Polish Catholics and the Jews
during the Holocaust
HEROISM, TIMIDITY, AND COLLABORATION
JOHN T. PAWLIKOWSKI
Any examination of the Polish Catholic Church's role during the Holocaust must be placed within the context of Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland and its aftermath. 1 The western part of the country was formally incorporated into the Reich while the remaining part of central Poland was ruled by a military government headed by General Hans Frank (the so-called General Government area). In Nazi-occupied Poland anyone caught aiding Jews was subjected to immediate death, a penalty that could also be extended to one's family. In Warsaw, where the largest community of Jews lived, the Jewish community was eventually sequestered in a tightly controlled ghetto which Christians would have had great difficulty entering.
Poles themselves, it must also be remembered, were victims of the Nazi plan for “human purification.” The Nazi invasion of Poland went far beyond mere military victory. Because the Poles were regarded as subhumans, they were to be reduced to virtual slave status, accompanied by the total destruction of all cultural, political, and religious symbols that would provide them with any form of human identity. Some Nazi leaders, such as Himmler, Hitler, and Frank, entertained on occasion the idea of the eventual total annihilation of the Poles in a manner similar to the Jews. Adolf Hitler declared that the aim of the Nazi invasion of Poland was “not the arrival at a certain line, but the annihilation of living forces.” 2 Even prior to the actual invasion of Poland, Hitler had authorized on 22 August 1939 the killing “without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way,” he insisted, “can we obtain the living space we need.” 3 And the person placed in charge of implementing Hitler's Polish plan, Heinrich Himmler, said outright, “[A]ll Poles will disappear