“Polish Greed” in Helping Jews
Here is my review, recently appearing at Amazon.
Review of Country of Ash: A Jewish Doctor in Poland 1939-1945, by Edward Reicher. 1989, 2013.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
In the Lodz and Warsaw Ghettos. Clarification of “Polish Greed” in Requiring Payment for Helping Jews
This work includes information in a diary format. The original diary was destroyed during the war, and the author reconstructed it in the early 1960’s according to his memory of the events. (p. 7).
The author spends little time discussing Jewish religious and cultural practices. Reicher notes, however, that the rabbinate would place a curse upon a Jew who married a Christian. (p. 197). The editor points out that the Karaims were reckoned Aryans and not persecuted by the Nazis, even though their practice was almost fully Jewish. (p. 138).
Reicher begins with the German attack on Poland in 1939. In common with many authors, he describes the wanton Luftwaffe strafing of defenseless Polish civilians. (pp. 23-24). The Germans even strafed, and destroyed, obviously-marked Red Cross vehicles. (p. 23).
The author then focuses on the Lodz Ghetto and then the Warsaw Ghetto. In common with other Jewish authors, Reicher notes that the Jews of Warsaw, at the time of the beginning of the “resettlements” in July 1942, believed German claims about their benign nature. (p. 86). Later, Reicher described the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, during which time he decided to disguise his identity and move to the Aryan side of Warsaw.
At times, Poles had seen Jews as less courageous than themselves. Interestingly, under certain circumstances, Reicher felt the same. While pretending to be a gentile, he boarded a tram, and noted the following act of defiance of the Germans by Poles, “On the steamed-up window, someone had written: `Your underpants may be lined with fur, but you’ll never win the war!’ It was clear the Poles lacked neither humor nor courage. A Jew would never have dared to use such words.” (p. 133).
In recent years, neo-Stalinists such as Jan T. Gross have accused Poles of overcharging Jews out of greed. Some accusations have gone as far as insinuating that Poles helped Jews only in order to be in a position to exploit them. Reicher, who actually went through the Holocaust, knew better. He commented, “Poles were not allowed to harbor Jews on pain of death. No wonder, then, that our rent was set so high.” (p. 123). He also touches on the economic realities faced by Poles under the German occupation, and the way it governed the fee set by the benefactor Kaczynski, who was hiding Reicher at the time. “It wasn’t expensive, but neither was it cheap. For Kaczynski, it was a considerable amount, because he earned very little as an engineer, and food and clothing had grown very expensive. Still, his monthly rent was less than what we paid him by the day. But Kaczynski was a decent man and behaved respectably toward us.” (p. 136).
Reicher describes several personal experiences with szmalcowniki (blackmailers). (pp. 163-164, 184, 194). Interestingly, the malefactors consisted of, or included, Volksdeutsche (Polish-speaking Germans), even though “native” Germans were uncommon in Warsaw. While working among Poles as a railway man, Reicher came across a man with a German name who took pleasure in boasting about turning Jews over to the Gestapo. (p. 144).
The author makes accusations of certain specific Poles having denounced certain specific Jews. However, he acknowledges that, for one reason or another, these accusations are unproven. (p. 245). In addition, well-meaning Poles sometimes betrayed Jews unintentionally while being drunk. (p. 148, 157).
The Polish szmalcowniki targeted whoever was vulnerable, not only Jews. While hiding in the house of Roza Chmielewska, a Polish prostitute, Reicher experienced this firsthand. One morning, two “policemen” came to her door. They were not trying to blackmail Roza for hiding a Jew (something that they did not know at the time), but for being a prostitute. They demanded a “tax” in exchange for not reporting, to the authorities, that she was a prostitute. When she refused, they threatened to denounce her, in which case, they threatened, she would end up paying twice as much. (pp. 186-187).
The author touches on Jew-against-Jew conduct. Reicher describes two Jews, Kohn and Heller, who he characterizes as being “on the best of terms with the Gestapo” (p. 71) and “the most powerful people in the ghetto” (p. 98). He also contends that Chaim Rumkowski (Rumkovsky) of the Lodz Ghetto, whom Reicher knew personally, had sexual relations with young girls. (pp. 47-49). Rumkowski told Reicher that he had ongoing correspondence with leading Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg. (pp. 49-50). Rumkowski also (correctly) predicted, to Reicher, that the Nazi racial persecution of Jews would lead to the emergence of an independent Jewish state. (p. 49).
“Polish Greed” in Helping Jews