Review of Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Nazi Occupation of Europe, by Philip W. Blood. 2006. Potomac Books, Inc.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
On Lebensraum, Nazi anti-Partisan Warfare, & Biographies of Nazis. Poles Fought Alongside Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Hitler discussed Lebensraum in his MEIN KAMPF. (p. 97). However, the concept long predated Hitler. For instance, around the time of WWI, various German thinkers thought in terms of Germans colonizing surrounding territories and cleansing them racially of their current inhabitants. (p. xiii).
During WWII, Jews were not the only ones facing systematic racism. Thus, the Nazis referred to Russians as “Europe’s Negro”, etc. (p. 100). Escaped British or American POWs, who were Slavs or French, were automatically put to death in accordance with PLAN KUGEL. (p. 118).
Although some members of all nationalities collaborated with the Nazis, the scale of Ukrainian-Nazi collaboration was staggering. In November 1942, in German-occupied Russia, Hans-Adolf Prutzmann had at his disposal 15,665 Ukrainian Schuma (Schutzmannschaften) and 55,094 full-time and part-time Ukrainian Hilfspolizei. (pp. 131-132).
The author inadvertently attests to the relatively low rate of Polish collaboration. He writes: “Over the period of the war, 158 Schuma battalions were raised in the Baltic States, 23 in Russia-Centre, 65 in the Ukraine, and 11 in the General Government of Poland.” (p. 142). [Even this does not tell the full story. Many if not most Poles in the 11 units had been recruited by the Germans under duress, and deserted at the first opportunity. In addition, there were very many non-Poles in these 11 units.]
One obvious characteristic of this book, to the informed reader, is its spotty coverage of relevant WWII events. For instance, it elaborates on partisans in the German-occupied Soviet Union. However, apart from a few paragraphs that include the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, it ignores the extensive scale of Polish guerrilla warfare and the savage German actions in attempting to stamp it out. [See Peczkis Listmania: GUERRILLA WARFARE…]. Heinrich Himmler compared the ferocity of the house-to-house fighting in the Warsaw Uprising with that earlier in Stalingrad. (p. 240).
The author discusses the Jews’ 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Interestingly, he quotes Franz van Lent, a Dutchman who served with the SS before being captured by the British. Lent writes about the German cruelties against the Jewish insurgents, and adds: “`Six Poles of the Polish Underground movement who had tried to help the Jews were arrested and shot…'” (p. 221, 358). This confirms the oft-ignored fact, mentioned in the The Stroop Report: The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw is No More!, that Polish guerrillas fought alongside the Jews. [Of course, Lent’s figure does not include those Polish guerrillas who had died earlier in the combat, or had managed to escape.]
The biographical details of this book, though centered on von dem Bach-Zelewski, include many other SS personages, if only within short-paragraph accounts in the back of the book. The Polish reader may be stunned at the number of high profile Nazis, known to have committed atrocious crimes against Polish civilians, who lived to a ripe old age and escaped justice for their crimes. These included Otto Hellweg, Fritz Kattzman, Bach-Zelewski, and Heinz Reinefarth. (p. 240, pp. 298-299).
Review of Bundist Counterculture in Interwar Poland, by Jack Jacobs. 2009. Syracuse University Press, YIVO, New York
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Examining the Bund, a Mainstream Jewish Political Party, and Its Implications for Polish-Jewish Relations
Although this work does not approach the Bund from the viewpoint of its impact on Jewish-Polish relations, I do so in this review.
The General Jewish Workers’ Bund, originally founded in 1897 in tsarist Russia, eventually became the most powerful Jewish political party in Poland on the eve of WWII. (p. 1). It was Yiddishist, anti-Zionist, and secular. (p. 20). Jacobs adds: “Though the Bund was staunchly anti-Zionist, both it and the Left Poalei Zion were not only Yiddishist but also Marxist and secularist.” (p. 51). [The ability of the Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism) to appear in quite a few different guises and under different political labels makes folly of those who try to marginalize the Zydokomuna as only Jews in the tiny Communist Party.]
The Bundist youth organization Tsukunft was directly descended from the illegal Communist SDKPiL (p. 8), which had been active in the 1905 Russian Revolution. Although the Bund, as a whole, was not Communist, it employed repackaged Communist concepts (e. g., “revolutionary socialism”: p. 5, 20; the “capitalist world”: p. 43) and its ranks swelled after the Comintern disbanded the Communist Party of Poland in 1938. (p. 4).
The Bund’s infection with Communist-like ideation led to manifestations of hostility to Poland. For instance, SKIF, one of the Bundist youth movements, adopted contempt for the Scouting movement as “bourgeois”, rejected the teaching of Polish patriotism to Jewish children in favor of teaching them internationalism, and embraced such Communist concepts as, “strivings of the working class”, “feelings of collectivism and solidarity”, etc., to instill in Jewish youth. (pp. 41-42).
The broad-based and mainstream nature of the Bund in no sense prevented it from acting against Polish interests. During the pivotal 1920 Polish-Soviet War, during which the fate of the newly resurrected Polish state (and possibly the freedom of Europe), were uncertain, the Bund displayed overt disloyalty to the Polish cause by adopting an antiwar stance. (p. 9, 144).
The Bund’s strong commitment to Yiddish accentuated divisions not only between Poles and Jews, but also between Jews themselves. For instance, Morgnshtern, the Bundist-sponsored physical-education society, tended to despise its Zionist counterpart, the Maccabi, in large part because of its linguistic Polonization. (p. 54).
In 1936, Cardinal August Hlond made a much-quoted and much-condemned statement about “Jews as freethinkers.” Although Jacobs does not mention Hlond, he makes it obvious that Hlond’s characterization had much validity. In fact, Leyvik Hodes, the leader of Poland’s SKIF, explicitly said that Jews are, or should be, freethinkers. “The SKIF, he (Hodes) proposed, ought to counter the spirit of religiosity with a spirit of anticlericalism. Children from more traditional homes participating in SKIF activities should be handled with care and not belittled, but their views should be countered by stressing internationalism, and the spirit of SKIF ought to be that of freethinkers.” (p. 42).
Jacobs discusses the internationally acclaimed Medem Sanatorium in Warsaw as a major Bundist achievement. It had no religious instruction or prayer services for the Jewish children, and observed Jewish holidays only as cultural events. (p. 74)
Without doubt, freethinkers constituted a significant fraction of pre-WWII Polish Jews. Surveys show that, among members of SKIF (the Bundist organization for children aged 12-16, too young for Tsukunft), 18-30% reported that they never prayed. (p. 112). It is possible that some respondents pretended to be secularists in order to conform to the aggressive secularism of their Bundist youth leaders and role models, but it is also possible that some of those who engaged in prayer did so not out of religious conviction, but in order to harmonize their conduct with that of their religious parents and other religious members of their community. (p. 11).
In 1934-1935, Sophia Dubnow-Erlich, a prominent Bundist, undermined traditional sexual mores. (pp. 21-on). Writing in a widely-read Bundist youth publication, she painted a rosy picture of Soviet women (p. 24), and, attacking Catholic teachings, advocated easy divorce, legalized prenatal infanticide (a. k. a. abortion), free sex, etc. (p. 23). Members of the Tsukunft, according to Jacobs, reacted in different ways to her suggestions. (p. 27). The traditionalist Catholic Polish society must have found her views repulsive. Was Cardinal Hlond’s 1936 statement about Jews, though not all of them, having a “fatal effect” on morals at least partly a response to this sexual libertinism?
On another subject, Jacobs cites various sources to arrive at the following estimates of the membership of Jewish youth organizations. (p. 116). The Bundist Tsukunft had 12,300 members in 1939 relative to a total projected Jewish population in Poland of 3,460,000, of which 500,000 were Jewish school-aged children, at least 80% of whom went to Polish-language public schools. (p. 137). The Bundist SKIF purportedly grew to over 10,000 members in 1939. (p. 46, 98). Hashomer Hatsair (Hashomer Hatzair), which Jacobs describes as having a leftist Zionist orientation (p. 18), purportedly had 21,000 members, in the areas delineated by Congress Poland alone, in 1938. (p. 116). Yungt, the youth movement of the Left Poalei Zion, had about 8,000 members in 1938. (p. 19).
Review of Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, by Richard Rhodes. 2003. Vintage Books, New York
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
The SS Killings in German-Occupied Poland and the USSR in Broader Context
This book mixes theory and history. It covers the development of Nazi ideology, details about the Einsatzgruppen operations in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, the unfolding Holocaust, biographical details of top Nazis, etc. It contains many photos.
The author points out that Hitler was severely beaten as a child, and otherwise tries to find a link between being violent and having experienced corporal punishment, from parents and schoolmasters, while a child. However, he realizes that multitudes of people who experienced violence do not themselves become violent against others. [In addition, what about all the violent revolutionaries who came from privileged backgrounds?]
The author devotes more biographical detail to Heinrich Himmler than to any other Nazi. Himmler became involved in the occult. He believed in reincarnation and mental telepathy. (p. 82).
Long before the Nazis came to power in Germany, various Germans thought of dispossessing the Slavic peoples for purposes of German LEBENSRAUM. (pp. 82-87). Shortly after the conquest of Poland in 1939, the Germans murdered over 16,000 Polish citizens, mostly ethnic Poles. (p. 6).
The author believes that the “11 million Jews’ figure in the Wannsee Accords was probably a Nazi fantasy. (p. 237). Against the common misconception that most of the 6 million murdered Jews died in gas chambers, Rhodes showed that most of them died from privation and shooting. (p. 156). Although most of the victims of the Einsatzgruppen were Jews, the author does not fixate himself in a Judeocentric mindset. He realizes that the Nazi policies towards Jews went beyond anti-Semitism. They followed from a mentality that divided peoples into “worthy” and “unworthy”, with the latter including not only Jews but also the handicapped, etc. (p. 95).
In fact, Jews constituted one-third of the victims of the Nazis. The Slavic untermenschen were the main victims–3 million Poles, 7 million Soviet citizens, and 3.3 million Soviet POWs. (pp. 156-157). Himmler’s initial plans for the conquered USSR included death by starvation of 20-30 million Jews and Slavs. (pp. 17-18; see also GENERALPLAN OST, pp. 239-243). However, the German defeat at Stalingrad forced the discontinuation of systematic genocidal plans against the Slavs. (p. 264).
The Nazi priority of killing Jews stemmed in part from Hitler’s belief that Jews were “the mightiest counterpart to the Aryan”. (p. 95). [The informed reader may realize that, among Europeans, Jews and Germans were rivals for first and second place in many economic, industrial, and scientific endeavors.] Many Jews in the USSR were unafraid of the Nazi invaders because they had remembered the WWI-era Germans as benevolent towards the Jews (pp. 149-150), because the Soviet press had avoided any negative publicity of the Nazis during the time of the 1939-1941 German-Soviet pact (p. 173), and because news of the Jew-killings travelled slowly.
Unfortunately, Rhodes uncritically accepts Jan T. Gross shoddy research and his exclusive blame of Poles for the Jedwabne massacre. (p. 122). In actuality, according even to some Jewish sources, the Germans were the main killers of Jedwabne’s Jews. See the Peczkis review of The Warriors: My Life As A Jewish Soviet Partisan (Religion, Theology, and the Holocaust), and follow the link within the review.
For the first six weeks after the start of Operation Barbarossa, the Einsatzgruppen units mainly killed Communists and Jewish men. The order to expand the shootings to include Jewish women and children did not come until late July 1941. (p. 164).
Review of Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East, by Edward B. Westermann. 2005. University of Kansas Press.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
WWII in Eastern Europe as a German Racial War Against Jews and Slavs
Most books on WWII in Europe typically dwell on the Holocaust, and any mention of non-Jewish victims of the Nazis is an afterthought. They also tend to dichotomize the military actions of Hitler’s regime and its genocidal policies. This work, in contrast, shows that the war-making and genocidal actions of the Nazis formed a seamless garment, as did German attitudes and actions against Jews and Slavs. Instead of focusing on leading Nazi personages, the SS, Gestapo, or even the Wehrmacht, Westermann examines the ordinary German police forces as killers.
In the early 20th century, westerners commonly depicted the Hun as innately warlike, even going back to the FUROR TEUTONICUS of Roman times. Interestingly, the Germans themselves cultivated such a characterization. For instance, well before WWII, Wilhelm Kube, the eventual Reich commissar for Belorussia, commented as follows: “Kube began his article by noting that the love of bearing arms had been in the blood of a northern people like the Germans for thousands of years.” (p. 75). All this was part of the unmistakable trend elaborated by Westermann: “The march towards `social militarization’ did not go unnoticed by contemporary observers. In a diary entry of September 10, 1934, William Shirer, an American radio correspondent in Berlin at the time, reflected that militarism `is something deeply ingrained in all Germans.'” (p. 59).
Although the author does not fall for Goebbels’ propaganda regarding the “Bloody Sunday” events at Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), his citation of “over 1,000” German deaths, including that of innocent bystanders, is still wide of the mark. See the Peczkis review of: Dywersja niemiecka i zbrodnie hitlerowskie w Bydgoszczy na tle wydarzen w dniu 3 IX 1939 (Polish and German Edition).
The German occupation of Poland was far more intense than that of any other German-conquered nation. Westermann thus writes of the situation in August 1940: “In fact, the ratio of policemen to inhabitants ranged from 1:400 in the annexed Polish territories and 1:860 in the General Government to 1:3,323 in the Netherlands.” (p. 87). For comparison: “The ratio within the Reich (including the Sudetenland) was 1:475 with the inclusion of the 91,500-man Police Reserve.” (p. 264).
Westermann discusses the expulsion of Poles from those regions of German-conquered Poland directly annexed to the Third Reich. The victims, mostly women and children, underwent transport, for days, in 30 degree below zero weather (C), in cattle cars lacking lavatories, water, or heat. The death toll was very high. (p. 150).
The author also mentions the Germans’ destruction of the Polish intelligentsia and those suspected of involvement in resistance activities (e. g., p. 111, 159), but realizes that Germans murdered Poles, at whim, under any pretext. (e.g., p. 158, 227). [This refutes the Judeocentric notion that “Whereas Jews were killed because they were Jews, Poles were killed because it was war.”]. However, Westermann does not begin to do justice to the scale and genocidal scope of the 2-3 million non-Jewish Poles murdered by the Nazis. (See the Peczkis Listmania: FORGOTTEN HOLOCAUST…).
This book devotes most of its attention to German conduct against the conquered population of the Soviet Union. The scale of Ukrainian-Nazi collaboration was staggering. By the end of 1942, out of some 300,000 auxiliaries serving the Germans in the German-occupied portion of the USSR, there were some 100,000 Ukrainians alone. (p. 196).
Westermann examines and rejects many of the exculpations advanced to excuse Nazi conduct. For instance, against the “atrocities happen in every war” notion, he cites the racially tinged Japanese-American Pacific War, in which individual atrocities did take place on both sides. However, at no time did Presidents Roosevelt or Truman order or condone the indiscriminate slaughter of Japanese. (p. 234). As for the BEFEHL IST BEFEHL (An order is an order) notion, the author comments: “There is not a SINGLE documented case of a policeman being shot or imprisoned for refusing to kill Jews in cold blood.” (p. 236; emphasis his).
Review of The Jews in Polish Culture, by Aleksander Hertz. 1988, originally 1961. Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
An Interesting Book, by a Polish Jew, on the Jews in Poland. Two-Way Prejudices
This is a “meaty” book. Its vintage (1961) may be advantageous in terms of a unique perspective that preceded political correctness.
Jewish “apartheid” did not reduce to a simple dialectic: “Anti-Semites have heaped the entire responsibility for the caste organization onto the Jews; the Jews and their non-Jewish defenders, onto the Christian environment.” (p. 63). Early pro-assimilationist Polish Jews had the following opinion: “Czynski the Frankist and Hollaenderski and Lubliner, who kept their old religion, all shared the view that Polish Jews were ‘sunk in superstition’ and were thereby alienated from Polish life, economically unproductive, and deficient in civic virtue. The source of the problem was ignorance, superstition, the Talmud, the rule of the rabbis.” (p. 22). Early assimilated Polish Jews were ennobled. (p. 64).
Jews opposing assimilation contended (as some Orthodox Jews do even today) that assimilation equals a repudiation of Judaism. (e. g., p. 27, 65, 119). For their part, Polish nationalists often saw assimilated Jews as alien infiltrators. (p. 119). Hertz implicitly identifies the reason: “There were various degrees and shadings of assimilation…This did not necessarily mean a total identification with Polishness and, especially in the later years, could go hand in hand with a growing national Jewish consciousness.” (pp. 125-126). Jews who converted to Christianity did so for various non-religious motives. (p. 113).
Throughout this work, Hertz makes misleading comparisons between African-Americans and Poland’s Jews. Blacks came by force, were slaves with no rights, could not emancipate themselves, did menial labor, were mostly poor, and were at the very bottom of society. Jews came to Poland voluntarily and could leave at any time, served as traders, were largely exempt from the menial labor of the Polish masses, and–as middlemen situated between the nobility-few and the peasant-majority, enjoyed more rights and privileges than most Poles. The Jews’ long-term advantaged position no doubt facilitated their becoming a literate class (p. 101), and of many Jews becoming wealthy. (pp. 107-108). Finally, discriminatory laws and policies against blacks served primarily to keep them inferior–against Jews primarily to reduce their advantages.
Hertz recognizes the very variegated nature of anti-Semitism (p. 192-on), but considers the “Jews are crooks” notion as follows: “It would be no exaggeration to say that the Polish people ascribed to Jews characteristics no different from those that all the peoples of underdeveloped countries ascribe to all professional merchants, regardless of religion or origin. ‘Swindler”, ‘slippery’, ‘bloodsucker”—epithets of this sort are common in colonial countries and are applied to the local merchants, who are rarely Jewish. The Chinese merchants in Indonesia and Malaysia are the object of widespread aversion and innumerable accusations, often not without some basis.” (p. 201).
Reciprocal prejudices (pp. 76-78) did not develop solely as a reaction against anti-Semitism. Nor were they simply anti-goyism, which did not really become prominent until the Jewish emancipationist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (p. 77).
Jewish ideation, equating as it did illiteracy with unintelligence, led to mostly-covert snobbery against the lowly Pole. Hertz writes: “Hence the Jew’s contempt for the peasant, who in the Jew’s eyes was twice a CHAM (boor), once as a peasant so defined by the world of the nobility, and again as a stupid, ignorant creature to whom knowledge was alien.” (p. 77). Hertz adds: “Because it was incontrovertible that the goy stood above the Jew in the social hierarchy, that contempt could never be expressed. One had to submit. But could there be anything wrong with knowing how to take advantage of the goy’s stupidity?” (p. 78). Clearly, Jewish thinking could include the Pole as a legitimate object for exploitation. [On the other hand, the Polish peasant could do little besides retaliating by violence—hence the pogroms.]
This “pecking order” clearly shows that, contrary to the ambiguity suggested by Hertz as to whether peasants or Jews were lower (p. 74), and notwithstanding the Polish nobles’ disdain for Jews and commerce (p. 69), it was the Polish commoner, and not the Jew, who was the lowest caste in Polish society. To illustrate: “The Jew was a tradesman, itinerant peddler, source of credit. Very often he was also an intermediary between the peasant and the lord or the lord’s representatives in dealings with the peasant.” (p. 82).
Now consider the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Although Hertz denounces Polish nationalists for seeing Jewish nationalism as an intrigue of Russia and Germany, he turns around, on the very same page (p. 144), and admits that: “During World War I, the German occupation authorities took a favorable view of signs of Jewish nationalism in Poland.” Also: In the kaiser’s Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jews were ideologists of unity of the state. The German Jews even became zealous Germanizers in areas ethnically non-German…” (pp. 178-179).
In like manner, while downplaying the Litvaks (Litwaks), he admits that: “The Russian Jews had a large share in the history of Jewish nationalism in Poland.” (p. 144). Also: “The Jews of the eastern frontiers of Poland were very much under the sway of Russian culture and had little in common with Poland.” (p. 173).
Consider the 20th century. While providing the usual superficial exculpations for the Zydokomuna (Bolshevized Judaism), Hertz states that: “Poles returning from Russia would relate their experiences with the Bolshevik commissars, who most frequently were Jews.” (p. 172). “Jews played a prominent role in the Bolshevik Revolution, providing it with outstanding leaders. There were many Jews in the Polish Communist Party, especially on its leadership team.” (p. 179).
Hertz falsely accuses Dmowski of being inclined towards racist philosophy towards the end of his life. (p. 204). Otherwise, the author sometimes makes loose generalizations. For instance, he mentions the influence of post-Hegelian thought and European nationalism, on the origins of Jewish nationalism (Zionism)(p. 149, 158). He adds that that the “Polish cultural model” played a dominant role in the emergence of Jewish nationalism. (p. 145). How?
Review of America and the New Poland, by H. H. Fisher. 1928. MacMillan Company, New York.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Even-Handedness in Polish-Jewish Relations. Prussian Oppressiveness, Minorities Treaty, etc.
This book devotes considerable detail to the history of the Polish nation since the early part of the 20th century. Owing to its breadth, I focus on only a few topics.
Fisher provides much information about Prussian rule over Poland, especially the heavy-handed policies of Bismarck and his 1900 successor, von Buelow. Bismarck relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his KULTURKAMPF as directed against German Catholics, but not those against Polish Catholics. The HAKATA became active. In response to the Prussian measures, notably the attempts to suppress the Polish language, the Polish peasants became more nationalistic than the gentry, which heretofore had been regarded as the bearer of the identity of Polish-ness. (p. 36). In order to resist Prussian efforts to expropriate their lands, Poles formed their Land Bank and Land Association, as well as cooperative and credit societies.
In just the 15 years prior to Poland’s independence, the Prussian authorities had expropriated about 600 square miles of farmland, replacing Poles with Germans. Fisher adds: “The existence of these German colonies was used in 1919 as an argument against restoring these districts to Poland.” (p. 34). In other words, so farcical were German demands for territory, based on plebiscites, etc., that the Germans actually had the audacity to lay territorial claims against Poland based on recently settled Germans! (Other shenanigans occurred during the so-called plebiscites themselves.)
The author also recognizes the objectionable and hypocritical nature of the later Minorities Treaty, unilaterally imposed on the newly resurrected Polish state: “Poland had to assume obligations respecting Germans and her territories, but Germany was required to make no similar undertaking respecting Poles, and none of the Principal Allied Powers made any treaties whatever covering the treatment of their minorities.” (p. 159).
Now consider Jewish-Polish relations. Propaganda accounts of massive Polish pogroms, circa 1918, later almost entirely debunked by the likes of the Morgenthau Commission, had the desired effect: “The atrocity charges did great damage to Polish prestige in world opinion and at the Peace Conference, and rival claimants to disputed territories did not fail to make use of the implication that the Poles were a barbarous and undisciplined race, unfitted to administer the border lands which contained other races as well as the Jews.” (p. 156).
Fisher recognizes the alienating nature of Jewish separatism in Poland: “This Jewish nationalist formula was supported by the Zionists, and the right and left Jewish Socialists. The orthodox Jews advocated merely emancipation and equality of rights. The conflict, therefore, was not with ‘Poles of the Jewish faith,’ but with ‘Polish citizens of the Jewish nation.’” (p. 159). Despite the later (1925) efforts of Stanislas [Stanislaw] Grabski, Count Skrzynski, and several Jewish members of the SEJM, the problem persisted: “These measures did not, of course, put an end to anti-Semitism in Poland or to hostility to the Polish state among certain Jewish groups, but it was a step in the right direction, a hopeful indication of a less intransigent spirit in Polish-Jewish relations.” (p. 331).
One notable feature of this book is an exceptionally extensive bibliography of books, articles, and government documents on Poland. This is a boon to the researcher.
Review of Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora, by Rebecca Kobrin. 2010. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Bialystok as a Model of the Litvak Situation from a Jewish Viewpoint
Although this work is centered on the Jews of Bialystok, it is useful to the reader for understanding the situation facing Jews in Russian-occupied Poland. Less attention is devoted to Bialystok in the resurrected Polish state (1918-1939), the German-Nazi Holocaust (1939-1945), and the post-WWII period (1945-on). The author also provides an impressive account of the Jewish diaspora in nations as separated as Argentina and the USA. Although Jewish-Polish relations are not the main subject of this work, I approach it from that viewpoint for purposes of this review.
It is clear that Jewish separatism, and anti-Polishness, were a cause, and not consequence of Endek enmity against Jews. Shortly after the Partitions, while Bialystok was under Prussian rule, the following happened: “While the native Polish population remained steadfastly loyal to their ‘Polish province,’ as Prussian officials dejectedly admitted, Jews embraced German culture.” (p. 25).
Then Russian rule began. The following separate paragraphs are quotations that show how the Jews had lost touch with Polish national aspirations, and had become an unwitting and witting tool of the Russian rulers over Poland:
In place of national affiliation, then, these Jews—like those in Odessa, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg—viewed themselves through an urban regional lens. They were loyal Bialystokers, first and foremost, ambivalent and uncertain whether to identify themselves as devoted Russian subjects or as Jews of the Polish nation. (p. 25).
Once Polish nationalist agitation intensified in the 1830’s, though, the tsarist government…encouraged Jews, who despite their ambivalent relationship to the Russian state, were viewed as more loyal than Poles, to settle in Bialystok in order to diminish Polish revolutionary fervor. (p. 28).
Moreover, the Polish rebellion of 1863 cemented Russian authorities’ support for Jewish settlement and industrial expansion in Polish lands…an influx of Jews and new economic opportunities would help eliminate Polish nationalist fervor. (p. 29).
By the end of the nineteenth century, however, approximately fifty thousand Jews lived in Bialystok, drawn to the town by its central position along the Russian railway system and tsarist authorities’ support of Jewish settlement in Congress Poland as a means to quell Polish nationalist agitation. (p. 21).
–End of paragraph quotes–
Although Kobrin does not use the term Litwak (Litvak) migration, she alludes to it: “…Russia’s uneven industrial development forced millions to move from small towns to large cities. As one can see vividly in the example of nineteenth century Bialystok, the dramatic movement of Jews within the western areas of the Russian Empire…” (p. 7). Jews came to account for 76% of Bialystok’s population in 1897 before dropping to 48.4% as part of Poland’s Second Republic. (p. 26).
When the Polish state was resurrected in 1918, the Jews clearly sought special privileges—ones that would maintain and enhance their intense separatism. Through the League of Nations, they demanded special government-supported Jewish schools. (p. 289). Instead of conforming to the Polish nation as a minority group, Jews, through the Minorities Treaty, tried a role-reversal by trying to force the Polish nation to conform to them by recognizing Yiddish on an equal footing with Polish in public and official matters. (p. 137, 140).
The Bialystok-area Jews then came out in open insubordination against the Polish nation, arrogating to themselves the privileges of a Judeopolonia (my term), that is, a fully sovereign Jewish nation on Polish soil. Jewish leaders demanded a plebiscite to determine whether Bialystok should remain part of Poland, or whether it should be part of Lithuania, the Soviet Union, or even its own special zone. (p. 138). This act of sedition enjoyed broad support among influential and foreign Jews: “Yiddish newspapers also argued unswervingly against Poland, claiming the annexation of Bialystok was illegal, given that less than one-third of the city’s residents were Polish.” (p. 138). “Emboldened by the absolute support of émigré philanthropists, the Yiddish press in Bialystok continued to question Polish sovereignty…” (p. 146). Local Kehilla leaders urged that Jews resist the draft into the Polish Army by providing false identification papers. (p. 139). The Polish reaction to the violation of their nation is not difficult to imagine.
Review of ZWIAZEK JASZCZURCZY I NARODOWE SILY ZBROJNE NA POMORZU 1939-1947.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Polish ONR-NSZ Guerrillas Functioned Even in Reich-Annexed Polish Territory
THE ORDER OF LIZARDS AND NATIONAL ARMED FORCES IN POMERANIA 1939-1947 is the title of this Polish-language book. It mostly focuses on issues other than combat operations.
The ONR (Polish National Radical Camp), when founded, at first looked to the Italian fascists as a model. However, as the true nature of fascism became obvious, the ONR distanced itself from it. The ONR directives in 1934 included anti-Semitic ones, but these were never Nazi-like. They focused on economic issues. Apropos to this, the author cites Nacjonalizm chrzescijanski: Narodowo-katolicka formacja ideowa w II Rzeczypospolitej na tle porownawczym (Polish Edition) (see Peczkis review). However, as the Nazis began murdering the Jews, the ONR repudiated its earlier anti-Semitism. (p. 11). In fact, some ONR members rescued Jews. This was true of an E. Baranowski, an NSZ officer, who was cited by Jews for helping them. ONR member Edward Kemnitz joined Zegota [refuting the silly argument that the Endeks opposed this], and was awarded the Yad Vashem medal for his aid to Jews. (p. 116).
That portion of the Pomorze region belonging to Poland before WWII was incorporated directly into the Third Reich after the 1939 German-Soviet conquest of Poland. For this reason, the ONR-NSZ Polish guerrillas in this area had much fewer opportunities to act openly than in the GG (General Government). Actual combat encounters with the Germans were of a sporadic nature, claiming the lives of up to about 30 German gendarmes per encounter (e. g., p. 181). Otherwise, the ONR-NSZ was prepared to fight alongside the better-known AK. By February 1944, one part of German-occupied Pomorze had more than 6,000 well-armed ONR-NSZ guerrillas. (p. 92).
The local ONR-NSZ emphasized intelligence gathering. It planted agents in many cities, including Konigsberg, Berlin, and Munich. (p. 28). The Germans themselves gave unstinting credit to the Poles for being the best agents that the British had. (p. 56). The local ONR-NSZ underground press sometimes printed 4,000-5,000 copies of an issue. (p. 94).
The ONR-NSZ monitored the Nazi German cultural genocide of Poles. (p. 77). This included a strict prohibition of the use of Polish language and culture. Poles were savagely beaten for refusing to sign the VOLKSLISTE.(e. g., p. 177). Polish minors were among those forced to do heavy labor. Only 60 of 600 local priests remained functional; the Germans had murdered or incarcerated the remainder. (p. 175). The Germans sent multitudes of Poles to labor and concentration camps, notably Potulice (p. 179), where the inmates had to work under sadistic guards at near-starvation rations. The mortality rate was very high, especially for children.
The Polish port of Gdynia had been built from scratch, from a fishing village, in the interwar period. The Germans drove most of the Poles out, at a high death rate. (pp. 195-196). For this reason, they should have renamed the city Totenhafen (Port of the Dead), rather than Gotenhafen (Port of the Goths).
In the areas incorporated into the Reich, the Germans sometimes forced even ethnic Poles to serve in the Wehrmacht. The ONR-NSZ encouraged such Poles to desert (p. 40), while retaining others there as secret agents. (p. 53). In other instances, large groups of young Polish men hid in the forest to avoid service in the German Army, forming bands each of which consisted of 50-100 men. (p. 179).
Falling into German hands meant torture and death. One Polish woman, about to be guillotined, wrote that she had no fear of death, and that she wanted her last words to be, “Poland, come forth! Crumble the shackles!” The Poles managed to rebuild their local NSZ guerrilla organization even after it had been seemingly eliminated by the Germans.
This work includes a number of political position papers by the ONR-NSZ. For instance, it not only favored the persistence of Poland’s eastern (Treaty of Riga) boundary, but also extension of Poland west to the Oder-Neisse rivers (p. 85) (which, of course, became reality under Soviet rule but at the expense of Poland’s eastern half).
The ONR-NSZ considered the Soviets as much enemies of Poland as the Germans. The local guerrillas fought off attempted arrests, and engaged in counter-intelligence and counter-propaganda. They also monitored Soviet robberies and other crimes against Poles.
By June 1, 1945, there were 22,000 to 30,000–50,000 NSZ members throughout Russian-occupied Poland. (p. 103). The ONR-NSZ in the Pomorze region was able to resist efforts to destroy it until about the end of 1945 (p. 102), which is almost a year after the entry of the Red Army into Poland.
This work has an English-language abstract (pp. 213-215), an extensive index, much biographic information, and a collection of photographs. It includes annexes that consist of interviews of former ONR-NSZ members. (p. 157-on). There is also a list of Polish Underground members who had been sent by the Germans to Stutthof Concentration Camp near Danzig (Gdansk). (p. 173).
Review of The Survivor, by Jack Eisner. 1980. William Morrow and Company, New York.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Firsthand Experiences in the ZZW During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and in the Armia Krajowa
Author Eisner describes life in the German-made Warsaw Ghetto in some detail. Interestingly Jews, and not only Poles, had their superstitions. “She [mother] spat three times to ward off the evil eye.” (p. 81).
The author was a smuggler. He was involved in a ring that even conducted a daring theft of a crucial medicine from a German hospital. (p. 88). Although he had to fend off Polish SZMALCOWNIKI (blackmailers), he also recognized the existence of Jewish informers and denouncers. He warned another Jew: “‘There are squealers all over the place, MOSRIM [Jewish traitors] ready to sell you to the Gestapo for a loaf of bread.’” (p. 83).
In common with many Jewish authors, Eisner mentions the general unbelief of Warsaw’s Jews towards incoming news tidbits of mass gassing and cremation going on at Treblinka (p. 98, 118), the belief of some Jews that their suffering was God’s punishment for Jewish sins (p. 100), and the exceptional cruelty of the Jewish ghetto police. (p. 109). As violent resistance against the Nazis became contemplated, the older generation of Jews tended to be opposed to it, largely because of their concept of God’s will. (pp. 169-170).
Eisner joined the ZZW, and engaged in the combat at Muranowska Square. He realized that the ZZW had ties to the A. K. [AK, or Armia Krajowa](p. 170), that the AK supplied weaponry to the Jews (albeit not to his satisfaction)(p. 192), and that the AK provided intelligence information to the Jewish fighters as to when the Germans were preparing their attack. (p. 173).
Most of the photos in this work are standard ones from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. However, there a selection of family photos from the author, as well as a photo of a clownish Crazy Rubinstein, who is described as one capable of even making Germans laugh at his jokes and antics.
According to his version of events, the flag hoisted over the fighting Warsaw Ghetto was only the white and blue Zionist flag. The oft-mentioned display of the Polish flag only happened later. It did not happen until the AK complained about its lack (p. 178), and delivered a Polish flag through a tunnel. (p. 181). If correct, this tends to support those who suggest that the posting of the Polish flag by the Jewish fighters was more of a sop to Polish sentiments than a genuine display of solidarity with Poland.
Despite being captured by the Germans, he was not murdered on the spot nor sent to Treblinka for gassing. Instead, he was sent to the working camp part of Maidanek.
During one of his escapes, Eisner came across a group of peasants, and the local A. K. eventually accepted him in spite of suspecting his Jewishness. (p. 234). Commander Mlot told him that he did not mind Jews in his unit. (p. 242). The verbal hostility which Eisner experienced from other soldiers was of a long-standing nature [PARCH—scab; “Good for trading but not fighting”; “too delicate” ( p. 234)—all reflective of the Jews’ privileged place in Polish society and their usual relative physical weakness (as a consequence of having generally been exempt from the heavy manual labor of the Polish masses).]
During a subsequent guerrilla attack on the Trawniki Camp, Eisner’s assignment was to collect as much ammunition as possible in the confusion caused by the combat actions. Instead, he spent much of his time helping fellow Jews escape the camp. This endangered the lives of his fellow AK guerrillas. (p. 239). For this disobedience of orders, Commander Mlot expelled him from the A. K. (p. 242). [The reader must understand that military orders are absolute—notwithstanding loyalty conflicts. Thus, for instance, the A. K. soldier in the Poles’ Warsaw Uprising had to shoot at German soldiers even though a cordon of Polish civilian hostages, including his own mother, surrounded them.] In any event, Eisner’s experience supports the position that anti-Semitism in the Polish armed forces tended to be mostly verbal in nature. It also adds refutation to the premise that the AK systematically rejected Jews as members, and helps demolish the argument, advanced for example by Yaffa Eliach, that the A.K. had some sort of secret plan to exterminate Poland’s remaining Jews.
During his peregrinations over German-occupied Poland, he spent time at Maidanek, the work camp at Budzyn, Mielec, and then Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Germany. Unlike those who dichotomized Nazi death camps and concentration camps, Eisner did not. He commented: “Despite its classification as a concentration camp and not an extermination facility, Flossenburg still had a gassing barrack and a crematorium. Though small in size in comparison to Auschwitz or Majdanek, they were just as efficient. They operated around the clock and disposed of hundreds of corpses daily.” (p. 268).
This work is refreshingly almost free of Polonophobic innuendo. However, Eisner, along with many other Jewish authors, misrepresents the NSZ as a fascist organization. (p. 233).