Poland, 1407, Jews are burned alive after blood libel accusations

The Jerusalem Post's feature "This day in history" reports on October 26, 1407, when jews are burned alive in Cracow, Poland:

1407: Jews are persecuted in the Cracow Accusations, one of the first blood libels to be recorded in Poland. The Jews try to defend themselves and ultimately take refuge in the Church of St. Anne which is surrounded and then set afire. Any children left alive are forcibly baptized.

I copy below an article that gives more info on the anti-Jewish blood libels in Europe.

Blighted Passover Days and Blood Libels
By David Rosenthal

Periods of Jewish persecution usually reached their climax around Passover. Cecil Roth, well known British-Jewish historian, calls attention to this connection in his introduction to the Haggadah published in London in 1934. He finds the key to this connection in several causes. With the advent of spring, he explains, human passions and emotions begin to intensify. Spring was also the time of year when armies were on the move; when they turned their attention more actively to their weapons after a winter of being "frozen" to their positions. This was the season when the Christian world was reminded in their churches of its traditional hostility to Judaism and Jews. (The Haggadah, Soncino Press, London, 1934, p. 14)

In this atmosphere of unsated religious fanaticism (plus the usual social-economic reasons) Jews found themselves on perilous volcanic ground. Every expression of popular anger writes Shimon Dubnow was capable of bringing down upon the Jews disaster and destruction. The religiosity of the populace was fed by a variety of malevolent rumors which portrayed Jews as unspeakable creatures.

Thus, the holiday which memorializes the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, and which is also associated with the season of spring, was blighted by false accusations that Jews use the blood of Christian children for baking Passover matzos. This senseless fabrication goes all the way back to the year 1171. In the French city ofBlois the servant of a city official invented a story that he had seen a Jew throw the dead body of a Christian child into the river. He also "testified" that the blood of the child had been used by Jews for "ritual purposes."

As punishment for these "crimes" thirty Jews were burned to death on the 20th day of Sivan in the year 1171. In memory of these martyrs the rabbi of Blois ordained a special fast day.

From that date forward, the "blood libel" was used against Jews for 800 years. It led to the martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Prague and Vienna (1305), Cracow (1407), Rome (1554), Lublin (1636), Bucharest (1801), Vilna (1900), Memi (1929), Salonika (1929), Kovno (1929). And these are only a few of the 140 places where blood libel trials took place. (The complete list can be found in Volume 2 of the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, New York, p. 410)

In the Jewish world prior to World War I, Kishinev became "famous" for its pogrom in 1903, organized by Tsarist government officials in response to an alleged ritual murder committed by Jews. Immediately after this pogrom, Chaim Nachman Bialik came to Kishinev from Odessa. Moved by what he saw there, he wrote one of the most intense outcries of sorrow and anger in Hebrew literature. In Yiddish it is known as "In the City of Slaughter." This is Bialik's own Yiddish version of the Hebrew B'ir Ho-harega. In this Song of Lamentation he calls upon the reader to see "what has resulted from Man's bloody sweat," when "God blessed you with twins a slaughter and a spring," when "the garden was in bloom, the sun shone and the shochet slaughtered."

One of the most notorious blood libel trials took place in Kiev in 1913. The Tsarist government had accused Mendel Beilis of murdering a Christian child in order to use his blood in the baking ofmatzos. The decision of the court was a compromise. Beilis was not guilty, but the child was indeed a victim of ritual murder "by parties unknown." Afterwards, the real guilty parties a gang of criminals confessed to the crime.

In the previously mentioned list of countries in which the blood libels grew in fruitful soil, Poland is at the top of the list with 15 cities. And this was a country which boasted of being a "fortress of Christendom." In the city of Leczyca, remnants of this libel existed (in Independent Poland) from 1918 to 1939, evidence that the "impossible" can still remain a fact.

Jews had lived in Leczyca from ancient times. In his monumental work, "History of Jewish Commerce on Polish Soil," (Warsaw 1937, 792 pages), Dr. Yitzhok Schipper mentions Leczyca twice. The details go back to 1503 (pp 52, 72). According to a widely disseminated book by Sebastian Miczinski, an inveterate anti-Semite with a Ph.D, "everything is in the hands of the Jews; you can see them on the market days in Leczyca... in Lowicz Posen Lublin Cracow. In defiance of the law, they import various products from Germany and Czechoslovakia..."

Concerning the blood libel in Leczyca, and how "the remnants of ritual murder charges" were preserved in Poland up to the outbreak of World War II, I wish to cite Isaiah Taub, a YIVO coworker from the founding of that institution until the last years of his life. He and I were friends before the war and I am very familiar with that whole tragic chapter.

In the Australia Jewish News of Friday, April 14, 1989, Isaiah Taub wrote: "I was a guide for the Jewish Agricultural Society in Warsaw, and I was leading a group of Jewish tourists through the old historic city of Leczyca. Among the old remarkable buildings that we visited was an old church. Built into the walls on the inside of the church were coffins containing the remains of Catholic saints and martyrs. Among the latter we noticed in one niche, behind glass, the skeleton of a young child. The inscription, in gold letters, said: "Here rest the remains of a Christian child whom the Jews killed for Passover and used his blood for baking matzos." We left that place numb, speechless and depressed."

Years later, Taub continues, "I found the following in Dubnow's 'History of the Jews,' (Vol. 6, Chapter 4): "At the end of the 16th century and thereafter, not one year passed without a blood libel trial against Jews in Poland, trials which always ended with the execution of Jewish victims in a heinous manner..."

Concerning Leczyca, he writes: "In 1639 there was a blood libel trial in Leczyca. The two gabbais of the synagogue, Meier and Eliezer, after cruel inquisitorial questioning, were found guilty and executed. Their bodies were cut to pieces and hung on poles at crossroads, so that Jews would see them and be terrorized. The bones of the kidnapped child were displayed in a coffin in the Bernardino Church in Leczyca, and on a metal board was a written account of the event. On the wall nearby there hangs a picture showing Jews sucking the blood out of a child, blood which they 'use for making matzo.'

In the course of generations this lie gave rise to various customs around the seder table. There were times when Jews avoided using red wine for the Four Cups. The custom of opening the door during the reciting of "Pour out Thy wrath" (shefoch chamoskho) is connected with the blood libel. Jews believed that they should open the door and look around, lest someone had left the body of a dead child outside the house. (This is one of many interpretations.)

The blood libel was never completely uprooted from the consciousness of the masses. As regards Poland, Leczyca is a sharp indictment of anti-Semitism in that country prior to World War II. Only in a country where the Church supported the "proof of ritual murder" was it possible to continue the propaganda of its official press agency, Katolicka Agenda Prasowa (KAP), which inundated all the Polish newspapers with its inflammatory releases. In the churches, priests continued to call for an active anti-Jewish policy. Only a few were opposed to the Catholic postulates of forced emigration by means of legal restrictions.

Posted by David Melle
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My name is Jay Beilis, & Mendel Beilis was my grandfather.
Several weeks after my grandfather was aquitted, Sholum Alcheim visited him at his house & told him the weight of twelve million Europeon Jews were on his shoulders for every day he was in prison.
It is a story that must not be forgotton

Posted by: jay beilis at February 22, 2003 04:48 PM

Hello Jay,

Thanks for the comments - we will never forget the story of your grandfather.

I encourage everyone to check out Jay's family site at:


Posted by: David Melle at February 22, 2003 05:34 PM

this is sooo sad i am crying

Posted by: christyl at March 21, 2006 03:15 PM

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