Relations Between Jews and Poles during the Holocaust: The Jewish Perspective
Havi Dreifuss (Ben-Sasson)
"As far as Polish‒Jewish relations are concerned, we need to devote at least a few words to the attitude of Jews toward the Poles.… even in their suffering, the Jews remember with deep emotion and gratefulness all the acts of kindness toward them and the helping hand extended to them by each of those Poles.… But, despite this, the insult and humiliation—which shall never be forgotten—no one wishes to remember."
(Anonymous, Warsaw Ghetto, 1942)
The issue of relations between Jews and Poles during the Holocaust is one of the most complex and emotionally-charged subjects in the research of that era. However, compared to the abundance of studies dealing with the question of the Poles’ involvement in the persecution of the Jews, and the Poles’ responses to the mass murder perpetrated by the Germans on Polish land, very little has been written about how the Jews perceived their Polish milieu during the Holocaust. In her book, Relations between Jews and Poles during the Holocaust: The Jewish Perspective, Professor Havi Dreifuss (Ben-Sasson) traces the changes in how the Polish Jews perceived their environment. Did the Jews of Poland consider their land of birth a partner in the German persecution, or did they view Poland as yet another victim of the murderous Nazi intent? When and why did the prevalent sense of brotherhood that existed at the start of the war end, only to be replaced by harsh feelings of alienation and animosity? What did the Jews write about their Polish neighbors, and in what way did the Jews’ social standing influence their perception of their surroundings? How did the German policy influence the relations that were formed between the Poles and the Jews in occupied Poland? The extensive documentary material upon which Dreifuss based her research—dozens of diaries and hundreds of documents from archives in Israel and abroad—bears testimony to the fact that even under the Nazi regime, which attempted to cut off the Jews from their surroundings, Jews persisted in their contacts—both real and imagined—with Polish society, and constantly attempted to reevaluate the world around them. The diaries and documents portray the Polish Jews’ conscious awareness of their environment, expose a glimpse of the realities of life in Poland, and cast light on several of the factors that directly and indirectly influenced their lives, and ultimately their deaths.