This article is about the Holocaust within the September 1, 1939 boundaries of Poland, which ceased to exist as a territorial entity after the Nazi-Soviet attack and occupation from the start of WWII, and starting with annexations in October 1939 was mostly inside Nazi Germany by 1944. For the Holocaust in Germany, see History of the Jews in Germany#The Holocaust in Germany.
The Holocaust in German-occupied Poland was part of the European-wide Holocaust. It was marked by the construction of death camps by Nazi Germany, the use of gas vans and mass shootings by German troops and in particular their Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliaries.
The genocide took the lives of three million Polish Jews, half of all Jews killed during the Holocaust. The extermination camps played a central role in Germany's systematic murder of over 90% of the Second Polish Republic's Jewish population, as well as the killing of Jews that Germany transported to their deaths from western and southern Europe.
Every branch of the sophisticated German bureaucracy was involved in the killing process,from the Interior and Finance Ministries to German firms and state-run railroads. German companies bid for contracts to build crematoria in concentration camps run by Germany in the General Government and in other areas of occupied Poland and beyond. A small percentage of Polish Jews survived World War II within German-occupied Poland or in the Soviet Union.
in German-occupied Poland
Top, clockwise: Warsaw Ghetto burning, May 1943 • Einsatzgruppe shooting of women from the Mizocz Ghetto, 1942 • Selection of people to be sent directly to the gas chamber right after their arrival at Auschwitz-II Birkenau • Jews captured in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising led to the Umschlagplatz by Waffen SS • Łódź Ghetto children deported to Chełmno death camp, 1942
Map of the Holocaust in occupied Poland during World War II with six extermination camps marked with white skulls in black squares: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka; as well as remote mass killing sites at Bronna Góra, Ponary, Połonka and others. Marked with the Star of David are selected large Polish cities with the extermination ghettos. Solid red line denotes the Nazi–Soviet frontier – starting point for Operation Barbarossa of 1941.
|Period||September 1939 – April 1945|
|Territory||Occupied Poland, also present day western Ukraine and western Belarus among others|
|Units||SS-Totenkopfverbände, Einsatzgruppen, Orpo battalions, Trawnikis, BKA, OUN-UPA, TDA, Ypatingasis būrys Wehrmacht|
|Killed||Three Million Polish Jews,|
|Survivors||50,000–120,000; or 210,000–230,000; or a total of 350,000.|
|Jewish uprisings||Będzin, Białystok, Birkenau, Częstochowa, Łachwa, Łuck, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Mizocz, Pińsk, Poniatowa, Sobibór, Sosnowiec, Treblinka, Warsaw, Wilno|
Following the 1939 invasion of Poland, in accordance with the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned Poland into occupation zones. Large areas of western Poland were annexed by Germany. The Soviets had attempted to deceive the Poles into believing that they had invaded eastern Poland to help Poland fight Germany and took over some 52% of Poland's territory. The entire Kresy (eastern Poland's borderlands) macroregion – inhabited by between 13.2 and 13.7 million people, including majority-Ukrainian and -Belarusin populations and 1,300,000 Jews – was annexed by the Soviet Union in an atmosphere of terror surrounding a mock referendum staged by the NKVD and the Red Army. Within months, Polish Jews in the Soviet zone who refused to swear allegiance were deported deep into the Soviet interior along with ethnic Poles. The number of deported Polish Jews is estimated at 200,000–230,000 men, women, and children.
Both occupying powers were hostile to the existence of a sovereign Polish state and endorsed policies of genocide. However, Soviet possession was short-lived because the terms of the Nazi–Soviet Pact, signed earlier in Moscow, were broken when the German army invaded the Soviet occupation zone on 22 June 1941 (see map). From 1941 to 1943, all of Poland was under Germany's control. The semi-colonial General Government, set up in central and southeastern Poland, comprised 39 percent of occupied Polish territory.
Prior to World War II, there were 3,500,000 Jews in Poland, living predominantly in cities: about 10% of the general population. The database of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews provides information on 1,926 Jewish communities across the country. Following the conquest of Poland and the 1939 murder of intelligentsia, the first German anti-Jewish measures involved a policy of expelling Jews from Polish territories annexed by the Third Reich. The westernmost provinces, of Greater Poland and Pomerelia, were turned into new German Reichsgaue named Danzig-West Prussia and Wartheland, with the intent to completely Germanize them through settler colonization (Lebensraum). Annexed directly to the new Warthegau district, the city of Łódź absorbed an initial influx of some 40,000 Polish Jews forced out of surrounding areas. A total of 204,000 Jewish people passed through the ghetto in Łódź. Initially, they were to be expelled to the Generalgouvernement. However, the ultimate destination for the massive removal of Jews was left open until the Final Solution was set in motion two years later.
Persecution of Polish Jews by the German occupation authority began immediately after the invasion, particularly in major urban areas. In the first year and a half, the Nazis confined themselves to stripping the Jews of their valuables and property for profit, herding them into makeshift ghettos, and forcing them into slave labor for public works and the war economy. During this period, the Germans ordered Jewish communities to appoint Jewish Councils (Judenräte) to administer the ghettos and to be "responsible in the strictest sense" for carrying out orders. Most ghettos were set up in cities and towns where Jewish life was well organized. For logistical reasons, the Jewish communities in settlements without railway connections in occupied Poland were dissolved. In a massive deportation action involving the use of freight trains, all Polish Jews had been segregated from the rest of society in dilapidated neighborhoods (Jüdischer Wohnbezirk) adjacent to the existing rail corridors. The food aid was completely dependent on the SS. Initially, the Jews were legally banned from baking bread; they were sealed off from the general public in an unsustainable manner.
The Warsaw ghetto contained more Jews than all of France; the Łódź ghetto more Jews than all of the Netherlands. More Jews lived in the city of Kraków than in all of Italy, and virtually any medium-sized town in Poland had a larger Jewish population than all of Scandinavia. All of southeast Europe – Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece – had fewer Jews than the original four districts of the General Government.
The plight of Jews in war-torn Poland could 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 sealed off from the outside, death by starvation and disease became rampant, alleviated only by the smuggling of food and medicine, described by Ringelblum as "one of the finest pages in the history between the two peoples". In Warsaw, up to 80 percent of food consumed in the Ghetto was brought in illegally. The food stamps introduced by the Germans, provided 9 percent of the calories necessary for survival. In the two and a half years between November 1940 and May 1943, some 100,000 Jews died in the Warsaw Ghetto of starvation and disease; and around 40,000 in the Łódź Ghetto in the four-and-a-quarter years between May 1940 and August 1944. By the end of 1941, most ghettoized Jews had no savings left to pay the SS for further bulk food deliveries. The 'productionists' among the German authorities – who attempted to make the ghettos self-sustaining by turning them into enterprises – prevailed over the 'attritionists' only after the German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. The most prominent ghettos were stabilized through the production of goods needed at the front, and death rates among the Jewish population began to decline (at least temporarily).
From the first days of the war, violence against civilians accompanied the arrival of German troops. In the September 1939 Częstochowa massacre, 150 Jewish Poles were among the circa 1140 Polish civilians shot by German Wehrmacht troops. In November 1939, outside Ostrów Mazowiecka, around 500 Jewish men, women and children were shot in mass graves. In December 1939 around 100 Jews were shot by Wehrmacht soldiers and gendarmes at Kolo.
Following the German attack on the USSR in June 1941, Himmler assembled a force of some 11,000 men to pursue a program of physical annihilation of Jews. Also during Operation Barbarossa, the SS had recruited collaborationist auxiliary police from among Soviet nationals. The local Schutzmannschaft provided Germany with manpower and critical knowledge of local regions and languages. In what became known as the "Holocaust by bullets", the German police battalions (Orpo), SiPo, Waffen-SS, and special-task Einsatzgruppen, along with Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliaries, operated behind front lines, systematically shooting tens of thousands of men, women, and children,the Wehrmacht also participated in many aspects of the holocaust by bullets.
Massacres were committed in over 30 locations across the formerly Soviet-occupied parts of Poland, including in Brześć, Tarnopol, and Białystok, as well as in prewar provincial capitals of Łuck, Lwów, Stanisławów, and Wilno (see Ponary). The survivors of mass killing operations were incarcerated in the new ghettos of economic exploitation, and starved slowly to death by artificial famine at the whim of German authorities. Because of sanitation concerns, the corpses of people who had died as a result of starvation and mistreatment were buried in mass graves in the tens of thousands. Gas vans were made available in November 1941; in June 1942 the Polish National Council's Samuel Zygelbaum reported that these had killed 35,000 Jews in Lodz alone. He also reported that Gestapo agents were routinely dragging Jews out of their homes and shooting them on the street in broad daylight. By December 1941, about one million Jews were killed by shooting operations in the Soviet Union.The 'war of destruction' policy in the east against 'the Jewish race' became common knowledge among the Germans at all levels. The total number of shooting victims in the east who were Jewish are around 1.3 to 1.5 million. Entire regions behind the German–Soviet Frontier were reported to Berlin by the Nazi death squads to be "Judenfrei".
Recent scholarship by Timothy Snyder of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has said: "All in all, as many if not more Jews were killed by bullets as by gas".
On January 20, 1942, during the Wannsee conference near Berlin, State Secretary of the Government General, Josef Bühler, urged Reinhard Heydrich to begin the proposed "final solution to the Jewish question" as soon as possible. The industrial killing by exhaust fumes was already tried and tested over several weeks at the Chełmno extermination camp in the then-Wartheland, under the guise of resettlement. All condemned Ghetto prisoners, without exception, were told they were going to labour camps, and asked to pack a carry-on luggage. Many Jews believed in the transfer ruse, since deportations were also part of the ghettoization process. Meanwhile, the idea of mass murder by means of stationary gas chambers was discussed in Lublin already since September 1941. It was a precondition for the newly drafted Operation Reinhard led by Odilo Globocnik who ordered the construction of death camps at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka. At Majdanek and Auschwitz, the work of the stationary gas chambers began in March and May respectively, preceded by experiments with Zyklon B. Between 1942 and 1944, the most extreme measure of the Holocaust, the extermination of millions of Jews from Poland and all over Europe was carried out in six extermination camps. There were no Polish guards at any of the Reinhard camps, despite the sometimes used misnomer Polish death camps. All killing centres were designed and operated by the Nazis in strict secrecy, aided by the Ukrainian Trawnikis. Civilians were forbidden to approach them and often shot if caught near the train tracks.
Systematic liquidation of the ghettos began across General Government in the early spring of 1942. At that point the only chance for survival was escape to the "Aryan side". The German round-ups for the so-called resettlement trains were connected directly with the use of top secret extermination facilities built for the SS at about the same time by various German engineering companies including HAHB, I.A. Topf and Sons of Erfurt, and C.H. Kori GmbH.
Unlike other Nazi concentration camps where prisoners from all across Europe were exploited for the war effort, German death camps – part of secretive Operation Reinhardt – were designed exclusively for the rapid elimination of Polish and foreign Jews, subsisting in isolation. The camp's German overseers reported to Heinrich Himmler in Berlin, who kept control of the extermination program, but who delegated the work in Poland to SS and police chief Odilo Globocnik of the Lublin Reservation. The selection of sites, construction of facilities and training of personnel was based on a similar (Action T4) "racial hygiene" program of mass murder through involuntary euthanasia, developed in Germany.
The scale of the Final Solution would not have been possible without the Reichsbahn. The extermination of Polish and foreign Jews depended on the railways as much as on the secluded killing centres. The Holocaust trains sped up the scale and duration over which the extermination took place; and, the enclosed nature of freight cars 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 a "resettlement" program. In one telephone conversation Heinrich Himmler informed Martin Bormann about the Jews already exterminated in Poland, to which Bormann screamed in response: "They were not exterminated, only evacuated, evacuated, evacuated!"
Unspecified number of deportees died in transit during Operation Reinhard from suffocation and thirst. No food or water was supplied. The Güterwagen boxcars were only fitted with a bucket latrine. A small barred window provided little ventilation, which oftentimes resulted in multiple deaths. A survivor of the Treblinka uprising testified about one such train, from Biała Podlaska. When the sealed doors flew open, 90 percent of about 6,000 Jewish prisoners were found to have suffocated to death. Their bodies were thrown into smouldering mass grave at the "Lazaret". Millions of people were transported in similar trainsets to the extermination camps under the direction of the German Ministry of Transport, and tracked by an IBM subsidiary, until the official date of closing of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in December 1944.
Death factories were just one of a number of ways of mass extermination. There were secluded killing sites set up further east. At Bronna Góra (the Bronna Mount, now Belarus) 50,000 Jews died in execution pits; delivered by the Holocaust trains from the ghettos in Brześć, Bereza, Janów Poleski, Kobryń, Horodec (pl), Antopol and other locations along the western border of Reichskommissariat Ostland. Explosives were used to speed up the digging process. At the Sosenki Forest on the outskirts of Równe in prewar Wołyń Voivodeship, over 23,000 Jews were shot, men, women, and children. At the Górka Połonka forest (see map) 25,000 Jews forced to disrobe and lay over the bodies of others were shot in waves; most of them were deported there via the Łuck Ghetto. The execution site for the Lwów Ghetto inmates was arranged near Janowska, with 35,000–40,000 Jewish victims killed and buried at the Piaski ravine.
While the Order Police performed liquidations of the Jewish ghettos in occupied Poland, loading prisoners into railcars and shooting those unable to move or attempting to flee, the collaborationist auxiliary police were used as a means of inflicting terror upon the Jewish people by conducting large-scale massacres in the same locations. They were deployed in all major killing sites of Operation Reinhard (terror was a primary aim of their SS training). The Ukrainian Trawniki men formed into units took an active role in the extermination of Jews at Belzec, Sobibór, Treblinka II; during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (on three occasions, see Stroop Report), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lwów, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek, Auschwitz, the Trawniki concentration camp itself, and the remaining subcamps of KL Lublin/Majdanek camp complex including Poniatowa, Budzyń, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa, and also during massacres in Łomazy, Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and all other locations, augmented by members of the SS, SD, Kripo, as well as the reserve police battalions from Orpo (each, responsible for annihilation of thousands of Jews). Mass executions of Jews (as in Szebnie) was part of regular training of the Ukrainian Waffen-SS Division soldiers from the SS-Heidelager troop-training base in Pustków in south-eastern Poland. In the north-east, the "Poachers' Brigade" of Oskar Dirlewanger trained Belarusian Home Guard in murder expeditions with the help of Belarusian Auxiliary Police. By the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, over 90% of Polish Jewry perished.
The Chełmno extermination camp (German: Kulmhof) was built as the first-ever, following Hitler's launch of Operation Barbarossa. It was a pilot project for the development of other extermination sites. The experiments with exhaust gases were finalized by murdering 1,500 Poles at Soldau. The killing method at Chełmno grew out of the 'euthanasia' program in which busloads of unsuspecting hospital patients were gassed in air-tight shower rooms at Bernburg, Hadamar and Sonnenstein. The killing grounds at Chełmno, 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Łódź, consisted of a vacated manorial estate similar to Sonnenstein, used for undressing (with a truck-loading ramp in the back), as well as a large forest clearing 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) northwest of Chełmno, used for the mass burial as well as open-pit cremation of corpses introduced some time later.
All Jews from the Judenfrei district of Wartheland were deported to Chełmno under the guise of 'resettlement'. At least 145,000 prisoners from the Łódź Ghetto perished at Chełmno in several waves of deportations lasting from 1942 to 1944. Additionally, 20,000 foreign Jews and 5,000 Roma were brought in from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. All victims were killed with the use of mobile gas vans (Sonderwagen), which had exhaust pipes reconfigured and poisons added to gasoline (see Chełmno Trials for supplementary data). In the last phase of the camp's existence, the exhumed bodies were cremated in open-air for several weeks during Sonderaktion 1005. The ashes, mixed with crushed bones, were trucked every night to the nearby river in sacks made from blankets, to remove the evidence of mass murder.
The Auschwitz concentration camp was the largest of the German Nazi extermination centers. Located in the Gau Upper Silesia inside Nazi Germany, and 64 kilometres (40 mi) west of Kraków, Auschwitz processed an average of 1.5 Holocaust trains per day. The overwhelming majority of prisoners deported there were murdered within hours of their arrival. The camp was fitted with the first permanent gas chambers in March 1942. The extermination of Jews with Zyklon B as the killing agent began in July. At Birkenau, the four killing installations (each consisting of coatrooms, multiple gas chambers and industrial-scale crematoria) were built in the following year. By late 1943, Birkenau was a killing factory with four so-called 'Bunkers' (totaling over a dozen gas chambers) working around the clock. Up to 6,000 people were gassed and cremated there each day, after the ruthless 'selection process' at the Judenrampe. Only about 10 percent of the deportees from transports organized by the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) were registered and assigned to the Birkenau barracks.
The extermination program at Auschwitz resulted in the death of around 1.1 million people. 1 million of them were Jews from across Europe including 200,000 children. Among the registered 400,000 victims (less than one-third of the total Auschwitz arrivals) were 140,000–150,000 non-Jewish Poles, 23,000 Gypsies, 15,000 Soviet POWs and 25,000 others. Auschwitz received a total of about 300,000 Jews from occupied Poland, shipped aboard freight trains from liquidated ghettos and transit camps, beginning with Bytom (February 15, 1942), Olkusz (three days of June), Otwock (in August), Łomża and Ciechanów (November), then Kraków (March 13, 1943), Sosnowiec, Będzin, Dąbrowa (June–August 1943), and several dozen other metropolitan cities and towns, including the last ghetto left standing in occupied Poland, liquidated in August 1944 at Łódź. 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.
Designed and built for the sole purpose of killing people, Treblinka was one of only three such facilities in existence; the other two were Bełżec and Sobibór. All of them were situated in wooded areas away from population centres and linked to the Polish rail system by a branch line. They had transferable SS staff. There was a railway platform constructed alongside the tracks, surrounded by 2.5 m (8 ft) high barbed-wire fencing. Large barracks were built for storing belongings of disembarking victims. One was disguised as a railway station complete with a fake wooden clock and signage to prevent new arrivals from realizing their fate. Passports and money were collected for "safekeeping" at a cashier's booth set up by the "Road to Heaven", a fenced-off path leading into the gas chambers disguised as communal showers. Directly behind were the burial pits, dug with a crawler excavator.
Located 80 kilometres (50 mi) northeast of Warsaw, Treblinka became operational on July 24, 1942, after three months of forced labour construction by expellees from Germany. The shipping of Jews from the Polish capital – plan known as the Großaktion Warschau – began immediately. During two months of the summer of 1942, about 254,000 Warsaw Ghetto inmates were exterminated at Treblinka (by some other accounts, at least 300,000). On arrival, the transportees were made to disrobe, then the men – followed by women and children – were forced into double-walled chambers and gassed to death in batches of 200, with the use of exhaust fumes generated by a tank engine. The gas chambers, rebuilt of brick and expanded during August–September 1942, were capable of killing 12,000 to 15,000 victims every day, with a 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. As a result, the Nazis began burning the bodies on open-air grids made of concrete pillars and railway tracks. The number of people killed at Treblinka in about a year ranges from 800,000 to 1,200,000, with no exact figures available. The camp was closed by Globocnik on October 19, 1943 soon after the Treblinka prisoner uprising, with the murderous Operation Reinhard nearly completed.
The Bełżec extermination camp, set up near the railroad station of Bełżec in the Lublin District, began operating officially on March 17, 1942, with three temporary gas chambers later replaced with six made of brick and mortar, enabling the facility to handle over 1,000 victims at one time. At least 434,500 Jews were exterminated there. The lack of verified survivors however, makes this camp much less known. The bodies of the dead, buried in mass graves, swelled in the heat as a result of putrefaction making the earth split, which was resolved with the introduction of crematoria pits in October 1942.
Kurt Gerstein from Waffen-SS, supplying Zyklon B from Degesch during the Holocaust, wrote after the war in his Gerstein Report for the Allies that on August 17, 1942 at Belzec, he had witnessed the arrival of 45 wagons with 6,700 prisoners of whom 1,450 were already dead inside. That train came with the Jewish people of the Lwów Ghetto, less than a hundred kilometers away. The last shipment of Jews (including those who had already died in transit) arrived in Bełżec in December 1942. The burning of exhumed corpses continued until March. The remaining 500 Sonderkommando prisoners who dismantled the camp, and who bore witness to the extermination process, were murdered at the nearby Sobibór extermination camp in the following months.
The Sobibór extermination camp, disguised as a railway transit camp not far from Lublin, began mass gassing operations in May 1942. As in other extermination centers, the Jews, taken off the Holocaust trains arriving from liquidated ghettos and transit camps (Izbica, Końskowola) were met by an SS-man dressed in a medical coat. Oberscharführer Hermann Michel gave the command for prisoners' "disinfection".
New arrivals were forced to split into groups, hand over their valuables, and disrobe inside a walled-off courtyard for a bath. Women had their hair cut off by the Sonderkommando barbers. Once undressed, the Jews were led down a narrow path to the gas chambers which were disguised as showers. Carbon monoxide gas was released from the exhaust pipes of a gasoline engine removed from a Red Army tank. Their bodies were taken out and burned in open pits over iron grids partly fueled by human body-fat. Their remains were dumped onto seven "ash mountains". The total number of Polish Jews murdered at Sobibór is estimated at a minimum of 170,000. Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp dismantled following a prisoner revolt on October 14, 1943; one of only two successful uprisings by Jewish Sonderkommando inmates in any extermination camp, with 300 escapees (most of them were recaptured by the SS and killed).
The Majdanek forced labor camp located on the outskirts of Lublin (like Sobibór) and closed temporarily during an epidemic of typhus, was reopened in March 1942 for Operation Reinhard; first, as a storage depot for valuables stolen from the victims of gassing at the killing centers of Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, It became a place of extermination of large Jewish populations from south-eastern Poland (Kraków, Lwów, Zamość, Warsaw) after the gas chambers were constructed in late 1942.
The gassing of Polish Jews was performed in plain view of other inmates, without as much as a fence around the killing facilities. According to witness's testimony, "to drown the cries of the dying, tractor engines were run near the gas chambers" before they took the dead away to the crematorium. Majdanek was the site of death of 59,000 Polish Jews (from among its 79,000 victims). By the end of Operation Aktion Erntefest (Harvest Festival) conducted at Majdanek in early November 1943 (the single largest German massacre of Jews during the entire war), the camp had only 71 Jews left.
There is a popular misconception among the general public that most Jews went to their deaths passively. 10% of the Polish Army which fought alone against the Nazi-Soviet Invasion of Poland were Jewish Poles, some 100,000 troops. Of these, the Germans took 50,000 prisoner-of-war and did not treat them according to the Geneva Convention; most were sent to concentration camps and then extermination in camps. As Poland continued to fight an insurgency war against the occupying powers, other Jews joined the Polish Resistance, sometimes forming exclusively Jewish units.
Jewish resistance to the Nazis comprised not only their armed struggle but also spiritual and cultural opposition which brought dignity despite the inhumane conditions of life in the ghettos. Many forms of resistance were present, even though the elders were terrified by the prospect of mass retaliation against the women and children in the case of anti-Nazi revolt. As the German authorities undertook to liquidate the ghettos, armed resistance was offered in over 100 locations on either side of Polish-Soviet border of 1939, overwhelmingly in eastern Poland. The uprisings erupted in 5 major cities, 45 provincial towns, 5 major concentration and extermination camps, as well as in at least 18 forced labor camps. Notably, the only rebellions in Nazi camps were Jewish.
The Nieśwież Ghetto insurgents in eastern Poland fought back on July 22, 1942. The Łachwa Ghetto revolt erupted on September 3. On October 14, 1942, the Mizocz Ghetto followed suit. The Warsaw Ghetto firefight of January 18, 1943, led to the largest Jewish uprising of World War II launched on April 19, 1943. On June 25, the Jews of the Częstochowa Ghetto rose up. At Treblinka, the Sonderkommando prisoners armed with stolen weapons attacked the guards on August 2, 1943. A day later, the Będzin and Sosnowiec ghetto revolts broke out. On August 16, the Białystok Ghetto uprising erupted. The revolt in Sobibór extermination camp occurred on October 14, 1943. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the insurgents blew up one of Birkenau's crematoria on October 7, 1944. Similar resistance was offered in Łuck, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Pińsk, Poniatowa, and in Wilno.
Only 10 percent of Poland's Jews survived the genocide which is less than in any other occupied country save for Lithuania. However, Polish nationals account for the majority of rescuers with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, as honored by Yad Vashem. According to Paulsson it is probable that these recognized Poles, over 6,000, only "represent only the tip of the iceberg" of Polish rescuers. Some Jews received organized help from Żegota (The Council to Aid Jews), an underground organization of Polish resistance in German-occupied Poland.
On 10 November 1941, capital punishment was extended by Hans Frank to Poles who helped Jews "in any way: by taking them in for a night, giving them a lift in a vehicle of any sort", or "feeding runaway Jews or selling them foodstuffs." The law was publicized with posters distributed in all major cities. Similar regulations were issued by the Germans in other territories they controlled in the Eastern Front. Over 700 Polish Righteous among the Nations received that recognition posthumously, having been murdered by the Germans for aiding or sheltering their Jewish neighbors. Many of the Polish Righteous recognized by Yad Vashem came from the capital. In his work on Warsaw's Jews, Gunnar S. Paulsson demonstrated that despite the much harsher conditions, Warsaw's Polish citizens managed to support and hide the same percentage of Jews as did the citizens of cities in reportedly safer German-occupied countries of Western Europe.
Polish antisemitism had two formative motifs: claims of defilement of the Catholic faith; and Żydokomuna (Jew-communism). During the 1930s, Catholic journals in Poland paralleled western European social-Darwinist antisemitism and the Nazi press. However, church doctrine ruled out violence, which only became more common in the mid-1930s. Unlike German antisemitism, Polish political-ideological antisemites rejected the idea of genocide or pogroms of the Jews, advocating mass emigration instead.
Stalin's occupation of terror in eastern Poland in 1939 brought what Jan Gross calls "the institutionalization of resentment", whereby the Soviets used privileges and punishments to accommodate and encourage ethnic and religious differences between Jews and Poles. There was an upsurge in the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews as Communist traitors; it erupted into mass murder when Nazi Germany invaded Soviet eastern Poland in the summer of 1941. A group of at least 40 Poles with an unconfirmed level of German backing killed hundreds of Jews at the racially aggravated Jedwabne pogrom. There were a rash of other massacres of Jews across the same formerly Soviet-occupied region of Łomża and Białystok around the same time, with varying degrees of German death squad incitement or involvement: at Bielsk Podlaski (the village of Pilki), Choroszcz, Czyżew, Goniądz, Grajewo, Jasionówka, Kleszczele, Knyszyn, Kolno, Kuźnica, Narewka, Piątnica, Radziłów, Rajgród, Sokoły, Stawiski, Suchowola, Szczuczyn, Trzcianne, Tykocin, Wasilków, Wąsosz, and Wizna.
Some locals materially gained from the Jews killed in these massacres. The question of Jewish property, taken over by Poles, was a driving factor behind the beating and murdering of Jews by Poles between summer 1944 and 1946, including the Kielce pogrom.
Holocasust survivor and historian Szymon Datner said that the number of Poles who murdered Jews out of material greed or racial hatred was smaller than the number of Poles who sheltered Jews and aided them; but the first group was more efficient and successful in its actions. Datner also offers an estimate of 100,000 Jewish victims who "fell prey to the Germans and their local helpers, or were murdered in various unexplained circumstances." Historian Jan Grabowski in his Hunt for the Jews (2013) estimated that in the countryside, where some Polish peasants participated in German-organized Judenjagd searches for Jews, approximately 80% of the Jews who attempted to hide from the Germans ended up being killed or turned in. He estimates the number of those Jewish victims, some killed directly by the local populace, and some betrayed and denounced to the Germans, at 200,000.
The vast majority of Polish Jews were a "visible minority" by modern standards, distinguishable by language, behavior, and appearance. In the 1931 Polish national census, only 12 percent of Jews declared Polish as their first language, while 79 percent listed Yiddish and the remaining 9 percent Hebrew as their mother tongue. In the labour market of many cities and towns, including Poland's provincial capitals, the presence of such large, mostly non acculturated minority, was a source of competitive tension. Here is where the temptation to jump to conclusions with regard to Polish-Jewish relations in wartime should be resisted, wrote Gunnar Paulsson: "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.
Toward the end of the ghetto-liquidation period, the largest number of Jews managed to escape to the "Aryan" side, and to survive with the aid of their Polish helpers. During the Nazi occupation, most ethnic Poles were themselves engaged in a desperate struggle to survive. They were in no position to impede the German extermination of Jews. Between 1939 and 1945, from 1.8 million to 2.8 million non-Jewish Poles died at the hands of the Nazis, and 150,000 due to Soviet repressions. About one fifth of the prewar population of Poland perished. Their deaths were the result of deliberate acts of war, mass murder, incarceration in concentration camps, forced labor, malnutrition, disease, kidnappings, and expulsions. There were, however, many Poles who risked death to hide entire Jewish families or otherwise help Jews on compassionate grounds. Polish rescuers of Jews were sometimes exposed by those very Jews if the Jews were found by the Germans, resulting in the murder of entire helper networks in the General Government. The number of Jews hiding with gentile Poles, quoted by Żarski-Zajdler, was about 450,000. Possibly a million gentile Poles aided their Jewish neighbors. Historian Richard C. Lukas gives an estimate as high as three million Polish helpers; an estimate similar to those cited by other authors.
The Polish Government in Exile was the first (in November 1942), to reveal the existence of German-run concentration camps and the systematic extermination of the Jews. The genocide was reported to the Allies by Lieutenant Jan Karski, as well as Captain Witold Pilecki who volunteered to be imprisoned at Auschwitz in order to gather intelligence and subsequently wrote an official Report of over 100 pages for the West.
In September 1942, with financial assistance from the Underground State, the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews was founded (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom) on the initiative of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, for the purpose of rescuing Jews. It was superseded by the Council for Aid to Jews known by the code-name Żegota (Rada Pomocy Żydom) chaired by Julian Grobelny. It is not known how many Jews were helped by Żegota, but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw alone under Irena Sendler. Żegota was granted nearly 29 million zlotys (over $5 million) from 1942 onwards for 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 and ŻZW.
No Polish collaborative government was ever formed during World War II. As noted by Piotrowski, the "Poles never produced either a Quisling or any specifically Polish SS divisions. In contrast, almost all other European countries provided Nazi Germany with both." The Polish Underground State strongly opposed collaboration in anti-Jewish persecutions and threatened death to all informers against them, on behalf of the Polish military tribunals of the Home Army. However, the continued brutality of war led to the breakdown of traditional social norms and values. There were people who betrayed Jews in hiding along with the Poles who protected them. The number of notorious blackmailers is estimated at around several thousand, based on the number of death sentences for treason by Poland's Special Courts. Gunnar S. Paulsson in his comment stated that he would probably tag 20,000 Poles with "monstrous deeds".
The phenomenon of Polish collaboration was described by John Connelly and Leszek Gondek as marginal, when seen against the backdrop of European and world history. The crossing of moral boundaries had first occurred under the Soviets with the participation of the Jewish militia (so-called opaskowcy) armed by the NKVD, in the mass deportations of Polish families from the east to Siberia in 1940 and 1941 after the Soviet takeover, and again, at the onset of the German-Soviet war, when over 300 Jews perished in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, locked in a barn set on fire by a group of Polish men in the presence of German Ordnungspolizei (IPN Final Findings). The circumstances surrounding the incident in Jedwabne are still debated, and include the ominous presence of the Einsatzgruppe Zichenau-Schroettersburg under SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper deployed in Bezirk Bialystok, as well as German Nazi pressure, but also widespread resentment over the Jewish warm welcome given to the Red Army in 1939.
The Republic of Poland was a multicultural country before the Second World War broke out, with almost a third of its population originating from the minority groups: 13.9 percent Ukrainians; 10 percent Jews; 3.1 percent Belarusians; 2.3 percent Germans and 3.4 percent Czechs, Lithuanians and Russians. Soon after the 1918 reconstitution of an independent Polish state, about 500,000 refugees from the Soviet republics came to Poland in the first spontaneous flight from persecution especially in Ukraine (see, Pale of Settlement) where up to 2,000 pogroms took place during the Civil War. In the second wave of immigration, between November 1919 and June 1924 some 1,200,000 people left the territory of the USSR for new Poland. It is estimated that some 460,000 refugees spoke Polish as the first language. Between 1933 and 1938, around 25,000 German Jews fled Nazi Germany to sanctuary in Poland.
About one million Polish citizens were members of the German minority. Following the invasion of 1939, additional 1,180,000 German speakers came to occupied Poland either from the Reich or from the east with little to lose (the Volksdeutsche). Many hundreds of ethnically German men in Poland joined the Nazi Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz as well as Sonderdienst formations launched in May 1940 by Gauleiter Hans Frank stationed in occupied Kraków. Likewise, among some 30,000 Ukrainian nationalists who fled to polnischen Gebiete, thousands joined the pokhidny hrupy (pl) as saboteurs, interpreters, and civilian militiamen, trained at the German bases across Distrikt Krakau.
The existence of Sonderdienst formations constituted a grave danger to the Catholic Poles who attempted to help ghettoised Jews in the cities which had a sizable German and pro-German minorities, as in the case of the Izbica Ghetto or the Łuck and the Mińsk Mazowiecki Ghettos among numerous others. Anti-Semitic attitudes were particularly visible in the eastern provinces which had been occupied by the Russians following the Soviet invasion of Kresy. Local people had witnessed the repressions against their own compatriots, and mass deportations to Siberia, conducted by the Soviet security apparatus with some of the local Jews forming militias, taking over key administrative positions, and collaborating with the NKVD. Others assumed that, driven by vengeance, Jewish Communists had been prominent in betraying the ethnically Polish and other non-Jewish victims.
Many German-inspired massacres were carried out across occupied eastern Poland with the active participation of indigenous people. The guidelines for such massacres were formulated by Reinhard Heydrich, who ordered his officers to induce anti-Jewish pogroms on territories newly occupied by the German forces. In the lead-up to the establishment of the Wilno Ghetto in the fifth largest city of prewar Poland and a provincial capital Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), German commandos and the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalions killed more than 21,000 Jews during the Ponary massacre in late 1941. At that time, Wilno had only a small Lithuanian-speaking minority of about 6 percent of the city's population. In the infamous series of Lviv pogroms committed by the Ukrainian militants in the eastern city of Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine), some 6,000 Polish Jews were murdered in the streets between June 30 and July 29, 1941, on top of 3,000 arrests and mass shootings by Einsatzgruppe C. The Ukrainian militias formed by OUN with the blessings of the SS spread terror across dozens of locations throughout south-eastern Poland.
Long before the Tarnopol Ghetto was set up, and only two days after the arrival of the Wehrmacht, up to 2,000 Jews were killed in the provincial capital of Tarnopol (now Ternopil, Ukraine), one-third of them by the Ukrainian militias. Some of the victims were decapitated. The SS shot the remaining two-thirds, in the same week. In Stanisławów – another provincial capital in the Kresy macroregion (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine) – the single largest massacre of Polish Jews prior to Aktion Reinhardt was perpetrated on 12 October 1941, hand in glove by Orpo, SiPo and the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police (brought in from Lwów); tables with sandwiches and bottles of vodka had been set up about the cemetery for shooters who needed to rest from the deafening noise of gunfire; 12,000 Jews were murdered before nightfall.
A total of 31 deadly pogroms were carried out throughout the region in conjunction with the Belarusian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian Schuma. The genocidal techniques learned from the Germans, such as the advanced planning of the pacification actions, site selection, and sudden encirclement, became the hallmark of the OUN-UPA massacres of Poles and Jews in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia beginning in March 1943, parallel with the liquidation of the ghettos in Reichskommissariat Ostland ordered by Himmler. Thousands of Jews who escaped deportations and hid in the forests were murdered by the Banderites.
The question regarding the Jews' real chances of survival once the Holocaust began continues to draw the attention of historians. For one, the Germans made it extremely difficult to escape the ghettos just before deportations to death camps deceptively disguised as "resettlement in the East". 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 form letters back home, stating that they were safe. Around 3,000 others fell into the German Hotel Polski trap. Many ghettoized Jews did not believe what was going on until the very end, because the actual outcome seemed unthinkable at the time. David J. Landau suggested also that the weak Jewish leadership might have played a role. Likewise, Israel Gutman 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.
The exact number of Holocaust survivors is unknown. Up to 300,000 Jewish Poles were among the 1.5 million Polish citizens deported from eastern Poland by the Soviets after the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland of 1939, putting Jews deep in the USSR and thereby out of the range of the Nazi invasion of eastern Poland in 1941. Many deportees died in the Gulags, but thousands of Jews joined the Polish Anders Army on its journey from Soviet camps to the British Empire and thereby made Aliyah; thousands more joined the Polish Berling Army which fought its way back to Poland and on to the Battle of Berlin.
Possibly as many as 300,000 Polish Jews escaped from German-occupied Poland to the Soviet-occupied zone soon after the war started. Some estimates go even higher than that. Notably, a very high percentage of the Jews fleeing east were men and women without families. Thousands of them perished at the hands of OUN-UPA, TDA and Ypatingasis būrys during Massacres of Poles in Volhynia, the Holocaust in Lithuania (see Ponary massacre), and in Belarus. The majority of Polish Jews in the Generalgouvernement stayed put. Prior to the mass deportations, there was no proven necessity to leave familiar places. 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, and, contrary to popular misconceptions, the risk of them being turned in by the Poles was very small.
It is estimated that about 350,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. Some 230,000 of them survived in the USSR and the Soviet-controlled territories of Poland, including men and women who escaped from areas occupied by Germany. Right after World War II, over 150,000 Polish Jews (Berendt) or 180,000 (Engel) were repatriated or expelled back to new Poland along with the younger men conscripted to the Red Army from the Kresy in 1940–1941. Their families died in the Holocaust. Gunnar S. Paulsson estimated that 30,000 Polish Jews survived in the labor camps; but according to Engel as many as 70,000–80,000 of them were liberated from camps in Germany and Austria alone, except that declaring their own nationality was of no use to those who did not intend to return. Madajczyk estimated that as many as 110,000 Polish Jews were in the Displaced Person camps. According to Longerich, up to 50,000 Jews survived in the forests (not counting Galicia) and also among the soldiers who reentered Poland with the pro-Soviet Polish "Berling army" formed by Stalin. The number of Jews who successfully hid on the "Aryan" side of the ghettos could be as high as 100,000 wrote Peter Longerich, although many were killed by the German Jagdkommandos. Not all survivors registered with CKŻP after the war ended. Thousands of so-called Convent children hidden by the non-Jewish Poles and the Catholic Church remained in orphanages run by the Sisters of the Family of Mary in more than 20 locations, similar as in other Catholic convents. Given the severity of the German measures designed to prevent this occurrence, the survival rate among the Jewish fugitives was relatively high and by far, the individuals who circumvented deportation were the most successful.
The Western powers remained unaware of the top secret Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, which paved the way for World War II. The German surrender in May 1945 was followed by a massive change in the political geography of Europe. Poland's borders were redrawn by the Allies according to the demands made by Josef Stalin during the Tehran Conference, confirmed as not negotiable at the Yalta Conference of 1945. The Polish government-in-exile was excluded from the negotiations. The territory of Poland was reduced by approximately 20 percent. Before the end of 1946 some 1.8 million Polish citizens were expelled and forcibly resettled within the new borders. For the first time in its history Poland became a homogeneous one nation-state by force, with the national wealth reduced by 38 percent. Poland's financial system had been destroyed. Intelligentsia was largely obliterated along with the Jews, and the population reduced by about 33 percent.
Due to the territorial shift imposed from the outside, the number of Holocaust survivors from Poland remains the subject of deliberation. According to official statistics, the number of Jews in the country changed dramatically in a very short time. In January 1946, the Central Committee of Polish Jews (CKŻP) registered the first wave of some 86,000 survivors from the vicinity. By the end of that summer, the number had risen to about 205,000–210,000 (with 240,000 registrations and over 30,000 duplicates). The survivors included 180,000 Jews who arrived from the Soviet-controlled territories as a result repatriation agreements. Another 30,000 Jews returned to Poland from the USSR after the Stalinist repressions ended a decade later.
In July 1946 forty-two Jews and two ethnic Poles were killed in the Kielce pogrom. Eleven of the victims died from bayonet wounds and eleven more were fatally shot with military assault rifles, indicating direct involvement of the regular troops. The pogrom prompted General Spychalski of PWP from wartime Warsaw, to sign a legislative decree allowing the remaining survivors to leave Poland without Western visas or Polish exit permits. This also served to strengthen the government's acceptance among the anti-Communist right, as well as weaken the British hold in the Middle East. Most refugees crossing the new borders left Poland without a valid passport. By contrast, the Soviet Union brought Soviet Jews from DP camps back to USSR by force, along with all other Soviet citizens irrespective of their wishes, as agreed to by the Yalta Conference.
Uninterrupted traffic across the Polish borders increased dramatically. By the spring of 1947 only 90,000 Jews remained in Poland. Britain demanded that Poland (among others) halt the Jewish exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. The massacre in Kielce was condemned by a public announcement sent by the diocese in Kielce to all churches. The letter denounced the pogrom and "stressed – wrote Natalia Aleksiun – that the most important Catholic values were the love of fellow human beings and respect for human life. It also alluded to the demoralizing effect of anti-Jewish violence, since the crime was committed in the presence of youth and children." Priests read it without comments during Mass, hinting that "the pogrom might have in fact been a political provocation."
Approximately 7,000 Jewish men and women of military age left Poland for Mandatory Palestine between 1947 and 1948 as members of Haganah organization, trained in Poland. The boot camp was set up in Bolków, Lower Silesia, with Polish-Jewish instructors. It was financed by JDC in agreement with the Polish administration. The program which trained mostly men 22–25 years of age for service in the Israel Defense Forces lasted until early 1949. Joining the training was a convenient way to leave the country, since the course graduates were not controlled at the border, and could carry undeclared valuables and even restricted firearms.
There are a large number of memorials in Poland dedicated to Holocaust remembrance. The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw was unveiled in April 1948. Major museums include the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the outskirts of Oświęcim with 1.4 million visitors per year, and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw on the site of the former Ghetto, presenting the thousand-year history of the Jews in Poland. Since 1988, an annual international event called March of the Living takes place in April at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex on Holocaust Remembrance Day, with total attendance exceeding 150,000 young people from all over the world.
There are State museums on the grounds of each of the Operation Reinhard death camps, including the Majdanek State Museum in Lublin, declared a national monument as early as 1946, with intact gas chambers and crematoria from World War II. Branches of the Majdanek Museum include the Bełżec, and the Sobibór Museums where advanced geophysical studies are being conducted by Israeli and Polish archaeologists. The new Treblinka Museum opened in 2006. It was later expanded and made into a branch of the Siedlce Regional Museum located in a historic Ratusz (see also the Siedlce Ghetto). There is also a small museum in Chełmno nad Nerem.
There is a Holocaust memorial at the former Umschlagplatz in Warsaw.
The 2009 study published by the IPN revised the estimated Poland's war dead at about 5.8 million Poles and Jews, including 150,000 during the Soviet occupation, not including losses of Polish citizens from the Ukrainian and Belarusian ethnic groups.
The Russians initially stressed that they were the protectors of the Poles and were Poland's `friendly Slavonic neighbour´!
Both regimes endorsed a systematic program of genocide.
Further Reading: "Einsatzgruppen," at the Holocaust Encyclopedia.
Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990), Baranowski, Dobroszycki, Wiesenthal, Yad Vashem Timeline of the Holocaust, others.
Sources: Lodz Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Siege by Adelson, Alan and Robert Lapides (ed.), New York, 1989; The Documents of the Łódź Ghetto: An Inventory of the Nachman Zonabend Collection by Web, Marek (ed.), New York, 1988; The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry by Yahil, Leni, New York, 1991.
By the end of 1940, the forced-labor program in the General Government had registered over 700,000 Jewish men and women who were working for the German economy in ghetto businesses and as labor for projects outside the ghetto; there would be more.
Masowe egzekucje były połączone z licznymi przypadkami pobić, gwałtów i rabunku żydowskiego mienia ... rozstrzelano ok. 990 Polaków i 150 Żydów.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
Without the auxiliaries, the Nazis' murderous intentions toward the Jewish population on the Eastern Front would not have been nearly as deadly.
Mass graves resulting from deaths in the ghettos and various places of detention due to mistreatment, starvation ... concern the fate of several hundred thousand Jews. In the Warsaw ghetto alone, more than 100,000 Jews died and were buried in various places.
Book excerpts from Enghelberg.com.
Testimony of B. Wulf, Docket nr 301/2212, Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
Deportations to Bronna Gora lasted four days beginning October 15, 1942
Streibel assigned detachments of Trawniki-trained men to guard and operate the killing centres [and] in support of deportation and shooting operations in the General Government.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
As part of Amt IV of the R.S.H.A., the SS, SD, Kripo, and Orpo were responsible for `the rounding up, transportation, shooting, and gassing to death of at least three million Jews.´
Countries of origin, Selection in the camp, Treatment.
See Smith's book excerpts at: Hershl Sperling: Personal Testimony by David Adams, and the book summary at Last victim of Treblinka by Tony Rennell.
In the town of Ostrow, thirteen miles [21 km] away from Treblinka, the stench was unbearable.
It was a heavy Russian benzine engine – presumably a tank or tractor motor at least 200 horsepower V-motor, 8 cylinders, water cooled (SS-Scharführer Erich Fuchs).
The highest degree of cooperation was achieved when chairmen, or other leading Council members themselves, actively participated in preparing and executing acts of resistance, particularly in the course of liquidations of ghettos. [Prominent examples include Warsaw, Częstochowa, Radomsko, Pajęczno, Sasów, Pińsk, Mołczadź, Iwaniska, Wilno, Nieśwież, Zdzięcioł (see: Zdzięcioł Ghetto), Tuczyn (Równe), and Marcinkańce (Grodno) among others]Also in: Martin Gilbert (1986), The Holocaust: the Jewish tragedy, Collins, p. 828
Keeping in mind that these cases are drawn from published memoirs and from cases on file at Yad Vashem and the Jewish Historical Institute, it is probable that the 5,000 or so Poles who have been recognised as 'Righteous Among the Nations' so far represent only the tip of the iceberg, and that the true number of rescuers who meet the Yad Vashem 'gold standard' is 20, 50, perhaps even 100 times higher (p. 23, § 2; available with purchase).
Religion and Native Language (total). Section, Jewish: 3,113,933 with Yiddish: 2,489,034 and Hebrew: 243,539.
German military police in Grzegorzówka[p.153] and in Hadle Szklarskie[p.154] (Przeworsk County) extracted from two Jewish women the names of Christian Poles helping Jews – 11 Polish men were murdered. In Korniaktów forest (Łańcut County)[p.167] a Jewish woman caught in a bunker revealed the whereabouts of the Catholic family who fed her – the whole Polish family were murdered. In Jeziorko, Łowicz County,[p.160] a Jewish man betrayed all Polish rescuers known to him – 13 Catholics were murdered by the German military police. In Lipowiec Duży (Biłgoraj County),[p.174] a captured Jew led the Germans to his saviors – 5 Catholics were murdered including a 6-year-old child and their farm was burned. There were other similar cases; on a train to Kraków[p.170] the Żegota courier Irena who smuggled four Jewish women to safety was shot dead when one of them lost her nerve.
Approximately 3 million Poles rescued, hid, or otherwise helped Jews during the war, and fewer than a thousand denounced Jews to the Nazis.
The number of Poles estimated to be actively involved in the rescue of Jews is estimated between one and three million.
It has been estimated that a million or more Poles were involved in helping Jews.
Kierownictwo Walki Cywilnej w "Biuletynie Informacyjnym" ostrzega "szmalcowników" i denuncjatorów przed konsekwencjami grożącymi im ze strony władz państwa podziemnego. [p.37 in PDF] Ot, widzi pan, sprawa jednej litery sprawia ogromną różnicę. Ratować i uratować! Ratowaliśmy kilkadziesiąt razy więcej ludzi, niż uratowaliśmy. – Władysław Bartoszewski [p.7]
In dozens of towns and settlements, attacks were carried out by "militias", "self-defence groups" and opaskowcy (called such for the red armbands they wore), which were made up primarily of Jews and Belarussians.[p.151]
The localities in question include: Grodno, Skidel (see the Skidel revolt), Jeziory, Łunna, Wiercieliszki, Wielka Brzostowica, Ostryna, Dubna, Dereczyn, Zelwa, Motol, Wołpa, Janów Poleski, Wołkowysk, and Drohiczyn Poleski.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
When the Soviets occupied eastern Galicia, some 30,000 Ukrainian nationalists fled to the General Government. In 1940 the Germans began to set up military training units of Ukrainians, and in the spring of 1941 Ukrainian units were established by the Wehrmacht.See also: Marek Getter (1996). "Policja w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie 1939–1945". Przegląd Policyjny nr 1-2. Wydawnictwo Wyższej Szkoły Policji w Szczytnie. pp. 1–22. WebCite cache. Archived from the original on June 26, 2013.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
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RSHA von einer begrüßenswerten Aktivitat der ukrainischen Bevolkerung in den ersten Stunden nach dem Abzug der Sowjettruppen.For the German administrative divisions of Polish kresy with prominent Jewish communities destroyed under Nazi occupation, see: Bauer, Yehuda (2009), The Death of the Shtetl, Yale University Press, pp. 1–6, 65, ISBN 978-0300152098
It is clear that a massacre of such proportions under German civil administration was virtually unprecedented.
The range of differences in estimates might give us an idea of the problem's complexity. Thus, Avraham Pechenik estimated the number of refugees at 1,000,000.[p.1038]
The Second Republic was obliterated during the Second World War (1939–1945). As a consequence of seven years of brutal fighting and resistance to Nazi and Soviet military occupation, Poland's population was reduced by a third, from 34,849 at the end of 1938, to 23,930 in February 1946. Six million citizens...perished.[pp.19–20] (See Anti-communist resistance in Poland (1944–46) for supplementary data.)
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The decision originated from the military circles (and not the party leadership). The Berihah organization under Cwi Necer was requested to keep the involvement of MSZ and MON a secret.(24 in PDF) The migration reached its zenith in 1946, resulting in 150,000 Jews leaving Poland.(21 in PDF)
Suggested reading: Arieh Josef Kochavi, "Britain and the Jewish Exodus ... ," Polin 7 (1992): pp. 161–175.
This gigantic effort, known by the Hebrew code word Brichah(flight), accelerated powerfully after the Kielce pogrom in July 1946
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Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa (Polish for Anti-Fascist Military Organisation), AOB, was an underground organization formed in 1942 in the Ghetto in Białystok by former officers of the Polish Land Forces. It took part in the Białystok Ghetto uprising.
Its tasks included organisation of escape routes for the people incarcerated in the Ghetto as well as gathering arms and equipment for the future fight against the Germans. Since February 1943 it carried over many attacks on German authorities and armed forces operating in the Ghetto. On August 15, 1943, the AOB members started an ill-fated struggle against the liquidation of the Ghetto, which is known as the Białystok Ghetto Uprising.Aryanization
Aryanization (German: Arisierung) was the forced expulsion of Jews from business life in Nazi Germany, Axis-aligned states, and their occupied territories. It entailed the transfer of Jewish property into "Aryan" hands in order to "de-Jew the economy".
The process started in 1933 in Nazi Germany with so-called "voluntary" transfers of Jewish property and ended with the Holocaust. Two phases have generally been identified: a first phase in which the destitution of Jewish victims was concealed under a veneer of legality, and a second phase, in which property was more openly confiscated. In both cases, Aryanization corresponded to Nazi policy and was defined, supported and enforced by Germany's legal and financial bureaucracy.Before Hitler came to power Jews owned 100,000 businesses in Germany. By 1938, boycotts, intimidation, forced sales and restrictions on professions had largely forced Jews out of economic life. According to Yad Vashem, "Of the 50,000 Jewish-owned stores that existed in 1933, only 9,000 remained in 1938."Białystok Ghetto uprising
The Białystok Ghetto uprising was an insurrection in the Jewish Białystok Ghetto against the Nazi German occupation authorities during World War II. The uprising was launched on the night of August 16, 1943 and was the second-largest ghetto uprising organized in Nazi-occupied Poland after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April–May 1943. It was led by the Anti-Fascist Military Organisation (Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa), a branch of the Warsaw Anti-Fascist Bloc.The revolt began upon the German announcement of mass deportations from the Ghetto. The main objective was to break the German siege and allow the maximum number of Jews to escape into the neighboring Knyszyn (Knyszyński) Forest. A group of about 300 to 500 insurgents armed with 25 rifles and 100 pistols as well as home-made Molotov cocktails for grenades, attacked the overwhelming German force with a great loss of life. Leaders of the uprising committed suicide. Several dozen combatants managed to break through and run into the Knyszyn Forest where they joined other guerrilla groups.Bronna Góra
Bronna Góra (or Bronna Mount in English, Belarusian: Бронная Гара, Bronnaja Hara) is the name of a secluded area in present-day Belarus where mass killings of Polish Jews were carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II. The location was part of the eastern half of occupied Poland, which had been invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939 in agreement with Germany, and two years later captured by the Wehrmacht in Operation Barbarossa. It is estimated that from May 1942 until November of that year, during the most deadly phase of the Holocaust in Poland, some 50,000 Jews were murdered at Bronna Góra forest in death pits. The victims were transported there in Holocaust trains from the wartime ghettos, including from the Brześć Ghetto, the Pińsk Ghetto, and from the ghettos in Bereza (now Byaroza, Belarus), Janów Poleski (now Ivanava), Kobryń (Kobryn), Horodec (pl), Antopol (Antopal), as well as other locations along the western border of the newly-formed districts of Reichskommissariat Ostland (present-day West Belarus).Byelorussian Auxiliary Police
The Byelorussian Auxiliary Police (Belarusian: Беларуская дапаможная паліцыя, romanized: Biełaruskaja dapamožnaja palicyja; German: Weißruthenische Schutzmannschaften, or Hilfspolizei) was a collaborationist paramilitary force established in July 1941. Staffed by local inhabitants from German-occupied Byelorussia, it had similar functions to those of the German Ordnungspolizei in other occupied territories. The activities of the formation were supervised by defense police departments, local commandants' offices, and garrison commandants. The units consisted of one police officer for every 100 rural inhabitants and one police officer for every 300 urban inhabitants. The OD was in charge of guard duty, and included both stationary and mobile posts plus groups of orderlies. It was subordinate to the defense police leadership.Częstochowa Ghetto uprising
The Częstochowa Ghetto uprising was an insurrection in Poland's Częstochowa Ghetto against German occupational forces during World War II. It took place in late June 1943, resulting in some 2,000 Jews being killed.
The first instance of armed resistance took place on January 4, 1943, at the so-called Large Ghetto established by the Germans in April 1941. During the 'selection' of some 500 Jews to be deported to the ghetto in Radomsko, shooting broke out at the Warsaw Square (now, Ghetto Heroes Square) in which Mendel Fiszelewicz (Fiszelowicz) along with Isza Fajner were killed. 50 young Jews were executed in reprisal.Einsatzgruppen reports
The Einsatzgruppen Operational Situation Reports (OSRs), or ERM for the German: Die Ereignismeldung UdSSR (plural: Ereignismeldungen), were dispatches of the Nazi death squads (Einsatzgruppen), which documented the progress of the Holocaust behind the German-Soviet frontier in the course of Operation Barbarossa, during World War II. The extant reports were sent between June 1941 and April 1942 to the Chief of the Security Police and the SD (German: Chef des Sicherheitspolizei und SD) in Berlin, from the occupied eastern territories including modern-day Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, and the Baltic Countries. During the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials the originals were grouped according to year and month and catalogued using a consecutive numbering system, as listed in the below table. The original photostats are held at the National Archives in Washington D.C..Ghetto uprisings
The ghetto uprisings during World War II were a series of armed revolts against the regime of Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1943 in the newly established Jewish ghettos across Nazi-occupied Europe. Following the German and Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, Polish Jews were targeted from the outset. Within months inside occupied Poland, the Germans created hundreds of ghettos in which they forced the Jews to live. The new ghettos were part of the German official policy of removing Jews from public life with the aim of economic exploitation. The combination of excess numbers of inmates, unsanitary conditions and lack of food resulted in a high death rate among them. In most cities the Jewish underground resistance movements developed almost instantly, although ghettoization had severely limited their access to resources.The ghetto fighters took up arms during the most deadly phase of the Holocaust known as Operation Reinhard (launched in 1942), against the Nazi plans to deport all prisoners – men, women and children – to camps, with the aim of their mass extermination.Hans Hingst
Not to be mistaken with Hans Christian Hingst, the SS Regional Commissar of Vilna during World War II.Unterscharführer Hans Hingst or August Hingst (sources vary) served as an SS guard with the rank of first sergeant at the Treblinka extermination camp north-east of Warsaw during the Holocaust in Poland.Hotel Polski
Hotel Polski (lit. Polish Hotel), opened in 1808, was a hotel in Śródmieście, Warsaw, Poland, at 29 Długa street.
In 1943, in the mop up operation following the liquidation of Warsaw Ghetto, the hotel was used by Germans as bait for Jews hiding in Warsaw. There the German agents and their Jewish collaborators pretended Jews could buy foreign passports and other documents, and then as foreign citizens, leave territories occupied by Nazi Germany. Approximately 2,500 Jews fell for this trap, with most subsequently arrested, moved to Nazi concentration camps, and perishing in The Holocaust. This case is known as "Hotel Polski Affair".
In 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising the building housed a Polish insurgent stronghold called the "Holy Mother Redout", named after a painting located there. The building was heavily damaged during the fighting and re-purposed following the war.
In 1965 the building was declared an object of cultural heritage and inscribed in the Polish heritage object registry. A commemoration plaque was unveiled at the building in 2013.Korczak's orphanages
The orphanages run by Janusz Korczak and Stefania Wilczyńska were among the earliest Democratic education institutes in the world. They were two orphanages, located in Warsaw. One orphanage was established for Jewish children in 1911 and stopped working on 1942, when the SS took all its residents and workers to Treblinka extermination camp. The other orphanage, for Christian children, was established in 1918, after World War I, and was nationalized by the German occupier in 1940. Most of the information about the educational method of those institutes was gathered in the Jewish orphanage.Order Police battalions
The Order Police battalions were militarised formations of the German Order Police (uniformed police) during the Nazi era. During World War II, they were subordinated to the SS and deployed in German-occupied areas, specifically the Army Group Rear Areas and territories under German civilian administration. Alongside detachments from the Einsatzgruppen and the Waffen-SS, these units perpetrated mass murder of the Jewish population and were responsible for large-scale crimes against humanity targeting civilian populations.Ostindustrie
The SS Ostindustrie GmbH ("East Industry", abbreviated as Osti) was one of many industrial projects set up by the Nazi German Schutzstaffel (SS) using Jewish and Polish forced labor during World War II. Founded in March 1943 in German-occupied Poland, Osti operated confiscated Jewish and Polish prewar industrial enterprises, including foundries, textile plants, quarries and glassworks. Osti was headed by SS-Obersturmführer Max Horn, who was subordinated directly to Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA), the SS economic administration department. At its height, some 16,000 Jews and 1,000 Poles worked for the company, interned in a network of labor and concentration camps in the Lublin District of the semi-colonial General Government territory.SS-Gruppenführer Odilo Globocnik hoped to make Ostindustrie into an armaments company, but gave up the idea to pursue Operation Reinhard instead. The company was dissolved ahead of the Soviet counter-offensive of 1944. The entire slave-labor workforce of Osti was exterminated in the process of the company's dissolution, during the deadliest phase of the Holocaust in Poland.Paul Bredow
Paul Bredow (1902 – December 1945) was an SS sergeant and a Holocaust perpetrator. He served at Treblinka extermination camp during the Operation Reinhard phase of the Holocaust in Poland.Bredow was from German Silesia (Schlesien). He served at Grafeneck and Hartheim Euthanasia Centres. He came to Treblinka together with Franz Stangl in the first group of German SS. He served there until spring 1943. Bredow was the head of the Kommando Rot clothing sorting unit at the Barracks A in the camp's zone 2 Auffanglager, remembered for his pathological cruelty by survivors. In spring 1943 he was transferred to Sobibor, where he was put in charge of the "Lazarett". His hobby there was a target shooting of Jews with a pistol, fifty a day, which was fully approved by his superior Christian Wirth.Bredow was transferred to San Sabba concentration camp in Trieste (Italy) before the war ended. He returned to Germany after the war and worked for a few months as carpenter together with his SS friend Frenzel in Giessen until November 1945. In December 1945 he was killed in an accident in Göttingen.Sonderaktion 1005
The Sonderaktion 1005 (English: Special Action 1005), also called Aktion 1005, or Enterdungsaktion (English: Exhumation Action) began in May 1942 during World War II to hide any evidence that people had been murdered by Germany in Aktion Reinhard in German-occupied Poland. The operation, which was conducted in strict secrecy from 1942–1944, used prisoners to exhume mass graves and burn the bodies. These work groups were officially called Leichenkommandos ("corpse units") and were all part of Sonderkommando 1005; inmates were often put in chains in order to prevent escape.
In May 1943, the operation moved into occupied territories in Eastern and Central Europe to destroy evidence of the Final Solution. Sonderaktion 1005 was used to conceal the evidence of massacres committed by SS-Einsatzgruppen Nazi death squads that had massacred millions of people including 1.3 million Jews according to Historian Raul Hilberg, as well as Roma and local civilians. The Aktion was overseen by selected squads from the Sicherheitsdienst and Ordnungspolizei.Special Prosecution Book-Poland
Special Prosecution Book-Poland (German: Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen, Polish: Specjalna księga Polaków ściganych listem gończym) was the proscription list prepared by the Germans immediately before the onset of war, that identified more than 61,000 members of Polish elites: activists, intelligentsia, scholars, actors, former officers, and prominent others, who were to be interned or shot on the spot upon their identification following the invasion.The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland
The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland was a brochure published by the Polish government-in-exile on 10 December 1942 and was sent to the foreign ministers of the 26 governments who had signed the Declaration by United Nations. It was the first official document informing the Western public about the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland.:200Ukrainian Auxiliary Police
The Ukrainische Hilfspolizei or the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police (Ukrainian: Українська допоміжна поліція, Ukrains'ka dopomizhna politsiia) was the official title of the local police formation set up by Nazi Germany during World War II in Reichskommissariat Ukraine; shortly after the German conquest of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, Germany's former ally in the invasion of Poland.The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police was created by Heinrich Himmler in mid-August 1941 and put under the control of German Ordnungspolizei in General Government territory. The actual Reichskommissariat Ukraine was formed officially on 20 August 1941. The uniformed force was composed in large part of the former members of the Ukrainian People's Militia created by OUN in June. There were two categories of German-controlled Ukrainian armed organisations. The first comprised mobile police units most often called Schutzmannschaft, or Schuma, organized on the battalion level and which engaged in the murder of Jews and in security warfare in most areas of Ukraine. It was subordinated directly to the German Commander of the Order Police for the area.The second category was the local police force (approximately, a constabulary), called simply the Ukrainian Police (UP) by the German administration, which the SS raised most successfully in the District of Galicia (formed 1 August 1941) extending south-east from the General Government. Notably, the District of Galicia was a separate administrative unit from the actual Reichskommissariat Ukraine. They were not connected with each other politically.The UP formations appeared as well further east in German occupied Soviet Ukraine in significant towns and cities such as Kyiv. The urban based forces were subordinated to the city's German Commander of State protection police (Schutzpolizei or Schupo); the rural police posts were subordinated to the area German Commander of Gendarmerie. The Schupo and Gendarmerie structures were themselves subordinated to the area Commander of Order Police.Umschlagplatz
Umschlagplatz (German: collection point or reloading point) is a common, neutral, technical term denoting a place where all goods for rail transport are handled, without any special connotation.In the Third Reich, the term Umschlagplatz was appropriated by the Nazi Party to denote holding areas set up by Nazi Germany adjacent to railway stations in occupied Poland, where the ghettoised Jews were assembled for deportation to death camps during the ghetto liquidation. The largest such collection point consisted of a city square in occupied Warsaw next to the Warsaw Ghetto, used for several months during daily deportations of 254,000 – 265,000 Warsaw Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp. A monument was erected in 1988 on Stawki Street, where the Umschlagplatz was located, to commemorate the deportation victims. Another prominent example included the Radogoszcz station Umschlagplatz adjacent to the Łódź Ghetto where prisoners were brought under military escort for deportations directly to Chełmno (Kulmhof) and Auschwitz extermination camps.For logistical reasons, the victims awaiting the arrival of Holocaust trains were often kept at the Umschlagplatz overnight during Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Holocaust in Poland.Ypatingasis būrys
Ypatingasis būrys (Special Squad) or Special SD and German Security Police Squad (Lithuanian: Vokiečių Saugumo policijos ir SD ypatingasis būrys, Polish: Specjalny Oddział SD i Niemieckiej Policji Bezpieczeństwa, also colloquially strzelcy ponarscy ("Ponary riflemen" in Polish) (1941–1944) was a Lithuanian killing squad also called the "Lithuanian equivalent of Sonderkommando", operating in the Vilnius Region. The unit, primarily composed of Lithuanian volunteers, was formed by the German occupational government and was subordinate to Einsatzkommando 9 and later to Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo).There are different estimates regarding the size of the unit. Polish historian Czesław Michalski estimates that it grew from base of 50 while Tadeusz Piotrowski asserts about that there were 100 volunteers at its onset. According to Michalski, after its initial creation, at various times hundreds of people were members. Arūnas Bubnys states that it never exceeded a core of forty or fifty men. 118 names are known; 20 of the members have been prosecuted and punished. Together with German police, the squad participated in the Ponary massacre, where some 70,000 Jews were murdered, along with estimated 20,000 Poles and 8,000 Russian POWs, many from nearby Vilnius.
The Holocaust in Poland
The Holocaust in Europe
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