This week my focus is on Poland. I have continued working with several general Holocaust books as well as reading a book focused on the Holocaust in Poland, specifically the role of the Polish Underground, and secondary source articles focused on the Holocaust in Poland.
In 1939 Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe estimated at 3,500,000 and 10 percent of Poland’s overall population. Jews made up a large percentage of many large cities, such as 30 percent of Warsaw, 25 percent of Krakow, 30 percent of Lvov, and high percentages and in some cases majority of numerous small towns and villages.
The Jewish community in Poland was not well assimilated and antisemitism was high throughout the country. Poland had recently gained its independence from the Russian Empire, hence nationalism was high. This nationalism manifested itself into statements such as the Jews not being loyal to Poland. There were numerous pogroms, organized attacks on Jews, in the years leading up to World War II. A well known Pogrom took place in the rural village of Prtzyk. This Pogrom resulted in 2 Jewish deaths and the damage of many Jewish businesses in the area.
World War II officially began when the Germans invaded Poland starting on September 1st of 1939. Poland was later divided in 2 between the USSR and Germany as a result of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact. However, the Germans later broke the pact in June of 1941 and all of Poland was then under German control.
Germany quickly established ghettos through Poland. The ghettos were small isolated areas where only Jews would live. The largest ghetto was the Warsaw Ghetto which housed 460,000 Jews at its peak. The second largest ghetto was the Lodz ghetto which housed 165,000 Jews. Other large ghettos were Krakow and Lviv among others.
The living conditions in the ghettos were appalling. For instance, the Warsaw ghetto was only 1.3 square miles and an estimated 9 people would share a room. Food was rationed and the only food given was bread and potatoes. 92,000 Jews died from starvation alone in the Warsaw ghetto. Many homes did not have access to running water and soap became scarce. A typhus epidemic quickly spread throughout the ghetto as well. The ghettos greatly facilitated the process of deportation to the camps. Having so many Jews rounded up in a small confined space made it easy to then force them into trains and transport to the camps.
One area that I devoted a significant portion of my research to is the Polish Underground. The Polish Underground was a military and civilian resistance movement to the German occupation of Poland. The Polish Underground’s actions towards Jews is a great example of the nuances seen throughout the Holocaust.In the eastern parts of Poland that were initially occupied by the Soviets, Jews were labelled by the Underground as “ communists” and orders were given to kill Jews within this regionOther examples of the Underground directly killing Jews was focused on property gain. One famous example was Izaak Grynbaum, a wealthy Jews accepted into the Underground just to be killed and have all of his properties stolen. Antisemitism was expressed throughout the Underground. Władysław Liniarski, the commander of the Bialystok District home army, went as far to say that the absence of Jews would be a blessing for Polish society.
In some cases the Underground greatly helped Jews. One prominent example of this is the children’s section of the underground which provided fake ids, false baptismal papers, work permits, and marriage certificates to an estimated 3 to 4,000 Polish JewsAnother example of the Underground helping is the housing unit. The housing unit worked to place Jews in convents resulting in an estimated 300 Jewish children being saved as a result of being placed in a church. An estimated 200,000 Polish Jews survived by migrating deep into the Soviet Union. In eastern Poland, Stalin deported many Jews into Siberia. 200,000 of the Jews deported into Siberia survived by then taking a transit train to Central Asia with the highest amount going to Uzbekistan. In some cases Poles did lend a helping hand to Jews. 7,112 Poles were awarded as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor given to non- Jews who risked their lives in order to help Jews
In the end, 90 percent of Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. This high death rate was largely carried out through gassings in the concentration camps. Many of the most notorious concentration camps were held in Poland, such as Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka among others. As mentioned previously, the ghettos made the process of deportations to these camps much more efficient. In addition, collaboration was seen in numerous cases . Examples of this include the Polish police forces working with the Germans known as the Polish Order Police, Ukrainian nationalists in eastern Poland, individual Poles collaborating out of fear or greed(property belonging to a snitched on Jew would be given to the Polish collaborators), and the Polish Catholic Church.
My next blog will focus on my final presentation.