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An "Ordinary German", Bedzin, Auschwitz, Poles & Jews, Black Markets, Why Limited "P"

jan peczkis|Friday, June 28, 2013

This work centers on the Jews of Bedzin. It touches on pre-WWII Polish-Jewish relations, the early years of Nazi German rule (this area had been annexed directly into the Third Reich), the Holocaust proper, and some postwar Jewish experiences.

Before WWII, the Bedzin Jews were generally better off than the Poles. (pp. 28-2). Anti-Semitic incidents tended to be sporadic, mostly verbal in nature, and largely limited to the 1930's. (pp. 39-45). However, the author provides a one-sided portrayal of Polish-Jewish relations. Jewish prejudices against Poles were just as strong as the reverse. See the free online book, TRADITIONAL JEWISH ATTITUDES TOWARDS POLES, by Mark Paul. (last updated in 2013).

A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust   A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust by Mary Fulbrook
Edition: Hardcover Price: $23.62   77 used & new from $17.99

Author Fulbrook examines wartime events through the eyes of Udo Klausa, an "ordinary German". Klausa's superior was put off by Klausa's devout Catholicism. (p. 14). However, Klausa obviously dichotomized his private faith and his public conduct, and suffered no obvious repercussions because of his religious convictions. (p. 195).

Soon after the 1939 German-Soviet conquest of Poland, the Germans burned Bedzin's synagogue, along with surrounding Jewish homes. One or more Polish priests gave refuge to fleeing Jews within a nearby church. (pp. 52-53).

The author consistently goes beyond the purely Judeocentric approach that typifies Holocaust studies in general. She provides details on how Poles suffered under the Nazi occupation as well as Jews. Both Poles and Jews experienced humiliation, forced labor, expropriation of property, mass forced relocation, destruction of cultural treasures, and mass murder at the hands of the German occupants. Udo Klausa realizes that these things happened, "`since Poles and Jews had no rights.'" (p. 93).

Although Poles were "unequal victims" with Jews, they were relatively so. Fulbrook notes that, "Ration cards were distributed according to `racial' categories. Poles received more than Jews; but even so the allotted rations for Poles were well below standards required for health and maintenance of weight and labor productivity--the latter being of most concern to the Germans." (p. 167). Nor did the Nazis treat all Jews the same. Whereas the Jews in the ghettoes of Lodz and Warsaw experienced massive starvation, those in the labor camps of the Bedzin area were fed well enough for at least quasi-productive labor. (p. 168).

Some of the differences in the ways that the Nazis treated Poles and Jews owed to tactical motives. For instance, throughout the Reich and Reich-occupied territories, Jews were forced to wear the Star in some locations but not others, and Poles were forced to wear the "P" (POLEN) in some locations but not others. Udo Klausa suggested that Poles in the Bedzin area should probably not have to wear the "P", because this may increase solidarity between Poles, and may indirectly enhance Polish sympathy for, and solidarity with, Jews. (pp. 272-273).

Fulbrook describes the exterminatory function of Auschwitz, beginning in 1942. The smell of burning flesh, from the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, could sometimes be smelled as far as Katowice (Kattowitz), some 20 miles away. (p. 230). Some of the Bedzin-area Jews survived by being in labor camps, while others survived by hiding among Poles.

Neo-Stalinists such as Jan T. Gross have advanced the argument that Poles were so accustomed to the German-imposed death penalty (as in black market dealings) that they had no real fear of it. Therefore--according to their argument--the fear of death could not have been what motivated Poles to avoid aiding Jews more substantively. It had to be--what else--anti-Semitism. Their argument is ridiculous. Poles caught in such capital offenses as black market dealing, or unauthorized slaughter of animals, were so afraid that some of them committed suicide. (p. 174). In addition, the Germans did not consistently impose the death penalty for black market dealings or unauthorized slaughter of livestock. (p. 112). [In addition, of course, it is much safer to conceal contraband goods than it is to hide a contraband person.]

The author is relatively even-handed in describing Jews as well as Poles who collaborated with the Germans. Consider, for instance, Hirsch Barenblat, commander of the Jewish militia at Bedzin, and his role in the round up of Jews for their deaths. He was tried in Poland after WWII, and again in Israel in the early 1960's, after a survivor recognized him. A Tel Aviv District Court convicted him of collaboration, but the Israeli Supreme Court subsequently overturned this decision. (p. 224).
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