Lecture: Maurice Cronin
Tutor: Jason Douglas
First Arts History
Anti-semitism from enlightenment to holocaust HI1001/HI1124
This essay will attempt to address the plight of the Jews in Poland during the Second World War by looking at questions such as, why did so many Jews die in Poland? How much responsibility, if any, can be placed on different factions and contributing factors to the Jews struggle? And how did these factions and major events aid the Nazis in following the path to Auschwitz, Treblinka and the other concentration camps? Poland had a long history of tolerance towards the Jews and had one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. This is not to say that anti-Semitism was unheard of in Poland, it was a growing problem there as much as it was for the rest of Europe. Boleslaw the Pious had awarded the Jews in Poland unprecedented legal rights with the Statute of Kalisz in 1264 and this tolerance continued throughout the following centuries. This vast amount of European Jewry in Poland, combined with the Nazis need for lebensraum (living space for the Aryan race) meant that Poland became the prime location for many of the atrocities committed against the Jews. In his book, Ronnie S. Landau claims that as the Germans conquered Poland and forcibly expelled the Poles and Jews into the General Government “an atmosphere of general barbarity and isolation” was created. He states that this atmosphere in turn, developed into “the physical and emotional conditions which would make possible the radicalization of the Nazi anti-Jewish campaign. Extreme condition’s demanded extreme solutions” The general unrest and upheaval was not the only contributing factor to the plight of the Jews in Poland. Poland was a predominantly catholic country at the time and this only added to the anti-Semitic feeling. One cardinal maintained that the Jews staying in Poland was a problem. He said that the people should not harm the Jews but that their shops should be boycotted. Some historians such as Daniel Goldhagen argue that the number of Jews killed in Poland and other countries outside of Germany was so high because the German soldiers were “willing executioners” in the holocaust due to a lethal “eliminationist anti-Semitism” in the German people. He contends that these German soldiers chose to kill Jews and enjoyed it
“and they took them (photographs) obviously, not to indict themselves but rather to memorialisze their deeds. In one police battalion the photographs were hung in the headquarters, and anyone could order copies” Other authors such as Christopher Browning suggest that the plight of the Jews in countries such as Poland, and the heinous crimes committed against them was magnified because of peer pressure and indoctrination. He believed that it was group behaviour and the reality of war that allowed the war crimes to happen. Perhaps the fact the German soldiers were out of their home country, where their people could not see what they were doing, and the laws and morals that governed them had no control over them anymore, resulted in their behaviour towards the Jews being severe and brutal. Anti-Semitism grew throughout Poland. Stark evidence of this can be seen in the Jedwabne pogrom. During the Jedwabne pogrom the local Jewish community were attacked and beaten, a group of them were then led to a barn and killed and buried and the remaining Jews of the village were brought to the barn and burnt within it. This pogrom is a perfect example of how the situation of the Jews in Poland during the Second World War was exasperated and worsened by the anti-Semitic activity in the country at the time. The pogrom was not carried out by German soldiers but by Poles from the region. The author of the book ‘neighbours’, Jan Tomasz Gross says
“it is simply not true that Jews were murdered in Poland during the war solely by the Germans, occasionally assisted in the execution of their gruesome...