Hunt for the Jews: Betray­al and Mur­der in Ger­man-Occu­pied Poland

Jan Grabows­ki
  • Review
By – October 18, 2013

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.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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