The Attitudes of Poles Towards Jews During the Holocaust

The extermination of Jews during World War II was a tragedy which unfolded right before the eyes of the Poles, who, at the same time, were also facing persecution at the hands of the Nazi German authorities. As a result, their very humanity was put to the test.

Most Poles, absorbed by the struggle against the hardships of everyday life, remained indifferent towards the Holocaust. Only some had the courage to come to the rescue. As they did so, they faced tremendous difficulties, forced to operate in complete secrecy, often in fear of denunciation by their neighbours. Unlike in Western Europe, in Poland, from 1941 onwards, the Germans applied the death penalty to all those who came to the aid of Jews. However, there were also those Poles who decided to collaborate with the Germans, denouncing those Jews who remained in hiding. There are stories of blackmail both against Jews and their rescuers, who were forced to pay blackmail in order to avoid being exposed. There were also numerous cases when the rescued were exploited financially by those at whose mercy they were and who decided to take advantage of their plight.

The Rescuers constituted a small fraction of the entire society – a group of people who, for a variety of reasons, heroically risked their own lives to help others.

More information about the relations between Poles and Jews during World War II can be obtained from historical sources. A full bibliography is available on our website. Go to bibliography.