Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

Engelking and Grabowski: “painful therapy”

Maria Zawadzka, Warszawa, 11 March 2011

On February 24th, 2011 in Warsaw was held the discussion on the books Jest taki piękny słoneczny dzień... Losy Żydów szukających ratunku na wsi polskiej 1942-1945” (“It’s such a beautiful, sunny day… Stories of Jews seeking rescue in the Polish countryside 1942-1945”) by Barbara Engelking and „Judenjagd. Polowanie na Żydów 1942-1945. Studium dziejów pewnego powiatu” (“Judenjagd. Hunt for Jews 1942-1945. Study of the history of one district” by Jan Grabowski. These books were published by the Polish Center for Holocaust Research

In both books were presented 3 thousand cases of Jews who were seeking rescue in the Polish countryside and who were either denounced to the Nazis by Poles or murdered by Poles.

“The authors subject us to a really painful therapy but their books are crucial for the discussion on Polish-Jewish relations. I hope they will become for us a starting point to understand our past and to resign ourselves to it” – said the moderator of the discussion, Stanisław Obirek.

The historian Krzysztof Persak emphasized the fact that both works demythologize the conducts of Poles during the Nazi occupation. “These books force us to revise our common beliefs about the Polish-Jewish relations during the war (…). The works of Engelking and Grabowski also explain the dissonance between the Polish and Jewish memory of the Holocaust, and they show that the postwar murders on Jews, described by Jan Gross in »Fear«, were just a continuation of the things that happened during the occupation” – explains Persak.

The books by Grabowski and Engelking are an effect of a pioneering program of research focused on the conducts towards the Holocaust in the Polish countryside during the occupation – this project has been carried out since three years by the Polish Center for Holocaust Research.

Engelking and Grabowski mainly base their research on the analysis of the so-called “sierpniówki” (“August acts”) – acts from law suits filed after the war against people who were collaborating with the Nazis and against persecutors of Jews. Only a part of these documents was examined, which is why the researchers describe their works as “opencast” – they only concern several dozen of towns.

In her book“It’s such a beautiful sunny day” Barbara Engelking describes the stories of Jews from the General Government who were trying to survive in the Polish countryside”.

“I have analyzed 300 court cases which described 281 cases of denunciations (701 Jews were denounced) and 139 murders in which 473 Jews were killed. 174 out of 500 accounts concerning the hiding in the countryside mention denunciations (230 cases, 858 victims) and murders (142 cases, 542 victims). In total, in 511 incidents 1559 Jews were denounced and in 281 murders 1015 Jews were killed. Therefore, the documents I present mention 2574 Jews denounced and killed by Poles” – writes Engelking.

Jan Grabowski focuses in his book „Judenjagd. Polowanie na Żydów 1942-1945. Studium dziejów pewnego powiatu” on the district of Dąbrowa Tarnowska. „I've managed to find documents concerning 277 Jews who were trying to survive the occupation there. Out of this number, 239 were killed and 38 survived. Out of those 239 who were murdered almost everyone was denounced to the Nazis by Poles, decidedly less were murdered directly by Poles. In less than 5% of the cases, the Jews were found by the Germans. Usually the Jews were killed as a result of denunciations, murders and the activity of the so-called Blue Police” – explains the historian.

During the discussion Grabowski also said that today the number of Poles honored with the title “Righteous Among the Nations” is often emphasized in order to omit this other, darker side of the conduct of Poles during the Second World War.

“Those 6000 of decent people cannot serve as a screen for the sea of evil that took place here. If anyone says »we were rescuing Jews«, he should add that we were also murdering them” – explained the historian.

The books published by Engelking and Grabowski are an attempt to present the stories of Jews on the so-called “Aryan side” during the Nazi occupation in Poland – their research opens a new stage of reflection on the conducts of Poles during the war.