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Pogrom Cries – Essays on Polish-Jewish History, 1939–1946

2nd Revised Edition


Joanna Tokarska-Bakir

This book focuses on the fate of Polish Jews and Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust and its aftermath, in the ill-recognized era of Eastern-European pogroms after the WW2. It is based on the author’s own ethnographic research in those areas of Poland where the Holocaust machinery operated. The results comprise the anthropological interviews with the members of the generation of Holocaust witnesses and the results of her own extensive archive research in the Polish Institute for National Remembrance (IPN).

«[This book] is at times shocking; however, it grips the reader’s attention from the first to the last page. It is a remarkable work, set to become a classic among the publications in this field.»

Jerzy Jedlicki, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences

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Chapter 2: The Unrighteous Righteous and the Righteous Unrighteous

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Chapter 2:The Unrighteous Righteous and the Righteous Unrighteous1

It is said that both Polish and Jewish memories are clouded by two forms of denial.2 According to the self-exonerating version of their history, in which they present themselves as righteous, the Poles deny that any members of their nation murdered Jews during the period of German occupation. On the other hand, Jews, with their post-Holocaust anguish, seem to reflexively deny that any Poles helped or saved Jews. In this book, written in Poland six decades after the Holocaust, I seek to explore these perceptions in a manner that steers clear of both forms of denial.

The source material for this study comprises several hundred testimonies of Holocaust survivors and in some cases also of people who assisted and saved Jews – these people are referred to as the Righteous. The testimonies were given after the war before the Committee for Historical Documentation in Łódź and Kraków, and in individual cases also in Przemyśl and Białystok.3 The accounts←39 | 40→come from Jews and Poles who survived the Holocaust together, albeit under different conditions. Here I focus on the material from the Kielce and Kraków Provinces, and to a lesser extent from the Białystok Province. Since this evidence is limited and in no way constitutes a statistically representative sample (but no such sample is possible given that most witnesses were murdered before they could testify), the conclusions can only be tentative, based on a presumption that these cases are typical of events in these regions. Yet conclusions based on local accounts that repeat themselves cannot be easily rejected.

The testimonies in the archive of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw were collected in two ways. In some cases, witnesses arrived of their own volition in order to submit evidence to historical documentation committees. In other cases, the committees sought out witnesses and asked them to submit evidence.4 The archival collection also contains depositions by little children and illiterate or sick individuals, which indicates that the committee members collected testimonies in places such as Jewish orphanages. Presumably, the people who submitted testimonies were more or less associated with the Jewish community or registered with Jewish committees. Unlike most other people, they also must have had some awareness that their testimonies were of value. They were also prepared to testify in court. In case a deposition contained clear evidence which could be used in criminal proceedings, the committees would pass them on to the Polish authorities, which in turn were obliged by law to initiate the proceedings. There is also reason to believe that most of those who testified subsequently left Poland.

To the best of our knowledge, the witnesses – at least the Jewish ones – received no compensation whatsoever in exchange for their testimony. In some cases, Poles who testified indicated that they would not refuse financial assistance. Individuals helping Jews would in certain cases indeed receive such assistance5, which was especially useful in the dangerous circumstances caused by ←40 | 41→testifying against the perpetrators, but also by sheltering Jews during the war (for more in this topic, see below).

The question as to the proportion of Holocaust survivors that decided to testify before the committees, and how this affected the nature of the testimonies, remains unanswered.6 Were they people who wished to revert to their Jewish identity and to rejoin Jewish community? Or did the witnesses include some who had experienced particularly severe trauma, on whose bodies and souls the Holocaust had left a wound deeper than that made on those who did not volunteer to give evidence? There are three arguments that run counter to such hypotheses. First of all, many of those who reported to the documentation committees did so not only to demand justice, but also to give the righteous their due. In other words, they were not necessarily intent on cutting all ties with Poles and Poland. Second, this group may well have included many Jews who, during the initial three years following the war, believed the slogans disseminated by the Polish leadership promising autonomy for national minorities. Such people would have resumed their Jewish identity in the hope of gaining true equality of rights in Poland. Third, another conjecture is equally credible: it could be that among those Jews who decided after the war not to reclaim their Jewish identities (and, therefore, not to submit testimony), were some who had had a good turn and who were therefore optimistic about the prospects for life in a mixed society. Or the contrary might be true: among those who refrained from testifying were perhaps some whose experiences were particularly harsh. In sum, there seems to be no unequivocal reason to believe that the evidence on which this ←41 | 42→article is based is skewed because only some of the Holocaust survivors submitted testimony to the Jewish Historical Documentation Committees.

Before concluding this methodological introduction, I need to address the issue of the critical attitude that a scholar must take with regard to such testimonies. Witness statements exert a great influence over the student of the past. This manifests itself in the decision about selected principles of scepticism the scholar is entitled to adopt or waive. The testimonies of three members of a Jewish family who survived by taking refuge with farmers in the Nowy Brzesk region exemplify the problem. They asserted that the mother of the family was shot dead by “local [Polish] fighters [jędrusie, as the partisans were known]”7. What evidence could contradict their recollections, unverifiable as they are, six decades after the event?8 This would be an inept question were it not for a known situation where it is fully justifiable: let us mention frequent false accusations that Jews were drawing up proscription lists for the NKVD. The Polish community in Podlasie found it much easier to make such accusations rather than e.g. point the finger at Polish mayors collaborating with Soviet authorities9. A memory may mislead not only when it is false or ignores facts; a tormented memory may even simplify certain facts.

The Body of Sources as a Discourse Framework

The detached style of these testimonies submitted by the survivors and rescuers alike stems from the witness statement procedure, where the testimony is taken down by a clerk. Apart from the children, the witnesses appear to be calm and to choose their words carefully. As part of the routine procedure, witnesses were warned that they bore personal responsibility for submitting false evidence. Yet despite all this, one can nevertheless sense the emotions at play beneath the formality of the structure imposed on them.

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Like every body of sources, these testimonies have a distinct “discourse framework”10, comprising content that can almost certainly be expected to be found in these sources. This content is related to the witnesses’ psychological state, and to the nature of the institution that gathers the testimonies and records them. Comparison of testimonies submitted on different occasions and in various periods, indicates that the historical moment exerts a minor but nevertheless noticeable influence on the rhetoric and the poeticality of expression.11 A Jew who in 1945 was as yet unaware of the extent of the destruction of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, and who still held out hope for a shared life with the Poles, observed the past in a manner different to that of a Jew who survived the pogrom in Kielce. Factors such as the presence of a clerk, the mode of recording, the language in which the conversation was held, and the purpose of the testimony all had a real effect on the conditions under which the testimony was submitted12. The language element was by no means unequivocal, since a conversation conducted in Polish could have signaled detachment from the Jewish experience, but alternatively it might have been an affirmation of the equality of rights in a democratic postwar Polish society. Also, by abolishing or creating distance to the witness’s narrative, the recorder of the testimony could determine, in a subtle yet unavoidable manner, the discursive framework within which the narrative was related.

To be exact, alongside testimonies whose final form was determined by an intermediary – the recorder of the deposition – this collection of sources includes also direct testimonies written by the survivors themselves or by the people who helped them survive. While the former type of testimony has inevitably undergone a measure of stylization, memories recorded by the witnesses themselves, ←43 | 44→either in Polish or in Yiddish13, exhibit a wide variety of register, vocabulary, and style. They use distinctive idiolects: the language of children, such as the testimony of Rózia Unger or that of Lili Szynowłoga; Polish local dialect with elements of mazuration, such as that of Szajek Nysybom; florid rhetoric, such as that of Fania Brzezińska, who clearly was an aspiring writer; or the biblical cadences of Abraham Forman, interspersed with verbatim verses from the psalms.14 Several of the witnesses seek to gain the sympathy and approbation of their anticipated readers by employing the political language of their time, including expressions such as “the reactionary underground”, “liberation”, and “Soviet brotherhood.”15 If such language is taken to be no more than the parroting of propaganda, its singular relation to the content of the testimony is lost. Such phrases grate on the reader’s ear only if the reader fails to acknowledge, in his/her own reaction, what the German philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer calls the “stimulus of prejudice” (Vorurteile reizen). This visceral reaction is often a marker of the difference between the Polish and Jewish historical experience.

The testimonies examined in this chapter are complemented by ethnographic fieldwork conducted, 60 years after the end of the war, in the Sandomierz region and in some other locations in Kielce Province.16 The ethnography offers a fresh ←44 | 45→understanding of the topic of the Righteous. The language of these witnesses, now old men and women, constitutes, for the scholar capable of deciphering it, a window into the past, preserving as it does traces of wartime vernacular: “to apprehend Jews,” “to hand over Jews,” “to hold,” and “to conceal.”17 Among those who have demonstrated the significance of this phenomenon is Bogdan Wojdowski, a prominent writer of Polish Holocaust literature, who bases his writing on “colloquial speech, the voice of memory of that time”18. In the present chapter this very idiom serves as a key to unlock doors to other sources. If at all possible, it is this language that allows us to experience the past.

In this chapter, which constitutes a contribution to the history of mentality, I adopt the rule of “redescription”19, that is, a new reading of old sources. I have also availed myself of new ethnographic material which offers additional insights, or additional nuances, to the understanding of the subject. To see beyond our own conceptual walls, which box the subject in, we must first examine the concepts in our lexicon that are external to the subject, those that ethnography calls “etic,”20 i.e. as described by outside observers (as opposed to “emic”, as described by a person within the culture). One of the professional risk factors for historians and anthropologists is succumbing to the persuasive powers of sources with which they, to a lesser or greater extent, unconsciously sympathize. According to the positivist methodological postulates, the more the researchers deny that the language of the sources influences them, the more they are liable to such influence.

Nevertheless, the author’s outlook inevitably casts a shadow on the sources. This idiom should be taken literally, given that there is no such thing as a ←45 | 46→reader without a position. This must be countered with a pervasive awareness of our particular views, and a continuous effort to avoid the pitfalls of uncritical thought.21

I have chosen to refer to the two types of witnesses as “survivors” and “abettors.” I eschew the term “the rescued,” which implies that these people were merely objects to be rescued, while the others were fully capable of saving them if they wished. In reality, the first condition for survival was for the person facing death to embark on the tortuous path of searching for help, and to subsequently persevere. No one could survive who did not affirm, anew each day, his or her will to live. This can be seen in Adolf Rudnicki’s story Złote okna (Golden Windows).22

In criticizing the tendency to depict those in need of assistance as objects bereft of the capacity to act of their own volition, I seek to counter portrayals of rescue that employ a childish, ambivalent dichotomy between “Jewish gratitude that transcends all possible reward,” and “ignoble Jewish ingratitude”23. The Polish discourse that denies any responsibility for the fate of the Jews uses this dichotomy in speaking of the Righteous24, to absolve itself of all blame for relations ←46 | 47→between Poles and Jews during the period of German occupation. My choice of terms represents a conscious attempt to avoid the trap laid by such dichotomous usages.

The symbolic category of the Righteous should be similarly nuanced. I reserve the use of the term “Righteous” only for those who have been officially declared Righteous by Yad Vashem, substituting it with descriptive terms in this book. Both the rescue and the taking of risk in rescuing Jews were not sporadic acts of will, but rather decisions that had to be made anew every day. In some cases, such decisions were rescinded under pressure of circumstances. Did the righteous person in these cases become unrighteous?

The Righteous Unrighteous

One such ambivalent narrative was related to ethnographers in the village of Furmany

[Transcript 122w, Furmany near Sandomierz, informant no. 1]:

[O]ne such case occurred here, there on the edge of the forest, when they kept these Jews, hid them. I don’t know for how long, what or how, I only know what people spoke … then German police came, gendarmes, and killed eleven or twelve Jews … the same guy … who kept them … went and told that a whole herd of Jews had set upon him and had been unwilling to leave him alone… He went on and on, so those, they came to see… […] he kept those Jews for something, for some reason, didn’t he? So they didn’t touch them, his children neither, just those Jews ←47 | 48→only… And even – there were eleven of those Jews – one of them [ran away] somewhere… the bullet flew by, didn’t kill…

[Informant no. 2]

Because first they placed them one next to the other, and he went and was shooting them in the heads, and he didn’t hit one of them in the head, but just here by the ear, so he hurt him, but he thought he was already dead… They left, because it [was] in the evening, at night, [it was] dark… and this one he sprang up and fled into the forest…

[Informant no. 1]

Because later nobody knows what has become of him…

[Informant no. 2]

There were rumors that he was in England… […] He had left, he had left, had fled, and so the Lord God brought him luck […]

In inarticulate language that smacks of the truth, another resident of a village in the Sandomierz region told ethnographers:

[Transcript 175N, Sokolniki near Sandomierz]:

I myself concealed them. Yes. […] I kept them in hiding for two months, and then they kind of moved around among the same people… and people hid them.”

They came to you, right? Asking you for help?

[…] Yes, for help, because one […] of the Jewish women, she had these goods, textiles, and she would bring what she had in this shop to keep for her, and used to take from us, stored them with us. And she used to go then to people’s homes and people would feed her, kept her with them, then she paid the people with this merchandise. So also… in the end there was no way to keep them … there was one guy, Alscher [Olcha – a Silesian, resettled from Silesia, a Volksdeutsch in German service], a Gestapo agent during German [occupation], and he found out about them, and people handed them over25 and they were killed.

And you hid one person, or…

With children … I hid two families.

I see.

There was this tailor and… He was – they, they were our neighbors – this Kajla, with children, she also had two sons. So then, and these… we were hiding [them], but… For a month, for a fortnight, like that, and [the family] moved on, and on, it was like that… It could not stay in one place for long, because someone informed and…

And in the village did the people know that these Jews were staying with you?

No, no, no, no. It was a hiding place. A hiding place. But they … they were all killed. No one alive today knows about it and can come and tell about it…

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The man speaks of Jews who did not survive even though they were helped. He himself had tried to rescue two families, to no avail – but he offers no details. A moment later he returns to the circumstances under which he received the Jews into his household. It transpires that a Jewish woman, a neighbor, came to take refuge in his barn, unbeknownst to him. He did not drive her away when he discovered her, but she did not stay there long – someone informed on her and she was murdered together with her two children.

[N179, Sokolniki near Sandomierz]:

I go there to take some hay for bedding for the cows, and I fall into this pit there. And lo and behold – Jews are there. Well, she … this Jewess was sitting there with these children.”

They were hiding there without your knowledge?

Yes, without my knowledge. And she was there, I don’t know how many days she had been there. […] And she grabbed [me] by the leg, and she begged to bring her something to eat, she was so hungry. Well, so I came home, I said to mother, to father, that this and that… First they made a hot [meal], and they already had to be fed, and she was there for some days and went onward. And she would return again, and again she pleaded with us, and we had to keep her there again for a week, or two weeks. Well, [we] felt sorry for these Jews!

And you weren’t afraid to conceal Jews like that?

Good Lord, well, it … how should we have turned them in, to death, you tell me? Well, how could we have turned them in? […] Or drive them away like some animal out into the street? It was impossible. We had to take them in and that was that. And apart from that they were people we knew. And even if they had not been our acquaintances, it would have been impossible to do such a thing. I am of the opinion that one must take in a person and help him … And not, you cannot this way, that… but I felt sorry for them, when they shot her, I saw it and it was making me sick. Gestapo [agents] came over, and there was also the Polish police. She was in the middle, the children on both sides … and that’s how they shot them, [lying] on the ground…

Note that the speaker recalls the event in a manner that does not endanger his perception of good order in his world. He helped; he could have done no more. “There was no way to keep them,” he says. Nevertheless, the painful memory of having watched their cold-blooded execution clouds his satisfaction at having done a good Christian deed.26 In this narrative, there appears a theme of “people ←49 | 50→turning in” the Jews; yet the role of executioner is not played by one of the “people” who denounced them, but by a Silesian, a Volksdeutsch, and thus a stranger, which reaffirms the speaker’s conviction that all is as it should be in his world and that he himself had behaved properly.

In the next village over, named Radomyśl, the person who hunted down Jews is identified as a neighbor:

[272N, Radomyśl]:

And have you heard of anyone who handed Jews over to the Germans?

Yes, there were such people, here there was someone who used to capture the Jews and take them to Zaklików.

And why?

Because he gave him money for it.

The Germans? He simply did it for the money?

[C]ertainly not for love!

And what did you think of such a person then?

[W]e all cursed him: how could he, how could he! … But these were such times, everyone was afraid, everyone kept very, very quiet!

According to this woman, the villagers, subjected to fear and terror, had condemned the Jew hunter, but his existence did not particularly shock anyone; in the popular belief, the Jew hunter played a “negative” role, and was just as indispensable as a “good” person.27 How did the presence of a man like this affect the overall morality of the village? We learn about this only from Jewish testimonies. Szymon ←50 | 51→Sztrumpf was hiding together with his son (who also survived), his brother and his family (who did not survive), and his mother and her granddaughter (who did not survive) in villages not far from Staszów. He did not venture to submit his testimony to the Historical Documentation Committee in Łódź until 1948.

[Clerk’s note]

The witness came to us and requested that we accept his enclosed testimony and pass it on to the authorities… When he was asked why he had reported so late to submit evidence of this kind, he replied that up to now, he had been apprehensive as to level public accusations at the murderers of his family in fear of his safety. Now he is no longer afraid. […]

“My brother, his wife and their children were hiding in various locations, the last one being at Józef Siudak’s (son of Piotr and Juliana, res. in the village of Zapusty near Tuczępy), who murdered them after a few days. This happened roughly in the second half of June 1942. My brother and his family were murdered by Józef Siudak and his cousin Jan Siudak from the village of Wierzbica, municipality of Tuczępy. They shot them with guns at night, Józef Siudak took the corpses on a cart to the forest and buried them…”

When asked how he knew of all this, the witness answered: “I have been told of this by the above-mentioned Wilk Stefan [Sztrumpf and his son were mostly hiding with this Wilk in the village of Tuczępy] and Samiec Stefan, res. in the village of Zapusty. I hasten to add that Józef Furman, res. in the village of Zapusty, heard the shots and the cries of the victims. The murderers robbed their victims. I stress that the Germans were 25 kilometers from this village, in Chmielnik and Busk. Not one of them came to this village regarding matters concerning Jews. The peasants concealing Jews were in no danger from the Germans. […] The Siudak brothers belonged to a band of robbers that hunted Jews, etc. In June 1942, Jan Siudak apprehended a beggar Jew, who was pretending to be a Pole, without the armband. He took him over to the head of the Tuczępy municipality. The municipal secretary Zarzycki (now working as an administrator) declared that it is not a municipal matter. So Jan Siudak led this Jew on a leash into the nearby forest and shot him dead in broad daylight. He did not even bury him. The body was seen by, among others, Kwiecień Jan, res. in the municipality of Tuczępy, the village of Podlesie, Busko district. Stefan Samiec saw Siudak, address noted above, leading this Jew on a leash into the forest. Kwiecień, in whose house I was hiding at the time, showed me a document he had found on the victim. Kwiecień told me that this Jew had been killed by Siudak Jan. I do not remember the surname written on the document, but the first name Jankiel had been erased, with Jakób written [instead]. Kwiecień said that before shooting, Siudak pulled down the victim’s trousers to verify whether he was a Jew.”28

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This testimony includes a section on the murder of the witness’s brother; his mother, Cylka Sztrumpf, who would move from one hiding place to another in the vicinity of the village of Zapusty together with her granddaughter; and of two other Jews: Lutek Kleinmann and Feliks Gruszka. The first murder was allegedly committed by five local men, with the approval of the village mayor. Once they had murdered the mother, they removed her boots, extracted her gold teeth and tore out the earrings. The testimony concludes with a list of goods appropriated by the murderers: “a down pillow, 12 meters of silk cloth for shirts and a scarf.”29

←52 | 53→

In his testimony, Szymon Szwarcberg talks about the activity of Jew hunters in the village of Osiembrów, municipality of Rozniszew, Kozienice district. When the witness’s sister approached one of the residents requesting that he return to her the belongings that she had left with him for safekeeping, the man set his dog upon her and then turned to the sołtys (elected head of the village), demanding that she be arrested. The sołtys severely beat the woman and then ordered two of the villagers to transport her by cart to the municipal offices (Polish: gmina) in Rozniszew. Since the municipal officials were unwilling to detain her, the farmers transported her to a sawmill where German gendarmes were stationed. It was only there that she was shot. In return, “Władyslaw Łukasik demanded a reward of […] 50 kilograms of sugar. He was told in response that he would get the sugar once he brought also this Jewess’ brother, meaning myself.”30

These two testimonies indicate that in these villages a fairly large group of people enhanced their livelihoods by capturing and robbing Jews (in the village of Zapusty this group comprised at least seven people). They made no particular effort to conceal their actions, as they murdered also in broad daylight. In their own way they tried to ensure that everything was done according to correct procedure: before they shot Sztrumpf ’s mother and her granddaughter, the murderers had received “a written note” from the sołtys. In the first case, the group of murderers included the local blacksmith, and in both cases the village heads were members of the group. The gang of criminals in the village of Zapusty was engrossed in a game of cards with one of them31; and the appearance of one of the Jewish women cut short the party. It transpires that the names of the murderers were common knowledge in the village. One may conjecture whether and how this knowledge affected the history of these villages after the war.32

It is difficult to assess how representative these villages were. Some people concealed the Jewish residents; others – such as the council secretary Zarzycki, the heads of the rural council of Rozniszew, or the Polish policemen who were stationed at Magnuszew and Grabów – feigned indifference and thereby ←53 | 54→protected the Jews.33 Others murdered them, and there were even those – and it is perhaps appropriate to include among them the person who, according to the first testimony, produced information on what he had found in the pocket of one of the murdered – who were unable to arrive at a clear decision regarding the category to which they belonged.34 This categorization somewhat complicates Jewish perceptions of the types of people they encountered, increasing the number of their categories to four: “Several of them pretended not to know the witness at all, some expressed understanding of his plight, expressed compassion and sought to lend a hand, while others sought to turn him in to the Germans.”35 Among the possible responses, genuine apathy was in fact a deficiency – the lack of a visceral reaction, as seen in the testimony below: “Dawid […] begged me not to turn him in.” At least two of these groups, the abettors and the informers, were hostile to one another (see the section below, “The Polish-Polish War Concerning the Jews”).

Conspiratorial Secrecy

Prior to addressing dissension among the Poles, it is necessary to paint, in broad brushstrokes, the conditions under which Jews were concealed. Every testimony that relates to this topic stresses above all that conspiratorial secrecy was an essential element of success. The following testimony shows that the speaker, who was nine years old at the time of the events she relates, had no inkling that her mother was hiding Jews. Her mother remained silent about it even after the war, out of apprehension that concealment of Jews was a punishable transgression under Polish law.


[M]y mother even concealed a Jewish woman.

And do you know anything about it?

I actually know nothing.


←54 | 55→

Nothing, absolutely nothing, I only know that… She had a Jewish friend from Zaklików, who entreated her to conceal her, so she took her in and kept her somewhere under the barn, under the hay for some time – because obviously – it was not allowed, and later my sister arranged for [a travel card] allowing her to go for forced labor to Germany. Because somehow, they were taking, the Germans were taking [people] by force, but one could volunteer. So my sister reported there as a volunteer and gave the card to the Jewess – if it works out, it works out, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, too bad – […] and she left for Germany. And she apparently survived. […] No, she didn’t stay in Germany, she actually went somewhere else. Oh my, I don’t know whether to Israel, I don’t know where [she went], I don’t remember because I was a child when the war ended, and she wrote a letter to my mother…

She made contact, that is.

She made contact immediately after the war…The war had just ended, so the Poles did not even know for sure whether to be scared for having concealed Jews, or not to be scared. Because it was not announced yet, and she had already made contact. My mother got really scared, because she had seven children. Mother says: Oh my, nothing is clear, what if they punish [us], or something, there were some dollars or something in that letter, she gave [them] to that postman, she burnt the letter, that was the end of the matter.36

“Even my mother’s own mother didn’t know about it, and it would have been inconceivable to reveal it to strangers,”37 say Mieczysław and Helena Gosk, who concealed “nine Jewish people, preventing their death at the hands of the Germans”. The ethnographic record contains only a handful of cases of villages in which no one was tempted to inform when it was an open secret that a particular villager was hiding Jews.38 In certain cases, when the person hiding the fugitives couldn’t ←55 | 56→maintain secrecy, another member of the family secretly took over this responsibility. This is what occurred in the case of Władysława Przerwa from the village of Łoje near Kozienice.39 Before she took in David Goldman, who had escaped from the ghetto, he was being hidden by her brother, Mieczysław Maj, for two weeks.

Mr. Goldman would sew for the peasants, and several of them therefore kept him with them…40 When this became known to the neighbors, they threatened my brother, saying that because of him the entire village would be set on fire. Mr. Dawid was forced to escape. In July (most probably 1943) I came across Mr. Dawid in a field. He entreated me not to turn him in. From then on I regularly brought him milk, bread, everything I had.

From early autumn of 1943 the fugitive was hiding in the owner’s cowshed, initially without her knowledge and eventually with her consent. In the winter he would come inside in the evenings.

On one occasion some armed Polish partisans came in to eat supper. At the time Mr. David was in the small room. When my daughter asked them what they would do if a Jew wished to join the partisans, they said “A bullet in the head and into the Vistula he goes.”41 I was extremely fearful that they might find out who was hiding with us. I hid Mr. Goldman under a duvet. When the partisans entered the small room they luckily failed to notice him. That’s how Mr. Goldman survived with us until the liberation.

The motives for concealing Jews were sometimes changing over time. The members of the Elbinger family were prosperous textile merchants in Nowy Brzesk. We are familiar with their story through the testimony of their son Emanuel,42 ←56 | 57→and the two testimonies of his sister Pola. The Elbingers hid with a family of farmers near the town.

During the day we were concealed in the attic, at night we slept in the house. At first it was good there, but as time passed the people hiding us made increasing demands. Conditions deteriorated, they gave us less and less food and continually demanded more of us. We had considerable property in safekeeping with various people. Mother would often go to Nowy Brzesk to bring money, [bringing along] my brother dressed as a girl. We were unable to meet the demands of our “benefactors.” Some days we ate nothing at all, and the farm owner once attacked father and beat him. The homeowner’s cousin was a member of AK and there was an ammunition store in the attic where we were hiding. We realized that our hosts were seeking to extort all our property from us and then kill us. Once we overheard a conversation: “Would that this should come to an end once and for all, we must sharpen the axes…” We found a shelter with another peasant, who agreed to conceal only myself and mummy. But it was difficult to escape from our hosts, they were guarding us well. Mum decided to trick [them]. She asked the host’s cousin to walk me over to a priest who had allegedly agreed to take me on. The guy was indignant: “You want me to walk a Jewish sprat?” Mum was glad and said she would walk me [there] herself.43

Some survivors talked about Poles who despite family tragedies courageously persevered in their decision to conceal Jews. The testimony of Władysław Piwowarczyk, a Pole from Busko, whose brother had been a Communist prior to the war, begins with an account of how this brother, arrested by the Gestapo, was freed from the prison in Korczyn by his Jewish comrades, fellow Communists Szapsa Raca and Chaim Pisarz.

At night they pried open the lock of the cell door and freed him. […] When they expelled the Jews from the town, more Jews came to me, the two Sztrosberg brothers with the wife of one of them, Wajnbaum with his wife and child, and Szapsa Raca’s fiancée, the three Cukier sisters – Communists – and Wajnbaum’s brother Szymek, with his wife. All of them together with my brother stayed in a hideout that I had prepared for them under the ground. They were all with me for a year; that is, from February 2, 1943. Since my family found it hard to meet their needs, my brother decided to leave the hiding place and take with him another five people. He took Szymek Wajnbaum, the three Cukier sisters, Szymek Wajnbaum’s wife. He led them to my sister Wojtaszewicz in the village of Stanisławice. She received all of them. She prepared a good hideout for them underground. Szymek Wajnbaum even installed a radio in there. They stayed there for ←57 | 58→a whole year, up to January 31, 1944. Their hiding place was discovered by the people from the National Armed Forces (NSZ). My brother and the others were armed. As they were unable to get them out of that hideout themselves, they called 11 Blue policemen to counter them. They did these Jews in, along with my brother. [My] sister, fearful of the Gestapo, had to flee the village after they had done them in. She took refuge in my house with her husband and two children. I had to prepare another hideout for her.44

In a letter sent from Paris on January 31, 1949, Izrael Wajnbaum confirms that Piwowarczyk was concealing Jews even after his brother was killed, and built no less than four shelters for them in his field. Clerk Klara Mirska comments:

Witness Piwowarczyk also showed me letters sent from Paris and Germany by the people he had saved. They are full of devotion; he also showed me their photographs with dedications. […] Mr. Piwowarczyk impresses me as a very good and honest man. He has not come alone. He was accompanied by Jews from Nowy Korczyn, currently residing in Łódź, who were adamant that the story of his sacrifice should be recorded and stored in the Institute Archive.

Nevertheless, heroic deeds must have been rare45. More often, we may suppose, the concealment of Jews looked as it did in Przysucha:

The entire large Biderman family (the mother and a number of sons) were killed by a local fascist Otwynowski Jan, now a resident of Przysucha and owner of several post- Jewish houses and plots, he comes from Opoczno. In 1942, he married miller Iwański’s daughter. Otwynowski and his wife rented quarters from Baltowski [a forest trader]. In 1942, when the ghetto was on the point of destruction, some of its inhabitants were trying to survive at all costs. The Bidermans, together with their mother found “refuge” with the above-mentioned Otwynowski. This choice was evidently influenced by the good opinion of citizen Iwański, his father-in-law. Otwynowski was concealing the Bidermans together with their mother for about half a year. Once this “benefactor” Otwynowski had succeeded in extorting all their property (they received a lot of money from the sale of their manufactory […]), the “honorable” citizen apparently decided that his “patriotic mission” had come to an end and murdered them all.46

←58 | 59→

The Story of Maria Szczecińska

Political and religious convictions presumably impelled some left-wing Poles47 to rescue Jews, whereas others were motivated by devout religious faith48. But what other circumstances led Poles who do not fit these categories to decide to help Jews, and to persist in this over time?

The story of Maria Szczecińska from Staszów in the province of Kielce, a woman who concealed fifteen Jews over a period of 22 months, appears to be an extremely rare, albeit typical case. A report from the 1960s states:

On October 2, [1947], the citizens Pasmantier Bine, Segał Daniel and citizen Szpic Samuel reported to us and testified as follows: cit. Maria Szczecińska, resident at 39/22 Sienkiewicz Street, a Catholic and mother of five, concealed 1549 Jews during the occupation in Staszów in [the province] of Kielce: Pasmantier Bine, Pasmantier Chaim, Daniel Segał, Rachmil Segał and [his] cousin Hersz Goldberg, Fela Piekarska, Andzia Piekarska, Benek Goldberg, Froim Goldberg, Adela Bend, Natan Bend, Szmul Wiener, Nachman Wiener, Goldberg Rózia. We built ourselves a hiding place in the Staszów railway station, this was an excavation beneath cit. Szczecińska’s apartment. She was a clerk who worked at the railway service. We were paying for the food. Her daughter was, she worked as a railway clerk. When the Gestapo found out that Jews were hiding in the station, Szczecińska led us to another hiding place in the forest, belonging to her acquaintances. She stayed there with us and protected us, and when things settled down she took us to her place, where we spent the entire day in the basement, and the evening in her flat, where we would take care of our various needs. She would see a priest in Kraków for confession, as she was afraid to tell someone in Staszów that she was concealing Jews. We stayed with her for 22 months. We help her as much as we can, but ←59 | 60→cit. Szczecińska’s financial situation is very difficult, she has 5. [sic] children. Szczecińska is an honest woman50.

The next document in this collection was written in 1963. It is a personal history written in Szczecińska’s own handwriting. From it we learn that when she became a widow in 1930 and remained the sole provider for five children, she obtained a position at the railway by virtue of personal connections and was transferred to Staszów (before that, she was working in her hometown of Brześć nad Bugiem)51. In 1941 a number of Jewish acquaintances approached her and asked her to conceal them. She agreed, and for a month (a different version of the testimony speaks of four months) she kept them in a woodshed. The fugitives then returned to the ghetto, where they were employed by Emler, a German road construction company. After the dissolution of the ghetto, they again asked her for sanctuary.

I must admit that – she writes – at the time, in 1942, when I agreed to take them all in, I thought that this would maybe last a few months and that the Germans would then calm down. I did not know that we would live in this awful horror for more than 2.5 years. I lived with the children in a small house, 200 meters from the station. During several dozen nights the children and I dug beneath one of the rooms, removing the earth partly to the river and partly to the garden. Later, together with the Jews, we completed the shelter and we even equipped it with electrical lighting. It seems to me that my concealment of these people was smoothed by the fact that I handed over to other Polish families all their valuables for safekeeping (unfortunately, not all of them were later willing to return the items that they had taken). Staszów is a small town. Generally everyone knew who had placed their valuables with whom, and as I had not received anything of the sort, nobody suspected, almost until the end of the war, that I could have taken on so many people without taking their property as well. … To describe what lengths [we] had to go to in order to provide food for so many, without arousing suspicions by bulk shopping; or the deception and precautions we had to take so that one of the Jewish women (Pinka Pozmantier) could give birth to her baby in our house, I would have to write a book. I am unable to do that, but probably the best ending is the fact that when the first Red Army troops entered Staszów in late July 1944, fifteen Jews emerged from my hiding place alive and well…52

Another version of Szczecińska’s narrative, written three years previously53, offers additional details. It gives the ages of Szczecińska’s children, who shared the responsibility for concealing Jews in their home. Her eldest daughter was fifteen years old in 1939, and the youngest was ten years old. At the time, Szczecińska lived in a detached three-room house close to the station building. Since she ←60 | 61→hailed from Poland’s eastern border regions, in town she was referred to as a “Russian”. “I was rather isolated in Staszów and by virtue of this isolation I managed to conceal the Jews in my home,” she writes. We learn that she ultimately gave shelter to three married couples: the Goldbergs with their two teenage sons, the Segałs and the Bends; two bachelors related to Segał; Tola Goldberg’s sister-in-law; and also Samuel Wiener with his cousin and Rózia Goldberg. It was Bina Segał who gave birth to a baby in the hideout. The baby was entrusted to the care of Morsyna, a villager who – Szczecińska says – “was taking good care of it”. In spite of that, the child died.

What remains etched in the memory of the reader of Szczecińska’s testimony is her isolation, the imperative impressed upon the children to keep the secret under all conditions, the thought process that preceded the decision about how and where to build the shelter, and the conscious choice of poverty as protection against the jealousy of her neighbors. Seclusion, to the extent of physical isolation, blocked every breach through which the secret might have leaked, while her poverty prevented any suspicion that she might be hiding “rich” Jews.

Poverty – albeit not by choice – which despite itself spurs compassion that does not balk at sharing what little there is with others, also appears in the testimony of Lili Szynowłoga, who was five years old when the war broke out. She was hiding in the vicinity of Chęciny in the Kielce province.

A Polish acquaintance advised us [the girl and her mother] to go to the cemetery, to a poor old man who would take us in. Mummy delivered me there and paid for me. […] My cousin and the old man knew of a hideout. They covered it with stone slabs from the graves. We bought a bundle of straw, we lined the hideout with straw to keep us warm. […] We sat concealed there until Christmas. In the dark or with a candle-stub. We were scared to go into town. The old man brought us food when there was no one in the cemetery. […] This old man, a beggar, he cooked for us. He was a very decent man. When the second winter came we no longer had money or provisions. [My] cousin went to town but there he was captured by AK [the Home Army] men, who wanted to know where rich Jews were hiding. But my cousin did not betray us, so they shot him dead in the town square and buried him in the cemetery where we were hiding. Mummy sat up all night, waiting for [my] cousin. Only three days later we learned about the tragedy and we cried so much. Mummy was v. weak and I was only little and there was no one to look after us. We would have died of hunger had it not been for that old man. He went about the villages and begged, and so protected us and concealed us for ½ a year until liberation. He treated me and my mummy as he would his own children. When he went to see friends at Christmas and got a cake, he would bring it home and divide into equal parts.54

←61 | 62→

The Story of Victoria Nowosielska from Glinów

Zelman Zalctrejger,55 who escaped from the Opoczno ghetto in October 1942 together with his brother-in-law Herszek Cygielfarb, was concealed by Wiktoria Nowosielska, a resident of a nearby village of Glinów. The two men stayed with her for 26 months, until the arrival of the Soviet army on January 17, 1945. Two familiar themes resonate in his description of her: solitude (even though Nowosielska was not alienated from her community) and poverty. Nowosielska’s husband died two days after they took the Jews into their home. The couple was childless. Upon the death of her husband, neighbors and acquaintances came to visit her, which put the two Jews hiding in the attic at risk of being discovered. The money that the men brought with them sufficed for at most six months, until Easter 1943. From this time onward, Nowosielska fed them at her own expense: “She sold many things left by her husband, and made ends meet by engaging in petty trade. And she continued to feed us as before, as in the period when we were paying her for provisions – three times a day,” Zalctrejger explained. She received unwitting assistance from members of her own family from nearby Zachorzów, who supported the needy widow with provisions from their farm – potatoes, cabbage, and occasionally meat. “Nowosielska would give us the best food, such as lard and the like, and when we tried to refuse this she insisted, stressing that she was free to go about, so it didn’t matter what she ate, while we were in confinement without fresh air and without seeing sunlight – and we therefore had to eat better.” She kept the presence of the fugitives secret from her extended family. The two men in hiding could overhear conversations held in the apartment below through a crack in the ceiling, and through another crack in the roof they were able to observe the road.

The risk of discovery was greatly exacerbated during the period of the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944), which saw the arrival of a wave of refugees from the capital. “With Nowosielska’s consent, we turned one of the rooms into a pig-sty and a hen-house, and we destroyed the kitchen stove and the heating stove in the other room in order to render it uninhabitable. And the people from Warsaw indeed were not tempted to take up residence in such accommodation.” A similar stratagem was utilized when the front approached the village. The landlady “bandaged her head, spread around her all sorts of bottles and medicinal containers, and pretended that she was suffering from a serious ailment.” The fear of contagion deterred the various gangs from seeking lodgings there, although it ←62 | 63→did not prevent them from searching the attic. To counter such eventualities an additional emergency hideout was installed in the house. This was a bunker for two people, excavated beneath the floor, in which Zalctrejger and Cygielfarb hid on certain occasions, having to lie still for ten to twenty hours.

In the second half of 1944, when tension in the village rose as the front approached, the two Jews suggested they would leave for the forest, but Nowosielska refused to agree to this.

She countered all [our] explanations with: ‘If we are to die, then all of us. If we are to live, then all of us.’ Nowosielska treated us even better than a mother would. Her sacrifice for us knew no bounds and was completely unselfish.

The testimony concludes by mentioning that Nowosielska was forced to leave her village after the liberation, although no reason is given56. Two photographs are attached to the testimony. One of them shows Nowosielska standing between two much younger men with faces resembling hers.

Mydłów (1942–1945)

The following excerpts from another diary57 show how concealment of Jews played out in situations in which the providers of protection failed to abide by the rules of secrecy that guided the protagonists of the cases above. This detailed account is one of many that illustrate how the relationship of a rescuer and a fugitive could change to the detriment of the latter; in this case the fugitive was saved by chance. The author of the diary is Urełe (Aron) Sztarkman, a Jew taken to a labor camp in Narol, who subsequently survived deportation from Opatów to Sandomierz. Equipped with fake “Aryan papers”, Sztarkman hid in the village of Mydłów.

[p. 53]

I have been walking all day. It is already evening. From afar I see a small hut in a field. The hut stands in a valley, one can hardly spot it between the hills and the valleys. I thought to myself how wonderful it would be were the farmer to agree to the plan forming in my mind. I approach. The dog begins to bark. The owner comes out. I ask ←63 | 64→if I may enter. Yes, he replies. I want to buy something to eat. He has nothing, not even a crust of dry bread. He has only three morgs [1 morg = approx. 1.4 acres] of infertile land, a small hut with a barn, a small horse. He too is small.

[p. 54]

He shivers with cold. [His] clothes – patches upon patches. He does not have a wife, she died three years ago. It is a fairly old man of 50. Only a poor girl, Marysia, visits him since she has nowhere else to go. He has no children either. I question him about everything. That he is poor and has no wife or children is very good as far as I am concerned. He tells me that if he had a pair of trousers and boots, Marysia would marry him. I tell him that I’m a Jew. I ask him if he would let me stay with him, not for free, I will pay him well. He says yes immediately. Even five people. No one comes here. Even Marysia agrees, but she wants a Sunday dress for church. I realize that the owner is completely unaware of the situation of the Jews. He would like to have everything immediately. We on our part have no choice.

[p. 57]

What is our58 life with Paweł [the host’s name] like? A winter in the bunker: the bunker is two meters long. We built a bed so as not to sleep on the floor. One cannot stand upright. We are forced to stand bent over.

[p. 58]

The bunker is dark, we can’t see each other […]. The proprietor comes over once a day and brings us food. The entrance to the bunker is very small. The dog stands guard over us alongside the bunker. That’s how we know when to keep quiet. Quiet. Our host begins to catch on. Every day he needs something else. We have clothed him well. We have equipped Marysia with fine things.

We have already married this couple off.

Partisans are beginning to move about in the village. The AK partisans present a greater danger to us than the Germans. We are surrounded by enemies on all sides. Our host begins to catch up with what a Jew means, that he can be endangered too.

[p. 59]

Money opens up our Paweł’s eyes. Every single day he has new requests, until now he has not understood our situation, that partisans also bring Jews to him [cause them to hide, transl. note]. He should be more careful about us.

Marysia, his wife, wants a lot, though she is not quite sure what. Our host orders us to buy him some more morgs of farmland. We attempt to explain that he must not buy now; people would immediately suspect him of hiding Jews. We will give him something else. We give him money.

We give him different things. Everything we have brought will be his.

We do not need anything. [We] just [need to] wait it all out. He needs more money every day. He finds new reasons to ask for money. [p. 60] He says he wants to build a ←64 | 65→new granary. We repeat – not now. So he wants to save this money for after the war. Now he wants to save the money intended for the purchase of a couple of morgs of farmland for after the war, too. He wants every last penny we have. That is why he keeps Jews.

Our host already gives us to understand to what extent our lives are at stake. He knows everything now. And his life is also at stake. This means we have to keep giving him money. And we are facing a dilemma, because how can we get so much money when we are just lying in a dark bunker? Marysia, his wife, wants something, too, although she is not sure what it is she wants.

[p. 61]

Our host understands that he mustn’t wear his new smart clothes on Sundays, people would wonder in the church. But Marysia would not listen to reason59. She wants to boast before her cousins about high laced boots that her husband ostensibly bought her. And he also made her a smart dress with a flowered headscarf. Marysia did not hide anything; she was a stupid girl, completely unable to fathom the danger. And thus suspicions grew over time, while our lives went by without a change, day or night.

[p. 62]

We had no idea of what was happening in the house.57 On Sunday Marysia has guests; they wonder how she can afford such a good life. They say: your farmer has just three morgs of land [roughly 4.2 acres]. They start to suspect something, but they cannot figure everything out at once.

Paweł is well known in his village, everybody knows he is very poor. Paweł works for rich farmers as a hired hand at harvests; otherwise he would not be able to manage just with his farm. Everyone in the village knows that!

[p. 63]

Spring arrives. We move from the dugout to the attic, which makes for an excellent hiding place. […] Due to constant lying in one position we could not sleep long. We woke up each morning to watch what was going on, [to see] peasants going into the field in the morning. We had to be careful not to overlook anything due to sleep. God forbid!

[p. 67]

We knew that Stach was the eldest in the village and had been married twice, both [of his] wives died.

←65 | 66→

Now he is courting Maryśka. Maryśka is our neighbor’s daughter, but she will not have him. She dislikes him as much as the rest of villagers do. He is wicked. […] This winter he has turned in a Jew. It happened like this: one night a Jewish fugitive from a train transporting Jews to Treblinka came over to his house. He entreated Stach to let him warm up and get some sleep.

It was freezing and snowing outside. At first, Stach would not let him in, but when the Jew took out some money and showed it to him, this old pig allowed him to sleep in the barn.

[p. 68]

That is what his farm hand related to our host. Yet the next morning Stach locked the sleeping Jew in the barn and denounced him to the sołtys. The Germans came, led him to the woods and shot him dead. Stach got the Jew’s boots and 10 kilograms of sugar as a reward. […]

Our host has always been telling us that nobody unnerves him more than Stach. “If he finds out about you, we’re lost, all of us.”

[p. 69]

Maryśka [the neighbor’s daughter, courted by Stach] is different from other villagers. She is more of a city person. For some years she was helping a textile vendor, Berek. She liked Jews. If Berek came to her, she would hide him.

[p. 70]

Berek was an honest man. Every Christmas he gave her a dress and a headscarf. This was called a Christmas [present]. [Our] host said he should not be uneasy about her. If she learnt that Jews were hiding here, she would be very glad.

[p. 73]

The Germans are still here, we must still wait and lie in the hideout. Our time has not yet come. Our host tries to provide us with news every day: that the partisans are searching for Jews in order to eliminate them. The partisans announce in the village that anyone found keeping Jews will be punished by death. Our host does not allow me to go see our friends to get news. He has cut our contact short, so that one does not know about the other. He tells us that they are dead. They have been shot by the partisans.

[p. 74]

The risk to our lives becomes graver by the moment. The partisans now come to the village every day. They are also fighting the Germans. Every night, they are getting closer and closer to our house. Our house stands on the outskirts of the village, next to a little forest. That is why they often come over to have a rest at our host’s.

As evening fell, ten to fifteen partisans arrived, armed with various weapons, and they begin interrogating our host, asking whether he knows of any Jews hiding in the village. The host makes them understand that if he were living in the middle of the village, he might know something, but here there is nobody around. They all ←66 | 67→go to sleep, and in the morning go their way. Our host tells us all this, but we have overheard it ourselves.

[p. 75]

Our host is quite scared too, but Marysia, his wife, does not want to be careful. She wants to wear a new dress every Sunday and show off. […]

Several partisans approach the window yelling: “Bring out the Jews that are in your house, otherwise we will shoot you dead.” We are lying in the attic, half naked, undressed. We cannot move lest they would hear us. The situation is critical. The host tells them: “You can search everything. If you find Jews in my [farm], you can shoot me dead.”

[p. 76]

The partisans believe what he says. They only search the barn, nothing else. On their way out, they tell him that this is the last time they are sparing his life. If they have to come again, he will be shot dead and his house burnt down.

Paweł retains his composure. He understands what the partisans tell him. Our host does not make us leave. He tells us not to run away if the partisans show up again. We realize that he is scheming to hand us in to the partisans.

I begin to explore alternative solutions.

[p. 77]

1944. I set out on the road again, but all the roads keep leading me to the same death […].

The partisans are everywhere; the highest price is paid for catching a Jew. I return to the former location. My host is glad that I have returned. […] I tell him that I have brought more money. This pleases him. We give him the first golden ten-rouble piece. He doesn’t even know what it is, but tells us that he has heard of it. This is a very good thing.

He begins to promise us that we shall survive. Even if they do the worst to him, he will behave worthily.

[p. 78]

The host comes to us joyfully: “The Russians have arrived, the Russians have arrived!”

The literary authenticity of Sztarkman’s diary is on a par with the psychological authenticity of the circumstances that he describes. As testimonies will show again and again, poverty is the best reason for agreeing to shelter a Jew. Yet in this case, the money that the Jewish fugitives had offered to their host paradoxically worked to their detriment, as it attracted attention and lead to a suspicion that the host was hiding Jews. The farmer who takes in the two men gradually learns, in 1942, that Jews are being hunted down and that he could pay a high price – both money and his life – for concealing them. The farmer struggles with himself, and although not quite honest, he gets through the trials and emerges on the side of righteousness.

←67 | 68→


Some Jews were able to save themselves by disguising themselves as gentiles – that is, taking on false identities and obtaining “Aryan papers”. The ability to do so depended, of course, on “proper looks”, knowledge of Catholic customs and prayers, in short, on full integration into Polish society. If a Jewish refugee offered protection by a Pole could take on such an identity, both he and his benefactor had a better chance of surviving. Such cases feature prominently in the testimonies of children. Rózia Unger from Sandomierz relates the following:

In 1940, I think, Daddy handed me over to a farmer for whom I tended the cows. I also looked after the horses. There were children there and they played with me; they were very small and I looked after them. I so loved the little girls, like they were my sisters. They treated me like one of their daughters. I ate whatever they ate. In the beginning they concealed me, and later told the neighbors that I was a relative of theirs, and so I played alongside them and with them. They never told me I was Jewish; I went to church with them. I didn’t know exactly what a “Jewess” was. During the first year I longed for Mummy, later I got used to things. I was there for five years. […] After the liberation, one man who used to be Daddy’s business partner and who knew that Daddy had placed me there, came over and took a picture of me. […] I was afraid to return to the Jews, when I played with the children they would tell me that the Jews murder [gentile] children to make matzo. […] I cried so much, I didn’t want to stay with my aunt. Once, when walking across the market with my aunt, I started crying because I had seen village women selling blueberries and I wanted to return to the village with them60.

Szajek Nysybom, who was five years old at the outbreak of war, went into hiding with farmers from 1942 onward in the vicinity of Kozienice. That he blended into his surroundings is apparent from the language of his testimony, which he gave in the local dialect. “My aunt and uncle were taken away,” he says, “[and] I got an idea to go to the village to a farmer and start work. […] They knew me everywhere, so I figured that I should move on.”61 Nysybom wandered from one place to another, eventually managing to stay with one farmer for two years.

←68 | 69→

I prayed, I recited the rosary, but absent-mindedly, because I didn’t think of anything, only of what would become of me62. I called myself Stanisław Walencik. I invented this name myself. I stayed there until the liberation, it was good there, they liked me and even when the Poles were being resettled before the uprising, they took me with them. I played my part well. When the Germans came to get hay, I would argue with them and always answer, I wasn’t afraid of anyone. I looked the Germans straight into the eyes, because I knew it was better like that63. Sometimes I would tell the farmer that I was going to go see my relatives for two days, and I would hide in a barn and then come back, so that they didn’t know and did not realize that it was a scam.

His next host, who was childless, looked upon Szajek as his own son, and even told him he would leave his property to him. After the war, the boy thought that there were no Jews left. He made two attempts to find some: first he traveled to Łódź (“I spent the whole night at the train station and then I returned to the village.”) and then to Warsaw, where he “struck up a talk” with someone at the station. “This guy confessed to me that he was Jewish, so I also confessed that I was Jewish. He advised me to go to the Jewish Committee.” Szajek was sent to an orphanage in Śródborów; however, he has been through so much that it was difficult for him to believe in any permanence. His testimony ends as follows:

I don’t want to give the farmer’s name, I’m not going to write to him yet that I am not coming back. I will see what happens, I’m in no hurry. I don’t know if this was a good idea. It doesn’t matter, you just have to try.

Assimilation was far more difficult for older children. Basia Goldstein64, nine years old upon the outbreak of war, would later testify that in spite of her “hosts treating [her] well,” it did not spare her from denunciation by the neighbors:

One day this Pole denounced me to the Germans. German gendarmes arrived and surrounded the house; I was herding cows in the field, they found me in the field. They ←69 | 70→brought me to the wójt. The wójt testified that I was a Pole, told me to recite the rosary. I knew the prayers well and recited it without hesitation. So they let me go.

Even though the Germans believed it, Polish children did not:

Those of my age in the village did not want to play with me, they would say that I was a Jewess. I was often very sad, I had no one to confide in, I often longed for the Jews.

The theme of cruel behavior on the part of Polish children and “Polish boys” recurs again and again – so often that, in the absence of a reason to doubt the reliability of the testimonies, it must be seen as a mass phenomenon65. Adults, even those who spoke good Polish and were familiar with the local dialect, found it even more difficult to survive during their wanderings through villages. This is reflected in the anonymous testimony of a mother who wandered around the Częstochowa area with her infant son.

[Walking] through the forests, I was trying to reach the Saint Anna monastery in a remote village near Przyrów. Dressed in a headscarf and an apron I looked like a peasant woman. It was a cold morning. My son, who awoke from his slumber, surprised and perturbed, asked: ‘Why are we leaving Dad?’ I replied: ‘We are Lord’s pilgrims and we shall wander around the villages…66

←70 | 71→

This excerpt gives an impression that the author succeeded in deceiving the peasants only in those villages where the inhabitants had not experienced the temptation to enrich themselves at the expense of persecuted Jews. All through the autumn she tramped northward with her son, experiencing both good and bad encounters along the way. In the winter their predicament became so harsh that, like many others67, she decided to go to the ghetto in Radom for the time being, and simultaneously try to obtain a work permit in her own village, Kłonice. Not even a local Volksdeutsch [an ethnic German Polish citizen] would hinder her effort.

In our village there were two Friedrich brothers, Volksdeutsches, who knew me. These two youngsters were crueler than any German… A terrible panic seized me when I saw one of them, [in the uniform of] a gendarme, standing at the door of the council office, checking the visitors. He recognized me immediately. He was staring at me in surprise. I had before my eyes the fair head of [my] child, the idea that I will not return […]. Finally, the gendarme asks in a strange voice: “Why did you come here for your Encarta?” He struggled with himself and said: “go in”. […] There were 4 women in the room, Germans […]. I started playing my role. I was wearing an apron, like a peasant. I entered, greeted them in a Christian way and I say: “It is so warm in here.” Four pairs of eyes look at me inquisitively, disapprovingly: “Why have you come, why can’t you wait to obtain a kennkarte [work permit] in the usual manner, at the municipal [office]?” In a plaintive voice of a peasant woman, I started lamenting that “I am so poor, but when I have a document, I can try to get a job somewhere, even leave for Prussia”. I told even that my wicked family reproached me about every breadcrumb. I spoke a mazurating dialect, which they found incredibly amusing.

←71 | 72→

The author of the testimony receives her documents, the Volksdeutsch lets her go again, but only a moment later a passing peasant woman says:

Look at this Jewess, she’s wearing an apron, that’s how she’s trying to save herself now; why doesn’t someone do something about it.68

Sometime later, on a train, this woman again had the misfortune to come across peasants who recognized her:

One [man] from the neighboring village – a stupid, cunning, brutish thug – sat down next to us [the author was traveling with her infant son] and mockingly asked me where I was going. I said… “To Prussia”. I put all my eggs in one basket. In a threatening manner, he said: “Well, I’m not sure you will manage,” and he pointed to the gendarmes. […] This peasant took the box with my child’s clothes from me. I didn’t say a word. […] So I resorted to a trick. I approached two elegant Polish women and struck up a conversation with them. I wanted the peasant to think that they were acquaintances of mine who were helping me, and if he were to denounce me, he would have to denounce these Polish women as well. […] Two random women have unwittingly saved my life.

Descriptions of the public exposure of a Jew’s identity by Poles appear time and again in various testimonies. They recall the scene in Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist in which a Polish neighbor of the Jewish protagonist (played by the Polish actress Katarzyna Figura), recognizes the fugitive and screams in horror: “A Jew! A Jew!”

Here are some examples from the testimonies:

[…] the landlady, that awful antisemite, began shouting in the corridor: “Quick, get those Jews out of here, or I’ll call the police.”69

Two men once grabbed me by the shoulders and shouted “You are a Jewess…”70

All of a sudden a woman called to him, in a mixture of German and Polish – I recognized in her the concierge of our building before the war. She asks him whether he knows who the girl accompanying him is, and immediately adds: “She is a Jewess, I know her.”71

More than once she had heard how they called after her: “Grosman, Jewess, arrest her!” The witness managed to escape such individuals.”72

←72 | 73→

A Polish woman from Drohobycz was traveling with us on the train. We didn’t know her, but she knew us, and immediately began to talk about Jews, saying that they were fleeing, that they wanted to live but would not succeed – they had already lived long enough73.

The Polish-Polish War over the Jews

Underground, evasive maneuvers, isolation, covering up tracks, camouflage – the lexicon of Jewish hiding and concealment suggests military strategies. The testimonies, documents, and ethnographic interviews discussed here allow us to describe the assistance rendered to Jews as a literal war between Poles, involving the people who, without public and social support in rural areas (as can be inferred from the testimonies), helped the Jews survive. The Polish society, for reasons that will be discussed shortly, considered the assistance to Jews a breach of family and community loyalties, but moreover, according to right-wing ideology74 prevalent even prior to the war, also a breach of national and ←73 | 74→confessional loyalties.71 While Polish opinion is divided regarding its origin and its reach, the conventional attitude is:

The Germans did the Poles a service by annihilating the Jews. From now on the Poles will be wiser, and will not allow the Jews to control them. The Jews present a far greater danger to Poland than the Germans. There is nothing more dangerous than a Pole who serves Jews75.

←74 | 75→

Such views took hold amongst the Polish public, particularly after part of the extremist far-right underground organization, the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne–NSZ), was incorporated into the Home Army76; therefore, in no section of the Polish public subject to German occupation was there a consensus regarding assistance to the Jews. The testimony of Abraham Finkler, who together with his group sought to join the Polish underground, illustrates this “lack of unity”:

Engineer Strzelecki, a member of the Home Army, entreated us to obtain weapons so as to fight the Germans together. Twenty-three Jews assembled, we went to the forests in which we had arranged to meet them. The Home Army men began to shoot at us, killed two Jews. Not being able to discern between the AL [People’s Army, leftist] and the Home Army, we did not look for partisans anymore. We lived as an independent partisan group in the forests in the Siedlce area77.

←75 | 76→

A diametrically opposite situation is portrayed in the following testimony. Abraham Furman was a member of the Home Army (AK) in the Szczawnica – Limanowa region in southern Poland, and a sympathetic comrade convinced him to leave.

[…] In 1943 I met a man who told me for the first time that what he termed “forest bands” were being created in the forests. This was the Home Army, which comprised people of various sorts. I thought that I, too, would find my place there, and would, first of all, be able to take revenge for all our people who had been murdered, and secondly, I would be able to protect the life of my wife, the only surviving member of the family, from this virulent pestilence – but to my deep regret I was wrong. After a number of weeks my strongest impression was of pervasive chaos, and beyond that, great hatred of Jews. I became friends with a very intelligent man there, I didn’t know who he was. Nevertheless, over time I learned that he used to be a judge, he was using the pseudonym “Góral”, and I never asked him his name. He was a retired Polish army captain. One night he said to me that I should try to get away, since he could not guarantee our safety78.

A contemporary ethnographic source explains the reasons behind the refusal to shelter Jews; the mother of one of our aging informants, a partisan in spe, was guided by the following:

[406N, Sandomierz]

Nobody wanted to take them in! Because the whole family would be punished by death for [harboring] a Jew. […] One Jew owned some land nearby, and he wanted [us] to take that Jew in, right? And the Jew was big, […] he could have been about 24 years old, maybe 22 […]. And mother didn’t want to take [him] in. […] because mother knew that we were up to something. Well, but we didn’t talk about it with mother, of course. Because we were out at night, we had gatherings, we had shooting over there in the meadows, real shooting, a kind of military practice, right? And there was a small house where nobody lived, and we were renting it, so that’s where the training took place, also of cadets and officers, and such things. So that’s how she knew this and she was worried that if we knew about this we would turn these Jews in or we will take them ourselves, drag them out and eliminate them, and she didn’t want to take [them] in.

←76 | 77→

The testimony of Zelman Baum, who escaped from Sandomierz with his large family and several acquaintances and was hiding in local villages, sheds light on the mentality of some of the units of the Peasants’ Battalions (Bataliony Chłopskie– BCh) in the Sandomierz area, and of certain members of the AK “Lotna” unit stationed in Wiązownica79. These groups hounded Jews under the pretext of a campaign against gangs of robbers. The testimony likewise shows what the Polish definition of “robbery” meant from the Jewish perspective80. By depriving the Jews of the right to obtain food and weapons, while at the same time refusing to accept them into the partisan forces, the Poles in effect condemned them to the same fate that the Germans had prepared for the Jews.

A friend of mine in the fighting unit revealed to me that the Peasants’ Batallions organization, which had promised to provide us with weapons, intended to round us up and then liquidate us. We had for some time suspected that this was their real intention, and had thus not revealed everything to them. We possessed just two pistols and three grenades. […] We had to get some more weapons by any means since buying them for money was impossible. Following a few ambushes, we managed to take [some] weapons from the Poles. We obtained army uniforms. We began to operate as Poles in areas where we were not known, and identified ourselves as the “Lotny” Peasants’ Battalion. A Polish acquaintance was giving us organizational and inter-organizational passwords. He was a member of this organization, too. When we encountered people from BCh we always ←77 | 78→made a point of asking for their password and giving them the response. They thus always accepted us as a BCh unit, and did not suspect us. We had many such encounters. We learned ever more about the workings of this organization. We knew that one of its objectives was to exterminate Jews. Every day we heard that they were searching for Jews and killing them81.

In search of the next of kin of Jankiel Penczyna, who was allegedly killed by the Wiązownica AK unit “Lotna”, Baum was compelled to put the motivation of one of the families harboring Jews to the test. Pretending, together with his friend, to be members of the “Lotna” unit mentioned above, they came to a farm in Smerdyn near Wiązownica on New Year’s Eve 1943.

When we entered the yard, I heard a bucket rattle in the pigsty. […]. It was the owner Dywan Stefan. He was serving food to the [Jews] we had been looking for. He started shouting “A tiu” at the pigs, to distract us. He left the bucket with the pigs, and he came out to face us on his own. Without flinching, he asked who we were. I answered: “Your countrymen.” When he came closer, he took fright on seeing armed soldiers in uniforms. […] As it was the New Year’s Eve, his wife and children were not asleep yet. They looked terrified. […] I informed him that he too was accused of harboring Jews. This way, I wanted to find out whether he was trustworthy and whether we can allow our loved ones to remain in his care. I emphasized that we had arrived to do our duty. If he confesses and hands the Jews over to us, nothing will happen to him. […] After pondering it, he confessed. He entreated us not to cause him trouble with the organization [Dywan was a member of BCh]. He took the Jews in not because he wanted to use them and betray them, but because his conscience made him act this way. He entreated us not to conduct a search, [saying] he would ask the Jews to leave the following day. […] Seeing that he was a decent man, we decided to tell him the truth. We apologized to him for everything. I showed [him] the pictures of the family that was hiding in his house. I informed him that they were my uncle and aunt. But the man did not believe us. The wife said that we must have murdered [my] cousin and that’s how we got the photograph.

←78 | 79→

As the owners’ suspense would not subside and the morning was drawing near, Baum decided to write a few words in Yiddish on a piece of paper, and ask for it to be delivered to the hiding persons. This part of their wanderings had a happy ending.

When I was embracing my cousin, the owners fell to their knees before an altar and crossing themselves, they said that they would never have believed that all this was true.

However, there were instances of peasants fearing the partisans on some occasions82, but cooperating with them on others. Among many such narratives, Baum relates the story of seven escapees from the Sandomierz ghetto in the final stages of its dissolution, who had previously been hiding in Wiązownica. They were then told that they had to leave and find a different hiding place, since their host had taken in another person, a Jewish policeman named Morgen, far richer than they were.

The seven of them paid Czarniecki his due and decided to take the remainder of their property with them, so that they would be able to pay for another hideout. But Czarniecki was sorry to part with such good “clients”, and let the seven men stay. At that time an AK group formed. The group discovered the seven, led them to a police station and turned them in to the Gestapo83.

In the countryside, political motives were trumped by envy and greed for the “Jewish gold”, and such hostile attitudes led those peasants who might have been inclined to help Jews to fear their neighbors84 more than they feared the Germans. It is difficult to assess the extent of the degeneration of basic human decency in villages that enriched themselves at the expense of Jewish fugitives. Reading the testimonies is nearly unbearable – time and again the same scenario appears: Poles grant sanctuary to Jews and conceal them; then rob and murder them85. True, atrocities such as the extraction of a gold tooth, as mentioned by Kazimierz Wyka86, were not the norm among Polish farmers, but this is small comfort.

←79 | 80→

Solidarity and Discord

Some Jews who were turned in survived. Basia Goldstein, whose story was told above, survived, along with her Polish benefactors, by virtue of the Christian prayers that she knew by heart, and thanks to the assistance given her by the wójt (head of the rural council)87. A Jewish boy adopted by Władysław Piwowarczyk’s sister escaped an even graver danger. After one of the neighbors denounced him, the Opatów police chief himself verified whether the boy had been circumcised.

My sister held the boy firmly to her breast so that the commander could not pluck him from her and proclaimed: “You can kill me together with the boy. I shall not give up the boy.” The police chief threatened to take her to the Gestapo if she refuses to hand over the boy, and left. […] My brother [a pre-war communist in hiding after escaping from a German prison] went to see the police chief and threatened him that should he lay a hand on the boy or on [our] sister, or set the Gestapo on them, that would be the end of him88.

This incident shows the limits of the control exercised by the Blue police – at least in Opatów. The testimony presented below illustrates the considerable influence exercised by Polish officials within the German administration89 as transpires also from reports from the areas of Tuczępy and Osiemborów. In Mokrzyszów near Tarnobrzeg, the entire village was cooperating on hiding a medical doctor, Dr. Lilien, who had escaped from Lviv. The account makes it clear that both the head of the employment administration (Arbeitsamt) and the village head ←80 | 81→(sołtys) were involved in the decision to protect her. The village folk simply followed their lead:


It was like this, [doctor Lilien] was actually on her way to work […] [Gendarmes arrived to carry out a search on the premises of the local treuhaender, who had failed to deliver the required amount of produce to the authorities]. One […] of the gendarmes, not Polish, but German, recognized her by her appearance and immediately said, “This is a Jewess.” The sołtys – who lived next door, and was getting along with us quite well, and knew [who doctor Lilien was] – said: “Don’t trouble yourself about her, look, she’s working, who works is not Jewish.” He said that and left. And we were actually […] – it must have been autumn, because we had already harvested the crops – we were there, making sauerkraut, sauerkraut. So this Połowicz [Stanisław Połubicz, who was head of the Arbeitsamt, protected Dr. Lilien and issued her a fake kennkarte], he already knew what was going on because this [episode] immediately became known [in the village]. He was a very decent man, and the three of us – there was this granary with produce in it – so the three of us, including the doctor, so that it wouldn’t be so suspicious, the doctor and us two – my sister, she still lives around here, and I – he put us in that granary and locked it. […] And the [gendarme] actually came riding on a horse, as [people] had already begun talking about it, and he went around the entire yard looking for her, but nobody talked to him. It was all quiet and as if Dr. Lilien had disappeared, but she was of course hiding. And that’s how it turned out. But otherwise she had no other troubles, because somehow not a lot of people would come over here, so everyone got along. So she survived fairly easily, but she was grateful till the end.

One can but surmise what could have been done to rescue Jews had more Poles demonstrated solidarity with the victims, encouraged by the attitude of local authorities90. Although what I call “the Polish-Polish war over the Jews” involved no small degree of risk, only seldom did this risk approach the level of danger that the Jews themselves faced. In the passage that follows, a sołtys who attempted to rescue a fleeing Jew lost his fight against the local Jew hunters, but did not lose his life himself. This incident occurred in the village of Sokoły, not far from Białystok, only a few days prior to the take-over of the region by the Russians. The local farmers (among whom there was, according to the testimony, “a well-known ←81 | 82→antisemite by the name of Kazimierz Truskolaski,” who prior to the war had been jailed for murdering Dynoński, a Jew) apprehended a Jew hiding in the forest, Abram Kapłański, who sought to buy food.

Duchnowski, sołtys of the village of Lachy, allegedly entreated the Truskolaskis: “leave Kapłański alone, he is a decent guy.” The Truskolaskis allegedly threatened Duchnowski, “If you don’t bring him we will bring you [to the Germans]!”91

Another testimony tells of Izrael Lewin, a Jew from the area of Wizna, who was hiding in the home of a Polish friend during the notorious Jedwabne pogrom.

During the night, ‘boys’ from the village arrived asking about me, saying that they wished to purchase goods. Szymański, who realized what was happening, told them that he would protect me with an axe in his hand. The ‘boys’ left, but smashed the window panes with stones92.

Similar overtones characterize the testimony of Karolina Sapetowa, a wet nurse with the Hochweiser family who succeeded in rescuing two children by taking them to her own village in the vicinity of Wadowice.

At first the children would leave the house, but as time passed I had to conceal them inside. That, too, did not help. People knew that I was hiding Jewish children and they started intimidating and threatening me so that I would hand the children over to the Gestapo, claiming that the entire village would be burnt down because of them and [that everyone] would be murdered. The sołtys sympathized with me and this often reassured me. The most aggressive ones I used to pacify with gifts, or simply bribe them. […] until one day the farmers decided to eliminate the children and made a plan to take them to the barn and then chop their heads off with an axe when they were asleep. […] I got a life-saving idea. I put the children into a cart and told everyone that I was taking them out of the village in order to drown them. I went across the whole village and everyone saw and believed [it], and when the night fell I brought the children back and hid them at a neighbor’s93.

←82 | 83→

Such daring was unfortunately absent when Emanuel Elbinger’s youngest sister94, Szymon Sztrumpf ’s mother95, her granddaughter and many others needed it the most. This theme returns in a sort of remorse in the words of a Polish policeman who, when asked by a Jew: “Why are you beating us, are we not being beaten enough?” retorted: “Should I be kissing you? After all, your landlord handed you in? Now I have the right to deal with you.”96 This issue is put into sharper focus by Maria Hochberg-Mariańska, as follows:

Among the Poles who traveled by train in the summer of 1942, at the height of the deportations from the ghettos, there were, it may be assumed, many who viewed those who apprehended Jews on the trains and handed them over to the police with disgust and shame. But very few of them had the courage to say something in those moments – just say it out loud. From my own experience I know that a few simple and direct words would have sufficed to make a person think and desist as he stood upon the brink of the chasm of this crime97.

←83 | 84→

Likewise, in the period following the liberation, known as the period of “railway operation [Polish: akcja pociagowa]”, nothing much changed in the atmosphere on Polish trains. A testimony dated January 1946 relates an attack on a train bearing Jewish refugees from Lviv, approaching to Kraków.

As I was walking down the platform [at the station Kraków-Płaszów] along the carriages I felt a blow to the head and heard a cry “Beat the Jews.” I instinctively started running, but at that moment I was apprehended by thugs who knocked me to the ground and began to beat and kick me. My glasses fell off; the thugs hit my nose, my forehead and my head swelled. Several militiamen stood beside me on the platform […] and did nothing to help me. I tried in vain to get into one of the carriages. Also a doctor arrived accompanied by two nurses from the Red Cross, saw how the thugs were running after me and did not react at all… At that moment one of the hooligans approached the carriage, shouting “Where are the Jews here? I will kill them all.” Most fortunately, there was someone who shouted “There are no Jews here. A few minutes later, a Red Cross nurse entered and bandaged my wounds.”98

Priests, Nuns and Catholic Laypeople

Not even places under the authority of the Catholic Church were immune to the Polish-Polish war over the Jews. The priests and nuns who sought to assist Jews had to deal with the same problems that beset laypeople. They faced attitudes that were deeply divided about the Jews, whether expressed by the clergy or the laypeople99. Jews in hiding often overheard people exclaiming to their protectors “How can you, a Catholic, not be ashamed to conceal Jews?”100 Behavior tolerated and even encouraged by the Church prior to the war, including jokes at the expense of Jews, mockery, and abuse, took on an entirely new significance under German occupation. The accounts collected in Children Accuse include many examples of cases in which church representatives or laypeople took a clear stand against such acts and even tried to prevent them101. Yet, the high frequency of such incidents was rarely ascribed to the prewar tolerance ←84 | 85→of antisemitism by the Church, but was broadly attributed to the “natural”, impersonal order of things102.

On more than one occasion, clergy, aware of the risk involved, refused to take in Jews. A Jewish woman, a mother with a small boy who sought shelter in the vicinity of Częstochowa, later testified:

Darkness. A group of peasants is milling in front of the gate to the monastery. I knew that a converted Jewess was working in the monastery, Sister Rozalia, and I asked to call on her. I told her openly who I was, and she went to ask the Mother Superior. Unfortunately the Mother Superior did not agree to put us up for the night, explaining that were this to become known to the Germans they would murder the entire community. She didn’t believe I had walked 25 kilometers, and she kept telling my son: ‘Go to your Daddy, go to Daddy’s wagon’. But there was no Daddy, just the night and the forest lying ahead103.

The mother and her son stayed the night in a village in the home of a farmer, who first made sure his property was well hidden, and then advised her to try again at the monastery the following day.

The nuns were glad that Sikora had put us up [and] spoke to a priest, Father Księżyk, who promised that the monastery would supply us with food, but he was afraid to allow me and my child to enter its walls. […] We were generously supplied by the monastery. They also gave me food for Sikora, to appease him. My son played with Sikora’s children, the nuns adored him. The vicar knew who we were and was quite helpful. Meanwhile I was running out of money and at night, I sometimes sneaked over to Kłonice, where I was storing my property at a priest’s. Once during a raid I had to lie motionless, hidden in a haystack at the parsonage. My son, certain that I will not return, kept running away toward the monastery, didn’t want to go to the farmer’s, because he was scared of lice, and the farmer was forcing him to go back. A servant who worked in the monastery told her friend, under promise of secrecy, that we were Jews. They began whispering, pointing at ←85 | 86→us… The farmer was afraid to continue to accommodate us… I returned once more to the monastery and begged for sanctuary. They were afraid and our wanderings continued104.

In the general atmosphere of fear and suspicion, people who wanted to help Jews were unsure about revealing their secret to their priests. A Staszów resident Maria Szczecińska (see above), who feared that the local priest would betray her, would travel as far as Kraków for confession105.

A small collection of positively encouraging documents is kept in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. In an example from Janowice, a Jewish woman testified that a tertiary that was sheltering her was pressured by relatives to send her away. She eventually turned to her priest for advice:

He said to keep her on, since it was now winter and she had no place to go, and that now there were less [people] to keep than before. And so she stayed there for more than 11 months. Once there was a raid in the village, [they were looking] for partisans, and she spent 9 hours in the chimney. The tertiary explained her decision thus: the most important commandment in her view is Jesus’ imperative regarding the need to host and feed a passerby who has lost their way, and it is more important to obey this imperative than the edict of the German authorities demanding that Jews be turned in. When Kozaczukowa’s [the woman who had arranged a hideout for the woman giving the testimony] son was arrested in Białystok by the Germans for some offence or other, Mira offered her diamond earring to be used as a bribe to get him out. [But] the tertiary declined to accept this gift, saying they would find money for the guy somewhere else, and she [Mira] might well need the earring later. The tertiary was happy when Mira, in order to please her, would sing hymns and pray with her, but she would always add that she can get christened if she wishes, but only of her own accord, once she is free106.

The memoirs of Fania Brzezińska from the town of Knyszyn in the Białystok region are replete with bitter portrayals of the behavior of her Polish neighbors107, ←86 | 87→who marked houses with a cross or a Star of David in order to differentiate between Jews and Christians. When “a wild mob was gathering to stage a pogrom and burn the houses of the defenseless Jews,” Brix, the town’s priest, “risking his life, […] walked into the rioting mob and ordered them to be quiet and to calm down”108. This occurred in June/ July 1941, following the Soviet retreat and the return of the Germans into the area.

While the Knyszyn priest was able to suppress the pogrom for a moment, a document pertaining to Father Ignacy Życiński from Trójca near Zawichost shows that his priestly authority was actually negligible. From the testimony about Zofia Zysman, who on several occasions was concealed at the parsonage, it transpires that, although the priest was respected, this did not deter the locals from attacking his house when they suspected him of harboring Jews. On nineteen different occasions his home was subjected to raids by various gangs/ partisan groups seeking traces of Jews109. Apparently, Poles who accepted the authority of religious leaders on other issues did not necessarily listen to them when it came to the Jews. Furthermore, priests were more powerful in rural areas than in the cities. As a result, the situation in the countryside – where the Germans, various partisan groups, and the Church all competed for authority – was more complex than in the cities. Not all Catholics made their decisions in such a straightforward manner as the tertiary from Janowice described above did.

Of all the instances in which Poles placed themselves in danger for religious reasons, the story of Dawid Nassan, who witnessed the execution of his wife, daughter, parents, his wife’s parents, and five brothers and sisters, stands out. He related how a family of farmers from a village in the vicinity of Skała, municipality of Miechów, took him into their home.

←87 | 88→

I begged him – says Nassan about his first meeting with his host – that if he believes there is God in heavens, he will give me some old clothes and I’ll try to repay him. He told me he had none but he would try to find some, and he let me stay in his home. He gave me tattered trousers to wear in the meantime. He poured some water into a basin and rubbed my feet, as they were all white with frostbite. […] He led me into his cowshed where he kept me for 8 days, but he was too poor to find me some other clothes. His wife went to see her mother and told her everything, saying she could not bear to look at my misery, but she could not help me, and she asked her to find some old shoes and clothes for me, as they couldn’t just let me leave like that. Her mother gave her a pair of clogs [for me], but there was no jacket. But there were snowstorms and it was getting colder and colder each day. After a week, the woman [mother-in-law] came over and entreated her son-in-law to give me his clothes, just so that I would leave, as a Jewish woman had [just] been killed in Brzozówka […]. My host, Józef Biesiada (who doesn’t wish his name to be made public) [in fear of persecution from the accused; transl. note], promised his mother-in-law that he would order me out of his home. Once his mother-in-law left, he knelt down in front of his wife and begged her to allow him to let me stay. He explained to her that it was probably due to a divine miracle that God had rescued me from the cemetery, from the clutches of the executioners, and that this was God’s will. They discussed this almost all night long. His wife explained to him that he was endangering them both and their four children, she cried and said that she was afraid, but he promised that he would conceal me well under the ground, and that the war would not last much longer. He eventually managed to convince his wife, he led me to the barn, and, although it was a Sunday, he removed the hay and began to dig a hideout in the ground, in which I could enter in a prone position. He did not ask me even for one penny, and said that he devoted his life to the grace of God. And that I should pay him only if in future I would be able to do so. And so I survived with him for 27 months, lying in that hideout, and I would only occasionally go out to relieve myself. […] I was freezing in the winter, my shirt rotted on my body, lice were consuming me, but they really had nothing with which to clothe me. They lived in abject poverty, especially before the harvest, yet they shared whatever they had with me. In the winter, Józef would sometimes bring me hot water, so that I could warm up, when he bought 5 kg of coarse shredded tobacco, he would roll a cigarette for me. When the Red Army arrived, I was unable to walk without help, my legs were numb, insensitive. My host always said: “The Jews have always been here and will remain forever.” And he triumphed. […] It was not until two weeks later that my host carted me away, covered with fodder […]110.

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Revenge Taken by Poles on Other Poles after the War over Jews

A quite common ending of the above testimony leads to the subject of unforeseen consequences of the Holocaust. I began this chapter by noting that it addresses Jews and Poles who survived the Holocaust together – albeit according to different rules and under different circumstances. Both were at constant risk of immediate death during the war years; both were also hounded and hunted in Poland’s rural areas after the war had ended. “A certain farmer said that had he known of someone who had concealed Jews in their house, he would have murdered such people on the spot,” as Tema Kaplan testified111. This time, the Jews, who had realized that they should avoid the rural areas, were in a far better situation112.

A letter, written in 1947 by Miriam Hochberg-Mariańska to the editor of the Polish journal Kultura published in Paris113, tells of righteous Poles who, in their testimonies before the Historical Committee, requested that their personal details remain confidential out of fear that their lives would be disrupted if their stories became public knowledge114. While the historical committees endeavored to do this, such secrets were not always kept.

[When the Soviets came], my hostess registered me at a different school as Zygmunt Weinreb and was forced to send me to a students’ residence, because people began to harass her for harboring a Jew.115

←89 | 90→

Wacław Andresiewicz, from the village of Janów near Białystok, concealed the 19-year-old Abram Lipcer during the time of the German occupation. After the liberation, Lipcer sought to retrieve the property he had placed for safekeeping in the hands of one of the neighbors, but gave up the idea when a militiaman who knew him warned him that people were planning to kill him.

The clerk who recorded the testimony notes:

Once Lipcer had escaped, the militia came looking for him in Trofimówka. The head of the household, Andresiewicz, was beaten by militiamen, who broke two of his ribs (medical certificate from Janów). A few days later they came over again and beat him up. The first time they also robbed him. A week ago they were there again, they tore the fur lapel off his coat, [saying] “why did you protect the Jew?” When Lipcer reported this to the province militia command in Białystok, two militiamen were dismissed from their posts116.

The following three testimonies likewise address events in the Białystok region where, in the wake of the German retreat from the area, the phenomenon of the hounding of Poles who had rescued Jews is particularly common.

[Rosołty project, municipality of Zwyki, Białystok district].

In October 1945 the gangs that roamed the forest discovered that [Bogusław] Pogorzelski had been concealing me during the occupation period. In the night … a gang of eight people banged on the door of his home. The man hid in the attic, his wife opened the door. They immediately said to her, “Give us this Jew. Aren’t you, a Catholic, ashamed of concealing a Jew!?” They took Pogorzelski to a separate room, beat him, threatened him, and when they did not find me they loaded all the belongings and clothes into sacks and promised that if within three days he brings me to a certain spot by a church near the village of Tryczowki, they will return all his belongings to him [and] let him go, they will only take me with them. Not aware of this, I arrived to Rosołty the following day. My hosts received me with tears, and entreated me to go back to Białystok, as forest gangs are after me and now, after what I have gone through, they can kill me. Pogorzelski did not sleep in his home for three months following this incident. When I was already living in Białystok, Pogorzelski would often come to see me and complain that the gang members often come to his house, blackmail him and follow him…117

←90 | 91→

[Testimony of the Gosks, a farmer and his wife from Wyżyki, municipality of Puchały, who concealed nine Jews for a period of 22 months]

[…] Once the front had moved, the partisans came and harassed us for several years. It was worst at night, we trembled with fear. It affected our health. The wife developed heart problems just from fear, but thank God the KBW destroyed these bands and now life is good…118

My parents-in-law, Krzysztof and Emilia Dębowscy, resident in the Długołęka project 7 km from Knyszyn, concealed a Jewish family, rabbi Abram Krawiec together with his wife and children – altogether nine individuals – during the German occupation. They sat in hiding beneath the floor of a store. […] No one knew of this throughout the period of occupation, only when the front approached, the family started feeling reassured. Once Jan Czerech, a neighbor, saw the rabbi’s wife, who had gone out to fetch water from the well. From this time onward the neighbor started blackmailing my father-in-law. [What follows is a description of the denunciation to the Germans; however, the witness’ father-in-law managed to convince them that the rabbi he is concealing is in fact his brother, not a Jew]. In May 1945 my mother-in-law’s neighbor, Czerech Jan, told a certain forest gang that the Dębowski family had been hiding Jews. They attacked the house one night and my father-in-law Dębowski was murdered in his bed. The other members of the family managed to flee. All the farm equipment was looted. […] After the murder of my father-in-law, the neighbor Czerech Jan [currently resident in the Długołęka project] has not stopped harassing me and my old mother-in-law keeps saying that I am a Jewish lackey and will die just like the Jews were dying119.

The theme of revenge taken by Poles on other Poles for rescuing a Jewish woman appears likewise in the testimony of Noemi Centnerschwer:

After the liberation they told me that I would not be able to remain with them, since the AK members often came to the village, and would kill them because of me. After some time, a few weeks later, they wanted to take me to Ostrów Mazowiecka, as there were Jews there, but I didn’t want [to go], I was wary, thinking it was some kind of trap, because I had not seen any Jews in the village. One night at midnight the men from the ←91 | 92→Home Army came to see us. It was in autumn, a few months after the liberation. The next morning my host forced me to leave, claiming that they would kill him because of me. […] I was still very scared, I was afraid of every Pole as if he were a German120.

Given the atmosphere of persecution, the natural solution for many was to leave Poland. Many Poles who had helped Jews chose in the end to emigrate. During our fieldwork in Sandomierz, we often came across similar accounts:

[…] there was this one [man] here, near Wierzbno… and he was concealing a Jew, taking food out to the dog… there was this dog, and underneath there was that tunnel, where this Jew was [hiding], right? Underneath the kennel. He was feeding this dog, and this Jew was taking it, and so… Afterward that Jew married his [host’s] daughter – his name was Kuraś – his daughter, they later emigrated to Israel.

The Unrighteous Righteous

Marek Szapiro once compared the guilt of Germans and Poles with regard to the Jews to that of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth121. This metaphor, while flawed in ←92 | 93→many respects, helps explain why Jews in general, including many whose lives were saved by Poles, nevertheless have little sympathy for the nation to which the Righteous belong. Well-known monographs about the assistance Poles provided to Jews, such as Ten jest z Ojczyzny mojej (This Is My Compatriot) by Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna122, or those dedicated to Żegota123, focus on the nationwide activities organized by that distinguished cell of the Home Army. Yet this literature relates almost exclusively the spirit and the will of tiny part of the Polish intelligentsia, often leftist, whose views on the “Jewish question” were hardly representative of the Polish people as a whole, and who operated primarily within the cities, albeit also dependent on the villages and their produce124. The situation was entirely different in the Polish provinces, represented in the testimonies addressed here mainly by the regions of Kielce and Kraków. True, even in these areas some leaders of the underground organizations understood how essential the imperative to assist Jews125 was to the preservation of Poland’s national spirit and moral stature. But, when it came to the Jews, the outlying areas of Poland were ethically debased. It was a remote region, where people lived according to their own standards, resistant to all authority. Even the Church, which in general enjoyed its greatest support here, was unable to change much in these desolate areas. This was all the more the case because the Church itself had only recently gained an awareness of the consequences of the antisemitism that had previously been a significant part of its doctrine.

The Polish public, as a collective, prefers to identify itself with those Poles who saved Jews rather than those who persecuted and killed them. True, Yad Vashem has awarded the title of Righteous to more Poles than to any other ←93 | 94→national group. The problem is that the Poles who rescued Jews did so as individuals, in most cases in opposition to the society which now prides itself on them.

Translation: Avner Greenberg

1 Heraclites: “Immortal mortals, mortal immortals,” no. 62D, according to Diels.

2 I employ here terms coined by Dr. Katarzyna Prot-Klinger, who developed them during the course of her many years of involvement with Polish and Jewish traumas, partly through meetings between groups of Polish and Israeli psychiatrists. Both types of denial (I use the term in the sense of Verleugnung; see Laplanche, Jean / Pontalis, J-B. / Modzelewska, E. / Wojciechowska, E. (transl.): Słownik psychoanalizy. Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne: Warsaw 1996, p. 376) are extremes, seldom portrayed by historians. But section 132a of the Polish criminal code, which prohibits “defamation of the Polish nation,” demonstrates the power of the first (Polish) type of denial. Such prevalent and widely held views, categorically denying any Polish culpability in the Holocaust, permeate all scholarly discourse. Over time, the danger of bias in this discourse grows proportionally with the refusal of its participants to recognize cultural context as an inseparable part of historical study.

3 The Jewish Historical AŻIH (Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, AŻIH), File 301. See “Relacje z czasów Zagłady”, Inwentory, AŻIH-INB, vols. 1–5, Warsaw, 1998. Certain aspects of the testimonies may be complemented by means of personal diaries (file 302). An auxiliary source of testimonies is Hochberg-Mariańska, Maria / Grüss, Noah (eds.): Dzieci żydowskie oskarżaja (Children Accuse). Plejada: Warsaw 1947, from which I examine primarily the testimonies from the regions of Kielce and Kraków, as well as selected testimonies from the collection Ficowski, Jerzy (ed.): Dzieci Holokaustu mówią I (Children of the Holocaust Talk). Stowarzyszenie Dzieci Holokaustu: Warsaw 1993; Gutenbaum, Jacob / Latała, Agnieszka (eds.): Dzieci Holokaustu mówią II. Stowarzyszenie Dzieci Holokaustu: Warsaw 2001; Meloch, Katarzyna / Szostkiewicz, Halina (eds.): Dzieci Holokaustu mówią III. Stowarzyszenie Dzieci Holokaustu: Warsaw 2008. I wish to thank all the employees of the Jewish Historical Institute for their help in locating this material, and in particular Mr. Michał Czajka, who made available to me the book by Maria Hochberg-Mariańska.

4 I wish to thank Prof. Feliks Tych and Alina Skibińska for the conversations they held with me and from which I drew the ideas that guided me in the initial description of the nature of these sources.

5 The Joint had a budget for assisting Poles, who could likewise get help from The Committee For Assistance to Poles (Komitet Pomocy Polakom). Documenation regarding the assistance to Poles is archived by the Social Welfare Department of the Central Committee of Polish Jews.

6 These issues may be clarified through study of the methodology employed in collecting testimonies by the historical documentation committees in sources such as, “Instrukcja dla zbierania materiałów historycznych z okresu okupacji niemieckiej“, Łódź, 1945; “Instrukcja dla zbierania materiałów etnograficznych z okresu okupacji niemieckiej”, Łódź: 1945; “Instrukcja dla badania przeżyć dzieci żydowskich z okresu okupacji niemieckiej”, Łódź, 1945; “Inwentarz Centralnej Żydowskiej Komisji Historycznej przy Centralnym Komitecie Żydów w Polsce (1944–1947); “Instrukcja dla zbierania materiałów historycznych z okresu okupacji niemieckiej” (The Archives of the Regional Committees for Historical Documentation from September 1947, branches of the Jewish Historical Institute in Katowice, Kraków, Warsaw, Wrocław 1945–1950), processed by Monika Natkowska, trans. from Yiddish by Martyna Rusiniak and Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, published by the Central Jewish Council, edited by Urszula Grygier, AŻIH, 303/XX.

7 See four testimonies by members of the Elbinger family from Nowy Brzesk, “Corroboration of this crime by Polish partisans “jędrusie”: AŻIH 301/379 [1789]”.

8 Some stories cited in this chapter have, however, been confirmed by archival evidence thanks to archival research by other authors, see e.g. the incidents in Tuczępy and Denków below.

9 According to Bikont, Anna: My z Jedwabnego. Prószyński i S-ka: Wołowiec 2012, p. 116 there were 126 Poles and 45 Jews openly cooperating with the Soviet authorieties in the area of Jedwabne. Counter to the accusations, individuals who were drawing up proscription lists were not Jewish.

10 Based on Michel Foucault’s concept of discourse; for details, see also Howarth, David: Discourse. Open University Press: Philadelphia 2000.

11 This issue warrants a separate discussion. It could be based on a comparison between the testimonies of these survivors themselves as recorded in three aggregations of sources: the collections of the Institute, the three volumes of Children of the Holocaust 1–3 and Bartoszewski, Władysław / Lewinówna, Zofia (eds.): Ten jest z Ojczyzny mojej. Świat Książki: Warsaw 2007 [1967].

12 In recent collections of testimonies one can even discern the influence of such subtle factors of discursive framework as, for example, the lighting used during videotaping. If the camera operator uses strong background lighting, it literally surrounds the subject with an aura of heroism, often resulting in appropriate narrations from witnesses. They may tend to avoid ambivalence or any reference to “gray areas” (Primo Levi).

13 I have availed myself of the assistance of two translators, Sara Arm and Aleksandra Geller, who have translated over twenty Yiddish testimonies for me.

14 AŻIH, 301/4716, Abraham Furman, born 1898 in Ochotnica: “It was at that time that several people managed to escape to the forests and there they were living, in the heart of the forest, between crevices and cliffs. We starved for weeks on end, we slept under the stars. Virtually no one would give us shelter; everyone drove us away from their homes without giving us so much as one spoonful of hot water […] [A]nd when, one November day in 1942, the first snow fell, the rural population set out to hunt for the tracks in the forests, in the pastures, in the woods and the cliffs […] [O]ur hiding place was a large pine tree with extensive boughs that served as a house for us both, for me and my wife. We had everything there: fear, wind, snow, rain, yes and always also a few frozen potatoes that we could roast or cook for ourselves at night.”

15 AŻIH, 301/1276. See the reaction of the Jews to the Soviet invasion: “Following the terrible storm, the horizon of the Jews has brightened. The Soviet brothers accept us, embrace us with sensitive, motherly arms, give us complete freedom, place us on an equal footing as citizens, enable us to enjoy equality of human and civil rights, such rights as only recently were absolutely prohibited to us.”

16 This chapter constitutes an expansion and substantiation, by means of archival material, of a section of a report on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Sandomierz region in the years 2004–2008; for a full report, see Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna: Legendy o krwi. Antropologia przesądu (Blood Libel Legends: The Anthropology of Prejudice). W.A.B.: Warsaw 2008 (transl into French by M.Maliszewska, Légendes du sang. Pour une anthropologie de l'antisémitisme chrétien, éditions Albin Michel, Paris 2015). The numbers and letters in square brackets indicate signatures on transcript pages.

17 Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna: “Skaz antysemityzmu” (“Antisemitism Word for Word”). In: id.: Teksty Drugie 1/2. Institute of Literary Research: Warsaw 2009, pp. 302–17.

18 Grynberg, Henryk: Prawda nieartystyczna (The Unadorned Truth). Czarne: Warsaw 2001, p. 263.

19 “I was always of the opinion that one should begin to think thus, as though no one had thought of this before us, and only thereafter to learn from all the others,” Arendt, Hannah: The Recovery of the Public World. Hill, Melvyn (ed.) St. Martin’s Press: New York 1979, p. 337.

20 The linguist Kenneth Pike proposed the distinction between “emic” and “etic” concepts in the 1960s; see Headland, Thomas N. et al. (eds.): Emics and Etics: The Insider/Outsider Debate. Sage Publications: London 1990. In the present text, I will use them as the interviewees’-informants’ concepts (emics), as opposed to critical concept (etics). The latter term (< etic) has no judgemental value whatsoever.

21 See Žižek, Slavoj: “The Reality of the Virtual”, a lecture delivered in London on December 11, 2003: “In a given situation, there is always one universal truth. It can, however, be accessed only from a specific, partial and involved perspective.” On post-positivist normative ideal of history, see LaCapra, Dominick: Writing History, Writing Trauma. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London 2001, and also Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna: “History as a Fetish”. In: Głowacka, Dorota / Żylińska, Joanna (eds.): Imaginary Neighbors: Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust. Nebraska University Press: Lincoln, Nebraska 2007, pp. 40–63.

22 Adolf Rudnicki, “Złote okna” (“Golden Windows”). In: id.: Opowiadania. Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy: Warsaw 1996, p. 123.

23 See Paul, Mark (ed.): Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy: The Testimony of Survivors. Polish Educational Foundation in North America: Toronto 2007), and in particular the chapter “Recognition and (in) Gratitude.” In a similar context and role see the recent work by Nowik, Mariusz: “Nawet milion Polaków ukrywało Żydów” (“As Many as a Million Poles Concealed Jews”), note from the inauguration of the home page of the Institute of National Remembrance, retrieved 25.10.2001, from

24 Compare two examples of this discourse, separated by a distance of six decades. The first is a report by the army liaisons returning from Poland to London in late August 1945: “Since the Jews benefited from being able to hide among Poles, thanks to which over 50,000 of them were rescued from death, there is no doubt that they should have at least exhibited loyalty toward the Poles. Meanwhile, from the moment that the Lublin authorities entered the areas of the Polish state, the Jews immediately began to inform on those among whom they had previously hidden, claiming that they had blackmailed them, that they had extorted money from them. The Jews submitted names of AK [the Home Army, the main Polish resistance force, supported by the Polish government in-exile in England] members to the authorities, and they themselves had dared as much as to beat and torture Poles in the camps, whom Jews had overseen with the agreement of the Soviets.” Source: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, Archives ref. no. A9 III 2 c/ 64, Report of Polish military personnel, London, 2/10/1945. This quote is taken from: Grabski, August: Działalność komunistów wśród Żydów w Polsce (1944–1949) (Communist Activity Among the Jews in Poland [1944–1949]). Żydowski Instytut Historyczny: Warsaw 2004, p. 32. Sixty years later, in a conversation with a council employee from the village of Wielowieś in the Sandomierz region, the ethnographers note that the general public in the area thought that the number of Jews assisted by Poles was six times greater than that noted in the above-mentioned report [297N]: “Thirty thousand Poles were shot dead by the Germans only because they assisted Jews, and in Poland 300,000 Jews were rescued. That is to say, because we rescued them we lost 30,000 of our own. Because the Germans would kill the entire family that was helping Jews. And so this is how they repay us.”

25 The same euphemism for a denunciation appeared in other testimonies collected in 1946, for example in AŻIH, 301/1773.

26 One may unequivocally define the speaker’s outlook as antisemitic. For example: “The Jews ruled before the war, and that was it.” “The Jews rule today as well. And when they rule, then we also feel that they are ruling. Because wherever there is an affair [involving corruption], then the Jew is there, a Pole is found there and Jews are found there.” “Now the Jews and the converted rule.” See Tokarska-Bakir, Legendy o krwi, p. 623.

27 See, for example, the case of a girl who was hiding in the villages alongside the San River and who adopted a similar outlook. The testimony of Frieda Einsiedler, aged five when the war broke out: “From the moment they killed Grandma, no one did me any more harm. The farmers used to throw stones at me, they threatened me with the police, but I never took it to heart … I knew them all already, I knew who the good ones were, who would not endanger me,” Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 158. Another testimony concerns a neighbor who had engaged in hunting Jews [2089W]: “There was this little girl, there was this neighbor here […] what did it bother him? And this girl was running, and so I said [to myself]: perhaps she’ll run somewhere, perhaps someone will take her in?!” Did you see this? “Of course! I remember it well… [H]e ran outside, caught hold of her, and handed her over to the gendarmes… [B]ut fate was not kind to him, for he didn’t live much longer either…” But who was that? Are you talking about a German? “No, this was my neighbor, one Krzaczkowski, Zygmunt… And he took that little girl over. It was terrible to watch that girl. She had run away, but I don’t know where from. Somewhere around here she [must have] had some relatives. Because she had run out of there and the child was running.”

28 For more on “verification”, see Chapter 9: “Barabasz” and the Jews, in this volume.

29 The testimony of Szymon Sztrumpf, AŻIH 301/3702, recorded on June 22, 1948. I wish to thank Alina Skibińska (who is preparing a publication on the subject, Przed sądem) for finding corroborating information regarding Sztrumpf ’s testimony in the archival material of the Appeals Court in Kielce (SAK) 227a, 277b, 277c, where Józef Siudak and others were investigated in 1948. The material is preserved in the files of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN): “Siudak Jan, Siudak Józef, Furtak Jan, Dynia Piotr, Krawczyk Leon, Krawczyk Stanisław, Żelazko Julia, Misterkiewicz Stanisław, Krawczyk Konstanty Hipolit, Nowak Antoni, Furtak Maria, Janis Józef, Rudnik Stanisław, Kwiecijos Teofil, Furtak Paweł Piotr in the years 1943–1944 in the areas of the municipality of Tuczępy, Busko-Zdrój district, in their capacity as members of NSZ or BCh, murdered, or were complicit in the murder of Jews in hiding,” b. 1216 SAK 277a, 277b, 277c: 1948: 1960. I quote the information about the case from Skibińska’s notes: “During the German occupation a large NSZ group was operating in the territory of the municipality of Tuczępy. The commander of the organization was Wacław Proszowski, and the group in Tuczępy was lead by Jan Chlond. This group fought members of other partisan groups (it killed two BCh members and was also involved in persecuting Jews). in summer of 1943 Jojna Sztrumpf ’s family, who had until then been hiding with various farmers, found refuge at Józef Siudak’s, in whose cellar they stayed for several weeks. Under the impression that they were extremely well-off, Siudak murdered them with the help of his cousin Jan. Jan initially shot one person through the opening to the cellar, and Józef then murdered the others using an axe. In the summer of 1943, two Tuczępy residents, Jan Siudak and Stanisław Sapa, apprehended a Jew who claimed that he was from the village of Szaniec, and led him to the head of Tuczępy council and then to the sołtys in Wierzbica, Jan Furtak, who ordered the Jew to be shot dead in the nearby forest. In May or June 1943, upon the order of Stefan Borek, two Jewesses, Cylka Łaja Sztrumpf and her eight year-old granddaughter Słupska, were shot dead in a forest not far from the village of Tuczępy. After they were murdered, they were robbed of their shoes and golden rings. Stefan Borek captured Lutek Kleinmann, who was hiding in a rye field. Stanisław Krawczyk shot Lutek dead when he attempted to escape. Feliks Gruszka was caught in Julia Żelazko’s home – she guessed that the peddler was Jewish and denounced him to Stefan Borek. Gruszka was taken to the forest and shot dead. The defendants pleaded not guilty.”

30 AŻIH, 301/3915. Regarding a reward of 50 kg of sugar, see also the testimony in AŻIH, 301/5306 from the village Obózek near Jedlińsk.

31 AŻIH, 301/3702.

32 The archive of the Jewish Historical Institute contains the testimonies of Poles who were shocked by the crimes committed in their villages during the German occupation. See, for example, AŻIH, 301/5306, Testimony of Tytus Dumała from nearby Jedlińsk, Skarżysko-Kamienna; and also, ibid., testimonies pertaining to events in Książ Wielki.

33 On this “indifference”, see the Introduction to Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 15. Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna, Incognito ergo sum. O wytwarzaniu obojętności, „Studia Litteraria et Historica”, 2: 2013.

34 The archive of the Jewish Historical Institute contains a number of testimonies of people of this sort, most of which include requests for financial compensation. See AŻIH, 301/3993. One of these files contains a letter written by a Jew from Ostrowiec, which he had titled “Last Will”. At the bottom of the page, there is an undeciphered code, which perhaps relates the true version of events.

35 AŻIH, 301/2252.

36 To her dying day the speaker’s mother was unable to rid herself of the fear that her concealment of Jews would be discovered and she would be punished for it. See similar themes in Reszka, Paweł P.: “Lęk Sprawiedliwych”. Duży Format Supplement, Gazeta Wyborcza 13.2.2006.

37 Testimony submitted by the Gosks from Wyżyków, municipality of Puchały, AŻIH, 301/5835.

38 In the collection of testimonies examined here I have not found a single mention of such a situation. In the ethnographical material from the Sandomierz region there was one case, that of Olga Lilien-Mazur, a physician from Lvov, who was offered sanctuary in Mokrzyszyn near Tarnobrzeg, in which the entire community knew of her Jewish origin. Dr. Lilien worked as a paediatrician in the city, and died in August 1996, aged 92. “Everyone knew that she was here, everyone knew. But after all […] had anyone informed on her, they may have done away with her, but no one was that malevolent toward her…” See also the village of Mulawicze, in which the entire community joined together to conceal little Wintluk. His story is related in Cała, Alina: Wizerunek Żyda w polskiej kulturze ludowej (The Figure of the Jew in Popular Polish Culture). Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego: Warsaw 2005, p. 131. Among the reports in the volume Dzieci oskarżają is a testimony by Josek Mansdorf, “On the ‘Aryan’ side”: “The farmer understood who I was but did not say a word. After that the whole village knew. But the farmer did not throw me out and the people did not inform on me.” See Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. XXV and pp. 100–7.

39 AŻIH, 301/5908, Testimony submitted on May 24, 1963.

40 See the testimony in AŻIH, 301/1773: A Jewish woman from Chlewice, who was hiding in various villages with Aryan papers, related something that she had overheard from the man who was sheltering her: “Let her bloody run wherever she will, I won’t let go until I finish her off. I’ll keep her over for the harvest but then I’ll finish her off.”

41 On the attitude of the Polish underground toward the Jews see Bańkowska, Aleksandra: “Partyzantka polska lat 1942–1944 w relacjach żydowskich”. Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały (The Jewish Holocaust: Studies and Sources) 1, 2005, pp. 148–64. See also below.

42 The testimony of Emanuel Elbinger in Ficowski, Dzieci Holokaustu I; another testimony in the author’s archive, recorded in Kraków on July 5, 2008.

43 The testimony of Paula Ebinger: AŻIH, 310/310/4223, delivered to the Historical Committee in Kraków in 1947, and also testimony in Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają. Of the Elbinger family, only the father and the two children, Emanuel and Paula, survived. The family’s mother was murdered by local partisans (jędrusie) on one of the occasions on which she went out to search for food.

44 The testimony of Stanisław Piwowarczyk, recorded on November 11, 1949 in Łódź, AŻIH, 301/4160.

45 There is another testimony from the Kielce region that speaks of concealment of Jews despite a family member being killed for this reason. See the testimony of Dawid Fromowicz, AŻIH, 301/4055, regarding Antony Stolarz from Biadoliny Radłowskie near Tarnów. In this case too, it appears that the motive for aiding Jews stemmed from a left-wing outlook.

46 AŻIH, 301/4743, the testimony of Szymon Rosenberg, based on conversations held in Przysucha during the period of January-May 1950. For more testimonies referring to acts of treachery, denunciation, and murder, see AŻIH, 301/5420 (Łazów, municipality of Maluszyn and Pilczyce, Włoszczowa district); 301/2778 (Bełek, municipality of Mierzwin, Jędrzejów district); 301/3262 (Skała, Miechów district), 301/1908 (Łopatowiec, Pińczów district), 301/4315 (Racławice, municipality of Rabsztyn, Olkusz district); 301/2105 (Drohiczyn); 301/4716 (Ochotnica, Szczawa, Szczawnica, Łacko, Kamienica near Limanowa, Jazowsko near Nowy Sącz); 301/381, testimony regarding the murder in Nagórki, municipality of Rogienice, Łomża district); see also Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, pp. 159–60; and also the testimony of Benjamin Einhorn, which corrects the version cited in Tadeusz Seweryn’s article “Bread and Blood”, in a publication marking the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the Kraków ghetto, p. 167 (AŻIH, 301/777). According to this testimony, the concealment of the Grübel family from Skrzydlna by Władysław Koza was based solely on the motives of robbery.

47 See documents regarding the concealment of Jews by the Kaniut family from Chorzów, who were associated with the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), AŻIH, 301/6268.

48 See the section below, “Priests, Nuns and Catholic Laypeople”.

49 Names of fourteen individuals are mentioned in the testimony.

50 AŻIH, 301/2790.

51 AŻIH, 301/5715, signed “Staszów: March 19, 1963”.

52 Ibid.

53 From the same file, AŻIH, 301/5715, testimony dated April 23, 1960.

54 AŻIH, 301/2553. For the story of Lili Szynowłoga and her mother Guta, see Chapter 9: “Barabasz” and the Jews, in this volume.

55 AŻIH, 301/2533, recorded on July 24, 1947. The following four quotes also come from this testimony.

56 As a rule, those who had concealed Jews were forced to leave their homes when this was revealed after the war; see the section below, “Revenge Taken by Poles on Other Poles.”

57 AŻIH, 301/108, “Majn adurchlebn fun jor 1939 biz 1945”; the above excerpts have been translated into Polish by Sara Arm. See also the description in Czajka, Michał: “Inwentarz zbioru pamiętników, Archiwum ŻIH, zespół 302”. Żydowski Instytut Historyczny: Warsaw 2007, pp. 90–91.

58 The author was hiding together with another fugitive named Leibke (Lejb).

59 See Białowitz, Philip / Kowalik, Piotr (transl.): Bunt w Sobiborze [A Promise at Sobibór: A Jewish Boy’s Story of Revolt and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland]. Nasza Księgarnia: Warsaw 2008, p. 141: “Here is a formerly modest man who is now throwing money around, apparently buying as much vodka as he can drink. The townspeople must have surely suspected that these riches come from hiding Jews – perhaps they have even managed to force a confession from him – and now they are going to set things right.”

60 AŻIH, 301/3699. Blood libel legend is mentioned also in a testimony from 1947, given by a nine-year-old boy, Ludwik Jerzycki: “First I was in a village. I took the cow out to pasture and she would often run away from me into the wheat field. So then they would beat me. They always gave me bread to eat with black coffee, and sometimes kasha. After the liberation they brought me to a children’s home in Chorzów. I cried, I didn’t want to go to the Jews, because they told me that Jews killed children”; AŻIH, 301/2755.

61 AŻIH, 301/3003. A similar testimony was submitted by Szmul Ismah, who wandered homeless in the vicinity of Tykocin, AŻIH, 301/2735. On the topic of assimilation of Jewish children in the countryside with the community, see Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. XIII.

62 See also the testimony of Witold Wajman, a secondary school student. AŻIH 301/2755.

63 The same theme crops up in the memory of Polish farmers from the Sandomierz region [139N]: “I was just looking the German in the eye, like […] and he asked twice, three times, even five times… If you only turned your head and replied without looking him in the eye – then it would be ‘Rauss’ [get out] and off to the labor camp, for lying […] but if you looked him in the eye, it was like you speak the truth, because you look him in the eye.”

64 AŻIH, 301/2793, testimony submitted in Łódź on October 5, 1947; the girl, identified as “Basia Goldstein” by the clerk, signed her name as “Frymer Dwojra.”

65 Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. XXIV and XXX, as well as testimonies in the body of the book on pp. 66, 70, 89, 111, 127, 132, 135, 137, 138, 156, 161, 182, 184, 256. Among the testimonies in the AŻIH, see 301/3215, on Polish youngsters from the area of Kulcza Mała who went out on horseback to hunt for Jews. See also 301/2736 on “Polish youngsters who show gendarmes the [locations of] hideouts.” Particularly shocking memories of the custom of forcibly undressing people in order to verify their Jewish origin are to be found, for example, on pp. 89 and 127. See also the testimony of a Home Army resistance soldier who operated in the Sandomierz and Skarżysko-Kamienna area. He told me that, at the time of the deportation of Jews from Skarżysko, there were Polish children who roamed around the railway station under German orders, looking up into the eyes of passers-by in search of Jews (March 8, 2008, testimony in the author’s archive). One should also note examples of different behavior on the part of children, such as AŻIH, 301/1791: “Polish youngsters were standing by and said: ‘Run away now, because no one is looking’”; AŻIH 301/ 3743: “I approached a girl that I knew with whom I had played when we were still free. She was glad to see me, greeted me nicely, fed me, and her mother meanwhile prepared a bag of food. Suddenly a man entered, a Jew hunter. I was alarmed and grew pale. My friend calmed me, I immediately controlled myself, she took out toys and a doll, we played as if nothing had happened, and I showed no sign of fear. But how afraid I was – probably God alone knew.” See also Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, pp. 128, 136, etc.

66 AŻIH, 301/1698.

67 “I saw Jews coming out of hideouts, I saw an unconscious old man who had been beaten by the farmer with the shaft of a cart until he fell, Jewish women wearing wigs, they all came out of the forests, the mothers led them in the direction of the ghetto and the peasants mocked: ‘Don’t worry, this way too you’ll end up in Treblinka.’ […] This was a deceitful ploy on the part of the Germans, an amnesty as it were, designed to concentrate them all in one place and to capture them all. A month later they destroyed the ghetto and sent everyone to Treblinka,” ibid. See also AŻIH, 301/2425, Zalman Baum on the reaction of the Jews to such an “amnesty” in Sandomierz: “When they saw that the Poles were robbing and murdering them, the Jews returned to Sandomierz […] Over 10,000 Jews gathered from all the surrounding villages.” See also AŻIH, 301/1773: “In Ternopol, in July 1941, the witness was afraid to return home because the farmers along the way killed every Jew that passed by”; ibid.: “In Bełżec there was no point in the Jews escaping from the camp, since the locals would hand them in immediately.” The same document relates the handing in of Jews in Doliszowice, in the Pińczów regional council and in Kazimierza Wielka.

68 Compare to AŻIH, 301/2252.

69 Testimony of Pesla Penczyna, AŻIH, 301/1525.

70 Testimony of Rozalia Kożuchowicz, AŻIH, 301/2732.

71 Testimony of Bronisław Szwajca; Gutenbaum, Łatala: Dzieci Holokaustu II, p. 203.

72 The author of the testimony eventually succeeded in arranging a place for her son at an institution of the Albertinian nuns in Czestochowa. Once the origin of the five-year-old had been exposed, he was left at the doorstep of the nuns of the Skrytki order; but here too someone had informed on him to the authorities and the boy was shot by the Germans. A similar situation – a description of extortion on a train and two unsuccessful attempts at extortion on the roads nearby Połaniec during the destruction of the ghetto – is portrayed in the testimony of Dorota Keller, AŻIH, 301/ 4635.

73 Testimony of Jan Kulbinger, who was 13 years old in 1943; Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 221. See also Gutenbaum, Łatala: Dzieci Holokaustu II, p. 185: “On the way we came across a farmer on a cart harnessed to a horse: ‘What are you doing here, Jew boys, after all, all your people have gone to the gas. You yourselves can dig yourselves a grave here. Do you want spades?’” See also Białowitz, Bunt w Sobiborze, p. 131: “Shortly afterward the axes destroyed our wall and we were exposed. As we emerged, the crowd that had assembled to watch clapped their hands and called out ‘Bravo!’ When they led us under guard, I understood how they had managed to find us – many local Poles went down on all fours and pressed an ear to the ground, and that’s how they hunted down the Jewish neighbors.”

74 See Chodakiewicz, Marek J.: Narodowe Siły Zbrojne. «Zab» przeciw dwu wrogom (The National Armed Forces: Weapon Against Twin Enemies). Fronda: Warsaw 2005, p. 19; and ibid., chapters 5 and 6, and in particular pp. 89, 319–20. See also a characterization of the ideology of the Polish Organization in ONR (the Radical National Camp or Falanga – a fascist organization established in 1934), from which split first the Lizard Alliance (Związek Jaszczurczy), which subsequently joined NSZ (National Armed Forces), in Wnuk, Rafał (ed.): Atlas podziemia niepodległościowego 1944–1956 (Atlas of Underground Organizations in the Struggle for Independence 1944–1956). Instytut Pamięci Narodowej: Warsaw-Lublin 2008), p. xxvii: “The ideology of OP [the Polish Organization of ONR] took shape prior to World War II, and did not undergo significant changes throughout its existence. Poles who could prove the purity of their race over four generations were eligible to join the organization. Since the leaders of the national-radical camp defined Polishness in terms of ethnic origin, it could be passed on only through genetic inheritance, which precluded any possibility of assimilation of groups that were not Polish by ethnicity. As a group, the Jews were regarded as a particularly negative element, both for cultural-religious reasons and because of the position they had established within the prewar labor market”.

75 AŻIH, 301/1772, a conversation among Poles overheard by a Jew who was hiding under an “Aryan” identity. See also testimony 301/4567, submitted by Ida Gerstman on July 11, 1946. Gerstman succeeded in escaping from Kielce following the pogrom (1946), and her testimony sheds light on the awareness of the rural population in the Kielce area approximately a year after the end of the war: “I managed to get to Słowiki at five in the morning. At the station I heard how one of the peasant women was speaking: ‘I’m setting out, taking with me a knife, should I catch a Jew or Jewess I shall cut pieces of meat from them and salt them.’ […] On the train I saw that people were looking at me suspiciously. One of the women pointed at me: ‘This is a lousy żydowica [Jewess, a pejorative], she should be thrown under the wheels of the train.‘ Another woman responded to this with: ‘At the next stop we’ll hand her over to the militia – they can then shoot her.’ At the next stop the women seized me by the head and legs, and pulled me toward the track in order to throw me under the train. I pleaded for my life, and they replied that I was a Jewess, that I must bite the dust. The children began stoning me. I asked the railway clerk to shoot me because I couldn’t stand this any longer. He replied, ‘You want to die an easy death? Take your time, suffer a little more.’ Luckily for me a militia man arrived and ordered them to leave me alone, explaining that he himself would sort me out. They left me alone, and the policeman demanded that I give him a ‘tip’ for beer. I gave him the last 500 złotys. He let me go. I returned to the train, and the peasant women identified me once again and handed me over to the police shouting ‘Kill the żydowica!’ The policeman led me to a detention room of the railway police. This was in Jędrzejów. They led me to a cell to which they led also another Jew, whom they had likewise removed from the train once they had identified him as a Jew. Before my eyes the militia man kicked him and a man in civilian clothes in the office hit him in his face. A group of children threw stones at us through an open window… A young girl in school uniform shouted: ‘Get out from under the bed, so that we can stone you, your good times have come to an end, now you must all die in agony, in return for our blood. We shall erect a monument of gold to Hitler and we shall ask of God that a newborn Hitler arise.’ ”

76 Szapiro, Marek: Nim słońce wzejdzie… Dziennik pisany w ukryciu 1943–1944 (Before the Sun Rises…: A Diary Written in Hiding 1943–1944). Tych, Feliks / Prokopowicz, Magdalena (eds.) Żydowski Instytut Historyczny: Warsaw 2007, p. 491; diary entries for April 19, 26, 1944: “The National Armed Forces were placed under the command of the Home Army underground, which in return ‘acknowledged their valuable civil contribution’ ”; and also, on p. 505: “It was inconceivable to me how it was possible to introduce into the Polish underground body, the Home Army, the so-called National Armed Forces. If we are to believe what is said, the people of the National Armed Forces were, at least up to March, the tool of the Germans for the elimination of peasants, Jews and so forth, unwanted elements within a fascist Poland. And such traitors are received with honor and praise merely because they lent a hand to an agreement (out of consideration of their own benefit)?”

77 AŻIH, 301/55. And compare with a testimony about a raid by Soviet partisans on refugees from Ostrów-Mazowiecka ghetto (a similar narrative included in the testimony of Helena Arbeiter quoted in Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 160), and their subsequent swearing-in to the underground, and an attack by an unidentified group of armed Poles, who explained that this was a “party order,” AŻIH, 301/3055: “A group that wished to join the partisans had to swear allegiance in the presence of two Polish partisans. This was supposed to take place in a bunker, by the light of a coal gas lamp before the white-red Polish flag. The Polish partisans were armed with a machine-gun and sub-machine-guns, and at a particular moment they fired several salvos at those present, about sixteen in number […] as became clear later, these partisans had belonged to a group of the People’s Army. For details of this matter, see Skibińska, Alina / Libionka, Dariusz: “‘Przysięgam walczyć o wolną i potężną Polskę, wykonywać rozkazy przełożonych, tak mi dopomóż Bóg.‘ Żydzi w AK. Epizod z Ostrowca Świętokrzyskiego”. Zagłada Żydów. Studia i Materiały 4, 2008, pp. 287–323. See also the testimony of farmers who were engaged in work on behalf of the authorities in Kruszyna, AŻIH, 301/5306, which describes how a group of Jewish escapees had been handed over to the Germans by a partisan unit from an unidentified organization: “The Polish commander and the German commander saluted each other.” See also the episode involving a group of escapees from Sobibor death camp, which was accepted into a partisan unit from an unidentified organization in the province of Lublin; Białowitz, Bunt w Sobiborze, p. 211–13.

78 Testimony of Abraham Furman, AŻIH, 301/4716. The witness writes: “I am a born Jew, but I belong to the Polish nation, because that suits me fine.”

79 Details of an encounter with a unit of this organization appear in Bauman’s testimony. The gang was commanded by a local policeman named Śliwiński, who levied “a weekly tax from all the Jews in the town of Koprzywnica, and from us he took an individual ‘tax’ for failing to hand in the Jews to the authorities.” This gang was meant to receive from a unit of the Peasants’ Battalions (or a Home Army detachment) supporting fire for its attack on a bunker containing Jewish escapees. The bunker was, in all probability, attacked under the guise of the campaign against “robber gangs.” See Chapter 4 in this volume. The website devoted to the People’s Army “Lotna” unit claims that it, too, included three Polish Jews: Jerzy Bette was in the company from the day of its inception, and since he had a command of French and German, he was appointed to listening to news on radio stations… A second Polish Jew who saw action was “Fala”, whose surname was known only to the commander. He and “Bob” assassinated a dangerous Gestapo functionary in Sandomierz, in the stadium during a football game. We found out about the origin of the third one only after his death, when in his will he asked to be buried in the Jewish cemetery in Kraków. But, of course, this begs the question of why the Jewish origin of all these three fighters had been kept secret. See http://www.

80 See also Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, pp. 150–51, the testimony of Nuchim Werner from the area of Bitków, as well as the testimony of Hersz Cukier from the Ziemianowicze area on the Niemen River, ibid., pp. 201–2.

81 AŻIH, 301/2425. Examples in the text. Acting on his own initiative, Baum captures the commander of a gang that engaged in hunting down Jews, and it transpires that he is Antoni Jarosz from the village of Przewłoka. The man, who thought that he had fallen into the hands of the Home Army, admitted that he had murdered Jews. Dywan, the group’s commander, forbade Baum to execute Jarosz. The testimony mentions also that Jarosz, who limped after being wounded in battle, had been “a major in Kielce,” see my Social Portrait of the Kielce Pogrom", 2 vols. (forthcoming). See there the mention of Jarosz, who in autumn 1944 commanded a militia outpost in Koprzywnica, and who provided a personal commendation on the aforementioned Edward Śliwiński.

82 [184N] “In Trójca they hid seven and the partisans fell upon them and killed them, two remained.”

83 AŻIH 301/2425.

84 AŻIH 301/1698.

85 See note 43 above, which indicates the sources for acts of murder in that collection of testimonies.

86 “A gold tooth extracted from the mouth of a corpse will always ooze blood, even after no one remembers where it came from,” Kazimierz Wyka wrote in his book, Życie na niby. Pamiętnik po klęsce. Markiewicz, Henryk / Wyka, Marta (eds.) Universitas: Kraków 1984, p. 138. Regarding cases of the mutilation of body parts while extracting teeth on the part of Germans and Poles see, among other testimonies, AŻIH, 301/3743, 13, 1791, 3702, 1846, 2008, 4163. See also Białowitz, Bunt w Sobiborze, p. 272, on the Jewish cemetery in Izbica.

87 AŻIH, 301/2793. See also Bauman’s testimony regarding Mala Perlmutter from Tarnobrzeg (AŻIH, 301/2425): “The girl was accepted in Branów as a Polish child, thanks to the high-school teacher Lolek Wawrzycki from Branów. Many Poles testified that the girl was a Jewess, but thanks to Wawrzycki’s efforts she was saved. She was raised in the priests’ lodgings by the housekeeper.”

88 AŻIH, 301/, notation missing. A similar circumstance is related in the testimony of Stanisław Jeronimski from the village of Chobotki, Malinówka regional council (?) [the question mark appears in the original] in the vicinity of Białystok, AŻIH, 310/1468.

89 “On the way we stopped to drink water next to the home of the head of the council. ‘These are attractive brunettes,’ said the head of the council. ‘No doubt Jewesses.’ ‘No,’ replied Mr. Sikorski with a smile that tried to conceal fear. ‘These are relatives of my wife.’” The testimony of Ewa Janowska-Boisse, née Keinberg, Gutenbaum, Łatala: Dzieci Holokaustu II, p. 78.

90 See the section below, “Priests, Nuns, and Catholic Laypeople.” See too the testimony of Bronisław Szwajca; Gutenbaum, Łatala: Dzieci Holokaustu II, p. 203: “[A]ll of a sudden she called to him, in a mixture of German and Polish, the woman whom I recognized as the concierge of our building prior to the war. She asks him whether he knows who the girl accompanying him is, and immediately adds: ‘She is a Jewess, I know her!’ Mr. Czapla drew his revolver, began to curse her, called her a Polish swine, and threatened to shoot her dead by his very own hand if she made even another sound.”

91 Rachel Kaplańska, the person submitting the testimony, adds: “Sokoły, and in particular the village of Lachy, were, prior to 1939, under the influence of nationalist extremists,” and she warns that “if the Sokoli police were to arrest the members of the Truskolaski family this would lead nowhere. Kazimierz Truskolaski belongs to the People’s Army organization and this organization is very active there.” AŻIH, 301/1458.

92 Testimony of Izrael Lewin, AŻIH, 301/4391.

93 Testimony of Karolina Sapetowa in Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, pp. 275–77.

94 Testimony of his sister Pola, AŻIH 301/4223: “My little sister was hiding at the house of a widow we knew, she was a decent woman. [Her] neighbors threatened to report her to the Gestapo unless she takes the Jewish child to the deportation point. She got scared and she took the child to Brzesk, and left her on her own. […] My little sister [she was 6 years old at the time] then went to the house of Polish friends, who were safekeeping many of our belongings, entreating them to let her stay at least during the day, as she would fend for herself overnight. She was shabby, since that woman had taken all her proper clothes. These people gave her some milk, but did not agree to let her stay. She went to see some other friends, but those declined, too. She was taken to the deportation point and put on the transport.”

95 Testimony of Szymon Sztrumpf, AŻIH 301/3702.

96 AŻIH, 301/3262.

97 See Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. XXIII. See, for example, the testimony of Ewa Janowska-Boisse related above, Gutenbaum, Łatala: Dzieci Holokaustu II, p. 80: “The sołtys, who noticed that Władysław was befriending our mother, said to him one day, ‘People are talking, saying that Mrs. Janowska is Jewish, and I shall have to report this to the police.’ Władysław Nogala replied: ‘If you do that, your head will rest there, on that rubbish dump.’ ” See also ibid., p. 178, the testimony of Sven Sonnenberg: “‘It appears as though some Żydek [pejorative for “Jew”] has wormed his way into the queue – let someone go and fetch a policeman, I’ll keep him here.’ I was petrified with fear. All of a sudden an old woman pushed her way from behind. When she was close she said to the salesman: ‘What’s happening here? What do you want of this boy? Can’t you see you’ve scared him to death? […] Give him bread and don’t waste time. I wouldn’t want to complain to my son that the service in this store isn’t worth a thing.’”

98 Testimony of Dawid Grünbaum, AŻIH, 301/1357.

99 See testimony of Emanuel Erbinger about a priest in Nowy Brzesk, who feared his own vicar; see also cases of concealing children in Greek Catholic monasteries in Ukraine, in the memoirs of Kurt Lewin; id.: Przeżylem. Fundacja Zeszytów Literackich: Warsaw 2007.

100 Testimony of Szmul Garber, AŻIH, 301/3535, regarding Bolesław Pogorzelski from Zabłudów, who concealed him during the German occupation.

101 See, for example, Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, pp. 111, 127, 128.

102 Note the similarity between this explanation and the outlook prevalent among peasants, of extortion and threats, addressed at the beginning of this article. This outlook is reinforced by the example of two or three antisemites from the prewar period, who rescued Jews during the occupation. These cases, which featured very extensively in the discussion of this topic, generally include the priests Stanisław Trzeciak, Jan Mosdorf and Jan Dobraczyński. A similar role is played by the episode, mentioned with surprising frequency, of Dr. Juliusz Kamiński, a Jewish physician with the Kielce-Częstochowa regiment of the National Armed Forces. See examples in Chodakiewicz, Marek J.: Po Zagładzie. Stosunki polsko-żydowskie 1944–1947. Instytut Pamięci Narodowej: Warsaw 2008, p. 136, note 29, and additional references.

103 AŻIH, 301/1698.

104 See the testimony of Stella Kolin, née Obrebska (Gutenbaum, Łatala: Dzieci Holokaustu II, pp. 89–90), who was accepted into the monastery at Czestochowa after the outbreak of the Polish uprising in Warsaw, and who revealed her Jewish identity in confession.

105 AŻIH, 301/2790.

106 Testimony of Mira Kwasowicer, AŻIH, 301/2007. Janowice near the railway station to Lewickie, Juchnowiec Kościelny municipality, in the Białystok province.

107 AŻIH, 301/1276, a description of the situation following the initial German incursion. Shortly thereafter the Germans withdrew from Knyszyn in the wake of the German-Soviet pact: “Sunday, September 17, 1939, noise, tumult, screams in German and devilish laughter, mixed with the inner gratification and the ironic smiles of cynical satisfaction on the part of our Polish citizens from the nearby villages, who would gain their sympathy with stolen Jewish property.”

108 On this issue see also Libionka, Dariusz: “Duchowieństwo diecezji łomżyńskiej wobec antysemityzmu i zagłady Żydów”. In: Machcewicz, Paweł / Persak, Krzysztof (eds.): Wokół Jedwabnego. Instytut Pamięci Narodowej: Warsaw 2002, pp. 119–20, and from the same source, vol. 2, part V, document 15, p. 238 and footnote 3, Testimony of Samuel Suraski, AŻIH 301/3959. The editors of the volume of documents report the name of the priest as “Franciszek Brix.” See also document no. 4, pp. 196, 198 (the testimony of Pesia Schuster-Rozenblum, AŻIH, 301/1274, in which mention is made of the priest Cyprian Łozowski); and on this priest, see also Żbikowski, Andrzej: “Pogromy i mordy ludności żydowskiej w Łomżyńskiem i na Białostocczyznie latem 1941 roku w świetle relacji ocalałych Żydów i dokumentów sądowych”. In Machcewicz, Persak, Wokół Jedwabnego, vol. 1, p. 207.

109 See also Gutman, Israel / Bender, Sara: The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations 5: Poland. Yad Vashem: Jerusalem 2004, pp. 646–47. The name of Father Życiński does not appear in Zofia Zysman’s testimony (AŻIH, 301/2016).

110 AŻIH, 301/3262, testimony submitted in Kraków on 25/6/1947. The same theme of moving a concealed Jew in a clandestine manner appears in the testimony of Pinkas Gruszniewski, AŻIH 310/2736: [in the year 1946] “She hid me under a blanket, and in the outlying villages she told people I was her nephew. She transported me to Łomża, my town of birth. I feared that someone might recognize me and could kill me, for no other Jew was living there any longer.”

111 Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 133.

112 See Chapter 4: Ethnographic Findings on The Aftermath of the Holocaust… in this volume.

113 See also Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. xxxii.

114 See, for example, Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 131: “This gentleman does not wish his name to be mentioned, since he does not want it to become known that he concealed Jews.” See also what happened to Antonina Wyrzykowska (a heroine of Jan Tomasz Gross’s and Anna Bikont’s books on the Jedwabne massacre, where Poles rescued fourteen Jews) after the war – she was beaten because she had concealed Jews. In the latter source, p. 253: “They yelled: ‘You are abject servants of the Jews, you concealed Jews who crucified Jesus!’”; see also p. 255: “I am pleased with mother. But my sister thinks that we had better deny it, lest they cut off all our heads”; p. 256: “You yourself, madam, do not know where we are living. So you tell me, madam, how many such people there are who will look favorably upon my concealing Jews? One in ten? And I am probably exaggerating? […] In Poland I would not reveal such things to a priest for all the money in the world.”

115 Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, p. 111.

116 Testimony of Samuel Goldberg, AŻIH, 310/1251.

117 Testimony of Samuel Gerber, AŻIH, 301/3535. Similar testimony of Pinkas Gruszniewski, AŻIH, 301/84: “After the liberation a woman from the village of Miastkowo named Sadowska came to the farmer’s smallholding. I heard her relating that she had concealed Jews and that she was therefore afraid of revenge on the part of the forest gangs, who had already attacked her on several occasions, fired shots, robbed her of horses, demanded gold.” Gruszniewski submitted also a second testimony – AŻIH 301/2736, in which we read: “My farm owner wanted me to be baptized as a Christian and spoke to the priest about this, but the priest was afraid, since there were armed groups of the UPA [Ukrainian Liberation Army] and of the National Armed Forces [NSZ] in the area, and had anyone found out that I was a Jew, they would have robbed the owner of all his property and would have killed me.”

118 AŻIH 301/5835. See also the letters left by survivors concealed by the Gosks farmer family. The letters were sent from Israel in the 1960s, AŻIH, 301/5812.

119 Testimony of Alojzy Konopka, AŻIH, 301/2966.

120 AŻIH, 301/2750.

121 Szapiro, Dziennik, diary entry September 15, 1944: “When I examine the issue of the attitude of Germans toward the Jews on the one hand, and that of the Poles toward the Jews on the other hand, I think of a literary comparison, very different in detail and superficial… In the tragedy Macbeth, Shakespeare presents to us a married couple of criminals. The difference between him and her is apparent: before he comes to a decision to murder, the husband is compelled to ponder and to struggle with himself. The wife makes the decision immediately, with no indecision whatsoever; but every deed must be linked to something in one’s inner makeup that is responsible for it – if not prior to the deed, then in its wake! The moral crisis afflicts the reckless accomplice to the murder only after the deed has been done, because it did not occur beforehand. This is a profound problem in the psychological realm, and I refer to it here in order to stress that it has nothing in common with the analogy that I wish to draw. Hitler is, as it were, despite all the differences, the manifestation of Macbeth. Before deciding to commit the crime he calculated everything in advance and approached the task with a firm decision: if he wins the war, who will then care about the fate of the Jews? And if he loses the war, then what can one do, this will be the end of his regime and of Germany in its entirety, but the Jews will no longer be there. Among the Poles, on the other hand, the decision to assist the Germans in annihilating the Jews was made without any due preparation. And what is moving and generates strong emotion in this situation stems from the fact that the Polish victory is not the victory of Hitler. In this case, Lady Macbeth’s success depends on the defeat of Macbeth. And what, therefore, was the factor that made me think of this analogy? – this is the decisive image: when the victorious allies sit down to the victory feast, the blood-stained figure of Banquo, the spirit of the Polish Jew, will be revealed to the Polish Lady Macbeth (but likewise to the entire world). And this will not be the realization of some moral compunction, but, quite openly and absolutely decisively, it will constitute the pointing of an accusatory finger at Poland.”

122 Bartoszewski, Lewinówna, Ten jest z Ojczyzny mojej, op. cit.

123 See Libionka, Dariusz: “Polskie piśmiennictwo na temat zorganizowanej i indywidualnej pomocy Żydom (1945–2008)”. Zagłada Żydów: Studia i Materiały 4, 2008, pp. 17–80.

124 See testimony of Jerzy Aleksandrowicz, in Hochberg-Mariańska, Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają, pp. 181–189.

125 A prominent literary figure that exhibits this level of awareness is Leszek in Sławomir Mrożek’s novella “Nos”. In: id.: Życie i inne okoliczności. Noir sur Blanc: Warsaw 2003, pp. 79–91.