Rural Society and the Jews in Hiding: Elders, Night Watches, Firefighters, Hostages and Manhunts
In the summer and fall of 1942 the Germans started to liquidate the ghettos of the Tarnów area, in southeastern Poland. Facing imminent death, thousands of local Jews started to flee to the “Aryan side”, seeking shelter among their Polish co-citizens, or in the nearby forests. Only a small minority survived until the end of the war. The subsequent hunt for the Jewish refugees involved German police forces (Schupo and, in the rural areas, the gendarmerie detachments) and various units of Polish village self-government and self-defense structures. These units, which included voluntary firefighting brigades, members of the specially-created village night-watches, and peasants mobilized whenever needed for the purposes of a manhunt, with time became a deadly threat for the Jews in hiding. This article, which focuses on one single county, explores the role played by the local Polish population in the German strategy of hunting down the Jews.