Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Facing Hitler and Stalin
ON THE SUBJECT OF JEWISH “COLLABORATION” IN
SOVIET-OCCUPIED EASTERN POLAND, 1939–1941
BEN CION PINCHUK

The subject of Jewish-Soviet collaboration is as old as the Red Army's invasion of the eastern provinces of the Second Polish Republic on 17 September 1939. The sights and sounds of jubilant Jewish masses that met the advancing troops, expressing publicly their sense of relief and joy; the role played by Jewish communists and sympathizers in establishing the Soviet regime as well as taking up positions formerly held only by the ruling Poles—these were difficult to digest. It went contrary to what might be called the natural order of things as perceived by the ordinary Pole. For twentytwo months the traditional roles were at least partially reversed. Moreover, it occurred under Russian rule; Russians were the powerful historical enemy of the Poles. In the minds of Polish patriots, there had to be some sinister plot behind it. Equality of the Jews under the Soviet rulers was perceived as “collaboration,” if not actual treason on their part. In Polish memory this period of “unnatural” relations with their Jewish neighbors remained an open sore. It was a score to be settled in due time. When Jan Gross, in his challenging book, Neighbors, revealed the details of the Jedwabne massacre, the story of Soviet-Jewish relations preceding the German occupation surfaced again. The prominence of the subject in the soul-searching and at times tormented debate is striking 1 —as if one could find an answer, a justification, or at least mitigating circumstances in Soviet-Jewish relations that could explain the genocidal massacre.

Between September 1939 and June 1941, the Soviet Union ruled the eastern provinces of Poland. The multiethnic population of the region had to adapt to the new rulers, learn to live and survive under Soviet rule. In one way or another, when active fighting against the invaders ceased, the vast majority of the population accepted the new regime and in varying degrees collaborated with

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