Review of The Way to Freedom, by Zdzislaw Przygoda. 1995. Privately Published
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
A Jewish Member of the A. K., Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Remarks, and Pole-on-Pole Looting
Zdzislaw Przygoda was an assimilated Polish Jew who eventually joined the Underground Armia Krajowa (A. K., or AK). His job in the A. K. was to hide escapees of all sorts and to give them false identification papers. (p. 57-on). The Gestapo caught him, but he managed to survive the war in various camps. Earlier, he had been an eyewitness to German terror bombing of defenseless Polish civilians during the 1939 war. (p. 39).
Przygoda refers to A.K members, later by name, who aided the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: “I knew many people who assisted those in the Ghetto. I have three Catholic-Polish friends in Toronto, where I now live, who helped to smuggle arms and ammunition into the ghetto.” (p. 54). He adds: “On the 19th of April, the Polish company of AK under the command of captain Josef Pszenny, had tried to break the ghetto wall down at Bonifraterska Street. The AK suffered heavy losses fighting to help the Jews of Warsaw.” (p. 56).
One common theme of Warsaw-Ghetto-Uprising recollections is that of Poles delighted in the destruction of the Jews. In Przygoda’s experience, such attitudes were decidedly marginal. He writes: “On my way home from work in the street car, I listened to the loud discussions amongst the passengers. `The ghetto is burning! The Jews are burning, and we will finally be rid of them!’ said one. The majority of passengers reacted quickly by beating him as he made a quick exit from the moving carriage. It was clear that the majority of passengers were upset by the German action, and pleased that the ghetto inhabitants were beginning to fight.” (p. 54).
Jan T. Gross and his fans continue to belittle the German-imposed death penalty for the slightest aid to Jews. In contrast, Przygoda, who actually went through the Holocaust, appreciates the force of the death penalty and praises Poles who defied it in order to rescue Jews. (p. xii). As for the Kielce Pogrom, Przygoda understands it as a Communist act that they had falsely blamed on the National Democrats (Endeks) and A.K. (pp. 99-100).
For some time after the war, Przygoda remained in Germany, and worked to locate property that the Germans had stolen from the Poles. The amount was staggering. He comments: “During this time, I helped to expedite to Poland five trains, each consisting of about seventy railway cars, and each loaded with the Polish highway machinery.” (p. 92). Many other stolen goods were located, including horses. (pp. 93-94). Przygoda also uncovered art treasures that the Germans had stolen from Poland, including materials from the Wawel Castle. (pp. 98-99).
Recently, Jan T. Gross, in his FEAR, has focused on Poles stealing from Jews. However, Poles also stole from other Poles. For instance, Polish cultural treasures stolen by the Germans met the same fate at the hands of Poles in postwar Germany: “Some items had been stolen after the end of the war by Polish workers who knew that they were able to sell them on the black market.” (p. 99).
This book touches on many issues. Its only shortcoming is that it is too short.