- Hardcover: 184 pages
- Publisher: Praeger; First American Edition edition (May 5, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031338391X
- ISBN-13: 978-0313383915
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,898,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Code Name: Zegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945: The Most Dangerous Conspiracy in Wartime Europe First American Edition Edition
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"Recommended for parish, high school, and college and university libraries." - Catholic Library World
"Codename: Zegota is the story of extraordinary heroism amidst unique depravity―compelling in its human as well as historical dimensions. It is a particularly valuable addition to our understanding of the many facets of the Holocaust because Zegota as an organized effort was tantamount to 'Schindler's list' multiplied a hundred-fold." (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic and International Studies)
"The story of Zegota is one of courage and valor in the midst of great chaos during the Holocaust. Zegota's legacy is intertwined with the beautiful legacy of Irena Sendler." (Norm Conard, Director of Life in a Jar/the Irena Sendler Project)
"This book restores one's faith in mankind. It reveals the little known story of Zegota, an underground organization in Poland dedicated to the rescue of Jews during World War II. Organized by Gentile Poles who themselves were starved and enslaved, they risked their own and their children's lives in order to snatch Jews from the Nazi killing machine. Thousands of Poles perished in this intrepid quest. Written in an exciting style and meticulously documented, the book is fascinating from beginning to end and affords insight into this little known heroism." (Dorit Whiteman, author of The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy: Voices of Those Who Escaped Before the "Final Solution" and Lonek's Journey: the True Story of a Boy's Escape to Freedom)
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I am still waiting for a deeper study on the Zegota - this is not the one.
In Part I, Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski portray life and death on the Aryan side (i.e., the areas outside the Warsaw Ghetto) and the Jewish side, the Warsaw Ghetto itself, where the city’s Jews were confined in separate, sealed-off living quarters.
Part II describes Zegota and how it came to be. The Konrad Zegota Committee arose almost immediately after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. By 1942, there was little doubt left among leaders of the Polish and Jewish underground movements that the German propaganda of agriculture communes in the east was false and that the Nazis planned nothing short of the total annihilation of the Jewish population. Aside from Nazi soldiers and officers, who had free license to kill anyone they pleased, there was an organized crime element of paid informers, szmalcowniks, as they were called. Two remarkable women, Zofia Kossak and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz assumed the critical leadership to unify the efforts with the Jewish Fighting Organization. Thus was born, with the help of two Jewish underground leaders, the Konrad Zegota Committee. It was, as the title of the book says, a code name.
In Part III, Tomaszewski and Werbowski chronicle individual first-hand stories of courage, both the rescuers and the rescued, of which one of the most famous was Irena Sendler. Incidentally, it is odd that the authors did not mention her when they interviewed Bieta Ficowska, the youngest of the children Irena Sendler rescued. Her future husband was, Jerzy Ficowski, a Gentile and one of the many heroes this otherwise extraordinary book recognizes.
Although both Polish and Jewish underground movements during the Nazi occupation have been known since the Second World War, when Jan Karski smuggled secret documents and offered his own eyewitness accounts to the Polish government-in-exile in London, the true extent of the underground movements in Poland and the Nazi atrocities would remain secret until after the end of the war. Among the network of underground organizations was Zegota. What we learn in this book was that each Jewish life saved relied on the heroic efforts of two members of Zegota.
And now, thanks to this remarkable book, we can learn these secrets that should be kept secret no longer.
In the Introduction, British historian Norman Davies surveys Jewish attitudes toward Poland. He alludes to the pressures created by Polonophobic Jews against a fair portrayal of Poles: "Some [survivors] shared their stories but asked to remain anonymous because their friends would resent their `whitewashing' the Poles." (p. xxiii).
What of the charge, Zegota notwithstanding, that "so few Poles" helped Jews? Norman Davies comments: "The Polish-Jewish writer and one of the founders of the Institute of Polish-Jewish Studies in Oxford, Rafael Scharf, once suggested that such critics should try a role reversal. If the life of a Pole depended on the sacrifice of a Jew (or anyone else, for that matter), would the human and moral outcome be any better?" (p. xxii).
Perennial accusations of "most Poles being indifferent to Jews" overlook the fact that the Poles had their own battle of survival under the German occupation. Holocaust-survivor Ludwik Hirszfeld, as quoted by the authors, realized this basic fact: "The city (Warsaw) was so full of Germans, Ludwik Hirszfeld wrote, that the Polish character of the city had visibly changed. The Poles themselves were cowed, their resistance largely confined to the Underground since any overt rebellion would quickly be suppressed by bullets. Walking along the streets they seemed preoccupied with their own precarious position, mourning their dead, fearing for the missing, and worrying about their own; most were not prepared to risk their lives for others." (p. 45).
The Polish Blue Police (POLICJA GRANATOWA) carried only a pistol, and had to account for every bullet used. (p. 72). After guard duty, the police had to return the weapons to stations. Also, unlike true collaborationist police of other nations: "They did not generally accompany Germans in any armed actions." (p. 169).
The authors discuss the szmalcowniks (blackmailers of Jews) and denouncers, and put them in the broader context of the situation of Poles under German occupation: "Towards the end of the occupation, Zegota noted that the long years of brutality and terror had destabilized society to a serious extent, swelling the ranks of criminals and roving bands of lawless youths." (p. 72). However, the authors overlook the destabilization of Polish society as a factor in the occasional postwar killings of Jews by Poles, attributing it instead to rightists or to Soviets. (p. 99). Nevertheless, during the Nazi occupation, Jews could pass through a series of Polish towns without encountering a single blackmailer. (p. 129).
Polish peasants, desensitized by brutalization, eventually developed an attitude towards the Jews reminiscent of aspects of perennial questions about why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. This fact is obvious from the authors' comment: "At the end of 1942, she (Zofia Kossak) analyzed the effect of the long war on the peasantry. At first, she wrote, the peasantry reacted against German brutality with horror and behaved humanely against the Jews. That was still so in 1941. But by the next year, the exposure to daily atrocities had weakened their judgment. They started wondering: The murderers go unpunished, there is no revenge, maybe it's true that the Jews are cursed?" (p. 84). Obviously, had traditional Christian teachings against Jews been the primary determinants of Polish conduct towards Jews, as often charged, it would have been more or less constant throughout. There would not have been a change in Polish attitudes towards Jews in 1942.
This book includes personal testimonies. In one of them, Zdzislaw Przygoda, a Jewish member of the A. K., recounts the active A. K. involvement within and on behalf of the Jews' 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: "Three of my friends, Leszek Halko, Jerzy Rozwadowski, and Jerzy Burski, were in AK units that helped provide arms and diversionary tactics for the ghetto fighters. On April 22, 1943, the Germans reported executing 35 Polish `bandits' who were caught fighting with the Jews." (p. 136).
This work also includes information about the Poles own genocide at the hands of the Nazis. For instance, "Poles comprised 65 percent of all clergy at Dachau where they were subjected to medical experiments. Eighty-five percent of all clergy killed in Nazi-occupied Europe were Polish." (p. 6). Meanwhile, in Germany, 100,000 Jewish men were given certificates of exemption so that they could serve in the Wehrmacht. (p. viii).