Table of Contents

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Poland and her Jews 1941-1944

How did Poland care for her Jews during the German occupation, especially in the years 1941 - 1944, when the mass slaughter ('the shechita') of her Jews was at its peak by the German plunderers.

It has been estimated that in March 1942, 75-80% of the victims of the Shoah were alive, while 20-25% were dead. By February 1943, the percentages had been exactly reversed. Put another way, in that eleven-month period, a minimum of three million Jews had perished. Most of the Jews had died in the camps, at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, but many thousands had been shot on the outskirts of the towns in which they had been ghettoised, during the round-ups which were an intrinsic part of the Aktionen, or in transit to the extermination centers. Thousands more had died in the ghettos themselves and in labor and concentration camps from starvation, disease, over-work and summary execution.

The intense killing phase was short and brutal. But what of secrecy? How was it possible to prevent knowledge of murder on such a scale becoming widespread? What did Western Nations know of the homicidal happenings in Poland and the East? Up until June 1941, our intelligence gathering was reasonably plentiful and accurate. With the onset of 'Barbarossa' the West was taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the campaign. It was not long, however, that the allies penetrated the German code system, and from then on were regularly receiving details of the German radio traffic being sent back detailing the most secret information the 'Operational Reports' of the 'Einsatzgruppen' to Berlin. Allied intelligence was collated from many other directions: Neutral countries, The World Jewish Congress, and the Jewish agencies abroad. This was further enhanced from other independent sources throughout the war period.

'Ultra' and 'Enigma'

The history of “Ultra” and the “Enigma Machine” and are now sufficiently well known not to require recounting. The British Code and Cypher School had been intercepting and deciphering coded German military and police reports with varying degrees of success since the early days of the war. By the summer of 1941 and Operation Barbarossa, decrypts of Order Police shootings in the Soviet Union were commonplace. For example, an SS-Cavalry Brigade reported 7,819 “executions” in the Minsk area on 17 August 1941. Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, the Higher SS-Police Fuhrer Central Russia, submitted a report on the same day, noting 30,000 shootings. Between 23 and 31 August 1941, 17 reports provided details of the shooting of Jews in the southern sector in groups ranging in size from 61 to 4,200. Police Regiment South reported on 12 September 1941 on the shooting of 1,255 Jews at Ovruch. These intercepts were regularly sent to British Military Intelligence, who presented weekly summaries to the Prime Minister. The activities of the Einsatzgruppen in the former Soviet Union were

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therefore known at the highest levels of British Government. On 24 August 1941, in a radio broadcast, Winston Churchill said:

“Whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands – literally scores of thousands – of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police-troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the sixteenth century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale.”
Churchill went on to say, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” No specific mention was made of the Jews. The British were in a difficult position; to disclose too many details might have alerted the Germans to the possibility that their codes were being broken. In fact, there is some evidence that the Germans were suspicious of exactly that, for on 13 September 1941 Kurt Daluege, head of the Ordnungspolizei, instructed field commanders to make their reports by courier and not by radio.

By November 1941, Churchill was less reticent about the fate of the Jews. In a message to the Jewish Chronicle on 14 November, 1941, he wrote: “None has suffered more cruelly than the Jew, the unspeakable evils wrought on the bodies and spirits of men by Hitler and his vile regime.” There had been newspaper reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland since the early days of the war, but now the information emerging was of a more sinister nature. Under the heading “Extinction Feared by Jews in Poland”, Dr Henry Shoskes presented details of the mortality rate in the ghettos of Poland to The New York Times on 1 March 1942. The monthly average of those dying was 10,000.

The methodical mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children - Polish as well as those brought from other European countries caused a deep moral shock amongst the population of Poland. In the face of overwhelming force of arms the Poles retreated into the partisan culture of sniping at the enemy from afar.

It is the part played by the Polish Underground forces in Poland, the Polish Government in Exile and other sources that is reviewed.

Leading this clandestine opposition were two main groups: 1. The Armia Krajowa (AK), and the largest, which was closely aligned to the Polish Government in Exile in London, and 2. The Communist Gwardia Ludowa, later the Armia Ludowa (AL), the Army of the People.[1]

From their centralized bases, splinter groups operated with or without agreement. In February, 1942, the AK established a separate group dealing with Jewish matters which was lead by Henryk Wolinski. The AK held prominence over the rest, and were able to manoeuvre more or less at will but, they have a shady past stemming from a long standing aversion of the Jews over many

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decades. It is to this group that we find our sources of information for many of the signposts of incidents, atrocities, and happenings during the main period of extermination of the Polish and European Jews.

The AK net spread far and wide, from Warsaw, to Lublin, Zakopane, Rzeszow, Rawa Ruska, Sobibor, Treblinka (Malkinia) and the killing fields of Belzec. The AK were able to infiltrate very sensitive points gather intelligence from many sources before passing on this vital information via agents and radio communication to London and other western agencies. Whether they were really effective against the German invaders, or in the protection of the Jews, as they might like history to think, is another matter. They did not buy any arms from deserting German soldiers until very late in the war. No partisan detachments of any importance were established by it before 1943, and, anyway, not only were Jews not accepted in the AK ranks, but a number of AK detachments were actively engaged in hunting down and murdering them.

If the AK succeeded in removing more than 200 Germans it would be surprising. Some say they killed more Jews than they saved; they were certainly hunted down during the war, and after. Through the whole conduct of hostilities on Polish soil and their relationship with the Jewish agencies, the AK was a reluctant band, who utterly failed the Jews in their greatest hour of need.

What did we know? - How was the West informed? - What were the papers saying?

Western Press and the Polish Government in Exile[2]

On the 6 February, 1942, A.L. Easterman's article in the 'Zionist Review' commented on 'The German New Order in Poland,' published by the Polish Ministry of Information in the United Kingdom: “Why is so little known about the persecution of the Jews in Poland?”[3]

In a report dated 20 June 1942, the United States Office of Strategic Services received a report from Lisbon, that began with the words “Germany is no longer persecuting the Jews. It is systematically exterminating them.” The information came from a British officer who had escaped from captivity and had hidden for a time in the Warsaw Ghetto before reaching Portugal. The officer reported that Heinrich Himmler had visited Dr. Hans Frank in April to inform him that the Jews were not disappearing fast enough to please the Führer. The Jews were to be “virtually exterminated” by a specified date. A trial speeding up had been ordered at Lublin, “where for a time trainloads were taken daily to Sobibor station in the suburbs, thence to an isolated area where they are machine-gunned.” Peasants had left nearby farms because of the stench of unburied corpses.

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On the 25 June, 1942, the 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper in London, reported having received information from the Polish Government in Poland that the Germans were planning to murder all Jews. The Telegraph reports on the murders committed in the Polish eastern territories: 50,000 Jews murdered in Vilna, the terror in the Warsaw ghetto and the use of mobile gas chambers.[4]

On 10 July, 1942, the London 'Times' reports that the Polish Vice-Premier S. Mikolajczyk[5] had received information from the Home Army (AK) about the murder of Poles, and the most terrible situation of the Jews who have been murdered en mass and transported out.[6]

10 August 1942, Newsweek magazine commented in its issue of that trainloads of Warsaw Jews were vanishing into a “black limbo.” On 20 August 1942, The New York Times quoting the previous day's edition of the French Paris Soir, stated that Jews from France were being deported to “Polish Silesia”.

Information was also available in the summer of 1942 from more direct sources. In Switzerland, quite independently of each other, three Germans provided the details. Ernst Lemmer, a journalist, spoke of gas chambers, both stationary and mobile, but he was not considered reliable. An economist, Artur Sommer, passed a note to Edgar Salin, a professor at the University of Basel. In it, Sommer stated that camps were being prepared in the East for gassing. The BBC should broadcast daily warnings. The message passed unheeded.

The third informant was a businessman, Eduard Schulte. His report of 30 July 1942 eventually reached the chief of the Geneva office of the World Jewish Congress, Gerhart Riegner, who cabled via diplomatic channels to Rabbi Dr. Stephen Wise in the United States and to British Member of Parliament Sidney Silverman. Riegner reported that a plan had been discussed and was under consideration in the Führer headquarters for the deportation of the European Jews to the East, where they were to be “exterminated at one blow.” Among methods under discussion was the use of prussic acid. Silverman received the cable; mysteriously, Wise did not, until Silverman sent him a copy. No public pronouncement was made in the United States concerning the contents of the telegram until November 1942. By that time, a report had already appeared on 5 October 1942 from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency concerning the systematic deportation of Jews from Lodz, who, the agency said, “are poisoned by gas.” The New York magazine Jewish Frontier carried a report in its issue of November 1942 about the killing of Jews in Chelmno, complete with information about gas vans.

On 25 November, The New York Times published information received from the Polish Government in Exile that mentioned Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. In the same edition, the newspaper carried an item providing details of concrete buildings on the former Russian frontier used as gas chambers and of crematoria

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at Oswiecim (Auschwitz), as well as an estimate from Wise that the Jewish dead already numbered 2 million. The next day, The New York Times quoted Dr Ignacy Szwarcbart, a Jewish member of the Polish National Council in London: Jews were being gassed and in Belzec they were being killed by electrical current.

On 2 September, 1942, the text of a speech by Szmul Zygielbojm (a member of the Polish National Council), during a protest meeting against the German crimes in Poland and Czechoslovakia, was released to the Associated Press. In this speech, on the third anniversary of the outbreak of war, Zygielbojm recalled the defensive battles of 1939 and the German crimes in the occupied territories. He stressed the terrible fate of the Jewish people, quoting more than 700,000 of whom had been murdered by May, 1942: some had been shot, some starved, some gassed. Zygielbojm appealed for help now, before Europe becomes a cemetery.[7]

Zygelbojm appealed for immediate help, before Europe became a cemetery. In another speech broadcast by the BBC earlier that year, he had said: “It will be a disgrace to go on living, to belong to the human race, unless immediate steps are taken to put a stop to this crime, the greatest that history has known.” Zygelbojm spoke again on the BBC in December 1942, saying: “If Polish Jewry's call for help goes unheeded, Hitler will have achieved one of his war aims – to destroy the Jews of Europe irrespective of the final military outcome of the war.”

On 20 September, 1942, the 'Chicago Sunday Herald' discussed the so-called 'Black Book' published by the Polish Ministry of Information in London in January, 1942. The book has some 586 pages, including 185 photographs and documents referring to the German terror in Poland. Six chapters are devoted to the persecution of the Jews and present the relevant photographs.[8]

On 26 October, 1942, the 'Detroit Evening News' also refers to the 'Black Book', and gives details of the chapters relating to the persecution of the Jews - of the burning of synagogues, starving people, confiscation of property, forced labour and the ghettos.[9]

On 29 October, 1942, Text of a speech by General Sikorski[10] addressed to the Polish Jews attending a protest meeting at the Royal Albert Hall, London, which was released to the Associated Press. Sikorski discussed the extermination of Polish Jews in Poland, and those transported there from all parts of Europe. He assured the meeting that the whole civilised world stands firm together against the Germans, who shall answer for their crimes.[11] He further warned the Polish people that they would be punished should they rob, blackmail or denounce the Jews. This speech by Sikorski, or one very similar at about this time, eventually filtered through to the 'RPZ' (Relief Council for Jews - cryptonym 'Zegota') who published 25,000 copies and distributed them all over Poland.[12]

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On 7 December 1942, The Times of London reported that E.Raczynski, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Polish Government had passed the latest information from Poland to Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, including proof of the mass murder of Jews. The report continued that the German plan of extermination was continuing. It was intended to clear the Netherlands and Denmark of Jews by June 1943 and Rumania before the end of the same year. On the selfsame day, Eden advised the British Ambassador in Washington that he now had “little doubt that a policy of gradual extermination of all Jews, except for highly skilled workers, is being carried out by the German authorities. The Polish Government has recently received reports tending to confirm this view. They regard these reports as reliable and they read convincingly.” In a reply in the House of Commons on 17 December to a question put by Silverman, Eden listed the barbarities committed by the Nazis against the Jews and denounced “this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.” Those responsible would not escape retribution. At the conclusion of Eden's speech, the House rose to stand in silence.

The Karski Affair

If further evidence was required that crimes of an unprecedented nature were being perpetrated in the East, it had become available that winter. Jan Karski (Kozielewski) was a Polish Gentile. He was a member of the Polish underground and acted as a courier for the Polish Government in Exile. In late August 1942, Karski was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto in order to be able to provide eyewitness testimony of what was happening there. He met with Menahem Kirschenbaum of the General Zionists and Leon Feiner of the Jewish Bund. At their first meeting, the two Jewish leaders were in a state of complete despair, pacing back and forth as they recounted the dreadful fate of Polish Jewry. Karski was to relay much of what was said verbatim when he reached London. Nothing and nobody in Poland could prevent the murder of Jews. Therefore, the responsibility for making at least some effort to save them lay with the Allies. “Let not a single leader of the United Nations be able to say that they did not know that we were being murdered in Poland,” said Feiner. History would hold the Allies responsible if they failed to act. The Allies must publicly declare that prevention of the extermination of the Jews would be among the Allied war aims. Allied propaganda should inform the German nation of Hitler's crimes through radio, air dropped leaflets and any other available means. The names of those Germans responsible for the annihilation and the methods used should be publicised, so that no German could claim ignorance of what was being done in his or her name. Appeals should be made to the German people to bring pressure to bear on the Nazi regime to stop the genocide. If they did not publicly protest, the German nation would be considered collectively responsible for the crimes. Finally, if none of these measures were successful, the Allies were to carry out reprisal measures. Selected sites of cultural importance should be bombed and Germans in

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Allied hands still professing loyalty to Hitler after learning of his crimes should be executed. In vain, Karski protested that such a demand was impossible. It was against international law. The final stipulation was unrealistic and weakened the Jewish case. “No,” said Feiner, “say it. We don't know what is realistic or unrealistic. We are dying here. Say it!”

Many other matters were discussed at that first meeting, including an appeal by the two leaders for material aid for the hapless Jews. Finally, it was decided that if Karski merely repeated their conversation when he reached London, he would not be believed. Messages had been sent to England before, without result. In order to be credible, Karski must become a witness. He must be able to swear that he had seen the butchery with his own eyes. Karski agreed to be smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto.

Sometime between 20 – 25 August 1942, accompanied by Feiner, Karski entered the ghetto via a tunnel at 6 Muranowska Street on the “Aryan side”. More than thirty years later, he graphically described what he saw that day in Claude Lanzmann's film “Shoah”: “It was not a world. There was not humanity. Streets full, full….Selling. Begging. Crying and hungry…It wasn't humanity. It was some…some hell…Stench, stench, dirt, stench everywhere, suffocating. Dirty streets, nervousness, tension. Bedlam.” Over and over again, Feiner would relentlessly point out some new horror to Karski. “Remember this!” “remember this!”

Karski returned to the ghetto on another day for further verification of the ghastly conditions, but left after only a short time. “Frankly, I couldn't take it any more…I was sick.” But Feiner was not satisfied. The courier would have to see even more if he was to be an effective witness. Karski agreed to see “The Final Solution” in practice. Dressed as a Ukrainian guard, he entered the transit camp of Izbica Lubelska, were Jews were held until Belzec was ready to receive them. What he saw there defies description. Shattered by the experience, Karski returned to Warsaw to prepare for the long, tortuous journey to London, where he arrived on 25 November 1942. Until he had reached Paris he had carried with him a microfilm placed into a hollowed key, which was then welded shut. The key and its contents were immediately sent to London, arriving there before Karski himself, and formed the basis of a press release issued by the Polish Government in Exile on 24 November. This press release was the source of the material contained in The New York Times report of 25 November and The Times of London report of 7 December, referred to above.

Karski had hoped to meet Churchill, but had to be satisfied with an interview with Eden in February 1943. The audience was polite but unproductive, except to the extent that Eden provided a report of the meeting to the War Cabinet (which included Churchill) on 17 February 1943. Karski remained in England for several months, meeting a variety of supposedly influential people. But nothing of

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consequence occurred, and throughout that time the killing centres continued with their deadly work. The Polish Government decided to send Karski to the United States, where he arrived on 16 June 1943. It was not until late July of that year, eleven months after he had ventured into the Warsaw Ghetto (which no longer existed) and been smuggled into Izbica, that Karski finally met with the one person who could have significantly influenced Allied policy, United States President Franklin D Roosevelt. Karski pulled no punches in making his report to the President:

“There is a difference between the German orchestrated systems of terror against the Poles and the Jews. The Germans want to ruin the Polish state as a state…with regard to the Jews, they want to devastate the biological substance of the Jewish nation….If the Germans do not change their method of dealing with the Jewish population, if there is no effort at Allied intervention, whether through reprisals or other action, barring some unforeseen circumstance, within a year and a half of the time I left the Homeland, the Jewish people of Poland will cease to exist.”
Karski's impassioned plea on behalf of the Jews possibly influenced Roosevelt in his decision to set up the War Refugee Board on 22 January 1944, a move that was to have a beneficial effect, for by the war's end the board had played an important role in saving approximately 200,000 Jews, mainly in Hungary and Rumania. If it had stimulated Roosevelt into action, it was the only tangible consequence of Karski's brave effort to stop the killing. By 1944, of course, the Aktion Reinhard camps had long since been dismantled and most of the victims of the Shoah were dead. Karski's mission had been undermined by a combination of political hypocrisy, uncaring bureaucracy, national self-interest and indifference. The Jews, it appeared, were expendable.

Szwarcbart cabled confirmation of Karski's testimony to the Jewish World Congress in New York on 4th December 1942. Because of wartime censorship regulations, a copy of the telegram, which was passed to the Foreign Office, has survived in the British Public Records Office. Even more extraordinary is the cable sent the preceding day to the Jewish World Congress from Abraham Stupp of the Jewish Agency in Tel Aviv. Since Palestine was then a British Mandate, this telegram was subject to the same wartime censorship regulations and a copy duly made its way to the Foreign Office. The refugees from occupied Europe who had arrived in Palestine on 14 November 1942 had by now been thoroughly de-briefed. The cable contained comprehensive information regarding the Nazi extermination policy, of which the refugees had first hand knowledge. 70,000 Jews had been deported from Lublin. 7,000 had been sent to Majdanek. No trace remained of the remaining 63,000, who had presumably been murdered. In May 1942, only 6,000 Jews remained in Krakow. All other Jewish inhabitants of the city had been deported in an unknown direction and were assumed to have been killed. 10,000 Jews had been deported from Tarnow, with another 7,000 shot at the railway station. Deportations from Warsaw had commenced on 22 June 1942 (actually 22 July) at the rate of 7,000 daily. By October 1942, only 36,000 remained of the city's Jewish population. The deportees had been sent to

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Treblinka, where the “Jews (were) taken (to a) so-called bath-house which (was) hermetically closed. (The) chamber air (was) pumped away (so that) the people suffocate. Other reports say (that the) Jews (are) killed by poison gas.” The fact was that, whatever the method used, no one left the “bath-house” alive. Corpses were being continually cremated. Commencing in January 1942, Jews from the Wartheland had been deported to the village of Chelma (Chelmno) and murdered in gas vans. The cable went on to describe other atrocities, and concluded with a demand that the Governments of the civilized world put an end to these crimes. A copy of the cable was being sent to the heads of democratic nations. It was signed by Anselm Reiss as the representative of Polish Jewry.

By now, the Allies had an almost embarrassing amount of detailed information concerning the extermination of the Jews. Much more was to follow in 1943 and 1944, particularly concerning Auschwitz. From there, a comprehensive report was received by the London office of the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS – the forerunner of the CIA). The two-part report had been compiled on 10 and 12 August 1943 and was received in London on 28 January 1944. It contained comprehensive information on the murders committed at Auschwitz. Amongst other details, the report stated that 468,000 non-registered Jews had been gassed at the camp by September 1942. Between September 1942 and the beginning of June 1943, the camp received approximately 60,000 Jews from Greece, 50,000 from Slovakia and the Protectorate, 60,000 from the Netherlands, Belgium and France and 16,000 from Polish towns. At the beginning of August, 15,000 Jews had arrived from Sosnowiec and Bedzin. Of all of these people, about 2 percent were still alive. Of more than 14,000 Gypsies, 90% had been gassed. The report went on to describe the crematoria at Birkenau, and listed the names of the principal perpetrators: Höss, Schwarz, Aumeier, Mandel, Grabner, and Boger, amongst others. “History knows no parallel of such destruction of human life,” the report said.

There were other reports in the OSS files. On 25 September 1943 the International Red Cross Committee had reported on ghetto clearances in Galicia, including a massacre of the Jewish population of Rawa Ruska in December 1942. There was a statement by an escapee from Treblinka, David Milgrom, dated 30 August 1943 and a report on shootings at Majdanek dated 24 February 1944 (Aktion Erntefest).[13]

On the 11 December, 1942, the 'Times' reports the diplomatic note forwarded by the Polish Government to the governments of the allied countries, which contained information about the extermination of the Jews. It also included the German plans of the total extermination of Jews and of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto where 7000 people (Jews) were transported daily to the death camps. The note continues: the Polish people, though themselves suppressed, express horror and sympathy for their Jewish kinsman through its

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secret organisations. Many Poles help them. The Polish Government appeals to the United Nations for common protest and action to stop the Germans.[14]

On 3 February, 1943, Zygielbojm, reports in the 'International Supplement', published by the Labour Press Services, the continuing repression of the Jews in Poland: the isolation of the ghettos, the death penalty for hiding Jews, or for helping them, and about the mass murders during 1942.[15]

On 28 May, 1943, the 'Polish Jewish Observer' reports the funeral of Szmul Zygielbojm, who committed suicide to draw attention of the free world towards the extermination of the Jews in Poland. The report continues with an announcement by S. Kot made on 28 April, 1943, concerning the heroism of the Jews in the battle of the Warsaw ghetto.[16]

On 29 June, 1944, the 'Manchester Guardian' reports on the news passed by the Polish Government which it had received from Poland, that deportations from Hungary had begun. It further reports: that 100,000 Jews had been gassed at a camp in Poland since mid-May, 6 trains daily have been arriving from Hungary, and that the Germans had already begun to transport Jews out of Theresin camp in Czechoslovakia.[17]

In truth, the fate of European Jewry was sealed long before the Einsatzgruppen began their murderous passage across Poland and the Soviet Union, years before the trains began rolling towards Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. The Jews had been condemned by a pre-war combination of narrow self-interest, xenophobia and bigotry. If there had ever been any doubt about the likely consequence for the Jews of an Eastward thrust by Germany, the events of Reichskristallnacht in November 1938 should have dispersed all illusions. If nobody could have predicted the Shoah, a sense of common humanity should have compelled the civilized nations of the world to open their doors. Instead of which, on the whole, those doors remained firmly shut.

Perhaps the final reflection on this tragic chapter of modern history should be reserved for Szmul Zygelbojm, who had fought so desperately for some recognition of the plight of Poland's Jews. In despair on receiving news of the liquidation of the last Jews of Warsaw, including his wife, Manya, and his 16 year-old son, Tuvia, Zygelbojm committed suicide in London on 12 May 1943, aged 58. His final letters, addressed to members of the Polish Government in Exile included the following:

“Responsibility for the murder of the entire Jewish population lies primarily with the murderers themselves, but indirectly humanity as a whole is responsible – all of the Allied nations and their Governments, who to date have done nothing to stop the crime….I cannot keep quiet, I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland, who sent me here, are being destroyed. My comrades in the Warsaw Ghetto have died a hero's death in the final battle, with a weapon in their hands. I did not have the honour to fall like them. But I belong to them and to their grave – their
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mass grave. May my death be a resounding cry of protest against the indifference with which the world looks at the destruction of the Jewish world, looks on and does nothing to stop it.”
By the time the 'Relief for Jews' in Poland got organised, it was practically too late. Information given to the 'Rzeczpospolita Polska' No. 18, dated 14 October, 1942, gives us some idea of their operations to relieve the plight of the Jews... Springing up in Poland in late 1942 was the Commission for Social Assistance to the Jewish population. This organisation surfaced out the altruistic belief of small groups of dedicated humanists within Catholic and democratic cadres in Poland. This Commission later became the Council Relief for Jews, known as 'Zegota'.[18]

On 9 November, 1942, in an attempt to hold together and to co-ordinate their policies, the Jewish National Committee (ZKN) which composed of all the principle Jewish political parties (except the BUND) accepted the authority of the Polish Underground Organisation who had asked to be recognised as the representative organisation of all Jews in Poland.[19]

In December, 1943, the Commission reported on their progress between 27 September, and 4 December, 1942. During this period 'Zegota' had provided shelter, food, clothing and jobs. They had also assisted those Jews in hiding to obtain documents legalising their situation in the uncertain situation. With the best will in the world, 'Zegota' could only work within the funds and material available. There were many difficulties, none less than their relationship with the Jewish political parties from the outside. In a radio transmission from Poland to London on 8 January, 1943, 'Zegota' reported a transformation in the aid to the Jews, but there was an urgent need for further funding and support.[20]

On the 13 January, 1943, in a radio message to the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish National Committee reiterated that the Jews in Poland were facing total extermination and set out a list of demands for Congress to execute.[21]

In a further radio message on 13 January, 1943, from the Jewish organisation to Szmul Zygielbojm, details three days of fighting in the Warsaw ghetto and about the liquidation of the ghettos in Poland. It appeals for the world to be alerted and the Pope is informed of the catastrophe. A more desperate tone is used when suggesting that German prisoners held by the allies should be held as hostages. The Commission lamented that: 'only 200,000 Jews remain in Poland who are under immediate threat of extermination and it shall be you who shall be responsible'.[22]

On 22 July, 1943, a further radio message from 'Zegota' again outlined the position in Poland that there were very few Jews left, and suggested that the Polish Government urgently ask all democratic governments to organise the exchange of Jews for German Nationals residing on Allied territories. This, 'Zegota' emphasised, was the only way to save the few surviving Jews.[23]

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On 10 August, 1943, a radio message from the Jewish National Committee (ZKN) to dr. I. Schwarzbart[24] delivered via 'Orkan'.[25] The Committee confirmed receiving $20,000 for the Zionists and that this money had been used to save, help and to organise fighting units which are fighting in Poland. The message also confirmed that 800,000[26] Jews were still alive and that there was close co-operation with other Polish organisations.[27]

In August, 1943, the RPZ (Relief Council for Jews) published a further 25,000 copies of their newsletter which were distributed all over Poland. The content outlined the German racial theories and crimes committed in their name.[28] The information stressed the need to continue helping the Jews as requested by General Sikorski shortly before his death.[29] It asked for help and compassion be shown to those Jews trying to hide from inescapable death. It warns Polish criminals, who blackmail, denounce and rob both Jews and those willing to hide them, that they are committing horrible crimes and will be called to account soon.[30]

In September, 1943, in a further leaflet published by the RPZ and distributed all over Poland, brought to the attention of its readers, that the Germans were telling the world that Poles are killing Jews. The KWP (Underground Resistance Directorate) and Special Tribunals condemn to death traitors who blackmail and denounce Jews. Jews should continue to receive assistance, as General Sikorski said in his speech in May, 1942.[31]

On 23 October, 1943, RPZ submitted a comprehensive report to London covering their activities for the period December, 1942, and October, 1943. The report includes their activities in the provinces, their contacts, and assistance given.[32]

On 15 November, 1943, Leon Feiner[33] sent a comprehensive report to dr.E. Szerer, a member of the Polish National Council, from Poland. The report covered the period 1942-3. Feiner refers (in para V) to the military struggle of the Home Army (AK), and draws attention to their improvement of attitude and co-operation. In para V11 he refers to the work of RPZ (Relief Council for Jews) and the progress made in the legalisation of their status. He makes the point that this service is given 'free'. Also reference is made to AK relationships with other organisations (WRN and SD). Finally, an account of moneys: income via the Delegatura in the year 1943; $23,000 and 1,850,000 Polish zloty.[34]

On 29 December, 1943, a radio message to London from the Government Delegate gives a list of members of the RPZ in Poland. It also gives details of other organisations: WRN, SL, PS, and ZKN.[35] The information also included an account of financial information: in 1943 $23,000 came from England and from the Delegatura: 6,250,000 Polish zloty. On 16 May, 1944, in a further

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report, a receipt was enclosed signed by 'Leonka' for monthly assistance to the RPZ to a cell known as 'Felicja'.[36]

On 24 February, 1944, 'Orkan' (Wladyslaw Banaczyk) radios from Poland to London for an instant payment of 3 million Polish zloty from the government funds as an additional sum for the RPZ (Relief Council for Jews) for the purpose of helping the Jewish organisations with arms.[37]

On 24 May, 1944, a radio message for the ZKN (Jewish National Committee) to dr. Ignacy. Schwarzbart in London. It discusses the general situation of the Jews and organisational details. Reference is made to celebrations of the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising by Polish organisations and Jews hiding in Warsaw. It draws notice to nearly 10,000 Jews are bring helped by the RPZ, ZKN and the 'BUND'. The message concludes, stressing close and harmonious relations.[38]

Radio communications from ZKN, Poland to London on 28 July, 1944, and requests further funding to 'fight' for an independent Poland.[39] On the 16 August, 1944, ZOB[40] makes an appeal to the Jews, published in the 'Biuletyn Informacyjny' No. 53, calling on all those able to fight to join the Warsaw Uprising.[41]

On 17 August, 1944, in a radio message to the World Congress, Szymon Gottesman,[42] reports the rescue of several hundred Hungarian, Czech, French and Greek Jews from the camp at Gesia Street, Warsaw by the Home Army (AK).[43]

On 2 December, 1944, in another radio message to London from Leon Feiner to confirm receipt of $129,000 over the year. However, he states that $60,000 was paid by mistake to the Jewish National Committee (ZKN). The report concludes the facts concerning the liquidation of Jewish camps, the death of eminent persons, and the rescue of a group of ZOB members.[44]

What was the so-called Polish Underground movement doing to help the Jews?

On 6 March, 1941, The Polish Government in Exile delivered a proclamation to all Poles living under German occupation. In the 'Biuletyn Informacyjny, it forbade all Poles not to enter into any voluntary service with the Germans, and specifically refers to guarding barracks where Jews are held. On 17 September, 1942, in the same publication, No. 37, there was a declaration by the KWC (Civil Resistance Directorate) in the name of all political groups, to protest against the Germans for their treatment of the Jews.[45]

On 18 March, 1943, a communiqué by the KWC published in Information Buletyn No. 11, reports that the Poles regard the murder of Jews with

[Page 14]

horror and compassion. They have provided the Jews with so much assistance, that the Germans have made it a crime punishable by death to shelter a Jew. However, some criminal elements have been blackmailing both Jews and Poles concealing Jews. The KWC issues a warning that a list of these people is being kept and they will be severely punished as soon as possible.[46]

On 9 December, 1943, a notice by the KWP (Underground Resistance Directorate) published in the Biuletyn Informacyjny, No. 49, reports that Special Civil Tribunals in the Warsaw and Krakow region have condemned: Antoni Pajor and Tadeusz Stefan Karez to death and the loss of civil rights and honour for co-operating with the German police and denouncing Polish citizens of Jewish nationality, and A. Pajor for spying on the dependence activists and denouncing Poles for sheltering Jews.

In 1943, the Special Civil Tribunal started hearings in cases of blackmail, of denouncing to the Germans either Jews living in hiding or Poles concealing Jews. These crimes were punishable by death by shooting, and the loss of civil rights and honour. The KWP gave information about such verdicts through the Information Biuletyn. The Polish Government in Exile were kept informed by radio. These sentences began to appear on a regular basis:[47]

No. 352.9.43Jan Grabiec
No. 3716.9.43Boguslaw Jan Pilnik
No. 109.3.44Janusz Krystek
No. 1330.3.44Jan Lakinski & Boleslaw Szostak
No. 276.7.44Antoni Pietrzak
No. 181.11.43Waelaw Noworol

All the above named were found guilty by the Special Tribunal and immediately taken outside and shot.

One German collaborator not mentioned in the 'Infomation Biuletyn' but later came to notice was, Ignacy Kulik, a nightwatchman working in the slaughterhouse in the town of Zwierszyniec. On 21 October 1942, the German security force swept into the town and rounded up all the Jews. Accompanying the SS was Kulik who pointed out the Jewish residences. All the Jews were taken to the rail station at Szczebrzeszyn where they joined other Jews for the short journey to Belzec). On 29 December 1942, Kulik and his wife were put on trial by the AK,

[Page 15]

found guilty and sentenced to death. They were both shot dead in their home under their Christmas tree.[48]

Armed and Moral Resistance by the Jews in the East

In the General Government there were about thirty active armed partisan units centred in the regions of Warsaw, Czestochowa and Tarnow. It is a fact that many Jews found their way into these units but only by denying their Jewish identity and proclaiming to be Russian or Polish.

There are a number of recorded incidents where the Jews rebelled, albeit in the majority of events were mainly ineffectual. In the ghettos, concentration camps and death camps there are recorded incidents of mass rebellion with successes and failures. The most notable of course, were in the Warsaw ghetto, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz.[49] Further east in the regions of Lithuania and Byelorussia there were armed rebellions but very little detail had emerged. We know from sources that in the Vilna region, there were over 15,000 partisans active, many of which were Jews. Jewish armed resistance in the east was more widespread than at first thought

Unarmed Active Resistance

If we compare the actions of Jews and non Jews during the period of conflict we can make a simple comparison: Did the non Jewish European nation obey the draconian German laws? 'Yes'. Did they resist transports of slave labour? 'No'.

For the Jews, history had taught them in the art of evasion. In the Reich, 400,000 out of 700,000 managed to evade German retribution by leaving. For those that remained, their only defence was the well worn path of traditional Jewish resistance in acquiescing to the German demands.

There are many examples of Jewish resistance by subterfuge, and perhaps the finest example can be found in the legacy of Jewish moral resistance left behind by Emanuel Ringelblum and his 'Oneg Shabat' group. 'Oneg Shabat' recorded the moral fight in the Warsaw ghetto and elsewhere, in their carefully assembled reports, diaries and initiated research projects into medical matters, particularly how hunger effected the Human body. These papers remain an important additional source to our knowledge regarding Jewish life in Poland during the Holocaust.

Education for Jews was forbidden by German law. In a normal environment this would have been restrictive enough, but consider how this was to manifest its self in the ghettos of Poland. With the help of outside agencies, like the 'Joint' and TOZ,[50] the ghettoised Jews were able to uphold their long

[Page 16]

tradition of educating their young in religious and academic excellence to the standard of a recognized curriculum and the setting of examinations. Ringelblum records that there were over 600 minyanim groups praying when this was forbidden and fifty titles of illegal newspapers circulating Warsaw.

'Oneg Shabat' did not know about the speech in Poznan by Himmler in 1943, when he said that ' nothing would ever be known about the 'Final Solution'
He was wrong of course, and we only have to refer to the Ringelblum' legacy of which two thirds survived for historical analysis. There are many such sources which have also enlightened us, non more so that our survey of the Belzec Extermination Camp of 1997/8/9.

The KZs and the death camps presented a far more poignant defiance: In Auschwitz, Yossel Rosensaft records that in December, 1944, he and a group of inmates celebrated Hanukka by obtaining some rough wood and with spoons, carved out eight holes, placed pieces of carton in the holes. They then lit these and sang the Hanukka song. None of the group was religious, but the situation that faced them brought them together in this act of reconciliation and hope - Their Jewishness was secured in their conscience. [51] In Kosow, Galicia, on the eve of Passover 1942, in the face of immediate resettlement or execution four members of the Judenrat defied the call to flee and sat down to await their fate. While they waited one of them had second thoughts. He was told to go and hide. The other three of Kosow prepared to meet their end on Passover 1942. Was their act less than firing a gun?[52]

Robin O'Neil, Salisbury, 2005


  1. The Armia Ludowa was founded in the spring of 1942, but was a very ineffectual group through lack of weapons. Many of the group were Jews who had escaped the ghettos to survive in the forests centred around Lublin By the time the AL had established itself in 1943, most of the Jews were dead. Most of their arms and supplies came from the Soviet, parachuted in to their bases. There was another group, a right-wing group known as the National Armed Forces. This group were basically against everyone foreign including Jews and were aligned to the AK. Return
  2. Most of these research notes come from the archives of non Jewish sources so it will not be surprising that the historical representation is slighted to place a favourable light on their activities. Return
  3. Polish Institute and General Sikorski Museum 20, Princes Gate, London SW7 1PT (PIMGS A 10.4/12) Return
  4. Polish Underground Study Trust, 11, Leopold Road, London W5 3PB (SPP-s. .5) Return
  5. Stanislaw `Stem` Mikolajczyk - Deputy Primeminister 1940-43, Primeminister 1943-44 Return
  6. PIMGS - Archive A. Ciolkosz. Return
  7. Ibid. Return
  8. PIMGS-A. 10.4/12 Return
  9. Ibid. Return
  10. Wladyslaw Sikorski - General, Primeminister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Forces Return
  11. PIMGS - PRM 88/2 Return
  12. [Page 17]

  13. Ibid. - 245 Return
  14. SPP-s 5. Return
  15. Ibid. Return
  16. PIMGS. Archive of A. Ciolkosz - 243. Return
  17. Ibid. - 249. Return
  18. SPP - s. 5 Return
  19. Ibid. - press. Return
  20. Ibid.-s. 5. Return
  21. Ibid. Return
  22. Ibid. Return
  23. SPP - 78 poz. 41. Return
  24. Ibid. Return
  25. Ignacy Schwarzbart dr. - member of the Polish National Council. Return
  26. `Orkan` - pseudonym for Wladyslaw Banaczyk. Minister of the Interior in the Polish Government - in Exile Return
  27. Grossly exaggerated. Return
  28. SPP - 78 poz. 189. Return
  29. For months the Poles were stating that after the Jews, they would be next for the gas chambers. Return
  30. General Sikorski died in an air crash.................... Return
  31. SPP- s. 5. Return
  32. Ibid. Return
  33. Ibid.. Return
  34. Leon Feiner `Berezowski` - Leader of the CK BUND in Poland, also vice Chairman of RPZ (`Zegota`) Return
  35. SPP - 46 poz. 9. Return
  36. WRN ( Wolnosc-Rownosc-Niepodleglosc) - Freedom-Equality-Independence, cryptonym of PPS (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna - Polish Socialist Party during the war).
    SL ( Stronnictwo Ludowe) - The Peasant Party).
    PS ( Zwiazek Polskich Syndykalistow) - Union of Polish Syndicates.
    BUND (Zydowska Partia Socjalistyczna) - Jewish Socialist Party in Poland.
    ZKN ( Zydowski Komitet Narodowy) - Jewish National Committee.
    RPZ ( Rada Pomocy Zydom) - Relief Council for Jews. Cryptonym `Zegota`. Return
  37. Return
  38. SPP - 50 poz. 38. Return
  39. Ibid.. - 16 poz. 120. Return
  40. Ibid.. Return
  41. ZOB - (Zydowska Organizacja Wojskowa) Jewish Fighting Organisation Return
  42. SPP - Press. Return
  43. Szymon Gottesman (`Jozef``). Member of ZKN. Return
  44. Ibid.. Return
  45. SPP - AK vol. V No. 1338 Return
  46. SPP - Press. Return
  47. Ibid.. Return
  48. Ibid.. Return
  49. MTL. Statement of Stanislow Bohdanowicz. Return
  50. Return
  51. [Page 18]

  52. The Joint Distribution Committee, an American based social welfare agency. The Joint was actually just an office which in Poland, distributed American funds to local Jewish agencies such as TOZ, a health agency. On the outbreak of war, the Joint office in Warsaw was headed by a group of men with leftist political views, among them was Dr. Ringelblum. Return
  53. `The Jewish Emergence from Powerlessness`, Toronto, 1974, 26-40 (author unknown). Return
  54. Ibid.. Return


A question that I have been asked countless times is how did you get into Holocaust research?

My mission commenced in the mid 1970s.  I was honoring a pledge I had given some time earlier to an elderly Jew I had dealt with at the Central Criminal Court,  London.  He pleaded guilty to committing serious fraud offences and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Despite his criminal record, he was, by all accounts, a decent man who told me his story about his parents and relatives who had all perished in the Holocaust. Now he was on his own, without family, relatives, or friends, and now sought help from an unlikely quarter.

During the course of many interviews and pre trial enquiries he pleaded with me to find the Nazi criminals responsible for the demise of his family, and to expose the tragedy of Galician Jewry, particularly the Jewish residents in the Galician town of Kolomyja. It transpired that just before the German onslaught in June 1941 into east Galicia, he fled east to Kiev. After the war he returned to Kolomyja where he discovered his loss: 37 near and dear relatives had all perished, believed murdered in local forests, the Janowska camp, and the extermination camp of Belzec.

This was a tall order as, at the time, I had no real interest and had other priorities. I had no reason to respond as the names, 'Belzec', 'Galicia', 'Kolomyja' had not entered my vocabulary. However, the more I thought about it, the more I dabbled in Holocaust literature and the more I researched the more I sensed the injustice of post-war retribution for the men who had committed what appeared to me as the world's greatest crime.

Having spent many years as a major crimes investigator in the UK  I was in a unique position help him: a russian speaker, trained in witness interrogation techniques and forensic discipline. This was to be an unofficial mission brought about by my dealings with a  very competant fraudster who just happened to be Jewish.

Sadly, after two years of serving his sentence he died suddenly from natural causes. As it turned out, I took up the challenge and after 30 years of Holocaust research I have to admit defeat, as I never traced any record of his named family or any record of their final demise. But what followed was  is, perhaps, second best: a reappraisal of historical facts focusing on Belzec as a vehicle plotting the modus operandi of the total destruction of European Jewry, particularly in east and west Galicia.

[Page 19]

I have done my best: the prosecutor had become his friend and had honored his pledge, but too late for him to know.

Poland and Her Jews is just one of several research 'papers'  by the author donated to JewishGen. Others can be seen on the JewishGen website:

Belzec: The Destruction of the Jews in the District of Galicia
Belzec: Prototype for the Final Solution
Kovno Ghetto Diary
Extermination of the Jews of Galicia
Rabka Police School
Robin O'Neil
UK 2005

Editorial comment: For additional information on Shmuel Zygielbojm, see two chapters in the Chelm yizkor book:

Shmuel Mordekhai (Arthur) Zigelboim
Al Kiddush HaShem
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