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Through a Woman's Eyes: Life in Poland Under the German Occupation

jan peczkis|Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Detailed and Especially Poignant Account of Polish Suffering Under the Nazis,  Nowadays, the Nazi genocide of Poles is all but forgotten in favor of the Nazi genocide of the Jews (Shoah). The deadly everyday situation facing Poles, if mentioned at all, is reduced to a cursory footnote. Poles are relegated to spectators, or worse, relative to Jews. This book serves as a revelation to people who think this way. Even the reader quite familiar with this subject can be shocked by the German cruelties against Poles.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Written a little halfway through the war (shortly after Sikorski's catastrophic death: p. 92), this work has the advantage of not being influenced by later events. One obvious theme is the trusting Polish attitude towards their British allies, with no inkling of the Churchill-Roosevelt Teheran-Yalta sellout of Poland that was to happen.

This work is centered on the Krakow area, but encompasses much of German-occupied Poland. It describes various passive and active Polish forms of resistance to the German occupants. The German "Operation Zamosc", further east, is also highlighted, as is the guerrilla opposition by the Peasant Battalions (BATALIONY CHLOPSKIE). (pp. 65-66).

The daily German terror facing Poles is elaborated. Countless Poles were murdered in street executions and concentration camps. Polish children missed their childhoods, and had to grow up fast. They went to bed frightened that the Germans would take away their mothers just as they had murdered their fathers. (pp. 48-49). In the Spring of 1943, there were 525,000 hungry and half-clad Polish children in need of aid. (p. 46). Not only Jews were gassed. In the summer of 1943, some 500 Polish convalescents were gassed by the Germans at Auschwitz. (p. 7).

The German genocide of Poles was largely passive--shortened lifespans and decreased birth rates enforced by the drastic reduction in the Poles' standard of living, including the imposition of near-starvation conditions through confiscation of feedstuffs. Brzeska comments (quote) The sizes of quotas steadily increased, and with them the opposition to quotas. Despite a continual reduction in the length of the delivery period, despite the growing terror which accompanied the non-fulfillment of quotas, the proportion of grain, and even more of meat handed over never equaled the prescribed demands...The obstinate villages are punished by the taking of hostages, by the firing of farms, by deportation...Unable to break the villages with poverty, the Germans tried to depopulate them. (unquote).(pp. 63-64).

Author Maria Brzeska also describes Polish resistance to the draconian German policies. She comments, (quote) The enterprising and inapprehensible street traders play a very useful part. They make it possible for the people somehow or other to survive, if only by barter, with their effective sabotage they undermine the German system of food rationing... (p. 32). Poverty-stricken and grey, the streets of Warsaw still throb with Polish life... (p. 33). Miracles of ingenuity, much courage and daring are required to smuggle a pat of butter to town in broad daylight at the bottom of a pitcher of milk, or to carry a piece of bacon under one's apron...The economic exchange between town and village was the salvation of both sides. (quote)(p. 62).

Maria Brzeska also touches on the situation facing Poland's Jews, (quote) The peasants whom the Germans reduced to the role of pariah gave their protection to the most miserable of all the pariahs: the Jews. And in this, as in many other cases, they have often paid for their humanity with their life. In the little village of Sadowa in Wegrow county a baker, his wife and son were shot for giving a loaf of bread to a Jewish woman. In many cases villages have had their inhabitants shot, their husbandries burnt down, their people deported amid sneers and humiliations, just because they have given Jews a loaf of bread, or shelter for the night, or have set plates of groats in the forest for the homeless Jewish children whom the Germans shoot like rabbits. None the less in village after village deliberate and effective aid has been given, with strong and helpful forest always available if necessary. (unquote)(p. 70). [For over 100 different examples of chains of Polish families and villages aiding Jews in an organized manner, please click on Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Wartime Fate of Poles and Jews, and read the detailed Peczkis review.]

Now consider the recent publication of THE HUNT FOR THE JEWS (JUDENJAGT), by neo-Stalinist Jan Grabowski. In it, Grabowski has tried to depreciate Polish aid to Jews by dismissing much of what passed for Polish aid to Jews as small in scale. However, as Brzeska's quoted paragraph above makes vividly evident, even the most "trivial" Polish aid to Jews incurred savage, mortal German reprisals.

In addition, Brzeska's detailed and graphic information about the severe Polish privations under German occupation unwittingly serves as a refutation of other attacks on Poland by the likes of Jan T. Gross and Jan Grabowski. The near-starvation conditions facing Poles make it easy to see why many Poles did not want to share their meager rations with Jews, why some Poles only helped Jews who could pay and for only as long as they could pay, why some Poles reacted with murderous fury against known or suspected Jewish banditry (as through the Judenjagt),
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