Wednesday, November 26, 2008



Jewish collaboration with the Soviets provoked an outpouring of condemnation by the Polish people. They accused
the Jews of conspiring with the Soviets to destroy Poland. When the newly-created Polish Army was relocated from
Russia to the Middle East, thousands of Polish Jews, who had enlisted, deserted the army en masse. Though
General Anders granted them all amnesty, it is not surprising that resentment within the army ranks grew - but
not for reasons of anti-semetism. This desertion was a betrayal of Poland, on the very eve of battle. But with the
establishment of the Jewish Ghettos, Polish opinion began to transform from one of hatred and anger to that of
sympathy and deep compassion. Poles who had themselves been victims of German bestiality knew with what
anguish the Jews suffered. They were witness to the horrors of the ghettos and the sentence imposed upon its'
victims - slow starvation and the deportations to death camps. Many Poles felt compelled to act on the grounds of
decency and humanitarianism, overlooking past resentments, betrayal, even anti-semetism, to come to the aid of
the Jews. At great risk to their own lives, Polish men, women and children tossed bundles of food over the ghetto
walls. Polish families opened their homes to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Many Poles even constructed secret
bunkers beneath their basements, or erected fake wall partitions, for the purpose of hiding as many Jews as
possible. Elaborate means were used to smuggle food, clothing and medical care to the Jews in hiding, so as not
to arouse public suspicion.

Poland was the only occupied country in which the Germans issued a decree warning that anyone helping the Jews
would be executed. In house-to-house searches, the Nazis often found Jews hiding there, and shot them along
with the Poles ( and their families ) who sheltered them. That the Germans even issued such a decree is
indicative of the fact that Polish assistance to the Jews was widespread. Many Poles were so traumatized that
they chose to remain neutral for fear of their lives. Our perception of them as passive or indifferent is unwarranted.
Considering the circumstances theirs was not a decision influenced by anti-semetism. But even with the threat
of discovery, and German reprisals, many Poles continued in their mission to shelter and hide Jews.

German and Soviet propaganda distorted and magnified the facts in order to inflame Polish-Jewish hostilities
Among the countless incidences staged by the Nazis was one in which Germans in Lodz destroyed a statue of the
Polish patriot Kosciuszko, and blamed it on the Jews. The Germans forced a group of Jews to stand in front of the
rubble and photographed it as "evidence". Immediately thereafter, the Germans burned down a synagogue and
accused the Poles for having done so in retaliation. In Warsaw, on Passover, the Germans staged a riot which
lasted, ironically, for eight days. They recruited a thousand Polish youths to destroy Jewish homes and shops while
German soldiers were nearby filming the entire onslaught. The sole objective of Nazi propaganda was to bring
about Poland's self-destruction by playing on Polish fears of being conquered by the Soviets. Moreover, the
suspicion that Britain and the US had abandoned the Poles and was about to betray them to the Soviets were
reasons enough for some Poles to collaborate with the Nazis. Any illusion of acquiring special protection or
benefits by collaboration, quickly vanished, as the German terror on Polish underground continued unabated.

The Polish Underground waged a continuous battle using counter propaganda of its own to demoralize and disrupt
the German rank and file. More importantly, the Underground sought to influence Polish attitudes by instructing
them to resist German propaganda and enticements to collaborate with them. The Nazis made numerous
concessions to the Polish people including re-opening Polish theatres and museums, and elminating the
requirement of passes for Poles using the trains. The Germans sometimes succeeded in luring members
of the AK out of hiding, only to deport them to concentration camps, or execute them.

While the majority of the Poles complied with the directives of the Polish Underground, others did not. Poland
endured a siege of German terror and brutality that over time contributed to the increase in delinquency, especially
in the youth. No morals or laws prevailed other than that which ensured Nazi supremacy. Every kind of depravity
was encouraged by the Nazis to erode the moral fabric of Polish society. The Poles who collaborated with the
Germans represented only a fraction of the Polish population.

In the political sphere, the most rabid element was the ONR ( Oboz Narodowo Rady Kalny ), a radical-nationalist
party which produced much of the Polish anti-semetic propaganda. They accused the Jews of starting the war,
and claimed that the Jews were collaborating with the Nazis and the Soviets in order to destroy Poland. This
political party was not represented in the Polish Underground State, nor in the Polish Government-in-exile, in

Little or no attention has been given to the sacrifices made by heroic Poles - the men, and women who made
daring attempts to shelter Jews, under extraordinary circumstances. Catholic nuns frequently sheltered Jewish
children in their convents, teaching them Catholic prayers, and catechism, so that they could pass the scrutiny of
German interrogation. Among the religious orders that gave assistance to the Jews were: the Sisters of Maria's
Family ( in Otwock, Pludy and several other Polish towns), the Ursuline Sisters ( in Warsaw-Powisle, among other
provincial convents), the Franciscan Sisters, in Lasku, the Sisters of the Lady Immaculate ( in Warsaw, Szymanow,
and Niepokalanow), the Sisters of Charity ( in the hospitals of Warsaw), and the Polish Relief Council in Otwock.

At the start of the war, there were Poles who were anti-semetic but who had changed their outlook because of the
Nazi atrocities committed against the Jews - men such as Stanislaw Piasecki, Adolf, Nowaczynski, Kozidkiewicz,
Witold Rudnicki, among many others. There are thousands of Poles who risked their lives and died in the process
of helping the Jews. Only a few of them have been documented and are honoured by Yad Vashem, in the
Righteous Among Nations. None have gained so much attention as the selfless act of one individual, Father
Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan monk. He was a Polish prisoner in Auschwitz, number 16670, who volunteered
to die instead of the fifteen Jews selected for death by slow starvation. The first victims of the gas chambers at
Auschwitz were 300 Poles and 700 Soviet POWs. Until 1942, Poles constituted 90% of the inmates of Stutthof.

Jan Karski, a national hero of the Polish Underground, was the first to report the news of German atrocities to the
Allied nations. He embarked on a gruelling mission through several occupied countries, transporting secret
microfilm to the Polish Government-in-exile in London - on it was documented evidence of the crimes committed
by the Germans - photographs, decrees, and statistics.

The most elaborate covert operation in saving the Jews was an organization called Zegota. Although its officical
name was Council for Aid to the Jews, it had to have been referred to in code in order to protect the organization
from blackmailers and informers. Zegota members represented a wide cross-section of Polish society. It was
an enormous network which overlapped with organizations in the Polish Underground State, Home Army, and
a countless array of individual Poles from every profession and trade. All were devoted to helping the work of
Zegota. The major scope of activity dealt with finding safe houses in which Jews could be hidden, the provision of
food, clothing, and whenever possible, medical care. They produced thousands of fake documents, such as birth
certificates, and passports, to conceal the true identity of the Jews. Many Jews were able to live on the Aryan side
(outside the ghettos) because their features were not semetic. They were the lucky few. Many others whose
appearance was obviously semetic, had to be hidden at all times, otherwise they would risk their death and the
death of the Poles sheltering them. Because of this risk, many Poles had no choice but to refuse to help them.
The largest source of aid to the Jews, which far surpassed Zegota, and the spontaneous efforts given randomly by
groups or individuals, was the Polish Underground State. Its' organization, along political, military and civilian
divisions, was devoted to the restoration of Polands freedom and independence. Among its activities was the
mission to provide the Jews with a means of escape and shelter from Nazi persecution.

In 1940-41, the Polish government-in-exile and the Underground State were the first to report the news of the
persecution of the Jews in Poland. Initially, the British government received the reports with a great deal of
skepticism, believing that the Poles may have exaggerated. It was difficult for the British to comprehend how
German Kultur could descend to such depths of depravity. Irregardless of British stonewalling, Polish interventions
were immediately set into motion. Diplomatic meetings were held in Britain, and the U.S., resolutions were drawn up
and submitted to the United Nations. Ambassador Papee made several visits to the Vatican, meeting with
Secretary of State Cardinal Maglione, and Monsignor Tardem and Montini. He presented them with a memo from
Prime Minister Sikorski, in which he discussed the persecution of the Poles and Jews under Nazi occupation, and
requested the intervention of Pope Pius XII. Issues of the Black Book were also submitted. Papee also met with the
General of the Jesuit Order, Father Wlodzmierz Ledochowski to discuss using the Church and its agencies to
shelter Poles and Jews in Poland.

The Polish Foreign Office published a White Book entitled, " The German Occupation of Poland ", printed in
English, French and Spanish. There were also two Black Books; Volume I " The German Invasion of Poland "
described the September Campaign. Volume II, " The German New Order in Poland " described the German
administration in Poland and the Soviet-German war of June 1941. It provided details concerning the fate of the
Jews, German regulations, descriptions of German atrocities, the burning of synagogues, locations of burials and
names of victims, confiscation of Jewish property, loss of freedom and rights, forced labor, ghettoes, and
death camps. Included were 30 photographs illustrating in graphic detail, life in the ghetto, as well as copies
of German decrees. This book was widely distributed in Great Britain and the US. Copies were sent to press
agencies and newspapers around the world.

Prime Minister Sikorski made several visits to the US as well as to London, and the Polish Embassy in Washington,
D.C. A flurry of telegrams between London and Warsaw document the extent of Polish efforts in pressuring the
Allies for military assistance. In 1941-42, Sikorski asked for an American declaration condemning German
oppressive policies against the Poles and the Jews. The US was unresponsive. As time passed, the situation\
grew more ominous, Sikorskis appeals became more frequent and urgent. Poles and Jews demanded that
Britain execute Germans in reprisal for Nazi atrocities committed against the Polish nation. The British refused
to intervene because it was not within the scope of their political objectives.

The American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress were receptive to Sikorskis arrival in the US,
and expressed hope for the liberation of Poland, but they quickly resorted to a litany of accusations of Polands
pre-war administration. They accused the Polish military of anti-semetism and referred to the periodical issued by
the ONR, entitled " Jestem Polakiem " ( I am Polish), that was radically nationalistic. Its circulation lasted only from
August 4, 1940 to May 15, 1941, at which time the Sikorski govenment called a stop to its publication, declaring it
to be detrimental. Sikorski tried to assure the Allies that the governments position was strongly opposed to
anti-semetism and considered it foreign to its government. He stated that " the common suffering has created a
community of spirit between Poles and Jews"

The Jewish Morning Newspaper did acknowledge that the Sikorski government was moderate, but instead chose
to focus entirely on the fact that a few of its members were National Democrats. Many criticisms were made
purely on hearsay - as one by Jozef Tennenbaum, President of the American Federation of Polish Jews. He
claimed that tens of thousands of Poles helped the Germans to exterminate the Jews - it is completely
unsubstantiated. Jews were frequently at odds even with each other over the issue of anti-semetism. Rabbi Z.
Babad, who represented the Polish Agudists in Great Britain, condemed the Jews who made irresponsible
generalizations about Polish actions towards the Jews. He was a loyal supporter of the Sikorski government,
and he criticized foreign Jews, especially Zionists, for interfering in Polish internal affairs. Ludwik Grosfeld, a
Polish Jew, was appointed Minister of Treasury by Prime Minister Mikolajczyk. Grosfeld was severely criticized
by the Jews who accused him of being an " assimilationist "

After the Germans invaded Russia, the attacks on the Jews intensified. The Polish government countered German
propaganda by issuing a Declaration, entitled, " Instruction No. 2 ", dated June 23, 1941. It read as follows:

" The government lays great stress on the necessity of warning the nations not to give in to German
baiters and not to adopt an active anti-Jewish attitude in the territories freed from Soviet occupation.
This is imperative for reasons of principle and political ones such as actions would be bound to make
it terribly difficult for the government to profit from the situation in the international field. "

On Jan 13, 1942, Sikorski attended an inter-allied conference of nine countries ( which had been occupied by
Germany ), including delegates from Britain and the US. A resolution was made calling for the prosecution of
Germans who violated international law by committing violent crimes against civilians. Britain and the US
refused to sign it on the grounds that there was no verification that the reports were true.

The Polish Underground reported on the increase in German killings. One of many memos read as follows:

" I inform that the news about the murder of several thousand Jews in eastern Galicia is true. Mass
murder of Jews were also committed in the Wilno province, in Byelorussia, and in the Lublin province. In
Wilno alone, about sixty thousand Jews were murdered.... Delegate, April 8, 1942 "

As the massacres began to spread throughout eastern Poland into the General Gouvernement, Prime Minister
Sikorski sent dispatches to the Allied govenments reporting that :

" Extermination of the Jewish population is taking place at an unbelievable extent...mass slaughter
of tens of thousands of Jews is being carried out. In the ghettos of Warsaw and Krakow, mass
executions are being carried out every day. Jews ill with typhus are being shot. The Jews of Poland
are suffering the most terrible persecution in the entire history..."

Alex Lech Bajan

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