The Holocaust in Poland

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The Holocaust in Poland
Warsaw-Gdansk railway station with Warsaw Ghetto burning, 1943.jpg
Lodz Ghetto children deportation to Chelmno.jpg
German officer executes Jewish women who survived a mass shooting outside the Mizocz ghetto, 14 October 1942.jpg
Stroop Report - Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 10.jpg
Selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1944 (Auschwitz Album) 1b.jpg
Top, clockwise: Warsaw Ghetto burning, May 1943 • Einsatzgruppe shooting of women from the Mizocz Ghetto, 1942 • Selection of people to be sent directly to the gas chamber right after their arrival at Auschwitz-II Birkenau • Jews captured in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising led to the Umschlagplatz by Waffen SS • Łódź Ghetto children deported to Chełmno death camp, 1942
PeriodSeptember 1939 – April 1945
TerritoryOccupied Poland, also present day western Ukraine and western Belarus among others
PerpetratorsNazi Germany along with its collaborators
Killed3,000,000 Polish Jews
Survivors157,000–375,000 in the Soviet Union[1]
50,000 liberated from Nazi concentration camps[2]
30,000–60,000 in hiding[2]

The Holocaust in Poland was the ghettoization, robbery, deportation, and murder of Jews in occupied Poland, organized by Nazi Germany. Three million Polish Jews were murdered, primarily at the extermination camps Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau, representing half of all Jews murdered during the Europe-wide Holocaust.

Prior to the war, Polish Jews suffered from institutionalized discrimination and widespread poverty. In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland while the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. In German-occupied Poland, Jews were killed, subjected to forced labor, and forced to move to ghettos. The Soviet Union deported many Jews to the Soviet interior, where most survived the war. In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and began the systematic murder of Jews. 1.8 million Jews were killed in Operation Reinhard, shot in roundups in ghettos, died during the train journey, or killed by poison gas in the extermination camps. In 1943 and 1944, the remaining labor camps and ghettos were liquidated. Many Jews tried to escape, but surviving in hiding was very difficult due to factors such as the lack of money to pay helpers and the risk of denunciation. Only 1 to 2 percent of Polish Jews in German-occupied territory survived.[3]

After the war, survivors faced difficulties in regaining their property and rebuilding their lives. Especially after the Kielce pogrom, many fled to displaced persons camps in Allied-occupied Germany.

Jews in interwar Poland

Jews have lived in Poland since the twelfth century, although likely not long before that. Most Polish Jews were descended from Jews who moved to Poland from Ashkenaz (Germany) in search of economic opportunity and to avoid persecution[citation needed]. They often settled on noble estates where they were offered protection in exchange for the economic benefits they could provide.[4] An estimated 3 million Jews lived in Poland in 1933 around ten percent of the population.[5][6] Due to historical restrictions on what occupations Jews were allowed to have, they became concentrated in trades such as commerce and craftsmen.[7] Many lived in predominantly small towns called shtetls.[8] After the foundation of the Second Polish Republic simultaneously with the armistice of 11 November 1918 ending World War I, Jews suffered from institutionalized discrimination and many were poor.[6]

Polish Jews expelled from Nuremberg

After the beginning of the Great Depression and the death of Marshal Józef Piłsudski in 1935, the situation of Polish Jews worsened.[9] The Endecja faction waged a campaign against Jews consisting of economic boycotts, limitations on the number of Jewish students at universities, and restrictions on kosher slaughter.[10] The Polish government stated its intention to "settle the Jewish problem" by the emigration of most Polish Jews.[11] In 1938, the Polish government passed a new citizenship law intended to denaturalize Jews living abroad. In response, Nazi Germany expelled thousands of Polish Jews in October 1938; these Jews were stranded in no-man's land along the border.[12]

Invasion of Poland

The German Wehrmacht (armed forces) invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, triggering declarations of war from the United Kingdom and France.[13] During the invasion of Poland as many as 16,000 civilians, hostages, and prisoners of war may have been shot by the German invaders;[14] there was also a great deal of looting.[15] Special units known as Einsatzgruppen followed the army to eliminate any possible resistance.[16]

Parts of western and northern Poland—Ciechanów region, Pomerania, the Greater Poland, and East Upper Silesia—were annexed into Germany, while the rest of the German-occupied territories were designated the General Government.[17] Around 50,000 Polish leaders and intellectuals were arrested or executed, especially in West Prussia, with fewer victims in the Wartheland and fewer still in the General Government.[18] Polish Jewish intellectuals and community leaders were not spared.[19] Around 400,000 Poles were expelled from the Wartheland to the General Government occupation zone from 1939 to 1941, and the area was resettled by ethnic Germans from eastern Europe.[20] The rest of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland from the east on 17 September pursuant to the German–Soviet pact.[21] The Soviet Union deported hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens to the Soviet interior, including as many as 260,000 Jews who largely survived the war.[22] Although most Jews were not communists, some accepted positions in the Soviet administration, contributing to a pre-existing perception among many non-Jews that Soviet rule was a Jewish conspiracy.[23]

Resettlement plans

Germany gained control of 1.7 million Jews in Poland.[24][25] The Nazis tried to concentrate Jews in the Lublin District of the General Government. 45,000 Jews were deported by November and left to fend for themselves, causing many deaths.[26] Deportations stopped in early 1940 due to the opposition of Hans Frank, the leader of the General Government, who did not want his fiefdom to become a dumping ground for unwanted Jews.[27][28] After the conquest of France in 1940, the Nazis considered deporting Jews to French Madagascar, but this proved impossible.[29][30] The Nazis planned that harsh conditions in these areas would kill many Jews.[29][28]


People and buildings with an unpaved street
Unpaved street in the Frysztak Ghetto, Krakow District
People walking on a paved surface around a still body
A body lying in the street of the Warsaw Ghetto in the General Government

During the invasion, synagogues were burned and thousands of Jews fled or were expelled into the Soviet occupation zone.[31] Various anti-Jewish regulations were soon issued. In October 1939, adult Jews in the General Government were required to perform forced labor.[32] In November 1939 they were ordered to wear white armbands.[33] Laws decreed the seizure of most Jewish property and the takeover of Jewish-owned businesses. When Jews were forced into ghettos, they lost their homes and belongings.[32]

The first Nazi ghettos were established in the Wartheland and General Government in 1939 and 1940 on the initiative of local German administrators.[34][35] The largest ghettos, such as Warsaw and Łódź, were established in existing residential neighborhoods and closed by fences or walls. In many smaller ghettos, Jews were forced into poor neighborhoods but with no fence.[36] Forced labor programs provided subsistence to many ghetto inhabitants, and in some cases protected them from deportation. Workshops and factories were operated inside some ghettos, while in other cases Jews left the ghetto to work outside it.[37] Because the ghettos were not segregated by sex some family life continued.[38] A Jewish community leadership (Judenrat) exercised some authority and tried to sustain the Jewish community while following German demands. As a survival strategy, many tried to make the ghettos useful to the occupiers as a labor reserve.[39][40]

The Warsaw ghetto contained more Jews than all of France; the Łódź ghetto more Jews than all of the Netherlands. More Jews lived in the city of Kraków than in all of Italy, and virtually any medium-sized town in Poland had a larger Jewish population than all of Scandinavia. All of southeast Europe – Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece – had fewer Jews than the original four districts of the General Government.[41]

The plight of Jews in war-torn Poland could be divided into stages defined by the existence of the ghettos.[42] In Warsaw, up to 80 percent of food consumed in the ghetto was brought in illegally. The food stamps introduced by the Germans, provided only 9 percent of the calories necessary for survival.[43] In the two and a half years between November 1940 and May 1943, around 100,000 Jews were murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto by forced starvation and disease; and about 40,000 in the Łódź Ghetto in the four-and-a-quarter years between May 1940 and August 1944.[43] By the end of 1941, most ghettoized Jews had no savings left to pay the SS for further bulk food deliveries.[43] The 'productionists' among the German authorities – who attempted to make the ghettos self-sustaining by turning them into enterprises – prevailed over the 'attritionists' only after the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[44] The most prominent ghettos were thus temporarily stabilized through the production of goods needed at the front,[45] as death rates among the Jewish population there began to decline.[44]

Mass shootings

Germany and its allies Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Italy invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.[46][28] The General Government was expanded by adding Galicia District;[47] the Bialystok District was administered separately.[48] Germany assembled a force of some 11,000 men to pursue a program of physical annihilation of Jews.[49][relevant?] Also during Operation Barbarossa, the SS had recruited collaborationist auxiliary police from among Soviet POWs and local police which included Russians, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Volksdeutche.[50][51][relevant?] The local Schutzmannschaft provided Germany with manpower and critical knowledge of local regions and languages.[52][better source needed][relevant?] In what became known as the "Holocaust by bullets", the German Order Police battalions (Orpo), SiPo, Waffen-SS, and special-task Einsatzgruppen, along with Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliaries, operated behind front lines, systematically shooting tens of thousands of men, women, and children. The Wehrmacht participated in many aspects of the Holocaust by bullets.[53]

The survivors of mass killing operations were incarcerated in the new ghettos of economic exploitation,[54] and slowly starved to death by artificial famine at the whim of German authorities.[55][relevant?] Because of sanitation concerns, the corpses of people who had died as a result of starvation and mistreatment were buried in mass graves in their tens of thousands.[56] Gas vans became available[where?] in November 1941;[57] in June 1942 the Polish National Council's Samuel Zygelbaum reported that these had murdered 35,000 Jews in Lodz alone.[58][better source needed] He also reported that Gestapo agents were routinely dragging Jews out of their homes and shooting them on the street in broad daylight.[59][better source needed] By December 1941, about one million Jews had been murdered by Nazi Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union.[60][relevant?] The total number of shooting victims in the east who were Jewish are around 1.3 to 1.5 million.[61][relevant?][62][relevant?] Entire regions behind the German–Soviet Frontier were reported to Berlin by the Nazi death squads to be "Judenfrei".[63]

During the invasion, local inhabitants carried out at least 219 pogroms, killing around twenty-five thousand to fifty thousand Jews.[64][65][66] The pogroms were extremely violent with many Jews beaten, raped, stolen from, and brutally murdered.[67] Although German forces tried to incite pogroms, their role in causing violence is controversial.[68][69] According to political science research, pogroms were most likely to occur "where political polarization was high, where the Jewish community was large, and where Jews pressed for national equality in the decades before 1941".[70]

Liquidation of the ghettos

See caption
Cumulative murders of Jews from the General Government at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka from January 1942 to February 1943

Plans to kill most of the Jews in the General Government were affected by various goals of the SS, military, and civil administration; stretching from purely racial one to the more pragmatic, such as the need to reduce the amount of food consumed by Jews, in order enable a slight increase in rations to non-Jewish Poles, and combat the black market, to avoid hunger and increase of the resistance among them.[71] By mid-1942, Nazi leaders decided to allow only 300,000 Jews to survive in the General Government by the end of the year for forced labor;[71] for the most part, only those working in armaments production were spared.[72] On 19 July, Himmler decreed the "resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the General Government should have been implemented and completed by 31 December 1942"; henceforth, Jews would only be allowed to live in Warsaw, Czestochowa, Krakow, and Majdanek.[73] The majority of ghettos were liquidated in mass executions nearby, especially if they were not near a train station. Larger ghettos were more commonly liquidated during multiple deportations to extermination camps.[74][75] During this campaign around 1.8 million Jews[76] were murdered in the largest killing operation of the Holocaust.[77]

In order to reduce resistance the ghetto would be raided without warning, usually in the early morning, and the extent of the operation would be concealed as long as possible.[78] Trawniki men (Trawnikimänner) made up of Soviet prisoners-of-war[79] or Polish Blue Police[80][81] would cordon off the ghetto while the German Order Police and Security Police carried out the action.[79] In addition to local non-Jewish collaborators, the Jewish councils and Jewish ghetto police were often ordered to assist with liquidation actions, although these Jews were in most cases murdered later.[82] Chaotic, capriciously executed selections determined who would be loaded onto the trains.[78] Many Jews were shot during the action—making up perhaps 20 percent or more of the total deaths—often leaving ghettos strewn with corpses.[78][76] Jewish forced laborers had to clean up the bodies and collect any valuables from the victims.[78]

Extermination camps

Deportation to Chełmno

Gas vans developed from those used to kill mental patients since 1939 were assigned to the Einsatzgruppen and first used in November 1941; victims were forced into the van and killed with engine exhaust.[83] The first extermination camp was Chełmno in the Wartheland, established on the initiative of the local civil administrator Arthur Greiser with Himmler's approval; it began operations in December 1941 using gas vans.[84][85][86] In October 1941, Higher SS and Police Leader of Lublin Odilo Globocnik[87] began work planning Belzec—the first purpose-built extermination camp to feature stationary gas chambers—amid increasing talk among German administrators in Poland of large-scale murder of Jews in the General Government.[88][84] In late 1941 in East Upper Silesia, Jews in forced-labor camps operated by the Schmelt Organization deemed "unfit for work" began to be sent in groups to Auschwitz where they were murdered.[89][90] In March 1942, killings began in Belzec, targeting Jews from Lublin who were not capable of work. This action reportedly reduced the black market and was deemed a success to be replicated elsewhere.[91][75] Belzec was the prototype camp on which the others were based.[92]

The camps were located on rail lines to make it easier to transport Jews to their deaths, but in remote places to avoid notice.[87] The stench caused by mass killing operations was noticeable to anyone nearby.[93] People were typically deported to the camps in overcrowded cattle cars. As many as 150 people were forced into a single boxcar. Many died en route, partly because of the low priority accorded to these transports.[94][95] Shortage of rail transport sometimes led to postponement or cancellation of deportations.[96] Upon arrival, the victims were robbed of their remaining possessions, forced to undress, had their hair cut, and were chased into the gas chamber.[97] Death from the gas was agonizing and could take as long as 30 minutes.[92][98] The gas chambers were primitive and sometimes malfunctioned. Some prisoners were shot because the gas chambers were not functioning.[99] At other extermination camps, nearly everyone on a transport was killed on arrival, but at Auschwitz around 20-25 percent were separated out for labor,[100] although many of these prisoners died later on.[101]

Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka reported a combined revenue of RM 178.7 million from belongings stolen from their victims, far exceeding costs.[102][103] Combined, the camps required the labor of less than 3,000 Jewish prisoners, 1,000 Trawniki men (largely Ukrainian auxiliaries), and very few German guards.[104][95] About half of the Jews killed in the Holocaust died by poison gas.[105] Thousands of Romani people were also murdered in the extermination camps.[106] Prisoner uprisings at Treblinka and Sobibor meant that these camps were shut down earlier than envisioned.[107][108] Fewer than 150 Jews survived these death camps.[109]

Major extermination camps[110]
Camp Location Number of Jews killed Killing technology Planning began Mass gassing duration
Chełmno Wartheland[110] 150,000[110] Gas vans[110] July 1941[110] 8 December 1941–April 1943 and April–July 1944[111]
Belzec Lublin District[110] 440,823–596,200[76] Stationary gas chamber, engine exhaust[110] October 1941[111] 17 March 1942–December 1942[111]
Sobibor Lublin District[110] 170,618–238,900[76] Stationary gas chamber, engine exhaust[110] Late 1941 or March 1942[112] May 1942–October 1942[112]
Treblinka Warsaw District[110] 780,863–951,800[76] Stationary gas chamber, engine exhaust[110] April 1942[110] 23 July 1942–October 1943[110]
Auschwitz II–Birkenau East Upper Silesia[110] 900,000–1,000,000[110] Stationary gas chamber, hydrogen cyanide[110] September 1941
(built as POW camp)[113][110]
February 1942–October 1944[110]

General Government

Liquidation of Kraków Ghetto in March 1943 to Auschwitz
A young boy surrounded by other unarmed civilians holds his hands over his head while a man in uniform points a submachine gun in his direction

Systematic murder began in the Lublin District in mid-March 1942. The Lublin Ghetto was emptied between 16 March and 20 April; many Jews were shot in the ghetto and 30,000 were deported to Belzec.[114] Most victims from the Lublin District were sent to Sobibor except 2,000 forced laborers imprisoned at Majdanek. The killing was interrupted on 10 June, to resume in August and September.[115] At the same time as these killings, many Jews were deported from Germany and Slovakia to ghettos in the Lublin District that had previously been cleared.[116]

From the end of May and especially since the cessation of deportations in Lublin, thousands of Jews were deported from the Krakow District to Belzec. These transports were halted by a railway moratorium on 19 June.[117]

The Warsaw Ghetto was cleared between 22 July and 12 September. Of the original population of 350,000 Jews, 250,000 were killed at Treblinka, a newly built extermination camp 50 kilometres (30 mi) distant, 11,000 were deported to labor camps, 10,000 were shot in the ghetto, 35,000 were allowed to remain in the ghetto after a final selection, and around 20,000 or 25,000 managed to hide in the ghetto. Misdirection efforts convinced many Jews that they could avoid deportation until it was too late.[118]

During a six-week period beginning in August, 300,000 Jews from the Radom District were sent to Treblinka.[119][120]

There was practically no Jewish resistance in the General Government in 1942.[121] Ghetto uprisings were only undertaken when the inhabitants began to believe that their death was certain.[122] In 1943, larger uprisings in Warsaw and Białystok necessitated the use of heavy weapons.[123] The uprising in Warsaw prompted the Nazi leadership to liquidate additional ghettos and labor camps in German-occupied Poland with their inhabitants shot or deported to extermination camps for fear of additional Jewish resistance developing.[124] Nevertheless, in early 1944 more than 70,000 Jews were performing forced labor in the General Government.[125]

German-annexed areas

Tens of thousands of Jews were deported from ghettos in the Wartheland and East Upper Silesia to Chełmno and Auschwitz.[126]

Armed resistance and ghetto uprisings

Photograph of Jewish women insurgents captured by the SS during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from the Stroop Report.

Jewish resistance to the Nazis comprised their armed struggle, as well as spiritual and cultural opposition which brought dignity despite the inhumane conditions of life in the ghettos.[127][128] Many forms of resistance existed, even though the elders were terrified by the prospect of mass retaliation against the women and children in the case of anti-Nazi revolt.[129] As the German authorities undertook to liquidate the ghettos, armed resistance was offered in over 100 locations on either side of Polish-Soviet border of 1939, overwhelmingly in eastern Poland.[130] Uprisings erupted in 5 major cities, 45 provincial towns, 5 major concentration and extermination camps, as well as in at least 18 forced labor camps.[131] Significantly, the only rebellions in Nazi camps were Jewish.[132]

The Nieśwież Ghetto insurgents in eastern Poland fought back on July 22, 1942. The Łachwa Ghetto revolt erupted on September 3. On October 14, 1942, the Mizocz Ghetto followed suit. The Warsaw Ghetto firefight of January 18, 1943, led to the largest Jewish uprising of World War II launched on April 19, 1943. On June 25, the Jews of the Częstochowa Ghetto rose up. At Treblinka, the Sonderkommando prisoners armed with stolen weapons attacked the guards on August 2, 1943. A day later, the Będzin and Sosnowiec ghetto revolts broke out. On August 16, the Białystok Ghetto uprising erupted. The revolt in Sobibór extermination camp occurred on October 14, 1943. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the insurgents blew up one of Birkenau's crematoria on October 7, 1944.[130][131] Similar resistance was offered in Łuck, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Pińsk, Poniatowa, and in Wilno.[133]

International response

On 26 June 1942, BBC services in all languages publicized a report by the Jewish Social-Democratic Bund and other resistance groups and transmitted by the Polish government-in-exile, documenting the killing of 700,000 Jews in Poland. In December 1942, the United Nations adopted a joint declaration condemning the systematic murder of Jews.[134]

Escape and hiding

Many Jews attempted to escape death by jumping from trains, but the majority immediately returned to the ghetto to avoid the risk of being denounced by Poles, which would lead to immediate death.[76][135] Ability to speak Polish was a key factor in managing to survive,[136] as were financial resources to pay helpers.[137]

The death penalty was threatened for individuals hiding Jews and their families.[138] Each village head was under the responsibility of handing over all Jews, as well as fugitive Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, and other strangers to the German occupation authorities under threat of collective punishment.[139] Although one study found that at least 700 Poles were executed for helping Jews,[140] the death penalty was not always carried out in practice.[141][138] Rescuers' motivations varied on a spectrum from altruism to expecting sex or material gain; it was not uncommon for helpers to betray or murder Jews if their money ran out.[142][138][143] It was also not uncommon for the same people to help some Jews while hunting down or murdering others.[138][144]

In September 1942, on the initiative of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and with financial assistance from the Polish Underground State, a Provisional Committee to Aid Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom) was founded for the purpose of rescuing Jews. It was superseded by the Council for Aid to Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), known by the code name Żegota and chaired by Julian Grobelny. It is not known how many Jews, overall, were helped by Żegota; at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw alone, under Irena Sendler. Żegota was granted[by whom?] nearly 29 million zloty (over $5 million) from 1942 on for relief payments to thousands of extended Jewish families in Poland.[145][146]

An estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Polish Jews survived in hiding.[2] Some rescuers faced hostility or violence for their actions after the war.[147]

Some Polish peasants participated in German-organized Judenjagd ("Jew hunt") in the countryside, where according to Jan Grabowski, approximately 80% of the Jews who attempted to hide from the Germans ended up being murdered.[148][149] According to Grabowski, the number of "Judenjagd" victims could reach 200,000 in Poland alone;[150] Szymon Datner gave a lower estimate - 100,000 Jews who "fell prey to the Germans and their local helpers, or were murdered in various unexplained circumstances."[151]

In addition to peasantry and individual collaborators, the German authorities also mobilized the prewar Polish police as what became known as the "Blue Police". Among other duties, Polish policemen were tasked with patrolling for Jewish ghetto escapees, and in support of military operations against the Polish resistance.[152][153] At its peak in May 1944, the Blue Police numbered some 17,000 men.[154] The Germans also formed the Baudienst ("construction service") in several districts of the General Government. Baudienst servicemen were sometimes deployed in support of aktions (roundup of Jews for deportation or extermination), for example to blockade Jewish quarters or to search Jewish homes for hideaways and valuables.[152]

The Polish right-wing National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne, or NSZ) – a nationalist, anti-communist organization,[155][156][page needed][157] widely perceived as anti-Semitic[158][159][160][161][162] – also collaborated with the Germans on several occasions, killing or giving away Jewish partisans to the German authorities,[159]: 149  and murdering Jewish refugees.[163][164][165]

Among some 30,000 Ukrainian nationalists who fled to polnischen Gebiete, thousands joined the pokhidny hrupy (pl) as saboteurs, interpreters, and civilian militiamen, trained at the German bases across Distrikt Krakau.[166][167] The genocidal techniques learned from the Germans, such as the advanced planning of the pacification actions, site selection, and sudden encirclement, became the hallmark of the OUN-UPA massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia beginning in March 1943, and killing of Jews in Western Ukraine, parallel with the liquidation of the ghettos in Reichskommissariat Ostland ordered by Himmler.[168][169] Thousands of Jews who escaped deportations and hid in the forests were murdered by the Banderites.[170]

The existence of Sonderdienst paramilitary formations of Germans from Poland was a grave danger to those who attempted to help ghettoized Jews in cities with sizable German and pro-German minorities, as in the case of the Izbica, and Mińsk Mazowiecki Ghettos, among many others.[citation needed]

Death toll

Half of all Jewish Holocaust victims, around 3 million, were from Poland.[171][172] It is estimated that about 350,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust.[173] Some 230,000 of them survived in the USSR and the Soviet-controlled territories of Poland, including men and women who escaped from areas occupied by Germany.[173][174] After World War II, over 150,000 Polish Jews (Berendt) or 180,000 (Engel) were repatriated or expelled back to new Poland along with the younger men conscripted to the Red Army from the Kresy in 1940–1941. Their families were murdered in the Holocaust.[175] Gunnar S. Paulsson estimated that 30,000 Polish Jews survived in the labor camps;[176] but according to Engel as many as 70,000–80,000 of them were liberated from camps in Germany and Austria alone, except that declaring their own nationality was of no use to those who did not intend to return.[177] Dariusz Stola found that the most plausible estimates for Jews surviving in hiding were between 30,000 and 60,000.[2]


The German surrender in May 1945 was followed by a massive change in the political geography of Europe.[178][179] Poland's borders were redrawn by the Allies according to the demands made by Joseph Stalin during the Tehran Conference, confirmed as not negotiable at the Yalta Conference of 1945.[180] The Polish government-in-exile was excluded from the negotiations.[181] The territory of Poland was reduced by approximately 20 percent.[182] Before the end of 1946 some 1.8 million Polish citizens were expelled and forcibly resettled within the new borders.[180][181] For the first time in its history Poland became a homogeneous one nation-state by force, with the national wealth reduced by 38 percent. Poland's financial system had been destroyed. Intelligentsia was largely obliterated along with the Jews, and the population reduced by about 33 percent.[182]

1946 meeting of Żegota members on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Polish Theatre

Many non-Jews had obtained property or jobs vacated by Jews during the war, and refused to give up these gains to Jewish survivors.[183] The elimination of the Polish aristocracy as well as Polish Jews cleared the way for the foundation of an ethnically Polish middle class.[184]

An estimated 650 to 1,200 Jews were killed in Poland after the war.[185] The most notable incident was the Kielce pogrom in July 1946, which cost 42 lives.[186]

The Polish state held trials of war criminals under the decree of 31 August 1944. Historian Andrew Kornbluth estimates that "several dozen Poles were executed for denouncing, capturing, and killing their Jewish neighbors during the war", and thousands more perpetrators were investigated or received a lesser sentence.[187]


Many Jews, fearing for their lives, fled to displaced persons camps in Germany.[183] The pogrom prompted General Spychalski of PWP from wartime Warsaw,[188] to sign a legislative decree allowing the remaining survivors to leave Poland without Western visas or Polish exit permits.[189][190] This also served to strengthen the government's acceptance among the anti-Communist right, as well as weaken the British hold in the Middle East.[177] Most refugees crossing the new borders left Poland without a valid passport.[190] Uninterrupted traffic across the Polish borders increased dramatically.[191][177][192] By the spring of 1947 only 90,000 Jews remained in Poland.[193][194][195] Britain demanded that Poland (among others) halt the Jewish exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful.[196]

Around 13,000 Polish Jews left the country between 1968 and 1972 because of a state antisemitic campaign.[172] In 2019, the Polish Jewish population was estimated at 4,000.[197]


Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, inaugurated in 1948

Although the postwar Jewish community wanted to make Treblinka the main memorial site, the Polish government decided to instead build a memorial at the former Warsaw Ghetto and to focus memorialization efforts at Auschwitz.[198] During the communist era, the differences between different persecuted groups were elided.[172] Memorials were established at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka during the 1960s as a reaction to West German trials, but these camps remain much less well known.[199] The most well-known Holocaust museum in the world is the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum[200] which receives about 2 million visitors per year as of 2021.[109] Since 1988, the March of the Living has been held annually at the site of the former camp.[201] The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened in 2014 on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto and is connected with earlier memorials such as the 1948 Monument to the Ghetto Heroes and the memorial at the Umschlagplatz.[202] The phenomenon of Holocaust tourism exploded after 1989 due to reduced travel restrictions and brought along with it increasing tourism and commercialization that sometimes was criticized as kitsch.[201]

In 1999, the Institute of National Remembrance was established in order to promote state-sponsored historical narratives, although the degree to which it is politicized has changed over time.[203] In 2018 the Polish government caused a diplomatic crisis by proposing the Amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, that would have prescribed up to three years' imprisonment for someone who "attributes to the Polish Nation or Polish for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich...or otherwise glaringly minimizes the responsibility of the real perpetrators of these crimes".[204] The law was later revised to a civil penalty.[205]


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  127. ^ Totten, Samuel; Feinberg, Stephen (2009). Teaching and Studying the Holocaust. IAP. pp. 52, 104, 150, 282. ISBN 978-1607523017. Human dignity and spiritual resistance. Also in: Gershenson, Olga (2013). The Phantom Holocaust. Rutgers University Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0813561820.
  128. ^ Christopher Browning (2001), "Raul Hilberg", Yad Vashem Studies, Wallstein Verlag, pp. 9–10, ISSN 0084-3296
  129. ^ Isaiah Trunk (1972), "The Attitude of the Councils toward Physical Resistance", Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe Under Nazi Occupation, U of Nebraska Press, pp. 464–466, 472–474, ISBN 978-0803294288, archived from the original on January 3, 2014, The highest degree of cooperation was achieved when chairmen, or other leading Council members themselves, actively participated in preparing and executing acts of resistance, particularly in the course of liquidations of ghettos. [Prominent examples include Warsaw, Częstochowa, Radomsko, Pajęczno, Sasów, Pińsk, Mołczadź, Iwaniska, Wilno, Nieśwież, Zdzięcioł (see: Zdzięcioł Ghetto), Tuczyn (Równe), and Marcinkańce (Grodno) among others] Also in: Martin Gilbert (1986), The Holocaust: the Jewish tragedy, Collins, p. 828, ISBN 9780002163057
  130. ^ a b The Holocaust Encyclopedia (2011), Jewish Resistance, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, see map., archived from the original on January 26, 2012 – via Internet Archive. Also in: Shmuel Krakowski (2010), Armed Resistance, YIVO, archived from the original on June 2, 2011
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  134. ^ Láníček 2012, pp. 74–75, 81.
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  136. ^ Brethour, Miranda (2019). "Jewish–Gentile Relations in Hiding during the Holocaust in Sokołów County, Poland (1942–1944)". The Journal of Holocaust Research. 33 (4): 277–301 [299–300]. doi:10.1080/25785648.2019.1677090. S2CID 211662916. close contacts in the Polish community and decent knowledge of the Polish language were extremely useful, if not essential, for securing shelter... A few other cases were uncovered wherein a local Pole committed to hiding a group of Jews and then subsequently denounced or murdered the charges, transitioning from helper to perpetrator.
  137. ^ Grabowski, Jan (2008). Rescue for Money: Paid Helpers in Poland, 1939-1945. Yad Vashem. ISBN 978-965-308-325-7. Files of postwar trials of collaborators, many of whom committed crimes against Jews, and other materials show that the phenomenon of paid help was far from marginal. A Jew with money and other assets had much greater chances of being rescued than a penniless one.
  138. ^ a b c d Bartov 2023, p. 206.
  139. ^ Frydel 2018, pp. 190–191.
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  146. ^ Yad Vashem Shoa Resource Center, Zegota Archived October 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, page 4/34 of the Report.
  147. ^ Podbielska, Alicja (2019). ""That's for harboring Jews!" Post-Liberation Violence against Holocaust Rescuers in Poland, 1944–1948". S:I.M.O.N. Shoah: Intervention. Methods. Documentation. 6 (2): 110–120. ISSN 2408-9192.
  148. ^ Jan Grabowski (October 9, 2013). Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland. Indiana University Press. pp. 2–4. ISBN 978-0-253-01087-2.
  149. ^ Williams, Timothy; Buckley-Zistel, Susanne, eds. (April 17, 2018). Perpetrators and Perpetration of Mass Violence: Action, Motivations and Dynamics. Routledge. p. 337. ISBN 9781351175845.
  150. ^ Grabowski, Jan (2013). Hunt for the Jews: betrayal and murder in German-occupied Poland. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-01074-2.
  151. ^ Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland, Indiana University Press, Jan Grabowski, pp. 2–3.
  152. ^ a b Friedrich, Klaus-Peter (Winter 2005). "Collaboration in a 'Land without a Quisling': Patterns of Cooperation with the Nazi German Occupation Regime in Poland during World War II". Slavic Review. 64 (4): 711–746. doi:10.2307/3649910. JSTOR 3649910.
  153. ^ "'Orgy of Murder': The Poles Who 'Hunted' Jews and Turned Them Over to the Nazis". Haaretz.
  154. ^ "Policja Polska w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie 1939-1945 – Policja Panstwowa". (in Polish). Archived from the original on March 29, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  155. ^ Garlinski, Josef (August 12, 1985). Poland in the Second World War. Springer. ISBN 978-1-349-09910-8.
  156. ^ Zimmerman (2015).
  157. ^ Biskupski, Mieczysław (2000). The history of Poland. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. pp. 110. ISBN 978-0313305719. OCLC 42021562.
  158. ^ Cymet, David (June 1999). "Polish state antisemitism as a major factor leading to the Holocaust". Journal of Genocide Research. 1 (2): 169–212. doi:10.1080/14623529908413950. ISSN 1469-9494.
  159. ^ a b Cooper, Leo (2000). In the shadow of the Polish eagle: the Poles, the Holocaust, and beyond. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York, N.Y.: Palgrave. ISBN 978-1-280-24918-1. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  160. ^ Zimmerman (2015), p. 371.
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  162. ^ Schatz, Jaff (1991). The generation : the rise and fall of the Jewish communists of Poland. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0520071360. OCLC 22984393.
  163. ^ Cymet (1999).
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  166. ^ Cantorovich, Irena (June 2012). "Honoring the Collaborators – The Ukrainian Case" (PDF). Roni Stauber, Beryl Belsky. Kantor Program Papers. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 10, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2016. When the Soviets occupied eastern Galicia, some 30,000 Ukrainian nationalists fled to the General Government. In 1940 the Germans began to set up military training units of Ukrainians, and in the spring of 1941 Ukrainian units were established by the Wehrmacht.
  167. ^ Breitman, Richard (2005). U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis. Cambridge University Press. p. 249. ISBN 978-0521617949.
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  169. ^ Spector, Shmuel; Wigoder, Geoffrey (2001). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust. Vol. III. NYU Press. p. 1627. ISBN 978-0814793787. Archived from the original on December 31, 2013.
  170. ^ Rossolinski, Grzegorz (2014). Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist : Fascism, Genocide, and Cult. Columbia University Press. p. 290. ISBN 978-3838206844.
  171. ^ Bergen 2016, p. 155.
  172. ^ a b c Grzyb 2020, p. 620.
  173. ^ a b Jockusch, Laura; Lewinsky, Tamar (Winter 2010). Paradise Lost? Postwar Memory of Polish Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union. Vol. 24. Full text downloaded from the Holocaust and Genocide Studies (with signup). Archived from the original on December 20, 2014.
  174. ^ Trela-Mazur, Elżbieta (1998) [1997]. Sovietization of educational system in the eastern part of Lesser Poland under the Soviet occupation, 1939–1941 [Sowietyzacja oświaty w Małopolsce Wschodniej pod radziecką okupacją 1939–1941]. Kielce: Wyższa Szkoła Pedagogiczna im. Jana Kochanowskiego. pp. 43, 294. ISBN 978-83-7133-100-8. Also in: Trela-Mazur (1997), Wrocławskie studia wschodnie. Wrocław: Wydawn. Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego. Volume 1, pp. 87–104.
  175. ^ Berendt, Grzegorz (2006). "Emigration of Jewish people from Poland in 1945–1967" [Emigracja ludności żydowskiej z Polski w latach 1945–1967] (PDF). Polska 1944/45–1989. Studia I Materiały. VII. pp. 25–26 (pp. 2–3 in current document). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 1, 2017.
  176. ^ Gunnar S. Paulsson (Summer–Autumn 1998). "The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland". Journal of Holocaust Education. 7 (1&2): 19–44. doi:10.1080/17504902.1998.11087056. Relevant excerpt about the 'chances of survival in hiding.'. Keeping in mind that these cases are drawn from published memoirs and from cases on file at Yad Vashem and the Jewish Historical Institute, it is probable that the 5,000 or so Poles who have been recognised as 'Righteous Among the Nations' so far represent only the tip of the iceberg, and that the true number of rescuers who meet the Yad Vashem 'gold standard' is 20, 50, perhaps even 100 times higher (p. 23, § 2; available with purchase).
  177. ^ a b c David Engel (2005), "Poland" (PDF), Liberation, Reconstruction, and Flight (1944–1947), The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, pp. 5–6 in current document, YIVO, The largest group of Polish-Jewish survivors spent the war years in the Soviet or Soviet-controlled territories., ISBN 9780300119039, [see also:] Golczewski (2000), p. 330, archived from the original (PDF) on December 3, 2013
  178. ^ Lukas (1989), pp. 5, 13, 111, 201, "Introduction". Also in: Lukas (2001), p. 13.
  179. ^ Golczewski, Frank (2000). Gregor, Neil (ed.). Nazism. The impact of National Socialism. OUP Oxford. pp. 329–330. ISBN 978-0191512032. Prof. Czesław Madajczyk ascribed 2,000,000 Polish-Jewish victims to extermination camps, and 700,000 others to ghettos, labour camps, and hands-on murder operations. His stated figure of 2,770,000 victims is regarded as low but realistic. Madajczyk estimated also 890,000 Polish-Jewish survivors of World War II; some 110,000 of them in the Displaced Person camps across the rest of Europe, and 500,000 in the USSR; bringing the number up to 610,000 Jews outside the country in 1945. Note: some other estimates, see for example: Engel (2005), are substantially different.
  180. ^ a b Berthon, Simon; Potts, Joanna (2007). Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-Creation of World War II. Da Capo Press. p. 285. ISBN 978-0306816505.
  181. ^ a b Fertacz, Sylwester (2005). "Carving of Poland's map" [Krojenie mapy Polski: Bolesna granica]. Magazyn Społeczno-Kulturalny Śląsk. Archived from the original on April 25, 2009 – via Internet Archive, June 5, 2016.
  182. ^ a b Slay, Ben (2014). The Polish Economy: Crisis, Reform, and Transformation. Princeton University Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-1400863730. The Second Republic was obliterated during the Second World War (1939–1945). As a consequence of seven years of brutal fighting and resistance to Nazi and Soviet military occupation, Poland's population was reduced by a third, from 34,849 at the end of 1938, to 23,930 in February 1946. Six million citizens...perished.[pp.19–20] (See Anti-communist resistance in Poland (1944–46) for supplementary data.)
  183. ^ a b Gerlach 2016, p. 354.
  184. ^ Kornbluth 2021, p. 273.
  185. ^ Cichopek, Anna (2014). Beyond Violence: Jewish Survivors in Poland and Slovakia, 1944–48. Cambridge University Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-107-03666-6.
  186. ^ Cichopek 2014, p. 116.
  187. ^ Kornbluth 2021, p. 274.
  188. ^ Włodarczyk, Tamara (2010). "2.10 Bricha". Osiedle żydowskie na Dolnym Śląsku w latach 1945–1950 (na przykładzie Kłodzka) (PDF). pp. 36, 44–45 (23–24 in PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on April 13, 2016. The decision originated from the military circles (and not the party leadership). The Berihah organization under Cwi Necer was requested to keep the involvement of MSZ and MON a secret.(24 in PDF) The migration reached its zenith in 1946, resulting in 150,000 Jews leaving Poland.(21 in PDF)
  189. ^ Aleksiun, Natalia. "Beriḥah". YIVO. Suggested reading: Arieh Josef Kochavi, "Britain and the Jewish Exodus ... ," Polin 7 (1992): pp. 161–175.
  190. ^ a b Hakohen (2003), p. 70, 'Poland'.
  191. ^ Marrus, Michael Robert; Aristide R. Zolberg (2002). The Unwanted: European Refugees from the First World War Through the Cold War. Temple University Press. p. 336. ISBN 978-1-56639-955-5. This gigantic effort, known by the Hebrew code word Brichah(flight), accelerated powerfully after the Kielce pogrom in July 1946
  192. ^ Siljak, Ana; Ther, Philipp (2001). Redrawing nations: ethnic cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944–1948. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-7425-1094-4.
  193. ^ Steinlauf, Michael C. (1996). Poland. ISBN 9780801849695. In: David S. Wyman, Charles H. Rosenzveig. The World Reacts to the Holocaust. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  194. ^ Lukas (1989); also in Lukas (2001), p. 13.
  195. ^ Albert Stankowski, with August Grabski and Grzegorz Berendt; Studia z historii Żydów w Polsce po 1945 roku, Warszawa, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny 2000, pp. 107–111. ISBN 83-85888-36-5
  196. ^ Kochavi, Arieh J. (2001). Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States & Jewish Refugees, 1945–1948. The University of North Carolina Press. pp. xi, 167–169. ISBN 978-0-8078-2620-1. Britain exerted pressure on the governments of Poland.
  197. ^ Bazyler et al. 2019, p. 311.
  198. ^ Lehnstaedt 2021, p. 66.
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  202. ^ Grzyb 2020, p. 628.
  203. ^ Kornbluth 2021, pp. 269–270.
  204. ^ Kornbluth 2021, p. 1.
  205. ^ Kornbluth 2021, pp. 1, 271.

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