Friday, October 26, 2007

An enduring myth: "The Poles were worse than the Nazis."

Last week I was in Poland. While there I kept stressing to the people with whom I was travelling that it is wrong to depict Poland as a place of unending antisemitism or to fall prey to the absurd but, nonetheless, oft-heard comment made by Jews who visit the place, "The Poles were worse than the Nazis."

Many people, Jews primarily among them, believe the balderdash that the Germans put the death camps in Poland because the Poles would be happy to see the Jews killed. They ignore the fact that to the Germans Auschwitz was German territory and was to be the site of a major German settlement.

One person, who is well-informed and well read, found this notion of Polish non-complicity hard to grasp. He kept trying to find links:

Weren't they guards at Auschwitz? No, I said.

Well weren't they part of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units? Wrong again.

Well how about in the Sonderkommando units [the groups of prisoners who essentially pulled people off the trians, pushed them into the gas chambers, and then disposed of the bodies and who, themselves, were gassed by the Germans every few months because they knew too much]? No those groups were composed, in the main, of Jews.

This is not to say, of course, that Poland does not have a long and enduring history of antisemitism. It does. [Remember the scene in Lanzmann's Shoah in front of the Chelmno church?]

But then again, so does the Ukraine, Russia, and, of course, France. In fact, the late George Mosse, the great historian of European Jewry, was reported to have said that if someone in 1905 described in a prophecy what the Holocaust would be and how it would decimate European Jewry, the logical response would have been: "What a terrible thing for France to do." [Remember Dreyfus?]

In fact when the French deportations took place there was not a German official, officer, or uniformed man in site. All French police. The Germans wanted the foreign adults deported. The French sent them the adults and the children.

Yet we have no qualms about visiting Paris.

While Poland had terrible and extensive examples of antisemitism [read Jan Gross' Neighbors or his more recent work Fear for compelling examples of this], nonetheless let's not confuse that with the German plan to wipe out European Jewry. [I reviewed Gross' Fear and may have myself gone a bit overboard in condemning an entire nation. ]

Auschwitz, Maidanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, and Belzec were not "Polish" death camps. They were German camps that were placed in Poland by the Germans because that was where most of the victims were.

This is not a brief on behalf of the Poles of the 1940s. It's a reminder to keep one's historical eyes where they belong, i.e. on Germany.

I strongly recommend Rethinking Poles and Jews: Trouble Past, Brighter Future edited by Robert Cherry and Annamaria Orla-Bukowska for a series of essays that pierce the stereotypes which have obscured historical reality.


hockey hound said...

"In Poland, Christians took risks unknown elsewhere in Europe. It was the only German-occupied country where aiding a Jew automatically resulted in the death penalty. Yet, according to author Ed Lucaire, “The Yad Vashem Museum in Israel honors the Righteous Among the Nations and Poland ranks first among the 34 nations with 5,373 men and women, almost one-third of the total of all Christians honored for their compassion, courage and morality and who risked their lives to save the lives of Jews.” To be sure, the number of Jews aided or saved by Christians far exceeds those honored by Yad Vashem, whose criteria for inclusion among the honorees have made it possible to recognize only a fraction of courageous Christians."
-Dr. Richard C. Lukas

hockey hound said...

"They were German camps that were placed in Poland by the Germans because that was where most of the victims were."

Exactly, as befitting Nazism's planned genocide of the Jewish people, but also part of a grander design, because Poland was the most forward position (until the summer of 1940) for Hitler's armies, the starting point of the Third Reich's secret plan to invade the Soviet Union.

"...the Fuehrer instructed the Army that the conquered Polish territory was to be regarded 'as an assembly area for future German operations.'"
-William L. Shirer, The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich

"...the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state."
-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf


Surely Deb, anit-semitism is another way of saying anti-foreigner, or job protection, or preservation of whats perceived 'to be OUR' [nations] inner values. No matter whats its called 'it boils down to snobbery, pure and simple, full stop'.

As for the Poles, and the Glasgow Scots and the Dusseldorf or Ukrainian steelworkers, workers one and all, we need to bear in mind 'good manners and tact, is not their scene, in short supply, and a 'dirty foreigner is to them a dirty foreigner'- and this is how they were brought up to think, and the spoken words they invariably favour and use, being words peculiar [to them] and popular words they have used for centurys to conversational hate.

As for the Poles, lets be frank if your a Jew, and you escaped from a camp then don't ask a Pole or a Priest for help. Your on your own Jack, and in the background no matter were you go you can hear 'Ave Maria Playing', and sermons about the goodness of Christ [a myth of the worst description - he did not exist] and the wickedness of mankind with the Jews [another myth] being pointed out as prime examples.
30% of the worlds population are lets say evil through and through and the camps prove it.

Deb you look Jewish, in Krackow and LLodz you wouldn't have lasted 3 weeks before being denounced, and victimised.

Ian Thal said...

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, there were Poles fighting on both sides: Polish Navy Blue Police and Polish Fire Brigade aiding the Germans, and at least two (three, if one counts the Polish Home Army's act of smuggling weapons into the Ghetto) armed Polish factions (Communist and Partisan) aiding the Jewish fighting units in the ZOB and ZZW.

The Polish story was far more complicated than that of collaboration, indifference, or heroic resistance-- all three stories were running simultaneously. I had to speak to this matter in my critique of a well known theatre artist who was trivializing the Warsaw Ghetto.


If we are to remember the Holocaust accurately, then lets not forget the ugly bits like the Pogroms that happened after the war in Poland, lets remember the thousands of Poles, 500 000 perhaps, who refused to give up houses and land forcibly taken from Jewish families. A reading of any ex-J prisoners homecoming story is sobering. The majority spent 48 hours in their hometowns before realising they were outcasts from Polish society. Another example is the infamous Pawiak Warsaw Ghetto prison whose official history fails to mention that 99% of the prisoners killed were Jews. My daughter in 1992 asked the prison guide "Were any Jews ever held and killed here". She got in return an "If looks could kill stare? Camp survivors are unaminous on this point about the Poles and so are all meetings of survivors.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Ian Thal gets it just right. There were evil folks and there were good folks. There was deep seated antisemitism -- which was often more overt than in places such as France -- and there were those who, despite this antisemitism and their own antisemtiism [see Nehama Tec on this], saved Jews.

Nuance Complexity. Not simple minded judgments are what is needed.

Yes there were pogroms after the war. Yes there were Poles who said terrible things like: "you survived?" in a way that showed their disappointment. Jan Gross lays this out powerfully in Fear.

But I would not pull the number 500,000 out of the air [there were not that many Polish survivors of the Holocaust] nor would I ignore those who acted differently.

Above all -- and this is my primary point -- I would not compare the Poles to the Germans.

Anonymous said...

Poles are often sledged for how they behaved during one of the most brutal occupations in history but this is largely unfair. Remember firstly that Polish occupation was far more brutal than any that existed in Western Europe or Czechoslovakia (as well as the 3 million Polish Jews being killed there were another 3 million Poles who lost their lives during the war). It is also worth noting that Poland was the one occupied country whereby no puppet government was set up and also the only one from which no division was ever formed to fight for the Nazis.

I recommend that the person who suggested that no Jew would last three weeks without being denounced by a Pole read “Secret City” by Gunnar Paulsson. Here he shows that between 70 to 90 thousand Poles were involved in sheltering over 20,000 Jews in Warsaw alone, despite the fact that the penalty for doing so was death for the Poles and their entire family. Furthermore Jews living under a false identity were generally easy for Poles to spot but so many memoirs show that despite encounters with 100’s of such Poles, any one of which had the power to denounce them, they managed to survive.

Polish anti-Semitism was a huge problem but you can often find instances of Poles expressing very anti Semitic opinions risking their lives for Jews. Any historian that tries to equate Nazi atrocities with the irregular instances of murderous Polish anti Semitism loses all credibility.


If 3 million Polish Jews died, and the average family contained 4.6 individuals that 652173 J. homes, entered, ruined, devestated and seized by Poles. It's also 652173 faimlies scattered to the wind. I rounded the number down to 500000 to arrive at a round figure. Did you know that in Lublin some Poles kept the Mezzuzi on the door because they thought "It would bring them luck".

In this post there's a lot of wishful thinking [about Poles] taking place, sure enough some Poles "did have an heart", some did help, some did rescue Jews, but
we need to balance 3m dead, against lets say 90 000 rescued. In Poland during the war street robbery and the mugging of Jews, was a growth industry. So was blackmail. So was the attitude 'If you cannot pay me the rent [for hiding you] then out you go'. The laws of human nature tells me that being robbed, then denounced to the Nazis by your own landlord was the number 1 crime on people in hiding. A good comparision is the French Resistance workers who miraculously appeared after the war. One day we will have people claiming that because they didn't denounce Jews - then by inaction- they fought the Nazis and were 'Good Poles'?

Anonymous said...

Fairplay, ever seen pictures of Warsaw post war?? It was in a worse state than Hiroshima. I think you can discount the Jewish homes there. Similarly for Gdansk.

How about the Jewish homes in Eastern Poland – the bit given to the Soviets? I’ll be interested to know if you blame the Poles for the loss of these homes. I think if the finger is to put somewhere other than the direction of Stalin it should point firmly in the direction of FDR.

Now perhaps Poles who lost their own homes during the war should have, had they been more honourable, stayed homeless with their family and not requisitioned their dead neighbours’ property. Still I can’t help wonder if acting this way is more a result of how any normal person would react in this situation rather than a result of the fact that they were genetically Polish and ergo evil anti semitics.

As for your “need to balance 3m dead, against lets say 90 000 rescued” the overwhelming majority of the 3 million could never have been rescued by anything short of an armed uprising (which of course would have been suicidal). The average Jew followed orders to go to the Ghetto (staying outside meant facing the death penalty and so it was a rational decision – no one expected genocide) at which point they could not have realistically been saved by the Poles. Most were then deported to death camps which, sadly for you, weren’t guarded by Poles.

Of the ones that did escape the Ghetto, yes many faced blackmail and extortion. However this was performed by a small minority of Poles – hardly a representative sample. Again I point you to Secret City by Gunnar Paulsson (a Jewish author) who estimates that around 3 to 4 thousand Poles in Warsaw (less than 0.5% of it’s population) were involved in these sort of activities. The fact is these were scumbags that are present in any society and these people were given a once in a lifetime opportunity to make some money.

As for “wishful thinking about Poles” no one is denying that there were outrageous outbreaks of Polish anti-semitism. However I would be interested to know which of the positive things said about Poles in this thread are untrue??


The 3 to 4000 Poles who went in for robbery [the scumbags] were sufficient in numbers to run Auschwitz or Treblinka and Sorbibor combined, and this was Warsaw alone figures.

We need to bear in mind that the Jews of Poland owned other homes, were landlords themselves, and owned commercial properties and shops, so my figure of properties appropriated was incorrect if you add these extra properties to the grand total. It needs to be said that the Nazis paid bribes, made private bargains, and paid colloborators and "more often than not the payoff was stolen Jewish homes and goods". I doubt if there wasn't a Polish Policeman or senior officer who didn't enrich himself. Along with 1000s of others.

Its a myth the ghetto Jews didn't know about the genocide taking place, the ghetto Judenrats knew alright, they were quite well informed by escapees, but many chose to ignore the rumours, and lived in an unreal world of hoping for the best. Off -topic. I have a friend with Cancer and Leaukemia who's convinced it can be cured and "they've caught it in time". To me he this is an example of what people think, and how they behave in adverse circumstance, there's a strong relationship here between the J. boarding trains and praying for the best. Whats admirable is many young Jews would not desert elderly parents, or young children.

Anonymous said...

"Its a myth the ghetto Jews didn't know about the genocide taking place, the ghetto Judenrats knew alright, they were quite well informed by escapees, but many chose to ignore the rumours, and lived in an unreal world of hoping for the best"

Which is the point of the thread. This is hardly the Poles fault.

The 3 to 4 thousand were generally identifying Jews in the street and threatening to turn them in if they did not get paid off. This in itself was illegal as they were duty bound to turn them in. Like I say I can't find any instances of Polish guards at the death camps.

hockey hound said...

"Surely Deb, anit-semitism is another way of saying anti-foreigner, or job protection, or preservation of whats perceived 'to be OUR' [nations] inner values. No matter whats its called 'it boils down to snobbery, pure and simple, full stop'."

I totally disagree with this statement.

Van said...

I repeated your comments about France to a French friend and she is irate. I've googled a few sites and have come up with a few sites that are generally informative. I wonder if you could expand on the Holocaust in France and French complicity, or at least point me to some good sources.


PS: I tried to comment with my regular e-mail and somehow it would not "take." I am not a holocaust denier.

Van said...

I repeated your comments about France to a French friend and she is irate. I've googled a few sites and have come up with a few sites that are generally informative. I wonder if you could expand on the Holocaust in France and French complicity, or at least point me to some good sources.


Anonymous said...

Of course, Van, there was French complicity, no doubt; you can find plenty sites about it.

Think also that it was the fact of Vichy's government, and that all the French did'nt agree with it at that time, under German occupation.

However, I would think that humanity is not manichean, and that one cannot divide the countries between the good ones and the bad ones, as an American friend (inspired by this blog) just wrote to me, which is way too simplistic and false at the end: " Do you realize, for example, that in Poland the SS had to round up Jews because Poles wouldn't do it. In France, the Germans asked for adults and the French police produced children as well. It didn't take one German soldier to round up the Jews in France."

I understand that your French friend feels offended. I was too. Probably also because in every French family, not Jew, one can find victims of the last two wars.


The whole of France should be ashamed of their complicity in the murder of French Jews. Since the war the pictures been heavily distorted by exaggerating the role of the " French Resistance Movements", invariably depicted as bravely fighting the Germans. I read once that the whole of France was occupied at one time by just 2000 German troops, and being posted to France was quite a comfortable low risk number. Suffice to say; drunk Germans making their way home after a night in Parisian bars had no fear whatsoever of attack. To be fair it's known that an undertaker went daily to the Paris Gestapo H/Q each morning at 6.00am. to collect an average of 6 dead and totured to death prisoners. Who they were and why they had been arrested is not known, how many were true resistance workers is a matter of conjecture. A French Jewish family had to fear thier own French Policeman and Council officials.

Anonymous said...

Just out of interest Van, was this the first time in your discussions with your friend that you showed an interest in French history? In which case are you surprised that the fact you only show interest in something so negative offends her?

It is human nature of course to be more interested in negatives about other nations or groups of people than the positives. This, whether consciously or subconciously, helps us feel superior. So learn about this aspect of French history by all means but try to keep it in perspective and don't sledge the entire nation for this period of history as a result.

Anonymous said...


I understand how you would be offended. I’m certainly no expert on France in WW2 but I feel that you have to understand what happened in WW1 on French soil to better understand the French in WW2. In Australia we lost thousands of men and it is regarded as a national tragedy. However the French not only lost their loved ones but had vast amounts of their country turned into one huge graveyard.

However whist you will find thousands (ok I’m being conservative) of offensive and simplistic generalizations about France in WW2 on the net, to get back on topic (well at least close to the original topic) it is many times worse for the Poles. France post WW2 at least had governments that were prepared to promote the role of their resistance movement and the work of the free French led by Charles De Gaulle. So most people will at least be aware of their existence.

In Poland it was different. Their post war governments had every interest in discrediting their resistance movement and in ignoring what their own soldiers achieved against the Nazis. So the tremendous efforts of the Polish pilots in the battle of Britain, their soldiers at Monte Cassino, their uprising in Warsaw and their efforts in making the initial breakthroughs in decoding enigma (and doing apparently 43% of all the de-coding throughout the war) as well as their efforts in saving Jews have been generally ignored by historians and are generally unknown outside Poland. In France leaders of the resistance were regarded as heroes, in Poland leaders of the resistance were sent to the Gulags.

In stark contrast to the way the positive Polish contributions are ignored, all negative evidence about helping Nazis kill Jews and general anti-semitism are highlighted and exaggerated. A good example are the books by Jan Gross which Deb commented so positively on. These books achieved great sales and won great publicity. In stark contrast news about Irena Sendlerowa (who? – look her up) being jointly nominated by Israel and Poland for the nobel peace prize fell into the abys.

Serious historians have been able to totally ignore Polish suffering(3 million non Jews killed as well as 3 million Jews) during ww2 and totally ignore their contributions to the defeat of Germany whilst concentrating exclusively on their collaborations with the Nazis. They would never have got away with that when dealing with France. Israel Prime Minister Shamir once said “The Poles suck anti- semitism in with their mother's milk”. He would never have got away with saying that about France – or Germany.

One very famous movie, Schindler’s list, makes no mention of the fact that it was a Polish catholic who ran the hospital in the ghetto, no mention of the fact that Poldek Pfefferberg’s contacts who helped him escape were Polish Catholics and no mention of the fact that kl Plasow was predominantly a camp for Polish Catholic hostages who were treated just as badly. It does however show Polish Catholics in the movie. They’re the ones cheering as the Jews are sent off to death camps. No movie maker, not even Spielberg, would be brave enough to discredit France in the same way.

So by all means stand up for your country when it is unfairly sledged (and just as an aside I like the following website based on a pamphlet given to American soldiers in 1945. ) However remember one country has copped it worse for far longer.



Lets be honest Poland was most definitely "Anti-Semitic", they supported the Germans anti-semitic policies, and wanted a Poland without Jews. If we were to imagine that a public vote was taken on the issue 'To throw all the Jews out of Poland' in 1898, 1938, and 1988, the answer would be strongly in favour of "Poland for the Poles". The difficulty is the overtones of nationalismn and patriotismn that takes place in voters minds when confronted with this question, these two good virtues overule common-sense and common history to the Jews strong disadvantage. I cannot name one country in the world who wouldn't vote any other way including my own England. I don't know any native born English person [and presumably Polish person] who believes in dual-nationality, who believes Jews should speak of Israel with fondness, or profess kinship with it because the sentiments are seen as a form of traitorismn. I [a Christian[ was ostracised in my own family for marrying a Jewess, and this act as meant for me personally losing my entire Christian family, friends and background, so understand if you will this is were I get these thoughts and ideas. Mankinds greatest fault is alllowing "Wishful thinking - which is more often than not based on love and sentiment" to overule the ugly pratical truths we live by and which govern our true to us - acts and behaviour.

hockey hound said...

"Lets be honest Poland was most definitely "Anti-Semitic", they supported the Germans anti-semitic policies, and wanted a Poland without Jews."

I agree totally, Fairplay. Martin Gilbert records that there were huge anti-Jewish protests in Poland's major cities before Nazi Germany invaded. However, the Poles were to discover that Nazi Germany also despised the Poles as "untermencsh," but in a much lesser degree than they despised the Jews: The Poles they would retain for a servitudal existence, the Jews they intended only to exterminate.

Anonymous said...

“Lets be honest Poland was most definitely "Anti-Semitic", they supported the Germans anti-semitic policies”

Fairplay, are you implying that I am not being honest? In which case show what is that I said that is untrue.

“Poland was most definitely anti-semitic”

Well that is not true of all Poles. But like saying “Americans were racist towards their black minority” or “Australians were racist towards aboriginals” it does have some truth. However I would point out that Polish Jews, though living in a poorer nation, were generally better off than the other two minorities I have mentioned.

“they supported Germans anti-semitic policies”

Germany’s anti-semitic policies were by the end of the occupation, genocide. So what you are in effect saying here is that all Poles or most Poles supported genocide.

Well I think I can get away with saying there was widespread racism in Australia and the US in the 1930’s but saying that people from these nations generally wanted to kill all those in their minority populations is quite another thing and quite defamatory. Similarly with the Poles and their attitudes towards Jews.

I have already presented enough evidence against your accusation which you have not challenged but have ignored. So to point out the difference in anti-semitism (which I agree is abhorrent) and a desire to wipe Jews off the planet (which is on a different plane altogether) I will use the example of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka.

She was a member of the most anti-semitic party in Poland. Her views never changed throughout the war. Yet as a member of the Zegota movement she risked her life to save Jews – and was directly responsible for the rescue of dozens of Jews. She did so partly in the hope that they might convert to Catholicism.

However she is just one of millions of examples in Poland showing that anti-semitic beliefs do not automatically translate into a desire for genocide. I’m not saying that millions of anti-semites risked their lives to save Jews but going on your theory, any Pole that recognised a Jew would automatically denounce them – that simply was not the case.



No one said that Poland was 100% anti-semitic. In this type of debate we tend not to mention the obvious, meaning the very few in number "Good Poles" and the Poles who remained true and upright. But overall, we need to accept that most Poles looked the other way. Many openly said "If their killing Jews - then they [the Nazis] have less time to be killing our own sons", this can be written as "Better to kill a Jew than a Pole", because this is what was meant.

You mention 3 million Polish dead, personally I find these East European figures hard to accept. The Polish blitzkrieg did not last long, occupation peace [of sorts] returned to Poland fairly soon, and it strikes me as an exaggeration. The same with the USSR losses. Everyone claims to have been deported to Germany, but were they deported, or did they volunteer. Were they paid, and paid well by the standards of the day? The Czechs is an example, and the Austrians, and the Litvaks. And for all their alleged glorious achievements the Polish Resistance Worker/s refused to share weapons and supplies with Jews, they often shot them in the back, and not once did they ever stop ONE Jewish deportation train and release the prisoners. I know of one Polish resistance group who openly hunted with the Germans Jews hiding in the woods, and the Nazis turned a blind eye to their other night-time activities? My hero is the old Polish Lady who took her adopted Jewish [hidden] son to Israel after the war, and who guarded him like a lioness. But her type are very few and far between. I'm sorry to say it, but she was spit upon in Israel for being a Pole. One must presume her tormentors were unaware of her proud record. May she R.I.P.

hockey hound said...

"Germany’s anti-semitic policies were by the end of the occupation, genocide"

Nazi Germany's anti-Semitic policies were constructed for the purpose of genocide long before they invaded Poland. Kristallnacht was proof and portent of this horrific truth for the prescient observers of that era. As those noetic fools of today who dismiss the genocidal utterances of Islam's apologetic madmen, so too then many noetic fools dismissed the Nazi's planned genocide of the Jewish people as incredible. Big mistake.

First you present that "Germany’s anti-semitic policies were by the end of the occupation, genocide." Later you write, "So to point out the difference in anti-semitism (which I agree is abhorrent) and a desire to wipe Jews off the planet (which is on a different plane altogether..." Which is it? I would like to point out here that it is my opinion that Nazi anti-Jewish hatred is inclusive of the "desire to wipe Jews off the plantet." Nazi anti-Semitism and its attendant genocide are one and the same. Exceptions to this rule are nothing more than examples of human timidity.

As someone who has worked with many Polish immigrants, I can tell you here that every one I fell into conversation with turned out to be passionately anti-Jewish. Idealize all you like about the Polish people's defence of Jews during the War against the Nazis, the majority of them were anti-Jewish. "In the place where the tree falls..." Whether or not Polish anti-Semites advocated the genocidal anti-Jewish hatred propagated by Adolf Hitler and his Nazis is another matter altogether.

"Reality is not easy, but all this make-believe doesn't make it easier." -Ayaan Hirsi Ali

SaraS said...

Fascinating stuff, your blog piece *and* the responses to it.

What I don't see addressed anywhere is the anti-Semitism manifested by the Poles long *before the Nazis.* (And, for that matter, by the Russians.) The only reason I exist is because I had a grandfather who looked around his shtetl in the 1920s and said "This is no place for Jews." Spontaneous and/or Church-inspired pogroms during major holidays like Easter were not only commonplace in small Polish towns, they were expected and anticipated. And maybe there is a difference in the behavior of those small-town inhabitants versus the larger cities like Warsaw and Cracow, I don't know. But there were mass migrations of Jews from Poland, the Pale, etc., long before Hitler.

Were the Poles worse than the Nazis? Of course not. They weren't as bad (IMHO) as the Ukrainians in their treatment of Jews; they didn't have a Tzar who institutionalized state-sponsored pogroms and encouraged the belief in the Protocols. And I strongly agree with you about the use of the term "Polish camps" instead of Nazi camps. As scholarly as Jan Gross' work is, I don't need to look farther than one of my own friends to know first-hand what happened to survivors who returned to Poland after the war. (You can read it yourself: "A Bridge to Life.")

There's a TV show we watch sometimes here called something like "The Most Evil," where a psychiatrist from Columbia U. (I think) *rates* murderers and serial killers on a "scale of evil." Why? I don't know.
Evil is evil. It doesn't really matter whether Manson is worse than Ted Bundy. Their victims are still just as dead.

The same, I believe, is true of the victims and perpetrators of the Nazis. There were Ukrainians who far surpassed the Nazis in brutality towards Jews. There were pogroms in Poland long before Hitler. What the Vichy government did in taking parents away first and leaving children at Drancy for weeks before sending them off to their deaths defies all description. And yet there were Righteous Gentiles among all three; there were resistance fighters in France, Russia, and Poland. The person who said " ...collaboration, indifference, or heroic resistance -- all three stories were running simultaneously" has it right on the mark.

And of course, it's (obviously) important to remember that Poles, Ukrainians, Germans, etc., of today are not the same people as their great-grandparents, or great-grandparents, or earlier ancestors. Today's Americans didn't slaughter Native Americans, or enslave blacks. But I admit I did feel uncomfortable in Cracow when I was there, not because of anything anyone did or said to me, but because of the baggage *I* brought with me. I lived in the Netherlands for an entire year and couldn't bring myself to set foot in Germany. I felt comfortable in Holland, and yet as a local rabbi reminded me, "We're not the country of Anne Frank. We're the country that *betrayed* Anne Frank."

Gosh. What was the point I was trying to make? I think I lost it somewhere, but I hope there's something worth reading here.

WilliamOccamensis said...

Hi, Deborah, good post. I'm the author of Secret City (from which Damo quotes selectively above). Damo skips the part where I note that 16,500 Jews died while hiding in Warsaw (that's ten times more Jewish deaths than in Gross's book on Jedwabne), and he misses my citation of a recent survey that shows that 78.8% of Poles today share some antisemitic beliefs and maybe a third are "consistent" antisemites.

At the same time, let us remember that until Nostrae Aetate in 1965, all Catholics were antisemitic - it was part of their religion. So were most other Christians, including heroes like Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr. The Jewish high death rate in Poland during the Holocaust is not attributable to the antisemitism of the Poles (real though it was) but mainly to lack of knowledge on the part of the Jews. In Warsaw, large-scale escape from the ghetto didn't start until the last two weeks of the 1942 deportations, by which time 80% of the Jews were already dead. Poles weren't involved in the Warsaw deportations. They were however involved in the smuggling that kept the ghetto alive, and Jews who made the decision to escape (nearly a quarter of those who remained after the deportations) found Poles, Germans or other Jews who helped them. And note that help to Jews in Warsaw was not exclusively Polish phenomenon, as most Poles would like to think. Zegota was not a Polish but a joint Polish-Jewish organization, with the Jewish branches having twice as many people under their care as the Polish one did, and supporting the Polish branch financially out of money received from Jewish organizations abroad. And the head of the largest cell of the Polish branch, who by himself was looking after 600 Jews, was Mieczyslaw Herling-Grudzinski, a welathy Jewish lawyer who passed as a Pole throughout the war and hid Jews on his suburban estate.

So the picture is vastly more complicated than people (especially Gross, who should know better) realize.

My basic objection to the tone of this thread is that it treats nations as if they were moral agents ("the French should be ashamed", etc.) They are not: they do not possess minds or wills or the capacity to undertake moral decisions. The only valid generalizations you can make about nations are statistical, which is why I built my book on statistics. If Jamaica has the world's highest murder rate, does that make Jamaica a nation of murderers, and should Jamaicans be ashamed? No, it means that Jamaica has a problem, which we should try to help it solve.

As to Poles who came into "ex-Jewish" property, what about Israelis who came into "ex-Arab" property in 1948? My mother survived Auschwitz by "organizing" property that was "ex-Jewish", when she worked in the Canada barracks, sorting the belongings of the Hungarian Jews.

Generalization is a tricky business. Best on the whole to avoid it.

hockey hound said...

"My basic objection to the tone of this thread is that it treats nations as if they were moral agents ("the French should be ashamed", etc.) They are not: they do not possess minds or wills or the capacity to undertake moral decisions."

I disagree. As for your reference to Jamaican homocides, such "statistics" within that particular "national" context have no relevance to Poland's ugly history of anti-Jewish hatred. Are you opining that individual Jamaicans killing other Jamaicans is an example of Jamaicans hating other Jamaicans simply because they're Jamaican? What is being put forth here is that Poles, and a great majority of them, hated Jews and murdered Jews simply because they were Jews. Poles weren't, as far as I have studied, in the habit of denouncing Poles to the Nazis/Gestapo. They were, however, on a national level, in the habit of denouncing Jews in hiding to the Nazis, many times simply because those in hiding were Jewish.

Sir Martin Gilbert writes that the famous Emanuel Ringelblum recorded that the Jews of Lukow hid in the forest "for some time after the 'resettlement action'. It was a 'frequent occurrence', Ringelblum wrote, 'for Polish children playing there to discover groups of Jews in hiding: they had been taught to hate Jews, so they told the municipal (Polish)* authorities, who in turn handed the Jews over to the Germans to be killed.'" Sir Martin goes on to point out that confirmation of this "part played by the local population in tracking down the Jews and denouncing them, is to be found in the diary of a local Polish school teacher from Lukow, S. Zeminski..." This is datum, not of individual homocides totally unrelated to anti-Jewish hatred, but directly related to a New Testament-incited, nationally held hatred of the Jew, not unlike the Islam-incited Jew-hatred of present day Muslim nations. Hence, I disagree with your statement that "let us remember that until Nostrae Aetate in 1965, all Catholics were antisemitic..." Are you implying that after 1965, simply by way of Nostrae Aetate's religious efficacy, most Poles ceased from anti-Jewish hatred? This is just not true.

In a study published by The Journal of Conflict Resolution by Yale University biostatistician Dr. Edward H. Kaplan, and Dr. Charles A. Small of the Yale Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish hatred) we read that,

"In the Muslim world, attitudes toward Jews remain starkly negative, including virtually unanimous unfavorable ratings of 98% in Jordan and 97% in Egypt. Muslims living in Western countries have a more moderate view of Jews - still more negative than positive, but not nearly by the lopsided margins that prevail in Muslim countries."

Are you saying that these statistics are not cause for Jordan and Egypt respectively to feel some sort of national shame? Outside of the reality that these nations will never, ever feel any sort of national shame for hating Jews, I equate Jordan's and Egypt's Islam-incited example with Poland's Christianity-incited example: Poland, Jordan, and Egypt have much to be ashamed of, whether they will ever feel shame or not. So contrary to yours, my opinion, is that, yes, Jews were turned over the Nazis by hostile Poles. And I say this with all respect to you, Mr. Paulsson: I'm very sorry for what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

As for "what about Israelis who came into 'ex-Arab' property in 1948?", I must ask you, what about Arabs (Muslims) who came into ex-Jewish property in 666 (or thereabouts)? Or is that too far back to mean anything? Islam and the Muslim can claim distant ownership to Solomon's Temple simply because of the story that long ago from there the Prophet Mohammed acsended to his Paradise (not mine, thankyou). But listen to the ear-bursting excoriations from his/her enemies whenever a Jew claims that the Temple was built by Jews, that its glory is mentioned numerous times in their Torah, that the land of Israel is theirs by reason of an ancient and nationalistic edicere recorded in that Torah. I will never write anything that might serve to exculpate nations who yesterday (as regards Christianity) did not engage or today (as regards Islam) do not engage in condemning religiously incited anti-Jewish hatred.

Say what you will, I still believe that Daniel Jonah Goldhagen got it right about Nazi Germany's "latent" anti-Jewish hatred, that it resided innately within its national consciousness, within its cognitive perception of the Jew. Now if only Mr. Goldhagen would stop using the exculpative term "political Islam" and come right out and condemn the real culprit, which is not the every day Muslim but, rather, the religion of Islam proper. "When the light is crooked, the shadow is crooked also."

*my insertion

WilliamOccamensis said...

Well, hockey hound, that was quite a rant. (1) antisemitism is not a Polish phenomenon, it's a Christian (and Islamic) phenomenon. Religious and ideological groups propagate ideas, therefore they do have a collective mind and are moral agents. Christians, Muslims and political antisemites have plenty to be ashamed of, regardless of where they live. But Egyptians?
Like, say, Queen Hatshepsut?

Your point about Arabs coming into Jewish property in 666 (and 1948 too, for that matter) just reinforces my point. Nature, and neighbours, abhor a vacuum.

Goldhagen was roundly and properly denounced by all mainstream German-Jewish historians, because where Christopher Browning found human explanations for the behavior of his "Ordinary Men", Goldhagen reached for a national explanation.

You, and he, do not seem to be aware that nations in the present sense are artificial and recent inventions. Before about 1880, the term "Polish nation" applied only to the aristocracy - many of whom by modern ethnic terms were not Poles; for example, the king was usually a foreigner, but definitely a member of the Polish nation. Jews, peasants and burghers alike were excluded. The concept of a Polish nation was still so new in 1939 that many peasants spoke of the interwar period as "in Polish times".

Somehow this nationalist habit of thinking has taken over our brains in the past 150 years or so. It is an evil that intellectuals invented in the 19th century, has caused more misery than anything else, and we now have a responsibility to unmake. I predict that 50 years from now, the term "Pole" will have about the same resonance as "Welshman" or "Basque" - a particular variety of European, with a particular language and culture, but not otherwise an object of much interest. Besides, if present trends continue, they will all be living in Ireland.

Xavier Kreiss said...

Yes, the French police did most of the rounding up. Just thinking about it makes most French people want to vomit. However, there were some acts of bravery worth mentioning.

On February 19th, France 2 (television station) aired a documentary entitled "When the Jews needed to be saved", about the role of the Resistance during the war and the act that it never ordered its members to save the Jews of France.
A French-Israeli historian, Lucien Lazare, commented in the newspaper Libération ( ). This is what he wrote:

That too was Resistance

Yes, it's true: "the Resistance did not call for a rescue of the Jews". But when the mayors of 36 000 towns and villages of France received the order from the Vichy administration to communicate to the prefectures (the local offices representing central government) the list of the names and addresses of Jews living on the territories under their jurisdiction, tens of thousands of mayors (the inventory was never drawn up) ignored this order and refused to obey it. This did not follow an instruction from the Resistance, but they resisted the Vichy government and contributed to the saving of Jews and the honour of republican France.

That is how many thousands of French towns and villages among those where Jews resided suffered no losses from the Shoah (Holocaust), thanks to a network, spontaneous or organized, of benevolent complicity. Local elected leaders, social and cultural workers, and the population of those places as a whole, all share in the responsibility for saving those Jewish refugees. They did however follow an instruction, that was never specifically uttered -this has to be said once again- to save the Jews. In that way they resisted the criminal policies of Vichy and thwarted them. That is why the official France that followed the Occupation bestowed -with good reason- the honours reserved for heroes to young women who had secretly handed out Resistance leaflets, while it obscured the role of young women who had accompanied Jewish children and made them enter Switzerland illegally. The histories of the Resistance ignored and obscured these latter heroines. The image of the Resistance that found a place in our collective memory is the one that was set once and for all by the political decisions of official France after the Liberation and by the work of the historians of the Occupation and the Resistance. This history, however, marginalises and ignores entire parts of the way a great proportion of the French behaved from 1942 to 1944.

It is fortunate that France Télévisions has sponsored documentaries, with the support of a handful of historians, to start to put an end to the fraud represented by a restrictive and mutilated image of the Resistance. The making and broadcasting of these films are a first step in bringing to light a truer and more authentic history of Resistance France.

(Please note: M.Lazare -born in 1924- lives in Israel where he is, among other things, one of the experts working for Yad Vashem)


Its just occurred to me that in 1991, I was in Warsaw with my two daughters and we visited Pawiak Prison which during the war was in the heart of the ghetto. It was known as the Ghetto prison. Most of the old prison building had been demolished and all that was left is the basement cellars which have been turned into an museum. Like most museums of this type the walls are lined with numerous photographs of ex-prisoners and victims. Whats noticeable is none of them are Jewish, all appear to be Poles. And of course there was no mention of the ghetto, or the Jewish tragedy. Is this proof of sorts that long after the Nazis had been defeated, the Polish populace still did not respect the long-dead Jewish population enough to record officially their suffering. The same photograpic bias was observable in the Auschwitz camp buildings. [It still is]

On the way out of Pawiak my dtr asked the guide "Tell me, did any Jews ever die here". Her look suggested told me that we were not the first foreign visitor who had posed this sarcastic question to her. * The Berlin Wall came down in Nov 1989, and the Communists lost power about this time, so our visit was 2.5 years after these events. **Pawiak prison is 3/4 mile to the left of the Ghetto Memorial, and about 1 mile to the left of the rail yard detainees left from. It was a 4 story building, from a distance it looked like a warehouse with small prison type windows, its now flattened, the authorities must have dug out the cellars. During the war the streets surrounding it were a favourite execution site and Jewish bodies dumping ground for robbed Jews. Robbed by who you might ask - Poles, especially Polish policemen.

Dijital 2 Ajans said...


Do you know Helena Wolinska or Salomon Morel ?


Reply to Guest [see above post] who akss about two Polish Jews accused "of crimes" after the war:

Helena Wolińska-Brus (born 1919 of Jewish parentage as Fajga Mindla Danielak) is a victim of Hitler: most of her family died in Treblinka. A former resident of the Warsaw Ghetto. Before, during and after the war she was a Communist Party member, who was appointed a Pro-Soviet military prosecutor based in Poland, involved in 1950 Stalinist type show trials of Polish nationals. She was again victimised as a Jew in 1968, and was expelled from the Polish Communist party during a wave of internal party anti-Semitism. Hence her decision to come to Britain in 1971.

Salomon Morel: Morel joined the partisans in 1942, and was in the forests when his parents, sister-in-law, and brother were killed by Polish Police officers; the next year, his brother was killed by a Polish fascist. According to a number of sources, Morel claimed that over 30 of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Morel became a chief of the Polish Soviet prison k/as Zgoda camp, set up by the Soviet NKVD, after the Red Army entered southern Poland. Morel became a chief of the camp. When the first contingent of Germans arrived, he walked into one of the barracks and he said to the Germans prisoners, 'My name is Morel. I am a Jew. My mother and father, my family, I think they're all dead, and I swore that if I got out alive, I was going to get back at you Nazis. And now you're going to pay for what you did.'

It needs to be said "that just because Jews were victims of crimes against humanity, it does mean they cannot be tried for crimes against humanity themselves?" These two people lives took twists and turns attributable to the Nazis based on personal or public revenge. I agree with the UK decision not to extradite Brus aged 88 then, age 92 now, to Poland to stand trial.

WilliamOccamensis said...

fairplay said:

As for the Poles, lets be frank if your a Jew, and you escaped from a camp then don't ask a Pole or a Priest for help. Your on your own Jack,

Not what my research showed. Very few Jews did escape (or attempt to escape) from camps or ghettos, and they met mixed reactions when they did. A characteristic one for me was reported by a Jew who escaped from Majdanek and went to a Pole he knew in Lublin. The Pole said to him: "If God himself does not help your people, what do you expect me to do?" - but then gave him some money and a suit of clothes, thanks to which he was able to make it to Warsaw and survive. There was a marked difference in attitude towards "the Jews", who were generically hated. and Szmul Rubinstein, standing before you in a camp uniform and asking for help. Group prejudice can and did coexist with individual compassion. I found that of those who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, about 40% survived, which I consider quite remarkable under the circumstances (harsh Nazi occupation, having to survive in hiding up to four years, constantly having to move to evade the police and the blackmailers, and then having to survive the 1944 uprising on top of that. It certainly isn't true that if you turned to Poles for help then "good luck, Jack". Some said yes, some said no, a few turned you in. And that is about the normal proportion of the good, the bad and the indifferent (or afraid) in any society.

WilliamOccamensis said...

I interviewed Helena Brus for my book. She mentioned the initials of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR),
interpreted by nationalists as "Platne Pacholki Rosji" (Paid Lackeys of Russia). She said, ruefully, "Yes, we were lackeys. But not paid." Like many young idealists at the time, she was attracted to Communism as a universal, humanistic movement, and did not understand until she had been drawn into its inner workings what the true nature of the beast was. She was young, she was wrong, she admits it - what purpose is served by persecuting her now, when for example Wojciech Jaruzelski lives peacefully in his home in Warsaw. Bygones are bygones, it seems - except when it comes to Jews.


Prose Pro, Is it possible to buy a copy of your book, I find the Helana Brus story really interesting and extraordinary.

You said that very few Jews escaped from the camps, are you aware about 452 escaped from Auschwitz alone. Most of these returned to their families and contacted the Judenrats. Suffice to say the vast majority of ghetto Jews knew that resettlement in the east, was a death sentence.

Ian Thal said...

You [Prose Pro] said that very few Jews escaped from the camps, are you aware about 452 escaped from Auschwitz alone.

That means less than 0.05% of the Jews of Auschwitz-Birkeneau escaped. Prose Pro's assessment of "very few" is fair.


Ian, never-the-less 452 people is a sizable number 'of escapees and witnesses' to have around.'

What no ones mentioned on this post is the Polish Churches silence on what was happening in Poland, and elsewhere. My attitude is; if the Pope was unwilling to stop the deportation of Italian Jews, then it's very unlikely he would be willing to stop the slaughter elsewhere. We can gain a good insight into the Catholics Churchs official attitude to the Nazis and the killing of Jewish innocents by reading this brief post war extract: [link] You could argue that the Polish Bishops supported this view also.
"Reports on an August 23, 1947 conversation between an official of the American Military Government and several German Catholic Bishops".

They strongly reject the criticisms of their conduct under the Nazis. Cardinal Frings of Cologne, who was the titular head of the German Church at the time, asked the interviewer: "Who has the right to demand that the bishops should have chosen a form of fight that would have sent them to the gallows with infallible certainty, and which would have resulted in a campaign of extermination against the church?" Bishop Stohr of Mainz denied that the survivors of concentration camps were more courageous than the Bishops whom they were now criticizing. He claimed: "Most of them were thrown in concentration camps against their will as a result of indirect utterances and secret actions. Also, many of them became victims of their own imprudence and rashness which have nothing to do with courage." Archbishop Jaeger of Paderborn did voice the fear that, if the Bishops had challenged the Nazi regime more forcefully, there was real danger that "many members of our church, who had been blinded and misled by a deceitful propaganda would all the more have been driven into the arms of National Socialism by too sharp a language." Bishop Dietz of Fulda argued that the conduct of the German Bishops followed the highest model: "The basically pastoral attitude of the church is taken from the higher example set by Jesus when he was brought before the High Priests, before King Herod, and Pilate." This model of humility certainly reflected a Catholic theology which praised the cultivation of passive virtues as particularly appropriate for the Christian life; virtues such as obedience, patience, gentleness, mortification. It did contrast, however, with the very aggressive approach the Bishops took to the Allied authorities whom they denounced for the denazification program, for the war crimes trials the Allies were conducting and to whom they submitted pleas for leniency for some of the most notorious Nazi criminals.
[link] elements/texts/cjrelations/resources/articles/bernauer.htm

Suffice to say Yad Vashem *have not honoured any major Polish Bishops* for aiding Jews, and at all material times the attitude of the Catholic Church [the Vatican] as always been that "the holding of talks with senior members of the Jewish faith implies that they are of equal status [to us] they are not, and never will be." Fairplay.

Anonymous said...


Here is the relevant website about the book.

And to purchase – it for some reason is no longer on the UK amazon site but is here

Note that it obviously took years of research and not all research could be mentioned in the book. So having read the book a while ago I certainly don’t remember any reference to Helena Brus – she was hardly representative (and I’m not so sure I’d be so forgiving on the grounds that she was “young” but this is way off topic).

Reading the book scarcely gives me the right to speak on the author’s behalf but I think by “few” he is talking percentages. So escaping the Warsaw ghetto was about 5% of the ghetto’s population – few especially when we remember that around 99% of the rest of that population died. However in absolute terms this number was around 28,000 – or if I remember rightly as Gunnar Paulsson puts it – “the greatest prison-break in history”. These are the group that are most relevant to this thread as they were the ones who were most in touch with Poles on a day to day basis and most reliant on the Poles’ active or passive protection (by passive protection I mean by simply not betraying someone they suspected of being Jewish). For those who went directly from the Ghetto to the death camps, however “good” or “bad” the Poles were was largely irrelevant (apart from the food smuggling into the Ghetto which Prose Pro touches on above).

I would still recommend the book to you Faiirplay despite the fact that it does not as far as I remember specifically mention Helena Brus. Apart from anything else it will give you a few new stories for some of your seemingly not too infrequent anti-Polish posts.

Ian Thal said...

Ian, never-the-less 452 people is a sizable number 'of escapees and witnesses' to have around.

I don't dispute the value of those 452 escapees either as human lives that were preserved or as witnesses to history. I only point out that given those who did not escape, they were indeed "very few."

Roman Werpachowski said...

"She was young, she was wrong, she admits it - what purpose is served by persecuting her now, when for example Wojciech Jaruzelski lives peacefully in his home in Warsaw. Bygones are bygones, it seems - except when it comes to Jews."

This is a misrepresentation of facts. Wojciech Jaruzelski was not left in peace. He has two trials going on: one for the massacre of shipyard workers in December 1970 and another for his coup d' etat in 1981. The trials run slow because of his old age, the political opposition to them and the complicated nature of the charges against him. But he is not "living peacefully in Warsaw" and has complained publicly that he feels "harassed".

Helena Brus is not being persecuted for being a Jews. She is suspected of having taken part in a court murder of general Emil Fieldorf "Nil". Do you think that the family of general Fieldorf does not have the right to see his killers brought to justice?