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Jewish History in Poland during the years 1939-1945

In 1939 the Jews in Poland constituted approximately ten per cent of the total population. However, this proportion seems to be an underestimation in the light of the criteria set by Germany in the Nuremberg Laws (These laws decreed that a Jew was one born of a Jewish parent/parents or having even a single Jewish ancestor. The individual remained Jewish even if they were baptized or converted to Christianity). More than 75 per cent of the Jewish population in Poland was concentrated in urban areas whilst only 25 per cent lived in rural regions. There was, therefore, a marked concentration of Jews in these specific areas.

The economic crisis in which the Jews in Poland found themselves was not very different from that of Christian Poles. The world financial crisis which began at the end of the 1920s and the early 1930s contributed to a widespread pauperization of hundreds of thousands of families in Poland, regardless of creed or origin. Furthermore, it must be remembered that until the First World War, a large part of Poland had belonged to Tsarist Russia for 120-140 years and was underdeveloped both socially and economically. Similarly, the economic situation in Southern Poland, which had been seized by the Habsburgs in the eighteenth century and remained under Austrian jurisdiction right up to the end of the First World War, was also very unfavorable. This contributed to the emigration of poor Jewish and Polish immigrants in search of a better living.

In those Polish territories which had been a part of the Russian Empire for over seven generations, the development of social and civilizing influences among both Jewish and Polish communities was quite difficult, given the cultural and educational levels that existed. In comparison with most other European countries a large part of the population lived in a state of complete backwardness. The impact of successive invaders instigated and exacerbated political conflicts between various religious and national groups, conflicts caused by religious and ideological intolerance as well as economic rivalry.

The official policy of anti-Semitism, so characteristic of the last decades of Tsarist Russia, had a particularly harmful effect on the population of Poland, although it never assumed the same proportions in Poland as it did in Russia or the Ukraine. It is also characteristic that in the urban areas and among the intelligentsia, where anti-Semitism had already begun to develop before the First World War, the political climate was proRussian, while social attitudes tended towards conservatism.

Nationalistic conflicts between Poles and Ukrainians, Poles and Germans, Poles and Jews, were characteristic of the difficult problems that existed in the social and political life of the Polish nation, although each conflict had its own basis and justification, with varying individual effects. It is indisputable that before 1939 anti-Semitic attitudes existed in Poland, as did political organizations with anti-Semitic programs. However, the real scope and social effect of these kinds of activities and attitudes, which have been both exaggerated and underplayed in various writings, is not entirely clear. A most relevant aspect seems to be the isolationist tendency of both groups, that is, an inadequate integration and lack of openness on the part of both communities, living in essence, beside one another but not together. One must also remember that Poland, and particularly her eastern territories, was an especially important center for orthodox Jews - with all the accompanying attitudes and social consequences.

Polish Jews had a very strong sense of their own separate national identity as was demonstrated in the last census of 1931, when approximately 85 per cent of Jews who were Polish citizens put down Yiddish or Hebrew as their mother tongue. This attitude was distinct from the self-determination of Jews in contemporary Germany, France and England. At the outbreak of World War II Poland was tolerant of Jewish autonomy in religious, political and social life, and this included education and cultural activities. However, only a certain number of the intelligentsia and some Polish and Jewish labor activists recognized the need to oppose the stereotyped attitudes and prejudices which resulted from the differences between each group and from the mutual sense of alienation. Simultaneously with these events, a very important role was being played by many thousands of Jews in Polish academic, cultural and professional life, for they were the co-creators of what then constituted contemporary Polish civilization.

The events of 1939 brought about the division of Poland, so that in terms of actual acreage the country was split almost equally between the Third Reich and the USSR. As a result, 48.4 per cent of the territory with 62.9 per cent of the total population was under German occupation, while the USSR had 51 .6 per cent of the land (after incorporating the Lithuanian Republic) together with 37.1 per cent of the total population. 61.2 per cent of Polish Jews lived under German occupation and 38.8 per cent under that of the USSR, according to the eminent statistician, Ludwig Landau, who based this estimate on pre-war statistics. In the course of 1939, however, there was a shift in the population from west to east and we can therefore assume that, at the beginning of the occupation, the number of Poles, as well as Jews, who found themselves in the eastern half of Poland was somewhat larger whilst the number in the west was smaller than shown in pre-war statistics, which were based on permanent domiciles.

Throughout occupied Poland both the German and Soviet occupying authorities made every effort to differentiate between the nationalities, and different tactics were used when dealing with the various national groups. It is characteristic, however, that as early as 30 October 1939 Himmler ordered the removal, over a four-month period, of all Jews and 'any particularly undesirable Poles' from the western territories incorporated into the Reich. In real terms, by the end of February 1940 this resulted, in Warthegau alone, in the forcible removal, of 200,000 Poles and 100,000 Jews. Although politically the Nazis had various reasons for these activities, it meant that the fates of both the Polish and Jewish populations had merged.

In accordance with the so-called 'Unternehmen Tannenberg', mass executions of Poles were carried out along the coast (Pomorze), in Great Poland (Wielkopolska) and Silesia (Slack); this meant that as early as the autumn of 1939, 50,000 people had died. In central Poland - Warsaw, Krakow, Czestochowa, Lublin and many other towns - the Germans had managed to make mass arrests within the first few weeks of occupation. The insidious arrest, on 6 September 1939, in Krakow, of 183 academics -professors and lecturers of the Jagiellonian University and the Mining Academy - had particularly severe repercussions. Twenty of them were made to pay with their lives. In December 1939 the Germans carried out two mass executions in Bochnia near Krakow and in the Wawer settlement near Warsaw; the death toll was 170. At the end of April 1940, Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the removal of 20,000 Poles to concentration camps. In May 1940, the beginning of the German offensive in the west, a grand design of exterminating the Polish intelligentsia within German occupied Poland began, known as AB (Ausserordentliche Befriedungsaktion). This extraordinary campaign of pacification was to entrap above all (according to the SS) 'the spiritual and political leaders of the Polish resistance movement.' (SS Brigadefuhrer Bruno Szreckenbach.) On 14 June 1940 the first transport of Polish political prisoners was taken to a newly opened camp in Auschwitz, which, during the next year, was inhabited almost exclusively by Poles. Amongst them were a few thousand people rounded up in the course of raids on streets and houses, while later in the summer of 1941 Soviet prisoners were also sent there. The listing, if only in a very general way, of the events which marked Hitler's policy towards the Poles seems relevant since in the same period (that is, until mid-1940) the repressive and racially discriminating measures carried out against Polish Jews branded them as a racial group (or more accurately a national religious group), but did not suggest that the entire Jewish population might be exterminated. In the face of the mass executions, the introduction of compulsory labor for Jews from the age of fourteen, the necessity to wear armbands bearing the Star of David; the limiting of free movement; the creation of the first ghettos (in Piotrkow and Lodz), fiscal pressure and the confiscation of property, did not then appear either to Poles or Jews to be a greater or less bearable hardship. It must be made clear that at this stage the Polish and Jewish communities were equally, though erroneously, confident that the war with Germany would soon be over and that victory would go to the allies.

Similarly, the situation east of the demarcation line, as set down in the August and September agreements of 1939 between the Germans and the Soviets, gave no warning of the impending threat of extermination of Jewish nationals. The mass deportations of people into the depths of the USSR affected the Poles most of all, although repression did occur against prewar Jewish social and political activists who had worked in Zionist organizations as well as in the Bund. This period of the occupation is not well researched or chronicled in the annals of history. There is also a lack of accurate sociological records and statistics concerning individual national groups who became part of the administration and machinery of oppression set up by the new Soviet authority in the delineated territories. It is maintained in various tales and reminiscences that collaboration with Soviet authorities on the part of the Jewish proletariat against the Poles was widespread, but such stories should be treated with great caution. It certainly seems to be true, however, in the opinion of Poles living in the eastern provinces of pre-war Poland, that the fall of Poland and the tragedies which accompanied the occupation were less keenly felt by the Jewish population than they were by their Polish neighbors. Naturally such circumstances can be explained in various ways: for example, there was a section of Jews domiciled in that particular region who, although they were Polish citizens, had Russian or Jewish orthodox cultural roots. There was also a sense of relief that the rule of Nazi Germany had not spread to these areas. But above all there was perhaps a greater sympathy with communist ideology and the USSR than there had been with Poland and its pre-war political system. One also cannot discount the fact that over the ensuing months attitudes in this part of Poland developed quickly under Soviet rule. Facts, however, are always facts, and according to a great number of Poles the national minorities in eight of the provinces of eastern Poland were engaged in anti-Polish and pro-Soviet activities.

With Hitler's invasion of the USSR in June 1941 and the relatively fast progress of the Nazi offensive, all the territories of pre-war Poland were soon under German rule. This included among other sections of the population, the Jews who were Polish citizens, or at least those who still remained because they had not yet been deported or had not succeeded in fleeing to the USSR at the last minute. Only small areas, the pre-war provinces of Lwow, Stanislawow and Tarnopol came within the orbit of the Government General. Other Polish provinces were now administered by a new creation: the Reichskomisariat of Ukraine and Ostland. As is well known, it was on these newly conquered territories that the systematic extermination of the Jewish population began even before the proposals for the 'final solution' were passed at the Wannsee conference a few months later. Despite the difficulties of communication, news from the eastern territories did reach central Poland, and it was reported in the Polish and the Jewish underground press, the latter being distributed in the Warsaw ghetto. Only a few weeks later, at the beginning of December 1941, the first extermination camp on Polish soil was set in motion by the Germans, situated in Chelmno beside the Ner. News of this appeared in the Polish underground press within a matter of weeks and it also reached Jewish social and political activists in the Warsaw ghetto at least; it is a fact, too, that no practical conclusions were drawn as a result. Marek Edelman described the situation in 1945:

The Warsaw ghetto did not believe the news, all those who clung to life could not believe that life could be taken from them in this way, only organized youth movements which were carefully monitoring the rise of German terror accepted these events as probable and real and decided to embark on a large scale propaganda campaign which would inform the community.

It certainly was no accident that even before the mass exterminations began in central Poland orders had been issued forbidding Jews, under threat of death, to leave their designated areas; anyone found deliberately or indirectly helping fugitives from the ghettos would also suffer the death penalty and it was further stated that an attempt to help would be 'punished in the same way as an accomplished deed'. In the wake of this order of Hans Frank, individual district chiefs and even those in the lower echelons of the Nazi administration published a series of warnings and prohibitions regarding the ever-increasing number of cases of Poles harboring and helping Jews who had escaped from the ghettos. Fischer, the Governor General of Warsaw and its outlying areas, who was formally and actively in charge of the largest Jewish community in Poland, the Warsaw ghetto, made it known in his proclamation of 10 November 1941 that the death penalty would be meted out to all who 'provide refuge or any other kind of help' to Jews in hiding. Anyone who informed the German police about Jews living outside the ghetto and anyone informing on those actively helping such Jews was rewarded commensurately. This certainly created an incentive to the criminal class but obviously did not produce the desired results, since it was not long before various warnings and directives from the Germans began to reappear, demonstrating that in spite of everything the Polish population was still helping those who were being persecuted. Thus, for example, the piece in the Lmoro Journal, an organ of the Nazis printed in the Polish language in Galicia:

Unfortunately the fact remains that the inhabitants of the rural areas secretly persist in helping Jews, this disloyal attitude harms the community as a whole and thus people involved in such action. Through various illegal routes, the rural community by using all the cunning at its disposal, evades express orders, delivering foodstuffs to the local Jewish population . . . Country people must, once and for all, sever all contacts with and disassociate themselves from all Jewry, they must break the seriously anti-social habit of aiding the Jews.

The year 1942 brought the destruction, staggered over various months, of the ghettos which currently existed in the Government General, large numbers of their inhabitants being sent to extermination camps in Beizec, Sobibor and Treblinka and later to Auschwitz. This was the realization of the general plan of extermination passed and accepted in Berlin in 1942.

It is beyond the scope of this article to give a detailed account of the way in which the extermination of Jews progressed in various parts of Poland throughout 1942. The basic facts were already apparent on 10 December 1942 in a note written by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Polish Government in London, Edward Raczyriski, to the Allied Governments. What is relevant to the topic in hand, however, is to establish the degree, if any, to which the tragic deterioration in the situation of Jews in Poland, now threatened with mass extermination, influenced the attitude of the Polish community towards the victims. It is also relevant to establish the degree, if any, to which the Jews were helped either individually or collectively, what form that help took and how successful it was; what possibility there was of mutual contact and how it worked in practice; whether the problems involved in this kind of contact existed in the corporate consciousness of the Polish and Jewish communities; and if they did exist, how they were overcome.

In the first months of setting up enclosed residential areas on Polish territory which would be allocated only to Jews, opinion regarding the future of the ghettos was divided. In principle, however, there was a general belief within the Jewish community that this form of isolation would not make it impossible to survive the war, even though it was coupled with oppression and exploitation. There was also the theory that survival might be possible if people paid the price of passively adapting themselves to their circumstances. It was well known throughout Poland that conditions in the poverty-stricken, disease-ridden ghettos gradually killed the physically weak and the poor, and these factors were discussed in the reports that were sent out to the Polish Government exiled in London and by the Polish underground press, which had a wide circulation. Even before the famous letter of 11 May 1942, written by the Polish Bund to the Polish Government in London, the regular waves of terror intended as preventive measures and practiced against the Poles throughout the country between 1941 and 1942, and the particularly intense campaign of terror raging in Warsaw (since here the concentration of Poles was more numerous than in any other single area), meant that people had grown accustomed to the dramatic hardships that had become a part of everyday life. Regular arrests, overflowing Gestapo prisons, the constant transportation of prisoners to various concentration camps, resulting in the Poles constituting the largest single group in each of the Nazi camps - all this took the focus of people's attention away from what was happening behind the walls of the ghettos.

There exists no real research as to the level of awareness, if indeed there was any at all, within the closed ghetto communities, of the real intensity of German terror against the Poles, and especially of the carefully planned campaign to exterminate the Polish intelligentsia. In 1942 the majority of the Polish population in the urban areas of central Poland lived in conditions of abject poverty, and although one cannot compare the subsistence levels and standard of living of the people in the ghettos with that of the people living outside, nevertheless we cannot totally disregard the fact that the Polish population was totally absorbed in the day-to-day battle for the most basic means of survival.

The mutual threat posed by the Germans during their military operations and the anti-German feelings of the majority of the Jewish population helped to bring the two groups closer together in some areas as early as the beginning of the military campaign. One positive experience of this was the unequivocal solidarity shown by a great number of Jews in Warsaw during the city's siege. Various orders issued by the Nazis and the initial excesses committed against the Jews meant that during the very first weeks of the occupation the groups of Poles who had been ill-disposed and hostile towards the Jews began to review their attitudes and even to show sympathy. This has been well chronicled by the Jews, the Poles and by the Germans.

With the creation of the ghettos (and this was the intention of the occupying forces) a strong sense of grievance, a feeling of being unjustly treated, came to both Jews and Poles alike, for they had been re-housed by force. It must be remembered that within the huge Warsaw community alone 138,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto from various districts around the city, whilst 113,000 Poles were forced to leave the area assigned to them to live in so-called 'Aryan' districts. Consequently a huge number of people who fell victim to these compulsory measures felt discontented and wronged. This enforced change of domicile, like all mass activity, was undoubtedly accompanied by various abuses, including the exploitation of people's misfortunes, but generally speaking both sides were aware that they had become objects to be manipulated by the policies of the invaders.

Real contact of a private nature between the Poles and the Jews existed in Poland on a large scale among the culturally integrated Jewish intelligentsia and to some extent among the richer urban dwellers, as well as among a small number of intellectuals and those involved in industry and finance. The usual situation, however, was that people simply lived side by side, certainly there was an absence of mutual contact, and particularly contact of a personal nature. The exceptions prove the rule. Among the people whom the Nazis regarded as Jews (regardless of their actual cultural or even religious status) there were those who managed to escape the ghettos created in 1940-41, but more often than not these were the people who already had personal ties with the Polish community. Amongst the fugitives from the ghettos, especially during the early days of slum creation, there was a preponderance of people who had friends in the Polish community.

Since Nazi terror reigned throughout the Aryan districts, the chances of remaining successfully hidden undoubtedly depended on a fluent knowledge of the language and on having close ties with the community. In practice, therefore, such chances did not exist for people who had, for long years, been practicing very different customs in their behaviour, their dress, their manner; people who not only did not know the language or the environment but who were also deprived, by their own community, of the opportunity to adapt. In the circumstances that prevailed in Poland at that time, this affected if not the majority, then certainly a large percentage of Jews. Wanda Grosman-Jedlicka, for example, recollects:

We belong, it seems, to a small group of people of Jewish origin who did not allow themselves to be confined to a ghetto. Together with my husband, at the end of the summer of 1940, we took the decision to change our name and embark on an illegal existence, the very moment that the German authorities in Warsaw announced that the time had come for the Jews to be forcibly resettled to specially assigned districts. I did not know then that we would have to stay in hiding for four years: when I was told that the chances of survival within the ghetto walls was greater than outside, I replied that the Germans had not built the walls merely to pull them down at a later date and courteously set all the inhabitants free.

My decision turned out to have been the right one. My husband, it's true, did not survive the war - but that was not because of our particular situation - he, together with thousands of inhabitants from the Bielany district, was transported in the second week of the uprising and died in a prison camp. I survived with my two sons, staying in Warsaw or its environs. Moreover since I was now installed on the Aryan side I could help in the rescue of my more distant relatives and particularly their children, during the ghastly month of July and after.

We belonged to a family who had been polonized many generations ago, we were thus fully assimilated and we were Christians. All this greatly helped our chances of survival (there were no glaring external differences, nothing to distinguish us either culturally or in matters of religion).

And now it must be stated that survival would have been absolutely impossible were it not for the generous disinterested help which often defied all limits of self-sacrifice and bravery on the part of many people, friends and strangers alike. Most often it was given by those who had no moral duty, on a personal level, toward me and my family.

One of the people who helped, Regina Zakrewska, writes: 'My whole family, being members of the progressive Polish intelligentsia, were friendly before the war with the Jewish intelligentsia which was more or less polonized. It is not surprising, therefore, that during the tragic period of the occupation we remained loyal to our friends, all of whom probably survived the war and the occupation because of that.'

The decision not to go into the ghetto had, in each individual case, a series of economic as well as professional and family consequences. We must also remember that the idea of solidarity and the nature of one's contact with the community were interpreted in various ways. For example, one characteristic problem was that of mixed marriages between Jews and Poles. On this subject, Emanuel Ringelblum writes (in Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War):

The Germans' anti-Jewish regulations were not successful in disturbing stable Polish-Jewish unions. 'Aryan' families made every effort to protect their Jewish members by securing suitable 'Aryan' papers for them or simply by hiding them or moving them to other districts and cities so as to wipe out any trace of them. It was almost axiomatic that if a Jew had Polish relatives in his family he could count on their help, even when the entire family was anti-Semitic.

Apart from the personal ties already mentioned, material interests also created certain bonds that led to contact being maintained between the independent groups. Besides the extreme cases of abuse which took place everywhere, the ties between businessmen and industrialists often had a positive part to play. They were a contributory factor in the traffic, which the Germans declared to be illegal, of foodstuffs and other goods in which both sides were involved.

The commencement of the extermination program against the Jews filled most of the population not only with horror but also with fear that a similar fate might be awaiting them. The criminal ruthlessness of the Germans towards the Jews, regardless of sex or age, was accompanied by the very same ruthlessness towards the Poles who helped them, no matter for what reasons. Research on this subject is still incomplete and it is doubtful whether it could ever be completed, but we can certainly say that many hundreds of Polish families died as a result of helping the Jews. Individual victims, therefore, can doubtlessly be counted in thousands, not hundreds. This was bound to influence people's readiness to take risks. In continuing to analyze, in any given context, the issues of help and co-operation within the concrete circumstances described here, we could pose the question (to which there probably is no answer): would any other community as a whole and in analogous circumstances be willing to go further in a wholesale sacrifice to save others?

Obviously the motives for helping Jews were varied. Besides family links, the ties of friendship or professional bonds, a recurrent motive which appears in many eye-witness accounts, was simple human empathy. Christian motives amongst religious people for whom the concept of neighborly love had a deep meaning must also be taken into account, as must the feeling of solidarity with victims who had been hit even harder than the Poles themselves by the criminal activities of the invaders. Another fairly common motive for helping and hiding Jews was avarice. There is no reason to keep silent about this particular phenomenon. If we discount the cases of exploitation and abuse which took place, usually, only in extreme situations, then we have to accept that paid help was often long-lasting and successful, since in the last analysis it contributed to the saving of many lives. The poor material conditions of the Polish population, and particularly the urban population in wartime, bring into question the very possibility of giving systematic aid without having the necessary material means.

In this context the material help which the Polish Government in London allocated from its budget and the sums sent, through its mediation, by Jewish organizations in the USA made a very real difference, and in fact from mid-1942 this became a critical factor. Individual organizations, whether they were political or social - that is, socialist, liberal or Catholic -gave aid within their own sphere of activity and to the best of their ability to small groups of people mainly in the big city areas such as Warsaw, Krakow and Lwow.

In 1942 circumstances changed radically; the number of fugitives from the ghettos rose as a result of deportations and the Jewish underground movement now became more structured - all this contributed to developing and extending an institutionalized form of aid. During the summer and autumn of 1942 the groups the activities of which preceded the creation of the Council for Aid to Jews (code-named 'Zegota') were of the conviction that their paramount aim must be the saving of the greatest possible number of lives currently under threat, with particular regard to children, whilst ensuring that as far as possible these people would survive the war; secondly, they aimed to systematically and simultaneously inform and warn the governments and communities in the so-called 'Free World', the allies, about the extensive extermination of the Jews.

However, in line with the general policies of the Polish underground movement, which did not envisage mass armed and open combat, it was believed that, until a realistic possibility presented itself of such a conflict being successful (perhaps in the last stages of the war) most of the money should be used to aid the Jews in keeping themselves alive rather than in arming themselves. Those among the widespread Jewish and Polish communities who thought realistically, believed in a pragmatic assessment of the possibilities, especially since the extent of the aid was inadequate anyway. The fact that it could never be adequate and that there was no real possibility of saving even a couple of hundred thousand people, not to mention millions, from a tragic fate did not, of course, bring any comfort whatsoever to the victims, nor should it soothe the consciences of passive eye-witnesses. After all, from a moral viewpoint, the first dictate of many creeds and philosophies is to sacrifice one's own life for that of a neighbor. In reality this ideal is very seldom practiced.

In analyzing the extent of the aid given to Jews, a tendency among many scholars is to look only at the final results. Psychologically this may be understandable. However, anyone who has researched the problems inherent in trying to save the Jews in Poland during the period of their extermination, especially if they took part in any way, knows that a great deal of energy and effort was spent in aiding those who were in hiding on the Aryan side, or in extricating from the ghettos and camps people who finally, in spite of everything, could only be saved for a short period. And this, surely, is the reason for the great discrepancy when we come to assess in numbers the extent of the aid given (the problem is the number of people being saved set against the number who were actually saved).

Although to experts this will appear a truism, we must remember the conditions and the extent of the impending menace which existed in German-occupied Poland, just as it existed in the areas east of the Bug and San between 1942 and 1944. In no other occupied European country, nor in Germany itself, were there such large-scale round-ups, searches and blockades of whole districts in all the larger cities, in an effort to find Jewish fugitives. There were many reasons why the Nazis had grown particularly suspicious: the mass participation of the younger and middle generation of Poles in secret organizations alone worried them. The scope for activity was therefore very limited. By the second half of the war some hundred thousand Poles were either in prison or in concentration camps. When we include their families, who were also affected, we are speaking of roughly two million people living in particularly difficult circumstances. Neither the generally accepted policy of passive resistance in occupied Poland nor the force of armed resistance - which on a European scale was unique and perhaps only comparable to Yugoslavia - alter the fact that even the Home Army, then the largest and most effective organization of Polish activists, was not after all a regular army fighting in regularized circumstances. There was no undertaking, nor any possibility of a serious or effective undertaking, to free one's own colleagues and leaders if they had been arrested by the Gestapo and were now either in prison or in concentration camps. (Sporadic attempts of this kind had minimal success and brought disproportionately large losses in their wake.) And no one felt any surprise although, for many, it was a painful process.

Historians who study the opposition movement, as well as some diarists, had and still have a tendency to idealize and monumentalize the part they played, while underestimating the efficiency and perfidy of the methods used by the huge, highly-specialized intelligence and police machinery of the Nazis. With the help of a network which included informers of various nationalities, individual and mass arrests could be systematically prepared and carried out many times throughout each year of the occupation. People as well-protected as the Home Army's high command and leading activists fell victim to the informers, as did the leaders of various political parties. The commander-in-chief of the Home Army, Stefan Rowecki, and the Delegate of the Government in Exile, Jan Piekalkiewicz, fell into the hands of the Gestapo in this way, to mention the most spectacular examples.

The fight against these informers was well organized, with the death sentence being meted out on a scale unknown in the occupied countries of Western Europe, but still it was impossible to stamp out this phenomenon completely, for nowhere has it ever been possible completely to ward off even the worst forms of criminal behaviour when it is commonplace. Jewish fugitives also fell victim to the informers, as did the people who aided them.

There were relatively frequent instances of blackmail and extortion for material gain, often involving the most helpless victims. It was difficult to fight this type of criminality but nevertheless the fight was waged. There are no well-researched statistics at our disposal showing the exact number of Jews and gentiles who throughout Poland and in over five years of occupation fell victim to the informers and paid with their lives, or at least with their freedom and health. It must be stated, however, that the situation was generally accepted as a grave and sensitive one, hence the ruthless attitude of the Polish secret organizations and the organized militant groups within the ghettos towards the informer. Emanuel Ringelblum when stating that, 'the life of a Pole harboring a Jew is not an easy one', was motivated, among other things by the 'extreme terror' which reigned in Poland. He wrote:

The best elements in our society, the most high-minded and self-sacrificing are being deported in droves to concentration camps or to prisons. Spying and denunciation blossoms in Poland and we can largely thank the mass of authentic and phony Volksdeutsche for this. There are arrests and raids at every turn. On the trains there are continual searches for arms and smuggled goods, it is no different on the city streets.

Moreover, Ringelblum also notes that 'the people are poisoned daily with the venom of anti-Semitism in the press, the radio etc.'

This statement by an esteemed historian and social activist, working with the Jewish underground movement in Warsaw, is undoubtedly just in its assessment of the aims and intentions of the Nazi propaganda machine in occupied Poland. It must, however, give rise to serious doubts once the real social effects of Nazi propaganda are analyzed. The Poles did not have any radio sets and only a small percentage of the population listened to the official Nazi news bulletins which were transmitted by loudspeakers in the streets. The German-controlled Polish language press was regarded with the greatest distrust and one should not overestimate its power to shape attitudes. Anti-Jewish articles urging people to adopt an attitude of indifference towards the Jews had a far greater influence; these were read, having been published in the clandestine press by extreme Polish right-wing groups. Particular reference is made here to a couple of periodicals produced by two factions of the prewar Radical Nationalist Group (Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR), known as the 'Szaniec' Group, and the National Armed Force (Narodowe Sity Zbrojue); there was also the National Confederation (Konfederacja Narodu) which was led by Boleslaw Piasecki and to a lesser degree the publications brought out by the Nationalist Party (Stronnictwo Narodowe). A small group, calling itself 'The Sword and the Plough' (Miecz i Plug) also played a highly suspect role. It must be said, however, that the leading press controlled by the main Polish political parties, and above all the papers published by the Home Army and by the Delegate Office of the Government-in-exile, informed their readers about the situation of the Jews in Poland in a tone befitting the tragic circumstances and in a spirit of solidarity with the victims, giving an unequivocal assessment of the crimes which were being perpetrated. It is undisputed that the press of the Home Army and of the Delegate Office of the Government-in exile commanded the highest respect and trust among that section of the population which actually read underground journals and papers.

In Western writings, and hence in the public opinion of many countries, the general view seems to be that the extermination of the Jews by the Germans on Polish soil was carried out in an atmosphere of hostility on the part of the Poles towards the victims. This view, is expressed, among others, by writers who are not directly involved in the study of the problems which existed during the Holocaust and who did not witness the events but who base their arguments on analyses of the anti-Semitic tendencies in Poland before 1939 (for example, the world-famous sociologist, Professor Alexander Hertz).

In the conditions which prevailed in occupied Poland and which have been described here, the stand taken by the majority of the population towards those who were being persecuted was more humane than one might have expected, taking into consideration, for example, the contents of prewar and anti-Semitic publications, or people's recollections of anti-Semitic demonstrations in Polish colleges of further education during the thirties, or the boycotts staged of Jewish citizens in some professional circles, or even the misunderstandings that occurred prior to 1939 regarding the competitiveness that existed in financial areas. On the whole, one can say that the attitudes adopted by the Polish intelligentsia and by the Catholic Church, which was such an influential element in Polish life, were quite principled and indeed sometimes highly principled. One observation that comes to mind here is that a great many Poles wanted to help the Jews, having first conquered an understandable fear, but they could not achieve the proportionately desired effects and thus felt helpless. One can also accept that fear led people to isolate themselves from events and consequently they became passive. One can finally ask the question whether it would have been possible to achieve more and save more lives in the attempt to rescue the Jews in Poland whilst progressive extermination was being carried out. Theoretically undoubtedly, it was as if, in those particular circumstances, the ways and means had existed of successfully hiding not thousands but hundreds of thousands of people over a period of two or three years, but no expert specializing in the affairs of occupied Poland could ever suggest or prove the existence of such a possibility.

The moral issue still remains. From a moral point of view it must be stated clearly that not enough was done either in Poland or anywhere else in occupied Europe, 'enough' was done only by those who died whilst giving aid.
 

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