Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic

By Peter D. Stachura | Go to book overview

9

THE JEWISH HOLOCAUST AND THE POLES

Of the numerous controversies thrown up by the Second World War none is more bitterly contentious than that concerning relations between the majority Catholic population and the Jewish community in Poland. At the heart of the debate is what has come to be known as 'The Holocaust', a descriptive term nowadays applied almost exclusively to the systematically organised extermination by the Nazis in Occupied Poland of some five to six million Jews, half of whom were Polish citizens. Many critics of Poland and the Poles have argued, in the first instance, that pre-war anti-Semitism in Poland somehow prepared the ground for the Holocaust, that it had brought the Jews to the 'edge of destruction'.

Furthermore, it has been persistently alleged by the same critics that Poles and various Polish organisations and institutions, such as the Home Army and the Catholic Church, did not make a sufficient effort to help their Jewish neighbours as they were confronted by the Nazis' genocidal policy. For some critics, the fact that the Holocaust took place in Poland, albeit in death camps set up and administered by the Nazis, has been cited as evidence of Polish guilt, even partial culpability for the appalling fate suffered by the Jews. There have also been claims of voluntary Polish collaboration with the Nazis as regards the 'Jewish Problem', with the corollary that the Poles were just as eager as the Nazis to have the Jews 'dealt with' once and for all. Finally, it has been strongly alleged that Poles in general, in the Communist era and since the re-establishment in 1989/90 of Poland as an independent state, are unwilling to re-examine in a meaningful way their past relations with Jews, that they are indeed indifferent to the whole story of the Holocaust.

Accusations of this type have been met with a variety of responses from the non-Jewish side in the controversy, ranging from admission of a degree of guilt to outright and emphatic repudiation of any responsibility. It is yet another unfortunate consequence of the sensitivities at play that anyone who seeks to explain or to defend the Poles, or to take issue with even an

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Poland, 1918-1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations and Glossary viii
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Independence Regained 6
  • 2 - Consolidation 28
  • 3 - Society and the Economy 45
  • 4 - Politics 59
  • 5 - The Ethnic Minorities 79
  • 6 - Culture and Education 101
  • 7 - Foreign Policy 111
  • 8 - Occupation and Resistance 130
  • 9 - The Jewish Holocaust and the Poles 144
  • 10 - Defeat in Victory 161
  • Conclusion 182
  • Bibliography 188
  • Appendix I 201
  • Appendix II 208
  • Index 211
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