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Holocaust in Poland

Holocaust in Poland

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The Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

, also known as haShoah , was a genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 officially sanctioned and executed by the Third Reich during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. It took the lives of three million Polish
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

, destroying an entire civilization. Only a small percentage survived or managed to escape beyond the reach of the Nazis. The Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland involved the implementation of German policy of systematic and mostly successful destruction of indigenous Polish-Jewish
History of the Jews in Poland
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the...

 population. The official Nazi term for the extermination of Jews during their occupation of Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 was the euphemistic phrase Endlösung der Judenfrage (the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question
Final Solution
The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust...

"). Every arm of the sophisticated German bureaucracy was involved in the killing process, from the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry; to German firms and state–run trains for deportation to the camps. German companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria in concentration camps
Nazi concentration camps
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps set up in Germany were greatly expanded after the Reichstag fire of 1933, and were intended to hold political prisoners and opponents of the regime...

 run by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 in the General Government
General Government
The General Government was an area of Second Republic of Poland under Nazi German rule during World War II; designated as a separate region of the Third Reich between 1939–1945...

 and other parts of occupied Poland.

Throughout the German occupation, many Polish Gentiles – at great risk to themselves and their families – engaged in rescuing Jews from the Nazis. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the biggest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. To date, 6,135 Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations
Righteous Among the Nations
Righteous among the Nations of the world's nations"), also translated as Righteous Gentiles is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis....

by the State of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 – more than any other nation.

The German Nazi extermination policy


Prior to Second World War there were 3,500,000 Jews in Polish Second Republic, about 10% of the population, living predominantly in the cities. Between the 1939 invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

, and the end of World War II, over 90% of Polish Jewry perished.

Persecution of the Jews by the Nazi German occupation government, particularly in the urban areas, began immediately after the invasion. In the first year and a half, the Germans confined themselves to stripping the Jews of their valuables and property for profit, herding them into ghetto
Ghetto
A ghetto is a section of a city predominantly occupied by a group who live there, especially because of social, economic, or legal issues.The term was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. The term now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated...

es and putting them into forced labor in war-related industries
Forced labor in Germany during World War II
The use of forced labour in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale. It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied...

. During this period the Germans forced Jewish communities to appoint Jewish Councils (Judenräte
Judenrat
Judenräte were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territory of Poland, and later in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union It is the overall term for the enforcement bodies established by the Nazi occupiers to...

) to administer the ghettos and to be "responsible in the strictest sense" for carrying out German orders. After the German attack
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 on the Soviet Union in June 1941, German police units, especially the Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

, operated behind the front lines to shoot 'dangerous elements' (Jews and Communists). About 2 million Jews were shot and buried in mass graves, many in the areas of eastern Poland
Kresy
The Polish term Kresy refers to a land considered by Poles as historical eastern provinces of their country. Today, it makes western Ukraine, western Belarus, as well as eastern Lithuania, with such major cities, as Lviv, Vilnius, and Hrodna. This territory belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian...

 which had been annexed by the Soviets
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 in 1939. The survivors were incarcerated in newly-created ghettos.

At the Wannsee conference
Wannsee Conference
The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. The purpose of the conference was to inform administrative leaders of Departments responsible for various policies relating to Jews, that Reinhard Heydrich...

 near Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 on 20 January 1942, Dr Josef Bühler
Josef Bühler
Josef Bühler was a Nazi war criminal, secretary and deputy governor to the Nazi-controlled General Government in Kraków during World War II.- Background :...

 urged Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich , also known as The Hangman, was a high-ranking German Nazi official.He was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia...

 to begin the proposed "final solution
Final Solution
The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust...

 to the Jewish question". Accordingly, in 1942, the Germans began the systematic killing of the Jews, beginning with the Jewish population of the General Government
General Government
The General Government was an area of Second Republic of Poland under Nazi German rule during World War II; designated as a separate region of the Third Reich between 1939–1945...

. Six extermination camps (Auschwitz
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

, Belzec
Belzec extermination camp
Belzec, Polish spelling Bełżec , was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps created for implementing Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust...

, Chełmno, Majdanek
Majdanek
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army...

, Sobibor
Sobibór extermination camp
Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the town of Sobibór, Lublin Voivodeship of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor...

 and Treblinka
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

) were established in which the most extreme measure of the Holocaust, the mass murder of millions of Jews from Poland and other countries, was carried out between 1942 and 1944. The camps were designed and operated by Nazi Germans and there were no Polish guards at any of the camps, despite the sometimes used misnomer Polish death camps
Polish death camps
Polish death camp and Polish concentration camp are terms that occasionally appear in international media in reference to Nazi German concentration camps built and run by during the Holocaust in the General Government and other parts of occupied Poland...

. Of Poland's prewar Jewish population of 3,500,000, only about 50,000-120,000 would survive the war.

Ghettos and the extermination program


The plight of Jews in war-torn Poland can be divided into stages defined by the existence of the ghettos. Before their formation, the escape from persecution did not involve extrajudicial punishment by death. Once the ghettos were created however, death by starvation and disease became rampant, alleviated only by smuggling of food and medicine described by Ringelblum as "one of the finest pages in the history between the two peoples". The escape from the ghettos became the only chance for survival once their brutal liquidation began.
The liquidation of Jewish ghettos across Poland was closely connected with the formation of highly secretive killing centers built at about the same time by various German companies including I.A. Topf and Sons
Topf and Sons
J.A. Topf and Sons was a German engineering company, which designed and built the incineration furnaces used by the Nazis at concentration and extermination camps during the Holocaust; including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, Belzec, Dachau, Mauthausen and Gusen...

 of Erfurt
Erfurt
Erfurt is the capital city of Thuringia and the main city nearest to the geographical centre of Germany, located 100 km SW of Leipzig, 150 km N of Nuremberg and 180 km SE of Hannover. Erfurt Airport can be reached by plane via Munich. It lies in the southern part of the Thuringian...

, and C.H. Kori GmbH. Civilians were forbidden to approach them. Kulmhof (Chełmno
Chelmno extermination camp
Chełmno extermination camp, also known as the Kulmhof concentration camp, was a Nazi German extermination camp that was situated 50 kilometres from Łódź, near a small village called Chełmno nad Nerem . After annexation by Germany Kulmhof was included into Reichsgau Wartheland in 1939...

) extermination camp was built as first. It was a pilot project for the development of the remaining sites. Unlike other Nazi concentration camps where prisoners were exploited for the war effort, German death camps – part of Operation Reinhardt – were designed exclusively for the rapid elimination of Polish Jews in ghettos. Their German overseers reported directly to Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, who kept control of the extermination program, but delegated the work in Poland to SS-Obergruppenführer Odilo Globocnik
Odilo Globocnik
Odilo Lotario Globocnik was a prominent Austrian Nazi and later an SS leader. He was an acquaintance of Adolf Eichmann, who played a major role in the extermination of Jews and others during the Holocaust...

. The selection of sites, construction of facilities and training of personnel was based on a similar (Action T4
Action T4
Action T4 was the name used after World War II for Nazi Germany's eugenics-based "euthanasia" program during which physicians killed thousands of people who were "judged incurably sick, by critical medical examination"...

) "racial hygiene
Racial hygiene
Racial hygiene was a set of early twentieth century state sanctioned policies by which certain groups of individuals were allowed to procreate and others not, with the expressed purpose of promoting certain characteristics deemed to be particularly desirable...

" program of mass killings developed in Germany.
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

 located 100 km (62.1 mi) northeast of Warsaw, was ready on July 24, 1942. There were two barracks near the railway tracks for storing belongings of prisoners; one disguised as a railway station complete with a wooden fake clock to prevent new arrivals from realizing their fate. Their valuables were collected for "safekeeping". The shipping of Jews from the capital – plan known as the Großaktion Warschau
Grossaktion Warsaw (1942)
The Grossaktion or Gross-Aktion in Warsaw was a Nazi German operation of mass extermination of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto beginning July 22, 1942. It was a key part of the countrywide Operation Reinhard headed by the SS- und Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik...

 – began immediately. During the two months of summer 1942, about 254,000 Warsaw Ghetto
Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of all Jewish Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. It was established in the Polish capital between October and November 15, 1940, in the territory of General Government of the German-occupied Poland, with over 400,000 Jews from the vicinity...

 residents were exterminated at Treblinka (or at least 300,000 by different accounts). On arrival, stripped victims were marched to one of ten chambers and gassed in batches of 200 with the use of monoxide gas (Zyklon B
Zyklon B
Zyklon B was the trade name of a cyanide-based pesticide infamous for its use by Nazi Germany to kill human beings in gas chambers of extermination camps during the Holocaust. The "B" designation indicates one of two types of Zyklon...

 was introduced some time later). The chambers, expanded in August–September 1942, were able to kill 12,000 to 15,000 victims every day, with the maximum capacity of 22,000 executions in twenty-four hours. The dead were initially buried in large mass graves, but the stench from the decomposing bodies could be smelled up to ten kilometers away. So, later, they were burned on open-air grids made of concrete pillars and railway tracks. The number of people killed at Treblinka in the next year ranges from 1,000,000 to 1,400,000. The camp was dissolved on on October 19, 1943 following the prisoner uprising, with the murderous Operation Reinhard nearly completed.

Auschwitz concentration camp
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

 located 50 kilometers west of Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 was fitted with the first gas chamber at Auschwitz II Birkenau in March 1942, and the gassing of Jews with Zyklon B
Zyklon B
Zyklon B was the trade name of a cyanide-based pesticide infamous for its use by Nazi Germany to kill human beings in gas chambers of extermination camps during the Holocaust. The "B" designation indicates one of two types of Zyklon...

, following a "selection", began almost immediately. By early 1943 Birkenau was a killing factory with four crematoria working around the clock. More than 20,000 people were gassed and cremated there each day. Auschwitz II extermination program resulted in the death of over one million Jews from across Europe, among them, 200,000 Jewish people from Poland, delivered in cattle trucks from liquidated ghettos in Bytom (February 15, 1942), Kraków
Kraków Ghetto
The Kraków Ghetto was one of five major, metropolitan Jewish ghettos created by Nazi Germany in the General Government territory for the purpose of persecution, terror, and exploitation of Polish Jews during the German occupation of Poland in World War II...

 (March 13, 1943), Sosnowiec
Sosnowiec Ghetto
Sosnowiec Ghetto or Sosnowitz Ghetto was a ghetto established for Jews by Nazi German authorities in the Province of Upper Silesia in occupied Poland during the Holocaust.-History:...

 (June–August 1943), and many other cities and towns including Łódź (August 1944), where the last ghetto in Poland was liquidated. Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria were blown up on November 25, 1944 in an attempt to destroy the evidence of mass killings, by the orders of SS chief Heinrich Himmler.


Belzec extermination camp
Belzec extermination camp
Belzec, Polish spelling Bełżec , was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps created for implementing Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust...

 created near the railroad station of Bełżec in the Lublin
Lublin
Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 350,392 . Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula river...

 district, began operating officially on March 17, 1942 with three temporary gas chambers, later replaced with six – made of concrete – enabling the facility to handle over 1,000 victims at a time. At least 434,500 Jews were exterminated there. The lack of varied survivors however, makes this camp much lesser known. The bodies of the dead, buried in mass graves, swelled in the heat as a result of putrefaction
Putrefaction
Putrefaction is one of seven stages in the decomposition of the body of a dead animal. It can be viewed, in broad terms, as the decomposition of proteins, in a process that results in the eventual breakdown of cohesion between tissues and the liquefaction of most organs.-Description:In terms of...

 making the earth split, which was resolved with the introduction of crematoria. The last shipment of Jews (including those already dead in transit) arrived in Bełżec in December 1942. The remaining 500 Sonderkommando
Sonderkommando
Sonderkommandos were work units of Nazi death camp prisoners, composed almost entirely of Jews, who were forced, on threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during The Holocaust...

 witnesses of mass extermination who dismantled the camp and incinerated leftover corpses, were murdered in Sobibor extermination camp
Sobibór extermination camp
Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the town of Sobibór, Lublin Voivodeship of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor...

 in the following months.

Sobibor extermination camp
Sobibór extermination camp
Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the town of Sobibór, Lublin Voivodeship of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor...

 disguised as a railway transit camp not far from Lublin
Lublin
Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 350,392 . Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula river...

, began mass gassing operations in May 1942. As in other extermination centers, Jews taken off the trains from liquidated ghettos and transit camps (Izbica
Izbica concentration camp
The Izbica ghetto was a Jewish ghetto created in Izbica in occupied Poland during World War II, serving as a transfer point for deportation of Jews from Poland, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Belzec and Sobibor extermination camps. SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Engels was the commandant of the...

, Końskowola
Konskowola
Końskowola is a village in southeastern Poland, located between Puławy and Lublin, near Kurów, on the Kurówka River. It is the seat of a separate commune within Puławy County in Lublin Voivodeship, called Gmina Końskowola. Population: 2,188 inhabitants .- Name :Końskowola literally translates as...

) were forced to hand over their valuables, split into groups and strip. Oberscharführer Hermann Michel in medical coat gave the command for prisoners’ disinfection. They were led to gas chambers which were disguised as showers. Carbon monoxide gas was released from the exhaust pipes of tank engines. Their bodies were burned in open pits partly fuelled by human body-fat, and turned into seven "ash mountains". The total figure of Jews murdered there is estimated at a minimum of 250,000. Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp dismantled following a prisoner revolt on October 14, 1943.
Large Jewish populations in south-eastern Poland (Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

, Lwów, Zamość
Zamosc
Zamość ukr. Замостя is a town in southeastern Poland with 66,633 inhabitants , situated in the south-western part of Lublin Voivodeship , about from Lublin, from Warsaw and from the border with Ukraine...

, Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

) were the reason why Majdanek
Majdanek
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army...

 forced labor camp – also on the outskirts of Lublin – has been revived in March 1942 after an obliterating epidemic typhus. It served as storage depot for valuables stolen from the victims at the killing centers in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, before it became a killing ground for Polish Jews with gas chambers constructed in late 1942. The gassing was performed in plain view of other inmates, without as much as a fence around the buildings. "To drown the cries of the dying, tractor engines were run near the gas chambers" before they took the dead away to the crematorium, according to witness's testimony. Majdanek was responsible for the death of 59,000 Polish Jews. By the end of Operation Harvest Festival in early November 1943, Majdanek had only 71 Jews left.

The scale of the Final Solution
Final Solution
The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust...

 would not have been possible without mass transport. The extermination of Polish Jews was dependent on the railways as much as on the Nazi killing factories. The Holocaust trains sped up the scale and duration over which the extermination took place, and, the enclosed nature of cattle wagons
Stock car (rail)
In railroad terminology, a stock car or cattle wagon is a type of rolling stock used for carrying livestock to market...

 also reduced the number of troops required to guard them. Rail shipments allowed the Nazi Germans to build and operate bigger and more efficient death camps and, at the same time, openly lie to the world – and to their victims – about the "resettlement" program. In one telephone conversation Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 informed Martin Bormann
Martin Bormann
Martin Ludwig Bormann was a prominent Nazi official. He became head of the Party Chancellery and private secretary to Adolf Hitler...

 about the Jews already exterminated in Poland, to which Bormann screamed: "They were not exterminated, only evacuated, evacuated, evacuated!" Unspecified number of deportees died in transit from suffocation and thirst. Waffenn SS officer Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein
Kurt Gerstein was a German SS officer and member of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS. He witnessed mass murders in the Nazi extermination camps Belzec and Treblinka...

 wrote in the Gerstein Report
Gerstein Report
The Gerstein Report was written by Kurt Gerstein, an Obersturmführer of the Waffen-SS in 1945 who rose to become the Head of Technical Disinfection Services of the SS. In that capacity he witnessed in August 1942 the gassing of some 3,000 Jews in the extermination camp of Belzec...

 that on August 18, 1940 he had witnessed at Belzec extermination camp
Belzec extermination camp
Belzec, Polish spelling Bełżec , was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps created for implementing Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust...

 the arrival of "45 wagons with 6,700 people of whom 1,450 were already dead on arrival." Millions of people were transported to the extermination camps in trains organised by German Transport Ministry and tracked by an IBM subsidiary
Dehomag
Dehomag was a German subsidiary of IBM with monopoly in the German market before and during World War II. The word was an acronym for Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH . Hollerith refers to the German-American inventor of the technology of punched cards, Herman Hollerith.Under Nazi...

 until the official date of closing the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in December 1944.

Poles and the Jews



The relations between Poles and Jews during World War II present one of the sharpest paradoxes of the Holocaust. 10 % of the Jews survived, less than in any other country; yet, Poland accounts for the majority of rescuers with the title of 'Righteous Gentiles', people who risked their lives to save Jews. The Poles honored by Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament....

 represent only one–to–ten per cent of the deserving cases. The nature of this paradox was debated by historians on both sides for more than fifty years often with preconceived notions and selective evidence.

Many Jews, persecuted by the Nazis, received help from the Poles; help, ranging from major acts of heroism, to minor acts of kindness involving hundreds of thousands of helpers acting often anonymously. The occurrence of such rescue effort is "one of the most remarkable features of Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust," because ethnic Poles themselves were the subject to capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 at the hands of the German Nazi occupier if found offering any kind of help to a person of Jewish faith or origin.
Further information: Polish Righteous among the Nations
Polish Righteous among the Nations
Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals awarded medals of Righteous among the Nations, given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust...

, Rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust
Rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust
Polish Jews were the primary victims of the German Nazi-organized Holocaust. Throughout the German occupation of Poland, many Polish Gentiles risked their own lives—and the lives of their families—to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the biggest number of people...

, Poland and collaboration during World War II, Polish death camp controversy


On November 10, 1941, the death penalty was expanded by Hans Frank
Hans Frank
Hans Michael Frank was a German lawyer who worked for the Nazi party during the 1920s and 1930s and later became a high-ranking official in Nazi Germany...

 to apply to Poles who helped Jews "in any way: by taking them in for the night, giving them a lift in a vehicle of any kind" or "feed[ing] runaway Jews or sell[ing] them foodstuffs." The law was made public by posters distributed in all major cities. Capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 of entire families, for aiding Jews, was the most draconian such Nazi practice against any nation in occupied Europe. Thousands of Poles were executed by the Nazis for aiding Jews. Over 700 Polish Righteous among the Nations received their award posthumously, having been murdered by the Germans for aiding or sheltering their Jewish neighbors. Many of the Polish Righteous
Polish Righteous among the Nations
Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals awarded medals of Righteous among the Nations, given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust...

 awarded by Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament....

 came from the capital. In his work on the Jews of Warsaw, Gunnar S. Paulsson
Gunnar S. Paulsson
Gunnar Svante Paulsson is a Swedish-born Canadian historian who has taught in Britain and Canada.Paulsson graduated Oxford University with a D.Phil. in 1998...

 has demonstrated that despite the much harsher conditions, Polish citizens of Warsaw managed to support and hide the same percentage of Jews as did the citizens of cities in reportedly less anti-semitic and safer countries in Western Europe.

Polish Jews were a 'visible minority' by modern standards, distinguishable by language, behavior and appearance. The presence of such large non-Christian, mostly non acculturated minority was a source of competitive tension in prewar Poland, and periodically of violence between Poles and Jews. Here is where the temptation to jump to conclusions with regard to Holocaust rescue comes into play according to Gunnar Paulsson. As elsewhere in Europe during the interwar period, there was both official and popular anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

 in Poland, at times encouraged by the Catholic Church and by some political parties (particularly the right-wing endecja
Endecja
National Democracy was a Polish right-wing nationalist political movement active from the latter 19th century to the end of the Second Polish Republic in 1939. A founder and principal ideologue was Roman Dmowski...

faction), but not directly by the government. There were also political forces in Poland which opposed anti-Semitism, particularly centered around the tolerant Polish dictator, Józef Piłsudski. In late 1930s after Piłsudski's death, reactionary and anti-Semitic elements gained ground. Nonetheless, "leaving aside acts of war and Nazi perfidy, a Jew's chances of survival in hiding were no worse in Warsaw, at any rate, than in the Netherlands," once the Holocaust began.

At the end of the ghetto liquidation period, the largest number of Jews managed to escape to the 'Aryan' side, and to survive with the assistance of their Polish neighbors. In general – during the German occupation – most Poles were engaged in a desperate struggle for survival. They were in no position to oppose or impede the German extermination of the Jews even if they had wanted to. There were however many Poles risking death to hide Jewish families and in various ways assist the Jews on compassionate grounds. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, or even a million Poles, aided their Jewish neighbors. The number of Polish Jews kept in hiding by non-Jewish Poles was around 450,000.

The Polish Government in Exile
Polish government in Exile
The Polish government-in-exile, formally known as the Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile , was the government in exile of Poland formed in the aftermath of the Invasion of Poland of September 1939, and the subsequent occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which...

 was the first (in November 1942) to reveal the existence of Nazi-run concentration camps and the systematic extermination of the Jews by the Germans, reported by its courier Jan Karski
Jan Karski
Jan Karski was a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter and later scholar at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943 Karski reported to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies on the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and...

 and the activities of Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance group and a member of the Home Army...

, a member of Armia Krajowa who volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz in order to organize a resistance movement inside the camp itself. In September 1942 the Provisional Committee for Aid to Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom) was founded with assistance from the Underground State and on the initiative of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka was a Polish writer and World War II resistance fighter. She co-founded the wartime Polish organization Żegota, set up to assist Poland's Jews in escaping the Holocaust...

. This body later became the Council for Aid to Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), known by the code-name Żegota
Zegota
"Żegota" , also known as the "Konrad Żegota Committee", was a codename for the Polish Council to Aid Jews , an underground organization of Polish resistance in German-occupied Poland from 1942 to 1945....

. It is not known how many Jews were helped by Żegota, but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 alone. Żegota was granted nearly 29 million zlotys (over $ 5 million dollars) since 1942 for the relief payments to thousands of extended Jewish families in Poland. The government in exile also provided special assistance – funds, arms and other supplies – to Jewish resistance organizations (like ŻOB
ZOB
ZOB can refer to:*Jewish Combat Organization*Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center*Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station*Electronic Music Producer...

 and ŻZW). Poland was occupied by the Nazis
History of Poland (1939–1945)
The history of Poland from 1939 to 1945 encompasses the German invasion of Poland as well as the Soviet invasion of Poland through to the end of World War II. On 1 September 1939, without a formal declaration of war, Germany invaded Poland...

 from 1939 to 1945 and no Polish collaboration government
Collaboration during World War II
Within nations occupied by the Axis Powers, some citizens, driven by nationalism, ethnic hatred, anti-communism, anti-Semitism or opportunism, knowingly engaged in collaboration with the Axis Powers during World War II...

 was ever formed during that period. The Polish underground resistance, the Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 (Home Army, AK) and the Communist People's Army
Armia Ludowa
Armia Ludowa was a communist partisan force set up by the Polish Workers' Party during World War II. Its aims were to support the military of the Soviet Union against German forces and aid the creation of a pro-Soviet communist government in Poland...

 (AL) opposed collaboration in German anti-Jewish persecution, and punished it by death.

In some cases, the Germans across Europe were able to exploit the local populace's anti-Semitism, and Poland was no exception, despite the fact that in occupied Poland death was a standard punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 for a Polish person with family and neighbors, for any help given to Jews. Some persons betrayed hidden Jews to the Germans, and others made their living as "Jew-hunters" (szmalcownik
Szmalcownik
Szmalcownik is a pejorative Polish slang word used during World War II that denoted a person blackmailing Jews who were hiding, or blackmailing Poles who protected Jews during the Nazi occupation...

), blackmail
Blackmail
In common usage, blackmail is a crime involving threats to reveal substantially true or false information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand is met. It may be defined as coercion involving threats of physical harm, threat of criminal prosecution, or threats...

ing Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 in hiding and Poles
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 who protected them. Estimates of the number of Polish collaborators vary. The lower estimate of seven thousand is based primarily on the sentences of the Special Courts
Special Courts
Special Courts were the underground courts organized by the Polish Government in Exile during World War II in occupied Poland. The courts determined punishments for the citizens of Poland who were subject to the Polish law before the war.-History:After the Polish Defense War of 1939...

 of the Polish Underground State, sentencing individuals for treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 to the nation; the highest estimate of about one million, includes all Polish citizens who in some way contributed to the German activities, such as: low-ranking Polish bureaucrats employed in German administration, members of the Blue Police
Blue Police
The Blue Police, more correctly translated as The Navy-Blue Police was the popular name of the collaborationist police in the German occupied area of the Second Polish Republic, known as General Government during the Second World War...

, construction workers
Baudienst
Baudienst , full name Polnischer Baudienst im Generalgouvernement , was the labour battalion created in Nazi-occupied Poland . Baudienst was subordinate to the Reichsarbeitsdienst Baudienst (from German, lit. "building service" or "construction service"), full name Polnischer Baudienst im...

, slave laborers in German-run factories and farms
Forced labor in Germany during World War II
The use of forced labour in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale. It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied...

 and similar others (notably the highest figure originates from a single statistical table of outdated scholarship with a very thin source base). Relatively little active collaboration by individual Poles – with any aspect of the German presence in Poland – took place. All Nazi propaganda efforts to recruit Poles in either labor or auxiliary roles were met with almost no interest, due to the everyday reality of German occupation. The non-German auxiliary workers in the extermination camps, for example, were mostly Ukrainians and Balts. John Connelly quoted a Polish historian (Leszek Gondek) calling the phenomenon of Polish collaboration "marginal" and wrote that "only relatively small percentage of Polish population engaged in activities that may be described as collaboration when seen against the backdrop of European and world history". The unique Polish Underground State considered szmalcownictwo an act of collaboration
Collaborationism
Collaborationism is cooperation with enemy forces against one's country. Legally, it may be considered as a form of treason. Collaborationism may be associated with criminal deeds in the service of the occupying power, which may include complicity with the occupying power in murder, persecutions,...

 with the enemy, and with the aid of its military arm, the Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

, punished it with the judicatory death sentence. Up to 10,000 Poles were tried by Polish underground courts for assisting the enemy, and 2,500 were executed.

Anti-Semitic attitudes were particularly strong in the eastern provinces which had been earlier occupied by the Russians following the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland (1939)
The 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland was a Soviet military operation that started without a formal declaration of war on 17 September 1939, during the early stages of World War II. Sixteen days after Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Soviet Union did so from the east...

. Local population had witnessed the repressions and mass deportation of up to 1.5 million ethnic Poles to Siberia, conducted by the Soviet security apparatus
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

, with some of the local Jews collaborating with them. Others assumed that, driven by vengeance, Jewish Communists had been prominent in betraying the Polish victims.
A few German-inspired massacres were carried out in that region, with the help of, or even active participation by, non-Jewish Poles. The guidelines for such massacres were formulated by Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich , also known as The Hangman, was a high-ranking German Nazi official.He was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia...

, who ordered his officers to induce anti-Jewish pogroms on territories newly occupied by the German forces. In the most infamous massacre in Jedwabne, between 300 (Institute of National Remembrance's Final Findings) and 1,600 (Jan T. Gross
Jan T. Gross
Jan Tomasz Gross is a Polish-American historian and sociologist. He is the Norman B. Tomlinson '16 and '48 Professor of War and Society and Professor of History at Princeton University.- Biography :Jan T...

) Jews were beaten and burned alive in a barn by some of Jedwabne's citizens in the presence of German gendarmerie. The circumstances surrounding these events are still debated and include German Nazi pressure, anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

, but also resentment over Jewish cooperation with the Soviet invaders during the Polish-Soviet War
Polish-Soviet War
The Polish–Soviet War was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine and the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People's Republic—four states in post–World War I Europe...

 of 1920 as well as the Jewish participation in anti-Polish terror following Soviet 1939 invasion
Soviet invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland can refer to:* the second phase of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 when Soviet armies marched on Warsaw, Poland* Soviet invasion of Poland of 1939 when Soviet Union allied with Nazi Germany attacked Second Polish Republic...

 of Kresy
Kresy
The Polish term Kresy refers to a land considered by Poles as historical eastern provinces of their country. Today, it makes western Ukraine, western Belarus, as well as eastern Lithuania, with such major cities, as Lviv, Vilnius, and Hrodna. This territory belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian...

.

The ultra-nationalist Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ or National Armed Forces) allegedly participated in murders of Jews during wartime. The Polish secret police
Ministry of Public Security of Poland
The Ministry of Public Security of Poland was a Polish communist secret police, intelligence and counter-espionage service operating from 1945 to 1954 under Jakub Berman of the Politburo...

 in postwar Poland routinely tortured the NSZ insurgents in order to force them to confess to such general charges. This was most notably the case with the 1946 trial of 23 officers of the NSZ in Lublin. The torture of political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....

s by the Ministry of Public Security did not stop automatically when the interrogations were concluded. Physical torture was also ordered if they retracted in court their confessions of "killing Jews".

Rate of survival


The exact number of Holocaust survivors is controversial. About 300,000 Polish Jews escaped to the Soviet-occupied zone soon after the war started, where many of them perished at the hands of OUN-UPA, TDA
Tautinio Darbo Apsaugos Batalionas
Tautinio Darbo Apsaugos Batalionas was organized by the Provisional Government of Lithuania in 1941 as basis for future independent Lithuanian Army, but Nazi authorities soon reorganized the battalion into auxiliary police...

 and Ypatingasis būrys
Ypatingasis burys
Ypatingasis būrys or Special SD and German Security Police Squad was a Nazi killing squad of approximately 50 men, also called the "Lithuanian equivalent of Sonderkommando", operating in the Vilnius Region...

 during Massacres of Poles in Volhynia
Massacres of Poles in Volhynia
The Massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia were part of an ethnic cleansing operation carried out by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army West in the Nazi occupied regions of the Eastern Galicia , and UPA North in Volhynia , beginning in March 1943 and lasting until the end of...

, the Holocaust in Lithuania (see Ponary massacre
Ponary massacre
The Ponary massacre was the mass-murder of 100,000 people, mostly Polish Jews, by German SD and SS and Lithuanian Nazi collaborators Sonderkommando collaborators...

), and Belarus
Holocaust in Belarus
The Holocaust in Belarus refers to the Nazi crimes during the occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany on the territory of contemporary Belarus, and against the ethnic Belarusians outside it. Belarus lost a quarter of its pre-war population, including most of its intellectual elite and 90% of the...

, but most of the Polish Jews in Generalgouvernement stayed put. There was no proven necessity to leave familiar places prior to mass deportations. When the ghettos were closed from the outside, smuggling of food kept most of the inhabitants alive. Escape into clandestine existence on the ‘Aryan’ side was attempted by some 100,000 Jews of whom, 80,000 registered in 1945, and, contrary to popular misconceptions, the risk of them being turned in by the Poles was the least likely. The questions regarding the Jewish chances of survival once the Holocaust began however, continue to draw attention of historians.

The Germans made it extremely difficult to escape the ghettos just before "resettlement". All passes were cancelled, walls rebuilt containing fewer gates with policemen replaced by SS-men. Some victims already deported to Treblinka were forced to write letters back home to dictation, that they were safe. Around 3,000 others fell into the German Hotel Polski
Hotel Polski
Hotel Polski , opened in 1808, was a hotel in Warsaw, Poland, at 29 Długa street. In 1943, the Hotel was used by Germans as an internment place for Jews from Warsaw, where they could buy foreign affidavits and passports and, as foreign citizens, leave Warsaw...

 trap. Many ghettoized Jews did not believe what was going on until the very end, because the alternative seemed unthinkable at the time and wasn’t realized soon enough. David J. Landau suggested also that the weak Jewish leadership might have played a role. Likewise, Israel Gutman
Israel Gutman
Israel Gutman is a Polish-born Israeli historian of the Holocaust.Israel Gutman was born in Warsaw, Poland. After playing an important role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he was deported to the Majdanek, Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps. His older sister died in the ghetto. After...

proposed that the Polish Underground might have attacked the camps and blown up the railway tracks leading to them, but as noted by Paulsson, such ideas are a product of hindsight.

Footnotes



External links


Further reading

  • Gunnar S. Paulsson. Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-300-09546-3, Review