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Microhistories of the holocaust;Direct, Very-Specific German Terror is What Induced Poles to Denounce or Kill Fugitive Jews

jan peczkis|Friday, May 4, 2018

My review is limited to Tomasz Frydel and his chapter: “The ‘Hunt for the Jews’ as a Social Process, 1942-1945”. Frydel’s work is refreshingly objective as it goes deeply into the controversial—and sometimes emotional—topic of Polish-Jewish relations under the Nazi-German occupation during WWII. Frydel builds upon the earlier works of historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (e. g., BETWEEN NAZIS AND SOVIETS).



The author uses the term JUDENJAGD (hunt for the Jews, in German), even though this word can have misleading connotations. The reader sees the word “hunt”, and ordinarily thinks of the all participants acting freely, and killing game animals in accordance with a common purpose. Moreover, the hunt is not just an animal-shooting operation: It is a social event that celebrates and enhances the camaraderie of the men in the hunting party. So JUDENJAGD may imply, to the average reader, that camaraderie exists, or is being built, between Germans and Poles who are killing Jews. It may also mislead the reader into thinking that those Poles who killed Jews were in agreement with the overall Nazi German objective of destroying Europe’s Jews. Neither is correct, as Frydel convincingly shows, and as elaborated below.

THE GERMAN-LED POLISH BLUE POLICE (POLICJA GRANATOWA)

The meme of “choiceless choices” is customarily applied to the conduct of Jewish KAPOS in concentration camps, and, to a lesser extent, to that of the Jewish ghetto police. However, Frydel makes it clear that the POLICJA GRANATOWA [also called the PP (POLNISCHE POLIZEI), faced its own set of “choiceless choices”. It was subordinate to the German ORDNUNGSPOLIZEI] was under very tight German supervision and control. In fact, the very leadership of the “Polish” police forces consisted largely of VOLKSDEUTSCHE (Polish-speaking Germans). Frydel writes, “The PP therefore had a degree of limited autonomy that was kept in check by a system of rotating gendarmes (USUALLY OF ETHNIC GERMAN BACKGROUND) as commandants of the PP posts to provide oversight and to build group morale by fraternizing with its members.” (p. 174; Emphasis added).

THE EFFECTS OF NAZI-GERMAN TERROR ON POLES AND JEWS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

This work overlaps Frydel’s outstanding analysis of the German “pacification” of the village at Podborze (Mielec county), and how it so terrorized the Poles that they began turning-in or killing the Jews that they had heretofore been hiding—in an attempt to save the Poles’ own lives. [See THE HOLOCAUST AND EUROPEAN SOCIETIES: SOCIAL PROCESSES AND SOCIAL DYNAMICS.] In this work, author Tomasz Frydel reiterates the fact that the German-induced murderous Polish killing of Jews spread geographically away from Podborze. He comments, “If viewed on a map, subsequent peasant violence toward Jews formed a ring around the site of repression. To ethnic Polish communities, it was likely that anything was preferable to inviting the unpredictable violence of the German police.” (p. 176).

In addition, a kill-or-be-killed “choiceless choice” situation was created by the frequent betrayals of Polish rescuers by recaptured fugitive Jews. (e. g, pp. 178-180). Frydel comments, “A second core component of this pattern was the belief that the preemptive capture or killing of fugitive Jews by local villagers would save a family or village in the event that a captured Jew denounced their former protectors.” (p. 177).

On top of all this, there was the ever-present danger of informers of whatever nationality. Thus, Frydel writes that, “A third layer of the hunt for Jews were informed by the presence of numerous informers, or V-MANNER [VERTRAUENSPERSON or ‘trusted person’], dispatched by German authorities to entrap peasants and report on activities deemed illegal. This was a broad strategy usually coordinated by the local Gestapo to apprehend sheltered Jews, escaped Soviet POWs, and members of the Underground…In a number of instances, Jews themselves were used to entrap peasants hiding Jews.” (p. 181).

The author combines these Polish-Jew-killing motivators into a whole, “Taken together, the congruence of fears surrounding pacification actions, the potential of betrayal by those who were given help, and the existence of undercover agents gave the JUDENJAGD deadly momentum, especially as it was connected to a large hunt for Soviet POWs, partisans, German deserters, and other fugitives.” (p. 183).

NO CONNECTION BETWEEN POLISH ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE KILLING OF FUGITIVE JEWS

Researcher Tomasz Frydel concludes that, “A macrohistorical view of local murder as a form of ethnic cleansing motivated primarily by anti-Semitism or extreme nationalism disintegrates under the microscope of local history. The JUDENJAGD occurred in the midst of a radical transformation of social relations conditioned by a brutal occupation and itself functioned as a powerful driver of this process.” (p. 184).
The author ends his interesting study with some little-known facts:

“Many village guards who had to participate in hunts for Jews or Soviet POWs often sheltered such fugitives themselves.” (pp. 183-184).
“The relationship between the helper and the helped could transform over time into a two-way street between the denouncer and the denounced, the perpetrator and the victim. These are findings will not satisfy those who expect a black-and-white story of perpetrators and victims, heroes and villains.” (p. 185).
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