolsheviks plotting an armed uprising in Minsk, arrested and ordered the execution of 35 men attending the meeting without conducting an investigation.[7][8] According to some accounts, this was to make an example of them, hoping to deter any possible unrest.[9]

Within an hour of the arrest, thirty-five [4][6][10] of the detainees were shot by Polish soldiers against the wall of the town cathedral.[10] Those not executed, men and women, were stripped and beaten severely.[2][4][9] The next morning three wounded victims found to be still alive and were killed by the soldiers.[11]

The initial reports of the massacre, which echoed the Polish claims that the murder victims were Bolshevik conspirators, were based on an account given by an American investigator, Franciszek (Francis) Fronczak, who had come to Europe in May 1918, with the permission of the State Department. Fronczak was a leader of the National Polish Department of America and a former health commissioner from Buffalo, New York, who falsely identified himself to local authorities as a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel investigating local health conditions.[12] Fronczak was a member of Roman Dmowski's anti-semitic[13] Polish National Committee, where he directed the organization's Department of Public Welfare, and was considered "very anti-semitic" by his colleagues.[12] Fronczak, although not an eyewitness, accepted Luczynski's claims that the aid distribution meeting was actually a meeting in which Bolsheviks were conspiring to obtain arms and to murder Pinsk's small garrison, and himself claimed to have heard shots being fired from the Jewish meeting hall at Polish troops. Fronczak, who also claimed to have heard a confession from a mortally wounded Jew when he arrived at the town square where the executions took 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] Despite the attempts of the Polish authorities to suppress the story of the massacre, accounts of the incident in the international press caused a scandal which would have strong repercussions abroad.[1][2]

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 known as an "ardent Jewish nationalist".[12] He was in charge of delivering the relief aid to the Committee which was discussing the appropriate ways 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, were he publicized his version of the events - A "Massacre of Innocent Civilians".[12]

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".[9] Richard Lukas described the Pinsk massacre as a "an execution of a thirty-five Bolshevik infiltrators...justified in the eyes of an American investigator".[15] 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.[16]

The report also found that official statements by General Antoni Listowski, the Polish Group Commander, claiming that Polish troops had been attacked by Jews, were "devoid of foundation."[17]

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[18]


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.[11] The overall tension of the military campaign was brought up as a justification for the crime.[19] 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.[20] The events were criticized in the Sejm (Polish parliament), but representatives of the Polish army denied any wrongdoing.[10]


In the Western press of the time, the massacre was referred to as the Polish Pogrom at Pinsk,[21] 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. [22] The mission, led by American diplomat Henry Morgenthau, Sr., published the Morgenthau Report on October 3, 1919. [11] [23] 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.[11][23]

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.[24]


In 1926, kibbutz Gevat (Gvat) was established by emigrants from Pinsk to the British Mandate of Palestine in commemoration of the Pinsk massacre victims.[25]



  1. 1.0 1.1 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 2.2 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 1880's to the First World War. Yizkor Book Project, Tel Aviv, 1966-1977
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bendersky, Joseph W. (2000). The "Jewish Threat": Anti-semitic Politics of the American Arm. Basic Books. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0465006183.,M1.
  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. 6.0 6.1 Davies, Norman (2005). "God's Playground: A History of Poland". Columbia University Press. pp. 192. ISBN 0231128193.
  7. Józef Lewandowski. "History and Myth: Pinsk, April 1919". Polin 2, 1988.
  8. 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>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Davies, Norman, White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20, St. Martin's Press, 1972, Page 47-48
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 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 0803232403.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Mission of The United States to Poland, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. Report
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 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. Template:En icon Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide.... McFarland & Company. pp. 41–42. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3.
  16. 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
  17. ibid
  18. Charles A. Selden Jews massacred, robbed by Poles New York Times, May 26, 1919
  19. Документы и материалы по истории советско-польских отношений. Т. 2. М., 1963. ("Documents and materials in history of Soviet-Polish relations") Template:LCCN С. 105-107. Документы внешней политики СССР ("Documents of the foreign policy of the USSR"), Т. 2. М., 1957-, С. 74—76., Template:ISSN
  20. Template:Pl icon Lista starszeństwa generałów polskich w 1939 roku
  21. See e.g. David Engel, "Poles, Jews, and Historical Objectivity", Slavic Review, Vol. 46, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 1987), pp. 568-580
  22. Czerniakiewicz, p. 587
  23. 23.0 23.1 Henry Morgenthau (1922). "Appendix. Report of the Mission of the United States to Poland". All in a Life-time. Doubleday, Page and Company.
  24. Henry Morgenthau. All in a Life-Time. Doubleday, Page and Company, 1922 Original from the New York Public Library. Digitized Jul 17, 2007
  25. עמק יזרעאל : Communities


  • 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 8373990836.

pl:Masakra w Pińsku (1919)

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