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The vast majority of Poles neither helped nor hindered the Holocaust. Many were horrified, many rejoiced. Among the former, the fear of death for them and their families prevented them from taking action (automatic penalty for helping Jews was death for the entire household), the latter often stayed their hands out of a reluctance of helping the hated German occupiers.  But it is important to remember that even among those who were genuinely sickened to be witnesses to this horrible crime, many were deeply racist, as indeed were the vast majority of Poles in that period. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski who I mentioned in the above comment was one such Pole, yet he became the head of, Zegota, Poland's largest organization devoted to rescuing Jews - thousands were saved, a large number, or a small one, compared to the millions of murdered trivial, for those who were saved, enormous. He devoted much of his energy in postwar years to combatting antisemitism, for which the Communists imprisoned and tortured him. Bartoszewski was brought into Jewish rescue work by an ultraconservative, religious wingnut novelist by the name of Maria Kossak Szczucka. Her 'Protest' written in 1942 shows how someone can remain racist yet recoil at the ultimate expression of racism, I excerpt some passages below. (translation mine)


In the Warsaw Ghetto, behind the wall that cuts it off from the world, several hundred thousand condemned wait for death. For them there is no hope of rescue, no aid from any corner. [...]

The daily quota of victims is 8-10 thousand. The Jewish police are required to deliver them into the hands of the German executioners. If they do not do so, they themselves will die.

At the platforms wait the trains. The executioners load 150 of the condemned into each, on the floor lies a thick layer of lime and chlorine soaked in water. The doors are sealed shut. Sometimes the train moves immediately, other times it waits a day, two days... It no longer matters. [...] Wherever, whenever the deadly trains arrive - they will contain only corpses.
What is happening in the Warsaw Ghetto has been going on in a hundred smaller Polish towns and cities for half a year now. The total number of the murdered is already over a million, and that number rises with every day. All are dying. The rich and the poor, the elderly, women, men, youth, infants, Catholics dying with the name of Jesus and Mary, along with the followers of the Old Testament. All are guilty of having been born into the Jewish nation, condemned to extermination by Hitler.

The world watches this crime, the worst every committed in history - and says nothing. The massacre of millions of defenseless people is being committed among a universal, malevolent silence. The executioners do not speak, they do not brag of what they do. England and America say not a word, even the influential international Jewery, formerly so sensitive to slights against its own remains silent. Poles also stay silent. Polish politicians friendly to the Jews limit themselves to brief journalistic notes, the Polish opponents of the Jews show a lack of interest in a matter which does not concern them. The dying Jews are surrounded only by handwashing Pilates.

So we express ourselves, we Catholics-Poles [an expression common in Poland among those who believed that only Catholics could be Poles] Our feelings towards the Jews have not changed. We still see them as the political, economic, and ideological enemies of Poland. [...]

We do not wish to be Pilates. We have no means to actively combat the German murders, we can't do anything, offer any advice, save anyone, yet we protest from the bottom of our hearts filled with compassion, outrage, and horror. [Actually Maria Kossak was very active in aiding Jews until she was sent to Auschwitz in 1943] God demands this protest of us, God, who commands us not to kill. Christian conscience demands it. Every being, calling itself a human being, has a right to brotherly love. The blood of the delfenseless calls out for vengeance to the heavans. Who does not support our protest is no Catholic.

We also protest as Poles. We do not believe that Poland can obtain any benefit from the Germans' atrocities. [A common refrain among Polish antisemites at the time was 'At least Hitler is doing one good thing for Poland.] On the contrary. In the stubborn silence of international Jewery, in the propaganda of the Germans seeking already to cast the odium of the massacre on the Lithuanians and the Poles, we sense the planning of an action hostile to us. The forced participation of the Polish nation in the bloody spectacle taking place one the Polish lands may bring an indifference to suffering, sadism, and above all the dangerous conviction, that one may freely murder ones neighbours.

Who does not understand this, who dares to link the proud, free future of Poland with the contemptible joy in the suffering of ones neighbours - is neither a Catholic nor a Pole.

by MarekNYC on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 02:15:55 AM EST

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