860C.4016/62: Telegram

The Minister in Poland (Gibson) to the Acting Secretary of State11

40. Department’s 1797 [1727], April 25, 2 p.m. to Mission. Following is report of Lieutenant Foster referred to in my 35, May 30, 10 [9] p.m.

“The circumstances leading up to the shooting of 33 Jews in Pinsk on April 5th are as follows: A meeting of the Zionist Branch of the Cooperative Societies of Pinsk was held in the Zionist reading rooms on the afternoon of April 5th. The Polish Military authorities had given permission for the holding of this meeting the purpose of which had been stated to be for the election of delegates to the General Cooperative Society which was to meet on April 7th [5th], It often stated in notices posted about Pinsk that meetings unsustained [unauthorised] by the military authorities were prohibited. This meeting was brought to close without result as an element of young Jews present created such a disturbance that progress was impossible. After the close of the meeting most of the senior members left but the younger element remained behind [even in view of the military order prohibiting gatherings.] Waiting in another small room were several men and women preparing lists of the poor and needy of the town for transmission to the American Jewish Relief Committee. About half an hour after the official closing of the cooperative meeting Polish soldiers surrounded and entered the building causing tremendous excitement and confusion. Those present were seen to hastily tear up papers taken from their pockets and to remove red bows from the [lapels] of their coats. Others tried to escape from the windows and two of these were [shot] by soldiers [guarding] the outside of the building. In all about 3700 [100] people were [marched off] by the ten Polish soldiers who, on account of their small number, were unable to search their [clothing] or prevent them from tearing up papers that they were still taking from their pockets and stamping into the mud.

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The Polish Major, commanding the district of Pinsk, had only 30 men in the town garrison. The balance of his small force was being employed in an attempt to meet a counter-attack of the Bolshevik forces which had Pinsk practically surrounded at that time. This attack had been going badly for the Poles much earlier and the reports circulating about town had brought out an arrogant hostile attitude on the part of the younger Jews. His only reenforcements could come from Brest Litovsk, hundred miles to the rear, over lines of communication that have been frequently attacked during the past week. His telephone lines were cut practically every night. Light signals from Pinsk to the Bolshevik lines, to the town. Two Jewish soldiers in the Polish garrison, Pinsk, were approached in the synagogue to join the Bolshevik army and told to come to the Zionist reading rooms on the afternoon of April 5th where a meeting was to be held at which would be leaders who could enroll them. These soldiers informed the Polish authorities and it was as a result of this information that a detachment was sent at the appointed time to search the building with the result as outlined above.

Faced with these circumstances and realizing his inability, with only 30 men, to protect the rear of his fighting lines from a revolt in the town, the Polish commander determined upon summary action, whereupon the prisoners were marched to the market place. The old men, the women, and children 17 years of age, were picked out. The balance were searched and questioned and those were taken out who could show a cooperative membership card, who were known to the authorities to be reputable citizens and the rest, 35 in number, were lined up before a wall and shot. It is my opinion and the opinion of the British and French officers who accompanied me that this shooting cannot be considered in any way as pogrom or anti-Jewish aspect [massacre]. Our conversations with the representative Jews of Pinsk brought out the fact that there existed in Pinsk a disturbing element of younger Jews radical in sentiment who opposed all efforts Jewish [or otherwise] to better conditions in the town and it was this element that created the difficulties at the meeting of the Cooperative Society on April 5th. A Bolshevik prisoner taken in the front lines early on the morning of April 6th asked regarding the progress of this uprising at Pinsk. We picked up ourselves from the torn bits of paper on the floor of the Zionist reading room several little red paper bows and in a hole in the wall found the paper from which these were made. Jewish witnesses testified to the knowledge of such red bows as a Bolshevik sign.

I may add that the Polish military authorities welcomed our investigation, placed existing facilities at our disposal and interfered in no way with our examination of witnesses by only the English officer and myself. There was no Pole present and the entire examination was carried on under the direction of the principal Jewish rabbis of Pinsk who furnished interpreters when such were necessary.[”]

  1. Forwarded by the Commission to Negotiate Peace as No. 2376.