Do Not Blame Poland and Poles for the Holocaust

Block 11 in Auschwitz

Nearly 20,000 Poles were executed in front of this wall near Block 11 in Auschwitz by a single shot in the back of the head. Photo by author, 2013.

Do not blame Poland and Poles for the Holocaust. It’s untrue, wrong and akin to hate speech. I struggle to comprehend the vehemence of so many people to blame Poland for the Holocaust and for concentration camps built in occupied Poland by Germany. Clearly, a review of Polish history is in order. Think of Henry Zguda, and thousands like him, who were beaten, starved, or worse, in German concentration camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Then imagine someone telling Henry Zguda to his face he hadn’t suffered as much as others, and most of Poland collaborated with the Germans. That Poland should pay for its role in the Holocaust. It happened. And he never forgot it. Such is the seemingly worldwide insistence and conviction to blame Poland for the Holocaust, including the government of Israel. Consider the following.

Ten Historical Lessons of Poland in World War II that Refute Blame

1. In 1939, both Germany and Russia invaded, divided and occupied Poland, and effectively wiped the country off the map of Europe. Again. The Polish government existed in exile. Heinrich Himmler, director of the dreaded SS proclaimed “all Poles will disappear from the world . . . it is essential that the great German people should consider it as its major task to destroy all Poles.” The Germans considered Poles to be Untermenschen or subhuman. (Click here for more info.)

2.  The Polish Army defended Warsaw from German invasion for 28 days before capitulating. France completely betrayed Poland despite a joint pact signed in 1939 to send the French army within 15 days of any German attack on Poland. Eighteen thousand Polish civilians were killed, and 140,000 Polish soldiers surrendered and were taken captive, most likely executed soon thereafter.

Warsaw 1945

The Germans destroyed the city of Warsaw. Few buildings survived.

3. By the end of WWII, due to massive bombing by Germany, Warsaw lay in ruins, barely inhabitable by 1,000 people. The prewar population  exceeded one million people.

4.  The Germans chose Auschwitz as a primary killing center for purely logistical reasons. Among them, large tracts of land were cleared by evicting Polish farmers. From 1940-1942, Polish prisoners represented the majority of prisoners. In other locations, concentration camps were also built close to high concentrations of Jews to save on transportation costs. They were all built and designed by the Germans. They were constructed by slave labor.

electric fence in Auschwitz

Double row of electric fence in Auschwitz.

4.  Today, the Polish government is committed to preserving evidence of the Holocaust for future generations. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is one of three leading Holocaust institutions in the world.

Warsaw Uprising Monument

Warsaw Uprising Monument.

5. During the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, more than 150,000 Polish civilians lost their lives fighting the Germans. More than 26,000 Germans died before the Uprising was squashed.

6. Six million civilian Poles lost their lives in WWII. Three million Jewish, and three million primarily Christian. This includes a third of Poland’s cultural and intellectual elite: anyone with higher education such as academics, scientists, doctors, and half of all lawyers.

Plaque in Block 11 of Auschwitz

Placque in the basement of Block 11, the “dead block” of Auschwitz

7. In Auschwitz, initial testing of Zyklon B gas was performed on ill Polish prisoners and Soviet POWs.

8. In March 1943, the Germans held a small celebration in Kraków to acknowledge the dispatch of the millionth Pole sent to Germany as slave labor. 

9. During the war, Germans kidnapped some 200,000 Polish children to be sent back to Germany and raised as good Aryan Germans by foster families. Only 15-20 per cent ever returned to Poland. Few ever learned of their Polish heritage.

10. In Poland, if any Pole aided a Jew their entire family was executed. No other occupied country had such a stiff penalty. And yet, Yad Vashem recognizes more than 6,700 Poles as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews, more than any other country.

Misinformation, Propaganda, and More Betrayal After World War II. Blame Churchill and Roosevelt.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin share Blame for misinformation

L-R Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Jozef Stalin at the Yalta Conference 1945

At the end of World War II, Poland suffered the ultimate betrayal by her two strongest allies – Great Britain and the United States. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Jozef Stalin met twice before the war’s end, and agreed that the spoils of war to Russia included Poland, without ever consulting or informing the Polish government exiled in London. There were two key consequences. First, Stalin forbid the teaching of Polish history, Polish heroes, and Polish suffering for three generations. Stalin also executed any surviving Polish patriots after the war. Secondly, Britain and the United States, in deference to Jozef Stalin, never reported the huge extent of Stalin’s crimes, leaving the West ignorant of half the war fought in Poland. In Great Britain, that also meant that the more than 200,000 Polish members of the Polish Armed Forces who fought fiercely with the British High Command against Germany, were not permitted to march in the Victory Parade on June 8, 1946. Conversely, representatives from 17 other allied countries marched in the huge parade. This huge insult is almost inconceivable yet it happened. It would be sixty years before Britain included Poles in the annual victory parade of 2005.

Many Countries Ban Rascist and Hate Speech, including Holocaust Denial

If Poland needs to enact a law to make a statement, it is because the push for Holocaust blame is relentless from many factions. Holocaust denial, another form of hate speech, is currently illegal in multiple countries including Poland and Israel. Holocaust denial in Israel carries a five-year prison term. (See here for Yad Vashem.)

Anti-Semitism Was a Serious Problem in Poland – but Not All of Poland

There are many more examples of German crimes and other injustices against the Polish people. It is also historical truth that anti-Semitism was a serious problem in pre-war Poland, as it had been for decades in many countries. Remember the Vichy government in France? Terrible pogroms were committed against Jews by anti-Semitic Poles even after the war, and it is these incidents used so often to paint all of Poland as anti-Semitic and equally guilty. I do recognize that for many Jews, that is their true and only experience of the war. However, the actions of a number of Polish citizens were not the actions of the entire country or of the government in exile. In the face of extreme racism, does that mean every citizen is racist and shares full blame for all citizens?  If so, then as an American I am also guilty of slavery, insidious racism, lynching, anti-Semitic crimes, interning of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and the genocide of Native Americans. Every country has its ugly side but that is never the entire truth.

The views expressed in this column are the author’s alone. The historical facts listed above are well-known and well-documented. #GermanDeathCamps

16 thoughts on “Do Not Blame Poland and Poles for the Holocaust

  1. Nice Summary

    When I read the book Bloodlands – between Hitler and Stalin I was left with a strong impression that the German’s meant to incorporate all of Poland and either kill or reduce to slave labor all those remaining Poles. This does not come out in your summary as an official Policy as it was – just Himmler’s musings. Perhaps you might be stronger in this perspective and set this up as a separate thought. It gets lost with the 1st one – thee country was dismembered by Russia and Germany

    • Your point is well taken, and you are correct – Hitler and Stalin wanted to incorporate all of Poland into their countries. I will have to look up the book Bloodlands. Thanks for the referral!

  2. Thank you Katrina, for your calm and rational response, backed by facts.

    However, you do realize, don’t you, that this is not a rational debate, and facts count for nothing. I wish this were not so, but please be prepared to be called a Holocaust denier and anti-Semite for propounding your pro-Polish message. Sadly, this has been the fate of many of us over the years and recent events have let loose and emboldened many anti-Polish bigots to spew their deliberate or ignorant falsehoods.

    I hope that you fare better than we have so far, and if you can open the eyes of even one person it will be worth it. Let’s see what responses you do get…

    Warm regards,

    • Thanks Stefan, good to hear from you. Surprisingly, on a one-to-one basis I am finding interest from multiple sectors, for a different side of history. I term it the ‘shared’ history of Poland. I have several speaking upcoming speaking engagements with Jewish organizations who are genuinely interested, including a genocide awareness conference. My stance is that HENRY is also a witness to the Holocaust, an era of history I will work to make sure is never forgotten.

  3. Thank you for setting the facts in such a succinct way so that it is fully understood why the current Polish government is so adamant about getting this point across to the world!!

  4. Thank you for promoting this. I agree that a separate paragraph is needed showing Poland’s fate as manifested in “Mein Kampf”. One could say that there are two types of Holocaust deniers. Those who say that the Holocaust never happened and those who say it only happened to six million Jews and no one else. We need a study to find out if the 6 million number is correct. My understanding is that it was given by a Soviet officer and never backed up with statistics.

    • Excellent points, Jan. While the post is limited in space to cover all issues, a longer one would include your points. I believe the number “six million” was first attributed back in 1964, long before we have the resources we have now, and before the Russian archives opened. Also with the work of Fr. Patrick DesBois in Ukraine, the numbers could be higher. One thing is for sure – it will always be a calculated estimate. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Poland was a multi-ethnic state for many centuries with moments of general rapport and bad blood between Poles, ethnic Germans, Jews, and Ukrainians, among others. It appears that since WWII tensions with Germans and Ukrainians have abated, and one hardly hears in the West about Polish losses during the Ukrainian nationalist insurrection of 1942-44. One can only hope and pray that at this stage the refrain “accentuate the positive” will also be a watchword for Polish-Jewish relations.

  6. In “Henry,” Katrina Shawver vividly describes the protagonist’s experiences in concentration camps based on historical facts of WWII. During weekly interviews for one year, Henry describes his life as a prisoner in two concentration camps, detailing the inhumane living conditions, punishment cells for torturing prisoners, and grueling work. Yet, despite its somber theme, the book is an easy read due to Henry’s description of his survival skills, assistance from former friends, work ethic, and sense of humor. This book offers a wealth of history and arouses readers’ curiosity in a highly
    engaging manner. I thank Katrina for writing “Henry.”

    Lucyna Spychalski

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