Prosecutor launches investigation into ‘Judgement of Judas’ incident

The regional prosecutor in Jarosław, south-eastern Poland, is investigating whether the beating and burning of an effigy of Judas that took place last Friday could be considered an incitement to violence. The effigy in question was made to resemble a caricature of an Orthodox Jew.

“The investigation has been launched due to a potential violation of article 256 of the Penal Code about inciting racial, national, ethnic, or religious violence,” Agnieszka Kaczorowska, the regional prosecutor from Jarosław told news portal “After watching the incident online, I have come to the conclusion that it could be regarded as hate speech.”

Earlier this week, Church officials expressed their disapproval of the incident.

“In the context of the events that took place in Pruchnik on April 19, the Church expresses her disapproval of practices that violates human dignity,” wrote Bishop Rafał Markowski from the Polish Episcopal Conference, the Chairman of the Council for Religious Dialogue and of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism.

On Friday morning, Pruchnik residents took part in a traditional ritual of symbolically sentencing Judas to death in an event called the “Judgement of Judas”. At this year’s event the effigy had a big red nose, black hat and Jewish Orthodox-style ringlets.

It was hanged from a tree and subsequently dragged through the streets with the public, including children, repeatedly beating it up with sticks. The ceremony concluded with the burning of the effigy.

Commenting on the event, interior minister Joachim Brudziński called it “idiotic, pseudo-religious chutzpah” which does “incredible damage” to the Church and to Poland. In reaction to this event, Robert Singer, the head of the World Jewish Congress said that “Jews are deeply disturbed by this ghastly revival of medieval anti-Semitism that led to unimaginable violence and suffering.”

The mayor of Pruchnik, Wacław Szkoła, also criticised the incident, saying it can be "used by enemies of our homeland as an example of the alleged antisemitism of Poles" and that actually many residents of the town helped Jews during WWII.

The Judgement of Judas used to be a part of Roman Catholic Easter celebrations dating back to 18th century. Due to excessive aggression of participants, and the often antisemitic character of the ritual, the Church banned such practices. The tradition survived only in some parts of south-eastern Poland, including in Pruchnik, however it was also banned there in recent years and returned in 2019 despite lack of consent from the local parish.