LA Times Reporter Writing About the Holocaust Exhibits Ignorance of Basic Facts.

LA Times Reporter Writing About the Holocaust Exhibits Ignorance of Basic Facts.

Polish civilians executed by German forces in Rożki, October 12, 1942.

Tracy Wilkinson Claims Poland has not accepted responsibility for its role in the Nazi-ordered genocide. My letter educates her on historical truths.

Dear Ms. Wilkinson,

I am writing in response to your June 24 article in the Los Angeles Times titled “In Germany, Blinken joins initiative to combat Holocaust denial and ignorance”, which was published at this link: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-06-24/berlin-blinken-stresses-importance-learning-holocaust. I realize your knowledge of what occurred in Poland during World War II is limited, as is the case with most Americans, and I’d like to assist by providing relevant facts. 

The last sentence of your fourth paragraph states: “Scholars say Germany has led the way in accepting responsibility for the Holocaust while other countries, such as Austria and Poland, remain more evasive about their roles in the Nazi-ordered genocide.” Outlined below is why this sentence, which asserts that Poland is one of the countries responsible for the Holocaust, is both false and offensive. 

First, consider the definition of “the Holocaust”. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum defines it as “the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators.” This means that the Polish state, as it existed during World War II under German and Soviet occupation, was either an ally of Germany or established a collaborationist government controlled by Germany. This was never the case. The Polish state during the war consisted of the Polish government-in-exile in London and the Polish Underground State. The Polish Underground State, together with its military arm, the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), fought the occupying Germans at every turn. No historian has asserted that this Polish state, systematically and at the direction of the occupying Germans, sponsored and engaged in the persecution and murder of Poland’s Jews.

It is also important to understand which German-allied and German-occupied states persecuted, (i.e., rounded up and interned their Jews in ghettos and transit camps for transport to labor, concentration, and extermination camps), and in some cases, murdered their Jews. The Polish state never established a collaborationist government (as did France’s Petain, Norway’s Quisling, Slovakia’s Tiso, Croatia’s Pavelic, Hungary’s Horthy, and Romania’s Antonescu); never established a militia to round up and deport Jews to the camps or kill them outright (as did Belgium’s Degrelle, Holland’s Mussert, France’s Petain, Norway’s Quisling, Slovakia’s Hlinka Guard, Croatia’s Ustase, Hungary’s Arrow Cross, and Romania’s Iron Guard); and never established SS units to fight under German command (as did Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Latvia, Hungary, Estonia, Italy, France, Holland, Albania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia, and others), which prolonged the war and Hitler’s campaign of racist mass murder. In contrast to the actions of these German-allied and German-occupied states, neither Poles nor the Polish state were elements of Hitler’s mass-murder apparatus and the proposition that Poland “needs to accept responsibility for the Holocaust” is clearly absurd. Because Poles were also rounded up by the Germans and died in Hitler’s concentration and extermination camps, this proposition is equally offensive. Note that in February 2018, Chancellor Merkel publicly admitted on several occasions that the full responsibility for the Holocaust lies with Germany.

It is further important to understand why World War II in Europe occurred. Hitler and Stalin initiated the war to divide Europe between them and the secret protocol in their 1939 nonaggression pact prescribed the destruction of the Polish people and annihilation of the Polish state. In the first two years of the war, Poles were the primary target of a coordinated German and Soviet extermination process designed to annihilate them on both sides of the Ribbentrop-Molotov line. Hitler’s racial doctrine dictated that Poles and other Slavs were racially inferior Untermenschen deserving of enslavement and extermination. During the war’s first two years, virtually all of Poland’s Jews were imprisoned in German-operated ghettos. The Germans immediately established Jewish Councils (Judenräte), who ceased all contact with Polish authorities and negotiated the conditions of Jewish governance of the ghettos. Within months following Germany’s attack, nearly half of Poland’s Jews lived under Judenrat regimes. The Judenräte gathered up Jews from small towns and concentrated them in the ghettos of the larger cities. They further kept ghetto Jews convinced they were being deported to work in German-designated areas in the East. Beginning in early 1942, they directed the Jewish Ghetto Police to forcibly round up ghetto Jews and load them onto the trains destined for the death camps.

While nearly all of Poland’s Jews were imprisoned in the ghettos, Poles were in a day-to-day struggle for survival because of the brutalities and severe conditions exacted by the occupiers. The Germans imposed near-starvation rations, enforced onerous quotas on farmers, confiscated crops and livestock, conducted daily executions to terrorize the populace, randomly arrested and tortured Poles to extract intelligence on the Polish underground, and conducted recurrent round-ups for deportation to concentration and labor camps. Over two million Poles were sent to the camps while up to 200,000 Polish children were abducted for Germanization under Himmler’s Lebensborn program. 

As evidenced by his Generalplan Ost and Lebensraum program, Hitler did not attack Poland to eradicate Polish Jews. His objective was to annihilate the Poles, take over their land, and settle it with Germans. He began by immediately arresting and murdering up to 100,000 Polish elite, expelling approximately 1.5 million Poles from occupied Polish territory, and resettling ethnic Germans into vacated Polish properties. Stalin’s policy was to annihilate Poland’s elites, destroy Polish societal structure, and Sovietize dispossessed Poles into compliant subjects of Stalin’s totalitarian Communist regime. As the Red Army occupied eastern Poland, up to 1.6 million Poles were deported to the Gulag camps, which resulted in an estimated death rate of 60 percent. Stalin’s barbarity was further evidenced by his Katyn Massacre, a series of executions encompassing 22,000 captured Polish officers. Poland’s population losses during World War II were proportionately the greatest of any nation in the war. Of its prewar 35 million people, Poland lost approximately 6.5 million. An estimated 664,000 were battlefield deaths and the remainder, about 3 million Polish Jews and 2.8 million Poles, were civilians of all ages. Note also that Hitler annexed western Poland to Germany while Stalin annexed eastern Poland to the Soviet Union, which is why Poland ceased to exist as a nation state.

Often overlooked are Polish efforts to rescue fugitive Jews who hid by not moving into or escaping from the ghettos. Only in Poland did the Germans have a standing order that anyone aiding a Jew in any way would be executed together with immediate family. Despite this death penalty, the largest number by far of any country honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel (over 7,000) are Poles, many of whom were killed for aiding Jews. While these are known to Israel’s Yad Vashem, thousands more are known only to God. Estimates of Poles who aided Jews range from 300,000 to 1 million and estimates of those killed for doing so approach 50,000. Note also that German death squads carried out mass executions of entire villages that aided Jews and some of the annihilated villages became extinct. Note further that in no other occupied country or in Germany itself were there such large-scale round-ups, searches with dogs, and blockades of whole districts in all of the larger cities that were conducted by the Germans to find fugitive Jews. Ask yourself, Ms. Wilkinson, if you would risk your life and the lives of your family to save one or more persons in similar circumstances. Many Poles did so because they believed it was the Christian thing to do. Also, two Polish institutions were critically instrumental in rescuing Jews. The first, Żegota, was the only government organization in the German-occupied countries established to rescue Jews. Estimates of Jews saved by Żegota range from 30,000 to 60, 000. The second was the Catholic Church, which rescued Jewish children on a massive scale by hiding them in convents, orphanages, and rectories. No German-occupied country had such an organizational infrastructure that aided tens of thousands of Jews. 

Also overlooked are the significant Polish efforts that warned the West about the mass murder of Jews in occupied Poland. Witold Pilecki voluntarily walked into a German round-up for Auschwitz prisoners and then sent reports to the Polish Underground headquarters in Warsaw. These comprised the first record that convinced the Allies the Germans were engaged in murder on an unprecedented scale. Jan Karski was a secret courier who travelled between the Polish government-in-exile in London and the Polish Underground in occupied Poland. He was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto by Jewish underground leaders to observe the horrifying conditions and also entered the Izbica Lubelska transit camp, where Jews were confined in appalling conditions awaiting transport to the Bełżec and Sobibór death camps. Karski carried out of Poland a microfilm with this information and it became one of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the beginning of the Holocaust. He was also the first eyewitness to personally meet with FDR and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and gave a detailed statement on what he had seen, which sadly fell on deaf ears. On December 10, 1942, the Polish government-in-exile published a document titled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland, which was addressed to the Governments of the United Nations and was the first international publication of Hitler’s mass murders.

In the case of Austria, I offer the following facts. There had been strong support from Austrians and Germans to unify the two countries. On 12 March 1938, the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria, unopposed by the Austrian military. The Germans were greeted with great enthusiasm and a plebiscite was held on 10 April, which officially ratified Austria’s annexation by Germany, called the “Anschluss”. With the Anschluss, Austria ceased to exist as an independent state. Austrians loyally supported Germany during the early years of the war. The initial German military victories and Austria’s geographic location beyond the reach of Allied bombers shielded the Austrian population from the full impact of the war. Only after the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in early 1943, when the course of the war increasingly turned against Germany, did popular support for the war and for the Anschluss begin to erode. Some 800,000 Austrians were drafted into the German army (Wehrmacht) and another 150,000 served in the Waffen SS, an elite military unit that managed the concentration and extermination camps. Because the Austrians were integrated into German units, no Austrian military units were formed. The majority of the bureaucrats who implemented the Final Solution were Austrian. David Art of Tufts University states that 40 per cent of the staff and 75 per cent of commanders at death camps were Austrian. Austrians who played key roles in the Final Solution include Adolf Eichmann and his aide, Alois Brunner; SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA); Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reich Commissioner for Holland; and Odilo Globocnik, who had a leading role in Operation Reinhard. Operation Reinhard organized the murder of around one and a half million mostly Polish Jews at the Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec extermination camps. Globocnik was also responsible for the deaths at the Majdanek extermination camp. Austrians also conducted mass murder in Hartheim Castle near Linz, where the killing program Action T4, i.e., involuntary euthanasia, took place, and in Am Spiegelgrund clinic in Vienna, where more than 700 handicapped children were murdered.

From the above, it should be evident why the sentence in question is not only false but also offensive to Poles and Polish Americans. I would ask that, if in the future you write about Poland, kindly conduct the necessary research as this should negate the likelihood of misstating the facts.

Cordially,

Gene Sokolowski, PhD

Polish Media Issues Group

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