Members of the Jewish police were not the only ones who served the Germans; some Jews acted



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The Polish underground authorities set up a special, accelerated investigative and legal apparatus in 1943 to deal with those who preyed on Jews and others. (Often those who took part in anti-Jewish activities were also involved in other transgressions that victimized Poles.) It is estimated that about 30 percent of the 70 death sentences passed against confidants and collaborators by the Special Civilian Court in Warsaw in 1943–1944 were directed at persons who primarily harmed Jews.48 (Confidants, or Vertrauensmänner, are commonly referred to as “Gestapo agents” in anectodal literature. Confidants were employed by various agencies such as the Kripo or Criminal Police, by other branches of the Sicherheitspolizei such as the Gestapo, as well as by the Abwehr and Bahnschutz.49) Many of the underground sentences were not carried out, however, because of the attendant risks and complications. Often the informers or blackmailers were elusive or part of the criminal underworld, and even the most carefully executed sentence exposed underground members to personal danger and retaliations. As one historian noted:
Investigating cases of blackmail was a highly complex process. The special courts needed evidence, and getting evidence was difficult, at times almost impossible. Agents could not work in the open; it was impossible to interrogate people accused of blackmail, or to confront them with evidence.

When a blackmailer learned that he was being investigated he could place himself under German protection or betray the identity of the agents working on the case. Agents, therefore, had to be extremely cautious and discreet in their investigations. After they were sentenced, blackmailers often moved, disappeared, or changed their names to escape execution. Implementation of sentences, therefore, often had to be delayed or abandoned.50


Moreover, the Germans introduced severe retaliations, executing ten Poles for every informant eliminated by the underground, which led to lesser forms of punishment being meted out to collaborators. Therefore, in many cases, accounts were to be settled in full after the war.51

Stefan Korboński, who, as chief of Civil Resistance in occupied Poland from 1941 organized underground courts to try collaborators, and others have identified a number of Poles executed by the Polish underground for betraying or persecuting Jews as well as their Polish benefactors.52 Often these same people, usually from the criminal elements of Polish society, would prey on Christian Poles as well, including members of the underground. As we shall see, on occasion Jews were also executed for such transgressions by the Polish underground. According to historian Eliyahu Yones, who described conditions in Lwów,


Informers were often prosecuted before a Polish underground tribunal. In one such instance, two Polish women—one of whom was a Gestapo agent—were indicted for handing Jews to the Gestapo. The underground sentenced them to death and carried out the sentence.53
A Jew from Radom passing as a Pole was drawn into an extortion ring consisting of a policeman and a prostitute, who tracked him down and made him reveal the identities of other Jews hiding in Lwów. This group was eventually broken up by the Polish underground who provided the Jew with a safe shelter.54

These measures did not, of course, eliminate all or even most of the collaborators and informers, whether Poles or Jews, nor did they put an end to the many risks from various sources that threatened the safety of Jews in hiding. The threat of betrayal—sometimes motivated simply by a desire for self-preservation (Poles were punished collectively for helping Jews)—was an ever-present fear for many Jews. Holocaust historians attribute the source of such lurking danger almost exclusively to the conduct of Poles and Polish anti-Semitism, and some Jews have claimed after the war that they feared Poles more than the Germans. However, the testimonies from those times gathered here present a different, much more complex picture.

The conclusion that such statements naturally imply is that very few Poles, indeed perhaps only those who actually extended assistance, sympathized with the plight of the Jews. Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the Warsaw ghetto revolt, attempted to put these charges into their proper perspective by offering the following illustration:
Near the ghetto one always found a crowd of Poles looking at the Jews who were going to work. After leaving the ghetto gate one of the Jews might leave the work column, remove his armband, and steal away. Among the crowd of several hundred Poles there would always be one, two, perhaps three betrayers who would apprehend the Jew … The entire crowd, however, did not act that way. I didn’t know who among the crowd was a betrayer … One has to remember that there were not a thousand or five hundred betrayers; there were maybe five of them. It was the same way with neighbours; one didn’t know if the neighbour was upright. We lived on Leszno Street and across from us there was a suspicious dwelling. Ours was also suspect. After the uprising [of August 1944] broke out, it turned out that that dwelling was an AK [Home Army] station. The mistress of the house had been afraid of us and we of her.55
Fear of the unknown was pervasive, but very often misplaced. Luba Lis, who was sheltered by a Polish woman in Przemyśl, was fearful of the neighbours in the tenement building. Only after the war did she learn that another Polish family who shared the same staircase was hiding Jews.56 Another Jewish account speaks of an entire street in that city being aware of a Jewish hideout, but not betraying it.57

Another source of constant danger—one virtually unknown in Western European countries—were the massive door-to-door hunts organized by the Germans to apprehend Jews in hiding. A Jewish boy who was sheltered by a Polish family on Muranowska Street in Warsaw recalled one such raid in April 1943, when the story spread that a group of Jewish fighters had managed to escape during the revolt in the ghetto:


Our block was surrounded by SS and other Nazi units. … The search started in another house on our block. Some Jews were found and dragged away. They were not necessarily the escapees, but a Jew was a Jew. … The Nazis were not searching all the apartments systematically, they just entered homes at random. But once in the [small] apartment, they conducted a thorough search, opening closets and other potential hiding places.58
On April 6, 1944, some 3,000 Germans were deployed from four in the morning to nine in the evening in a search for Jews in hiding in Warsaw. In all, seventy “non-Aryan” men and thirty-one “non Aryan” women were seized: all of them were executed five days later.59 A Jewish woman sheltered in the Żoliborz district of Warsaw recalled a door-to-door hunt conducted by the Germans looking for Jews and arms.60 On on Good Friday, April 7, 1944,
A cordon of troops was thrown around the selected area [i.e., Żoliborz], and the police went in and searched each house thoroughly from cellar to attic for Jews in hiding, caches of weapons, etc. In the course of this raid, in which a total of 3,000 soldiers and police were deployed and which lasted from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m., 250 persons were arrested including 30 women. Among them there were, of course, Jews and those who had given them shelter.61
All this in one city in the course of two days. By way of comparison, the entire German occupation forces, including administration, needed to keep Denmark in line amounted only to a few hundred, and in France there were only 3,000 German occupation troops stationed in the entire country.

Germans organized intensive hunts for Jews and members of the underground throughout Poland. A young Jewish woman who lived in Kraków recalled: “One morning, the Germans surrounded the streets around the block where I lived with Grandma, demanding to see everyone’s documents. … there were so many SS soldiers everywhere that it was impossible to do anything but comply. … ‘What do they want?’ a woman asked. … ‘They are trying to catch Jews,’ someone answered.”62 Another Jew who passed as a Pole in Kraków recalled:


In May, when I was able for the first time to take a walk in the market place, I became aware that the round-ups had intensified. What were these round-ups? Why were they doing them? Who were they after? The Germans sealed off the roads, ordered all gates to be shut and then checked the identities of all the people in the street. Those who were without papers or whose documents appeared suspect were arrested and sent to the Gestapo.

I was caught in several such round-ups and miraculously emerged unscathed. The first of these took me by surprise in the market square, next to the Maurizia patisserie. … This round-up, together with the inspections, lasted for almost two hours. …

Barely one week later I experienced another round-up. I was sitting in a café in Jan Street. … The café was already surrounded. Mme Herfort led me to a hiding-place where I concealed myself, whilst the Germans checked everyone in the café, closely inspecting papers and arresting suspects.63
A misguided sense of “duty” to the German authorities also played into their diabolical plans and facilitated the destruction of the Jewish population. When the Germans ordered the chairman of the Jewish council in Kowale Pańskie near Turek to prepare lists of all ghetto inhabitants incapable of working, including all children under the age of 13 and all elderly persons over 65 years of age, the council was reluctant to obey this order. The chairman turned to four rabbis who were among the deportees for their opinion. After deliberation and prayer, the rabbis decided that, according to religious law, a decree of the government was obligatory and had to be obeyed.64 Sometimes the interests of Jewish religious authorities and the Nazi oppressors overlapped. In April 1941, the Germans declared the Sabbath, and not Sunday, to be the official day of rest in the Warsaw ghetto. When it became clear that many people were not complying with this, pressed by Orthodox leaders in the ghetto, the religious department of the Judenrat suggested the establishment of a “Sabbath patrol” and courts to deal with offenders, for which they required an official permit from the German athorities.65

Conduct that was defiant of the compliant and corrupt Jewish authorities could inadvertently turn lethal for Jews as well as Poles. In February 1941, some Jews in the Kutno ghetto organized a riot against the Jewish council, accusing it of misappropriation of funds, and assaulted the head of the financial department when the protest turned violent. The German police intervened to halt further unrest. As a result of this incident, various smuggling operations were uncovered, and several people were arrested, including a Pole. All of the prisoners were sentenced to death and hanged in Włocławek.66

There was a pervasive reluctance to allow families with children into hiding places and Jewish children were often sacrificed to save adults. Moshe Maltz records his wife’s account of being turned away from hideouts during an Aktion in Sokal, near Lwów, because she had two children with her. Desperate, she concealed their 5-year-old son in a woodpile and then hid in an attic with their year-old daughter. The girl’s crying alerted a German soldier, who ordered a member of the Judenrat into the building to investigate. The Jewish man located them and persuaded the mother to hand over her child. According to one member of the extended Maltz family, this story exemplifies the “philosophy of ghetto. … You save yourself. If you have to give away a child, if you have to give away a mother … you save youself because you have to survive and bear witness.”67

In Sokal, just as in every other Jewish ghetto, snitches could be found that turned against their own people:


Everything the Jews had owned was no longer theirs. The Germans, together with their Ukranian partners, were looking for new ways to rob Jewish property. A Jewish snitch told the Gestapo that silverware belonging to the Belz Rebbe was hidden somewhere in Sokal. The Gestapo arrested three Jews who were supposed to know where the hiding place was. Even though they pointed at the exact hiding place inside the synagogue, the Germans shot them after taking the silverware.

Another demonstration of German evil and cruelty was what happened to Risha Kindler, the baker. She operated the only bakery in Sokal—which was clandestine and illegal, of course. Risha bribed the Ukranian police, who knew about her activity, with weekly payments. She too fell victim to a snitch. One very early morning, the Gestapo burst into the bakery, took the baker with two girls who worked for her, and sealed the house. After a few days it became known that Risha and the girls had been tortured by the Gestapo.68


Meier Lencow, then a teenager in Sokal, recalled having to hide during raids conducted by the Jewish police. The Jewish police would seize Jews for labour and physically mistreat them in the presence of the Germans. The Jewish police participated in the round-up of Jews, and the search for those in hiding, during the deportations to camps.69

There are abundant examples of Jews being implicated in the betrayal of hundreds of fellow Jews hiding among Poles, with dire consequences for their Polish benefactors. Sometimes Jews threatened to denounce Gentiles concealing other Jews. Often these Jews acted out of fear or under duress, latching on to the faintest hope, however unrealistic, that they might save their own skins at the expense of others. While not necessarily constituting collaboration in the true sense of the word, the outcome of their deeds was the same: it was lethal. A fear of fellow Jews was something that constantly accompanied Jews in hiding, and thus unnecessary contacts with Jews were avoided at all costs. As one Jew who lived in the Aryan part of Warsaw recalled, “We knew that [the empty room] would eventually be rented by a Jew … We prayed that it would be someone with ‘good looks’. Only after the war did we learn that one of the people who had contemplated renting that very room was a pretty blond girl from my class at school, Irka H. When she caught a glimpse of me and Jerzyk, she hurriedly withdrew.”70

Zosia Goldberg, who was passing as a Pole in “Aryan” Warsaw, recalled:
Then one day I met my old history teacher, Mrs. Dinces, who was also the wife of the director of my gymnasium. Mr. Dinces had changed his faith and become a Catholic, but that wouldn’t keep his wife safe. She spoke Polish, not Yiddish, and her Polish was so beautiful it was like music, yet now she was running away with her daughter. She had blond hair with very thick braids in the back. When she saw me I almost went over to her to say hello, but she got so scared that she crossed the street and ran away from me. I don’t blame her—she was afraid of me, she didn’t know who I was.71
Solidarity among Jews in hiding, as well as in camps, was in short supply. When he went into hiding in Siennica after the liquidation of the Otwock ghetto, a rabbi from Otwock was denounced.72 When a Jewish teenager was sent back to Warsaw from the countryside by her mother, her escort avoided her as much as he could:

My mother told me to follow Mr. Lautenberg, but did not like the idea for he was afraid that I might be recognized as a Jewess. He did not wait for me and I had to run all the way to the [train] station, trying not to lose sight of him. When we arrived and for a moment stood close to each other, Józef Lautenberg was visibly disturbed. … We entered two separate compartments. I was now totally on my own, making the perilous journey …73


A Jewish youth who was thinking of jumping off the train headed for Majdanek turned to her cousin:
She was much older than I and physically could not jump from the train. … I asked her, if she could tell me where she hid some valuables so that I would have some money, if my leap for freedom succeeded. Her husband had been a rich jeweler and had hidden or entrusted many valuables to Polish families for safekeeping. She rejected my request.74
A Jew who hid with Poles in several villages near Łosice recalled:
As I returned from the Szczebuńskis’ home another evening, I ran into three Jews whom I had known in the small ghetto. … I was glad they did not ask me where I was hiding. People were afraid of one another in those days. No one was a hero. The Germans’ methods for breaking people under interrogation and forcing them to talk were well known. When I returned “home,” I usually ran about half a mile in the opposite direction, looking over my shoulder all the while, to make sure I was not being followed.
And again in that same source:
Berl encountered a young woman with a girl of about eight. The woman told him that she was part of a group of thirteen Jews who were living in a small forest … Berl and the woman set up a rendezvous in the forest the next night. … All of them were starving and in poor health. Without disclosing the location of his own hideout, Berl set up a third meeting with the woman the next week.75
A Jewish family from Chodecz who was banished to the Łódź ghetto recalled their ordeal at the hands of a relative:
‘But do you know what Eva [the author’s half-brother’s wife] did to us in the Lodz [Łódź] ghetto?’ I asked. ‘Mother and Father and I were starving and so were Sala and her children. Mother took a small packet of sugar cubes out of the box Eva kept under the bed. Then Eva brought along a huge man and he beat Mother up and wanted to strangle us both.’76
Sonia Games, who passed as a Christian in Częstochowa, recalled: “People with false papers were caught all the time, often because someone from the Ghetto, in desperation, sought them out, hoping for shelter.” Jews were to be avoided at all costs. Sonia Games described how, at the train station in Częstochowa, she desperately wanted to remove herself from the company of a person who sat down next to her just minutes before he was apprehended by the SS during a routine inspection of travellers:
Suddenly, I knew in a flash. The man was a Jew on the run. He was nervous, too chatty and eager. He must think that I am a Polish girl and would feel safer sitting next to me. … He couldn’t have made a worse choice. I needed to get rid of him somehow and began to get up from my seat and move away.77
Emanuel Tanay recorded:
While I was still at the monastery of Mogiła, it was my duty to take the mail to the local post office … Once a group of Jews was being marched through the village from a nearby camp. One of the Jews, a young boy a year or two older than I was, was from my hometown. When he saw me, he instinctively yelled out, “Hello, Emek,” I responded with some obscenity and walked on. There were other occasions when I was in Kraków and someone from my hometown recognized me and addressed me by my real name. Many times, under such circumstances, I jumped off a moving streetcar or a train. Such close calls were very common.78
When Stanisław Różycki left Lwów in September 1941 to return to Warsaw, the “first danger” he encountered were Jewish acquaintances.79 Stanley Bors, who hails from Sosnowiec but found shelter with Poles in Grodzisk outside Warsaw, recalled:
One day the Germans were going house to house looking for somebody and we hid in the garden behind the house. To our surprise we found the people living next door also hiding. We immediately recognized each other as Jews and became friends. Mostly Jews didn’t want to know each other. Everyone had false papers and changed names. It was better not to know in case the Gestapo came looking. I once jumped off a running streetcar because I spotted somebody I knew in school. He was a Jew but I didn’t know if he worked for the Gestapo. Later, after the war, I met him in Warsaw and he told me he jumped off too because he was afraid of me. That was how it was. Some people didn’t want even their family to know where they were.80
A Jewish woman passing as a Pole in Kraków did not dare take a job in a factory where many Jews were employed in key positions for fear of being betrayed: “the factory was an outpost of the small ghetto in Kraków … The secretary at the desk, the foreman, the office manager, and all the other workers were Jewish. The only Poles were the teenagers out front. When I saw this, I knew I didn’t dare take that job. No one can spot a Jew faster than another Jew.”81 A Jewish woman in the Płaszów camp outside Kraków begged her daughter’s benefactors not to bring her child to visit her in the camp “because people were jealous” that the child was still alive and she feared someone might denounce the child.82

Nika (Bronisława) Kohn Fleissig, a native of Wieliczka who was survived with the assistance of a number of Poles, recalled:


I learned that one cannot generalize: I was once endangered by a nasty Jewish woman, who sent a policeman to arrest me to free herself. I met a number of Christians who saved my life when they could have turned away. So there were good people and bad ones. In tough times, one discovers the truth about people, and it has nothing to do with religion.83
Jews passing as Christians were also extorted by fellow Jews under threat of denunciation:
The family of Felix Brand, who moved to Suchedniów under an assumed Polish identity, had to flee the town after they were recognized as Jews and blackmailed by some members of the Jewish Police.84
Chil Rozenberg, the chairman of the Jewish council in Legionowo near Warsaw, surrendered another Jew to the Germans when his son was caught outside the ghetto, because he wanted to save his son. Not surprisingly, because the policemen enjoyed certain privileges and were excused from forced labour, wealthier Jews paid Rozenberg money yo get their sons into the force.85

Two Jewish sisters from the Netherlands, Surry and Suzanne Polak, had a bitter recollection of their experiences in the Trawniki camp:


There was tension between the Dutch and the Polish Jews in the labour camp. The Polish girls ‘called us anti-Semites. We did not know the Jewish language, and therefore we could not be Jews.’ The Dutch girls were also annoyed at the hypocrisy of the Polish Jews, who professed to be very devout. But ‘we almost never got anything from them. Only if they saw you were on the brink of death, then they might give you something, but if they saw you were doing OK, then they were terribly jealous.’ Suze and Surry also observed that there was a big difference between the Jews from the ghettos and the Jews from the cities. ‘The Jews from Warsaw were very different. Those people were more cultured.’86
Artur Diamant recalled that ghetto dwellers in Zawiercie, Upper Silesia, were afraid of admitting to the help they received from Poles because of their Jewish neighbours who might leak this information to German agents.87 Tragically, the fears often turned into disasters. A Jew from Lwów who posed as a Christian in Kraków recalled:
I am sure that some of my [Polish] office co-workers and neighbors must have thought at times that I was Jewish. … But no one of them ever reported me to the German authorities and that, in large measure, helped me survive the war. … At my job at Schenker’s there was a pretty young woman working at the switchboard. I sensed that she was Jewish, too, but we avoided admitting it to each other out of fear of being betrayed under torture, should one of us ever be arrested by the Germans. …

There was also an older lady working there, an invalid, limping with one club foot. She was Oriental looking and she claimed to be an Arab. She avoided everyone. One day the older lady disappeared and a few days later the young woman was arrested as a Jewess. I never saw her again. Much later I found out that the older lady had been Jewish herself and had denounced the young woman as a Jewess under interrogation n. She had done this to save her own life. The Germans had promised to let her go free if she denounced another Jew. Later, she also denounced me to the Germans. The Germans had obviously used her as bait.88

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