Fifty years ago, Raphael Blumenfeld was lying on the ground in front of 7 Planty St. with a broken skull, blood all around him. Someone hit him with a stone, and Blumenfeld began to talk to God.
"God! Those people have no mercy in their hearts," Blumenfeld remembered thinking about the mob that turned on Jews in this southern Polish town in July 1946, killing 42 in what has become known as Europe's last pogrom.
Blumenfeld survived the massacre and fled Poland later that year, ending up in Israel in 1948. On Sunday he was back in Poland for the first time to join Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Roman Catholic and Jewish religious leaders and others in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bloodshed.
"We are obliged to accept the legacy of our history," Cimoszewicz told the 2,000 to 3,000 people at the ceremony. "Deeply regretting everything that Poles have ever been guilty of against Jews, and sincerely apologizing for it, we see the need to work toward true Polish-Jewish reconciliation and brotherhood, which we truly believe is possible."
Although 12 people stood trial and nine were sentenced to death within a week of the massacre, the Communist authorities of the time made the pogrom a taboo subject for decades.
Only after the Communists were toppled in 1989 was an official inquiry into the pogrom begun; it is still underway. The Polish government officially apologized for the massacre in February.
Pre-World War II Poland had a thriving Jewish population of 3.5 million, or 10% of the total population. Three million perished in the Holocaust, and only about 250,000 remained in Poland after the war.
The violence in July 1946 began after a false report that a Polish boy who had been missing for a few days and then reappeared had been abducted by Jews and held in the house at 7 Planty St.
Blumenfeld, then an instructor in a Zionist youth organization, was having breakfast with some group members in a second-floor apartment when a lieutenant and three soldiers walked into the room. Suddenly, there was machine-gun fire, Blumenfeld recalled.
"One boy was killed instantly, another was wounded," he said. The soldiers dragged others down the staircase to the shouting mob.
Of his group of 35 youths, three boys and two girls were killed and 10 others wounded. The girls were thrown out a second-floor balcony into the crowd, he said.
"Sometimes people talk of murder in cold blood," Blumenfeld said. "That was different--hot, burning murder."