One of the more controversial issues surrounding our understanding of the Holocaust is the response of Poles to the Nazi roundup and deportation of Jews to the death camps. There is also the matter of Polish anti-Semitism, and the degree to which it influenced how Poles viewed their Jewish neighbors during the German occupation. Jan Grabowski, professor of history at Ottawa University and a founding member of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, has attempted to grapple with these questions in his study of the Nazi hunt for Jews (Judenjagd) in Dabrowa Tarnowska, a rural county in southeastern Poland, where a majority of the Jews, both neighbors and refugees fleeing the ghettos of Poland, went into hiding and many of whom perished as a consequence of betrayal by their Polish neighbors.
Following the lead of Jan T. Gross in his essential studies of Polish-Jewish relations, Neighbors and Fear, Grabowski is unrelenting in describing how, in the period between 1942 and 1945, Jews were hunted down by the Polish “blue” police, whose treatment of Jews matched that of their German counterparts. Grabowski argues that there is little reason to believe that the activities of Polish policemen, aided by Poles eager to profit from the elimination of Jews attempting to flee from the “Jew-hunt,” was any different from other rural areas of occupied Poland.
Using survivor testimony as well as the records of the post-war Polish courts, Grabowski shows that the chances for survival for Jews without financial resources was very poor. Even for those who paid to be hidden, when the money was exhausted, they were often killed by their “protectors.” In the Polish county under study, Jews gave peasants their livestock, or promised to transfer titles to their farms after the war. Grabowski reveals that in larger cities, such as Warsaw, there existed a kind of “market” for rescue services, with the average price of shelter being negotiated by Jewish “customers.” According to his study, the number of those who protected Jews for altruistic reasons was quite small.
Grabowski notes that “you can’t generalize about Poles… there were Poles whose motive was money and who took large sums for sheltering Jews, there were also people who knew that their job was to rescue, that this was their human obligation.”
One concludes from Grabowski’s important study that without the often unforced, and sometimes enthusiastic support of non-German volunteers and helpers, the Germans would not have succeeded as completely as they did during the Holocaust.