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The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe Paperback – April 1, 1992
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The authors have a good grasp of the chief cause of prewar Polish-Jewish tensions: "The conspicuous roles of Jews as merchants, money-lenders, estates supervisors, and tax collectors in medieval Poland eventually attracted the hostility of Poles from social classes either aspiring to these positions or suffering under the policies Jewish middlemen enforced for kings and nobles." (p. 27).
Oliner and Oliner place the destruction of 90% of Poland's Jews in the context of German exterminatory policies against Poles: "From the outset of the occupation, German rule in Poland was direct and brutal...Since the Nazi regarded the Poles as untermenschen (subhumans) destined for immediate enslavement and future liquidation, they did not restrain their oppression of Jews or Poles in deference to local public opinion." (p. 25).
Most individuals of virtually all nationalities tend to proceed to their executions without resisting or attempting to escape, and "Jewish passivity" has commonly been misrepresented in this regard. In contrast, Oliner and Oliner correctly understand the actual nature of "Jewish passivity": "To the Polish Underground, the compliance of the Jewish councils with German decrees cast doubts on the value of forging an alliance with the Jews...Judenrat leaders based their compliance with German orders on the assumptions that it might placate the Nazis...Outside the ghettos, however, these strategies were interpreted as expressions of Jewish servility or collaboration with the enemy...Since the primary goal of the AK was to build a secret army capable of rising against Germany later in the war when the Reich was on the verge of defeat, the leadership of the AK believed that arming the Jews would be a wasteful diversion of scarce weapons to a group that had failed to manifest any overt resistance to the Germans up to that point." (pp. 28-31).
A common motive for Poles not helping Jews was the fear of the German-imposed death penalty (p. 140). So was the extreme privation faced by Poles themselves. For instance, urban Poles had a legal ration of only about 1,200 calories daily (p. 76), causing obvious problems for any feeding of fugitives.
The inflammatory role played by the Zydokomuna (Jewish Communism) is recounted: "For example, Lithuanian nationalism contained a significant anti-Semitic streak that intensified under German influence during the 1930s and in reaction to Jewish collaboration with Soviet occupation forces in 1940."(p. 18). Of course, the same was true, to a much less severe extent, of Polish nationalism.
On numerous occasions (e. g., p. 53, 94-95, 101, 130, 139), Oliner and Oliner point out that Polish rescuers of Jews included members of the AK and close associates of the same. This adds refutation to the scurrilous charges of some (e. g., Yaffa Eliach) who have asserted that the AK was implementing some sort of secret plan to exterminate Poland's remaining Jews.
A seldom-discussed factor in the occasional Polish killings of fugitive Jews was the fact that the latter sometimes attacked Poles, as described in the following: "Another Pole complained bitterly that his household was stripped bare of its belonging by a Jewish partisan group. Learning that he was actually involved in a Jewish [rescue] network, they returned some of his possessions--`but only a fraction', he said." (p. 72).
The reader may be surprised to learn that informers for the Germans included Jews: "Lured by promises of postponed deportations for themselves or their families, or hope of avoiding torture, individual Jews also became informers, betraying rescuers and rescued. Several rescuers relate such incidents...they [suspicions of Jewish collaboration] were sufficient to make rescuers wary even of Jews themselves." (p. 103). (Not mentioned is the fact that many Polish informers had earlier been broken by Gestapo tortures. In fact, members of the Polish Underground who had once fallen into the hands of the Gestapo were labeled "burned up", and never fully trusted again.)
On balance, Oliner and Oliner suggest that both Poles and Jews misrepresent history: "The totality of German domination in Poland was undoubtedly the key factor that doomed the Polish Jews. Nevertheless, pro-Polish sources generally exaggerate Polish solidarity with the Jews and minimize Polish anti-Semitism as a cause for the relatively low numbers of rescued Jews, whereas pro-Jewish sources often commit the opposite errors. Although Nazi terror made it more difficult and dangerous to help Jews in Poland then anywhere else in Europe, it still appears that many Poles did not feel obligated to protect the Jews, whom they either disliked or dismissed as aliens." (p. 31).
Perhaps ironically, just two pages earlier, Oliner and Oliner (p. 29) point out that only 12% of Poland's Jews had, just before the war, indicated Polish as their native language. The remainder spoke either Yiddish or Hebrew, either chiefly or exclusively. This, plus the self-imposed cultural apartheid of Polish Jewry and the fact that many prewar Jewish political leaders had attempted to make Jews a (privileged) nation-within-nation, may help the reader understand why Poles tended to see their Jews as aliens.
Finally, Oliner and Oliner conclude: "Whatever the figure, it does seem clear that tens of thousands of Jews were saved by Polish individuals or networks like Zegota. Moreover, it is equally certain that thousands of Poles were executed or died in concentration camps for trying to help Jews." (p. 29).