Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: "Forget You Not"™
preserving the past to protect the future ...
Steve Paulsson



Humiliation of Polish Jews
.All smiles: Humiliation of Polish Jews Prior to Their Ghettoization
(From Yad Vashem Archives)


Round up of Jews in Plonsk, Poland

Nazi soldiers round up Polish Jews: The Germans arrived at Plonsk, Poland -- with its 6,000-strong Jewish community -- on September 5, 1939, then established a Judenrat (Jewish council) the following July and a ghetto that September. Here, German troops assemble the Jews soon after the town's capture. During the next two years, as many as 12,000 Jews from Plonsk and the surrounding area passed through the ghetto. It was eventually emptied in November 1942 when its remaining inhabitants were consigned to Auschwitz for extermination.

Few, very few, Righteous Poles were able to find hiding places for their Jewish neighbours.

SS Harassment of Polish Jews
Search of Polish Jews in Occupied Poland as a Form of Harassment and Intimidation
Prior to Their Ghettoization

Photo Credit: <zwoje-scrolls.com/shoah/wghetto.html>

Editor's Note: On May 27, 2004, in response to some members of the Polish Community from California, we posted an editorial entitled "Poland's Past During the Holocaust VS. Poland's Present Remembrance of its Wartime Victims" where, inter alia, this remark was made by this editor that during the Holocaust years,
"the overwhelming great majority of Poles at best remained indifferent and at worst committed atrocities beyond any human dimension."
. That statement caught the attention of Dr. Paulsson who provided a lengthy refutal that is posted in full below.
.Dr. Paulsson thesis and premise that "the Jews of Poland where under no particular threat prior to their ghettoization" is preposterous beyond words reaching perhaps the level of the Absurd as it contradicts a massive body of prima facie evidence.
.Dr. Paulsson 's views and "research" purporting to represent mainstream Holocaust scholarly work is anything but that. No surprise that in Israel he is considered to be an outcast. "They don't like me in Israel" [sic!], noted Dr. Paulsson.
. No surprise that Dr. Paulsson is not being liked anywhere in academia, either. Indeed, only four (4) years after he got his Ph.D., in 1998, no academic center, anywhere in the world, has wanted to have anything to do with Dr. Paulsson. "So academia is out --what now?," is asking Dr. Paulsson with respect to his future in a posted blog of Feb. 11, 2008.
As Dr. Paulsson noted in the same blog, "it's been 10 years since I got my Ph.D. and not a hint of a tenure-track post anywhere." Dr. Paulsson, since 2002 is a freelancer, although as he noted in the referenced blog "I've tried going into business --not where my talents lie, I lost $200,000 --and freelancing, no money there. So I'm stumped."
.Dr. Paulsson, for sure, cannot find refuge under the umbrella that he is of Jewish descent nor that his mother (according to him) apparently was a survivor of Auschwitz and Ravensbruck camps.



Steve PaulssonSteve Paulsson
On the Marginal Role of Poles
In Abetting the Nazi Perpetrators
Additional Commentary in Refuting
the Editor's "Hate Poles" Campaign

Dr. Steve Paulsson
Gunnar Steve Paulsson, Ph.D.
Dated: May 5, 2008

Editor's "Hate Poles" Bite (at the end)


At the Beginning ...

Prior to being put in ghettos, the Jews of Poland were not under any particular threat.

In the early days of the occupation, the Nazis were more concerned with squashing any Polish opposition than with the Jews, and the mortality rate was actually higher among the Poles than among the Jews. The Jews were for sure robbed and mistreated, but --little-known fact-- Auschwitz was set up in 1940 as a concentration camp for Poles, and the Nazis launched the "AB program" --Ausserordentich Befriedungsaktion, "Extraordinary pacification action" -- which was mainly aimed at the Polish intelligentsia. Jews were actually released from POW camps. We hadn't arrived at the Holocaust yet.

One thing you should understand about my book [Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945; Yale University Press (2003)]. Forget about the snippets that people quote out of context. It isn't a book about Poles, or about Polish-Jewish relations, much less is it an attempt to defend the Poles. It is about the Jews' attempts to survive. I focused on Warsaw because it was the best documented: I found extraordinary records kept by the three organizations that sprang up to help Jews in hiding (two Jewish, one joint Polish-Jewish - the latter misrepresented by Poles as a Polish organization). But there were lists of people in hiding, together with all kinds of information about them.

Between those records and the various Jewish memoirs and diaries, and then the survivor records, I was able to put together a pretty good statistical picture. It comes out like this:

- before the deportations started, Jewish attempts to survive focused on smuggling, which was very successful.

Judenrat chairman Adam Czerniakow estimated that smuggling brought in 80% of the food, and an Oneg Shabbat study similarly estimated that it brought in 80% of the export income. Suffice it to say that it was enough that of the 490,000 Jews who passed through the Warsaw Ghetto, 360,000 were still alive when the deportations started, which would have been impossible on the 300 calories a day the Jews were officially allowed. Those who died were the paupers, the orphans and the "refugees" (people transplanted from other ghettos), who simply had no-one to turn to on either side of the ghetto wall. You can criticize the Jewish council for not distributing food more evenly --for example, they could have "taxed" the rich people's ration coupons and used them to buy food for the poor. Hard to fault the Poles, though -- they had no access to the poor in the ghetto. The child smugglers went in and out every day to beg food, and generally the Poles gave it to them. During this period, the idea of escaping from the ghetto hardly crossed anyone's mind, and in fact was seen as a form of betrayal. Jews should stick together, not leave and save themselves. So by the time the deportations started, there were only about 5,000 Jews in hiding outside the ghetto, or about 1%.

- during the big deportation, things got difficult. The walls were hermetically sealed, smuggling stopped dead, food prices skyrocketed, there was chaos and confusion, people hadn't yet figured out what the Germans were up to. Mostly people tried to survive by getting jobs in German workshops or by finding hiding places inside the ghetto. About another 6,000 escaped, mostly in the last two weeks of the Aktion. So in September 1942, you have 11,000 Jews hiding outside the ghetto.

- after the 1942 deportation, things settled down. The Jews figured the Germans had gotten rid of the "unproductive elements", and the rest of them would be safe because they were needed for the war effort. The rate of escape from the ghetto declined, but people did start building hiding-places inside the ghetto. Hey, it worked last time - about 30,000 "wild" Jews survived the big deportation in hiding places inside the ghetto. This time they started building proper hiding places, some even with electricity, running water and telephones (naturally only the rich folks).

- then came the 1943 deportation. 6,000 Jews were taken away (leaving 54,000). And only now did the panic set in. The big wave of escapes was between January and April 1943, when about 11,000 more Jews escaped.

That brought the total "on the Aryan side" to about 24,000 (about 2,000 escaped between Sept. 1942 and Jan 1943).

- on the eve of the Ghetto uprising the picture was thus that there were about 66,000 Jews left in Warsaw, of whom 24,000 were hiding "on the Aryan side".

Pause for assessment. According to the standard narrative, the ghetto fighters had only a choice between dying on their feet or on their knees, because escape was allegedly impossible. But this is manifestly untrue: at that point more than one-third of the Jews were living "on the Aryan side", and Ringelblum estimated that "hundreds" more were escaping every day. What's more, the other 2/3 had prepared hiding places inside the ghetto, hoping to ride out the next deportation. In other words, the Jews weren't thinking of how best to die, they were thinking of how best to survive.

So let's rethink the ghetto uprising. The ghetto fighters also could have escaped and saved themselves, but they chose to stay and fight. That, to my mind, means they made a heroic choice, and answers the antisemitic taunt that the Jews fought only when they had no choice. They did have a choice.

IMHO, of the two organizations, the ZZW made the better choice: to stage a standard military holding action, to hold out in strongholds for as long as they could, and then to retreat via prepared routes and live to fight another day.

ZOB's plan, on the other hand, was pure romanticism: "Ghettograd", Masada, the fight to the death. I criticize ZOB: their method of fighting provoked the Germans to destroy the ghetto, flush people out of their hiding places, and wreck the whole plan of surviving within the ghetto. I said this at a conference once, and a survivor came up to me afterwards to thank me for telling the truth that he had never dared to tell. Meanwhile, ZZW has been written out of history and the uprising is told entirely from the ZOB pov. They don't like me in Israel for saying these things.

That's escape. Once the ghetto was destroyed, you had only the Jews in hiding, and their number had grown by this time to 28,000 (the 24,000 I've already accounted for, plus 3,000 who came to Warsaw to hide, plus 1,000 who escaped after the uprising, by jumping from trains or escaping from labor camps. This by the way is in the same ballpark as standard estimates. Adolf Berman estimated 25,000. So nothing very new there, I just approached it more scientifically. Of the 28,000, I counted 11,500 survivors, give or take. That's about 40%.


Crucial Points

Crucial point 1: the Jews were driven from pillar to post by policemen and blackmailers, and had to change hiding places on average 7 times. Since they were recognized as Jews by blackmailers (and almost all Jews, even the most assimilated, say they had run-ins with blackmailers), I doubt the validity of the concept of "passing", i.e. that Jews survived because they weren't recognized as Jews. If the blackmailers recognized them as Jews, then so did landlords, janitors, passers-by, etc. There were just too many little cultural differences between Poles and Jews --you would have had to be an accomplished actor, and stay in character for as long as 4 years to give a perfect imitation of a Pole.

Crucial point 2: as they changed hiding places, they were passed from hand to hand and the network of helpers grew. I estimate 70-90,000 helpers, which is not too far off Ringelblum's estimate of 40-60,000. I had more complete sources than he did. 70-90,000 is about 8% of the population. In the Polish edition of my book, I point to Wieslaw Kielar's book Anus Mundi: Kielar was a Polish prisoner at Auschwitz for almost the entire existence of the camp, and he says that around 8% of the SS guards at Auschwitz were decent. Therefore it is nothing for Poles to be proud of, or Jews to be surprised at, that 8% of the population of Warsaw was prepared to help Jews.

They don't like me in Poland because of that (and they never quote that on their websites).

Crucial point 3: Just as each Jew had to rely on multiple helpers, because they needed to change hiding-places so often, so each blackmailer, policeman, denouncer, etc., could victimize multiple Jews. In fact, from the scant evidence we have, it seemed to me that the average szmalcownik must have been hitting up 2-3 Jews a month at least. Therefore if the number of helpers was some multiple of 28,000, the number of bad guys was some fraction of 28,000. I estimated 2-3,000.


Preliminary Concluding Remarks

Conclusion 1: around 30 times as many Poles were helping Jews as harming them.

Conclusion 2: 92% of Poles were not involved with Jews one way or another.

Conclusion 3: given that Jews were easy to recognize and must have been recognized many times by landlords, passers-by, etc., if a majority of the population had been murderously hostile - or even a sizable minority --then simply nobody would have survived. Because surviving meant that every single person who recognized you as a Jew had to stay shtum, whereas it took only one bastard to denounce you. I calculated that to account for the mortality rate actually observed, the number of bastards would have had to be around 2%.

Strange coincidence 1: the fascist-style ONR got about 2% of the pre-war vote.

Strange coincidence 2: fascist-style parties generally got around 2% of the popular vote in European countries, except in Germany, of course, and in the Netherlands, where it was 8%. (I guess a lot of Dutch people were proud to be "Germanen")

Strange coincidence 3: estimates of the number of Jews in hiding, and the number of survivors, are by chance almost exactly the same for Warsaw as for the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, 28,000 Jews went into hiding, of some 16,000 survived until liberation in September 1944. In Warsaw, 28,000 Jews went into hiding, of whom 17,000 survived until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944.


Overall Concluding Remarks

Overall conclusion 1: the degree of local antisemitism didn't have that much to do with survival rates. The low survival rate in Warsaw (2%) was almost entirely due to timing and knowledge: the Jews didn't figure out what the Germans were up to until it was too late. By the time they realized that escape was necessary, the vast majority were already dead. That had nothing to do with either the attitudes or the actions of the Poles.

Overall conclusion 2: in history nothing is simple, and there are many other factors that I don't have time to go into here.

For example, it was harder to hide "on the surface" in Holland because the documentation system was more foolproof. Dutch Jews had to hide physically, like Anne Frank in her "Secret Annexe". On the other hand, Dutch Jews didn't have to change hiding places as often. On the other hand, they were also betrayed anyway (Anne Frank, for example). On the other hand, the 8% of people in Warsaw were far from a random sample. As with any other underground movement, people were drawn into it because people already involved in it thought they could be trusted.

So in the end, we really can't tell very much, except that your picture of the vast majority of Poles being murderous antisemites doesn't fit the facts. It also doesn't fit the fact that the Jews had lived in Poland for 800 years, and for 800 years the Poles had been antisemitic (as I pointed out, it was part of their religion), and for 800 years Poles and Jews had mostly coexisted peacefully anyway. In fact, for most of those 800 years, Jews considered Poland an especially favorable place for Jews.

We see Poland through the distorting lenses of the Holocaust, which was only 5 years out of 800 and perpetrated by the Germans. Was there collaboration? You bet. Was it on the same scale as in most other Nazi-occupied countries? Mostly no.

There was no collaborationist regime or movement, no Polish Waffen-SS unit or police battalions, no Polish Golta complex, Vichy regime, Father Tiso paying the Germans to take the Jews of his hands, etc. I don't find that these things make the Poles particularly virtuous: they are all historical accidents. German plans for the Poles themselves were so extreme that even the most radical Polish fascists were anti-German (and anti-Jewish at the same time). And in other countries, the active perpetrators were also a small percentage of the population.

Considering that the Holocaust was a highly efficient, technologically advanced killing machine, you have to figure that the number of active perpetrators was a small fraction of the number of victims. 3,000 members of the Einsatzgruppen for example killed 2 million Jews. Somebody or other wrote a PhD thesis on the railway system, and pointed out that there were 6 main killing centers, that one train a day went to each of them, and that makes 6 trains a day, out of a total traffic of I think 50,000 trains a day in Europe overall. All these things challenge received assumptions about the Holocaust and require a lot of rethinking. Consider also that the Nazis managed to kill 3.5 million Soviet POWs, many of them by just penning them up and leaving them to die of starvation and exposure.

Conclusion: It actually isn't that hard to kill large numbers of people (consider what was achieved in Rwanda with high-tech machetes), and it has always struck me that the Nazis made heavy weather of the Holocaust. There must be some psychology behind it: the industrialization of death had to be some kind of symbolic statement. Anyway, enough rumination for now.


Closing Statement

I hope I have given you some insight into what my book is actually about, as distinct from what the deniers and the Polish apologists claim on the basis of selected quotes. I personally don't give a damn about the Poles, one way or the other.

I just report what came out of my research, which was about Jewish responses, not Polish behavior. The comments on the Poles are merely a side-effect, and they certainly aren't a defense of them. I just think that we have tended to exaggerate the importance of local attitudes, not just in Poland, but everywhere. The Nazis were in control. They found enough helpers everywhere to get the job done. National differences are mostly down to timing, Nazi priorities, and other random factors (Michael Marrus pointed this out 20 years ago. Consider France and Holland. It happens that the Nazis set the same timetable for both countries: one train of 1000 victims per day. No train ever left either country with less than the quota. The difference in outcome (25% of the French Jews were killed v. 75% of the Dutch Jews) is mainly because there were a lot more Jews in France. As Marrus says, "if the war had lasted another year, there would have been too few Jews left alive anywhere to speak of meaningful national differences."

And that's enough said.

Steve Paulsson


Editor's "Hate Poles" Bite:


The Poles may not have been worse than the Nazis, but for sure they were not far behind ...


Please see the references below:

The Killing After the Killing

After the Holocaust ended in 1945, Poland's surviving Jews still faced hatred from their fellow citizens.

Fear by Jan Gross

Poland debate on History


Poland, One Year After Auschwitz, Being Involved In the Worst Peacetime Pogrom in 20th-century Europe

Funeral procession at Kielce
Burial of Jews in Kielce, Poland
Jews being buried in Kielce, Poland, in 1946 --one year after the Nazi Holocaust ended, as a result of the Kielce massacre
committed by ordinary Polish citizens against their own neighbouring Jews that were able to survive the Holocaust and return back to their homes.
That pogrom in Kielce was one of the factors that led to a mass westward migration of hundreds of thousands of Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Known as the Brihah, this movement brought Jews from Poland and other countries of eastern Europe to displaced persons camps located in the western zones of occupied Germany and Austria, and in Italy. A fear of violent pogroms was one motivation that led the vast majority of Jews to seek to leave postwar Europe.
(USHMM, <ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005366>)

From The New York Times:

From Washington Post: Remarks by Elie Wiesel

Kielce burial

Mourners at the burial of victims of the Kielce pogrom, Poland, July 1946.

May God Have Mercy on Poland's
Monstrous Anti-Semitic Deeds, Or Nobody Will.

II. Additional Commentary in Refuting the Editor's Hate Poles" Campaign

Steve Paulsson