The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Skinhead International: Poland

The Skinhead movement has found adherents in Poland where their violence has become deadly and their political extremism has escalated since the fall of Communism. The Polish Skinheads' anger and energy have been given direction by far-right nationalist forces.

Violent behavior is a hallmark of the Polish Skinheads. They seek out victims at mass gatherings, such as soccer matches and rock concerts. Smaller groups also single out individuals for assault. The Skinheads tend to avoid provoking the police, but have fought them on occasion when the police have tried to quell their disturbances. After an initial perception of spotty law enforcement, the police response to the Skinhead problem is regarded as having improved, particularly since the killing of a German truck driver in October 1992.

Hard-core racist Skinheads in Poland total approximately 2,000, along with twice that number of supporters and hangers-on. Skinhead activity has been observed in Warsaw, Krakow (especially the steel-producing suburb of Nowa Huta), Lodz, Katowice, Wroclaw (Breslau), Gdansk, Gdynia, Poznan, Sopot, Szczecin, Pulawy, Czestochowa and Legnica.

First Appearance

Skinheads first appeared on the Polish scene in the mid-1980's. In the period just before the collapse of the Communist regime, they engaged government forces in street battles. But soon afterward, a sizable number took a turn to the far right. In May 1990, Skins served as bodyguards at the First Congress of the Polish Right, where they beat up left-wing demonstrators protesting in front of the hall. The Skins were members of a nationalist group called Polish National Renewal (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski). Skinheads again provided security at a convention of several nationalist parties in December 1992.

In 1993, National Radical Offensive (Ofensywa Narodowo Radykalna) was formed in Krakow by approximately 50 Skinheads, intending to harass leftists and to coordinate Skinhead groups. It has participated in a number of right-wing demonstrations.

Anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric in the bitter and divisive presidential election of 1990 and the subsequent parliamentary elections further fueled the politicization of Polish Skinheads. Far-right political groups (most of them marginal) that have influenced them include the National Front of Poland (Narodowy Front Polski), the recently formed and similarly named Polish National Front (Polski Front Narodowy), several separate outfits that use the name National Party (Stronnictwo Narodowe), and, most natably, the Polish National Community/Polish National Party (Polska Wspolnota Narodowa/Polskie Stronnictwo Narodowe), led by Boleslaw Tejkowski. The PWN/PSN, which has enrolled Skinheads as party members, preaches that the Poles "are being ruled by Jewish nationalists" who it maligns as former "Communist torturers" turned "capitalist exploiters." The "USA, Germany and Israel are taking over our national riches," says the party.

While older party members print and peddle leaflets and publications, it is the Skinheads who have heeded Tejkowski's appeals to demonstrate in the streets. The PWN/PSN maintains contacts with extremists in other countries, including Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National in France, the Russian group Pamyat, and the Ukrainian Pan-Slavic Movement. Tejkowski also boasts of contacts with the North Korean dnad Iraqi embassies in Warsaw. Buring court proceedings against Tejkowski in February 1992, Skinheads demonstrated inside and outside the courthouse in Warsaw, and beat two journalists. Tejkowski was being tried for inciting Skinheads to attack Jews and others, but he went into hiding to avoid court-ordred psychiatric tests. In October 1994, Tejkowski was given a one-year suspended sentence, but was told that he would spend that time in jail if he resumed his activities within two years of the ruling. He declared that he would carry on in the same fashion despite the court's decision, reportedly vowing to "continue criticizing the authorities until they are overthrown."

"Poland for the Poles"

The targets of Skinhead propaganda and violence are so-called aliens, be they foreigners, Jews or punk rockers. Anti-Semitic slogans are routinely shouted at their demonstrations. In April 1995, for example, some 80 young men, most of them Skinheads, chanted "Down with the Jews" and "Poland for the Poles" during a demonstration in a Warsaw square. Skins yelled anti-Jewish slogans during an April 1992 ceremony to observe the 51st anniversary of the formation of the Nazis of the Jewish ghetto in Czestochowa. The Skinheads, who came from Krakow, Lodz, Poznan and Wroclaw, erupted in a vocal barrage as the Israeli Ambassador to Poland unveiled a commemorative plaque to the victims. Police quickly quelled the disturbance without any arrests. Skinheads and their allies have attempted to disrupt other Holocaust commemorations since then. Skins have also demonstrated in front of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw, and have burned an Israeli flag in Szczecin.

Violence aimed at Jews has been physical as well as rhetorical. In July 1991, Skinheads attacked a female student at Warsaw University who "looked Jewish," cutting her face with a razor. She lost an eye. The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw was attacked by a gang of Skinheads in November 1990. When they were unable to force the doors, they stoned the building, breaking windows. A police spokesman in Wroclaw said Skinheads were beleived responsible for the destruction of 40 tombstones in that city's Jewish cemetary in April 1992. On Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) in 1991, the Warsaw synagogue was attacked by a group of young thugs, including Skinheads, resulting in injuries to two elderly worshippers. Since that incident, the police have maintained a permanent presence near the synagogue.

Jewish Pope

Skinheads and other extremists frequently use the term "Jew" as a label for any of their targets regardless of whether they are actually Jewish. Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, numerous government officials and large numbers of priests and bishops are "Jews," according to the publication of the PWN/PSN.

Germans are also a target of the Polish Skinheads, who hold that a reunified Germany, along with increased German investment, poses a threat to Poland. Polish Skins are active in Silesia, an area with a German minority that Poland acquired from Germany after World War II, and that German revanchists yearn to recover.

Mutual Hatred

Hatred of foreigners has propelled both German and Polish Skinheads to commit violence against citizens of each other's countries. German Skinheads attacked a busload of Polish tourists on October 3, 1992, following an open-air concert in Massen that attracted more than 1,500 Skinheads. Two days earlier, three German truck drivers were attacked by a gang of Polish Skinheads in Nowa Huta. One of the victims was killed. The police quickly identified and arrested several suspects, and there was vigorous local condemnation of the killing. In Opole, in February 1992, Polish Skins attacked a group of Germans and Poles in a cafe, and beat other Poles who tried to intervene.

Others who have been assaulted are Arabs, Gypsies, and black students at universities in Krakow and Wroclaw. One of the Skinheads arrested for the killing of the German truck driver was already under investigation for the beating of two Arab students. A week after the assaults on the German truck drivers, another gang of Skinheads attacked a shelter in Bytom that housed Romanian Gypsies. In a separate incident, an elderly Gypsy woman was beaten by Skinheads in a December 1992 attack on Gypsy houses in Chorzow. In addition, while no violence broke out, a rally by 100 Skinheads in Krakow during March 1992 featured demands to "stop the inflow of foreigners." They were prevented by the police from marching to the former Soviet consulate to stage an anti-Ukrainian demonstraton. Recently, cases of Skinheads beating up blind youth have also been reported.

In February 1995, a black American basketball player, Thomas Eggleton, who plays for the local team in the town of Stargard, was attacked by a group of Skinheads who shouted insults and beat him.

Skinhead Style

The Skinheads in Poland have adopted the accoutrements of their counterparts in the West: Doc Martens boots, narrow heans and thin suspenders. They frequently wear T-shirts inscribed "Skinhead Oi."

Polish Skinhead bands (some of which may no longer be active) have included BTH, Grunwald, Ramses and the Hooligans, Szczerbiec (Sword), White Power, Slav Power, Zyklon B, Fatherland, Poland, Sex Bomba, Zadruga, Honor, Sztorm 68 and Legion. The bands Konkwista 88 and Falanga 88, both from Wroclaw, describe themselves as National Socialist ("88" is neo-Nazi code for "Heil Hitler," H being the eighth letter of the alphabet). Followers of Konkwista 88 and Falanga 88 attacked a gathering organized by black students to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa.

News about the music scene fills the pages of Skinhead publications. Some Polish skinzines are Szxzerbiec, Kolomir, Skinhead Polski, Czas Mlodych and Krzyzowiec. A piece written for a British skinzine by Polish Skinheads indicated that they have been in contact with their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, especially the former Czechoslovakia.

There are other international connections. The Swedish neo-Nazi Skinhead gang Vitt Ariskt Motstand (White Aryan Resistance), for instance, has established contacts in Szczecin in the region of Pomerania. Some German neo-Nazi Skinheads had hoped to form an alliance with their Polish counterparts against "aliens" from further to the south and the east, but they have been stymied by Polish extremists' antagonism toward Germany. Ironically, Polish Skins - particularly those from Krakow and Nowa Huta - reportedly purchase thier Skinhead gear from West Berlin suppliers.

"Too Much Dancing"

Some Skins in Poland apparently see an overemphasis on music as a detrement to their cause. "Man does not dance, but acts. There is too much dancing, too little work and struggle," one activist is quoted as saying. His choice of words suggests a certain debt owed by the Skinheads and their ultra-nationalist confederates to the rules of the old Communist regime. A Skinhead leader in Katowice has been exposed as a former agent of the disbanded Communist secret police, fueling suspicions by some in Poland that there may be others like him.

The attitude of Polish Skinheads toward the Catholic Church appears ambivalent. Skins staged an anti-abortion protest in Warsaw shouting "Catholic Polant - Sieg Heil!" But in Przemysl, in southeastern Poland, Skinheads threatened to beat up "any Polish priest who will dare say Mass" at a controversial proposed memorial for German soldiers in World War II. The threats in this case probably owe more to anti-German hostility than antipath toward the Church. The Pope has denounced the "incredible ferocity" of neo-Nazi Skinheads and other hate groups as "cruel and dangerous," and has urged poeple to reject them. (Anti-Defamation League, 59-62)

Work Cited

Anti-Defamation League. The Skinhead International: A Worldwide Survey of Neo-Nazi Skinheads. New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1995. Anti-Defamation League, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.

Disclaimer: not all skinheads are neo-nazis or white supremacists. There are many skinheads who are non- or anti-racist, and who come from a variety of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Nizkor recognizes their achievements in anti-racism: they are part of the traditional, non-racist skinhead subculture and are not the perpetrators of the hate crimes discussed here.

Unless otherwise specified, the word "skinhead" within these pages refers only to neo-Nazi and white supremacist skinheads, the perpetrators of hate crimes and participants in racist organizations. We cannot edit the body of the text above, because it was not written by Nizkor, and to change the wording would be fraudulent. Please keep in mind that not all skinheads are racist.

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