June 21, 2024
Polish/Jewish Relations

Neighbors – On the Eve of the Holocaust. Polish-Jewish Relations in Soviet-Occupied Eastern Poland, 1939-1941 by Mark Paul


On the Eve of the Holocaust

Polish-Jewish Relations in Soviet-Occupied Eastern Poland, 1939-1941
by Mark Paul

Table of Contents

Foreword …..4
Chapter One: Arrests, Executions and Deportations ….16
Chapter Two: Jews Greet the Soviet Invaders ….42
Chapter Three: Fifth Columnists and Armed Rebellions ….61
Chapter Four: The Fate of Polish Officers and Soldiers ….80
Chapter Five: The Persecution and Murder of Polish Policemen, Officials, Political Figures, Landowners, Clergymen, and Settlers ….97
Chapter Six: Anti-Polish and Anti-Christian Agitation, Vandalism and Looting …118
Chapter Seven: A Few Short Weeks Was All That Was Needed to Leave a Mark …132
Chapter Eight: A Smooth Transition …146
Chapter Nine: Positions of Authority and Privilege …151
Chapter Ten: Collaborators and Informers …175
Chapter Eleven: Victims of Choice …209
Chapter Twelve: An Atmosphere of Fanaticism …228
Chapter Thirteen: The Civilian Deportations …238
Chapter Fourteen: Holocaust Historiography …275
Chapter Fifteen: Summation …356
Chapter Sixteen: A Belated But Reluctant Awareness …436
Select Bibliography …442


On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union entered into a Non-Aggression Pact (the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) which paved the way for the imminent invasion of Poland. A Secret Protocol to that Pact provided for the partition of Poland, as well as for Soviet domination of the Baltic States and Bessarabia. Germany attacked Poland on September 1st, while the Soviet strike was delayed 1 until September 17th. Polish forces continued to fight pitched battles with the Germans until early October 2 1939 (the last large battle was fought at Kock on October 5th), after which the struggle went underground. After overrunning Poland, the Nazis and Soviets agreed, under the terms of a Secret Supplementary Protocol to the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of September 28, 1939, to a redrawn common border. Each side seized roughly half of Poland, thus ensuring that the country would be once again wiped off the face of Europe. They also undertook a common struggle against Polish resistance—to suppress “all beginnings” of “Polish agitation” and to keep each other informed of their progress. In fact, this ushered in a period of close cooperation between the NKVD and the Gestapo, the secret police of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Lists of Poles slated for execution were carefully compiled, traded and expanded.3

This partnership did not remain a secret for long. Already on September 19, 1939, Pravda published a Soviet-German communiqué confirming the joint role of Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies in the invasion of Poland. On September 30, 1939, Pravda proudly announced to millions of its readers that “German-Soviet friendship is now established forever.” In a speech delivered before the Supreme Soviet on October 31, 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, openly applauded the destruction of Poland:

” A short blow at Poland from the German Army, followed by one from the Red Army was enough to reduce to nothing this monster child of the Treaty of Versailles. … One may like or dislike Hitlerism, but every sane person will understand that that ideology cannot be destroyed by force. It is, therefore, not only nonsensical but also criminal to pursue a war “for the destruction of Hitlerism.”

Contacts between the NKVD and Gestapo intensified, and meetings were called to discuss how best to combat Polish resistance and eradicate Polish national existence. A joint instructional centre for officers of the NKVD and the Gestapo was opened at Zakopane in December 1939. The decision to massacre Polish officers at Katyn (transliterated as Katyń in Polish) was taken concurrently with a conference of high officials of the Gestapo and NKVD convened in Zakopane on February 20, 1940. While the Soviets undertook the extermination of captured Polish officers, the Germans carried out, from March 31, 1940, a parallel “Operation AB” aimed at destroying Poland’s elites.4
The Nazi-Soviet alliance lasted for over a year and a half, until shortly before Germany turned on its erstwhile ally on June 22, 1941. During this time the Soviet Union was the principal supplier of much needed raw materials for the German war machine which, in the meantime, occupied Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, much of France, and smashed the Western Forces. Communism and Fascism, both of which are based on radical socialism, made natural bed companions. The Soviet invaders struck a 5 major blow not only to Polish statehood, but also to Polish institutions, cultural and religious life, state officials and military officers, as well as the civilian population. As the evidence gathered here shows, in addition to a “class” component which struck at the “enemies” of the people (i.e., the Soviet state), the assault also had a marked anti-Polish dimension. It was exacerbated by a calculated fueling of ethnic tensions which pitted Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Jews against ethnic Poles. According to historian Anna Cienciala,
” As in German-occupied Poland, Soviet policy was to liquidate the educated Poles. At first, Soviet authorities called on the peasants, who were predominantly Ukrainian or Belorussian, to “settle accounts” with Polish landlords and take what they wanted. This led to a short but brutal period of murder and robbery perpetrated by the worst elements. At the same time, Soviet NKVD (security) officers shot many Polish landowners, officers, teachers, priests, judges, administrators, policemen, border guards, etc., out of hand, according to lists prepared beforehand. … While most of the Jewish population of eastern Poland was politically passive, some Jews, especially young men and women with Communist sympathies, cooperated with the Soviets. They became prominent in the new local militia and helped Soviet authorities in hunting down Polish political leaders and administrators. Although these pro-Communist Jews made up a very small minority of the total Jewish population, they were highly visible in oppressing the Poles.6

Historian Peter Stachura offers the following perspective on these events:

“Polish attitudes towards the Jews [under the German occupation], however, may well have been negatively shaped, in the first instance, by irrefutable evidence that comparatively large numbers of them in Eastern Poland not only rejoiced in 1939 at the fall of the Second Republic but also welcomed with enthusiasm the invading Red Army. Jews of this type willingly became officials of the Soviet regime there, becoming involved in the widespread reprisals and atrocities that were committed against ethnic Poles, especially those of the educated and propertied classes. As Soviet Bolshevik commissars, believing that the day of their national and class liberation had arrived, these Jews often proved to be the most fanatical, intent on the effective de-polonisation of the Eastern Provinces.”7

The downfall of the Polish state was not only a time for rejoicing for many, but also appeared to provide a free licence to attack Poles indiscriminately. Inherent to these actions is the prevalent notion of getting rid of the Poles as representatives of the old order for the sake of the new Soviet-imposed order. The assault triggers resembled each other schematically, suggesting that a shared behaviour taken from simplified stereotypical patterns determined the dynamics of the attacks on Poles. These outbursts of violence carried a deeply symbolic meaning: The Polish victims were not attacked because of actual misdeeds of individual persons. None of them harmed the Jews or other minorities. The Polish victims were attacked because of what they symbolized. What is more, with few exceptions these vile deeds did not elicit protests on the part of the non-Polish population. They were, by and large, tolerated by them.8

The full text with footnotes can be read here:

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