.. Few people know that from all the countries occupied by the Third Reich during the Second World War (1939-1945) only in Poland any kind of help to a person of Jewish faith or origin was punishable by death.  This penalty was widely announced.  What is more this punishment was quite often imposed not only on the rescuer, but also on his/her family, often on neighbors, on -whole buildings in towns or villages in the countryside.  The Germans applied collective responsibility, trying to eliminate as many Poles, and Slavic people in general, as possible, who were thus the next most terrorized populations after the Jews and Gypsies.  Close to 3 million Polish Christians, as many or even more than Polish Jews, lost their lives, by execution, torture, starvation, or overwork in more than 2,000 prisons, forced labor and concentration camps. 
The occupier persecuted not only the intelligentsia, (educated classes) and opponents of the new regime but all potential leaders, even simple peasants.  Millions were deported to Germany for forced labor.  Massive expulsions of Jews and Poles were undertaken from the Western provinces, incorporated outright into the Third Reich, including the future Auschwitz, where ca. 80,000 Poles were killed, into the "General Government" (central Poland) also under German administration.  Military losses during the month long September campaign amounted to 66,300 killed, over 133,700 wounded and 587,000 Polish soldiers who became prisoners of war in the Third Reich.  Before that though, from Sept. 1 till Oct. 2, 1939 the Polish Army destroyed ca. 33% of German armored cars and ca. 25% of German aviation.  During that time the Germans had to use more than twice the amount of ammunition, artillery shells and bombs than 8 months later, to defeat French and English troops in their 6 weeks conquest of France.  See: Pogonowski, Iwo Cyprian: “Poland, An illustrated History”.  New York, Hippocrene Books, 2000.
Names of towns and streets were changed to Germanic ones.  Speaking Polish in public in the incorporated provinces was prohibited.  In the area of Gdansk (renamed Danzig) that was punishable by death already from Sept. 4, 1939. 
On Aug. 22, 1939, a week before his attack on Poland, on September 1st, Hitler exhorted his nation: "Kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish descent or language.  Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need".  At least 50,000 up to maybe even 200,000 Polish children, deemed to have "Germanic" features, have been forcibly taken to Germany to become Germans, their birth records falsified.  Only very few of them returned after the war. 
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531 towns and villages were burned, over 16 thousand persons, mostly Polish Christians, were killed in 714 mass executions of which 60% by the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and 40% by the SS (Gestapo) and police.  In Bydgoszcz the first victims were boy scouts from 12 to 16 years old, shot in the marketplace.  All this happened in the first 8 weeks of the war.  See: Lucas, Richard C.: “The Forgotten Holocaust; The Poles under German Occupation”.  [Lexington] The University Press of Kentucky [c1986]

In the East, the Russians, in connivance with the Germans (Hitler-Stalin secret pact of Aug. 23, 1939) attacked Poland on September 17, 1939, when it was defending itself from the Germans and occupied the eastern part of Poland until June 1941.  After the war they incorporated this territory into the Soviet Union and maintained their troops in the rest of Poland for close to 50 years.  Massive killings followed, among them 21,857 officers, mostly reserve members of the army (the intelligentsia) police and frontier guards, whose bodies have been found later in Katyn, Miednoye, Kharkov, Tver and are in other places still unknown.  About 2 million have been deported to Siberia, to Kazakhstan, etc. especially intelligentsia; half or more of them never returned; thousands were killed in the fighting and over 452,000 became POW's in Soviet Russia.  Poland disappeared from the map, divided in half by the 3rd Reich and the Soviet Union. 

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Out of its pre-war population of 36 million it lost 22 %, more than any other country in Europe, but what is even worse, it lost especially its educated classes, youth and any elements, which could in the future oppose one or the other of the two totalitarian regimes.  See: Pogonowski, I. C.  ”Poland; a Historical Atlas”. [New York, Hippocrene Books, 1987] and The Selected Bibliography” later on in this work. 
According to the AB German plan Poles were to become a people without education, slaves for the German overlords.  Schools above the primary, very rudimentary level were closed, studying, keeping radios, or arms of any kind, almost any normal occupation were prohibited under the threat of death. 

In 1988, the public prosecutor, Waclaw Bielawski, from the Main Commission for Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation, issued a list of 1,181 names of Poles, out of thousands, killed for helping Jews.  The above named Main Commission - The Institute of National Memory and The Polish Society for The Righteous Among the Nations in Warsaw, published in 1997 the Part III in the series “Those Who Helped; Polish Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust”.  It reduced those 1,181 names to only 704, by accepting only those, which they could verify from 3-4 independent sources, difficult to find after 50 years.  The publication contains also ca. 5,400 names of Poles, who have been recognized, by the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute - The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as “Righteous Among the Nations”.  In total about 17,000 people of 34 nationalities were similarly honored.  In Western Europe the automatic death sentence for help rendered to Jews did not exist and applying it to a whole family or neighbors was unthinkable, as the reign of terror organized in Poland, which was completely isolated, was unimaginable in the West.

Those who were executed are not usually recognized as “Righteous”.  They were murdered generally with the Jews they harbored, so there were no Jewish witnesses, while the Polish witnesses were not taken into consideration.  Only in very rare cases, 25 up to 1999, from the thousands killed, when a Jew managed to escape the massacre and did make the proper deposition in an Israeli consulate abroad or at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, (the State tribunal of Israel) could the rescuers be recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations”.  From the list below you will find that entire families, from grandparents as old as 90 years to infants less than one year have thus been put to death. 

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Saving Jews was very difficult, as about 85% did not speak Polish or spoke it in a way distinct from the Polish population and their appearance alone most often betrayed them.  As mentioned above many more cases of execution await still further verification. 

Poland, under the communist regime imposed on it by Soviet Russia from 1945 till 1989, was cut from the West.  Poles lost contact with the Jewish persons they saved, most of whom left the country.  Many of them changed their names not only during the occupation, but also after going abroad.  Besides, it was dangerous to maintain correspondence with the West.  Many of the rescuers also changed their addresses, due to the massive migration from the Eastern part of the country, incorporated into the Soviet Union, to the “Regained Territories” from Germany in the Western part of the country.

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The stories of the rescuers are a shining example of the most selfless sacrifice, surpassing in its heroism that of all the soldiers on the battle field, whom we commemorate each November.  In fact the soldier must fight; he cannot refuse.  He is sustained by the entire military organization and his efforts are mostly limited to short moments of attack.  He is paid and given all the necessary means in service: food, uniform, arms, etc. 
Jewish rescuers in Poland were alone, often deprived of their pre-war means of livelihood, some thrown by the occupier out of their farms, factories, businesses, offices and even homes, most of them living in dire poverty.  All were severely hampered in the possibility of earning a living.  They were under no legal or even moral obligation to risk their own lives and, even more, that of their families and neighbors.  Their help most often lasted days and nights, weeks, months, even years, always in secret, dreading a discovery. 

Who of us would do it today, especially in the 
above mentioned conditions? 

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According to the III vol. of "Those Who Helped" of 1997, by the Main Commission mentioned here.

Due to the omission of Polish diacritical marks the alphabetical order is slightly different from that in the English language. 



Mass executions - the so called pacifications of villages


Due to the omission of the Polish diacritical marks the alphabetical order of names is slightly different from the English one. Notes about the names are based on the Bibliography and on own documentation.


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Photographs of some Poles recognized by Yad Vashem as "Righteous among Nations"



I hear this title and it makes me think
About the people who saved me.
I ask and ask “Oh, my dear God, 
Could I have done the same thing?
In a sea of hate stood my home,
Could I shelter a foreign son in my home? 
Would I be willing along with my family
Constantly be threatened by certain evil?
Sleeples dark nights watching out for noise
Hearing footsteps of certain evil.
Would I be able to understand every sign,
Would I be ready for this, could I walk like this
Among those who would betray 
Not one day, not one week, but  so many years!

There a suspicious neighbor, there a look, 
and here a sound -
For that one - warm - brotherly clasping of my hand...
Not having any pension - not having anything for this.
Because a person to person must be a people.
Because a people comes at this time through - 
So I ask you and ask you once more - 
Could I have done the same if I was in their place?

It was they who went to war every day.
It was they who made the world a place for me.
It was they, the pillars, the Righteous brother, 
Who this day this world is founded by.

For your courage, and for your warm extended hand
In front of you the Righteous I bow.

We do not have the original poem, written in Hebrew, only its translation into English, as it appears in “Those who Helped” in 1996 and in 1997.  It appears in Polish in Grynberg, op. cit.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004