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Why the Poles Collaborated So Little—And Why That Is No Reason for Nationalist Hubris

  • John Connelly

Three historians comment on the articles. John Connelly considers the moral and historiographical meanings of "collaboration" and "collaborationism" and suggests that even those cases that Friedrich documents do not make Poland into a collaborationist country. In fact, the Nazis were disappointed that Poles refused to collaborate. Connelly emphasizes the complicated choices and intentions among the Polish population and calls for bringing together both the heroic (and true) tale of Polish resistance with the disturbing (and true) tale of Polish accommodation to the slaughter of the Jews. Tanja Penter adds to the discussion the results of her own research in the records of military tribunals for trials of Soviet citizens accused of collaborating with the Germans. These data confirm the Soviet regime's extremely broad understanding of collaboration and provide in-sight into the collective biography of collaborators. They also suggest which crimes the regime believed most harmful to its integrity. While it is difficult to determine motives and even intentions from these trials, these data, like Jones's, indicate the immense loyalty problem that the Soviet government faced in its occupied territories. Martin Dean calls attention to the difficulties of weeding out collaborators in the postwar Soviet Union and agrees with Jones on the limits of representing the "reality" of collaboration. He notes the reluctance, raised by both Friedrich and Jones, of postwar communist governments and nationalists to deal publicly with the phenomenon. Contrasted to the desire in postwar Europe to deal quickly with war criminals, collaborators, and traitors so that people could move on with their lives, Dean emphasizes the necessity and possibility for historians to write a full history of wartime collaboration, one that recognizes multiple human motives and the responses of hundreds of thousands of individuals who had to take far-reaching decisions under swiftly changing circumstances.

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I would like to thank Mikolaj Kunicki for helpful comments.

1 See for example Andrzej Friszke’s synthetic history, Polska: Losy państwa i narodu 1939-1989 (Warsaw, 2003), which addresses only the issue of collaboration with Soviet occupiers in World War II. Tomasz Strzembosz’s history of the Polish underground does touch upon collaboration with the Germans, but almost entirely by ethnic groups other than Poles. See his Rzeczpospolita podziemna: Spoleczeństwo polskie a pa ństwo podziemne 1939–1945 (Warsaw, 2000), 88–130. Andrzej Paczkowski devotes several pages of his history of modern Poland to the subject of collaboration, which he views as having been marginal. Paczkowski, Andrzej, Pol xvieku dziej ów Polski 1939–1989 (Warsaw, 1995), 4045.

2 Rybicka, Anetta, Instytut Niemieckiej Pracy Wschodniej, Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit, Kraków 1940–1945 (Warsaw, 2002). See also the articles and interviews in Tygodnik Powszechny, nos. 21–27, 25 May-6July 2003. Teresa Baluk-Ulewiczowa has accused Rybicka of poor scholarship and plagiarism. See her Wyzwolić się z btędnego kola: Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit w świette dokumenlów Armii Krajoxuej i materialów zachowanych w Polsce (Kraków, 2004).

3 Having learned much from Friedrich’s work, I have actively encouraged him for years to present it to an English-speaking audience.

4 Burrin, Philippe, France under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise, trans. Lloyd, Janet (New York, 1996), 156–57.

5 Hoffmann, Stanley, “Collaborationism in France during World War II,” Journal of Modem History 40, no. 3 (September 1968): 375–95.

6 Lemberg, Hans, “Kollaboration in Europa mit dem Dritten Reich urn das Jahr 1941,” in Bosl, Karl, ed., Das Jahr 1941 in der europäschen Politik (Munich, 1972), 143.

7 See his letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 27 April 2001.

8 That fact was reflected in the racial theories the Nazis supported before 1939. For an extended version of this argument, see my “Nazis and Slavs: From Racial Theory to Racist Practice,” Central European History 32, no. 1 (1999): 1–33.

9 Madajczyk, Czeslaw, “Zwischen neutraler Zusammenarbeit der Bevölkerung okkupierter Gebiete und Kollaboration mit den Deutschen,” in Röhr, Werner, ed., Okku-pation und Kollaboration (1939–1945): Beiträgezu Konzepten und Praxis der Kollaboration in der deutschen Okkupationspolitik (Berlin, 1994), 49.

10 Jan Gross’s major critic in the Jedwabne controversy, Tomasz Strzembosz, con-cluded his history of the Polish underground with the words: “We may be proud of the Polish Underground State of the years 1939–1945.” Strzembosz, Rzeapospolitapoduemna, 323.

11 Hempel, Adam, Pogrobmucy klęski: Rzecz opolicji “granatowej” w Generalnym Guberna-lorslwie 1939–1945 (Warsaw, 1990), 217–18. In August 1939, the total number of Polish uniformed police on the territories that became the Generalgouvernment was 9,794. Other European countries had twice to four times as many police per capita (with the ex-ception of Sweden). In 1942 the Blue Police numbered 11,500. Ibid., 25, 92.

12 Dean, Martin, “Polen in der einheimischen Hilfspolizei: Ein Aspekt der Be-satzungsrealität in den deutsch besetzten ostpolnischen Gebieten,” in Chiari, Bernhard, ed., Die polnische Heimatarmee: Geschichte und Mythos der Armia Krajowa seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (Munich, 2003), 355–68; Snyder, Timothy, “The Causes of Ukrainian-Polish Ethnic Cleansing 1943,” Past and Present, no. 179 (2003): 197-234.

13 Hoffmann stresses the “deliberate” and Paczkowski the “active and conscious” nature of collaboration. Hoffmann, “Collaborationism,” 379; Paczkowski, Pót wieku, 41.

14 In the former two provinces, tens of thousands of Poles were forcibly signed into the lower classes of the Volkslisten and then forced to assume the privileges and burdens of being “German.” Tens of thousands of the Poles of these regions who were enlisted in the Wehrmacht defected and served with Polish forces in the west. Friszke, Polska, 20.

15 See my “Poles and Jews in the Second World War: The Revisions of Jan T. Gross,” Contemporary European History 11, no. 4 (2002): 652.

16 Przybysz, Kazimierz, Chtopipolscy wobec okupacji hitlerowskiej 1939–1945: Zachowania i postatuy polilyczne na terenach Generalnego Gubernalorstwa (Warsaw, 1983), 4759. Przybysz writes that 1,272,000 inhabitants of villages lost their lives and 153,000 suffered injuries leading to permanent invalidism during the war (73). He does not break down population by ethnicity. In contrast to Friedrich, Przybysz emphasizes Home Army reports noting the “patriotic and oppositional posture” of Polish peasants (111). Friedrich also provides a dis-tinctly uncharitable reading of Waclaw Diugoborski, who writes that the forty thousand employees of cooperatives were “mostly honest and patrioUc,” and that “in the second half of the war, as the resistance gained in strength in the countryside as well and announced warnings and even death sentences against dishonest employees, most of them stopped taking advantage of the occupiers at the expense of other Poles. It was also possible to smuggle many honest, patriotically minded Poles into the administration.” Diugoborski writes that the peasants “did relatively well” at a time when “the entire nation became impoverished.” In other words, they were less impoverished than other Poles but shared in the general decline in standards of living. Diugoborski, Waclaw, “Die deutsche Be-satzungspolitik und die Veränderungen der sozialen Struktur Polens 1939-1945,” in Diugoborski, Waclaw, ed., Zweiter Weltkrieg und sozialer Wandel: Achsenmächte und besetzle Länder (Göttingen, 1981), 324, 352, 360.

17 Engelking, Barbara, “Szanowny paniegistapo": Donosy do xdadz niemieckich w Warsza-wie i okolicach w lalach 1940–1941 (Warsaw, 2003), 2023.

18 The participants, engaged in a seminar in sociology, were executed. See my Captive University: The Sovietization of East German, Czech, and Polish Higher Education, 1945–1956 (Chapel Hill, 2000), 87. Wlodzimierz Borodziej writes that the “number and role of de-nunciations, being a specific social reaction to the chaos of the first years of occupation, in the course of time were subject to serious reduction: occupation policies without doubt stimulated a growth of feelings of solidarity, and the massive terror eliminated any hope of ‘limited stability,’ and necessitated above all national integration.” Borodziej, Wlodzimierz, Terror i polityka: Policja niemiecka a polski ruch oporu w GG 1939–1944 (Warsaw, 1985), 85.

19 Gondek, Leszek, Polska karczaca 1939-1945 (Warsaw, 1988), 144–45. 20. Gross, Jan, Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement 1939–1944 (Princeton, 1979), 238 and passim. 21. According to a note taken by an official of the Deutsche Bank who was employed in Poland during the war, “Experience shows that we must reckon with the execution of such sentences.” Notiz, 8 October 1943, Historisches Archiv der Deutschen Bank, Frank-furt am Main, V2/1.1 thank my colleague Gerald D. Feldman for this reference.

22 Gross, Polish Society, 138. The huge Warsaw administration oversaw the running of illegal Polish education. Madajczyk, Czeslaw, Polityka HI Rzeszy xu okupoiuanej Polsce, 2 vols. (Warsaw, 1970), 1:218–19.

23 Paczkowski, Pót wieku, 41, 44.

24 The Polish underground did pursue so-called extortionists, but generally defined improper behavior toward the occupier in terms of the interests of the “Polish nation,” which tended to be understood in ethnic terms. See the “Precepts” for a “moral order” in Gondek, Polska, 66-67.

25 To get a full sense of that challenge, one should compare the most recent work of Jan Gross with his early work. If he once analyzed Polish society at war with a romantically tinged fascination, he now subjects it to intense and often bitter criticism.

26 Hoffmann, “Collaborationism,” 379.

27 See Adam Neuman-Nowicki, Struggle for Life during tlie Nazi Occupation of Poland, ed. and trans. Sharon Stambovsky Strosberg (Lewiston, N.Y., 1998), 62-64. On the difficulties faced by Jews who attempted to hide among Poles, see also Gross, Jan, “A Tan-gled Web,” in Deák, István, Gross, Jan T., and Tonyjudt, , eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War IIand Its Aftermath (Princeton, 2000), 8487.

28 Polish historians estimate that at most forty thousand Polish Jews were saved by non-Jews during the war, while some sixty thousand more survived in camps. Another two hundred thousand survived beyond the reach of the Germans in Soviet exile. The prewar total was some three million. Paczkowski, Pót wieku, 39; Friszke, Polska, 43.

29 For a compelling discussion of Poles’ attitudes toward Jews in hiding, see Gross, Jan T., Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton, 2001), esp. 152–61. On the thousands of Poles who made their livelihoods blackmailing Jews in wartime Warsaw, see Grabowski, Jan, “Ja tego Żyda znam!”: Szantazowanie Zydów w Warszawie, 1939–1943 (Warsaw, 2004). For the large number of Poles who also shielded Jews in wartime Warsaw, see Paulsson, Gunnar S., Secret City: I he Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-45 (New Haven, 2002).

30 The Germans attempted to sever connections between city and land and, for any-thing beyond starvation rations, made Poles dependent upon the black market (Schleich-handel). They estimated that half the Polish population required the black market in order to get enough food to stay alive. Madajczyk, Polityka III Rzeszy, 1:596–97.

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Slavic Review
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