Topic Four - Reading One
JEWS UNDER OCCUPATION
1. Organizing a Holocaust
At the outbreak of the war, there were 3.5 million Jews in Poland-- about 10 per cent of the total population. This high percentage was the end result of a long historical process. In 1264, Prince Boleslas the Pious of Kalisz granted the Jews a statute guaranteeing their religious freedom and autonomy for Jewish communities. When persecutions of Jews broke out in other European countries, there began a mass migration of Jews to Poland, where subsequent centuries of tolerance favored the growth of the Jewish population and the establishment of centers of Jewish culture in cities such as Lublin and Wilno.
Following Poland's partition into occupation zones in 1939, about 2 million Jews remained in the "General Gouvernement" and in the western territories incorporated into the Reich, while the rest were in the Soviet-occupied zone. When the war broke out between Russia and Germany, with the lightning German occupation of all Polish territories, another million Polish Jews fell under German rule. The rest, i.e., about half a million, had been deported previously, together with the Poles, into the depths of Russia; some Jews also managed to make their way to the Scandinavian countries (through Lithuania, before that country was overrun by the Soviets) and the west, or obtained Japanese visas and, crossing the USSR in transit, reached Japan and went on to, for instance, Australia.
German policy regarding the Polish Jews was formulated in the decree of the Central Security Office of the Reich of September 21, 1939, pertaining to the solution of the Jewish problem by stages. The final goal of complete extermination of the Jews was not spelled out in the decree and remained a state secret. The decree specified, among others, concentrations of Jews in larger cities, in designated districts. The Security Office was headed by Reinhard Heydrich, and it was on his behalf that Adolf Eichmann undertook the implementation of the decree.
To begin with, the Jews were ordered to wear armbands with the Star of David; this was followed by confiscation of all Jewish real estate and partial confiscation of private property. Jews were ousted from all public institutions, but--through a decree of Governor Hans
Frank of October 26, 1939--subject to compulsory labor from the age of 16 to 60; in this connection, special labor camps were established (at the peak of this action, there were 300 such camps). Finally, on January 26, 1940, the Jews were forbidden to move from one place to another and to use public means of transportation.
The most shattering blow, however, came with the establishment of closed ghettos to which Jews from the entire country were driven, though there were also instances of on-the-spot extermination of Jews in small localities, e.g., in Kleczew (Konin county). In Warsaw, the ghetto was established in November 1940; in Lodz, already at the beginning of 1940; in Krakow, only in March 1941. Governor Frank's decree of October 25, 1941, stated that
"Jews who leave their designated districts are liable to penalty of death. The same penalty will be applied to persons who knowingly provide shelter for such Jews"--that is, to Poles.
The same regulation was reiterated time and again in many decrees issued by local German authorities throughout the years of occupation. The death penalty also threatened the Jews for illegal purchase of food, for using public transportation, for not wearing the prescribed armband. For that matter, the killing of a Jew by a German for whatever reason, or for no reason at all, was not punishable, since Jews and gypsies were removed from under the protection of the law by the decree of March 4, 1941.
According to the letter of the decrees, any person with three grandparents who had been members of a Jewish religious community was Jewish. As a result, there were many people in the ghettos whose parents had already changed their religious affiliation, and who did not consider themselves Jewish at all.
Both in the labor camps and in the ghettos, the Jewish population was doomed to a slow death of starvation, exhaustion, and illness. The daily food ration in the Warsaw ghetto was the equivalent of 184 calories. In consequence, the mortality rate--particularly among children and older people--was extremely high, several times higher than before the war. One contributing factor was the unbelievable concentration of population, with a dozen people or more living in one room.
Finally, the last stage was reached--extermination of all the Jews gathered behind the walls of the "General Gouvernement" ghettos. It began with mass executions of Jews in eastern Poland and in Russia by the so-called "Einsatzgruppen," which moved in after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, following on the heels of swiftly advancing German armies. In the spring of 1942, the Germans began transports of the ghetto populations to the extermination camps of
Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor, Belzec, and Chelm (this last one, for Jews from the territories incorporated into the Reich), as well as a few other, smaller ones. Once in camp, the Jews were killed in the gas chambers and their corpses cremated or stacked outside in big piles and burned. The first transports from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka began on July 22, 1942. Within two months, 300,000 Jews (out of the total ghetto population of 400,000) were evacuated from the Warsaw ghetto.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews brought from Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, etc. were murdered in German death camps in Poland. According to the calculations of the Institute of Jewish Affairs in New York, of a total of 9,612,000 Jews in Europe, 5,787,000 perished under German occupation; of this number, 1,500,000 were killed in the countries of their habitation, primarily in German-occupied parts of the USSR.
Jewish sources estimate the number of Polish Jews that were saved from the Holocaust at between 50,000 and 120,000. According to the estimates of the Directorate of Civil Resistance, there were about 200,000 Jewish survivors in Poland.
2. Liaison with the Ghetto
The underground leadership, and particularly the Government Delegacy and the Home Army (which included a few Jewish officers in its High Command), began to publish daily in their underground press information about the persecutions of Jews, which they denounced in the strongest terms, calling on the Polish population to render the Jews all possible assistance. "Biuletyn Informacyjny," organ of the Home Army, even had its own correspondent in the ghetto (Jerzy Grasberg). Similarly, Polish underground political parties established contact with their members, or counterpart organizations behind the ghetto walls. Thus, members of the Jewish BUND maintained regular contact with the Polish Socialist Party (WRN) and the Polish Boy Scouts (the Grey Ranks)were in touch with the Jewish "Hashomer Hacair." The same was also true for the Democratic Party. Among the smaller underground organizations maintaining either contacts or affiliated cells in the ghetto, were: the Corps for Security (responsible for saving about 5,000 Jews during the war), a leftist organization called "Spartakus," a youth organization called "Union of Struggle for Liberation," and the Organization of Polish Socialists, which had its chapter in the ghetto. When the Polish Workers Party came into existence in January 1942, it also established a cell in the Warsaw ghetto.
As early as 1940, the Government Delegate alerted London about the persecution of Jews in Poland. Thereupon, the Polish government-in-exile sent a note on this subject to allied governments (May 3, 1941). Also in 1941, the Polish Ministry of Information in London published a booklet on the persecution of Jews in Poland, entitled "Bestiality Unknown in Any Previous Record of History" and based on information received from occupied Poland. In January 1942, the Ministry issued another publication, "The New German Order in Poland." Both publications created a stir thoughout the allied world, which after 1941 could no longer plead ignorance of the persecution of Jews in Poland.
3. The Jewish Underground
About that time, the first preparations for armed resistance began in the ghettos. In October 1942, leaders of the incipient Jewish underground joined in forming the Jewish National Committee, composed of representatives of all Jewish organizations, with the exception of BUND. This led to the creation of the Coordination Commission, which logically became in time the central political body of the Jewish underground. Irrespective of this, both BUND and the Jewish National Committee had their separate representatives remaining "on the Aryan side" and maintaining regular contact with the Government Delegate. Dr. Adolf Berman (Borowski) represented the Jewish National Committee, and Dr. Leon Feiner (Berezowski) was the representative of BUND.
On July 28, 1942, the Fighting Organization of the Warsaw ghetto was born. "On the Aryan side," it was represented by Arie Wilner (pseudonym: Jurek). On December 2, 1942, the Fighting Organization, its composition enlarged by that time, took a new name: Jewish Fighting Organization ("Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa"--ZOB). The Jewish Fighting Organization was commanded by Mordecai Anielewicz. At the time of the Ghetto Uprising, it had about 22 combat groups (20-30 men in each), over 700 combat soldiers in all. Liaison with the Home Army was maintained by Arie Wilner, who was in touch with the head of the Jewish Section of the High Command of the Home Army, Henryk Wolinski (pseudonym: Waclaw).
The Jewish representatives--Dr. Adolf Berman for the Jewish National Committee, Dr. Leon Feiner for BUND, and Arie Wilner for the Jewish Fighting Organization--declared their willingness to subordinate the activities of their organizations to the Government Delegate and the High Command of the Home Army. At the same time they asked for arms and ammunition, for financial assistance, and
help with the training. The Delegate accepted the declaration and promised to extend help, while the Commander of the Home Army, in his order of November ll, 1942, acknowledged the Jewish Fighting Organization as a paramilitary organization and instructed them to employ the Home Army's organizational methods and fighting tactics. Simultaneously, the High Command assigned Major Stanislaw Weber (pseudonym Chirurg) and Captain Zbigniew Lewandowski (pseudonym: Szyna) to organize assistance for the Jewish Fighting Organization. Accordingly, the first ten guns and ammunition were passed on to the Jewish Fighting Organization in December 1942, and another ten guns and ammunition in January 1943. For his part, the Government Delegate established the Jewish section of the Delegacy, headed at first by Witold Bienkowski (pseudonym:Kalski) and later by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (pseudonym: Ludwik), who was decorated after the war with the Israeli medal of Yad Vashem.
Thus the historical joining together of the Polish and the Jewish underground movements was completed. The manner in which it was accomplished testified to the loyalty of the Jewish citizens of Poland to the Polish state.
Also active in the ghetto was another Jewish military organization, which did not merge with the Jewish Fighting Organization. The Jewish Military Union ("Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy"--ZZW) consisted of three combat groups, about 400 men in all, mostly former officers and non-commissioned officers of the Polish Army and members of a Zionist organization, BETAR. It was commanded by Pawel Frenkel. The Jewish Military Union established contact with the Government Delegate and the High Command of the Home Army through a Polish underground organization, the Corps for Security.
Within the framework of cooperation between the Polish and the Jewish underground, and at the request of Dr. Feiner, the High Command of the Home Army sent a dispatch to Jewish organizations in London, which responded by forwarding through the Home Army channels the first $5,000 for BUND. This initiated other, more frequent and larger shipments of money, sent to the Jewish organizations via the underground channels of the Government Delegate and the High Command of the Home Army. Contact was also established by means of the Home Army and the Delegacy transmitters with Jewish organizations in the United States.
4. The Council of Assistance to the Jews
At the same time, a number of Polish underground organizations came up with a proposal to develop an organizational structure that
would channel all assistance to the Jews. With the approval of Government Delegate Piekalkiewicz, the Council of Assistance to the Jews was established on December 4, 1942 ("Rada Pomocy Zydom"--ZEGOTA). It was headed by Julian Grobelny, a socialist, and had its headquarters in Warsaw. Along with the representatives of various political parties operating underground, the Council also included Dr. Leon Feiner (as vice chairman) and Dr. Adolf Berman (as secretary). The Council had branches in Krakow, Lwow, Zamosc and Lublin, and agencies in Radom, Kielce and Piotrkow. It broadened and improved the existing forms of assistance to Jews living in hiding outside the ghettos by providing them with living quarters, documents, food, medical care and financial help, and by facilitating communication between members of the same families living in different localities. In Warsaw alone, the Council was taking care of 4,000 persons (of these--600 children). Financial means were provided by the Government Delegate. At first, they amounted to half a million zlotys per month, but by November and December 1944, the sum grew to 14 million zlotys. All in all, ZEGOTA and the Jewish organizations received over a million dollars, 200 thousand Swiss francs, and 37,400,000 zlotys. In no other German-occupied country was there an organization like ZEGOTA in existence, though the terror directed against the Aryan populations of these countries was nowhere near as extreme as in Poland.(2)
The growing pace of the extermination campaign prompted the Directorate of Civil Resistance to issue the following proclamation, dated September 17, 1942:
The tragic fate that befell the Polish people, decimated by the foe, is now compounded by the monstrous, planned slaughter of the Jews that has been carried on in our country for nearly a year. These mass murders are without precedent in the history of the world, and all the cruelties known to man pale beside them. Infants, children, young people, men and women, whether of Catholic or of the Hebrew faith, are being mercilessly murdered, poisoned by gas, buried alive, thrown out of windows onto the pavements below--for no other reason but that they are Jewish; even before death, they suffer the tortures of slow agony, the hell of humiliation and torment, the cynical sadism of their executioners. More than a million victims have already been slaughtered, and their number grows with each passing day.
Unable to counteract these crimes, the Directorate of Civil Resistance protests in the name of the entire Polish nation against the atrocities perpetrated on the Jews. All Polish political and civic groups join in this protest. As in the case of Polish victims of German persecution, the executioners and their henchmen will be held directly responsible for these crimes.
The Directorate of Civil Resistance
This proclamation was published by the entire underground press, and transmitted to London, where it was repeated by the BBC, SWIT, and other allied radio stations.
Another proclamation was issued by the Directorate of Civil Resistance on March 18, 1943, to counteract blackmail of Poles who were sheltering Jews:
The Directorate of Civil Resistance makes the following announcement:
The Polish people, themselves the victims of a horrible reign of terror, are witnessing with horror and compassion the slaughter of the remnants of the Jewish population in Poland. Their protest against this crime has reached the ear of the free world. Their effective assistance to Jews escaping from ghettos or extermination camps prompted the German occupiers to publish a decree, threatening with death all Poles who render help to Jews in hiding. Nevertheless, some individuals, devoid of honor and conscience and recruited from the criminal world, have now discovered a new, impious source of profit in blackmailing the Poles who shelter Jews, and the Jews themselves.
The Directorate of Civil Resistance warns that every instance of such blackmail will be recorded and prosecuted with all the severity of the law--right away, whenever possible, but, in any event, in the future.
In accordance with instructions of the Directorate of Civil Resistance, following the publication of the proclamation the underground courts passed a number of death sentences; underground papers carried the announcement whenever such sentences were carried out (by shooting), and so did the radio. The following Poles were shot for persecuting the Jews: Boguslaw, alias Borys Pilnik, Warsaw; Antoni Rozmus, a platoon leader in the criminal police in Warsaw; Jan Grabiec, Krakow; Waclaw Noworol, Lipnica Wielka; Tadeusz Stefan Karcz, Warsaw; Franciszek Sokolowski, Podkowa Lesna; Antoni Pajor, Dobranowice; Janusz Krystek, Grebkow; Jan Lakinski, Warsaw; Boleslaw Szostak, Warsaw; and Antoni Pietrzak, Warsaw.
In urgent cases, when a delay could imperil the safety of Jews who were in hiding, as well as their protectors, the Government Delegate authorized, by his decree of February 7, 1944, immediate liquidation of blackmailers and informers without court sentence, but on orders of the local underground authorities, usually the local chief of Civil Resistance. For instance, a local commander, Witold Rudnicki, ordered the shooting without a court sentence of four blackmailers threatening to betray Jews hiding in Pustelnik near Warsaw.
Considerably earlier--beginning in July 1942--the Directorate of Civil Resistance began to inform the government in London regularly about each new step-up in the persecution of the Jews. Chiefs
of the Jewish sections of the Government Delegacy and the High Command of the Home Army provided the Directorate of Civil Resistance with up-to-date information on the developments.
Unfortunately, the first dispatches--including the information that the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto was begun on July 22, 1942--were disbelieved in London, where they were taken for exaggerated anti-German propaganda. Only when the British intelligence service confirmed this information some months later was the proper use made of dispatches of the Directorate of Civil Resistance.
Samples of the more important messages from the chief of the Directorate of Civil Resistance, Stefan Korbonski (pseudonym Nowak), are given below; the first pertains to the little known incident--the first armed encounter in the Warsaw ghetto, three months before the outbreak of the Ghetto Uprising:
January 29, 1943. In recent days, Jews in the Warsaw ghetto defended themselves arms in hand and killed a few Germans. The Jewish National Committee requests that this information be passed on to the Histadrut in Palestine.
March 18, 1943. Remnants of Jews in Radomsk, Ujazd, Sobolew, Radzymin, and Szczerzec near Lwow have been liquidated.
March 23, 1943. Tests with sterilization of women are being conducted in Auschwitz. New crematoria have a capacity of 3,000 persons per day, mostly Jews.
March 30, 1943. On March 13, 14 and 15, trucks loaded with Jews left the Krakow ghetto en route to Auschwitz. About 1,000 people were killed in the ghetto. Jews from Lodz are being taken in the direction of Ozorkow and exterminated there.
June 10, 1943. In Auschwitz, Bloc X scheduled to become experimental station of the Central Institute of Hygiene from Berlin. Castration, sterilization and artificial insemination. At present, there are 200 Jewish men and 25 Jewish women there.
June 3, 1943. Broadcast repeatedly instructions of the Directorate of Civil Resistance on helping Jews in hiding.
July 28, 1943. In Lwow, there are still about 4,000 Jews, gathered in the labor camp at Janowskie. During the roll call each morning, two rabbis are forced to fox-trot before the inmates assembled, to the tune of a Jewish band.
August 31, 1943. Liquidation of Jews in Bedzin started at the beginning of this month. About 7,000 were taken to Auschwitz. The young are liquidated first. As of July 1 of this year, the total number of Jews in Poland--including those in the camps, in the ghettos, and in hiding--is 250-300 thousand. Of these, 15,000 are in Warsaw; 80,000 in Lodz; 30,000 in Bedzin; 12,000 in Wilno; 20,000 in Bialystok; 8,000 in Krakow; 4,000 in Lublin; 5,000 in Lwow.
September 23, 1943. The Bedzin ghetto has been liquidated. The Germans murdered 30,000 people.
November 19, 1943. Slaughter of Jews in Trawniki goes on. Massacres also in Poniatowa and Lwow.
June 20, 1944. Beginning May 15, mass murders are carried out in Auschwitz. Jews are taken first, then the Soviet prisoners of war, and the so-called sick. Mass transports of Hungarian Jews arrive. Thirteen trains per day, 40-50 cars each. Victims convinced they'll be exchanged for POWs or resettled in the east. Gas chambers working round the clock. Corpses are burned in crematoria and out in the open. Over l00,000 people gassed up till now.
July 19, 1944. Murder of Jews in Auschwitz is directed by camp's commander Hoess--read Hess--and his aide, Grabner.
5. Mission of Emissary Jan Karski
The Government Delegate also sounded the alarm repeatedly, sending dispatches on the extermination of Jews and transmitting to London messages from Dr. Feiner and Dr. Berman, addressed to Rabbi Stephen Wise and Rabbi Nachum Goldman in the United States, and to the two Jewish members of the National Council in London--Dr. Ignacy Schwartzbart, a Zionist, and Szmul Zygielbojm, member of BUND. What was even more important, however, was that an eyewitness, emissary Jan Karski, was sent to London. Dressed as an Estonian guard, Karski bribed his way right into the Belzec death camp for Jews and saw everything with his own eyes. Before leaving Poland, he had lengthy interviews with Dr. Feiner and Dr. Berman, who gave him the following instructions:
"We want you to tell the Polish government, the allied governments and allied leaders that we are helpless against the German criminals. We cannot defend ourselves, and no one in Poland can possibly defend us. The Polish underground authorities can save some of us, but they cannot save the masses. The Germans do not try to enslave us, the way they do other peoples. We are being systematically murdered . . . all Jews in Poland will perish. It is possible that some few will be saved. But three millions of Polish Jews are doomed to extinction.
"There is no power in Poland able to forestall this fact; neither the Polish, nor the Jewish underground can do it. You have to place the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the Allies. No leader of the United Nations should ever be able to say that he did not know that we were being murdered in Poland and that only outside assistance could help us."
Overcoming tremendous obstacles, Karski reached London in November 1942. He not only informed the Polish government-in-exile and its Premier, General Sikorski, about the genocide in Poland, but also saw personally the following: Foreign Secretary
Anthony Eden; leader of the Labour Party Arthur Greenwood; Lord Selbourne; Lord Cranborne; the Chairman of the Board of Trade, Hugh Dalton; Member of the House of Commons, Ellen Wilkinson; British Ambassador to the government-in-exile O'Malley; American Ambassador to the government-in-exile, Anthony Drexel Biddle; and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Richard Law. Karski also testified regarding the extermination of Jews before the UN War Crimes Commission, chaired by Sir Cecil Hurst. Finally, he gave numerous interviews to the British press and also briefed other members of Parliament and organizations of British writers and intellectuals.
Leaving for thc United States, Karski then personally told the story of Jews in Poland to Undersecretary of State Adolf Berle, Attorney General Biddle, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Archbishops Mooney and Stritch, and American-Jewish leaders such as Stephen Wise, Nachum Goldman and Waldman. Karski was also received by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who kept on asking specific questions about the extermination of Jews in Poland long past the time allotted for Karski's audience.
The Polish underground emissary accomplished his mission and passed on to allied leaders the message about the fate of Jews in Poland. But, to all practical purposes, his mission produced no results.(3)
6. Demands for Retaliation
As far as the Polish circles were concerned, one result of Karski's mission was the resolution, passed by the National Council on November 27, 1942, appealing to all allied nations to undertake a joint action against the extermination of Jews in Poland. Also, on December 10, 1942, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs addressed a note to the allied governments, in which he presented the chronology of specific stages of extermination of Jews in Poland and appealed to allied governments to "devise effective measures likely to restrain the Germans from further mass extermination." Seven days later, on December 17, 1942, twelve allied governments issued a joint communique, announcing that persons responsible for the extermination of Jews would be punished. No other action was taken, however, despite the fact that the Government Delegate in Poland and the High Command of the Home Army demanded retaliatory bombing of German cities, accompanied by an announcement that the bombing raids were carried out in retaliation for the extermination of Jews. Underground leaders reasoned that British bombardment of German cities was already underway to a certain extent anyway, in accordance with Churchill's statement of 1940, announcing retaliation for the bombardment of British cities. The only
difference would have consisted in scattering appropriate leaflets over the target cities and broadcasting announcements of a general nature, i.e., without naming the cities to be bombed. The Polish underground leaders also requested regular bombing missions to destroy all railroad lines leading to extermination camps in order to prevent further transports from the ghettos. The two Jewish representatives, Dr. Feiner and Dr. Berman, made similar demands in their dispatches to London. An anti-Nazi SS officer, Kurt Gerstein, recommended the same course of action in his conversation with Swedish diplomat von Otter aboard the Berlin Express. In his dispatch to the government, dated June 17, 1943, the chief of the Directorate of Civil Resistance Korbonski summed up the demands for retaliation as follows:
"Public opinion here demands that the attention of the Anglo-Saxon world turn to Poland and calls for retaliations against the Reich, in line with the postulate reiterated over the past year, of listing the crimes responsible for the bombardments of Germany .... I beg and urge that appropriate declarations be made simultaneously with bombing raids over the Reich that these are in retaliation for the latest German bestialities."
No such action was undertaken, however, supposedly because of technical impossibility of such long-distance flights. And yet, Sir Arthur Harris, chief of the British Bomber Command, considered the bombing of Auschwitz, for instance, technically feasible if carried out from bases in Italy. Captain Leonard Cheshire, V.C., held a similar opinion. Moreover, since bombing raids could have been made on factories around Auschwitz, nothing should have prevented the bombardment of railroad lines bringing fodder for the gas chambers of the largest of German death camps.
7. Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto
Beginning with January 1943, officers of the Home Army and representatives of the Jewish Fighting Organization held meetings to plan for a joint action on both sides of the ghetto walls at the outbreak of the uprising. Three Polish units led by Captain Jozef Pszenny (pseudonym: Chwacki), were to break through the ghetto walls, attack the Germans on the Aryan side and blow up the walls with explosives. Since it was assumed from the start that the Ghetto Uprising must inevitably end in disaster, this action was planned only to open the way for the retreat of the Jewish fighters.
At this time the Home Army delivered to the Jewish Fighting Organization 1 light machine gun, 2 submachine guns, 50 handguns (all with magazines and ammunition), 10 rifles, 600 hand grenades with
detonators, 30 kilograms of explosives (plastic, received from the air drops), 120 kilograms of explosives of its own production, 400 detonators for bombs and grenades, 30 kilograms of potassium to make the incendiary "Molotov cocktails," and, finally, great quantities of saltpeter, needed to manufacture gun powder. The Jewish Fighting Organization also received instructions on how to manufacture bombs, hand grenades and incendiary bottles; how to build strong-holds; and where to get rails and cement for their construction.
On April 19, 1943--the first day of uprising in the Warsaw ghetto--three Home Army units, commanded by Captain Jozef Pszenny, took up their posts near the ghetto walls on Bonifraterska Street and attempted to blow up the wall with mines. Detected prematurely, they attacked the Germans, while four sappers tried to get to the wall. Unfortunately, two of them were killed on the spot--Eugeniusz Morawski and Jozef Wilk--while a third sustained wounds in both legs. Captain Pszenny ordered his men to retreat and withdrew, taking along four wounded men and detonating the mines on the street; the explosion tore to shreds the bodies of Morawski and Wilk. Several Germans were killed during the engagement, but the attempt to blow up the wall ended in failure.
The next day, a unit of the People's Guard of the Polish Workers Party, led by Franciszek Bartoszek, attacked the German machine-gun post near the ghetto wall on Nowiniarska Street. Two SS-men were killed.
On April 22, a detachment of the Home Army, commanded by Wieckowski, routed a unit of the Lithuanian auxiliary police near the ghetto walls.
On Good Friday, April 23, a Home Army unit led by Lt. Jerzy Skupienski attacked the gate in the ghetto wall at Pawia Street. They had orders to blow up the gate. Two German sentries were killed at the gate, but--under the heavy barrage of fire from Germans converging from all sides--the Home Army soldiers had to withdraw, killing on the way four SS and police officers whose car happened to cross their path of retreat.
In harassing actions ordered by Colonel Antoni Chrusciel (pseudonym: Monter), the Home Army Commander of Warsaw, German sentries on Leszno and Orla streets were shot by Home Army soldiers led by Cadet Officer Zbigniew Stalkowski; another unit of the Home Army, led by Tadeusz Kern-Jedrychowski, killed SS sentries on Zakroczymska Street.
There was also fighting in the area of the Powazki Cemetery (under the command of Wladyslaw Andrzejczak) and near the Jewish
cemetery (under Leszek Raabe, commander of the Socialist Fighting Organization). Raabe's deputy, Wlodzimierz Kaczanowski, organized the escape of the Jewish members of the Polish Socialist Party from the ghetto.
On Good Friday, April 23, the Jewish Fighting Organization issued an appeal to the Polish population, declaring that the struggle in the ghetto upheld the time-honored Polish motto: "For your freedom and ours," and stressing that the Jews and the Poles had become brothers in arms.
A particularly daring action was undertaken by a unit of the Corps for Security, under the command of Captain Henryk Iwanski. From the very first days of the Warsaw ghetto's existence Captain Iwanski's brother, Waclaw, and his two sons Zbigniew and Roman maintained regular contact with the Jewish Military Union, providing them with arms, ammunition, and instructional materials smuggled through the sewers or in carts that brought lime and cement into the ghetto. When the uprising began, a unit of the Jewish Military Union occupied positions on Muranowski Square, which was to become the scene of bloodiest fighting. On the first day of the uprising, a Polish and a Jewish flag were raised over this sector. They were clearly visible from the Aryan side, and created a deep impression on the Polish population of Warsaw. The commander of the Jewish unit on Muranowski Square, Dawid Moryc Apfelbaum, sent a message to Captain Iwanski informing him that he had been wounded, and asking for arms and ammunition. The next day, Iwanski and 18 of his men (among them, his brother Waclaw and his two sons, Roman and Zbigniew) made their way into the ghetto by way of a tunnel dug from the cellar of a house at 6 Muranowska Street to the cellar of a house at 7 Muranowska Street, on the opposite side and behind the ghetto wall which, at this point, ran in the middle of Muranowska Street. They brought with them arms, ammunition and food for Apfelbaum's men and, seeing the utter exhaustion of the Jewish fighters, relieved them at their posts amid the ruins on Muranowski Square and Nalewki Street, repelling repeated German attacks. The same tunnel was used without delay to evacuate the Jewish wounded to the Aryan side. Later on, Iwanski's brother and both his sons were killed during the fighting, and Iwanski himself was seriously wounded. After the collapse of the uprising, Iwanski's men carried their wounded commander back through the tunnel, taking along also 34 Jewish fighters, fully armed.
After the war, Henryk Iwanski and his wife Wiktoria (who provided shelter and hiding places for the Jews throughout the war)
were decorated--along with 10 other people--by the Israeli Ambassador in Warsaw, Dov Satoath, with the medal of Yad Vashem.(4)
This was not an isolated instance of the Jews and the Poles fighting together. According to the underground paper "Glos Warszawy" (April 23, 1943), when the uprising began, "there were Poles in the ghetto, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Jews in the streets of the ghetto against the Germans."
In his 100-page report, SS- and Police General Jurgen Stroop, commander of the German forces fighting in the ghetto, confirmed the fact of Polish diversionary operations and Polish participation in the fighting both within and outside of the ghetto. He wrote that his soldiers were "constantly under fire from outside of the ghetto, i.e., from the Aryan side"; and described Iwanski's action as follows: "The main Jewish group, with some Polish bandits mixed in, retreated to the so-called Muranowski Square already in the course of the first or the second day of fighting. It was reinforced there by several more Polish bandits."
A little over a year later, during the Warsaw Rising, a detachment of the Jewish Fighting Organization joined the ranks of the Home Army in the struggle against the Germans. The Jewish fighters were commanded by Icek Cukierman--once deputy and contact man on the Aryan side--and Mordecai Anielewicz, commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization.
It was during the Warsaw Uprising, too, that the Grey Ranks, composed of boy scouts and led by Lt. Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz (pseudonym Radoslaw), seized, in what once had been the ghetto, the labor camp still maintained by the Germans for Jews (whose lives had been spared so they could work at tearing down whatever remained of the burned ghetto, but who were also doomed to die). They freed 358 Jews who joined Radoslaw's units enthusiastically. Later, most of them were killed, together with those who had freed them. Radoslaw was wounded in both legs, but still continued in command. It was the Jews who carried his stretcher, often through the underground passages in the city sewers.
A question arises: should the Home Army have helped the Jews with more than arms, diversionary actions and efforts to open up escape routes for the Jewish fighters? The answer must be negative. Not even the entire strength of the Home Army in Warsaw could have saved the ghetto or brought victory. There was considerable concentration of German army, SS, and
gendarmerie forces in Warsaw and vicinity that would have been sent into action immediately, with but only one possible outcome--a crushing defeat of both the Jewish Fighting Organization and the Home Army. An uprising in the ghetto could have been more than a heroic and tragic gesture of protest and self-defense only if the Soviet army could have come to the rescue in time to win victory. The only other alternative would have been a total disarray of the German armies. But in April 1943, the Soviets were hundreds of miles away from Warsaw and the German armies showed no signs of decay, fighting doggedly on all war fronts.
Throughout the Ghetto Uprising, daily reports on the course of the fighting were transmitted by the chief of the Directorate of Civil Resistance Korbonski to the radio station SWIT, which based its broadcasts on their contents. Below are some samples of these messages:
April 20, 1943. Yesterday the Germans began the liquidation of 35,000 in our ghetto. The Jews are defending themselves. We can hear shots and explosions of grenades. The Germans are using tanks and armored cars. They have losses. There are fires in several places. Speak to the ghetto today.
April 21, 1943. The fighting in the ghetto continues. Throughout the night we could hear shots, explosions and fires.
April 28, 1943. Fighting continues in the ghetto. The Germans are burning houses systematically, one after another.
May 7, 1943. Rzeczpospolita of May 6 contains a statement of the Government Delegate denouncing German crimes in the ghetto. He pays homage to the Jewish fighters, voices our solidarity, and calls on all Poles to help those who escape from the ghetto.
May 15, 1943. The horrible massacre of the remnants of the Warsaw ghetto has been going on for three weeks now. Led by the Jewish Fighting Organization, the Jews defended themselves heroically, arms in hand. The Germans used artillery and armored cars. Over 300 Germans have been killed by the Jewish fighters, some 1,000 Germans have been wounded. Tens of thousands of Jews have been deported, murdered or burned alive by the Germans.
May 22, 1943. A rumor circulates among the Germans that the Gestapo chief in Warsaw, Dr. von Sammern, who had been recalled, was sentenced to death for the disgrace suffered by the Germans because of the armed resistance in the ghetto.
June 9, 1943. The underground Economic Bulletin reports on May 15 that 100,000 living units, 2,000 industrial locations, 3,000 commercial establishments and several factories have been burned or blown up in the Warsaw ghetto. In September 1939 only 78,000 living units were destroyed in the entire city of Warsaw.
June 29, 1943. All inhabitants of the ghettos in Stanislawow, Lukow, Wegrow and Zolkiew have been murdered. In Warsaw, some 2,000 Jews are breathing their last in cellars and ruins. There is still some fighting during the nights. At Sobibor, German bands playing at the station greet Jews arriving from abroad.
In his letter to Cukierman, dated April 23, 1943, Mordecai Anielewicz refers to the first of the above dispatches, on which the SWIT broadcast was based:
The fact that .... the radio station SWIT broadcast a beautiful program about our struggle (which we heard on our set here), was the source of great satisfaction. It gives us courage in our fight to know that we are not forgotten on the other side of the ghetto wall.(5) Government Delegate Jankowski also sent urgent dispatches to the Polish government in London, beginning on April 21, 1943. Meanwhile in London, Szmul Zygielbojm, a member of the Polish National Council, committed suicide on May 13, 1943 in protest against the indifference of the Allies to the sufferings of the Warsaw ghetto; he explained the reason for his action in letters addressed to the President of the Polish Republic, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, and to the Premier of the government-in-exile, General Wladyslaw Sikorski.
8. Jewish Partisan Units
Towards the end of the Ghetto Uprising, there began an organized evacuation of the Jewish fighters. lt was not free from tragic mistakes, such as the suicide of Mordecai Anielewicz and his staff in the bunker at 18 Mila Street, despite the fact that there was a way for them to escape, which was discovered later by others. Jewish fighters escaped through tunnels dug from cellar to cellar and through the city sewers. Members of friendly Polish organizations such as the Socialist Fighting Organization awaited them on the Aryan side with trucks, which transported the rescued Jews to the woods near Warsaw. On April 29, for instance, soldiers of the People's Guard, led by Lieutenant Wladyslaw Gaik, organized the escape of 40 men of the Jewish Fighting Organization, fully armed, and took them to the woods in the vicinity of Wyszkow. The same operation was repeated again on May 10, when another 30 Jewish fighters were rescued, joining the others and forming a partisan group named after Mordecai Anielewicz. Other Jewish partisan units were formed, often named after Polish national heroes. In the Lyblin district, for instance, there were Jewish partisan groups, commanded by Samuel Jegier and named after Emilia Plater (a heroine of the Insurrection of 1831) and Jan Kozietulski (a hero of the Napoleonic wars). One of the partisan groups, led by Chil Grynszpan, was named after Berek
Joselewicz, a Jew and a colonel in the Polish armies during the Insurrection of 1794. Another partisan group was composed of Polish peasants from the village of Polichno, but had a Jewish commanding officer who used the pseudonym of "Szymek"; when he was killed in action, the peasants buried him in a Catholic cemetery as a sign of their respect. Among still other partisan groups there was a Jewish unit commanded by Mieczyslaw Gruber; a mixed Polish-Jewish unit under the command of a Jewish veterinarian, Dr. Mieczyslaw Skotnicki, operating in the woods near Parczew; and in the Radom district, a group led by Julian Ajzenman-Kaniewski (pseudonym: Chytry). Small bands of stragglers usually joined the first partisan unit they met and many of them fought together with the Home Army partisans.
Jews who managed to survive the uprising in the ghetto and to escape through tunnels and sewers to the Aryan side fared much worse. The most fortunate among them made their way to the forests and either joined the partisans hiding there, or set up camps under the partisans' protection. The rest were swept into the nets of special manhunts conducted by the Germans, or blended with the Polish population, which--spurred on by three successive appeals of the Council of Assistance to the Jews (ZEGOTA), an appeal from General Sikorski (May 5,1943), and an appeal from the Government Delegate Jankowski (May 6,1943)--was doing all it could to save the tragic remnants. At the same time, ZEGOTA requested that the Polish government-in-exile take steps to initiate an international agreement in an effort to save the remaining Jews through exchange or some other means. However, no such agreement was ever concluded.
Also at that time, three publications printed by the underground presses reached London: "Before the Eyes of the World," a book by Maria Kann, presented the story of the Warsaw ghetto and the Ghetto Uprising; "One Year in Treblinka," a booklet written by Jankiel Wiernik, an escapee from the death camp; and a volume of poems, entitled "From the Abyss," the work of eleven Jewish poets. These books created a deep impression in the West--and that was the end of it.
This state of affairs lasted until the German armies, defeated by the Soviets, began their retreat.
9. Polish Losses Due to Helping Jews
There are no complete data as to the number of Poles murdered by the Germans for giving shelter to the Jews or helping them in other ways. There are, however, many fragmentary reports pertaining to specific instances, e.g., an announcement of the SS and police commander in the district of Galicja (January 28, 1944), listing the
names of five Poles sentenced to death for helping the Jews. Widely known was the case of a gardener, Ludomir Marczak and his family, who were shot in the Pawiak Prison on March 7, 1944 for hiding in a dugout in their garden about 30 Jews--among them, Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, the chronicler of the Ghetto Uprising, who perished with the others. Between September 13, 1942 and May 25, 1944, about 200 peasants were shot or burned alive in the Kielce district in reprisal for helping the Jews. The same fate befell 17 persons in the Krakow district. In the cemetery of the town of Nowy Sacz, 300-500 Jews and Poles were shot between 1939 and August 1942--the Poles for sheltering the Jews. The same reason accounted for the execution of 40 Poles in the Lublin district, 47 in the Rzeszow district and 19 in the Warsaw district. In the Lwow district, nearly a thousand inhabitants of the city of Lwow were punished with death in the Belsen camp for having helped the Jews. Witnesses during the Eichmann trial also referred to several individual cases (e.g., Dr. Jozef Barzminski).
A dispatch from the chief of the Directorate of Civil Resistance Korbonski illustrates one case:
"May 3, 1943. In Mszana Dolna, on March 22, Volksdeutsch Gelb hanged a peasant by his feet and tormented him to death for having sold potatoes to a Jew. Threaten him."
Still, most of the Poles who had been helping the Jews survived the war and the German persecutions. Today, they are frequently in touch with the Jewish families they helped, visiting them in Israel, in the United States and in other countries, and even settling in Israel at the invitation of the Jewish families living there. In the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem, most of the plaques commemorating those who were saving Jews bear Polish names.(*)
Among the Polish masses, which tried to save as many Jews as possible, there were also exceptions other than the blackmailers and the informers, whom the Polish underground punished with death. Partisan units of the fascist fraction of the National Armed Forces hunted down the Jews hiding in the forests. They were also responsible for the killing in Warsaw of two officers of the High Command of the Home Army who were of Jewish origin--Jerzy Makowiecki, an engineer, and Professor Ludwik Widerszal.
On the other hand, some prominent and outspoken prewar anti-semites--such as the leader of the radical right ONR, Jan Mosdorf, editor of the weekly "Prosto z mostu," Stanislaw Piasecki, and the well
(*)See page 253 for the List of the Righteous Among the Nations. According to the brochure entitled "Las Sprawiedliwych" ["The Forest of Righteous"] published by Szymon Datner, director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, The Institute listed up to April 1968 the names of 343 Poles murdered for helping the Jews. However, the names of 101 additional victims the Institute was unable to identify.
known journalist Adolf Nowaczynski--changed completely: Mosdorf did everything in his power to help the Jews in the Auschwitz camp, and he died together with the Jews; Piasecki and Nowaczynski became the champions of the persecuted Jews.
A surviving leading representative of the Jews, Dr. Adolf Berman, now living in Tel Aviv, appraised the role played by the Poles as follows:
Descriptions of the Jewish martyrdom in Poland often dwell on sufferings inflicted upon the hunted Jews by Polish blackmailers and informers, by the "blue" police, by fascist hooligans and other scum of the society. Far less is being written about the fact that thousands of Poles put their own lives in jeopardy to help the Jews. It is much easier to see the foul scum and flotsam on a river than to discern the deep, clear current under its surface. But the current was there ....
The time will come when we will have a great Golden Book of Poles who, in that hideous 'time of contempt,' held out a brother's hand to the Jews, saved Jews from death, and became a symbol of humanitarianism and the brotherhood of peoples to the Jewish underground movement.
10. Why Was Poland Chosen as the Site of Extermination?
Anti-semitism of the local population certainly was not the reason for the Nazis' choice of Poland as the main extermination site for the Jews (who were also being murdered in the Reich, e.g., in Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and other camps). Certain segments of the Polish population were indeed anti-semitic, but this had changed when the Poles saw the persecution of Jews with their own eyes and when they themselves became subject to deportations, mass arrests, concentration camps and mass executions. Historians of Jewish persecutions are unanimous in their agreement that, after the Jews, the Poles were the most oppressed of all nations and were doomed to gradual extermination in accordance with the General Eastern Plan. Among charges listed in the indictment presented by Gideon llausner, prosecutor at the Eichmann trial, one (no. 9) was that Eichmann was responsible for the deportation of 500,000 Poles. Eichmann was convicted on this count, too, and the sentence assumed he had been motivated by his intention to destroy the intelligentsia class of Polish society.
The real reason why Poland had been chosen was the fact that of all the European Jews marked for extermination, three and a half million were already in Poland. German railroad transportation lines were overburdened because of the war. It was much simpler to build the extermination camps in Poland and to bring in the Polish Jews from nearby areas, rather than to transport them by rail to Hungary
or France. The largest of these camps, Auschwitz, was established near the German border to shorten the distance for the transport of Jews from Hungary, France, and Italy. After the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, when transportation problems became even more acute, one and a half million Polish and Russian Jews were murdered by special units, the so-called "Einsatzgruppen"-not in the extermination camps, but on the spot, in front of the mass graves they had been forced to dig for themselves.
Transport problems played a role not only in the extermination of the Jews, but also in considerations of ways to save them. In 1942, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told President Franklin D. Roosevelt
"The whole problem of the Jews in Europe is very difficult and we should move very cautiously about offering to take all Jews out of a country. If we do so, then the Jews of the world will be wanting us to make similar offers in Poland and Germany. Hitler might take us up on any such offer, and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them...."(6)
The Germans also undoubtedly reasoned that this greatest crime in the history of the world might be easier to hide in eastern Europe, cut off from the world by German occupation, than in the west, which--although also under German occupation--could never be isolated effectively from neutral countries, like Switzerland or Spain, or even from England.
One cannot end an account of the extermination of the Jews without stating that the guilt of genocide will rest forever on the entire German nation, which--from the first anti-Jewish excesses in pre-war Germany and as long as Hitler was winning the war--supported the Fuhrer and identified fully with him and with the Nazi party. Nothing but words--protests or threats--came from the Allies, but their responsibility is of an entirely different kind and can in no way be compared to that of the Germans. The sin of commission cannot be compared to the sin of omission.
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