Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland

Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland

Before the Second World War, Second Polish Republic was home to 3,500,000 Polish Jews. After the 1939 German invasion of Poland, Nazi-occupied Poland witnessed the Holocaust, with over 90% of Polish Jewry perishing over the next few years.

The German Nazi extermination of Polish Jewry

Prior to Second World War there were 3,500,000 Jews in Polish Second Republic, about 10% of the population, living predominantly in the cities.

Persecution of the Jews by the Nazi German occupation government, particularly in the urban areas, began immediately after the 1939 German invasion of Poland. In the first year and a half, the Germans confined themselves to stripping the Jews of their property, herding them into ghettoes and putting them into forced labor in war-related industries. During this period the Germans forced Jewish communities to appoint [Judenräte| Judenrat|Jewish Council] s (Judenräte) to administer the ghettos and to be "responsible in the strictest sense" for carrying out German orders. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, German police units, especially the "Einsatzgruppen", operated behind the front lines to shoot 'dangerous elements' (Jews and Communists). About 2 million Jews were shot and buried in mass graves, many in the areas of eastern Poland which had been annexed by the Soviets in 1939. The survivors were incarcerated in newly-created ghettos.

At the Wannsee conference near Berlin on 20 January 1942, Dr Josef Bühler urged Reinhard Heydrich to begin the proposed "final solution to the Jewish question". Accordingly, in 1942, the Germans began the systematic killing of the Jews, beginning with the Jewish population of the General Government. Six extermination camps (Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka) were established in which the most extreme measure of the Holocaust, the mass murder of millions of Jews from Poland and other countries, was carried out between 1942 and 1944. The camps were designed and operated by Nazi Germans and there were no Polish guards at any of the camps, Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, [http://books.google.com/books?id=vkLTSB7NHwgC&pg=PA5&dq=%22There+were+no+Polish+guards+at+any+of+the+camps%22&sig=ACfU3U2XIN-U1pROFKbv2olrhmuq1VXrhg Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future] , Rowman & Littlefield 2007, ISBN 0742546667] despite the sometimes used misnomer Polish death camps. Of Poland's prewar Jewish population of 3,500,000, only about 50,000-120,000 would survive the war.

Poles and the Jews

:"See also: Polish Righteous among the Nations, Poland and collaboration during WWII"The role played by Poles during the Holocaust has been the subject of considerable debate since the fall of Communism in Poland. Polish political parties, the Catholic Church, and Jewish organisations both inside and outside Poland have contributed.

The presence of this large non-Christian, mostly acculturated minority [Celia Stopnicka Heller, [http://books.google.com/books?id=GmVt-O3AR34C&pg=PA65&dq=%22the+Jews+of+Poland+were+among+the+least+acculturated+of+all+European+Jewish+communities%22&as_brr=3&ei=-As5SJneN6bUswPvmMi9Cw&sig=V0_E8XzTWIxQZHI1JgCmhaA_p04 On the Edge of Destruction...] , 1993, Wayne State University Press, 396 pages ISBN 0814324940] in newly independent (since 1918) Poland – a deeply Catholic country – had become a source of tension, and periodically of violence between Poles and Jews. As elsewhere in Europe during the interwar period, there was both official and popular anti-Semitism in Poland, at times encouraged by the Catholic Church and by some political parties (particularly the "endecja" faction), but not directly by the government. There were also political forces in Poland which opposed anti-Semitism, particulary centered around the tolerant Polish dictator, Józef Piłsudski, but in the later 1930s after Piłsudski's death, reactionary and anti-Semitic forces gained ground. [Joshua B. Zimmerman. [http://books.google.com/books?id=uHJyoGiep2gC&pg=PA19&dq=pilsudski+jews++antisemitism&ei=ImK3SKTCLI3IywThv9CFBw&sig=ACfU3U0Z7JIF0Iow8Gq92Bs4O6l9mYONLw "Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath."] Rutgers University Press, 2003.]

In some cases, the Germans were able to exploit the local populace's anti-Semitism, and Poland was no exception. Some persons betrayed hidden Jews to the Germans, and others made their living as "Jew-hunters" (szmalcownik), blackmailing Jews in hiding or Poles who protected them.cite book |last= Jan |first=Grabowski |title= "Ja tego żyda znam!" : szantażowanie żydów w Warszawie, 1939-1943 / "I know this Jew!": Blackmailing of the Jews in Warsaw 1939-1945 |url= http://www.holocaustresearch.pl/publikacje(en).htm |year= 2004 |publisher=Wydawn. IFiS PAN : Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów |location=Warsaw, Poland |language=Polish |isbn=8373880585 |oclc=60174481 ] Anti-Semitism was particularly strong in the eastern areas which had been occupied by the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1941 (after the Soviet invasion of Poland). Here the local population had witnessed the Polish Jews welcoming and collaborating with the Soviets, [Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, [http://www.pacwashmetrodiv.org/events/jedwabne/pogonowski.text.htm "Jedwabne: The Politics of Apology",] presented at the Panel Jedwabne – A Scientific Analysis, Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, Inc., June 8, 2002, Georgetown University, Washington DC.] [Tomasz Strzembosz, [http://web.archive.org/web/20010610072611/http://www.rzeczpospolita.pl/gazeta/wydanie_010331/publicystyka/publicystyka_a_2.html “Inny obraz sąsiadów”] archived by Internet Wayback Machine] and also assumed that, driven by vengeance, Jewish Communists had been prominent in the repressions and mass deportations of Catholic Poles following the Soviet invasion.

A few German-inspired massacres were carried out in that region, with the help of, or even active participation by, non-Jewish Poles. In the most infamous massacre in Jedwabne, between 300 (Institute of National Remembrance's Final Findings) [http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/J/final.html] and 1,600 (Jan T. Gross) [http://his.princeton.edu/info/e47/jan_gross.html] Jews were beaten and burned alive in a barn by some of Jedwabne's citizens in the presence of German gendarmerie. The full extent of Polish participation in the massacres of the Polish Jewish community remains a controversial subject, but the Polish Institute for National Remembrance identified 22 other towns or villages that had pogroms similar to Jedwabne. [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,669067,00.html] The reasons for these massacres are still debated, but they included: German Nazi pressure, anti-Semitism, resentment over alleged Jewish cooperation with the Soviet invaders during the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 and the 1939 invasion of Kresy, and simple greed.

Estimates of the number of Polish collaborators with the Nazi occupation vary from seven thousand to about one million. The lower estimate is based primarily on the sentences of the Special Courts of the Polish Underground State, sentencing individuals for treason; the upper includes low-ranking Polish bureaucrats employed in German administration, members of the Blue Police, Baudienst work battalions, forced laborers in German-run factories and farms, and other Polish citizens who in some way contributed to the German plans. The high figure is also based on a single statistical table of outdated scholarship and a very thin source base.John Connelly, "Why the Poles Collaborated so Little: And Why That Is No Reason for Nationalist Hubris", Slavic Review, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Winter, 2005), pp. 771-781, [http://www.jstor.org/pss/3649912 JSTOR] ] Relatively little active collaboration by individual Poles – with any aspect of the German presence in Poland – took place. All Nazi propaganda efforts to recruit Poles in either labour or auxiliary roles were met with almost no interest, due to the everyday reality of German occupation. The non-German auxiliary workers in the extermination camps, for example, were mostly Ukrainians and Balts. John Connelly quoted a Polish historian (Leszek Gondek) calling the phenomenon of Polish collaboration "marginal" and wrote that "only relatively small percentage of Polish population engaged in activities that may be described as collaboration when seen against the backdrop of European and world history".

In general, during the German occupation, most Poles were engaged in a desperate struggle for survival. They were in no position to oppose or impede the German extermination of the Jews even if they had wanted to. There were however many cases of Poles risking death to hide Jewish families and in other ways assist the Jews. Many Poles hid and aided Jews rather than collaborate in their destruction - it is estimated that hundreds of thousands, or even a million Poles, aided their Jewish neighbors.Furth, Hans G. "One million Polish rescuers of hunted Jews?". Journal of Genocide Research, Jun99, Vol. 1 Issue 2, p227, 6p; (AN 6025705)] Richard C. Lukas, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=lz9obsxmuW4C&pg=PA13&dq=%22&sig=ACfU3U0SGgyvqSbL4bypepYoO_CbYc_N_w "Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust"] University Press of Kentucky 1989 - 201 pages. Page 13; also in Richard C. Lukas, "The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944", University Press of Kentucky 1986 - 300 pages.] An estimate of Polish Jews that at some point were being hidden by the Poles is around 450,000. Polish citizens have the highest amount of Righteous Among the Nations awards at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

Poland was occupied by the Nazis from 1939 to 1945 and no Polish collaboration government was ever formed during that period. The Polish underground movements, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army, AK) and the Communist People's Army (AL) opposed collaboration in German anti-Jewish persecution, and punished it by death. The Polish Government in Exile was also the first (in November 1942) [http://www.republika.pl/unpack/1/dok03.html] to reveal the existence of Nazi-run concentration camps and the systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, through its courier Jan Karski and the activities of Witold Pilecki, a member of Armia Krajowa who volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz in order to organize a resistance movement inside the camp itself. The unique Polish Underground State considered "szmalcownictwo" an act of collaboration with the Germans, and with the aid of its military arm, the Armia Krajowa punished it with the death sentence as a criminal act of treason. Up to 10,000 Poles were tried by Polish underground courts for assisting the enemy, and 2,500 were executed.Klaus-Peter Friedrich. Collaboration in a "Land without a Quisling": Patterns of Cooperation with the Nazi German Occupation Regime in Poland during World War II. "Slavic Review", Vol. 64, No. 4, (Winter, 2005), pp. 711-746. Friedrich cites Richard C. Lukas, "Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944" for the lower figure and Czeslaw Madajczyk, "'Teufelswerk': Die nationalsozialistische Besatzungspolitik in Polen," in Eva Rommerskirchen, ed., Deutsche und Polen 1945-1995: Anndherungen-Zbliienia (Diisseldorf, 1996) for the one million figure.] In September 1942 the Provisional Committee for Aid to Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom) was founded with assistance from the Underground State and on the initiative of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. This body later became the Council for Aid to Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), known by the code-name Żegota. It is not known how many Jews were helped by Żegota, but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw alone.

Poland was one of the few Nazi-occupied countries where death was a standard punishment for a Polish person and his whole family and sometimes also their neighbours, [ http://isurvived.org/Frameset4References-3/-PolishRighteous.html] for any help given to Jews.Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, "Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future", Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0742546667, [http://books.google.com/books?id=vkLTSB7NHwgC&pg=PA5&dq=%22Armia+Krajowa%22+largest&lr=&as_brr=3&ei=dscASPzyLZjWyASY5pi1DA&sig=nedPlTyt1ENbsExRcqoi_ZeaIbI Google Print, p.5] ] On November 10, 1941, the death penalty was expanded by Hans Frank to apply to Poles who helped Jews "in any way: by taking them in for the night, giving them a lift in a vehicle of any kind" or "feed [ing] runaway Jews or sell [ing] them foodstuffs." The law was made public by posters distributed in all major cities. Capital punishment of entire families, for aiding Jews, was the most draconian such Nazi practice against any nation in occupied Europe. [Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: [http://isurvived.org/Frameset4References-3/-PolishRighteous.html Poland] ] Mordecai Paldiel, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=YCz0J-8HIIMC&pg=PA184&dq=%22the+death+penalty+was+enlarged+to+apply+to+those+who+help+Jews+in+any+way%22&sig=g0KFOm4ABbDgPp_kGYVMuHAz-bA "Gentile Rescuers of Jews"] , page 184. Published by KTAV Publishing House Inc.] Nonetheless, several thousand Poles were executed by the Nazis for aiding Jews. [Ron Riesenbach, [http://www.riesenbach.com/riesenbachstory.html The Story of the Survival of the Riesenbach Family] ] Over 700 Polish Righteous among the Nations received their award posthumously, having been murdered by the Germans for aiding or sheltering their Jewish neighbors. [Chaim Chefer, [http://www.holocaustforgotten.com/list.htm Righteous of the World: Polish citizens killed while helping Jews During the Holocaust] ] In his work on the Jews of Warsaw, Gunnar S. Paulsson has demonstrated that despite the much harsher conditions, Polish citizens of Warsaw managed to support and hide the same percentage of Jews as did the citizens of cities in reportedly less anti-semitic and safer countries in Western Europe. [http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=252691081495762 Unveiling the Secret City] H-Net Review: John Radzilowski]

The ultra-nationalistcite book | author =Steven J Zaloga | coauthors = | title =Polish Army, 1939-1945 | year =1982 | editor = | pages = | chapter = The Underground Army| chapterurl = http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=ISBN0850454174&id=AAdYFeW2fnoC&vq=underground+army&dq=isbn:0850454174&lpg=PA21&pg=PA22&sig=H6LtSaIykABOAqyMzEy801szmEk| publisher =Osprey Publishing| location = Oxford | id =ISBN 0-85045-417-4| url =http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=ISBN0850454174] [ [http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=ISBN0850454174&id=AAdYFeW2fnoC&vq=communist&dq=isbn:0850454174&lpg=PA22&pg=PA23&sig=EhCtexiNNMx4PfUnWfaqA7Tjw6c The Polish Army 1939-45 By Steven J. Zaloga, Richard Hook] ] Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ or National Armed Forces) allegedly participated in murders of Jews.cite book | last = Piotrowski | first = Tadeusz | title =Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947 | url = http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=ISBN0786403713 | year = 1997 | month = | publisher = McFarland & Company | id = ISBN 0-7864-0371-3 | pages = 77-142 | chapter = Polish Collaboration | chapterurl = http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=ISBN0786403713&id=A4FlatJCro4C&pg=PA77&lpg=PA77&vq=%22Polish+collaboration%22&sig=fcA9WFJvxHmz9AtOqra23eVyZvo | quote =] Failed verification|date=July 2008 The communist terror apparatus in postwar Poland routinely tortured the NSZ insurgents in order to force them to confess to such general charges. This was most notably the case with the 1946 trial of 23 officers of the NSZ in Lublin. The torture of political prisoners did not automatically stop when the interrogations were concluded. Physical torture was also ordered if they retracted in court their confessions of “killing Jews”. [Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, [http://www.projectinposterum.org/docs/chodakiewicz1.htm The Dialectics of Pain] Glaukopis, vol. 2/3 (2004-2005). See also: John S. Micgiel, “‘Frenzy and Ferocity’: The Stalinist Judicial System in Poland, 1944-1947, and the Search for Redress,” The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies [ Pittsburgh] , no. 1101 (February 1994): 1-48. For concurring opinions see: Krzysztof Lesiakowski and Grzegorz Majchrzak interviewed by Barbara Polak, “O Aparacie Bezpieczeństwa,” Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, no. 6 (June 2002): 4-24; Barbara Polak, “O karach śmierci w latach 1944-1956,” Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, no. 11 (November 2002): 4-29. ]



* Lucjan Dobroszycki, Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=GIujK0VqWGIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Holocaust,+Poland&sig=ACfU3U1VmbuVYbIQHPig5nbX7F6my87VgA "Survivors of the Holocaust in Poland: A Portrait Based on Jewish Community"] 1994, 164 pages.
* David Engel, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=a12WB1iknWwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Holocaust,+Poland&sig=ACfU3U3yafRba-qKuOrPHuI3MbJab8CUcw Facing a Holocaust: The Polish Government-in-exile and the Jews, 1943-1945] 1993, 317 pages.
* Tadeusz Piotrowski, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=hC0-dk7vpM8C&pg=PA1&dq=Holocaust,+Poland&sig=ACfU3U0pQ9ZyK0ojahT6SyjCPvZHmGe_yQ Poland's Holocaust] 1997, 437 pages.
* Naomi Samson, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=pMGRtebrdS8C&pg=PA1&dq=Holocaust,+Poland&sig=ACfU3U1cBAi4IfM9OuDPtn9Hy7skQXpgpg Hide: A Child's View of the Holocaust] 2000, 194 pages.
* Eric Sterling, John K. Roth, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=ywZG1TwqHwoC&pg=PA1&dq=Holocaust,+Poland&sig=ACfU3U3SHEY0Dt1Vt9iljEqxBuu-SeBpKg Life in the Ghettos During the Holocaust] 2005, 356 pages.

External links

*Steve Paulsson, [http://isurvived.org/4Debates/paulsson_view.html On the Marginal Role of Poles In Abetting the Nazi Perpetrators]
*Steven Paulsson, [http://www.totallyjewish.com/news/special_reports/?content_id=5962 'Polish Complicity In The Shoah Is A Myth']
* "Editorial Remarks on Poland's Holocaust and its Remembrance" at [http://isurvived.org/polands_holocaust.html isurvived.org] , totallyjewish.com, 29th 2007 March 2007

Further reading

* Gunnar S. Paulsson. Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-300-09546-3, [http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=252691081495762 Review] __NOTOC__

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