In some cases, those accused of helping Jews were prosecuted in special German courts instituted in occupied Poland. Józef Herzig was caught by Ukrainians in Wyczków near Lesko and handed over to the Germans; upon interrogation, he betrayed the hiding place of five Jews in Hoczew, resulting in the execution of the brothers Tomasz and Jan Wacławski and the confiscation of their farm.287 When Mojżesz Strick fell into the hands of the Ukrainian police in Stryj, he betrayed the hideout of his companion Matylda Lauer, which led to the arrest of their former Christian benefactor, Adele Maziak, who was imprisoned and prosecuted for the offence of helping Jews.288 Eugeniusz Kędzierski, Franciszek Ożegalski and Władysława Seweryn of Lwów were arrested by the Germans in Lwów for aiding Jews and prosecuted, after they were betrayed by Leopold Manner when apprehended by the Ukrainian police. Ożegalski’s death sentence was commuted to five years’ imprisonment, whereas Seweryn was executed.289 When Mathilde Flecker was apprehended by the Ukrainian police in Lwów, she betrayed two Poles, Emil and Władysław Kleiner, who were part of a secret organization that provided Jews with false identity documents.290 Michał Szramek of Drohobycz was arrested after his address was found in the possession of Maurycy Rurhberg, a member of the Judenrat. Salomon Herzig, who was arrested at the same time, told the Germans that Szramek was aware that he was sheltering Jews, even though they were using a false identity, something which Szramek attempted to deny in order to exculpate himself.291 Upon arrest and interrogation, Estera Kuper identified three Poles in Kosów Lacki who helped her. All three of the Poles were arrested. Stanisława Barbachowska, who admitted to the “crime,” was sentenced to death by a German court, whereas Władysław and Stefania Wołosewicz, who denied helping the Jewish girl to avoid punishment, received sentences of 6 months in prison.292 Chawa Gener, who was sheltered in Warsaw, betrayed her Polish benefactors when she was arrested by the German police; as a result, three Poles were sentenced to prison terms of five to six years.293 One member of a large group of Jews sheltered by Polish farmers in the village of Widzówek near Częstochowa was apprehended by the Germans and betrayed his benefactors during interrogation, leading to the arrest of Stanisław Widera, Walenty Kępa and Karolina Owczarek. All three were sentenced to death. The sentence of the two men was commuted to one year of prison, whereas the woman was executed.294
Historian Elżbieta Rączy identified a number of cases in the Rzeszów region where Jews apprehended by the Germans or Jewish agents provocateurs—as in the case of a group of Jewish prisoners from the Pustków labour camp sent into the countryside to search out Jews in hiding—betrayed fellow Jews and their Polish benefactors. Such acts of betrayal, lack of caution on the part of hidden Jews, deliberate denunciations (as was the case in Gumniska295), and provocations were responsible for more than one third of the recorded cases of Jews on the run falling into the hands of the Germans.296 A Jewish partisan group led by Edmund Łukawiecki, which operated in the forests north of Lubaczów (Puszcza Solska), executed a young Jewish woman who had betrayed at least one family of Jews in hiding and tried to infiltrate the partisan group.297
On February 24, 1943, two Jews, possibly agents provocateurs—one a refugee from Warsaw, the other a local Jew named Szymel Helman—came with a large punitive detachment of the SS and German gendarmerie to identify the Poles who had helped them and other Jews. A dozen Poles perished in the ensuing pacification in Paulinów near Sterdyń, not far from Sokołów Podlaski. A Jew from Wołomin named Rubin, who was captured by the Germans after joining up with a band of fugitive Soviet soldiers, betrayed numerous farmers who helped the Soviet partisans in that area. As a result, more than a score of Poles were executed in the villages of Brzóza and Zarzetka near Łochów. Some of the Polish victims were beaten and shot by Rubin himself.298 German gendarmes brought a Jew captured during a manhunt to the school house in Zagoździe near Łuków in order to identify Poles who had assisted him. Two Home Army members he identified miraculously escaped being arrested.299
Unprincipled Jewish bands have been identified by survivors as responsible for the deaths of a number of Jews:
Thus, in Galicia, where in the absence of an organized anti-German partisan movement groups of armed Jews simply tried to survive in the forests, there were cases of fratricidal murder motivated by the urge to obtain arms. In the Bialystok [Białystok] region such a ‘wild group’ of Jews, as they were called, raped several Byelorussian peasant girls and stabbed to death two Jewish partisans of the Jewish Forois Detachment to get hold of their rifles.300
[In the environs of Buczacz, Tarnopol Province:] The Jewish bandits were no better than the [Ukrainian] murderers. They fell on the Jews in hiding, on the Jews in the forests and robbed them naked. That happened to Shaul Enderman and others.301
To Buczacz they brought Jews from the town of Tłumacz. Among the youth from Tłumacz was a so-called band. This was a group of young, armed boys. Brave and determined for anything, they were the scourge of the area. They even robbed their well-off brethren.302
A group of Ukrainian “partisans” counting Jews among their members are known to have pillaged and murdered in the vicinity of Kopyczyńce east of Tarnopol.303
[In Volhynia:] A group of Jewish families called “The Tenth” possessed guns and boldly raided Ukrainian farmers for food and clothes, dividing the loot among themselves. To be part of their group became a privilege with many benefits. Gershon wanted to join them, but Moishe did not. As chance would have it, Gershon found a gun without bullets. Ignoring Moishe’s advice, Gershon approached the leader of The Tenth, asking to join. They turned him down.
The Tenth became a power to be reckoned. Originally thought of as an elite group of Jews, it was discovered that their acts of force were motivated by their own selfish needs and gratification. It was while hundreds of Jews were hiding in an area known as Abluva, that the true character of the Tenth was realized. The Tenth became aware that the Germans had discovered where the Jews were hiding. Instead of informing everyone of the intended raid, they left unannounced for Russia, leaving the others unprepared for the assault that followed.304
There was a 14-year-old boy in our group, Itche Meir, whose parents had owned the paint factory in Lukow [Łuków]. After explaining that his parents were dead, he confided that he knew where the family gold was buried in an old cast-iron pot. Two of our group, brothers-in-law—one a little shoemaker and the other a strapping hulk of a man who had worked in a slaughterhouse—volunteered to go with him to find the gold.
After a few days, the men came back alone and told us that Itche Meir had changed his mind and run away. At first we believed them, but I soon became suspicious because of the way they were behaving. I started to worry as to what really happened to the young boy.
A few days later, as I peddled my wares, one of my cstomers told me he’d found a fresh grave near the road. That night I took two men with me to find the grave. …Digging it up, my fears became a reality: there was poor Itche Meir’s body with his head bashed in. … Returning to the camp, we found the suspected murderers. We said, “We found Itche Meir’s body. Why did you kill him?”
The shoemaker started crying and confessed. “I begged my brother-in-law not to kill the kid, but he didn’t listen.” He pleaded with us and cried. …
The big guy, on the other hand, was a different story. He didn’t seem to react to his brother-in-law’s accusation, he just sat there with his rifle … When he finally fell asleep, however, we took his rifle away. The next day, one man was assigned to take him deep into the forest and execute him. Our judgment was swift, his execution just.305
In a few cases Jews were killed before they could bring ruination to their benefactors and their families. After his capture in Polichna near Brzozówka, a Jew by the name of Icek Wagman identified various peasants who had sheltered him. A sergeant at the police station killed Wagman before the arrival of the German gendarmes. Another Polish policeman reacted similarly when a weary Jew appeared at an outpost near Tarnów and incriminated many Poles who had assisted him. The Jew was executed before the return of the German commander. After the war, the Polish policeman was sentenced to death for his misdeed.306
In Zdziebórz near Wyszków, two Jewish young men were sheltered by various villagers. They were eventually accepted into the Home Army where one of them perished in an armed confrontation with the Germans. Believing it to be the work of the Home Army, the surviving Jew went to the German outpost in Pniewo to report the Polish partisans. Tipped off by a Polish policeman of an impending raid, the Home Army dispatched a small group to execute their betrayer as he left the outpost.307
A Jew who was sheltered by a Polish family near Głowaczów recalled the panic and tragedy that ensured when a Jewish woman was captured by German gendarmes and divulged the hideouts of Jews and their Polish helpers:
So they caught those two women … the younger one escaped. And she come running to us at night … And she told us that lady and the little girl told the gendarmerie … where [the] Jews are. … about maybe thirty, forty Jews … were killed … hidden like me. And they took the Poles, the whole families and … killed them right with them. … people who were hidden were crying and making noise. She says, “If we catch that woman with that little girl we’re going to cut her in pieces.” In the whole area, … all the Gentiles were looking for her. Because why? She really babbled and gave out a lot of people that they were holding Jews, making a mess out of the whole area.308
Some cases are more complicated still. A Jew, who was betrayed by a Belorussian peasant by the name of Petruk in the village of Zarichka (Zarzeczka?) near Drohiczyn, decided in turn to betray Petruk by claiming that he was hidden by Petruk in his barn. The Germans arrested Petruk and his family of seven, and prepared seven gallows in the middle of the market square. They assembled the peasants in the area and hanged Petruk and his family as an example.309
The following cases are particularly perplexing and defy easy answers. Eugeniusz Niedziela was hiding ten Jews on his farm in the village of Markuszowa. On July 3, 1942, the Germans shot six inhabitants of the villages of Markuszowa, Kozłowka, and Oparówka who were helping Jews. Niedziela and other farmers were coerced into participating in their round-up. Moreover, Niedziela was blackmailed by another inhabitant of the village, who convinced him to denounce Jews. The Jews to whom Niedziela provided help survived the war and Eugeniusz Niedziela and his wife and mother were rewarded in 1993 with the medal Righteous Among the Nations.310
In Zaklików near Kraśnik,
Dana Szapia and her mother were hidden by a Polish farmer. They survived, living inside a cubby hole in his cowshed. One day the farmer heard a knock on the door: it was a Jew, holding in his arms his teenage son. ‘I have been hiding in the woods for months,’ the Jew told the farmer. ‘My son has gangrene. Please get a doctor.’
The farmer went to the Gestapo and told them about the two Jews. … ‘They were taken away and shot.’311
David Gushee explores the possible scenarios that may have given rise to this tragedy and their implications, without naming an important factor in the equation—the overwhelming and paralyzing effect of fear:
How could the same Polish farmer save two Jews and betray two others? Perhaps he was morally splitting the difference, attempting to do right by his conscience by saving some Jews and to do right by the authorities by turning others in. Or it could be that the farmer could not think of a doctor he could trust to care for the gangrenous son and did not want a dying Jew to care for and later bury. Possibly he thought that four people, rather than two, were too many for him to accommodate, especially with one sick with gangrene. Maybe he feared that the Nazis (or snooping neighbors) would discover the two Jews in his cowshed and decided that the best way to avoid being raided was … by turning these new Jews in. … The story illuminates the limits of any typology, for this farmer was both an informant and a rescuer. The tale also reveals the complexity of human behavior, particularly in such severe moral crisis, and indicates the importance of withholding facile moral judgments about Gentile behaviour during the Holocaust.312
Harsh German measures often put Polish villagers in an untenable situation. After murdering the Jews hidden in a pigsty on a farm in Siedliska near Miechów, the Germans went to the rescuers’ house looking for the Baranek family, the Poles who had sheltered these Jews.
They took Łucja and Wincenty to the barn, where they shot them. A moment later, they also brought the children there, ordered them to kneel down in the barn door, and shot them. After the murder, they robbed the Baraneks’ house. However, they did not find Łucja’s mother, Katarzyna. Threatening to murder the entire village, they ordered the local people to find her. The next day the neighbours brought Katarzyna to the German post, where she was most probably murdered.313
Jews faced the same dilemmas: whether to save one’s one life at the expense of others, even close family. After being fingered by a Jewish informer, Roman Frister was apprehended in the streets of Kraków by the German police. He led them to the apartment he shared with his parents, who were also passing as Christians. On his way Frister pondered his predicament, and whether he should take his own life to save theirs:
The street was like a deep canyon. No feelings could penetrate its high walls. The shutters on the windows were closed. This was a way for those behind them to turn their backs on their occupiers … I looked up at them. What would you do, you good people, I wondered, if I suddenly knocked on one of your shelters and asked to be hid? I didn’t need to ask. I knew the answer. I would hear the bolt slide shut on the door. And what right did I have to condemn them? Why should they risk themselves and their families for a Jewish boy they didn’t know? Would I have behaved any differently? I knew the answer to that, too. I wouldn’t have lifted a finger. Everyone was equally intimidated. …
Did I have a choice? Of course I did. I could have been sprawled on a distant pavement, my spilled blood cleansing my conscience. And yet what good was a clean conscience when you were dead?
‘It’s here,’ I repeated.
‘Very good,’ said a policeman.
We climbed to the second floor. I said again:
The policeman drew his pistol. …
‘Ring the doorbell,’ his companion ordered.
I tried imagining the moment my father opened the door. What would I say to him? How could I explain what had happened? Would he understand? Could one comprehend the incomprehensible? Forgive the unforgivable?
A metallic sound came from inside. It was followed by the shuffle of my father’s slippers. The door opened. His glance slid from me to my two escorts and lingered there. I could see the blood drain from his cheeks. ‘Oh, no,’ he murmured, taking a backward step. My mother was looking over his shoulder. … A policeman pushed me through the doorway. We entered. His companion shut the door. The trap was sprung.314
While Roman Frister survived deportation, his parents perished.
In this context, it is also worth noting that Jews in hiding routinely suffocated or poisoned infants and newborn babies fearing that they might give them away or imperil their own chances of survival. Hundreds, if not thousands, children were killed for this reason.315 Mentally unstable Jews also suffered a similar fate.316 It is not surprising, therefore, that when Polish rescuers grew fearful for their own lives when the Germans executed Jews and their Polish benefactors nearby, out of desperation, some Poles killed their Jewish charges rather than risk the Jews’ falling into German hands and betraying their benefactors if they were simply told to leave without a place to hide.
Nor is it surprising that Polish rescuers took the precaution of concealing from their Jewish charges, and other Jews, the fact that they were sheltering or helping other Jews.317 The fewer people who knew, the less likely the chance of being found out. The same held true for Poles who were involved in both the underground and sheltering Jews. They too often withheld information about the former activities from their Jewish charges.318 Jews often concealed their assumed identities and hiding places from fellow Jews for that same reason.319 Two young Jewish women who were taken in by the Kłosowski family in Kocmyrzów near Kraków, “deduced that they were both Jewish, but they did not give it away to one another. They were both ready to deny it, because you couldn’t be sure who was a spy and who wasn’t. They did not tell each other the truth until after the war.”320
There was also the constant danger from noisy, quarrelsome, hysterical, careless, or unstable Jewish charges who could bring on disaster for all concerned and their Polish benefactors to the end of their tether.321 Stanisław Kurek, who was awarded by Yad Vashem, recalled that the constant bickering of his family’s Jewish charges raised suspicions in the village and required them to change their hideouts on their host’s property three or four times.322 A Jew who was sheltered by the Home Army in Lublin recalled a scene in the apartment he was taken to after leaving the ghetto:
And we arrived to a house, to an apartment house which one of—not headquarters but one apartment where the Home Army was meeting …
I was surprised. We found maybe 10 or 12 Jewish people there, hiding. I found out that he is helping lot of Jewish people. … He took me [to] another room. Now listen to it. And I listened. There were noises over the wall, people talking in Yiddish, arguing and fighting with each other. He said, what kind of people are you? I’m risking my life and here they start fighting about … stupid things and the neighbors they hear those things. … They’re old orthodox people. For some reason they felt they should continue their orthodoxy, their sacred needs. They want kosher food. You know, where you going to get kosher food there? One of the men died, older man died, but he was very religious. What the Home Army did, they put him in an orthodox kind of canvas sack. That’s how Jews are buried you know. Not in the coffins. And they threw him over the wall in[to] the Jewish cemetery. And I think this was more than anybody could expect. But this was just one [of] the examples what those people did for us.323
A rescuer in Stryj whose family sheltered Juliusz Greibach and his wife recalled the quarrels that ensued when his brother Wilhelm Greibach arrived with his fiancée. This hazardous behaviour brought attention to their presence in the neighbourhood and eventually led to their having to move to the homes of other Poles. On their departure, Wilhelm Greibach’s fiancée threatened: “Don’t think that if we’re caught only we will perish! We’ll tell the Germans where we’ve hidden until now.”324 Similar threats were directed at Andrzej and Maria Śliwiak, who sheltered ten Jews in a bunker in Kołomyja. Their charges were frequently quarrelling, which proved to be a source of great distress for their Polish benefactors.325
Rescuer Jerzy Koźmiński of Warsaw, who was awarded by Yad Vashem, recalled the boisterous quarrels that erupted among his family’s charges, especially the full-blow rage of one of the charges who hurled invectives in Yiddish at the top of his voice. The rescuer credits their survival in these perilous circumstances to the decency of his neighbours who turned a blind eye to these frequent incidents.326 Similarly, Władysław Kowalski, who sheltered the brothers Filip and Jakiel Rubin in his apartment on Pańska Street in Warsaw, was exposed to danger because of their loud quarrels. However, his neighbours, who heard the commotion, did not betray them.327 Edward Reicher, who resided with a group of Jews on Waliców Street in Warsaw, recalled: “Petty incidents led us to quarrel constantly and without dignity. We fought not just with words but also with our fists.” He continues: “It was obvious that we were living there, but days, weeks, and months went by and nobody denounced us, even though the entire apartment complex, which was home to several hundred people, knew of our presence. Even the Polish prostitutes who received German clients in the same building did not betray us.”328
Jan Galas, the caretaker of a tenement house on Ogrodowa Street in Warsaw, was sheltering six Jews and a small child in the cellar of the building. Another charge, Dawid Efrati, was willing to stay there only for a few days because of the frequent quarrelling among the Jews. Efrati soon returned to the home of the caretaker’s son, Stanisław, which he had left because, in his nightmares, Efrati used to scream in Yiddish and attracted attention. Within days of his departure, the Germans conducted a door-to-door search after a German official had been shot in the vicinity of the tenement house on Ogrodowa Street and discovered the hiding place of the Jews. All of them were executed including the caretaker, whom they had betrayed. Despite this tragedy, Efrati was not asked to leave the son’s home.329
A loud quarrel in a bunker in a Lwów suburb occupied by 34 Jews was overheard by a Ukrainian policeman and resulted in the arrest, on December 6, 1943, of the Jews as well as three members of the Józefek family, their benefactors. The brothers Kazimierz and Bronisław and their mother Maria Józefek together with the Jews were hanged in a public square. They were left hanging for several days, as a warning to anyone else who would contemplate aiding Jews.330
As could be expected, living in close quarters under extreme conditions could lead to flare-ups between charges and their rescuers. Insolent behaviour toward their Polish hosts did not facilitate harmonious relations. The stereotype of the “stupid” Pole, widely held by Jews, surfaced even when Poles put their lives at risk to shelter Jews during the war. Teresa Prekerowa, who was active in the Żegota organization, recalls: “It was often that Jews told Poles, ‘We are more intelligent than you,’ and it made the Poles crazy. It was a very difficult situation.”331 Although such remarks tested the patience of Poles, there is no evidence that it caused any Jew to be expelled from their hiding-place.
Sometimes imprudence led to the downfall of Jews in hiding and their Polish benefactors, as was the case in Ciepielów Stary and Rekówka near Lipsko, where several Polish families and their Jewish charges, who became notorious in the vicinity for their thievery, were burned to death when word got back to the Germans. In retaliation, Polish partisans killed some German gendarmes and a local man who had betrayed the Jews.332 Some Jews who were sheltered by a Polish family in the village of Zalesie near Lubaczów went to a neighbouring village where they stole from a Ukrainian farmer. The latter reported the Poles and Jews to the Ukrainian police in Oleszyce. Three Poles were arrested, and two of them likely perished.333