We hear a lot nowadays of “Polish complicity in the Holocaust” and so, in the same spirit, we must fairly inquire about “Jewish complicity in the Holocaust”. I analyze this book in the broader context of the implications of collaboration with the Germans (Nazis). In doing so, I try to avoid the usual double standard, wherein a Pole who in some way assisted the Nazis in persecuting the Jews is reckoned a collaborator, but a Jew who in some way assisted the Nazis in persecuting the Jews is not reckoned a collaborator.
Collaboration is usually defined as willfully performing deeds in service of the enemy, at the expense of one’s countrymen, in exchange for favors from the enemy, for one’s personal benefit. Nowadays, Jewish collaboration is arbitrarily and sweepingly defined-away by means of the mystification of the Holocaust and especially the “All Jews were victims of the Nazis” meme.
And, although Chari does not consider himself a collaborator, others certainly did. Thus, Jewish ghetto policemen were widely resented, by other Jews, during and after the war. (p. 68). Upon arriving at Auschwitz, Chari wisely did not wear his police uniform, because the Jewish inmates commonly killed arriving Jewish ghetto policemen on the spot. (p. 84). Chari also expressed concern that the liberating Soviets would send him to Siberia as a Nazi collaborator. (p. 77).
I first consider the meme of “choiceless choices”–a common but very overgeneralized line of exculpation for Jews who served the Nazis. From there, I examine less clear-cut situations–ones involving long-term survival under a brutal enemy.
THE MANY PERKS OF BEING A JEWISH GHETTO POLICEMAN
Anatol Chari writes, “I was a policeman from autumn, 1942, when the SONDERKOMMANDO force was enlarged, until late summer, 1944, when the Lodz ghetto was liquidated…Wearing the uniform gave you a sense of authority and prestige. In a ghetto filled with nobodies, you were a somebody. We walked into stores that were off-limits to the general population. We received special ration cards, which meant larger rations, better quality food, and no standing in a long line at the general distribution store. My grandparents and I would get enough to eat. Sonders [SONDERKOMMANDO] didn’t have to worry about being deported–at least not at first–and we didn’t have to perform difficult physical labor. We were the food police, with lots of opportunities to organize extra food. This wasn’t a dog guarding the apples. This was a dog guarding the meat!” (p. 46).
THE MYTH OF THE KILL-OR-BE-KILLED CHOICELESS CHOICE IN SHIPPING JEWS TO THE DEATH CAMPS
It is commonly, but erroneously, supposed that the Jewish ghetto policeman obeyed the Germans, in loading and dispatching his fellow Jews to the death camps, out of a desperate attempt to avoid his own death in being sent there himself. The facts are otherwise.
Anatol Chari, the Jewish ghetto policeman, implicates himself in the roundup and loading of Jews onto the trains. (e. g, p. 73). However, in doing so, he could not possibly have been trying to save his own life, for the simple reason that he did not realize–at least not fully–that boarding the train was usually synonymous with death! He thus candidly admits that “We didn’t know where the transports went, we didn’t know about the gas vans and gas chambers, so a person could pretend it was just a new work assignment.” (p. 73).
To be sure, there were indirect clues, such as the initially-exclusive shipment of the young, old, and infirm (inconsistent with labor requirements at the destination); the arrival of bullet-ridden clothing; and (later, in 1944), notes in the returning empty trains with “We are at Auschwitz. It’s not good.” (p. 73, 76).
However, by Chari’s own admission (p. 73), the Jews were usually in denial in the face of these clues. (p. 73). In addition, according to Chari, “Most people in Lodz had never even heard of it, so ‘Auschwitz’ meant nothing to us.” (p. 76). Consequently, the Jews, of the Lodz ghetto at least, had at most a vague concept of their impending collective annihilation. Clearly, their collaborative acts with the Germans could not have been motivated by a desperation in the face of an annihilation that they did not believe in.
THE “GET ENOUGH FOOD ANY WAY POSSIBLE” CONSIDERATIONS: IMPLICATIONS FOR JEWS–AND POLES
At no time did Chari face immediate death if he failed to perform a collaborative act, but the performance of such acts increased his likelihood of survival in the long-term sense. However, the reader must realize that this is true of collaborators in general: Other factors being equal, performing deeds in service to the enemy generally increases one’s chances of surviving the enemy occupation!
Anatol Chari thus accounts for his conduct in serving the Germans as a Jewish ghetto policeman, “I’m not claiming to be innocent of selfish behavior. But everyone was trying to survive as best they could under conditions not meant for survival. I’ll say again if you only ate the standard allotment of food, you weren’t going to live. If you did live, if you made it through the ghetto, and through the camps after the ghetto, if you came out alive, then you couldn’t have been among the worst off in the ghetto. If you really had it bad, you’re not here to tell about it.” (p. 68).
Thus, Chari did not face immediate death from hunger, but the acquisition of sufficient food for survival was a long-term problem. However, Poles also did not get enough food allotments on which to live long-term! They functioned under near-starvation conditions under the brutal German occupation and were forced to resort to black market activity in order to acquire sufficient food to remain alive. Not surprisingly, some also turned to collaboration.
If Chari can validly adopt a “get sufficient food no matter what” mindset, then so can the much-condemned Pole who betrayed a fugitive Jew in exchange for a bag of sugar from the Germans. Or the Pole who got some the fugitive Jew’s belongings in return for denouncing him to the Germans. The booty would be used by the Pole to barter on the black market for sufficient food in order to help survive long-term. [Jewish-denouncing Polish acts, featured above, were very much distorted in the media-acclaimed writings of neo-Stalinist authors such as Jan T. Gross and Jan Grabowski vel Abrahamer, as manifestations of (what else?) Polish anti-Semitism. They were not.]
Both the Jewish and Polish German-serving acts involved win-lose situations in which the collaborator sought to win at the expense of some Jew. Thus, Chari’s appropriation of more than his share of food diminished the survivorship of other Jews, because it meant that there was less food available to them. This is no less true than the Pole, who denounced a Jew in order to directly or indirectly get more food for himself, thereby diminishing the survivorship of the Jews he denounced.
HOLOCAUST ENVY? VICTIMHOOD COMPETITION? THE GYPSIES (SINTI AND ROMA), AND NOT THE JEWS, WIN THE VICTIM TROPHY
The author describes the Lodz Ghetto about 1942, “The Germans treated Gypsies worse than they treated the Jews.” (p. 42).
Now consider the year 1944, in Auschwitz, after liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto. “Jews, with their red and yellow Star of David, were at the bottom the pecking order. Only Gypsies were lower.” (p. 86).
“JEWISH PASSIVITY”: PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
Consider the situation at Ahlem, located near Hildesheim, and in the area of Bergen Belsen. “Third, we had the night shift and weren’t closely supervised. The Germans thought that non-Jewish prisoners–Poles, Ukrainers [Ukrainians], Russians–were more likely to escape, so only Jews worked at night.” (p. 133).
For other examples of Poles deliberately being guarded, by the Germans, more strongly than Jews, see Harvest of Hate.
NO SELF-CONSISTENT NAZI GERMAN POLICIES ON LAST-MINUTE KILLINGS OF JEWS
As the Third Reich was collapsing in 1945, the Germans killed Jewish inmates in some locations, while at other locations they did not. In addition, the Germans often killed non-Jewish inmates. Thus, the authors write, “In 2009, quite by accident, Tony learned of a victims memorial in Radogoszcz, a suburb of Lodz, where a Gestapo prison once stood. In January, 1945, the day before Soviet troops arrived, the Germans set fire to the prison, killing hundreds of Polish prisoners.” (p. 185).
To see my reviews of works on the Lodz Ghetto and other ghettos in German-occupied Poland, see: