Cultural Losses of Poland During the German Occupation 1939-1944, with Original Documents of the Looting
by Karol Estreicher Jr.
Reviewed by Jan Peczkis
This highly-detailed catalogue was compiled from many sources, by a team headed by Karol Estreicher. He had the approval of General Sikorski of the Polish Government in Exile in London. This catalogue was found in the Estreicher family archives, and is here republished with side-by-side pages in Polish and in English. It painstakingly documents some 2,000 known locations where the Germans pillaged or destroyed Polish cultural property, and specifies the institution (e. g, library) attacked, and the nature of the act (e. g, the confiscation, pulping, or burning of books). Of course, it cannot be complete, and furthermore does not include the losses incurred by the vindictive German destruction of Warsaw that followed the defeat of the Soviet-betrayed Warsaw Uprising. For more on this, see:
WARNING: The customary over-attention to the Jews’ Holocaust means that few people even imagine the expansive scale of Nazi German cultural genocidal acts against Poles, and the reader may be in for a rude awakening upon reading this book.
In the Foreword, Zbigniew Kazimierz Witek provides a minimum summary, as follows, “Thus until mid-1944, we had lost at least: 22 million books: 933,000 copies + 100,000 files of documents; 1,815,000 volumes; 750,000 tomes and 1,800,000 copies of records; 13,652 copies of old books; 31,859 incunabulas; 69,267 copies of manuscripts; 53,505 copies of rare books; 47,370 copies of maps; 2,331 copies of old prints; 2,300 copies of polonicas; 1,254 parchments; 822 atlases of historical value; 679 doctoral theses; 459,229 museum exhibits; 293,580 engravings; 150,500 works of art; 142,814 drawings; 118,870 gold and silver coins; 12,972 museum deposits; 9,869 paintings; 5,569 prints; 5,238 sculptures; 3,545 medals; 4,500 valuable photographs; 1,000 ex-librises, as well as liturgical vessels, vestments, unique weapons.” (pp. 18-19).
THE PILLAGE AND DESTRUCTION OF POLISH CULTURAL TREASURES WAS UNPRECEDENTED. IT WAS GENOCIDAL
In every war, there is looting. Estreicher shows that this was very different, “But the destruction was never so ruthless, never so ‘scientific’–if one may use such a word–as during the present war. In this sphere the Germans have surpassed all previous records…East Central European countries were considered by the leaders of the Third Reich and the creation of the ‘New Order’ as a field of Teutonic colonization, ground where any act of violence, any plunder, was justified. Whereas in the countries of Western Europe the Germans paid some attention to legal appearances, in Poland the decrees they issued aimed not only at the destruction of the nation, but at the clearing away of every trace of its culture. The Germans were sure of impunity and believed that what was happening in Poland would be of no concern to anybody in the West.” (p. 37).
THE MASSIVE ROBBERY OF POLAND WAS WELL ORGANIZED
Estreicher writes, “Liquidation Commissions, Property Trusteeships, Boards and Councils, composed of specialists from the Reich, were set up. Like carrion they settled upon Poland in their party uniforms, and with their academic titles.” (p. 41).
As an example, Zbigniew Kazimierz Witek relates, “The confiscation act was coordinated by Ethnography Professor Heinrich Harmjanz with the help of Wolfgang Sievers and Dr. Kraut, and a plethora of scientists and artists. Their actions brought in a copious harvest. On 2 May 1941 reports came to Berlin about 500 combed buildings, including 74 palaces and 96 manors. As a result, 102 libraries, 15 museums, 3 painting galleries, 2 collections of weapons, 10 collections of antique vessels, and 21 diverse private collections were confiscated and secured.” (p. 24).
GERMAN SCHOLARS–AND NOT JUST NAZI HACKS–LED THE PILLAGE OF POLAND
Estreicher comments, “We may say at the outset that the German scholars, who often bear well-known names, are the people most responsible for the destruction carried out in Poland.” (p. 43).
THE OLD CANARD ABOUT POLES IGNORING THE JEWS
Perennial Jewish complaints that Polish Underground officials ignored the Jews, or (worse yet), just mixed up Jewish sufferings with Polish sufferings, are once again debunked. This work specifies the anti-Jewish acts done by the Germans (e. g., pp. 21-22, 63, 79, 87, 123-125, 163, 207, and many other pages).