Changing Perceptions in the
Historiography of Polish-Jewish
Relations during the
Second World War
JOSHUA D. ZIMMERMAN
The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.
—E. H. Carr, What Is History?
For a half-century since the Second World War, Poles and Jews remained bitterly divided over the events that transpired during the German occupation. With little physical contact between the two peoples during the Cold War, and the imposition of ideological conformity inside Communist Poland, dialogue on the war years was severely hampered. In its place, knowledge about the Holocaust in postwar Poland was largely confined to oral histories and official narratives that emphasized shared Polish-Jewish suffering and Polish aid extended to Jews. Jewish perceptions during this time were similarly shaped by survivor testimonies that often spoke of widespread Polish antisemitism and indifference to the fate of European Jewry during the Holocaust.
Thus, for some forty-five years after the Holocaust, the literature on wartime Polish-Jewish relations was divided into two mutually exclusive camps: apologetics and condemnation. When referring to Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War, historians in the apologetics camp described Polish aid to Jews as well as Polish passivity due to Nazi reprisals as the principal Polish responses to the Nazi genocide carried out on Polish soil. 1 In stark contrast to the negative image of wartime Polish behavior abroad, a widely respected