In her memoirs, Sandra Brand mentions a Jew who was captured during a German raid on the apartment of an extortionist in Warsaw and a young Jewish woman who betrayed the hideout of several Jews after being captured by the police.1059 Barbara Abramow-Newerly did not abide by the order to relocate to the ghetto but continued to reside in her housing estate in the Warsaw suburb of Żoliborz, even though her Jewish background was widely known. The only szmalcownik she encountered was a Jew by the name of Saul, whom she knew. Saul worked for the Gestapo ferreting out Jews in hiding on the “Aryan” side. He was also engaged in extorting money and visited Barbara weekly until she was penniless. Facing denunciation, she turned to the Home Army for assistance. Witold Pilecki, the famed escapee from Auschwitz, extricated her by providing money to pay off the szmalcownik and told her not to worry. The Jewish szmalcownik did not return.1060
Zofia Bandurska-Herman, a Polish woman who was married to a Jew, took in a Jewish family by the name of Przeworski, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto. She hid Marek Przeworski in the cellar of the tenement building in which she lived and found hiding places for the others with her friends. A group of Jews came to her home to extort money. When Marek Przeworski recognized one of them, that Jewish blackmailer shot him. Bandurska-Herman buried Przeworski with the help of the janitor. The Jewish blackmailers continued to visit her with demands. Bandurska-Herman found out the address of one of them and reported him to the police. However, Bandurska-Herman herself was later summoned to the police station and killed.1061
Simha Rotem, who himself “dressed like a Gestapo agent” on his missions into the countryside, acknowledged that “Germans weren’t the only ones who served in the Gestapo, whose ranks included members of other nationalities, including Jews.”1062 Another Jewish underground leader, Yitzhak Zuckerman (“Antek”), also documents the activities of numerous Jewish collaborators in Warsaw. He points out that Abraham Gancwajch, the head of the notorious “Thirteen,” worked for some time on the “Aryan” side against the Polish underground and that Adam Żurawin, one of the many Jewish Gestapo agents he mentions, moved to the United States where he became a millionaire and summoned a rabbinical court to acquit him. Zuckerman openly acknowledges that he was accosted by as many Jewish blackmailers as Polish ones, and that it was a Jewish blackmailer who almost cost him his life:
And if I consider the treason carried out against me by individuals, there were just as many Jews among them as Poles. For example, when I was condemned to be executed on April 18, 1942, it was because of a Jewish denunciation.1063
Encounters with Jewish Gestapo agents were almost invariably fatal. Although a relatively small group, German archival documents confirm that agents were the Gestapo’s chief source of reliable information, accounting for about a third of all successful “hits”.1064 Only a small number of accounts, albeit important ones, speak to direct experience with this source of danger; most memoirists don’t care to recall such episodes which they undoubtedly witnessed or heard about. The magnitude of the phenomenon is thus underreported. Jerzy Warm (later Mikołajczyk) reported that, after her escape from the Warsaw ghetto, his 19-year-old daughter was denounced by a Jew who worked for the Gestapo. She perished in the Pawiak prison.1065 Eliszewa Totengreber, who was sheltered by a Pole after escaping from the Warsaw ghetto with her mother, recalled that her mother was denounced by a Jew, probably working for the Gestapo, and perished.1066
Zbigniew Ryszard Grabowski (then Ryszard Abrahamer), whose family passed as Christians in Warsaw, states that his father was fingered in a streetcar by a Jewish Gestapo agent. “Jews in the service of the Gestapo,” he writes, “were best at recognizing other Jews.”1067 Aviva Unger was just 12 years old when she and her mother, a widow, were confined in the Warsaw ghetto. After the Germans shot her mother, Aviva escaped from the ghetto in 1942 by crawling through the sewers. She was taken to a Catholic convent where she lived with nuns and attended the convent school. She “was recognized on a tram by a Jew who was a police spy, and betrayed to the Gestapo.” She was beaten viciously to extract information, but she said nothing. Risking his life, a priest from the convent was able to save Aviva by vouching for her longstanding Catholic background.1068
Ruth Altbeker Cyprys describes a familiar scene she witnessed after the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in May 1943. She personally observed Jewish Gestapo agents shouting Jewish slogans or singing Jewish songs in order to provoke a telltale reaction in fugitive Jews among the pedestrians in the streets of Warsaw.
The Jewish Gestapo men who remained alive were very dangerous. Their eyes were penetrating and Jews pointed out by them were lost without hope. A little car often seen passing slowly along Marszalkowska [Marszałkowska] Street, always keeping close to the pavement, became notorious. Once I was walking along this street when suddenly I heard the shout ‘Szma Israel’ [Shema Yisrael – Hear, O Israel, the words of a section of the Torah that is the centrepiece of morning and evening prayers], followed by the sight of a man dragged struggling into the car. It transpired that the cry had come from the slowly driven vehicle, causing an elderly gentleman passing by to stop and look back instinctively. It was final proof for the manhunters. They must have been observing their prey for some time and, having reckoned that only a Jew would react to these words, had successfully used their subterfuge. A friend told me that the most unexpected shouts could be heard from this car.
Another time, while walking in the street, I heard behind me a low humming of the Hatykva [Hatikva—“The Hope,” a Zionist anthem]. For a moment I wanted to look back but I overcame this desire. The singing individual overtook me. He was a young fellow in a little round hat with a feather. This hat meant the same as a Gestapo uniform as we learned at the end of the war. Unfortunately under this hat was the cheeky, carefree face of one of my university colleagues—a Jew. The degradation of some people had plumbed such depths.1069
Similar tactics were used in other occupied countries. For example, in Belgium, a Jewish informer for the security police by the name of Icek Glogowski toured around in an unmarked police vehicle identifying Jews. He was credited with having been responsible for fifty percent of the Gestapo arrests of Jews on the streets of Brussels.1070
In his memoir, Alexander Bronowski recounts his arrest in Warsaw by the Sicherheitspolizei (security police) after one of their informers, a Jew from his native Lublin, recognized him.1071 Ironically, the Polish “Blue” police, to whom Bronowski was handed over by the Sipo for temporary safekeeping, proved to be his saviours. Staff sergeant Wacław Nowiński not only rescued Bronowski, but Nowiński and his family also selflessly assisted and sheltered other Jews. Yet Mordecai Paldiel, a historian at the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, repeatedly covers up the fact that it was a Jew who betrayed Alexander Bronowski, even though Paldiel finds time to describe Bronowski’s fate in various publications.1072
There are numerous recorded cases of Polish policemen—members of the “Blue police” in the Generalgouvernement (so known because the navy blue colour of their uniforms), the railroad police, the criminal police, and the local police forces in the so-called Ostland (Poland’s prewar northeastern territories)—who used their positions to help Jews. Several Blue policemen have been recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” by Yad Vashem. This fact is not surprising when one considers that the “Blue” police were heavily infiltrated by the Polish underground, who provided extensive assistance to Jews.1073 On the other hand, an act of kindness by a Jewish policeman was rare and almost always came with a hefty price, as the the following witness from Lublin testifies:
I went to a Jewish policeman and asked him to accompany me along the streets forbidden to Jews, up to the factory [where a Polish friend was employed]. He wanted a thousand zlotys [złotys] for his services. I asked another policeman; he asked eight hundred zlotys. It was permissible to walk along those streets when escorted by a policeman, but the sidewalks were forbidden. A third policeman asked six hundred …
Arriving at the factory, I rang the bell at the gate. …
The guard went to the telephone. I gave the policeman one hundred zlotys. (I borrowed the money from my sister—one hundred and no more! …) I handed the policeman the hundred zlotys, promising to pay the rest if and when we survived the war. The policeman grabbed my arm and began pulling me back to town, but Pawlowsky [Pawłowski, the friend] wrested me from his grip, saying:
“You have no authority! He belongs to me.”1074
Andrzej Jezierski recalls how he was stopped in Warsaw in the summer of 1943 by a “Blue” policeman, together with his uncle Jan Kreczmar, an actor, and his wife Justyna Kreczmar, after being fingered by a Jewish condidant. The policeman proved to be less rigorous than his informant because he let them go when he discovered that the men were not circumcised.1075 A Jew by the name of Kalinowski, who was sheltered first by the Humięcki family and later the Tembler family in Warsaw, ventured outside his hiding place and was spotted by a Jewish policeman working with the Gestapo who demanded a bribe. Kalinowski ran back to the apartment where he was staying with his child. The Gestapo followed him there, seized his child and threw it out the fourth storey window and shot Kalinowski on the spot. They arrested the Tembler family, consisting of parents and two sons, and deported them to Auschwitz. Only Mrs. Tembler and her son Jan survived.1076 A Jewish woman known as Irka, whose lover was a German policeman, was amassing large sums of money and valuables from turning in Jews. The Communist underground tried without success to eliminate her.1077
Herman Fleiszer, who passed as a Christian in Warsaw using the name Henryk Repa, was betrayed on the street by a Jewish acquaintance from his student days in Lwów, who apparently was promised the freedom of his wife in exchange for his collaboration with the German police.1078 Maciek Rosenblatt, a young Jewish lawyer who fled from his native Drohobycz after gouging ghetto residents with the help of his uncle Dr. Rosenblatt, head of the Jewish Council, took up residence in Warsaw under an assumed identity only to be tracked down by a Gestapo agent from his home town operating in Warsaw.1079 (This latter source also details other examples of Jewish collaborators in Drohobycz, including one who informed on Jews who had dollars and valuables—something only other Jews would generally be aware of.1080 Betrayals of hiding places were also known to have occurred in Drohobycz.1081)
A Jewish woman from Warsaw recorded the following cases:
Jewish Gestapo men often went [to the sanatorium in nearby Otwock]. They were called the ‘Thirteens’, because their headquarters was at 13 Leszno Street. They all wore high boots in the German manner. High boots and a rubber truncheon. And they had beautiful girl-friends. The Thirteens didn’t wear armbands with a blue star.1082
Two Jewish Gestapo women in the other [room in a flat in Marszałkowska Street]. … Who were they? They were attractive young Jews who were destined to die, but the Germans had spared their lives on condition that they worked for them by denouncing Jews in hiding. The Germans paid them and they dressed smartly.1083
Another young Jewish girl who had become the mistress of the Gestapo Colonel Von Korta, and her brother the colonel’s chauffeur-valet, had both been plucked from the Warsaw ghetto, and eventually accompanied the colonel to Germany.1084 That same memoir mentions a German dentist in Warsaw, a Nazi, who had taken a young Jewish mistress, and a young Jew from Lwów who became the lover of a civilian German homosexual. (The German had rented a room from the Jew’s parents in Lwów, and that is probably when the relationship started. Rumor had it that he had the boy’s parents killed by the Gestapo to maintain the relationship and eventually brought him to Warsaw.)1085 Fanny Sołomian-Łoc mentions a harmful collaborator residing in the same building her family occupied in the Warsaw ghetto.1086 Maximilian T. describes the activities of an engineer from Lwów by the name of Koenigl, who worked with the Gestapo in Warsaw “in the department of combating communism.”1087 A popular meeting place for Jewish Gestapo agents in Warsaw was the Stanisławówka bar on Senatorska Street.1088
In some cases, Jewish Gestapo agents and informers struck at both Jews and their Polish benefactors. Sztutman aka Pruszyński, known as “Czarny,” a provocateur who posed as an arms dealer, denounced Stefan Prokopek, a People’s Army contact with the Jewish underground. Prokopek’s apartment on Waszyngtona Avenue, which served as a meeting place for the Jewish Fighting Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa), was raided and Prokopek was shot dead. Simha Rotem managed to escape as did Prokopek’s daughter, but Tuvia Szajngut (“Tadek”), a Jewish underground member, was also killed. The Germans found a Jew hidden on the premises who, under torture (the allegation of torture has never been confirmed), broke down and revealed the hideout of Sara Biderman (“Krysia”). When the Germans arrived at her hideout, they shot her and left her for dead. Miraculously, she survived. (With the help of Polish friends, she was nursed her back to health.1089) About a week after the raid, Sztutman was riding with Germans on Wolska Street. Upon spotting Rotem, he attempted to inform on him again, but Rotem escaped into the crowd and got away. After the war, Sztutman took refuge in Sweden.1090 Eleonora Prokopek, Stefan Prokopek’s wife, tells more of this story. Her husband was a member of the People’s Guard, a Communist underground ground. After he was killed in the shoot-out with the Gestapo in June 1943, she continued to hide Jews in her home in Pustelnik. One of their charges, a 17-year-old boy named Mardeks, was apprehended and gave away information to the Gestapo about the rescuers and other Jews in hiding. He even even helped look for them. This resulted in death of several Jews and Prokopek’s second husband, Aleksander Borkowski, who was sheltering three young Jewish women, underground members from Rembertów. Helena Prokopek stated:
I would add that Mardeks (the Jewish 17-year old) must have known that death awaited him whatever he did, but all the same he accompanied the Germans by motorbike to the forest and gave away his own people. Once they [the Gestapo] no longer needed him, the same fate befell him.1091
Yad Vashem recognized Stefan and Eleonora Prokopek as Righteous Gentiles in 2000, but there is no mention of betrayal by Jews in their official entry, leaving the impression that the denouncers were Poles.1092
Zosia Goldberg, who passed as a Pole in “Aryan” Warsaw, recalled her precarious encounters with “unintentional” betrayers and an active informant.
I was almost exposed three times when I was on the street. Several times I saw the trucks with the placowka [placówka—labor platoons from the ghetto], the Jews who worked outside the ghetto, and many times they would holler, “Zosia, how are you?” I made believe I didn’t know them when they yelled from the trucks because … They were not doing it on purpose to give me away, they were just hollering hello, happy to see someone they knew.
Another time there was one fellow by the name of Lifszitz whom I had known from before the war. He was tall and skinny, with curly, kinky, blond hair, and he worked for the Germans. I was told that he would go into the Aryan section and he would look for Jews to denounce. One day I saw Lifszitz on the street, and he was heading in my direction. So I went up to him, right up to him, and I said, “You know, I have a knife. I will stab you if you try to give me away. Get away!” He ran away from me; otherwise I would have been in big trouble.1093
One survivor, who moved to Warsaw with her parents during the occupation, described three encounters with Jews who were extorting money from fellow Jews or helping the Germans hunt them down. According to Halina Zylberman, her mother was identified by a Jewish woman from Lwów, her father was accosted by a fellow Jew from Kraków in the services of the Gestapo, and after the failed Warsaw uprising of 1944, she witnessed a Jewish Gestapo agent spotting Jews among the evacuees from the city.
At last I heard heavy steps on the stairs, followed by lighter ones I recognized as my mother’s. She came in accompanied by a Polish policeman. “I’m sorry I’m so late Halinka, but I had a misunderstanding with the authorities. Everything’s all right now.”
From her flushed cheeks and the unnaturally high-pitched tone of her voice I knew something was very wrong, but Mama gave the policeman a glass of tea and sat down and chatted with him about things in general. He mentioned he would like to take me to the country to visit a close friend of his, a farmer. He would like to make up for inconveniencing her by buying us fresh dairy products. I could see by Mama’s expression that she didn’t like the idea, but she kept on smiling and acting friendly. “I’ll let you know,” she replied.
When at length the man left, she collapsed on the sofa, exhausted. “You’ve no idea what I went through today, Halinka.” I went over and hugged her as the words poured out: “I was just walking in the street when I was stopped by that policeman. He asked for my identification papers, then without even looking at them, he put them in his pocket ‘I’m afraid,’ he said, ‘You’ll have to come to the police station with me.’ ‘On what charges?’ I asked. ‘I’ve been told that you are a Jewess,’ he said. Halinka, I thought I was going to faint. How could he know? ‘You’re making a terrible mistake,’ I told him. ‘It’s no use pretending that you’re not, because I know for sure. There’s a lady sitting in the café over there who knows you from Lwow [Lwów] as a Jewess.’ I glanced over and sure enough, I saw a woman I knew from Lwow. But she was also Jewish. Why should she have turned informer? I almost panicked, but then I thought of you waiting at home and I knew I had to do everything possible to get out of this mess. I asked him, ‘Do you have any children?’ ‘Yes’ he said, ‘I have a daughter.’ ‘So have I,’ I said. ‘She’s waiting for me at home right now. She’s very young and needs me. I’m not a Jewess,’ I told him, ‘but I have black market connections and I wouldn’t like to be interrogated by the police. Please let me go home to my little girl.’ I was crying by now, and I looked him straight in the eyes. I could see he was trying to decide what [to] do so I took off my wedding ring and watch, and my golden cross, and pushed them into his hand. Thank God he accepted the bribe. He said, ‘I have a daughter waiting at home for me too, and I can’t imagine how she would manage without me. But the informant is watching, so I can’t just let you go. I’ll have to take you home to check on your story.’1094
My father was warned that a Jewish acquaintance, originally from Krakow [Kraków], had turned ‘Jew-spotter’ for the Gestapo. Soon after, they met in the street and although my father’s blood froze, he greeted him warmly and invited him to a nearby café for a cup of tea. The informer suggested that they exchange addresses and my father readily agreed, and gave him a different pseudonym and address. He wandered the streets for some hours till he was sure he was not being followed, till he dared to go home. Fortunately, their paths never crossed again, but we were shocked to think that someone who was so well-educated and well-liked could have fallen so low.1095
There was one man standing close by the Germans who attracted my attention. He was the only civilian amongst them and was well dressed and well nourished. I thought I must be dreaming because he looked so obviously Jewish to me. “What is a Jew doing here amongst the German soldiers?” I thought. But when I heard him talking to the Germans saying, “I can’t see any of them in this lot,” shivers went down my spine. He was clearly in the service of the Gestapo—another Jewish ‘Jew-spotter’. Suddenly I was very self-conscious and I felt a touch of ice in my heart. Would he recognise me as a Jew?
But we stayed standing there for about fifteen minutes and then two soldiers of the Wehrmacht approached us and ordered us to follow them.1096
The topic of Polish blackmailers or szmalcowniks has received much attention in Jewish memoirs and from Holocaust historians. However, there is virtually no recognition in mainstream literature that these same blackmailers, usually from the dregs of society, were not always ethnic Poles and that they also preyed on vulnerable Poles, including members of the Polish underground.1097 Szmalcowniks were by and large, though not exclusively, members of the poor lumpenproletariat who were motivated by greed rather than anti-Semitism. Like those inside the ghettos where extortion was widespread, Jews outside the ghettos happened to be easy targets for extortion because of their vulnerability and their inability, in most cases, to seek redress from the authorities. These blackmailers were hardly representative of Polish society, despite the claims of some Holocaust historians to the contrary, and in fact their activities were generally viewed as reprehensible by Polish society at large.1098 The Polish underground condemned such activities, as did Polish society. The underground passed a number of death sentences against betrayers and suspected Gestapo agents but did not manage to carry all of them out because of practical difficulties associated with such executions. Moreover, very little publicity is given to their Jewish counterparts either operating on their own or in mixed gangs. The latter phenomenon is described in greater detail below.
Polish szmalcowniks were generally either members of extortion rings, which were usually made up of professional criminals with ties to German officials and the Polish police, or amateurs, who were often young ruffians interested above all in extorting money and not actually in denouncing Jews. As one Jew hiding in Warsaw attests,
Did these young ruffians, or ‘Shmaltsovniks’ as they were known in the Occupation jargon, really want to hand over their victims to the German authorities? No, they were not particularly interested in that. Instead they wanted to rob the Jews, relieve them of their money, jewellery and other valuables, or at least of a jacket or winter coat.1099
Furthermore, since the German authorities had little use for freelance blackmailers, despite threats of turning the Jews in by the latter, these rarely materialized. Even Blue policemen who turned to blackmailing Jews could turn out to be more interested in procuring small payments, rather than turning in their victims.1100 Members of the Communist underground were also active in extorting and robbing Jews, often with lethal consequences.1101
Most Jews survived their encounters with the amateur szmalcowniks, even several of them in a short span; hence the abundance of references to such incidents in Jewish accounts. For the most part amateur szmalcowniks had their sights set on relatively small amounts of money or jewelry, and could often be bargained down. Dov Weissberg describes one unfortunate Jew who was robbed in Warsaw three times in a row; by the time the third blackmailer appeared on the scene he had no money to offer him: “The bum let him go. After all, he was only interested in the money, not in bringing a Jew to the police station.”1102 Some blackmailers were careful not to take all of the victim’s money and even gave tips on how to conduct oneself and dress to avoid future encounters with blackmailers.1103 One Jewish apartment in Warsaw was visited several times by a blackmailer who contented himself with taking small amounts of money and valuables and provided “practical hints about better and safer ways of hiding their identity.” The two women never ended up moving.1104 Amateur szmalcowniks were afraid of actual contact with the police, because extortion was a punishable offence, and Jews who were extorted could sometimes get the szmalcowniks to back down with bravado denials that they were Jews and threats of reporting the szmalcowniks to the police.1105 Even policemen who extorted money from Jews are known to have backed away from harming those who had no money to hand over or who they had already blackmailed.1106 Encounters with gangs of professional blackmailers, who were generally much more ruthless and usually included Jews, Polish policemen and German officials among their members, were far more precarious. But such encounters were not routinely lethal, and the blackmailers could also be bargained down or, on occasion, even befriended.1107 Samuel Willenberg describes a Warsaw gang headed by Antoś, who obtained counterfeit identity documents for the author.1108 Another source indicates that even the “king” of the Warsaw szmalcowniks was recruited, albeit for payment, to help Jewish insurgents escape from the ghetto after the failed revolt of April 1943.1109