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

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This collection of essays, representing three generations of Polish and Jewish scholars, explores core controversies in the existing historiography of PolishJewish relations during the Second World War. The areas of contention are dealt within a chronological framework consisting of different parts. First, we address the period between the final years of the Second Polish Republic, which saw the deterioration of Polish-Jewish relations in the late 1930s, and the GermanSoviet partition of Poland between September 1939 and June 1941. During this time, before the conceptualization and implementation of the Nazi Final Solution, Polish and Jewish historians agree that while the Poles saw both Nazis and Soviets as equal enemies, the Jews saw one enemy: the Nazis. In a time of national catastrophe for the Poles—that is, the destruction of the Polish state after twenty short years of independence—the widely held perception that Jews as a group welcomed the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland undoubtedly exacerbated relations between the two peoples. The precise nature of Jewish attitudes to the Soviet occupation remains a subject of scholarly debate and is treated in this volume. 1

Meanwhile, in German-occupied central and western Poland during the period 1939–1941, the Poles not only sustained massive losses during the September 1939 Campaign, but became the subject of brutal persecution. Poles were the first targets of the Nazi attempt to create an area for “German colonization” (Lebensraum); moreover, in the first seven months of occupation, the German occupying forces murdered—execution style—some ten thousand Polish priests, teachers, journalists, academics, and political leaders in their campaign to liquidate the Polish intelligentsia. They built a concentration camp in the southwestern Polish town of Oświęcim, which the Germans renamed Auschwitz, specifically for Polish political prisoners, and they closed down Polish institutions of secondary and higher education.

Nazi Jewish policy during this time was also brutal. It saw thousands of Jewish deaths due to sporadic German violence, the extension of anti-Jewish laws into occupied Poland, including obligatory external markings, compulsory

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