Polish Christians Remember the German Nazi Occupation
Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation
Review by Jan Peczkis
Owing to obvious misunderstandings, the very title of this book needs clarification. The concept of “forgotten”, not elaborated by Lukas, goes far beyond which side has done a better job of presenting its sufferings to the American public. It goes right to the heart of ;
(1). Which side has the power and influence to get its message out,
(2). Which side is in a position to control the very language of the debate, and
(3). Which side has the political clout to have its sufferings enshrined in American educational law.
As for (1), American Jew Novick pointed out in his book, THE HOLOCAUST IN AMERICAN LIFE, that Poles “never had the political, cultural, or financial resources to press their case.” As for (2), George Orwell noted that those who control the language control the debate. Note contemporary Newspeak, in which there is no generally-recognized term for prejudices against Poles, only Jews (anti-Semitism), no special term for a massacre of Poles, only Jews (the pogrom), and no special term in existence for the German genocide of Poles, only Jews (the Holocaust). In this review, I use the term Holocaust (sensu Universal) to include ALL victims of Germany, including Poles. As for (3), are we supposed to believe that it is by accident that American children are required, in many US states, to learn about the murder of 5-6 million Jews in appreciable detail, as if it were something higher than the sufferings of others in WWII?
Finally, the fact that Jewish spokesman have forcefully opposed the teaching about the 2-3 million murdered Poles alongside that of the 5-6 million murdered Jews (except perhaps as a footnote in order to deflect the argument) should serve as crowning proof that “forgotten” is FAR more than simply a matter of which side has done a better job of communicating its sufferings to the general public.
Lukas has done a great deal of commendable work to counter the foregoing trends. This book is an anthology of Polish survivors of German Nazi persecution, a persecution that cost the lives of 2-3 million Poles (Admin; A great deal more, in fact), including over half of Poland’s pre-war intelligentsia. WARNING: The descriptions of German methods throughout this book are often graphic, and may upset the sensitive reader. The content focuses on the September 1939 German conquest and five-plus years of occupation, the unrelenting German terror, the mass executions, Gestapo methods, the hellish German concentration camps, Jan Komski’s paintings of Auschwitz (pp. 58-on), the atrocious treatment of Polish forced laborers (2 million of them), Zegota, the betrayed Warsaw Uprising, and the “liberation” of Poland by a new occupant (the USSR).
Families burned alive in their houses
The 5-year survival rate for Poles at Mauthausen Concentration Camp was only 8 out of 200 (Antoni Palmowski, p. 109), and the several-month survival rate for Poles incarcerated at Auschwitz, following the foredoomed Warsaw Uprising, was still a small 300 out of 3,000 (Stanley J. Sagan, p. 163). Such was the starvation in the work camps of Flossenburg concentration camp that Polish inmates killed and ate a German shepherd guard dog that belonged to one of the SS men (Paul Zenon Wos, p. 217).
Some seldom-discussed German barbarities are mentioned throughout this anthology, including the bleeding of Polish children for blood transfusions to wounded German soldiers (Bozena Urbanowicz-Gilbride, p. 198), and the sterilization of Polish forced laborers (Katherine Graczyk, p. 34; Bozenna Urbanowicz-Gilbride, p. 197). No one mentions the KL Warschau extermination camp, where some 200,000 gentile Poles were gassed and cremated Auschwitz-Birkenau-style.
Various incidental details, while not intended for this purpose, help rebut common Polonophobic mischaracterizations. For example, the well-worn tale of Polish cavalry charging German tanks, originating from wartime German propaganda, is once again refuted (Notes, p. 212).
And, contrary to accusations, Polish Jews were actually walled off into ghettos by the conquering Germans (Barbara Makuch, p. 85), NOT by the pre-war Poles. The shortage of food in the countryside (Jan Porembski, p. 134), caused by German confiscations, enables the reader to understand why some Poles did not help fugitive Jews, and even betrayed or killed Jews who stole food from them. Against the claim that the German-appointed Polish police were collaborationists as such, it turns out that 90% of them were involved in the Polish Underground (Paul Zenon Wos, p. 214). The Jews of Torczyn (near Warsaw) were initially trusting of the German conquerors (Halina Martin, p. 91, 99), adding rebuttal to the argument that Polish Jews immediately feared Germans, and that this (imagined) fear is what drove the widespread Jewish-Soviet collaboration in eastern Poland that occurred in the first stages of WWII. The actions of incarcerated Poles against incarcerated Jews, simplistically blamed on anti-Semitism, must be balanced by the actions of incarcerated Jews against incarcerated Poles (Dr. Stanley Garstka, p. 26).
Finally, consider the “All Jews Were Victims of the Nazis” argument, a common rationalization for the primacy of Jewish sufferings in American social studies classes. Antoni Palmowski (p. 113) describes the fate of Jews brought to Mauthausen Concentration Camp: “Early in 1945, new transports, mostly from Auschwitz, arrived…What was unusual was that the Jews were clean, blue and grey striped prisoner uniforms….The Germans began to treat Jewish prisoners much better than before. They even increased their rations. We joked that the Germans `smelled’ the end of the war, which they realized by now they could not win.” It is obvious that not all known Jews were slated for extermination, even among already-apprehended Jews, and the killing of every last possible Jew was clearly NOT a priority of the dying Third Reich.
Richard C. Lukas is an American historian and author of numerous books and articles in several fields including military, diplomatic, Polish, and Polish American history. He is recognized as a leading authority on Poland during World War II. He served as a Research Consultant at the United States Air Force Historical Archives prior to receiving his Ph.D. from Florida State University in 1963. He taught at universities in Florida, Ohio and Tennessee. He has also been a guest lecturer at academic institutions in the United States and Poland. Lukas pioneered in writing scholarly books on United States – Polish wartime and postwar relations. His book, “The Strange Allies: Poland and the United States, 1941-1945,” not only studied in-depth relations between the United States and the Polish government-in-exile, but also highlighted the impact of American Polonia in United States-Polish relations.
He is best known for “The Forgotten Holocaust,” the first systematic study in English by an American historian of the wartime experience of the Poles and their relations with the Jews. Considered a classic, the book has gone through many printings and editions, including a Polish one. “The Forgotten Holocaust” has been highly praised for being the most thorough and fair treatment of what the Nazis did to all Poles–Jews and Christians–during World War II. Including Christian Poles under the umbrella of the “Holocaust” Lukas intended to call attention to the horrible persecution of Poles and others during the German occupation of Poland. Lukas was the first historian to discover two crucial documents sent by the Polish Underground to London, informing the West of the tragic situation in Poland. Richard Lukas presents the compelling eyewitness accounts of Polish Christians who suffered at the hands of the Germans. These stories provide a sombre reminder that non-Jewish Poles were just as likely as Jews to suffer at the hands of the Nazis, who viewed them with nearly equal contempt. While the Holocaust is well known, the fate of Polish Christians in the camps is far less so. This is a much needed, important, and moving book.”– said Piotr S. Wandycz, president, Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America. The eminent British historian and leading authority on Polish history, Professor Norman Davies, formerly of Oxford University, noted in the third American edition of “The Forgotten Holocaust” in 2012, that over the years Lukas’s pioneering work “has proved its worth.” Davies added that in regard to the historiography of Poland during World War II, “One can see that Lukas took an important step on the long road leading to a healthier and more open state of affairs.”
“Lukas pays special attention to the sufferings of Poland’s Catholic majority, presenting stories from the resistance and the risings, from Auschwitz and Mauthausen, and from the death marches and forced labor camps. . . . A wonderful testament to the survival of the human spirit in adversity.”– said Norman Davies, author of God’s Playground: A History of Poland.