Polish Resistance Movements and the Jews

INDEX/TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. Introduction: Definition of Terms
2. Jews in the Polish Partisans: An Overview
3. What Role Did Jews Play in the Polish Partisan Groups?
4. Who Killed Holocaust Survivors in Poand After 1944?

INTRODUCTION: DEFINITION OF TERMS

In late September of 1939, the Polish Victory Service was established; this evolved into the Union for Armed Struggle, which in turn became the right-wing Armia Krajowa (Home Army, or AK) in February 1942. Later, most of the other Polish underground armies were assimilated into the AK, and by early 1944 it numbered 250,000 to 350,000 members. The AK's main goal was to prepare for action against the Germans, and at the end of the German occupation, carry out general armed revolt until victory. Then the London-based Polish Government-in-Exile would return and assume control.

The AK holds a near-sacred position in the hearts and minds of many Poles, representing their national counterpart to the Allied struggle -- much like La Resistance does for the French.

Although few Jews served in the AK, in February 1942 the AK Information and Propaganda Office created the Section for Jewish Affairs, to collect information about the situation of the Jewish population. The office wrote reports that were sent to government officials in London, and made contact between Polish and Jewish military organizations. The AK also aided the Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The AK led the Warsaw Polish Uprising, which broke out on August 1, 1944 and was only put down on October 2, 1944; and participated in many partisan battles with the Nazis.

The far-left Armia Ludowa (AL), called the "People's Army," was an underground military organization created as an armed formation of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR), formed by renaming the People's Guard (Gwardia Ludowa). The task of the AL was anti-German diversion in favor of the Red Army, the participation in organizing and defending the system of government created by the PPR (the State National Council and field councils), and the takeover of power in liberated zones. Due to the support for the Red Army and the generally tolerant position towards persecuted minorities, including Jews, the AL was considered Communist in political orientation. That said, many of the Jews who participated in the AL did not join due to politics, but simply due to circumstance. When the AL was formed in the spring of 1942, it was weak with few arms. At that time, about half of the AL's partisan forces were Jewish detachments. Weapons used by the AL were bought or captured from Polish peasants or parachuted by Soviet aircraft.

The People's Army (Armia Ludowa, known as Gwardia Ludowa or "The People's Guard") was one of the two main military
organizations of the Polish underground. Jewish partisan Dr. Temczyn is in this photo with General Michal "Rola" Zymierski (top,
center) of the Armia Ludowa. Top, from left: Jan Czechowicz, Stanislaw Kotek-Agroszewski, Zymierski, Grab Widerkowski,
Stanislaw Szot. Bottom, from left Waclaw Czyzewski, Cien, Dr. Michael Temczyn. Photo from 1944 in Parczew.

The AL grew, and although most Jews were no longer alive in 1943, the People's Army had 6,000 to 8,000 fighters in mid-1944. Brigades of several hundreds people, arising from the expansion of branches and guerrilla battalions, were directly subordinated to the AL Major Command (Brigade of the People's Army). The People's Army concentrated mainly on destroying the German communication lines, especially at the back of the Soviet-German front in order to support the Red Army. It attacked the Nazi terror apparatus, organized economic sabotage and fought the pacification and anti-guerrilla expeditions. About 500 members of the People's Army participated in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

Anti-communist and more traditional elements of Polish society have a negative view of the AL because of their mobilization in favor of the Red Army (Communists) and, in some cases, due to their support for Jews.

A third Polish partisan group, the far-right Narodowe Sily Zbrojne (National Armed Forces, or NSZ), was created on September 20, 1942, as a result of the merger of the Military Organization Lizard Union (Organizacja Wojskowa Zwiazek Jaszczurczy) and part of the National Military Organization (Narodowa Organizacja Wojskowa). At its maximum strength in 1943-1944 the NSZ reached between 70,000 and 75,000 members, making it the third largest organization of the Polish resistance (after the Home Army and the Bataliony Chlopskie). NSZ units participated in the Warsaw Uprising.

From November 1944 to mid-1947, during the period of armed anti-Communist insurgency, between 500 and 1,500 Jews were murdered in Poland by NSZ forces ("The Eagle Unbound" by Halik Kochanski, p. 550).

JEWS IN THE POLISH PARTISANS: AN OVERVIEW

Shmuel Krakowski, in his scholarly work "The War of the Doomed" (published in Israel), has an important chapter dedicated to Jews who fought in Polish partisan units during the Holocaust. He notes that there were Jews in almost all of the fighting organizations of the Polish underground, each with different situations.

Jews who fought in the AL (Armia Ludowa), included the following types:

-- 1) Activists of the Polish Communist Party, the principal founders of the AL;
-- 2) Jews who escaped from ghettos due to their ties with Polish People's Republic members;
-- 3) Professionals and experts who were called on the by the guard's command;
-- 4) Partisans from Jewish units of the People's Guard who, following the destruction of their units, were transferred to Polish units; and
-- 5) Jewish fugitives from camps who, after many hardships, succeeding in reaching a Polish partisan unit.

In contrast to the Armia Ludowa's policy of tolerance toward the Jewish population in their time of need, the AK (Armia Krajowa) -- the Home Army -- was generally not Jewish-friendly. Only small numbers of Jewish partisans joined the AK, according to Krakowski, among them Jews who hid on the "Aryan" side and were accepted into the Polish underground as Poles. He notes that many Jews lost their lives due to the persistent antisemitism of the members of the AK. Krakowski's conclusion is also supported by Isaac Kowalski, who concludes: "Thousands of Jews were murdered by the rightist factions of the official Polish underground. In eastern Poland, in Byelorussia, and sometimes in other areas as well, groups of Polish rightist guerillas took an active role in the killing of many Jewish families and partisans in the forest. Among their victims was also a group of Jewish fighters who had succeeded in breaking out of the Warsaw Ghetto at the time of the uprising, had reached the forests, and launched guerrilla warfare against the Nazis (source: Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance, 1939-1945; vol. 1, 1984).

Historian Joshua D. Zimmerman provides a different conclusion. He writes, "The Armia Krajowa units welcomed Jews into their ranks, supplied arms and money and training to Jewish partisan units, organized an ultimately unsuccessful effort to breach the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto at the start of the 1943 Uprising, condemned Poles who blackmailed Jews and looted Jewish property, rescued Jews at the risk of AK members' lives, helped to found the Committee to Aid the Jews (Zegota), maintained a sometimes-on/sometimes-off relationship with the ZOB, sent members clandestinely into ghettos and concentration camps to ascertain the life-threatening situations, and publicized the Jewish plight through its underground press of the government-in-exile. But AK units also excluded Jews, murdered Jews, and fostered anti-Semitic views and spread anti-Semitic calumnies" (source: The Polish Underground and the Jews).

WHAT ROLE DID JEWS PLAY IN THE AL, AK, AND NSZ?

Speaking about his experiences in the woods as a partisan, Jewish partisan and Holocaust survivor Frank Blaichman recalls: "It was around September, 1943 when we learned that on September 9, a unit of the Polish National Armed Forces, the NSZ, had killed 26 Jewish partisans in the Borowa Forest, south of Lublin. They had thrown greandes into the bunkers when the partisans slept." In response, according to Blaichman, the Armia Ludowa composed a song in memory of the lost partisans: "On the 9th of September, everyone should remember when the NSZ stabbed the People's Army in the back," one of the lines goes. The song fails to mention that the fighters were all Jews (source: Rather Die Fighting by Frank Blaichman).

Jewish partisan
Harold Werner (Hersh Zimmerman) recalled an incident when around 100 members of the Armia Krajowa (AK) surrounded a small band of 15 Jewish partisans near Siedlce. The leader of the Jewish group, Yanek, explained that they were all Polish patriots and their common enemy was the Germans. The leader of the Armia Krajowa replied that the Armia Ludowa (AL) was working with Jews and Communists and therefore were the enemy. Based on this harsh reply and the previous reputation of the AK, the Jewish partisans fired and attempted to flee. Only two of the 15 group members survived the massacre (source: Fighting Back by Harold Werner).

Werner continues with a second story: "In spring, 1944, a small group of the Grynszpan partisans went to Maryanka near Wlodawa to obtain food. On their way back to the woods, they were ambushed by an Armia Krajowa unit. Chaim Barbanel, one of the Jewish partisans, was murdered. Not to be outdone, the Grynszpan partisans determined who it was that informed on them, and that individual paid for his crime with his life."

According to Dr. Michael Temczyn (Temchin), a Holocaust survivor and physician, "A Jew had to be very careful not to fall into the hands of the so-called 'National Armed Forces' (NSZ). These were Polish Fascists who hated Hitler but shared his ideas about Jews." Dr. Temczyn joined a group of Russian and Polish partisans in late 1942 in the area around Hrubieszow. They knew he was Jewish and accepted him anyway. Later, this group disbanded and those who remained joined a group led by Konstanty Mastelarz. This was among the first groups to join the Armia Ludowa (The People's Army), in May 1943. Temczyn had little difficulty due to his intellect and reputation as a skilled physician (source: The Witch Doctor).

Jews in the Armia Ludowa, perhaps in a better position than Jews in the Armia Krajowa, did not have it easy either. In summer, 1943, a plan was drawn up for the destruction of Abraham Bron's Jewish partisan unit by the commander of Battalion number 4 of the Armia Ludowa. After one or several incidents in the AL in which Jews were murdered by an AL commander, the Bron unit survivors were forced to leave the Armia Ludowa, although eventually they were persuaded to rejoin -- probably in a desperate quest to survive the war.

Speaking of the antisemitic attitudes of many average Poles, Frank Blaichman writes in his book that he wished to bestow a special award to Wanda Dudek, a Polish Catholic in the Lublin region whom he credits for saving his life. Blaichman writes, "I asked her if she would like to be listed among the Righteous Among Nations and she replied 'no' because she feared that the Jew-haters in the area would find out and her sons would suffer" (source: Rather Die Fighting, p. 194).

WHO KILLED HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS AFTER 1944?

Clearly the most anti-Semitic of the three Polish partisan groups was the Narodowe Sily Zbrojne (National Armed Forces, or NSZ). Historians note that the NSZ was most powerful in the Kielce in Lublin regions.

On July 4, 1946, a pogrom took place against the Jews of Kielce, and 42 of them were murdered. The exact details of how the event unfolded depends upon whose memory or whose historical perspective you believe to be true. The victims incldued the Chairman of the Jewish Community in Kielce, Severyn Kahane, young Zionists who wanted to leave Poland for Palestine, Jewish soldiers and former prisoners of concentration camps, and non-Jew Estera Proszowska -- killed because she helped wounded Jews.

By mid-1946, there were more than 200,000 Jews -- many who had migrated west from the Soviet territories -- living in Poland. The number dwindled to just 90,000 Jews living in Poland by the spring of 1947 due to incidents like the Kielce Pogrom. After eastern Poland was liberated by the Soviet Union, there were still hundreds of attacks on Jews in the Lublin area between summer 1944 and fall of 1946. The incidents ranged from individual attacks to pogroms and the number of victims, although disputed, is likely
well over 1,000 Jews.

In 1944-1946, Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust returning home to Poland were confronted with fears of being physically assaulted, robbed and even murdered by certain elements in the society. The situation was further complicated by the fact that there were more Jewish survivors returning from the Soviet Union than those who managed to survive in occupied Poland -- leading to a stereotype holding Jews responsible for the imposition of Communism in post-1945 Stalinist Poland.

According to Yad Vashem's analysis in the 1970s by historian Lucjan Dobroszycki, between October 1944 and September 1946, there are 66 documented incidents of Holocaust survivors murdered in the city of Lublin alone. A January 1945 report from Lublin on the situation of Polish Jewry noted: "On the very day when the prime minister made an official declaration about equal rights, 12 Jews were murdered in Janow Lubelski." It concluded, "Not a week goes by in which [the body of] a Jewish murder victim is not found, shot or stabbed by an unknown assailant." A few of the more prominent cases will be noted in this article, as follows:

1) Chaim Hirszman, Shoah survivor from Janow Lubelski and escapee from Belzec, was murdered in Lublin on March 19, 1946. This was one day after Hirszman began recording his Holocaust testimony. There is a dispute about who the culprits were, as in many of the cases of post-Shoah violence against Jews in Poland. Most sources cite the Armia Krajowa (AK) as the responsible party.

2) Leibel "Leon" Feldhendler, a partisan fighter and co-leader of the revolt at Sobibor, was shot through the door of his apartment in Lublin. This happened on April 2, 1945 and he died four days later on April 6. Most accounts contribute this murder to a right-wing Polish nationalists movement called NSZ.

3) Aron Licht, escapee from Sobibor, was murdered in 1944 between Tarzymiechy and Ostrzyca in Lublin district.

4) Josef Kopf, escapee from Sobibor, was murdered upon returning to his home town of Turobin.

5) Pogrom in Parczew; Consider the following episode, as described in a March 1946 memorandum from the provincial Jewish Committee in Lublin to the governor of Lublin province: "On February 5 of this year [1946] the country town of Parczew was surrounded by a uniformed band of marauders, 100-120 strong, equipped with firearms. For five hours the band ran amok with impunity through the town. Three unarmed Polish citizens of Jewish nationality -- Mendel Turbiner (age 31), Abram Zysman (age 43), and David Tempy (age 42) -- fell at the hands of the assailants; Lejb Frajberger was wounded. Almost all Jewish homes were ransacked. Goods were placed in wagons and carried off; in a number of cases where Jewish property was not of interest to the attackers, [the property] was destroyed and rendered unusable."


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